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4 - The Road to St. Louis: Celebrating the Affirmation of St. Louis.

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

The Road to St. Louis

Part 9. The Congress of St. Louis

On Holy Cross Day, September 14th, 1977, “at the Chase-Park Plaza in St. Louis Missouri, a gathering known as the St. Louis Church Congress”1 took place. The Congress’s objective was to establish “an 'orthodox jurisdiction 'for those opposed to the ordination of women in the ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada"2 and present an 'Affirmation' that would express its determination to continue in the Catholic Faith, Apostolic Order, Orthodox Worship and Evangelical Witness of the traditional Anglican Church. Estimations of the attendance vary from 1,500, to 2,000. 3 Along with the many concerned Anglicans and Episcopalians were bishops and prelates of the Independent Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church of North America (Evangelical), and the Anglican Orthodox Church.

Convening of the Congress of St. Louis - September 14th, 1977

Three ECUSA bishops played an active role in the proceedings: Bishops Chambers; retired New York Suffragan, Charles E. Boynton (1906-1999), and the only active bishop, Clarence Haden (1910-2000) of Northern California. Presiding Bishop Allin and nine other ECUSA bishops attended the congress as a sign of “sympathy and concern.”4 They were among the attendees quietly “trying to avert a break.”5 It should be noted that Bishop Allin and the other Episcopalian bishops had been turned down as speakers but decided to attend the Congress as observers.

Bishop Allin, an uninvited guest, “sat stoically”6 through the three hours of the first days’ addresses and after which he stated, “I am saddened and perplexed.... I have come to show I have a concern for the good people in this Church who are distressed. I want to continue to build relations with these people.”7

Even though the Congress was greatly in favour of the ‘Affirmation’ and taking the Church in a new direction by establishing a new orthodox Anglican body, there were attendees who spoke in favour of taking a much slower approach. Jeanette Minot, a Canadian, urged the Congress to “go slow.”8 Another said, “Let us not join together on the basis of what we don't like -- but on the basis of what we do like."9 Yet another added, "We have missed a great opportunity with the Presiding Bishop, who was present, to continue dialogue between him and all of our groups.”10

The Congress opened with evening prayer, as well as a sermon by Fr. Wayne Williamson of Glendale, California. The meeting was officially convened with an opening address delivered by Perry Laukhuff. Laukhuff’s presidential speech addressed the reasons for the gathering; the Congress’ need to proclaim the faith and the presentation of a “provisional plan and platform for a new ecclesiastical body.”11 Laukhuff emphasized that the position of the Congress was to be neither ‘High-Church’ nor ‘Low-Church’, but for the sake of the faith passed down, the Congress would be a united body of “Catholic witness and action”12

Of course it should be noted that Laukhuff used the term ‘Catholic’ broadly. He was referring to both Reformed Catholicism, defined as a belief in the maintenance of the Apostolic Episcopate and belief in the Bible and Creeds, and Anglo-Catholicism, which defines Catholicism more in terms of worship and ritualism. He spoke this way because there were a number of attendees, mostly Americans from the southern states, who were ecclesiastically Broad to Low-Church and who understood the word ‘Catholic’ as being “too close a relationship with Roman Catholicism.”13

For the most part, however, speakers were adamant that the new ecclesiastical body should be in complete “continuity with Roman Catholic tradition”14 and that the future Anglican split was because of the decisions of the General Convention the year before. “Keynote speeches were delivered by the Rev. George W. Rutler, (1945-) rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pennsylvania.; the Rev. Carroll E. Simcox (1912-2002), retired editor of The Living Church; and Dr. Thomas Barnes, Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley, California”15

Fr. Rutler recalled the Biblical story of Joseph of Arimathea who claimed Christ's body after the crucifixion as “an example for Christians to follow”16 in searching for Jesus. He also stated that the worst sin is not schism, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The church is always in danger of this sin when it denies the Holy Spirit and does not hear His voice “in scripture, tradition and the humble exercise of conscience.”17

Traditionalists within the church did not want to play an active part in schism, “for Minneapolis did that.”18 Fr. Rutler added that it was an 'act of heresy' for an increasingly secular Episcopal Church to ordain women and that “it has replaced the cosmic with the cosmetic.” 19 Dr. Simcox pointed out that the intention of the Congress was to build a church where “Anglican Christianity will have a fair chance and favourable environment for a new beginning, a new spring.”20 He stated that a large number of Episcopalians, even though they agree with traditionalists, choose to remain within the church. In response, Dr Simcox called for parishes and individuals to take that “leap of faith”21 one day. In the meantime he aptly paraphrased a quote from the bible, stating, “We go to prepare a place for you.” 22

The second day of the Congress began with a procession of Priests and Bishops Chambers, Boynton, and Haden for Morning Prayer and a sung Eucharist. Chambers was the chief celebrant of the service, and Fr. Jerome Politzer (1926-2014) delivered the sermon. In the afternoon, workshops began to deal with a multitude of issues, such as the legal difficulties of holding onto properties of departing parishes, clergy pensions and placement, establishing new parishes, ministering to those isolated from a Continuing parish, and the situation of Canadians who had separated from their national church.

The ENS reported that the workshops were made up of settled on speeches and three minute responses by about fifty attendees in which the topics were the Church's 'liberal' seminaries, the House of Bishops, dilution of the faith, the ordination of women, the revision of the 1928 BCP, and 'secular humanism'. There were three workshops which dealt with the difficulties for parishes that wished to separate.

One speaker was another ‘uninvited guest’ Mr. Craig Casey, a staff member of the Church Pension Fund. Sent by the church, he “explained the position of priests who leave the Episcopal Church”23 in favour of a new church. Though the Episcopal News Service does not explain exactly what Mr. Casey said, it is fair to assume that priests, by departing from their former employer, could be hurting their future financial welfare. “Among those speaking were some of the major players in both the past and future of the Continuing movement, including Fr. Carmino de Catanzaro, Fr. George H. Clendenin, and Dorothy Faber.”24 Included in their grievances was the handling of the Bishop Pike affair by the ECUSA bishops, Prayer Book revision, and the opening of the priesthood to women.

The Rt Rev. James Orin Mote - (1922-2006) {Consecrated Bishop on January 28, 1978 by the Rt Rev. Albert A. Chambers in Denver Colorado.}

In a separate action, the non-geographic Diocese of the Holy Trinity, a coalition of parishes and individuals who have repudiated the actions of the 1976 General Convention to authorize the ordination of women and a revision of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, elected a bishop, the Rev. James O. Mote, rector of St. Mary's Church, Denver, Colorado.”25 It seemed fitting that “the first bishop of the new movement”26 would be Fr. Mote, since he had been the first priest to withdraw from ECUSA after the 1976 General Convention. When Fr. Mote was announced as an elected bishop, “the assembly broke into song, singing the Doxology.”27

The concluding day was dedicated to the document entitled The Affirmation of St. Louis, which proposed the principles upon which the new ecclesiastical body was to be organized. However, just before getting into the business of the ‘Affirmation,’ Bishop Chambers spoke on the intended role as the Episcopal visitor to the Diocese of the Holy Trinity, and then introduced Bishop-elect Mote to the Congress to enthusiastic applause. Perry Laukhuff then announced that three bishops would be found to consecrate Mote in the near future.

The ‘Affirmation’ was then read out to the approximately 1,800 people in attendance at the Congress. It was “heard with rapt attention and received a standing ovation.”28 The document was popularly acknowledged and accepted as the basic set of beliefs for the Congress and Continuing Anglicans. Attendees at the Congress were instructed to return to their home parishes, pray, discuss the ‘Affirmation’, and then decide on whether to support it by becoming a member parish of the new body.

Also revealed was the name of the new ecclesiastical body; “the Anglican Church in North America (Episcopal), often referred to as the ACNA,”29 and the plan to establish some dioceses which would create and ratify a church constitution. There had been a movement away from the designation ‘Episcopalian’ toward the name ‘Anglican.’ This was a rather easy transition for traditionalists because the ECUSA had, for them, created so many serious mistakes. Not to mention, many of the catholic or High-Church traditionalists preferred the term ‘Anglican’ because it showed that they were a distinct branch within the Universal Catholic faith, set apart from the more Protestant Episcopal Church.

The Most Rev. Robert Sherwood Morse - (1924-2015) {Consecrated Bishop on January 28, 1978 by the Rt Rev. Albert A. Chambers in Denver Colorado.}

The St. Louis Congress concluded with a Eucharistic celebration led by Bishop Haden. The preacher, Fr. Robert Sherwood Morse, Rector of Saint Peter's Church in Oakland, California, exhorted those present to "join us, march with us into the desert-for God calls us to himself!”30

The end result of the Congress of St. Louis was that it showed that Anglican Catholics were able to gather as a body united in its opposition to the change that was being approved of in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, and that it was able to come to a consensus on a statement in the ‘Affirmation of St. Louis.’ Perry Laukhuff later wrote that “The loyalists at St. Louis were breaking with the Episcopal Church only in order to remain in the Holy Catholic Church.”31 Anglican Catholics were able to plan ahead and work together to create a new church, ‘the Anglican Church in North America (Episcopal).’ Anglican Catholics were also able to capture the attention of the media and it mattered little if they were considered ‘rebels’; the fact was that their story was being told.

Part 10. Post-Congress Assessment

The Congress in St. Louis was meant to bring together traditionalists to build on the foundations of a new church known as the ‘Anglican Church in North America.’ The building process began when the gathering was presented with the ‘Affirmation,’ which expressed the common principles of Anglican traditionalists and supported a “constitutional assembly that would establish the actual structure of the new church.”32

A third of the attendees were clergymen, already part of the non-geographical diocese of the Holy Trinity based in Los Angeles and the Diocese of San Francisco. These provisional dioceses were expected to form the core of the new church. However, most of the traditionalists were middle class lay people who paid their own way to St. Louis. Many were deeply distressed by what they felt was “a necessary, painful separation from a church they have known all their lives.”33

Some attendees came from the sixteen parishes which had left the ECUSA, while others came from the dozen or so missions that had popped up over the last year or so. Others came to the Congress simply out of curiosity not yet sure about what do and in what direction to go. The FCC President put it correctly when he said, “They want the certainty that something is there if they decide to jump.... They want to make sure they’ve got company”34

There was no real guess on the actual size of the dissident movement. Some believed that the new Church would attract many Episcopalians and Anglicans who were unsure of what to do. One estimate was that “250 of the 7,192 parishes”35 would move to the ACNA by the end of 1978, while another predicted that the Continuing Anglican movement within the ECUSA would represent “at least half a million of the 2.8-million-member church.”36

In response to the amount of people that would actually leave the established Churches, two Episcopalian bishops who attended the Congress felt that not so many would make such a jump. During an interview the Rt. Rev. David Benson Reed (1927-2023 ), Bishop of Kentucky and the Rt. Rev. Addison Hosea (1914-1985), Bishop of Lexington, responded forthrightly. “Bishop Reed said somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000, "closer to five." Bishop Hosea's response was: somewhere between 5,000 and 50,000, "closer to five.”37 Bishop Reed also believed that a large number would immediately join the newly formed continuing church, but growth would slow down in about five years and then become inactive.

Reaction from within the ECUSA was swift. For the first time, “the nasty word schism was heard.” 38 On September 18th, 1977, the Episcopal News Service reported that the executive council of the Episcopal Church issued a statement which declared that these dissident groups, led by the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen, had by their actions at the St. Louis Congress, “separated themselves”39 from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

The Education for Ministry committee of the Executive Council offered up a resolution expressing the Council’s “deep regret”40 for the Congress’s decision to break away; adding that they felt a “deep hurt” 41 because of these actions and expressed a desire to “witness”42 to the Continuers on what the church truly means. The Council resolved, above all, to “continue to talk” 43 and not close any doors for an opportunity for all to “be reunited in God’s church”44

Part 11. Media Coverage

The Congress of St. Louis was “the watershed event for the Episcopal Church in the 1970s.” 45 A large number of the secular press attended the meeting. “Reporters of religion from Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and Daily News, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer” 46 seemed to confirm that there was interest from the non-Anglican world on what was happening in St. Louis. In addition, a number of television networks reported on the events as they unfolded. As a matter of fact, the ECUSA schism was voted, by the Religion News-writers Association, “as the top religion story of 1977.” 47

Church Times - Front Page Coverage September 23, 1977

Internationally, on September 23rd, 1977, The Church Times in England reported on their front page, that it was yet to be seen if the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Provinces of the Anglican Communion would “feel able to establish links”48 with the newly formed Anglican Church in North America. Even though the ‘Affirmation of St. Louis’ called for continued relations with the See of Canterbury and the worldwide Anglican Communion, The Church Times continued, that the Archbishop of Canterbury would say nothing else until he “studied reports of the St. Louis Congress and consulted with the Presiding Bishop of American Episcopal Church.”49 The Church Times editorial wondered if the Anglican Church in North America could even be part of the powerful Anglican Consultative Council or if any of their Bishops would be invited to the upcoming Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, set for July 22 – August 13, 1978.

The Times of London speculated that this Conference would be a “difficult occasion” 50 because of the split over women’s ordination in the ECUSA and conflicting opinions on the matter within the Church of England. Both English publications predicted that some dissidents may go directly to the Roman Catholic Church. Back in the United States, the National Catholic Reporter of Kansas City reported that some priests, affiliated with the newly established Diocese of the Holy Trinity visited Pope Paul’s Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Archbishop Jean Jadot (1909-2009) and the president of the US Catholic Conference, Archbishop Joseph L. Bernadin (1928-1996) of Cincinnati, or their representatives, for what the priests say, may be “a prelude to formal discussions on re-union.” 51

The November 16th, 1977 Article: The Endangered Episcopal Church

Though the coverage was, for the most part, accurate, its sympathy leaned toward the ECUSA, with whom they shared a similar liberal worldview. The Christian Century, the standard bearer for liberal Protestantism, described the Congress as "the Old Schism Trail,"” 52 and noted that there were armed guards stationed outside the Congress due to the hotel's policy regarding ‘controversial’ meetings.

A critic mentioned earlier, Bishop David B. Reed, expressed what many liberal-minded people thought of the gathering. He described the whole affair as being both very negative and lacking the right kind of leadership. Bishop Reed also pointed out that the people who attended the Congress were too diverse in their interest, which, as he put it would weaken their inner strength or resolve. He concluded by saying that there “seemed to be a notable lack of Gospel—repentance, redemption, grace, hope and above all charity.” 53

In spite of this harsh criticism, those who had attended the Congress left confident that they were taking a new path, and beginning a prophetic journey.

The End Result

Through the Congress of St. Louis and the ‘Affirmation of St. Louis,’ Anglican Catholic identity was strengthened. Though there were some signs of compromise with evangelical traditionalists, the document was overwhelmingly Catholic in its content. It is therefore no surprise that the document is interlinked with Anglican Catholicism.

The Congress of St. Louis was successful because it presented to the world, via the high media coverage, an answer to ‘Modernism and liberal Anglicanism.’ For the first time, Anglicans saw a large number of Anglican Catholics speaking up for traditional Anglican values. The numbers of how many would join the new church would be debated, but what was indisputable was that the Episcopal Church recognized that a regrettable split took place. The Anglican Communion also stood up and noticed what had happened in St. Louis. Their response would be no response. For the Continuers, however, it was time to move on, time to create that new Anglican Catholic Church, ‘the Anglican Church in North America.’

Sources for this article:

1. Laukhuff p.1

2. Jan Nunley Episcopalians: Atlanta meeting recalls birth of ‘continuing Anglicanism’ at

St. Louis congress. ( .html) World Wide Faith

News, 2002) p.1

3. Episcopal News Service Dissident Episcopalians Approve "Affirmation”, September 16th,

1977, 77297, * The ENS reported that nearly 1,400 lay and 348 clerical Episcopalians met.

According to the FCC’s President, Perry Laukhuff, there were 1,800 in attendance.

Historian Donald S. Armentrout recorded that there were 1,746 registered at the hotel

for the event.

4. Bess p.94

5. Toronto Globe and Mail Object to Episcopalian women priests: Dissidents meet to

found a breakaway church, Friday, September 16th, 1977. Copyright NY Times Service

6. September 16th, 1977, Episcopal News Service, 77297

7 . ibid

8. ibid

9. ibid

10. ibid

11. Bess p.94

12. ibid p.94

13. Badertscher Chapter 2, p.11

14. September 16th, 1977. The Globe and Mail

15. September 16th, 1977, Episcopal News Service, 77297

16. September 16th, 1977 Globe and Mail

17. ibid

18. ibid

19. ibid

20. September 16th, 1977, Episcopal News Service, 77297

21. September 16th, 1977 Globe and Mail

22. ibid

23. September 16th, 1977, Episcopal News Service, 77297

24. Bess p.96-97

25. September 16th, 1977, Episcopal News Service, 77297

26. Falk

27. September 16th, 1977, Episcopal News Service, 77297

28. Laukhuff p.2

29. Falk

30. Bess p97

31. TCC 1977 Report

32. September 16th, 1977 Globe and Mail

33. ibid

34. ibid

35. ibid

36. ibid

37. September 16th, 1977, Episcopal News Service, 77297

38. Marsh p.24

39. Episcopal News Service, Council Expresses Regret Over Action of Separatists,

September 18th, 1977, 77302

40. ibid

41. ibid

42. ibid

43. ibid

44. ibid

45. Badertscher Chapter 2, p.1

46. September 16th, 1977, Episcopal News Service, 77297

47. Bess p.97

48. Episcopal News Service, London Newspaper Comment On Episcopal Dissidents,

September 29th, 1977, 77314

49. ibid

50. ibid

51. ibid

52. Bess p.98

53. ibid

Next issue on the Road to St. Louis: The Affirmation of St. Louis: The Magna Carta of Anglicanism & Recognizing Anglican Catholic Identity: The Legacy of the Affirmation of St. Louis

This article was taken from the Doctoral thesis Recognizing Anglican Catholic Identity: An Historical Review of the Anglican Catholic Movement, the Affirmation of St. Louis and the Traditional Anglican Communion, which has been added to the database for scholarly works by Acadia University. For anyone interested in the complete thesis, it can be found at:

© Dr. Charles Warner 2010

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