So what sort of Anglican are you?

I think it is safe to say that until about 30 – 40 years ago very few people would know what an Anglican was.

Identifying yourself as an Episcopalian or a member of the Church of England in the mid-1970s would not generate the blank stare that a declaration of Anglican identity would elicit. There also was not the need to distinguish between the terms. Save for a few obscure groups here and there just about all Anglicans in the United States were members of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A.

Likely the question would never arise, for if you were an Anglican (an Episcopalian) you would not be talking about this anyway as religion was one of the three cardinal no’s of polite society — along with sex and money.

I raise these memories of my untroubled youth by way of introducing the question of how reporters should identify those who calls themselves Anglican.

Via the magic of Facebook, commentator Daniel Stoddart directed my attention to a DC-area newspaper, the Vienna Connection, which has a nice story about a new church. The article entitled “Vienna Resident ‘Plants’ a Church” chronicles its story.

The Rev. Johnny Kurcina has formed a congregation that meets on Sunday mornings at the Louise Archer Elementary School cafeteria. Since its start in November, the church appears to be doing well and the write up presents an attractive picture of a young minister with a bright future ahead.

The word “Anglican” is found in the sub-title and the story contains this line. Christ Church is:

… run by a Board of Directors, the “church council.” As Pastor of the church, Kurcina heads its future, guided by the deliberations of the church council. Kurcina would like to see more Anglican churches “planted” in the area.

What we are not told is what sort of Anglican Church this is, or if this church is an Anglican Church. And what exactly does it mean to be an Anglican church?

There are clues for the initiated.  His church has a “church council” not a vestry. He is its “pastor,” not a rector or vicar. The photo accompanying the story shows Mr. Kurcina in an open necked shirt — no clerical collar. And, we learn that:

In 2005, Kurcina spoke with the senior minister, a friend, of The Falls Church in Falls Church, about the feasibility of opening a church in Vienna. “They have the human resources, the financial resources and a real interest seeing new churches started,” said Kurcina. He became actively involved with The Falls Church, whose history goes back to the early 18th century, intending to “plant” a new church in Vienna.

The Falls Church is/was one of the major Episcopal Churches in Northern Virginia. A majority of its congregation quit the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and left to join the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). GetReligion has covered the reporting on this split as well. The clues then would lead a knowledgeable reader to believe this church plant was part of the ACNA — but then again, it may not be as the article is silent on this point.

There is an on-going fight over the Anglican brand in the U.S. between the Episcopal Church and the ACNA. The Episcopal Church is the “official” Anglican franchise in the U.S., but the ACNA is recognized by a majority of the world’s Anglicans too as being a bona fide Anglican church.

The New York Times recently published a correction to one of its stories that addressed this point.

An article on Jan. 2 about the Roman Catholic church’s formation of a new diocese-like entity for breakaway Episcopal priests and congregations misstated the role of the Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion.  The Episcopal Church is the sole official branch of the Anglican Communion in the United States, not “the main American branch.”

This is true up — up to a point. The Episcopal Church is the sole American member of the Anglican Consultative Council — a pan-Anglican coordinating group whose powers and authority are subject to some debate. But there is no official definition of who is an Anglican so that the claim to be the “sole official branch” is not entirely straightforward.

Compare the Times’ certainty to the uncertainty of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on this point. In a paper released on 20 January 2012 they noted that the:

the concept of membership of the Anglican Communion is not entirely straightforward. The Communion itself … has no legal personality. In addition (and unlike the Church of England) it does not have a set of canons which set out its core beliefs and regulate aspects of its internal governance.

In other words there is no hard and fast definition of who is an Anglican. The bottom line … the Vienna Connection should have identified what sort of Anglican church Christ Church Vienna was. But asking whether they are real or faux Anglicans is something that even the Archbishops of England have shied away from answering.

Should reporters define their terms? Does an individual’s self-identification take precedence over all? Should reporters question this self-identification? And if so, against what standard? How does the Anglican question compare to the issue of who is a Roman Catholic? What say you, Get Religion readers?

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  • Bob

    Though I’m unfamiliar with the intricacies of Anglican identification, I would make one tangential comment regarding Roman Catholicism. According to the Catholic canon law, anyone who identifies as Roman Catholic and is baptized as such, is assumed to be Catholic. Unless explicitly under excommunication, there’s an assumption that self-identification is the guiding principle, even if one doesn’t attend Mass or what not.

    Given that the strictness of Catholicism tends to be on the heavier end of things due to the strong canon law emphasis, I would think religious traditions with less bureaucratic overtones should be assumed to follow this self-identification principle. While the adherents within a religious tradition need to argue about who is in and out as they will, journalism should generally stick to self-identification as its principle unless there is a firm standard set forth by a religious authority on the matter that can be appealed to.

  • Yewtree

    I presume the split between the Episcopalians and ACNA is over the issue of gay sexuality? If that is the case, then which of the two bodies the new church is affiliated to does matter – especially to potential congregants in the area who might want to belong to a church affiliated to one or the other group.

    As to the wider issue of self-identification, I think the number of “cultural Christians” who put “C of E” on census forms in the UK, where the Anglican church is the established church, are inflating the sense of support for the established church in society.

    There is a difference between identifying with something and belonging to it, and this difference is important from the point of view of both adherents and non-adherents. If someone identifies as Christian, I’d like to know what they mean by it, as it can represent quite a wide range of political and theological views. I have thought quite carefully about my religious and spiritual identity (Wiccan and Unitarian) and wish other people would think a bit more about theirs too.

  • Will

    I fear you are falling into the “the US is the world” fallacy.

    Gilbert certainly did not think it mysterious or needing explanation when his Bishop of Rum-ti-foo arrives in London for “a synod called Pan-Anglican”.

  • Livingston Merchant

    As a priest of the Anglican Church of North America resident in Greece, and somewhat distant from the spit(s)among Anglicans in America, the whole issue is further confused by the question of who is in communion with whom. ACNA is in communion with some provinces of the “official” Anglican communion and not others. While ACNA does not accept the sacramental blessing of same-sex marriages for traditional theological reasons, it should not at all be described as homophobic. My church has the traditional Anglican understanding of God and scripture, creeds,sacraments,and a commitment to the Lord’s command to love others as oneself. What do I care if someone doesn’t think I am an Anglican?

  • Hector

    Speaking as an Episcopalian/Anglican here, if you hold to the tradition Anglican creeds, sacramental theology, and understanding of the Gospels, then I have no problem with calling you Anglican. That goes for the ACNA, as well as for the smaller churches which broke away from the Anglican Communion in the 1980s over the ordination of women, mostly. (I’ve worshipped with one such congregation in the past, and it was a great spiritual experience; it seemed like there were some great people in that congregation, truly filled with the Spirit.) There are times (though not too often) when I consider leaving the Episcopal Church and joining one of those small Anglican bodies.

    We refer to ELCA, WELS and LCMS folks all as ‘Lutherans’, even though they aren’t in communion with each other, so I don’t see why ACC, ACNA and TEC folks shouldn’t all be called ‘Anglicans’.

  • Jeff

    People — both clergy and laity — who don’t have to cross their fingers during any part of the liturgy contained in The Book of Common Prayer are Anglicans. Those who *do* have to cross their fingers are not. What this says about the Anglican legitimacy of the clergy and laity of The Episcopal Church and other churches that use The Book of Common Prayer I will leave it to others to say. But meaning it — *really* meaning it — during the liturgy is what matters most in determining that.

  • R.S.Newark

    I really admire that “cross your fingers” approach to what can only be described as anti sacramental theology. Hey, what would dear old, verrrrry old King Hen. the ate say?

  • Bob Smietana

    The Episcopal Church is the only Anglican Province in the US — and ACNA is a rival group that would like become a province. That’s probably the best way to describe the denominational affiliation.

    This “who is Anglican” question has come up in the AMIA split from Rwanda. Archbishop Duncan said that AMIA’s leaders, because they have no ties to any province, are no longer Anglicans.

    • geoconger

      I’m not sure I agree with the statement that the Episcopal Church is the only Anglican Province in the US. The Episcopal Church is the only American member of the Anglican Consultative Council, and the ACNA’s goal is to be added to that group. If membership is determined by that measure then that is a good argument. But there is no agreement that this is the measure by which a member of the Anglican Communion is identified.

      Inter-changeability of clergy used to be the measure of Anglicanism. A priest is a priest in all parts of the communion. But that is not true at present. Women cannot be priests in some parts of the communion while women bishops are not recognized as bishops (other than in courtesy) in other parts of the communion.

      If invitation to the Lambeth Conference is the measure of an individual bishop’s Anglican bona fides — then we have three standards. Those in the new American group were not invited … nor were two bishops from Zimbabwe who were allies of Robert Mugabe and had not yet set up their own church … and the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. And then again, this invitation is issued once every ten years and has no bearing on the situation until 2018.

      And in recent years we have seen local agreements created whereby Lutheran and Anglican clergy are recognized by each others churches … but that recognition does not extend beyond the local agreement.

      I agree with the sentiment that the Episcopal Church is the historic Anglican province in the U.S., but the reality on the ground is that it is not treated as such by other Anglicans any more. ACNA clergy are welcome to serve in the Church of England, for example, on the same terms as Episcopal clergy (they must receive permission to officiate on an individual basis)

  • Fr. Albert

    People simply have to research… There are many “types” of Anglicans, many that use the term a lot and are not member churches of the “Anglican Communion”. As an Episcopalian – who was a former a Roman Catholic – I can tell you this exists in almost every denomination today. For example: Conservative (i.e. Anti-Vatican II Roman Catholics) say they are “orthodox”. Liberal Roman Catholics in the US say they are American Catholics…

    So I believe that the only way to really know what “sort of Anglican” someone is will be to research who they are “in Communion” with and what their ecclesiology really is. Anglicanism is broad and we embrace that diversity, yet there are some who have decided “only THEY are Anglicans” – and have decided that Episcopalians are no longer entitled to the name.

    Hard to say, but break away groups may formally call themselves “Anglican inspired” but should not call themselves Anglicans until they are members of the Anglican Communion.

  • Jeff

    Fr. Albert,

    Vicky Gene Robinson is not invited to the Lambeth Conference. Would it not follow from your logic that he should not call himself an Anglican?

    By my own logic, I would not call him one because he is on record as crossing his fingers during certain unspecified parts of the creeds contained in the liturgy of The Book of Common Prayer. In fact, he is on record, in a New Yorker profile from several years ago, as saying that the assurance he received from an Episcopal priest that we was welcome to cross his fingers during whatever parts of the liturgy as he chose was what first convinced him to join The Episcopal Church.

  • Passing By

    When I was Episcopalian, 1972 – 1987, I was told that you were Anglican if the Archbishop of Canterbury said you were. Of course, those were simpler times.

  • northcoast

    Maybe the reporter had a reason to be confused. I guess that it is a historical custom for Virginia churches to avoid the word Episcopal or Anglican in their names, and the Rev. Kurcina does not emphasize his affiliation or his church office on his page at the Christ Church web site. However, a search on the internet reveals “Many parishioners traveled to Falls Church for Johnny Kurcina’s ordination to the priesthood of the Anglican Church on November 9″ and, “Christ Church Vienna is a new church started out of The Falls Church (Anglican). As an Anglican church we are members of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, and so also, The Anglican Church in North America.”

    Yewtree, your reference is to a symptom of a deepening disagreement, not the cause by itself, leading to the division between TEC and Anglican bodies in this country. Neither church is likely to be concerned about who is coming to worship. Who should be ordained clergy is another matter. For the rest, I generally agree. Showing up for worship no doubt is a better measure of faith, and even that can be deceptive when husbands (generally) attend services with their spouses.

    Bob Smietana, does anyone know what is going on with AMIA?

    Finally, the word “breakaway” implies violence. Couldn’t we just be “former Episcopalians?”

  • Bob Smietana

    Hi Northeast —

    Looks like AMIA will become a church planting network. Many of the AMIA congregations will join ACNA or some other Anglican group.

    I think breakaway implies conflict rather than violence.

  • Bob Smietana

    George -

    There’s a ghost in your story – and that is the difference between “official” religion and de facto religion. There’s an official list of members of the Anglican Communion and ACNA is not on it- though they would like to be. But ACNA clergy have relationships with other church leaders who treat them like real Anglicans.

  • northcoast

    There is a web site for a Toronto area church, Christ the King Graceland Independent Anglican Church of Canada. The church was founded, of course, by an Elvis look alike, more or less. It has been years since I read something about the founder, and I have no idea whether the church still exists or what claim it has to the Anglican label. LOL

  • John Payzant

    That’s always been like that in one way or another

    There originally was the minority of High-Anglican Catholic and the majority of Low-Anglican Evanglicals.

    Then came the Broad Church Movement trying to lower the High-Anglicans and raise the Low-Anglicans as some way of unification.

    In British Society is notorious for class distinction.

    Some questions would be do you pray the rosary of what class are you?

    But now a days a more common questions would evolve around the questions are you a liberal of conservative?

    Dress codes for Sunday attendance are much more lax nowadays than they were in the 50s & 60s.

    Now a days one could be called a fundamentalist and that would not be a compliment shows how times have perhaps changed.

  • Passing By

    But ACNA clergy have relationships with other church leaders who treat them like real Anglicans.

    That’s the real story that needs telling, except, of course, the process is on-going. In 50 years what will be the role of Canterbury, or will it even has one? Where will ”Anglicans” get their common identity?

  • Jeff

    My guess would be that in 50 years Anglicanism will have a decentered conciliar structure, with Canterbury included, but not as the same kind of hub it has been. The Church of England will have been disestablished and will have splintered into “progressive” and small-o orthodox camps. The “progressive” splinter of the old C-of-E will be in some sort of communion with what will be an infinitesimally small remnant of the current Episcopal Church. Both the “progressive” C-of-E splinter and TEC will be even further outside the mainstream of Anglicanism than they already are and will therefore not be included in the new decentered conciliar order of things. American Anglicanism will, however, be well-represented there by ACNA and/or similar groups. History will record that the “progressives” broke up the old Anglican Communion, which then reconstituted itself without Canterbury or even England as the same kinds of hubs they once were, and, more importantly, without either TEC or the “progressive” faction in the C-of-E. In short, the “progressives” will “win” in the short term, in the sense that they will break up the Communion, but the small-o orthodox will come out on top in the longer run, and the Communion will survive in a different, more appropriate form.

  • RMBruton

    I fail to see where any of the preceding comments have answered George’s question, What sort of Anglican are you. My family has historically referred to its religious affiliation as Church of England, I don’t recall any saying that they were”Anglican”. But here is my answer George, I’m the sort who uses the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, with no alterations or contemporizing. I recognize only the Ordinal associated with that Book and all Thirty-nine of the Articles of Religion. I read and agree with Both Books of Homilies, and the only Bible I use in English is the Authorized Version. That is the sort of Anglican I am.

  • Jeff


    You are the sort of Anglican who — if you were American — would not be either welcome or happy in the present-day Episcopal Church.

  • RMBruton

    That is why I am not an Episcopalian or a Continuing/Alternative Episcopalian, although I live along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. But, that’s quite O.k. with me.

  • R.S.Newark

    Here’s one not yet considered. Back in the early days of our country’s foundation Anglicanism, since it’s head was the King or Queen Soverign of a foreign and hostile state was made illegal. Thus establishing Episcopalianism. Does anyone recall when Queen Elizabeth II visited the U.S. a group of wags wanted her arrested for this illegal act…they weren’t the forgiving Catholics either.

  • Arthur

    I think too much is expected of a reporter for a local paper.

    It does touch a nerve of the episcopalians in the US, though, doesn’t it, that they can be on the “official list” of Anglican provinces and yet most of the world’s Anglicans based on the list don’t recognise them, and instead recognise the ACNA?

    And mentioning the letter from Canterbury (who, to the annoyance of the episcopalians, has so far refused to say that the ACNA is not Anglican) and York, what does it say that the episcopal church of the US would be hard pressed to get the 2/3 consent to get on the list if the question were called today?

  • TJ McMahon

    RMBurton- Given your answer to #21′s question, the obvious follow up questions are: What jurisdiction are you part of? And who is your bishop?

    As the old saying goes, for most Protestants, bishops are desirable but unnecessary, and for Anglicans, bishops are necessary but often undesirable.

    Which probably says something about the kind of Anglican I am- the sort that sits about during coffee after services gossiping about the bishop.

    I think that one of the major issues that we face is that the vast majority of journalists who are either Catholics, who would never refer to Anglican priests as priests, and Evangelicals who frame things in terms of “pastor” or “church council” to make it more “understandable” for their free church readership. A while back, I read an article about an Anglo Catholic parish with a vestry, which by the time the writer was done, was a “Protestant congregation” (not parish) with a “pastor” (or was it “parson”?, but in any case not a priest or rector) and “elders” (not vestry). Perhaps we should write up a brief couple paragraphs on ecclesiology of Anglican Churches, to be distributed to all journalists interviewing clergy or laity of Anglican parishes, Episcopal, ACNA, AMiA, and otherwise.
    And then, maybe we should make that required reading for all the 90 day wonders that are being turned into clergy- whether former free church Evangelical/Charismatics in AMiA or the revisionist former Roman priests who TEC brings in a week after they resign their Roman orders.

  • TJ McMahon

    Please forgive me for all the “that”s in “that” one sentence.

  • Beth Cropper

    I believe that the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) uses an earlier, more conservative version of the Book of Common Prayer than the one used by the Episcopal Church in North America and as I understand it, some very large Provinces of the Anglican Communion have announced that they are no longer in communion with the Episcopal Church in North America and that they are in communion with the ACNA even though the Archbishop of Canterbury has not yet recognized the ACNA.

  • Katherine

    No, Beth Cropper, many, probably most, ACNA parishes use the Episcopal 1979 prayer book. Some have services “based on” but not actually using even that book.

  • Beth
  • Beth

    Information about different dioceses of the ACNA can be found here:

  • northcoast

    Concerning recent comments, the Vienna church web site has the term “church council;” so don’t blame it all on the reporter. From outside it appears that the church is downplaying its Anglican identity, although it is obvious if you look closer. The mission of ACNA includes planting new congregations and evangelizing among the unchurched (not just being a bunch of angry breakaway Episcopalians), and I suspect that waving the Anglican flag might not be a good way to get along with the neighbors in Virginia.

    Both the 1979 and 1928 BCP’s are in use. I think a new standard version is in preparation.

  • Katherine

    The Falls Church, the parent parish for this church plant in Vienna, uses the 1979 (I have visited personally) so it is reasonable to guess the Vienna church does too. Northcoast is correct to say that the 1928 is not prohibited or severely restricted as it is in many Episcopal dioceses.

  • Jeff


    I doubt they are downplaying their Anglican identity.

    But if they are, it is probably to distance themselves from those angry breakaway Episcopalians who have abandoned the Anglican tradition and the Anglican Communion by blaspheming The Holy Spirit as whatever jerks their left-liberal knees.

    There could perhaps be certain circumstances in which “Anglican” is a term which will need to be detoxified from its association with TEC.

    But I still rather doubt that you are right.

  • Hector

    Re: Both the 1979 and 1928 BCP’s are in use. I think a new standard version is in preparation.

    For that matter, some Episcopalian parishes (which haven’t broken away) still use the 1928 prayer book.

    Some also use the ‘Anglican Service Book’, which is a kind of hybrid of the 1979 and 1928 prayer books, in traditional language, with some added material (Marian prayers, benediction, etc.)

  • northcoast

    Jeff, Maybe words about a low profile would work out better. Have you looked at the web site?

    Hector, I think that would apply to Anglo Catholics. I wonder if the ACNA service book will include the Anglo Catholic form.

  • Beth

    For Virginia info click here: