Again Magazine, Volume 17, Number 1 March, 1994 – Page 8-11
When I heard that some British Anglicans had formed a group called Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy, and that I had been invited to participate in an upcoming conference, I was excited.
As a recent convert, I was eager to go to England and give them some hope, to convince them that many former Anglicans are happy and flourishing in the Orthodox Church, to encourage them as they face…
A TIME FOR ACTION
A SPECIAL REPORT ON ENGLAND’S “PTO”
by Father Bill Olnhausen
Despite my German name, Britain has long seemed my “mother country.” My mother’s side of the family is Celtic (Welsh and Irish), and my upbringing was Methodist, so when I became an Anglican in 1962 I felt I was returning to my roots. I became attached to Britain and British ways—C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Vaughan Williams—and I developed a deep devotion to the ancient Celtic saints. Thus, when we became Orthodox in 1989, I felt a real loss of ethnic identity. And now I was being asked to teach in my mother country!
I knew by sad experience that Anglicanism, like many other denominations, is becoming blatantly heterodox. Anglicans have long had great variety in faith and practice, ranging from some members nearly like Latin Catholics to others nearly Calvinist. At times, this breadth of spirit allowed Anglicans to escape some of the Western denominational “pigeonholes” and to adopt a spirit not far different from that of Orthodoxy. I was originally drawn to Anglicanism as a kind of potential Western Orthodoxy.
However, more recently Anglican freedom has turned to license. Beginning with the American Bishop Pike in the 1960s, who declared the Holy Trinity to be “excess baggage,” some clergy and theologians, openly and without serious penalty, have denied the most fundamental doctrines of the Faith. Moral standards have been seriously eroded. One influential English vicar recently declared himself to be an atheist—and yet he remains a priest of the Church of England.
The movement to ordain women increasingly became the focus of controversy in Anglicanism for two reasons:
(1) Women’s ordination “institutionalizes” heresy. A false teaching may quickly be reversed, but clergy remain part of the structure of a denomination for generations. (2) Recent history demonstrates that women’s ordination is the “Trojan horse” for modernism. Denominations which ordain women quickly capitulate to the rest of the modern liberal agenda.
Thus, in 1993, when the Church of England finally approved the ordination of female priests, most traditional Anglicans were reduced to desperation. Some have left. Others have hoped against hope that in time their church would return to faith. Many Anglicans are angry, afraid, cynical. They feel betrayed by their church. Some are interested in Orthodoxy, but hesitate to trust it because (1) they cannot imagine that Orthodoxy is genuinely united in faith, (2) they take it for granted that in time the Orthodox Church too will dissolve into doctrinal chaos, and (3) they assume that Orthodoxy is so “ethnic” that Westerners can never be accepted.
So when I heard that some British Anglicans had formed a group called Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy, and that I had been invited to participate in an upcoming conference, I was excited. As a recent convert, I was eager to go to England and give them some hope, to convince them that many former Anglicans are happy and flourishing in the Orthodox Church.
When Father Peter Gillquist announced the trip to my congregation (Saint Nicholas Mission, Mequon, Wisconsin), he added in passing that he wished my wife Dianna could go along, too. Before the Liturgy had ended, the congregation had raised the money for her to go! And so on the Monday after Thanksgiving Day, 1993, we left for London.
How would our visit be received? How would the Church of England react? Would there be hostility? How would the British press present us? Positively? As an interesting curiosity? As interfering “colonials”? Bishop Basil of the Russian Diocese had sent a most friendly letter saying that he and Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of the Greek Archdiocese were “ready and eager” to help “these new Orthodox to become integrated into the larger Orthodox community in England,” and that he “welcomed most heartily” a “greater presence of the Antiochian Church in Britain.” Would this be the general Orthodox attitude?
We also wondered how serious the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy people really were about Orthodoxy. From experience we know how many Anglicans thaw right up to the point of becoming Orthodox and then pull back. So we got off the plane at Gatwick Airport with some concerns about what we would find.
We were greeted immediately by Canon Michael Harper, President of the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy, and his wife Jeanne, who were the first to set our minds at ease about their group. Their commitment to Orthodoxy is obvious and firm. The Harpers come from the evangelical wing of the Church of England and have also been international leaders of the charismatic movement. This surprised me at first, since most Anglican converts to Orthodoxy appear to have been Anglo-Catholics. But why not? Since the Orthodox Church is the Mother of all Christians, one can approach Orthodoxy from many directions. Evangelicals find Orthodoxy to be the Bible Church, the “Church which wrote the Bible.” Charismatics find Orthodoxy to be the Spirit-filled Church, the Church which truly knows how to praise and glorify God rightly. Canon Michael feels strongly that PTO stands at the beginning of a powerful movement which will restore many British people to Orthodoxy.
We were soon joined by Father Peter, Father Michael Keiser (Antiochian Western Rite Vicar for the eastern United States), and Nicholas and Nina Chapman (who organized our visit and who are both enthusiastic converts to Orthodoxy). And so the conferences began. For ten days we were either talking or moving almost continually: from East Grinstead south of London, to High Wycombe northwest of London, to Cambridge, to Longton north of Birmingham, to Doncaster in southern Yorkshire. We worshiped two or three times a day, presenting both Eastern and Western Rites. At each local meeting, other local Orthodox clergy and lay people gave teachings and accounts of theft journeys to Orthodoxy and participated in discussion groups and question-and-answer sessions. The conferences were not well publicized: two hundred invitations were mailed to people who subscribed to or had seen copies of AGAIN Magazine. Nevertheless, word spread, and we spoke to perhaps 350 people altogether.
I was impressed by what I saw of the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy. Some Anglican priests have already publicly declared for Orthodoxy, little counting the cost. At least one had openly put himself under the “protection” of Metropolitan Philip even before we arrived! I had worried that the Anglicans would be one-issue misogynists, motivated only by the ordination issue; instead I found many who truly appear to be seeking the fullness of Orthodoxy. I had feared the PTO would be an exclusively clerical movement, but many lay people attended the conferences. I was concerned that Anglicans would want to bargain their way into Orthodoxy, negotiating instead of humbly seeking; so far as I could see, this was not the case. I remember Father Graham Hallam of Stockport saying to me, “My people and I want to be Eastern Rite, but if we have to go Western Rite in order to be Orthodox, we’ll do it. Just tell us what to do.”
Let me share a few vivid personal recollections:
(1) When I entered the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Chad in Longton— a building of the nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholic revival, obviously much prayed in, with many candles burning before the statues of the saints—I wanted to cry, for the spirit that produced that building and others like it is departing the Church of England. Because of their commitment to Catholic faith, parishioners are leaving their ancestral home, fleeing—some to Rome, some, we trust, to Orthodoxy. Anglicanism at its best has been a glorious thing. When one Anglican priest asked whether I, as a convert to Orthodoxy, still appreciated anything in classical Anglicanism, it surprised him to hear that there is very little that I don’t value! Can what is best in the Church of England be preserved, renewed and brought to its fulfillment within Orthodoxy?
(2) I think of the deeply dedicated British converts to Orthodoxy: high-quality priests who serve tiny congregations of converts and hold down other jobs as well in order to eke out a living, and the many lay converts who have joyfully given their lives to the cause of British Orthodoxy. What an inspiring group of people!
(3) I was impressed by the church-within-a-church at Saint Jude’s Anglican parish, Doncaster, where in a very blue-collar setting about 50 lay people, led by Father David Sennitt, are forming a new Orthodox congregation.
(4) I remember an old lady of the English dowager type who, typical of many, said, “I was raised to believe the Church of England was the Catholic Church of our country, but now I see it isn’t. I don’t know what to do.” I hope we helped her to know what to do.
What is the reaction of non-Orthodox in Britain? The Church of England, with a typically British sense of fair play, is providing some limited severance pay for the clergy who feel bound in conscience to leave, and Anglican bishops are allowing dissident clergy to openly organize non-Anglican congregations of whatever sort. Both The Church of England Newspaper and the secular press gave us very fair, positive, and sometimes even accurate coverage.
Was it all sweetness and light? No! There was some active hostility. The Anglican priest who chaired one (mercifully brief) seminar told us in no uncertain terms that the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy was wrong, and he was not about to entertain other opinions. Once, after my wife spoke, an Orthodox convert accused us of being alien interlopers, and asked why we didn’t all go home where we belonged. Before I could bravely run to Dianna’s aid, she had defended us: We were in Britain not as invaders but by invitation. We were not promoting American-style Orthodoxy but simply Orthodoxy, knowing that in time a genuinely British Orthodoxy will be established.
We also discovered why the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy turned to America for help. British Orthodoxy has had no experience bringing groups into the Church; all their converts have come one by one. For whatever reason, some Orthodox leaders who were most welcoming at first now feel strongly that all converts should first join an established Orthodox congregation (which unfortunately is most likely to be at a distance and seem very foreign to them), and then after some years a mission might be formed to serve the former Anglicans where they live.
One can agree with the desire to be certain that new converts be thoroughly catechized before becoming Orthodox. One can also see why British Orthodox might have other concerns. Since most of the United Kingdom’s several hundred thousand Orthodox are still very strongly ethnically Eastern (mostly Greek and Cypriot, with a small minority of Russians, Serbians, and Arabs), a large influx of persons from the established Church of England might be intimidating. It seems certain that, if no groups are to be received into British Orthodoxy, the number of Anglican converts will be very small indeed.
American Orthodoxy, on the other hand, has had a long history of receiving groups into the Church. Many Eastern-Rite Catholic congregations came into the OCA early in this century. More recently, the Antiochian Archdiocese has received many communities, chiefly former evangelicals and former Anglicans. We who became Orthodox in this way are profoundly grateful to Metropolitan Philip and the Antiochian Archdiocese for mercifully taking this risk for our sake, and for welcoming us so warmly and graciously. It appears to me that this approach works:
I have been delighted and amazed to see how quickly former Anglicans have developed a deep commitment to and love for Orthodoxy. I believe it would be tragic to reject these British groups who seek holy Orthodoxy. There is a time to be cautious, but there is also a time to trust the Holy Spirit and to act.
Immediately after the conferences, the leaders of the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy flew to America and met with Metropolitan Philip. The result is summed up in the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy newsletter: Metropolitan Philip “agreed to support the setting up of Orthodox mission parishes in the United Kingdom. . . under his jurisdiction. There is to be a catechetical period, from now until the end of August 1994, supervised by Orthodox priests both from the United Kingdom and the United States. Some parishes have begun this process already. From the beginning of September they can be formally received into the Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch through its North American Archdiocese pending the creation of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Western Europe.” Each parish must choose consistent use of either “Western Rite