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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