[Episcopal News Service] The Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary, the oldest Anglican religious order in the United States, has voted to leave The Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Church in North America. The community’s Southern and Western Provinces will remain in The Episcopal Church.
In a letter to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry dated April 14, the Rev. Mother Superior Miriam of the Eastern Province, based in upstate New York, said the sisters had been reevaluating the province’s 156-year-old connection to The Episcopal Church for over a year. According to the letter and an accompanying press release, the impetus for the province’s vote was the departure of the Rt. Rev. William Love, the former bishop of Albany who oversaw the province, from The Episcopal Church effective April 2.
A Title IV hearing panel had ruled on Oct. 2, 2020, that Love violated church law by prohibiting clergy from using same-sex marriage rites. In an agreement resolving that case, Love resigned as bishop, effective Feb. 1, 2021. On March 30, Love announced he would leave The Episcopal Church effective April 2 and join the ACNA; he now serves as an assisting bishop in its Diocese of the Living Word.
In accordance with The Episcopal Church’s canon law (Title III, Canon 14), religious orders are not connected to any particular diocese but operate under the oversight of a bishop visitor, a function Love fulfilled for the Eastern Province until he left The Episcopal Church. The Eastern Province has chosen to follow Love, who will be its bishop visitor in the ACNA.
The Eastern Province is based at a convent and farm near Greenwich, New York, where the sisters raise goats. It also has a convent and farm in Luwinga, Malawi, where sisters make clothing and feed orphans, among other ministries.
In her letter to Curry, Miriam expressed “deep sorrow and regret” over the outcome of Love’s hearing and said the sisters were choosing “the rich tradition of historic Anglican doctrine and worship” over “the cultural maelstrom many present-day Christian denominations try to accommodate.”
When asked whether the province had considered finding a different bishop visitor within The Episcopal Church, Miriam told Episcopal News Service that the House of Bishops’ support for same-sex marriage rites meant that “finding a bishop visitor within The Episcopal Church compatible with our beliefs was unlikely on a permanent basis.”
The Eastern Province’s New York property is directly adjacent to the Diocese of Albany’s Christ the King Center, which hosts camps and retreats, sometimes in collaboration with the sisters. Miriam told ENS the sisters’ “relationship with the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany remains cordial.”
“We see our ministry alongside Christ the King Center as ecumenical,” she added. “As good neighbors, we will work together when it is mutually beneficial.”
Members of the order’s Southern Province, based in Sewanee, Tennessee, released a statement on April 15 emphatically declaring their loyalty to The Episcopal Church, saying they were “going through some initial stages of grief” over the Eastern Province’s departure, but were “not totally surprised by their decision.”
“And while we consider their decision grievous and misguided, we also accept that they are not likely to turn away from their present course of action,” Sister Madeleine Mary, prioress, wrote in the statement. “We write, then, to assure you that we, as the Community of St. Mary, will remain faithful to our calling within The Episcopal Church.”
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.