[Episcopal News Service] Does your local Episcopal church celebrate the feast day of Hannah Grier Coome on Feb. 9 or Rota Waitoa on May 22? Likely not, since those church saints are venerated by the Anglican provinces of Canada and Aotearoa, respectively, and are not included on The Episcopal Church’s official calendar of saints.
Episcopalians, however, in addition to celebrating their own saints, will be able to learn about and celebrate historical religious figures from across the Anglican Communion under a plan endorsed this week by the Anglican Consultative Council. All 42 Anglican provinces, including The Episcopal Church, will be invited to submit names and biographies to be included in a worldwide Anglican Communion calendar.
At the 18th ACC meeting, taking place Feb. 12-19 in Accra, Ghana, members also accepted a report scrutinizing localized experiments with “virtual” Eucharist during the pandemic, and they discussed the Anglican Communion’s commitments to fighting climate change and raising up Indigenous voices.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke in favor of the plan for an Anglican Communion calendar on Feb. 16, saying it was a “very timely” proposal, since discussions are taking place in his own province of England about how to “make our calendar more diverse.”
Likewise, The Episcopal Church in recent years has considered ways of expanding its calendar of saints to include more women and people of color. The 80th General Convention in July 2022 voted to add Bishop Barbara Harris’ consecration date to the calendar, marking her significance as the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion. Bishops and deputies also approved a plan to give the church more flexibility to add names to its volume of Lesser Feasts and Fasts while encouraging “the local development and commemoration of days of optional observance.”
The outlines of an Anglican Communion Calendar were drafted by the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, which highlighted its work in a report to ACC-18. About 110 ACC members are participating from 39 worldwide Anglican provinces, including three members from The Episcopal Church.
The Anglican liturgical group described its proposed calendar as “a collection of gifts from the member churches of the Communion and sister churches of other traditions.” The Christians to be included on the calendar “showed authentic marks of holiness.” Candidates would be people already are commemorated on provincial church calendars but who may not be widely known in other parts of the world.
Coome, for example, founded Canada’s Anglican Sisterhood of St. John the Divine in 1884, according to a sample calendar prepared as part of the report. And in New Zealand, Waitoa, ordained in 1853, is know as the “first born” of Maori clergy.
It wasn’t clear when such an Anglican Communion calendar would be finalized, or which names might be submitted for it from The Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints.
The International Anglican Liturgical Consultation also generated a report on the controversial practice of virtual Communion, in which some priests and Christian denominations have raised the possibility that the bread and wine can be consecrated remotely, such as through Zoom, instead of among a physically gathered community of baptized Christians.
Virtual Eucharist has never been explicitly allowed as a liturgical option within The Episcopal Church, and a June 2020 discussion by the House of Bishops suggested there were strong feelings among the bishops against endorsing the concept or even experimenting with it.
The report submitted this week for the ACC’s consideration summarizes the challenges faced by congregations and worshippers in the early days of the pandemic, when in-person worship was suspended. Online services became a common alternative to abstaining from collective worship altogether.
“There seems to be a consensus that online services of the word and prayer are, if less than ideal, not objectionable. Such services can be lay-led and have provided important continuity through the pandemic,” the report says.
Incorporating the Eucharist into online services can prove more problematic, raising questions about the legitimacy and propriety of remote consecration of the bread and wine. “Anyone with a sense of Anglican history will realize at once that the likelihood of agreement on these questions is low,” the Anglican liturgical group says, though it ultimately concludes that it is necessary for consecration to happen in the physical presence of a priest.
“We do not believe the concept of remote consecration to be consistent with Anglican theology and practice, and therefore it should not be recommended,” the report says. “Where a Eucharist with an in-person congregation is livestreamed to enable those who are not able to be physically present to be included within the worshipping community, the use of bread and wine at home should not be encouraged.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.