What is the real difference between these phrases “High Church”, “Anglo-Catholic”, “Broad Church”, and “Low Church?” And what piety is St. Anna’s?
Explanation of the foregoing question could go on for pages and pages in order to complete the story. So I will try to be brief. The varieties of churches expressing certain beliefs and liturgical forms can be defined using the above terms such as “High Church.” Most or all of these definitions can find historical roots and deep traditions dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and before. To have a full understanding of these terms one must really study the history of The Church of England and The Episcopal Church USA. The following are unreasonably brief descriptors of each form (called parties):
High Church: enjoys many ornamentations and a liturgical style reminiscent of the traditional Christian worship largely established prior to the Reformation of a distinctly Benedictine nature. The principal figure associated with the High Church party was Archbishop Laud (Archbishop of Canterbury 1663-1645) and is further associated with the so called “Caroline Divines” of that same period.“…the Caroline divines presented their countrymen with a via media in which they could remain within the established church and also participate in ancient forms of religion.” So, this form believes in the via media and beauty of ritual worship in opposition to the Puritan claims for austerity while strongly differentiating themselves from Roman rule and rites.
Anglo Catholic: an often misused term, I believe, for “High Church” came into fullness with the Tractarian Movement from Oxford England led by four notable churchmen in the mid-19th century. Its concern was the re-establishment of liturgies of an historic nature; it claimed to be one of the continuing Apostolic Churches alongside of Rome and Orthodox churches. It understood the priesthood to be sacrificial, the mass sacrificial, and in later years encouraged devotions to Mary the Mother of God. In its more “orthodox” form some Anglo Catholics still hold with the Patriarchy of Rome (although not in communion they still seek full communion) and many disavow the ordination of women.
That said, a more liberal form accepts the ordination of women and inclusion of LGBT persons while otherwise adhering to much of the other doctrines and disciplines of the historic Roman Rites and liturgies. Both parties within Anglo Catholicism may even adhere to the doctrine of Transubstantiation as a fuller explanation of “Real Presence” and disavow the Protestant legacies.
Broad Church: In the Episcopal Church in the United States, the term “Broad Church” refers to those whose ceremonial practice is neither High Church nor Low Church. Theologically, they may be either conservative – equating to Central Churchmanship in the Church of England – or liberal, which would identify them with the Broad Church or liberal party within the Church of England. The name, Broad Church, found common use in the later part of the 19th century. At present many Episcopal churches might be called Broad Church. They maintain some of the ceremonial of the High or Catholic traditions but not all. They generally adhere theologically to more Protestant ideas and theologies.
Low Church: In contemporary usage, “Low Churches” place more emphasis on the Protestant nature of Anglicanism than broad or High Churches and are usually Evangelical in their belief and practice. They may tend to favor the Book of Common Prayer services of Morning and Evening Prayer over the Eucharist, though the Diocese of Sydney has largely abandoned the Prayer Book and uses free-form evangelical services. Some contemporary Low Churches also incorporate elements of charismatic Christianity.
More traditional Low Church Anglicans, under the influence of Calvinist or Reformed thought inherited from the Reformation era, reject the doctrine that the sacraments confer grace ex opere operato (e.g. baptismal regeneration) and lay stress on the Bible as the ultimate source of authority in matters of faith necessary for salvation. They are, in general, prepared to co-operate with other Protestants on nearly equal terms. Some Low Church Anglicans of the Reformed party consider themselves the only faithful adherents of historic Anglicanism and emphasize the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England as an official doctrinal statement of the Anglican tradition. More traditional forms of Low Church worship would not use a chasuble but rather cassock, hood, and tippet or stole. The worship would not be called “mass”. Eucharist would be performed usually once a month. A strong tradition of this party comes from Virginia Seminary and found its most prevalent use, up until the 1970’s, in the southern United States. At one time, around 1900, St. Anna’s was condemned by the Low Church proto-Cathedral in Shreveport for installing those “Popish adornments of Candles upon the Lord’s Table.” Another hint at this Low Church inclination can be found in Trinity Episcopal Church New Orleans. There is no center aisle because processions were seen as “Romish.”
In Summary we can say certain things about worship at St. Anna’s. It is certainly “High Church” in that ornaments, actions, and incense point toward a sensation of holiness and is of a type of ancient worship not too often experienced in 21st century U.S.A. St. Anna’s may even draw some from Anglo Catholic worship (praying the rosary before mass); statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Anna in our church and such. If we are Anglo Catholic we are of a ‘liberal type’ wherein the ordination of women is fully embraced and the issues surrounding human sexuality are a non-issue with us, “All are welcomed none are shunned.” Yet many of the Protestant reforms are evident as well. Latin is rarely if ever used during worship; the centrality of the Liturgy of the Word is in the sermon which is not deemed to be less than the Eucharist but of equal importance. The preaching style of the current Rector, perhaps less cerebral, but would typically be called, “evangelical” in style if not content. There is no sense of overwhelming specialized piety. By this we mean some may make the sign of the cross, others not, some may kneel during the cannon of the mass some may stand. Part of the joy of St. Anna’s is that it is not so rooted in traditions that anyone visiting will feel left out. NOTE: The missals used apart from the annotations are directly taken from the BCP without alteration. They are used, largely, because so many are new to the Episcopal Church at St. Anna’s. They provide for, we believe, a more seamless and easily directed worship experience. So if someone asks, yes we are “High Church” or if you are inclined Anglo Catholic in worship…but really stick with High Church. You will be truer to what we do and say. A noted theologian, Dr. Rev. Reginald Fuller, once described himself as, “A pre-Tractarian High Churchman” That sounds good to me!
[I want to acknowledge that much of the text in this section comes from Wikkipedia with some modifications and alterations]