The main reason why I’m an Anglican is because I’m English, and being C of E is like a national default (at least it used to be, in the days before opting out of organised religion became the new default). That’s it, mundane and simple. As with so many things in life, the original reason for a decision is often pretty mundane. The reasoning and calculated arguments are added later. This is partly a natural evaluation that we do, but it is also an attempt not to look too stupid. We can go to great lengths to justify all sorts of decisions that, in truth, originated by whim of circumstance. Sometimes it’s liberating to be honest about our reasons. I chose my theological college because they served a nice cheeseboard when I visited, and I couldn’t afford the time or train fare to look elsewhere.
This is not to say that the later reasoning is a cover up. It can be, but it is still important to justify why we are where we are. I find this reasoning increasingly important as I find very good reasons not to be Anglican. I hate the Church of England’s ties with Establishment — Elizabeth Windsor as ‘Supreme Governor’, bishops sitting in the House of Lords, and the general societal superiority this tends to create (varieties of exceptionalism and classism). I hate its history of collusion with British empire building. I hate its lack of courage and self-knowledge and the blinkered pettiness it breeds.
A fellow priest asked me a few years ago which side in the English Civil War I felt I could associate with best. To me, this didn’t require any more thought: a Parliamentarian, a Roundhead. My colleague guessed that’s what I’d say, but was still shocked to find an Anglican priest who supported the ‘other side’, while he was all for King and Country. I am convinced that the teachings of Levellers and Diggers, and many an ordinary Puritan, were honest understandings of living life following Christ in all simplicity, whereas the bishops really were ‘lords spiritual’ continuing a feudal ecclesiology. Though don’t mistake me as Low Church. I have equal fellow-feeling for the Pilgrimage of Grace of the 1530s, during which the ordinary Christians of the North campaigned to preserve their faith and practice from Protestant revision.
So, I’m an Anglican because I’m English, I was baptised privately in a 19th-century suburban church, I went to Sunday school and sang in the church choir and was confirmed after a course of instruction that did little to help understand what it was all about. I’m an Anglican because the vicar I thought incomprehensible and not a little silly, made profound sense at my mum’s funeral. I’m an Anglican because it’s the church for everyone in this little England. You don’t have to sign anything, you don’t have to go to classes, you don’t have to speak up, you don’t even have to go to church. Its weakness is its strength. When we cleanse ourselves from the pomposity of Established Church and the bourgeois musings of second-string bishops, we might get a step closer to realising that we are a church for all, bringing hope in all of England’s corners. That’s why I’m an Anglican.
I’m not an Anglican because of what Richard Hooker of Heavitree actually said, but what we all like to think he said: we try to read the Bible in the present, holding onto our dear traditions (as best we can remember them) and reaching out in reason (as best we can employ it), and somehow being like Christ, near torn in twain in the breach.
This discussion continues in the article Revisiting why I’m an Anglican?