Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

Revisiting why I’m an Anglican

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Ten months ago I posted on why I’m an Anglican. That article struck some people as somewhat negative, and I especially like this reflection on what I wrote by Pradusz. The background for that article was partly thinking on those I know who were raised in the Church of England but have converted to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. For them, the ministry of women was a stumbling block, but I could also trace a deeper sense of turning away from the everyday normality of Anglicanism in English religion to something more exotic, challenging and full of the certainty of tradition. For those converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, old-fashioned orientalism was often part of the allure, and I hope the Orthodox quickly put them straight on that account. Likewise, I’ve known Anglicans convert to charismatic house churches for the certainty that comes from a certain type of biblical interpretation and emotionally charged worship. For me, Anglicanism is part of cherishing who I am, rather than trying to be something different. I wanted to emphasize the Kierkegaardian way in which the historical reasons for our life choices are often different from the interpretations we put on them. For the majority of people in this world, their religious conviction was chosen for them, by their parents and society at large. I wanted to embrace the religion that chose me, rather than applauding the concept that the grass always has to be greener in someone else’s field.

Celebrating the religion that chose me is important because I can find good reasons to question Anglican religious history. The Church of England has always been associated with English state power, and the global Anglican Communion owes its existence to British imperialism and colonialism. I am horrified at how most Anglicans seem unaware of this history, but realise that ignorance of them is part of the reason why Anglicanism is trying and failing to deal with its internal fault lines.

In the comments I replied

Faith is like falling in love. If I start with questioning and rationalising, it’s not going to happen. There’s an element of reaching out and taking a chance. However, the long-term relationship that develops needs to be thought through. This doesn’t stop the occasional ineffable experience from stirring old passions afresh, but we cannot build a life on them.

Positive reasons for being Anglican usually invoke the via media, the middle way between full-on Catholicism and full-on Protestantism. However, I don’t think we should be applauding ourselves for fence sitting and mediocrity. Anglicans tend either to cherish our Catholic heritage or the Protestant Reformation, but we need to learn to love them both, for we are the product of both. Our ancient formularies are not much help, wanting to avoid being seen as ‘popish’ while condemning the radical forms of continental reform that made the peasant equal to the prince in the sight of God and acted on that principle.

Anglican also tend to speak of the three-legged stool of scripture, tradition and reason, and we recognise their locus severally in the Reformation, Western Catholicism and the Enlightenment. However, we are plagued with so much bad biblical interpretation, misconceptions of tradition and plain fuzzy thinking that I find the three-legged stool to be rather shaky and uncomfortable support for Anglicanism.

This church is an organic being that can at times defy categorization and general definition. We believe we are the Church of Jesus Christ, from the apostolic to the catholic, but we believe that other churches are part of the Church too. Hence, we are not exclusive, and many of us fight to remain inclusive as we believe Christ has taught us to be. We are part of the Reformation movement because of our desire for inclusivity: that each might know God’s Word and worship in their own tongue. We are tens of millions of Christians worldwide, with very different experiences of living Christian lives. However, we pray for each other daily, are united in the sacraments of Baptism and Communion and share beloved scraps of liturgical heritage (the BCP is never far under the surface of our lex orandi). We have bishops and we love them, are frustrated by them, are perplexed by them and are blessed by them in equal measure. However, we treasure the whole people of God, shaping the church’s future through prayer, debate and involvement in our synodical government. We do not stand aloof from the world around us as some churches do, but we wrestle with the real issues that present themselves, for only then can we be salt and light to the world.

In this I am encouraged by the recent letter of Bishop Gerard Mpango of Western Tanganyika, Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real and Bishop Michael Perham of Gloucester, a copy of which can be downloaded from El Camino Real diocesan website. The three bishops met for the first time at the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and pledged themselves to each other to explore the “joys and dilemmas of being Anglicans together in a troubled Communion”. In their letter they say

As we met for a day wholly given to theological discussion, our Lectio Divina followed John 6, the feeding of the five thousand. We noticed, of course, the thanksgiving over the bread and fish, such a small offering, which served in Christ’s hands to satisfy the multitude. We were also drawn to the fragments, left over but gathered, twelve baskets signifying the gathering of the people of God. Our conversations may have appeared to be the fragments being swept together, like the ablutions following the Eucharist, but in them we saw a sign of hope for the future of the Communion – a celebration of love and hope for the future.

In summary, we have found so many ways to celebrate the generous love of God, for which we offer grateful thanks, and to which we like to bear our testimony, that others may share our joy.

The points they raise (with my thoughts following each) are equally worth celebrating

  1. Going on Safari — treasuring the journey as much as the destination: our faith and church relationships are dynamic, not static.
  2. Celebration and Diversity — we all do it differently, and yet there’s a liturgical common factor binding all Anglicans; respecting our diversity is difficult, but the bishops emphasize the importance of challenging each other to be honest to each other.
  3. Culture and Risk — sometimes we shy away from the risk of being misunderstood or creating tension because we want everyone to be happy, and we end up in a place where no one is happy. We have to talk the risky conversations about gender and sexuality in our Communion. And this goes hand in hand with thinking about culture: all cultures have to be subject equally to God’s judgement, but we also realise that the Gospel has to be lived and proclaimed in and through our cultures.
  4. Keep it small, keep it personal — there is often a tendency to try to heal the church’s woes like some garage geek with a model railway, but the only true way forward is through shared stories and friendships. It is far too easy to distrust the unknown, but we know how we can make friendships with those with whom we totally disagree.
  5. Beginning with Bishops — a bishop’s role is to take the lead, but they have become mired in the bureaucracy of committees and synods, making the future of our Communion dehumanised. Suddenly, bishops reaching out in simple friendship across divisions has become the radical and prophetic action that could keep us together.

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

2 thoughts on “Revisiting why I’m an Anglican

  1. Pingback: Why I’m an Anglican « Ad Fontes

  2. Ilike it when people come together annd share ideas. Grerat site, keep
    it up!

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