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It is customary nowadays to describe the Anglican middle ground as some form of faction or party occupying space between the liberal and conservative wings of the Episcopal Church. No one is quite sure what its members believe. It seems not to be organized. It has no vocal leaders, no journal or newsletter, no funding and no lobby.

Such a view has its origins in the neat but seldom accurate method of describing the later 19th Century church as being a coalition between High, Broad and Low Church parties, each competing for leadership or influence. There is some truth in all this, but only some. Each party or faction had its moment of ascendancy. As with all such “moments” to others the program pursued by such a party may have seemed to be the last word, the defining moment, that which would establish the nature of Anglicanism for all times. This has never been the case.

It is true that these parties left their traces, even left legacies to be re-discovered at a later time. None successfully transformed the church. Their contribution was woven into the fabric of the whole in what the late great Archbishop McAdoo termed “the Anglican Symbiosis.” He describes this symbiosis by quoting Jeremy Taylor:

What can be supposed wanting (in our Church) in order to salvation? We have the Word of God, the Faith of the Apostles, the Creeds of the Primitive Church, the Articles of the four first General Councils, a holy Liturgy, excellent prayers, perfect sacraments, faith and repentance, the Ten Commandments, and the sermons of Christ, and all the precepts and counsels of the Gospels. We teach the necessity of good works, and require and strictly exact the severity of a holy life. We live in obedience to God, and are ready to die for him, and do so when he requires us so to do…We worship him at the mention of his holy name. We confess his attributes. We love his servants. We pray for all men. We love all Christians, even our most erring brethren. We confess our sins to God and to our brethren whom we have offended, and to God’s ministers in cases of scandal or of a troubled conscience. We communicate often…our priests absolve the penitent. Our Bishops ordain priests and confirm baptized persons, and bless their people and intercede for them. And what could be here wanting for salvation.

To describe the middle way as a party is therefore erroneous. The middle way has never been a party. Its nature and reality has never been portrayed by any single movement or prophetic person in the history of Anglicanism. There is a simple reason for this. Anglicanism IS the middle way. Perhaps it was the saintly George Herbert who first described the English Church in such a manner in his poem “The British Church” in which Anglicanism, as it would be later termed, occupied the “mean” between the gaudiness of Rome and the slovenliness of Geneva. Yet such poetic license doesn’t get to the bottom of the matter. Herbert’s view is perhaps better expressed by one of his present day enthusiasts, Philip Sheldrake, in his book, “Love Took My Hand.” Sheldrake writes:

There is an immediate connection between our sense of place and a realization of God ‘placed’ in the heart of human life. Anglican spirituality seems to have a particularly strong sense of place…..The simplest (reason) is that the Church of England was heir to the pre-Reformation pattern of geographical parishes. It continued to stand for a ‘community’ model of Church rather than a gathered or associational model that inevitably became the norm for dissenters, whether Puritan or Roman Catholic. Again the Church of England model of priesthood was not something that existed in its own right in splendid theological isolation but was grounded or ‘located’ in relationship to a specific community where the Word of God was preached and the sacraments celebrated. In a more general way, Anglican identity from the very beginning was not based on tightly defined core doctrines or innovative and distinctive structures but rather on shared history and a sense of continuities and present connections. In other words, Anglicanism has a great deal to do with community life which means people and places –indeed people in places.

A sense of place, its relationship to individual and collective memory and its impact on human identity, have become major preoccupations in contemporary Western culture. This is a spiritual issue of great importance. One of its central features is the search for ‘home’.

So speaks a sympathetic Roman Catholic whom I have quoted at some length because he seems to point to something essential about Anglicanism now tragically neglected. For the middle way, isn’t really a middle way at all. It is the “moderate” way because it identifies the moderating feature of Anglicanism necessary if it is to fulfill its mission to be a church involved in and placed in community of what ever sort.

To be the church of and in a “place” is very different from being a party or faction gathering to itself adherents. In this respect one of the tragedies of post-Enlightenment Anglicanism is that it divided into faction in quite a new manner. Each faction established its own seminaries, its flagship parishes, its own style of ministry and its own sociological constituency. The old pattern of loyalty to one’s local parish was broken. Perhaps it had been broken before in big cities where popular preachers drew people across parish boundaries, but such people were unlikely to be baptized, married or buried away from “home”.

This introduces another feature of moderate Anglicanism, or the moderation of Anglicanism. Simply because its ambition is to serve all, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, young and old in community its form of ministry was not based on individualistic preaching or factional dogma, but rather in the yearly round of the Church Year with its lectionary, its feasts and fasts, Word and Sacrament. It assumes that the community to which it ministers has memory, has investment in ‘place’ in a manner which powerfully connects with present experience. In other words the changes and chances of party and faction are subordinated to the regular life of the church at its various levels.

Nor should it be assumed that such an ambition is rural in nature, depending on actual historical association with a particular place. Certainly contemporary individualism, in great part dictated more by market forces than by a desire for loneliness scatters families and disrupts older seemingly permanent attachments. Yet the communal aspects of Anglican life and liturgy in some measure act as a buffer and a remedy to such its memories, its rites and ceremonies and its mission to people in places. In a sense in contemporary culture Anglican parish life should be the place where people re-remember who they are and where they come from, what they value and how they love.

This is not to suggest that the ideals generated by party and faction have no place in moderate Anglicanism. Far from it. For it is in the steady, habitual life of the church that great ideas and projects find their soil, a soil which either receives, rejects or alters the seeds blown by the Spirit or by the ingenuity or passions of people and organizations.

The influence of the Oxford Movement demonstrates this fact. Anglicans are very sensitive about furniture! Certainly the Anglo-Catholics transformed the interior of most parish churches. It was a gradual and selective process. Why some things became generally in use and others not at all remains a mystery. Yet the decision to purchase a cross but not a crucifix, two candles rather than six, colored stoles but not chasubles were outward and visible signs of which parts of the Anglo-Catholic agenda would take root generally and which would remain the badge of factional parishes.

A sort of rough and ready principle emerges. That which is received is that which builds up co
mmunity life and in some form or another finds its compliment in the inherited memory of the community. That which has the potential to divide, to drive away, to obscure or eradicate memory is not received, or perhaps is amended in order that it may be assimilated into the symbiosis.

Thus in specific communities bound together by historic structures catholicity is practiced, not by the staging of rites and ceremonies to draw adherants to faction but rather to bind and guarantee the presence locally of the universal. Thus the Word is read and preached and taught not to attract people to evangelical religion, but rather to enable the work of the Gospel grounded in community. Again the caring, touching, practical reality of God’s love for all and particularly the poor and the marginalized is manifest locally not to attract people to liberalism” but as the manifestation of the kingdom which is and is to come located “now” in place and community.

If the middle way is between two or more alternatives it is only that by reflection. Anglican ethos suffers when it is described over against something or other, when it begins to change itself in order to avoid being tainted by or confused with some ‘alien’ culture. It may well be seen to be, for instance, different from “fundamentalism” or Roman Catholicism, but it does not exist to be different from either. Inevitably in some cultures Anglicanism may stand out or even be influenced in a reactive way to what seems to be a pernicious cultural presence. Yet it does so at its own peril. Antagonism transforms antagonists into mirror images of each other. When Anglicanism identifies itself over and against something or other, it inevitably narrows its ambition and mission and assumes some of the arrogance or dogmatism of its assumed rival. There’s a warning to us today in all this.

I am not spending time on drawing conclusions between this outline of Anglicanism, an Anglicanism which is moderation, and the trials and tribulations within our church today and within the wider Communion. The portrait painted, albeit with a broad brush is intended for reflection. That I have not addressed the place of Synods in all this is deliberate. Of late synodical government, emulating its secular counterparts, encourages faction and the triumph of majorities in a manner which does not lend to building community. Enough said.


I suppose the area in which nationalism and ecclesiology most clash in the Episcopal Church is in the matter of polity. General Convention is a hallowed institution produced by many of those who were present at the creation of the new Republic. It’s form, structure and purpose is to be democratic in the manner in which that word was interpreted at the end of the Eighteenth Century. That interpretation was as complex and illusive as it is today. One may see this in the conviction of the present administration that the introduction of democracy overseas is the precursor to the establishment of a brave and free new world.

What is often forgotten is that democracies are also capable of initiating totalitarianism. One sees this in Italy and Germany after the First World War. The mere fact that an institution is democratic does not mean that it is fair or just or merciful. When voters give to a party a dominant role in a legislature over a number of years Lord Acton’s aphorism enters the picture. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Corruption does not necessarily entail graft or nepotism. It may demonstrate itself in contempt for the minority stemming from a burning conviction that the party knows best.

Again an institution created at one stage in a society’s history, if it is not open to structural and procedural revision, may evolve into something inefficient and obstructive. It may cease to be able to get the job done. When General Convention first met the House of Bishops had a potential of four members, while about one hundred and four were members of the House of Deputies. Even then to a European, the Episcopal Church’s territory was vast, stretching as it did from the Canadian border to the border with Florida, and edging over the Piedmont hills to the mysteries lying beyond the mountains.

Although the American Church was a cobbled together union of widely differing parties and views, the unifying factor was survival. Could a church, tainted with royalism and the Establishment survive? Its unity lay in a common love of its heritage and worship and was expressed in its form of government. That form of government left most things to the “States” as dioceses were first described and a few things to General Convention. There was no bureaucracy, no 815, and a structure aimed at promoting decency and order and expansion.
Contrast this with Own Chadwicks description of Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s reaction to his visit to General Convention in Seattle in 1967 another period of tension and division:

“The General Convention at Seattle he did not like…”The vastness of it, the separate sitting of the houses which meant that the clergy and the laity did not hear the bishops discussing matters, nor did the bishops hear the clergy and laity discussing them, the concentration of power in this body meeting every few years, without fuller synodical discussions in the provinces themselves”…left “an appalling impression.”

Nearly forty years later +Michael Ramsey’s successor as Archbishop of York, in an address to the English General Synod echoed and expanded on Ramsey’s experience:

“God of mercy! Didn’t the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church need this! (gracious magnanimity) A Convention which was full of life, fun and joy in the Lord, with uplifting worship and Bible studies. A Convention which clearly demonstrated that the Episcopal Church is committed to mission, to the Anglican Communion, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury. A Church that takes the Millennium Development Goals seriously. Poverty, world peace, HIV/AIDS, the living wage, young people, equality for all, are at the top of the agenda.
And yet in spite of the hard work of the Legislative Committee, and its numerous hearings, the Convention failed to meet the precise request of Windsor. It left too much room for doubt and didn’t stop the rumour and impression of doing ‘our own thing’.

Nine days at the Convention taught me that this rumour and impression unfairly tarnishes all Episcopalians with a kind of arrogance which the present US administration displays through many of its actions. But it’s true to say that Oneness in thought and life is trumped by so-called democratic processes and thereby weakens the Church’s oneness and witness in Christ.
The Legislative Committee took the recommendations and invitation of the Windsor Report seriously. But the Convention’s legislative processes – modelled on the House of Representatives and the Senate, and acting like them – are not fit for the purpose of engendering good conversation (which comes from the same root word in Latin as conversion) and in the end they fell short. As Don Curran, a delegate from Central Florida said: “We have been asked to build a bridge. The bridge is one thousand feet long. If the bridge is only 950 feet long, it does not work. It’s useless.”

It is impossible to be graciously-magnanimous when the book of practice and procedures is regarded as the last word.

If only the Convention has heeded the wisdom of Rev. John Danforth, an Episcopalian priest and former Senator and US Ambassador to the United Nations. In a public lecture he said, “Sexuality is the most divisive issue. The Episcopal Church needs to remember that 99 percent of Americans are not Episcopalians. Sexual Orientation must not be the centrepiece of the Episcopal Church. We have a higher calling, a more central message: that God was in Christ, was in the world, reconciling the world to himself. And he has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.”

He urged his audience to look to Christ and be reconciled. “Articulate reconciliation; roll it out; act it out. Stay with the message – and it is long-term. If we can’t be united and if we offer a broken Church, this is a broken answer to a broken world. A broken Church is a sad Church. Don’t build a mortuary before it is necessary. Shift from the divisive issue of sexuality to ministry of reconciliation.”

Note particularly these words:

“But the Convention’s legislative processes – modelled on the House of Representatives and the Senate, and acting like them – are not fit for the purpose of engendering good conversation (which comes from the same root word in Latin as conversion) and in the end they fell short.”

The Archbishop puts his finger on the problem. How is it possible for an assembly of huge proportions –Bishop Michael Marshall said to me that the House of Deputies looked like the Supreme Soviet –to hold good conversations? This is particularly so when by-laws and rules, produced to consider legislation are called to moderate discussion. As the Archbishop of York put it, It is impossible to be graciously-magnanimous when the book of practice and procedures is regarded as the last word.

A legislative body didn’t create a body of law called the Windsor Report and send it to the American General Convention to act on. A committee report, endorsed by the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council was sent to the American Church for consideration and reaction. Because the only way we seem to know how to address such a request is within the forum of a legislative assembly, no meaningful conversation was possible. Certainly General Convention has a final role in speaking for the American Church, but when it speaks for the church it better be sure that the church has been in effective conversation.

If we are to become a church of reconciliation we have to develop institutional ways to further conversation which avoids the “winner takes all” methods of our present system. Whether we are ready to take the giant step of examining our structure, not as some hallowed piece of Americana, but as an efficient synod of the church is quite another matter.

Nor are our structural problems confined to an obsolescent form of central government. Ma
ny of our smaller dioceses are bowed down by the expectations of the past, and the financial and organizational responsibilities of the future. The whole matter of the present viability of some small dioceses is something difficult to address at a moment of crisis and disunity.

The survival of the Episcopal Church nearly three hundred and twenty years ago was in such question that the practical question of the future succeeded in bringing together a people divided by their recent past and by their own visions of what Anglicanism was and how it should look in a new nation. If the Archbishop of York’s vision of Anglicans acting on Philippians 4: 5 isn’t compelling enough, perhaps the repetitive evidence of a continued and significant loss of parishioners will shortly bring us to our senses.

How often during these past thirty years or so of change have we been told that change is good? We changed the liturgy, changed how the church looks, changed our doctrine of baptism, changed in enabling the ordination of women, changed in opening our doors to gay and lesbian people, changed our views about total ministry. But dare we bring the winds of change to our hallowed structure?


Watching the commentary on North Korea’s latest moves, the tragedy in the Middle East and then going on line and reading the latest on the Anglican Communion and I was struck by the similarity of tone and even language. How depressing!

It’s difficult enough for individuals who seek to imitate Christ. All sorts of influences claim a place in our ways of thinking, speaking, acting and reacting. It’s not simply a matter of identifying “bad” things and guarding against them, because lots of the unchristian pressures on us begin by being neutral, or capable of a number of interpretations.

My mother, a Yorkshire woman, was blunt. It’s a tribal characteristic. When one of my uncles was dying of a stroke, his wife, mother’s sister, called to tell what was happening. My mother’s immediate retort was: “Well, I never liked the fellow.” Capable of enormous warmth and friendliness, such an accompanying harshness seems incongruous.

I have a feeling that we are all becoming Yorkshire. E-mail, this blog, cell phones, televisions, satellites create instant experiences and instant reaction. I know of mild-mannered people who on e-mail lists become ramping and roaring lions, seeking who they may devour.

I’ve always struggled, and often lost the battle not to say it as it is. I might be right, but I may also offend, damage relationships and incur hostility. None of these actions and reactions demonstrates the Gospel too well. Yes, Jesus was blunt, and took a whip to the money-changers. But I’m not Jesus. Certainly there’s a certain inevitability that where the Gospel is lived and told, there will be hostility. It goes with the territory. It’s not the job of a Christian, however, to exhibit hostility or to court martyrdom.

If all this is so difficult for the individual Christian, how much more is this true for the collective church? One of the greatest temptations experienced by the church is that of nationalism. We are seeing this vividly at the moment. Anglicanism is particularly susceptible to this disease because we began as a “national” church and have carried the virus with us around the world. Oddly, at least in the American Episcopal Church, those who resist nationalism and promote world-wide agencies such as the United Nations are the most likely to succumb to ecclesial jingoism. Those on the political right stress their unity with Provinces abroad.

In both instances one suspects that politics gives birth to position. To liberal Episcopalians the world has become a hostile place peopled by unenlightened Anglicans who wish to meddle in our affairs and impede Spirit-driven progress. To conservatives the world has become a welcoming place peopled by like-minded Christians who have growing power in the Communion.

Both positions give plenty of ammunition for hostility. Perhaps we call it righteous indignation? What we do not see is the sort of self-examination we urge individual Christians to observe in their daily life and work. Rather, we take political action, and talk the talk we expect to hear from nation states, and we justify ourselves by reference not to the Gospel itself, but to a Cause for or against which we act.

The Windsor Report, like it or not, started where we should all start. It asked us to examine our positions in the light of the Gospel, of the Scriptures; of the Tradition, using sanctified reason. It asked us to re-visit our doctrine of the Church and the churches and compare our claims with the vision of the Church set forth in the New Testament.

In a word, it asked us not to be blunt, that is not to speak hastily, act hastily, take sides easily, but in prayer, examine ourselves in the light of Jesus and the Church of which the Holy Spirit is the author and guide.

There’s an excitement about politics, church or secular, shared by many. Sitting in solemn assembly, making decisions about all sorts of things, issuing statements, all this is extremely addictive. Writing e-mails telling the Archbishop of Canterbury he’s no good, sitting in Episcopal synods suggesting that another part of the church is cancerous, forging complicated positions about provinces and over-sight, declaring we bishops won’t follow the wisdom of General Convention because we didn’t like the outcome, all this is so addictive and so dangerous.

Rather like prayer, taking time to reflect, to do theology, to examine our roots, to invoke Jesus who died for all, is a disciplined activity. Prayer is so hard. It seems so impractical when we want to get on with it. But without self-examination, repentance, thanksgiving, magnifying, loving, we cannot be that which we have been called to be for God and the world. It is time for our church to shut up for a season and engage in self-examination in the light of the Gospel and the Catholic Church.