New Year is a time of reflexion, of looking forward-all about imagination – and looking backwards in a re-living of experience. For the Church “tradition” is experience, a living, informing memory.
My own tradition isn’t very grand, but it does inform who I am. I grew up in post-World War 2 England.I was informed by rural Anglicanism. I have discovered that my American friends have all sorts of strange ideas about the nature of English Anglicanism, often colored by their inherited political and social tradition and “myth”. I was thinking that tonight as I watched the infuriating Wolf Blitzer address his guests as “secretary” or “ambassador” despite the fact that they hadn’t held office for years. I grinned because it demonstrated that love of title isn’t exclusively a monarchical habit.
After my father returned from prisoner of war camp in Germany, he left us. His action not only left us poor, but unsettled my mother. We moved frequently. I knew what was about to happen when mother started to read the positions vacant columns in the “Nurses Times”. Mercifully she was such a good and formidable nurse that her wanderings weren’t held against her. I have inherited her gypsy habit.
Moving often, introduced me at an early age to Anglicanism in its various forms. For a good deal of my childhood we lived in what was called “The Dead See.” The Diocese of Norwich was large, varied in its Anglican expressions and often seemed to be haunted by the ghost of one of my heroes, “Parson Woodford” of Weston Longville. (Do Google him if you haven’t heard of this 18th Century diarist.)
The Lord Bishop of Norwich was an aristocrat of the old school, with eyebrows which would make +Bob Duncan jealous and a deep grit and gravel voice. He was orthodox in a sort of Broad Church sense. Neither the Evangelicals nor the Anglo-Catholics really wanted him to visit them. As confirmations were a deanery affair, and shared by the Bishop, and his two suffragans, one “High”and one “Low” everyone had a chance of an approved set of hands in one of three visitations. Archdeacons did formal visitations, and they were known to have no religion. They enforced discipline.
In the deanery in which we lived I can single out three clergy who demonstrated the breadth and tolerance of Anglicanism. The first came to us when the parson was away for six months. We had a Percy Dearmer altar with riddle posts and curtains. This visiting parson was a convinced Evangelical. Thus he celebrated at the North End, with his head and hands stuck through the curtains. It looked like a Punch and Judy Show. He informed me that wafers and colored stoles were papist, and so was the mingling of water with wine. He assured me that Jesus wasn’t present in any particular way in the Sacrament, that clergy were not priests but ministers of the Word, and while there was a convenient succession of bishops, there was no such thing as Apostolic Succession.
Then there was Father X, with his biretta, 39 Articles cassock, laced alb and elaborate chasuble, who believed in transubstantiation, apostolic succession -although the local bishop wasn’t “sound” -nor was Dr.Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury -fasting before receiving Communion. He used the English Missal, had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and went to Walsingham as often as possible. He regarded Evangelicals as heretics and they regarded him as a peddler of Medieval superstition.
Then there was “Mr Frank” a Jewish convert, graduate of the London School of Economics and a modernist theological college, who didn’t believe in the Virgin Birth, the physical Resurrection, miracles or much else, except that the church was a convenient vehicle in which to drive the process of making the world a better place.
Finally there was my hero, Canon Wake, the Rural Dean, a loving, caring, suffering person who privately thought that the above clergy were quite mad and in their prejudices incapable of being understood by or understanding ordinary people in need of faith. He used to say to me that such parsons should have been Nonconformists, free to gather their own crowd, although he doubted they would be very successful. Canon Wake urged me to cultivate a marriage between liturgy, pastoral care and love of people. He believed this symbiosis to be at the heart of what it meant to be an Anglican.
So what puzzles me now is why people can’t manage to live together in the Church nowadays. Surely the heresies are no more grave than then? Denying the Virgin Birth would seem to be a church-splitting activity. There were plenty of homosexual clergy around then particularly among advanced Anglo-Catholics. The ranks of acolytes, masters of ceremonies and musicians were recruited from the gay community. People interpreted the Bible in a host of ways. Bishop Barnes of Birmingham absconded with a consecrated host and sent it to a lab to be tested under a microscope, or so it was said.
In part the gay community has brought us where we are now. It has signally refused to embrace self-denial and self-sacrifice. It has been “in your face”, an activity not only unChristian but of very bad manners. In response anti-gays – not all of whom are Evangelical- react in a visceral manner much like it is alleged the Primate of Nigeria did when introduced to Louie Crew and Ernest; although I think Louie probably had something nasty in the palm of his hand.
Our Church is in trouble because it has refused to be honest. The 2003 resolution on same-sex blessings is dishonest. The refusal to state clearly that what is meant by “blessing” is not what the Church understands in its approved extra liturgical texts, but rather a synonym for marriage. Approving the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire was an illegal action opening the way for any breach of Canon Law as long as the action is “loving”. The Archbishop of Nigeria practices reverse racism.
Now if we are not to abide by our law, why not emulate the C of E in my childhood, when the only legal set of laws were the Canons Eccleiastical 0f 1603 -no lace on your nightcap- and the 1662 BCP was used and abused, and women and men were free to explore the implications of the Gospel without some official or party declaring them to be in impaired communion. In such a church there would be no need for the Network or Integrity. However the Guild for the Servers of the Sanctuary and the Gospel-Saved Muscular Christian Fellowship might thrive in their own harmless ghettos.
Those were the days.
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