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NOSTALGIA: a brief excursion into autobiography

I lived for most of the 1950s in the English county of Norfolk. Mother was the district nurse/midwife and so I saw the lot of very poor families, some abuse and cruelty although on the whole villagers were accepting of strangers and as there were few if any Black families those who arrived, largely professional people from the West Indies found ready acceptance. There were still characters abroad in those days including one old boy who begged for pints of bitter outside one of the village pubs. I remember he still wore the smock traditionally worn by farm laborers in earlier days. He was well in his nineties. I loved to chat with him about the village and his memories.

In 1953 my grandfather bought us a television so we could watch the Coronation. My grandson now has the Coronation Chair shaped money box we all received at school in commemoration of her Accession. I was bullied because I wasn’t into sports and loved reading and poetry and as the only child of a divorced mother (a great scandal) was subject to some taunts. Yet I loved serving or singing in the choir in our ancient parish church, going to the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham and even a Billy Graham rally all to the astonishment of my less than churched mother. The round of Prayer Book services, sung psalms, the calender of lessons for feasts and fasts, all in olde English was the stuff of my teen religion. I still remember the psalms in the Coverdale version with the appropriate tunes and lapse therein when not paying attention. When I was near death three month ago it was the old Prayer Book prayers which came to my aid. After eight years in TEC I still remember little of the Rite 2 prayers. They haven’t yet sunk into my subconscious.

After the dreary post-war years of the Labour Government (not their fault) the return of Sir Winston Churchill to power and the subsequent availability of “candy” in any quantity seemed to usher in a stable world. We’d lost India, Pakistan and Burma, but the Empire in 1955 seemed to be something permanent. I did know something of the wicked side of colonialism as my father’s family were from the West Indies and one of my history teachers was a left wing Cambridge graduate who shook us up with tales of misrule. I think I thought him a “spoil sport” then but later came to a more balanced view I hope.

I witnessed little class distinction or perhaps as the nurse’s son who spoke “The Queen’s English” I occupied one of those indeterminate places in English rural society of those days. The “squire” had sold the manor house which anyway wasn’t much of a place, so there was no one around to whom one was obliged to tug one’s forelock. I went to a minor boarding school as a weekly boarder (I came home each weekend) and rubbed shoulders with farmers’ and bankers’ sons few of whom were destined for an academic future. Mercifully for me there were two or three inspired teachers among a mediocre lot. There was some corporal punishment which would draw screams of horror today. The headmaster, always gowned, wearing a mortar board was known as “God” and one stood still and took of one’s cap when he passed by his eyes riveted on the path in front of him. The corridor to his office was called “The Sacred Way”. We mere mortals, if summoned to his presence to be caned, were obliged to walk around the outside of the building and enter through a dim door affectionately termed “Traitor’s Gate.” After college I returned to my old school briefly as a master and remember trembling as I walked down the “Sacred Way.” The Head returned to me a pipe he had confiscated when I was caught smoking as a 6th former (12th grade).

I fell in love with classical music in my teens and even learned to play the organ, a skill now long gone. Listening to Vaughan Williams Pastoral Symphony while looking out on green fields and hay ricks seemed magical to this youngster. It also proved an escape from my well-meaning, unhappy and demanding mother who couldn’t stand the sound of it.

We were not subject to the barrage of media information of all sorts our youngsters experience today. The countryside was lovely and the world seemed much less complicated. To me in many ways therefore they were the “good old days.”

And I nearly forgot freedom. As a toddler of nearly five years I tottered down the lane to the ancient parish church of St. Peter ad Vincula in the small Devonshire village to which we had been evacuated. I would go to thee sea shore and gnarled fishermen would pick me up and drop me in their boats as they fished for crab and lobsters in waters sometimes inhabited by Nazi submarines. My worried mother -father had been captured at Tobruk and finally was placed in a German prisoner of war camp where he was part of many escape attempts -scolded me for being so adventurous but secretly loved my ability to strike up a conversation with anyone anywhere.

As a teen each Saturday, rain or shine, I would clamber on the ancient bicycle given me by a parishioner and ride for miles exploring ruined castles and houses and old parish churches, or stop to buy buns in the local bakery, the aroma from which filled village streets. At fourteen I was free to hop on a bus, and for a few pennies go the sixteen miles to Norwich. I would stand in the hauntingly lovely cathedral where I was confirmed, or wander through the stalls in the Medieval market, or imagine olden times as I sat in the graveyards of one of Norwich’s many ancient churches.

I was free in a manner few youngsters experience today. Crime and fear dominate the programs provided for so many young people. Their parents fill their waking hours with activities to which they are ferried by weary mothers or fathers. This way of life is as responsible as anything for depriving young people of a vivid spiritual life. They have little time to be servers or acolytes, learn the faith in youth groups. Granted the Evangelicals still seem to attract many to their rather regimented boot camps. In later life it won’t be learning the rules of soccer that saves a life, but a faith experienced in the beauty of holiness.

Tragically the sort of freedom of space and place I was lucky enough to experience isn’t available to our young people. Granted I was brought up in a place where the past lived in its buildings, something only available to those living on our eastern seaboard. Yet I still think it is possible for parents to buck the trend and encourage in their children a sense of time and place and awe; their passport to the reality of that other world which so closely surrounds us in the Communion of saints.


Of late I’ve blamed an upset stomach, worse in the morning, on one of the pills I take. I was wrong. The doctor tells me that the pain patch I’ve been wearing since my operation is responsible for my terrible digestion. This is the second problem I’ve had with prescribed pain killers. Earlier in the year I was given too strong a prescription and ended up babbling like a baby.

The dangers of a wrong diagnosis drives my mind to consider the state of our church as we enter a new secular year. Some believe that it is being forced back from its liberal path by the rest of the Anglican Communion. Others believe that TEC’s liberalism has unchurched it and these people, not content with splitting this Church seem more intent on ripping apart the Anglican Communion. It seems that those who have appointed themselves guardians of the true Faith are planning a meeting for themselves in the Holy Land of all places just before the Lambeth Conference meets.

I only wish the problem with TEC was something to do with liberalism. I caught a bit of a radio talk by the Archbishop of York over Christmas. He said that if the Church of England closed inner city parishes, even if they are sparsely attended, it would cease to be the Church of England and become merely a church for the well-off in suburban areas.

He need only look at the Episcopal Church. More and more as we have retreated from the inner cities and the rural areas we have become a church for wealthy people; people with the money to attend meetings, espouse liberal causes, write checks and love at a distance. The poor, white, African American, Hispanic are served by a few parishes and fewer clergy. It is almost assumed that the poor will prefer fundamentalist churches (this isn’t true of Roman Catholicism and it is a liturgical church) and will probably espouse illiberal views.

On the other hand where our church has grown in areas with substantial conservative populations, a form of Anglicanism has grown which looks very much like the political right at prayer. Its constituency is wealthy enough to support large parishes and now the latest Continuing Churches, allied to Provinces in the Third World whose theology seems akin to the leaders of these American groups.

I see no hope for genuine Anglicanism in either group. Indeed as they react against each other they are spreading schism and separation abroad. If Anglicanism, as many have said, is merely the religious department of this or that Establishment it has little Gospel to say to its own followers, for whom is provided an uncritical acceptance and has nothing but damnation to say to those who disagree.

If as I suspect, neither of these blocs represent authentic Anglicanism, where do we turn? I would like to see us start with the poor. I want to see our church financing starter parishes where poor people live, parishes devoted to the wholeness of those being served. I want to see us respond to those whose paychecks are devalued every time the cost of oil goes up; those who don’t have adequate health care; those with no pensions; in other words those who are not normally found in our well heeled parishes.

I want us to stay in country villages and I want us to find creative ways to provide priests for parishes. There was a time when a country parish had a priest because he had a glebe to farm. He, it was “he” then, may have been better educated than most, but he shared the lives lived by those around him. One of the problems of the seminary experiment, largely avoided by Rome and some other denominations, was the creation of a clerical cult set apart from those to whom they minister.

If our church showed a determination to be the church for everyone I would begin to believe its liberal pretensions.

If the traditionalists in our church showed the sort of daring once demonstrated by Evangelicals and later Anglo-Catholics I’d begin to believe its orthodox pretensions.

These men and women of faith didn’t despair because they were attacked by the Establishment, they carried on and they spread the Faith parish by parish. True some gave up and went to Rome, but few trod the path of schism. Revival always comes from the “edges.”

These are thoughts born of a sour tummy on this feast of St. John the Evangelist. Oh dear, Bah Humbug!


Pat bought me a “recumbent” exercise bike for Christmas! As most of you know 2007 was the year when I confronted by own mortality, first with cancer and then with a frightful form of pneumonia which nearly sent me swiftly into the next world. In the process neuropathy attacked my toes and feet, I lost about twenty pounds and in consequence a good deal of what muscles I ever had.

So after years of avoiding all forms of exercise except for ritual genuflections, I must get strong and recover. The neck size of my clerical shirts, once a bullish eighteen and a half has shrunk over an inch. Mercifully my Parson son Mark has a smaller neck than I and was able to give me a couple of shirts but even in them I look like an aged clerical turtle.

In nine days time Pat and I fly out to be interviewed by a search committee of a parish near Chicago and I must give some impression that I have the stamina to take on a new parish. That exercise bike must swiftly toughen me up.

By its web site the parish looks lovely. Obviously there was some money about in that fairly small community once upon a time. The church building is gothic, built of stone. The stained glass windows are tasteful. The altar remains against the east wall, dominated by a huge crucifix. There’s a tabernacle and one is told that all services are conducted according to Rite 1, the revised Cranmerian version not too unlike the 1549 BCP. (That was the first Prayer Book in English authorized for the Church of England.)

People say that with my accent even Rite 2 sounds like Rite 1. I can’t help it. I know I’ve been in the USA for about forty years but when asked why I don’t now have an American accent I reply that I’ve never found one I wanted to swap my own for. I was sent to one of those schools when I was a boy at which local dialects were suppressed. At any rate my Yorkshire coal-miner’s daughter mother had taught herself to speak “The King’s English” and was determined that I should not sound like a country bumpkin. Snobbery! As a result while I can imitate accents I can’t adopt them.

I notice that after dabbling with new translations of the bidding prayer and of the Bible for the Lessons, Kings College Cambridge has returned to Eric Milner-White’s text of the Nine Lessons and Carols Service. Even the Pope is now allowing the Latin Mass. Young people flock to candle light Compline services in olde English. What on earth is going on?

I’ve always said that there is no reason at all why there should not be a particular language for the liturgy. Indeed it is probably impossible not to have a special language for prayer. Corporate worship is all about learning the vocabulary of faith which can never be the language of the supermarket or the sports page -both of which have their own vocabulary. Talking about God, heaven, redemption, hell (although not in polite Episcopalian society) “the means of grace and the hope of glory” involves a language as precise as that used by computer geeks; a language to be learned and absorbed. A person who hasn’t grown up using God-speak, once attracted to the Faith must learn that language and use the archaisms of liturgy whether in their Rite 1 or Rite 2 forms. God spare them from some of the humorless verbiage of some of the permitted newer rites our liturgical experts churn out.

A liturgy which is archaic for its own sake, accompanied by a ritual designed for those performing it, is no liturgy at all; it is self-indulgence. On the other hand a liturgy which uses beauty in language and form, in memorable texts and expressions may be a vehicle of enormous power.

And yet, in one of those unguarded moments during the Midnight Mass last night, as I read Eucharistic Prayer B in Rite 2 I thought that if I am called to a Rite 1 parish I shall miss that particularly splendid Eucharistic Prayer.

Well I better get Pat to put the bike together. If I attempt so to do it will collapse at first ride. If I am called to the parish in question (there are one or two others demonstrating some interest in this semi-geriatric priest) it will probably be my last as a full time priest. Yet I love being a priest now if anything more than I did, well I won’t say how many years ago, when I was about my present weight and numbered among those “green things upon the earth” visited upon long-suffering parishes.

A Blessed Christmas to you all.


Until the sweeping liturgical changes of Vatican 2 each Mass celebrated in a Roman Catholic Church ended not with a dismissal or blessing but with the Last Gospel. Many Anglo-Catholic parishes observed this custom. The first fourteen verses of St John’s Gospel were often mumbled at break neck speed in Latin or English. At the words “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” the celebrant genuflected and that was that.

I mention this not in a fit of nostalgia, nor to suggest that this practice be revived but rather to press a point. Whatever one’s theology of just how Jesus comes to us in the Sacrament, few would argue that there is not implied a very close and constant encounter between Christ and the Church, an encounter ensured and guaranteed “until he comes again in great glory.” Much will have been made of the rather informal way in which we approach Christmas. No doubt enough has been said during this season about consumerism, the commercialization of a Holy Feast and perhaps of the fact that many of us spend quite too much money on people who need little and far too little on those who need much.

When Christmas Eve comes we will be there reaching out to clutch a crumb of bread and to sip a drop of wine, as we do Sunday by Sunday and sometimes more often. In this Mystery, +Rowan Williams reminds us Jesus is pledged:

” to the end of time, never defeated by Satan’s forces, and that means that in this body Jesus works with all the limitations, the fragility, of the human beings he summons to be with him. He does not stop working in the church when we Christians are wicked and stupid and lazy. The church is not magic, much as we should love it to be -a realm where problems are solved instantly and special revelations answer all our questions and provide a short cut through all our conflicts. It is preeminently and crucially a community of persons…and so it is a place where holiness takes time and where the prose of daily faithfulness and, yes, sometimes daily boredom have to be faced and blessed, not shunned or concealed.” “Rowan Williams, WHERE GOD HAPPENS, New Seeds, Boston, 2005, page 108.

The beginning of the Gospel of John, often the Gospel for Christmas Day gives us all the chance to contemplate just who we encounter at the altar and in the shape of the child of Bethlehem. The Person who was enfleshed in the womb of the Virgin Mary and who uses Bread and Wine to encounter the community and each of its members is him “by and through whom all things were made.”

On Christmas Eve and each Sunday we walk down a corridor in company with all sorts and conditions of people to meet the Person who was here involved in creation before the Big Bang or however “all things were made”, and who will come again to judge both the living and the dead. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” The writer of the fourth Gospel proposes something perhaps far too extraordinary for us to grasp, for if we did we would be driven to our knees in terror. Or is that too much? Perhaps it is because it is too much that Jesus disguises himself in such easy dress. A baby isn’t feared unless one is a Herod. Bread and Wine aren’t feared unless one is a glutton.

The danger we face is not normally that we will be terrified, but that we shall be bored by the “same old, same old” of it all. How often have we heard the story? How often have we received Holy Communion perhaps celebrated the Eucharist? Our temptation is to doubt that anything much may happen in the midst of such a mundane habit.

There was a time when Anglicans received communion much less often and prepared for each reception with great thoroughness. One may still discover in used book shops little Victorian manuals of devotion designed to help the communicant deal with sin so that they would not “presume to come to this thy Table trusting in our own righteousness.” Nowadays such preparation is often regarded as unhealthy, indicating a morbid preoccupation with sin.

Little wonder that we search beyond that which we have been given for answers to our problems and doubt whether there can be much practical to be found at the Table. Little wonder that the decisions of Synods excite us more than the Lord’s Supper. We can get ourselves full of hope or expectation about the outcome of a meeting and expect nothing from the encounter frequently made between Jesus and the community of faith in the Sacrament.

If we really take to heart that which the Last Gospel, that extraordinary preface to St. John’s Gospel has to say to us, we will be expectant, expectant in the face of what it meant for the Word to become flesh and dwell among us, expectant that in the boredom of the usual, even at Christmas when the usual is dressed up, God’s purposes are being worked out through the community of the church, even a church which contains the wicked, the stupid and the lazy.

In a sense Jesus imprisons himself in the narrow confines of this sacramental act. This is not to say that he is limited by such a self-emptying, but that he chooses for our sake to limit himself in, through and during this sacramental encounter whether it occurs in Canterbury Cathedral or on a hastily erected table in a refugee camp. It is surely appropriate that as we consider who this child is in Bread and Wine at Christmas and every day, we will “bow the knee” in awe and gratitude and give ourselves again to serve Him, content to let him evaluate the effectiveness of such service and to trust in his redeeming love. Were we so to do who can tell what miracles in the ordinariness of life would happen this Christmas.


Do go to http://covenant-communion.com/?p=364#more-364 to read a mediation I’ve written on the “Last Gospel.”


I wrote the following last night for some friends. They urged me to post it to the COVENANT web site and for good measure I’m posting it on my own blog. I hope it helps those who feel that there must be an answer to our present woes out side the “structure” of the Anglican Communion and of our own branch of that part of the Church Catholic:

“I have just got up after trying to sleep. The wounds in my side where tubes were inserted to drain the area around my lung are nearly healed but more uncomfortable than usual, I had to go to the dentist today and a parishioner is grumbling that I haven’t picked up on the signs of her stress: I have been in hospital or at home for the last 8 weeks! “Who needs this,” I grumble, as I see my former jurisdiction, the Anglican Province of America flirting with Common Cause, those of us who are loyal to our church criticized for our lack of political strategy and I worry if I will be well enough when I am interviewed for a new parish on Jan 3rd.

So I am reading “Where God Happens” by +Rowan Williams and tonight he bursts into clarity. He’s talking about the desert fathers and mothers and their temptation to wander even further into the desert in search of peace and being advised to press against the walls of their cells, literally press against the stone and make shift with what they have.

Some of you have heard of St. Anthony of Egypt. After Christianity became respectable some who yearned for the stricter discipline of the persecution years went out into the wilderness, the Egyptian desert. They lived largely solitary lives, coming together for prayer and Eucharist. They owned perhaps a plate and a cup, the food they grew or that was given to them and nothing else. They tended to be pretty hard on themselves but not so hard on others.

After quoting advice given to those who still were not satisfied, Archbishop Rowan remarks that our great danger is that we thirst for magic, for an existence now where it is all better. Perhaps this was the temptation given by the devil to Jesus. In reality all the devil could offer was illusion. Even though Jesus did miracles they reinforced the real. They didn’t create something that isn’t.

I was thinking that what the liberals offer and what Common Cause and the Global South offer us is magic, something unreal. If we are seduced by it it will not be “far away” enough and we will press for something more pure, more magical. We must find the solution to what ails the church by pressing harder against its walls, which means for us rediscovering its authenticity. The solution is in what the Anglican Communion is, in its odd ways of decision making, in its strange discipline and NOT in seeking the magic of another world, the pure world of Calvinism or some form of Roman Catholicism that even Pope Benedict wouldn’t recognize. For us we must press against the cell wall of the mundane reality of what it means to be in Communion with Canterbury and with each other worked out for many of us in the parish, the regular round of prayer, the celebration of the Eucharist, in community, however exasperating parishioner may be, in deeper study of the Scriptures and in learning to speak the Gospel clearly and winsomely.

Our own church, and that means us, is guilty of looking for magic, something not real, where sin and poverty are abolished by program and legislation, a world all but the most romantic reject as phoney and so they stay away, and in reaction many of us have sought to create another kind of pure church, doctrinally pure, pure and tidy in discipline and again only attractive to the romantic and the virtuous but phoney to every one else. We may not like the “desert” of Communion Anglicanism but God has placed us in this “cell” and if we remember well, others have lived in it before us, others who we now celebrate and venerate for their holiness. So the cell must be all right, it must be a holy place. We’ve just been seduced by magic?


I’ve found it fascinating to read the varied responses to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent Letter to the Primates. Thus far I’ve only seen our own Presiding Bishop’s measured comment, which I thought to be entirely appropriate. For the rest, I’m reminded of the old adage, “If the cap fits, wear it.” Self-defense abounds. Few seek to step backwards, giving them self space to say something like, “Well I hadn’t thought of it that way. Perhaps I should do my theology, say my prayers, and give myself time before responding.”

One of my constant gripes since I wrote the essay entitled “The General Convention Church” for Anglicans Online, just over a year after I was received into TEC, has been about the politicizing of our church. If Dr. Williams is on to something when he wonders how the House of Bishops can say one thing now, but envision saying something else at a future meeting of the General Convention, is it sufficient to trumpet blither about his not understanding TEC polity? Certainly when American Anglicans organized themselves into an autonomous Province they sought to restore “primitive episcopacy”. Indeed that term was one of the slogans of the day. What is not always noticed is that the concessions made to the New England followers of Bishop Seabury in the creation of a House of Bishops with veto power (yes the Deputies were given similar power in that compromise) were very High Church indeed for that pre-Tractarian period. These concessions were justified by reference to the Early Church, and particularly to the role of bishops as teachers and centers of unity.

It is therefore passing odd to find contemporary Episcopalians seeking to overthrow that compromise by reducing the collective bishops to a legislative role within a governing body to which all functions other than sacramental roles are ceded.

During the last part of Bishop Griswold’s primacy there were those who seriously contemplated introducing amendments to the Constitution aimed at stripping the office of Presiding Bishop of its remaining primatial authority. These proposals were expedient. Those for whom the issue of human sexuality had become the unique raison de’etre for the church feared that Dr. Griswold would cave in to foreign primates rather than to the majority within General Convention. In the end he did both to the utter confusion of both.

Now many of this same constituency contemplates stripping the collective episcopate of its unique role within the baptismal community and for exactly the same reason. It is therefore not odd for the Archbishop of Canterbury to question whether those who advocate a merely political role for the collective episcopate -some of them like Archbishop Ussher making common cause with those who would abolish episcopacy as Anglicanism has known it -are not setting forth an ecclesiology which differs fundamentally from that espoused by most of the Anglican Communion.

In attempting to restore “primitive episcopacy” the organizers of autonomous American Anglicanism exported to the rest of the Communion a concept of episcopacy far removed from the Erastian model common in late 18th Century Anglicanism. A case may be made which suggests that the American Church in its concessions to Seabury High Churchism paved the way for the Tractarians from whose largely American and Canadian minds sprung the vision of an Anglican Communion.

The early history of the Episcopal Church was troubled by Methodism. American Methodism found the inherited diocesan and parochial structure of PECUSA impeded the spread of the Gospel. The Gospel was all important. What mattered was that people heard the good news and were saved. If ecclesiastical structure stood in the way of that gracious work, then it had to be either used or ignored.

It is passing strange to find a coalition of American Episcopalian Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical activists proposing the very same rationale for their program of disaffiliating parishes and dioceses from TEC and allying them to overseas Evangelical Anglican Provinces. Many of these overseas Provinces, particularly the African ones are heart-broken by what they perceive to be TEC’s betrayal of them. After the Second World War the American Church, with its riches, seemed to step into the shoes of the English Church. TEC not only demonstrated enormous generosity in providing money and manpower but also a pattern of self-government attractive to those ready to assume responsibility for their own destiny.

Yet today this generous American Church seems to African Anglicans to espouse an approach to the Bible, to the essence of the Gospel and to Christian living dreadfully at odds with that which they inherited from the missionaries who brought them the faith. If American Anglicans were much good at self-evaluation and perhaps less sensitive to criticism, they might concede that the Africans have a case. One does not have to abandon one’s views that God is saying something new about human sexuality to manage to understand the shock and bewilderment experienced by African and Asian Christians.

Some of those American Episcopalians who agree with these overseas Anglican Provinces, in pursuit of their own internal agenda -one that looks a lot like a necessary self-preservation – now say, “It is the Gospel that matters, and not the structural constraints of provinces, dioceses and parishes. TEC is rotten to the core. Come in and rescue us. Create with us a new missionary field.” Asbury call home.

By “necessary self-preservation” I mean that for many Episcopalians, after decades of losing every battle for orthodoxy in a deeply politicized American Province, the only way forward seems to be to make shift for them self. If TEC won’t give them space, they must make space for them self. If Canterbury won’t recognize them they must persuade overseas Anglican Provinces to create an alternative Anglican Communion for them.

Why, it is asked, is everyone so hard on TEC? The Episcopal Church isn’t much like the caricature of itself one reads about in the blogs or the Media. The extraordinary fact is that the radical causes espoused by successive General Conventions have had such little affect upon the Episcopal Church at parish level except in wealthy ghettos of liberalism in urban America. The reason is that the American Church has gone forward by itself without much self-conscious examination of consequences. It has exported its own internal problems in a manner the Church of England may no longer do, simply because TEC is the American Church and America is tops, its culture, politics and religion dominate all else. One may find the same radicalism in the Church of England true, but she is no longer the top church in a top nation.

Gentle Archbishop Rowan asks the “progressive” party in TEC what it now means by episcopacy and of what value the findings of its collective episcopate are at least as far as the Anglican Communion has come to understand episcopacy and that understanding was in great part pioneered by American Episcopalians.

Gentle Archbishop Rowan asks the orthodox” party what it now means by episcopacy in terms of the basic structure of the Church as Anglicanism has received the same. The American Church has been a leader in teaching how it is possible to be an “episcopal” church without being either Roman Catholic or Established. Now leading orthodox American Episcopalians seem to be saying that all that matters is the Gospel and that structure is adiaphora, to be undone if it seems to impede the preservation of the faith and the spread of the Gospel.

Gentle Archbishop Rowan not only asks these questions of Americans but of all the Primates. If bishops in their collective responsibility no longer have a unique teaching responsibility under the Scriptures, as demonstrated in the Tradition by sanctified Reason, and if the structure of the Church is no longer of the Gospel, what remains of Anglicanism and in what sense may we be a Communion? So he invit
es those bishops who believe they have a particular although not monopolistic responsibility for the unity of the church, for the faith and for the Gospel to join him next year at a Lambeth Conference. In so doing I believe he is true to his office and calling.


Again and again I see people attracted to power, good power of course, but power; the ability to sort things out, to provide the right answer, for we believe that there must always be a solution if we work hard enough to find it. Jesus did promise to his Church “power” when the Holy Spirit came upon its first leaders. Yet that power is surely something quite unlike the ability to enforce a solution.

One of the aspects of Anglicanism which appeals to me is the absence of much power or authority to enforce things while affirming the power to teach, preach and proclaim, in life-giving and self-sacrifice that which is true and right. Even in this exhausting Advent waiting for +Rowan to tell us what the rest of the Communion wants done with us, I am attracted to the idea that he may not have the solution and that he has been unable to get +Barry Morgan and +Peter Akinola to be of one mind in one place and so must simply tell us to get on with that which God calls us to do in preaching the Word and administering the sacraments until day light returns..

As a boy I had on my bedroom wall a bad reproduction of that very Victorian Holman Hunt painting of Jesus, in alb and cope, wearing the crown of thorns, holding a lantern standing at a door. “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Jesus doesn’t batter the door down. I wish our TEC leaders would realize that, rather than relying on Caesar to deal with schismatics. No stakes or racks or thumbscrews, but we still hand our malefactors over to the powers that be. Do we somehow believe that as the powers that be can no longer torture and kill it is now quite Christian to hand CANA or SJ to the judges of a secular and separated power?

+Rowan only has the power to knock at the door of a virtual place inhabited by Provincial leaders, many of whom would bring down the house rather than submit to each other in Godly love and self-oblation. Until the folly of our present actions (demanding our own way what ever that way is NOW) becomes obvious to us, perhaps all +Rowan can do, bearing a flash light and a brief case full of the advice written by this and that archbishop or presiding bishop, is knock and stand and wait.

To some this weakness signals impotency, the failure of Anglicanism. There are churches or even denominations which afford something more powerful. I can only remain where I am, believing that our willingness to lose, to die is that which enables us in faith to leave it to God to make all things new. We must not dream of winning as the world wins. We must not adopt the way of force to win. We dare not.

My wife discovered a poem by +Rowan which she put on her blog today. I haven’t previously read it. (Extraordinary, we want a strong leader and God gives us a Celtic poet, a gentle man.)

He will come like last fall’s leaf fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

And God’s will for us today will come in like manner, or so I believe and hope.


The Diocese of San Joaquin has voted to leave the Episcopal Church and ally itself to one of the most conservative Evangelical Provinces in the Anglican Communion. It will look rather like Martinique, whose geography places it in one part of the world and its polity in another. As this chapter further unfolds in Pittsburgh and Fort Worth the watching world will witness Christianity at its worst as it engages in internecine warfare.

The tragedy will be worst for those in the middle, faithful people seeking to worship God and to love their neighbor who are caught up in this struggle for victory. Those in the know may object that this is not a family squabble as TEC has left the family. As yet no word has emerged from the Instruments of Unity, our Anglican familiar symbols, affirming that TEC has left the family or even that the Southern Cone has left the family, and thus it remains forensically a family row. One wonders when in Advent the Archbishop of Canterbury will bring clarity to us or whether there remains any clarity at all for him to bring.

In worldly terms TEC may win, for it seems to have the money and the battalions. Yet such a victory, if it is a victory will drain further its resources, impede its attempts to grow -who in their right mind wants to join a squabbling group unless they are fanatics of one stripe or another – and probably seal its fate for the present as far as relationships with the rest of the Anglican world are concerned. It will emerge weakened and isolated.

Those who lose will find themselves fragmented and tugged between those who wish to remain loyal to the Anglican Communion and those who wish to replace it. They will be prey to ambitious people and unspoken agendas and to a dangerous romanticism which confuses fidelity to the faith once delivered with nostalgia for a mythical golden age when the Church was pure.

In all this the prayers, hopes and voices of sensible people will be needed if not always heeded. Of all God’s gifts that of common sense will be the most desired and the most difficult to acquire. Yet as I write this I wonder whether even sanctified common sense may help. This present tragedy has been long a coming, and could have been averted years ago if leaders, appointed and self appointed had been graced enough to listen to each other and to prize Anglican comprehension, civility and gracefulness. The frightful modern obsession to win and take no prisoners, which has ruined sports and bedeviled politics has donned an alb and strides around our altars.

There has been a brutality about in those who have pressed a wide agenda of “reforms” and those who have used fear as a weapon to oppose the agenda of our ascendant progressives. Certainly that perfect love which casts out fear has been absent. One wonders whether we are not witnessing the truth of the ancient adage, “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

Those of us who embrace Anglicanism and seek to live into its best nature, into a spirit of mutual tolerance and purposeful comprehension have a difficult road to follow, made the more difficult because that which we feared but thought impossible has now happened.

For myself I love and honor my friends who are sure they cannot stayin TEC knowing full well that some of them will take it ill that I remain where I am or where I may be. The personal irony will be that if TEC is expelled from the Communion (or perhaps TEC and the Southern Cone) I will have come full circle and will abide once again in a body which calls itself Anglican but which is not in full communion wth the See of Canterbury.