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WHITHER THE CHURCH?

The Anglican Communion staggers on into the New Year, battered and in imperfect communion. This past year has been tough for those who believe in “Communion” aka Church. Of course in a divided Christendom every use of the word “Church” with either a capital or small “c” falls short of its precise definition or the hope of its calling. If the two words are not precise synonyms, one can’t have one without the other. Rather like love and marriage, sacramental communion is at the heart of what we mean by Church and church.

Mere Anglicans are offered two remedies for our systemic malady. Our GAFCON co-religionists through their proposed rival American Province offer what appears to me to be a romantic and anachronistic vision, summoned from a day when “Anglicanism” was young and tied unevenly to the Continental Reformation. Whether the charred shades of the Edwardian bishops or  even the views of their more radical sectarian successors would adapt easily to the modern separatist scene is quite another matter. Certainly the ideal of a confessional form of Anglicanism tight on doctrinal interpretation and easy on ecclesiology, now relegated to adiaphora is quite another matter.

Oddly their mirror image seems similarly romantic and confessional. Despite often sneering rejoinders to separatists, those who largely govern TEC propose an appealing version of a 60s vision of peace and light, perhaps in blissful dysnjunction with the reality of the society in which conservatives and liberals have conspired to seduce us all with what has turned out to be greed, and a “me” centered lifestyle. Our present economic collapse is the proof of that pudding.  The TEC Establishment would love to enshrine their new morality in Canon and regulation, probably enacted next year at General Convention, forming a corpus of “doctrine” as formidable as those which emerged from Jersusalem in 2008. If the Communion refuses to accept these new principles many are just as willing to secede from the Communion as are many in Gafcon. A North American independent Church looks good to them.

Those who propose a Covenant as a remedy to these dis-eases, may seem equally willing to embrace a “doctrinal” solution. I tend to see the drafts of a Covenant so far presented less in terms of a doctrinal proposal as a presentation of a portrait or a family history. The Draft Covenant reminds us who we are and whom we serve. It speaks to an authentically Anglican voice or perhaps harmony of voices, the sum total of that which has and continues to describe the Anglican choir and its repetoire. Like any other adjectival construct, the Covenant so far has attempted to “describe and limit” a noun. The noun is the word Anglican.

The framers of the final draft of a Covenant must seek to say who we are without being too restrictive and what we believe without being wildly broad. If we lose our liberality and civility, our legitimate breadth in an attempt to rein in our radicals on both sides we will blur our portrait. If we give too greater latitude to “novelty” we will suggest a much too radical role for a Communion for which inclusion and tolerance denies the role of wild speculation and internal conflict, for living into inclusion involves a moderation not necessary in groups in which the majority rules. Perhaps the Covenant should finally frame our unwritten Constitutional principle as Anglicans that no section or group however temporarily ascendent should enact rules which violate the principles of any other significant constituent “party” within the Anglican comprehension.

CHRISTMAS

CHRISTMAS

It’s nearly here, finally. As the poet put it, “God was man in Palestine/And lives today in Bread and Wine.” What an extraordinary story. What a miracle. There are two ways to access a story or a miracle, or a miraculous story. The first maintains distance. We may think such a story to be remarkable, even extraordinary, but that is as far as it goes. The distance we maintain probably includes the thought that such a thing can’t happen to me or is remote from the reality of life. We stop for a moment, wonder, and then pick up the remote and change the channel.

We may stray further from such a story by thinking that such things don’t happen in real life, but the story has a powerful moral. Many great fables have a great moral. They may even be inspiring. Christmas is not primarily about inspiration or even moral change. Christmas is about salvation, the return of the world, all life and our lives to its original form and purpose.

One of the reasons why we celebrate Christmas with exactly the same service as we do each Sunday  is that what happened at Christmas (and Easter) has to be accessed or lived into. We can’t just watch, change the channel, turn off the TV and get on with life. We have to live into the story and allow it to possess us and make it true for us.


Christians know that our propensity to make a mess of things, our ability to do the worst of things, our quest to “find ourselves”, instead of losing ourselves, makes all our good intentions feeble. We are so good at self-deception. Only living into Jesus and allowing Jesus to “dwell in us” together enables us to get life right.

“Love came down at Christmas”, the blinding, dazzling, warming love which gives us joy and peace. We have little to give, but if we seek to “love” into the Christmas event, the child who grew in our Lady’s womb promises to grow within us and restore us to the image and likeness of God. So let it be.

A FAITH FOR MY POLITICS?

Anglicanism was once defined as the Conservative Party at prayer.  Those days are long gone. Even in those English days of Empire and Disraeli, Mr. Gladstone might well of objected to such a definition, stalwart Anglo Catholic that he was and “Liberal” to boot.

The other day I read a comment to a blog written by an Episcopal priest in which he described himself as the rector of a “left-leaning” parish. That phrase has been buzzing around in my mind. Now I have been rector of parishes in which I suspected that a majority of my active parishioners were “liberals” and others in which I knew that most were “conservatives.”  What the demographics of my geographical parishes might have revealed I do not know. I do know that one of the present impediments to evangelism I face is that I belong to a national church which is popularly identified with “left-wing” causes. TEC might well be described as “Left-wingers at praise”.

I’ll come clean and reveal that there are not a few positions popularly described as “left-wing” which I espouse in my British invincible ignorance, but as I am taxed without representation I suppose I can do no harm. I was against the Iraq war from day one. I grumped about the naivete of politicians who actually believed Saddam Hussain’s boasts about owning weapons of mass destruction. I am against capital punishment because I believe it panders to the worst spirit of revenge in our collective make-up and I am against abortion except in the most refined cases because as a Christian I do not believe that our bodies are our “property” and that I know that life is not our personal property. Again, if society believes that a good education is a civil right, ergo good health is a civil right and should be available to all. We have “socialized” education in this country, and dash it in some states socialized liquor stores, then what is the logical argument against a well funded, well constructed national health service? On the other hand I am “conservative” in the matter of marriage because I believe it to be one of the sacraments, indeed the only sacrament except emergency baptism which may be performed by the laity and for the laity. Our church clearly teaches who are the “matter” of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony in its Prayer Book and Catechism and does so because the Bible so reveals and teaches. I am not an economic socialist, although I confess that in common with our experts in this time of recession I don’t understand how the market does or does not work, and I am so because I grew up in post war socialist Britain and understand that the State is as liable to hopeless bureaucracy as is General Motors!

Having said all this, and perhaps having said too much for many, I have to say that I am disturbed to belong to a jurisdiction which seems to want to construct it’s theology based on political 21st. Century American Liberalism. I am disturbed for practical reasons because such an appeal leaves out about half of Americans for whom such a position constructs an illicit stumbling block and rock of offense. I am shocked by this because it demonstrates a subservient role for the church, a church whose doctrine, discipline and even worship is defined more by a temporary and local, even national set of principles than by scripture, the tradition and reason. Ironically TEC (The Episcopal Church) has fallen into that quintessential Anglican sin of associating itself with a temporal power base. Further it aids and abets the ancient sin of us all in bending our religion to suit our political and social beliefs. Instead of the Church being seen as the foretaste and preview of the Kingdom of God which is and is to come, it rather mirrors and abets temporary and fallen human empire building, however altruistic the vision.

Perhaps it is “natural” therefore that the newly established “Anglican Church of America” follows the same path by offering itself as a body for contemporary North American conservative opinion and at once confines its mission to that constituency. Once again there is a place in which the conservative party may pray and in which political conservatives may find themselves at ease, undisturbed by a Gospel for those who here have no abiding city, and whose opinions are grounded and shaped by the Good News which stands apart and acts as a conscience as we seek to be used by God to build the Kingdom which God alone constructs and in the creation of which those rescued from sin and death shoulder their crosses of sacrifice as we live and die in Christ and are transformed for the life of the world. Such a calling is of course to the whole of life and the world and not merely a mission to pluck “souls” from perdition. Starvation, disease, war and exploitation are a real form of perdition.

This vocation and calling will bring us from time to time into agreement with aspects of secular political theory and at such times we are to be careful that such congruity does not turn into an unwatched spirit of self-congratulation. At the same time when our faith determines that we oppose political correctness we are not to assume the mantle of the pharisee and abandon our duty to speak the truth in love to our neighbors as we love them as we love ourselves.

Nothing has been more deadly than the Church’s constant accommodation to the principalities and powers of this world. The narrow “cultures” Christians inhabit by birth, race, upbringing and social convictions are to be challenged daily as we hear the Word of God and are brought into intimate association with the Trinity and the Church in Eternity through the Sacraments. Such a challenge is always blunted by claims that we belong to “left-leaning” or “right-leaning” parishes in which our social and almost instinctively tribal and local cultures dull our consciences to the life-transforming power of the Gospel.

Of course the Church is called to speak the timeless truth which is in Christ Jesus in a manner “understanded of the people”. Such a calling must always be consciously aware of the peril of permitting enculturalization to seduce us into a ready surrender to the the norms of our own comfortable ideas and lifestyles: not an inappropriate meditation for Advent.