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MANAGING

An old chap I knew long before I became an old chap, when asked how he was always replied “managing”.  I’ve found that answer to be a splendid and brief retort.

If I am asked how I am as an Episcopalian, I may truthfully reply “managing.” I think this is possible because my love since I was a child has been history and particularly the history of Anglicanism and the history of the Church in England. This does not mean that I have no interest in American Church History. The trouble is that there is so little of it.

It may be for that reason that people here find it so easy to change things, or too easy to think that “the glory hath departed.”  There is still so little of it and there are so few “story tellers” of our history and tradition. Just as the story teller in the village was vital in that he or she kept the community in mind of its heritage and identity, so church historians are our story tellers and exist to fulfil the same purpose.

After the Reformation in England two ever present realities countered the enthusiasm of the radical reformers. The first factor was that people continued to worship in place. Their ancient parish churches and cathedrals spoke to continuity with the past. However eagerly radicals wielded the hammer and the axe, smashed statues and windows, pulled down altars and set up Tables, the very stones cried out in witness to other days of piety.

Again for those who believed that all was lost, that the treasures of the past were gone for ever, and the mood of piety and belief forever darkened, those same stones stood as a constant reminder of the permanence of truth, a permanence that no fleeting revolution might utterly destroy.

The second reality was the Book of Common Prayer. It preserved a sufficient affirmation of the Sacramental life, anchored to the Christian Year and the Lectionary. Gradually those words sunk into the consciousness of believers and into the English language. Whether our newer rites will do the same remains to be seen. A consistent use of the language of prayer is a very dangerous thing. It shapes and molds a way of life and a way of living.  Remembered prayers are a very present help in times of trouble. Liturgical revision isn’t merely an academic exercise. What is produced will either become the channel of right belief and the source of that belief (next to the Bible), or it will fail in that purpose and be less than minimally acceptable. Every Liturgical scholar should remember that.

Even in the worst moments of Cromwellian dictatorship, when the Church of England seemed utterly destroyed (except in Virginia)  parsons whispered the words of the Prayer book by memory within those ancient buildings and others met secretly to observe Word and Sacrament and young ministers went to the deposed bishops by night for ordination.

The Gospel is tougher than fashion. In time, again and again, unbalanced enthusiasm for novelty has been balanced by a re apprehension of the faith once delivered to the saints. At the same time depressive reaction has been enlivened by old truths spoken in a new context and with a new accent.

There are no new  revelations. Leave that sort of thing to the Mormons. Jesus is God’s revelation. The task of the Church is constantly to make old truths new and apply them to the lives of its contemporaries. Because we never strike the right balance, forgotten emphases suddenly burst forth and we think them to be new, or old truths are discovered and we lament we forgot about them.

+Rowan Williams patiently asks us all to be patient. Patience is not a talent much regarded in our “instant” world.  It is so much easier for us to thrill to something new or lament the loss of something old, as if either, in itself is either gained or lost. For only God and his truth is eternally “now”.  All else is passing.

If our next General Convention, a mere local council of a small local church, rejects the moratoria agreed upon a mere three years ago, the situation will be no graver than it was in 2003. As a priest I am bound to the faith as expressed in our formularies and in the Catechism and the Book of Common Prayer.  I will remember what is as I worship in a building which reminds me of that which is and as I use the liturgy, our drama of God’s truth.  As I am getting old, perhaps sooner than later I may not have the first, but I shall always have the second.

One Response

  1. I look forward to your pieces – thanks Tony. My consolation and strength from the BCP is now more from 1662 since the 1979 contains that terrible Baptismal Covenant. Actually it is not terrible in the way it is written but in the way it is interpreted and exaggerated in the life of TEC, USA. It is now given more authority than the Scriptures which is hardly an Anglican premise.

    However on a more positive note I value more and more the ancient cadences of 1662 – Cranmer and Coverdale got it right.

    Blessings – Ian – Lima, Peru

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