What does it mean to be Anglican today? Is there a deeper meaning to the word than establishing credentials by being in a body which nods to the Archbishop of Canterbury, sends its bishops to the Lambeth Conference and representatives to the Anglican Consultative Council, and whose Primates meet together from time to time?
Those who champion an Anglican Covenant, outlining common beliefs and discipline, autonomy and mutual unity, look to toughen up the boundaries which hold us together. I am among them. And yet I wonder. Most of the above relates to structure and to a minimal doctrinal commitment, perhaps an attempt to fill the hole when the Articles of Religion ceased to be a common theological position or perhaps an illustration of how Anglicans do theology in a definitive sense.
Yet all this could as well define what I might term “National Catholicism”. The Utrecht Union has similar self definition, but it isn’t Anglican. That is no slight towards Old Catholicism. Old Catholics have a seductive and yet splendidly muted ambition. Anglo-Catholics are not importuning the Archbishop of Utrecht to give them space. They look to Rome. Rome offers them a home in which bits of pieces of Anglican tradition may be maintained, an offer to people who seldom use anything Anglican at all! I am more and more wondering whether in a splendid step of faith towards an ecumenical vision we have lost our hold on Anglicanism as an ethos and a way.
The 20th Century was the age of ecumenical optimism. The extraordinary measures Anglicans took to move closer to other liturgical churches is seldom lauded or even noted. No where is this easier detect than in the liturgical revisions adopted by most Anglican Provinces. Yes, many revisions were justified on the basis that modern folk couldn’t access Elizabethan English. The same people have mastered the jargon of organized sport, of the internet and computers and much else. Olde English remained the one lingo ordinary folk just couldn’t manage. We will leave aside the patronizing aspect of such talk.
Apart from England the old Sundays after Trinity evaporated. Collects no longer had any necessary reference to the Lectionary readings. The Revised Common Lectionary psalm readings often provide too long passages to sing. I won’t mention revised Anglican chant settings!
To the ecumenist these changes prepared the way for closer patterns of worship and the language of worship. Certainly such a motive is salutary if there seemed some immanent possibility of organic unity. Yet after a hundred years of ecumenical initiative, little fruit for such labors seems obvious. It is certainly a positive that we no longer shun those who are not like us. Yet in the US at least the quest for organic unity has now taken second place to “treaties” of mutual recognition between church bodies which intend to remain discreet and separate in culture and tradition. But what of our culture and tradition?
No jurisdiction in Christendom has been so defined by its liturgical forms, not merely in worship but in doctrine. They remained remarkably constant although not frozen for centuries after their language ceased to be the common tongue. And yet the language remained accessible. It wasn’t a foreign tongue. One could easily have abandoned “thees” and “thous”, dealt with notable archaisms, and even shuffled the shape of the liturgy, without losing the cadence of Anglican-speak, the rhythm of its worship and the underlying ethos of its rites and ceremonies.
As in so much else, no one actually asked the people outside the church or on its edges whether they would prefer something different. The reformers were insiders doing things for insiders. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that our newer forms are heretical or even inadequate. Nor am I anti-ecumenical. Yet, given the loss of an Anglican ethos in most of our contemporary worship, however “traditional” or well done, I wonder whether in forsaking our heritage we have opened the door to the paralysis we now experience in mission and evangelism. If I have forgotten who I am, it is hard to hold a conversation!
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