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NEW YEAR

I’ve been thinking how odd it is to be an Anglican in the United States as we enter 2010. I am a Christian by baptism. My non-practicing Roman Catholic father was retreating towards Dunkirk with the British Army when I was born in April 1940. In his absence my Anglican mother took me to St. Thomas’s Church, Worsborough Dale and had me properly baptized. So began my love affair with all things Anglican, an affair undiminished through it all. So I am untempted by the Pope’s invitation for us all to cross the Tiber clutching our Prayer Books.

After spending most of my life in extra-mural Anglicanism I was received into TEC ten years ago. For years I’d been chided for not being a proper Anglican because I was not in communion with Canterbury.  In a typically polite Anglican manner Archbishop Runcie once wrote to me that the relationship between my “continuing” Anglican home and his see was fluid. So finally that relationship was solidified when Bishop Maze of Arkansas received me into his diocese. It is ironic that ten years later the relationship between the church in which I serve and Runcie’s latest successor is less than solid. I suppose I should be used to fluid relationships by now!

Claiming as I do to be an Anglican second – a Christian first – my theology and spirituality, the way I apprehend and practice my faith and ministry is shaped and nurtured by an Anglicanism which seems to many to be antiquarian. When I was thought to be dying a couple of years ago, the words of the old Psalter, the prayers of the old liturgy were there to aid me, although it was a very High Church Lutheran pastor who brought me the sacraments, bless him!

Oddly enough for a person who yearns for the unity of Christendom, I have come to think that our abandonment of the distinctively Anglican “flavor” of worship and devotion, an abandonment variously justified as bringing us closer to other liturgical churches as well as making worship more accessible to moderns, has enormously harmed our witness and compromised our evangelism. A wise Bishop of Michigan, now in glory, once remarked that our contribution to unity had to come from the depth of our own tradition. That tradition was intimately anchored in our liturgical heritage and in its patient pastoral application.

Instead we seem to have morphed into “denominationalism”. By that I mean that the institution itself now claims our allegiance, a form of genealogical affirmation to structure as opposed to content. As I am not a “Receptionist”, one who believes that the faith of individuals or institutions enables God to act through Word and Sacraments, I am loathe to unchurch contemporary Anglicanism, as it is practiced in the US and perhaps even more alarmingly in England. Having said that I am confounded by the sort of lowest common denominator sacramentalism we offer to the communities where we minister. Of course the sacraments “work”. I disagree with the more disagreeable contemporary revolutionaries who justify their leaving TEC by gleefully announcing that God has removed TEC’s candlestick. I can well understand how these people feel and the hurt they experience. To be unfrocked is no easy experience. I remember well when the late Carroll Simcox was received into my former diocese and received a letter from his TEC bishop addressed to “Mr. Simcox”. Carroll was for many years editor of the Living Church, a prolific author of splendidly written books shot through with mere Anglicanism. Fidelity to the institution became the sole yardstick to evaluate his priesthood. Thank God no one yet contemplates removing the baptismal reality of lay people who leave TEC. It is ironic that those who now want to anchor ordained ministry as a “function” of baptism haven’t decided that if the laity are an order of ministry, the laity leaving leaving TEC should likewise be deposed!  As TEC invites all the baptized to its altars, they presumably retain their authenticity!

Indeed those who now advocate communicating the unbaptized seem to suggest that the sacrament is a human right. God made us all.He loves us all. Ergo all may participate in the sacrament which gives life and “communion”  to those called to serve Him. In one stroke the whole human race becomes the priestly people of God. Who do they represent? To whom to they minister? The Kingdom has come. The worshipping community becomes merely a group who like that sort of things and organize themselves to do what?

So I live in a community which has nothing much to do but “affirm” people and offer them shares in real estate and a part in what goes on in those buildings, organized into an expensive structure which busies itself in good works.

Yet as I am not a Receptionist, I know that in His good time, God will use the Means of Grace, the Bible, the Sacraments, to do that which He purposes to do. Of course when the Son of Man returns He will find faith on earth.

Whether we are called to work within historic institutions or apart from them, we shall find His grace sufficient.  I have hope that the Covenant will be an offering of commitment to the Faith in the Anglican Way.  How it will all look is beyond me. In the mean time I refuse to unfrock or unchurch those who have left or to unchurch those who remain. I expect to see God at work among us all in 2010. I expect to be amazed at His grace and goodness.

I remain encouraged by young Christians, ordained and lay, who stumble across our rich tradition and meet for the first time the men and women of faith who have been lights in their “several generations”.  Eccentrically perhaps, but after all I am English and old, each night in my devotions I invoke my heroes whose lives inspire me and words and deeds inform my walk with Jesus. I remember Ninian and both Augustines, Aiden and Oswald, Cuthbert and Bede, Chad and Wilfred, Dunstan and Becket, Richard of Chichester, Hugh of Lincoln, Hooker, Andrewes, Donne, Herbert and Taylor, Law and Simeon, Newman and Pusey, Maurice and Gore, and Blessed Michael Ramsey. They are good company as I pray the words of the old Liturgy.

So as I leave 2009 I shall pray in trust and expectation, “Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord.”

Happy New Year!

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