The subject keeps coming up, especially when it’s a question of “You’re a false one masquerading as one of us true ones“. In the heyday of vagante churches, would-be prelates would invent all kinds of combinations of names to try to describe what they wanted to be and to distinguish themselves from what they were not. It all has a weary effect. The Church to which I belong had to combine the words Anglican and Catholic to come up with some description. To most people, Anglican means Church of England or some foreign member Church of the Lambeth Conference communion. My father doesn’t even use the word Anglican, but simply says “I’m Church of England“. To most people, Catholics are those who are in communion with the Pope through their parish and diocese. Labels and titles are very imperfect things.
I have already written about another neologism, independent sacramental, which is generic. However, one wouldn’t say “I belong to the Independent Sacramental Church“. I used to peruse websites and Facebook pages of those who seemed to have something of an original idea rather than ape what they couldn’t belong to for whatever reason. Most of those sincere men seem to have tired of it all and present a secular image of themselves. Had I been down that path, I fear I might have gone the same way.
Here on the internet and in the blogs, such discussions often revive old passions and press old hot buttons – as when I re-stirred some old TAC embers. The problem is always the same: either the Church is defined by the country where you live and it merely pays lip service to the old Christian idea: it becomes an influence for moral living and conformity with social norms. Alternatively, as in the ideas of old high-church divines, Methodism and the Oxford Movement, there is a higher spiritual ideal and space for human inspiration and initiative. The theme is always the same. Those involved did not want to set up a new church, but a new movement to influence the mainstream church in which they had always lived and ministered.
Anglicans belonging to the kind of Church to which I belong are conventionally called Continuing Anglicans. We continue the way of our old mainstream church, but we belong to separate institutional bodies. There is the old overtone of comprehensiveness, relativism, indifferentism, latitudinarianism you name it – which is appealing to those who are tired of sectarian conflict. We in the ACC tend to be more than simply high-church in the way Wesley and the Caroline Divines were. Most of us tend to look like traditionalist Roman Catholics with the exception of using English in the liturgy. I am too untypical and eccentric to be considered as any kind of reference, influenced as I am by French Catholicism and flights of the imagination into Sarum dreamland!
It is good to think about the various things that mark us out and give us some kind of foundational myth and reason for existence.
The negative rejection of why we left the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church or whatever tends to come to the fore, and that is unfortunate. It is a part of our human nature. We reject a church that has become an inhuman and anonymous bureaucracy, which in many ways emulates the eighteenth-century church in its secular moralism, materialist rationalism and political commitment. The ordination of women and the acceptance of the LGBT movement are only symptoms of a wider malaise.
In positive terms, we tend to identify with a Church of the people, a notion of serving ordinary people and helping those whose needs are not served by the Welfare State. Like the Methodists, we in the ACC do not belong to any elite club. Rather, we are considered as challenges to the established order and social conformity. Firstly, there is the priority we give to the sacramental and spiritual dimension, taking inspiration from monasticism.
Another aspect is that we are not into historical reconstructions, not even myself with the Sarum Use and my copies of nineteenth century editions. Sarum is no different from the wider tradition of the western Church of before the Counter-Reformation, when some correlation could be made between the western Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, a kind of “natural” religious lay of the land. Communities of traditionalist Roman Catholics living in places like Milan or the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland have successfully revived the Ambrosian Rite. A few Dominicans use their old rite. In both these examples, there was a clear break, albeit a short one. The French diocesan uses are gone other than Lyons (Ludonensis) and nothing remains of the Norman uses that were so similar to pre-Reformation English usages. I “do my own thing” and no one cares. Why should they? At the same time, I just try to keep things going.
We believe in the need for a Church structure. The ACC has a very solid basis in an ecclesiological theory that is very similar to Eastern Orthodox conciliarism. We are heading towards having three Provinces, and therefore a Holy Synod – something like the Russian Church outside Russia – no Patriarch but a governing Synod of Archbishops and Bishops. This confers ecclesiastical legitimacy on the whole and each part. The Communion of the Church is rebuilt from the base and on the Bishops consecrated by the mainstream Church via a documented lineage of episcopal consecrations. At this early stage, we are free from self-serving bureaucracy and the weight of structures that preserve corrupt humanity and evil. That is a blessing, but it won’t last forever.
Modelling diocesan or parish life on monasticism has its limits, since not all can be called to a particular vocation. Another thing that is clear with us in the ACC as in the Church of England some decades ago is that we are not stuck in the Reformation polemics or the ideal of defining ourselves with professions of faith like the 39 Articles or the 1662 Prayer Book. We have clearly moved into a generic mainstream Catholic style of life and worship. It would be good simply to be able to call ourselves Catholics without incurring accusations from those in canonical standing with the Pope. It all seems to be without any solution.
In the ACC and some other Continuing Churches, we tend to call ourselves Anglican Catholics. We have the Anglican Catholic Church, and restrict the use of this label to those who are actually members of our institutional body. On the other hand, if someone says I am an Anglican Catholic, the term becomes generic like Ibuprofen, a remedy against pain and inflammation which is sold under several trade names. We see the analogy. It should be possible for us to call ourselves Catholics, as in generic Catholics, but most Roman Catholics object to what they consider as people abusively claiming to be them.
Continuing Anglicans seems to be good, just as long as it doesn’t get monopolised by low church people opposed to “Roman” or “Sarum” Anglican Catholicism. There is a problem of conventional usage.
Some ideas might come in useful…