Swimming Rivers

There has been a long thread on the Facebook Discussion Group for Anglicans Considering the Anglican Continuum (closed group). It concerns the relative merits of those Anglicans who become Roman Catholics through the Ordinariate or normal diocesan channels, or yet via the traditionalists, and some who become Orthodox via some western-rite channel or the various eastern Churches present in the western world.

I observe these discussions from afar, but my own experience of the Roman Catholic Church does not leave me indifferent. Perhaps with the self-knowledge I now have (Aspergers / autism), I would have stayed away from churches in my early 20’s or continued a loose relationship with the Church of England as a cynical organist, like so many others. However, I am glad I discovered Continuing Anglicanism and ended up with a good and trustworthy bishop in +Damien Mead. A part of my swimming the Tiber, or rather the Rhône, was due to the sales pitch and pressure of a young man still under instruction with the Jesuits at Farm Street, who has since then lapsed.

Of course, if someone wants to change churches, or even religion, I would be the last to stop him or exert pressure. Everyone is different, and especially someone like myself with a degree of autism just cannot imagine what it is like to be another person. Their thoughts and motivations are so different – and alien. I laboured for many years under the illusion that I had to be in the one true Church, outside of which there was said to be no salvation. One chance, miss it and you go to hell! I have read the extreme positions of Feeneyites (the most rigorist interpretation of extra ecclesiam nullus salus) to the absurd theories of sedevacantists – the most effective anti-apologia to the Papalist ideology I have come across.

Another thing I have discovered is that Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church are not designed for “converts” or “spiritual refugees”. The receiving institutional church is under no obligation to make any concessions for converts other than, perhaps, taking their money. Beyond a given critical mass, converts would do to a Church what a few million fanatical Muslims would do on entering a small country like England as refugees. The entire culture would be forced to change, and not necessarily for the good.

Some apologists in America are interested in proselytizing among Anglicans, profiting from the low morale and sense of identity. Those who are not deeply rooted in the Anglican tradition can easily be caught up in the movement. I have to remember that Archbishop Hepworth, formerly Primate of the TAC, is a former (cradle) Roman Catholic and presumably became an Anglican for personal reasons rather than on the basis of properly religious issues. That is something I can only surmise.

Anglican identity is not something that is easy to define, still less to agree upon between Anglicans. That is a frustrating fact that drives some to seek their happiness in Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Coupled with that is the advanced state of decomposition in most of the Anglican Communion because of identity politics and theological liberalism.

Next to that, there are individuals who have studied theology, church history and culture, and others who are less cultured and more vulnerable to pressure from the “salesmen”.

Even after my painful experience of Roman Catholicism, I was a part of the movement of Archbishop Hepworth and elements of the TAC towards petitioning Rome to set up some kind of uniate solution on the basis of agreeing with the Catechism of John Paul II. Anglicanorum coetibus was interpreted by Archbishop Hepworth to be an answer to that petition, but in reality, it answered groups still within the Church of England and ECUSA like Forward in Faith. TAC clergy were later welcome to join as individuals on condition that they had never been Roman Catholics. A few discreet exceptions were made, but not for Archbishop Hepworth. I waited and bode my time, but never made any application to Rome or anyone else. I waited for the endgame to play out, for the lies and deceit to be refuted by fact, and made my decision to apply to the Anglican Catholic Church in spite of my squabbles with Fr Robert Hart shortly before that final year.

I don’t envy those who are still in the Anglican establishment, though I appreciate the point of view of some of the Forward in Faith clergy, who, like a few French parish priests in the 1980’s and 90’s, soldier on in the parishes and expose the weaker of the laity to as few painful decisions as possible. There is a risk to having a Church entirely made up of “enthusiasts”. Religion is also part of a popular culture – or used to be. I am impressed by the parish of St Luke in Kingston on Thames. It may not last, but good is being done while it is still under the same Vicar and assisting priests.

The main problem with the alternatives is that they are not substitutes for an “ideal” Anglicanism or an Anglicanism of a bygone era. We may seek a kind of “mere Catholicism” that is neither Reformation nor Counter-Reformation, but it is an illusion. Converting is really that: you forsake your familiar religious culture to assimilate another. That should not be an imperative to ordinary churchgoers, but only as the result of a long and mature reflection and spiritual growth. Where is home? The answer to that question is in ourselves. I mentioned that all Christians are in this world but not of it. We have no abiding home. The problem is that we have had familiar things and been at home where we once were.

I saw a comment asking whether the Continuing Churches could have more liturgical diversity outside the 1928 American Prayer Book. It is a two-edged sword. It can mean the Use of Sarum, but also the Novus Ordo! In practice, under the authority of our Bishops, we do have a certain scope of liturgical diversity, especially in England. Some Americans try to recreate an Anglicanism of, say the seventeenth century. My own religious references are not all from the 1520’s, since I am very fond of the cultural developments of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, such as the Arts & Crafts movement and the by-products of neo-Romanticism. Rather than referring to a polemical standpoint, a cultural reference seems much healthier – and more peaceful.

I would not be opposed to some people needing a “time out” from the religious hothouse, to melt into secular life and study philosophy, culture and art. Why have people in lockstep across some imaginary bridge over a river, and then see them unhappy and regretful about precipitated choices because “their salvation depended on it”?

The American situation is completely different from other parts of the world, including the UK. People discuss religion and have strong opinions. Elsewhere, people care much less because they have been hurt by religious intolerance and bigotry. They often like “fire-breathing” preachers. We Europeans don’t, preferring our own reading and meditation for devotional inspiration and validation. We see such preachers as those who dominate and moralise, often with a measure of hypocrisy.

I was very interested in the idea of Western Rite Orthodoxy in the 1980’s when I was at Fribourg University. I read the usual authors like Vladimir Lossky, Bulgakov and the more acceptable names like Bobrinskoy of the Institut Saint Serge in Paris. I met Dr Ray Winch in Oxford who had founded the Gregorian Club and dreamed of reviving a highly archaic version of the Roman Rite for Orthodox use. Within ten years, he was worn out and disillusioned, half-returned to Roman Catholicism and was evidently a broken man, going by some of the letters he wrote me shortly before his death. The bait was to be there in ideal and theoretical terms, but nothing practical would ever materialise in England. What little that has appeared seems quite elitist and beyond the reach of the less informed and formed of ordinary churchgoers. I gave up the idea by 1990, the year when I went to seminary (Gricigliano) after my university days.

I can’t judge the Ordinariate. I read odd bits and pieces about it. I live in France and have no contact. I only slightly knew those priests who had been in the TAC, and whom I haven’t seen since about 2008, nearly ten years ago. Some of their churches seem to be good places to go, but I’m not keen on their liturgy, whether it is “English Missal” inspired or more or less compromised with the Novus Ordo lectionary. There is nothing wrong with that in terms of faith or morals, but it does destroy the inner coherence of the liturgy and the liturgical year. The Ordinariate has never appealed to me, perhaps partly because of my Aspergers-based social difficulties in relating to people I don’t know, and who would make little effort for me. Also, I just can’t see where it is all going.

Many of us Anglicans, even Continuing Church, try to be less obsessed with self-definition, especially through negation of the “others”. Religion must not be an unhealthy addiction.

As I mentioned a short while ago, division between Christians is tragic and it takes away our credibility. It should be seen that we reap what we sow. It is for us to convey a new and authentic meaning of Judeo-Christian monotheism and the mission of Christ. If most people refuse it now, there is a reason for it – however frustrating it is for us. Either we have to accept that it is all bunk – and act in consequence – or seek a new way. Proselytism is a part of the division and the movement of destruction. This tendency will not be reversed by movements of conversion to perceived “true churches”. The Roman Catholics and Orthodox have their own problems! The unity of the Church is not institutional but mysterious, sacramental, something that “works” in spite of human sin. That Church subsists in more institutional bodies than most would be prepared to admit because of vested interests and human bigotry. All that being said, I am more impressed by the quiet work of our Continuing Anglican bishops in getting us all to recognise each other as belonging to the same sacramental Church even if we have different human institutions and jurisdictions. That is a step in the right direction, and perhaps a tiny part of a reversal to the karma Christianity generally faces.

We also need to think of the Church not as international “mainstream” institutions, but as authentic little communities like I have seen in the ACC in England: a priest and a deacon with only six to ten lay people. We have next to no bureaucracy and the only church buildings we have are those we build with our bare hands or fit into an old building. We are free to do what the Church does. That seems to me to be the future, not the workings of distant and bureaucratic systems far away from where I live that produce talk and papers, not very much else. I really am more convinced by our little communities in Kent, Lancashire and elsewhere – they are what the “label on the jar” says.

Some of us have been burned by the temptations and the guffaws of the Tempter when we have fallen for the bait. We are faced with a choice of leaving Christianity to its fate on the scrap-heap of the weak and feeble, or to take our responsibilities in the areas where we can do something and are called by God and our consciences to do so. We can’t do anything about Rome, or the C of E or ECUSA – but we can do things like look after those who are near to us, work using modern media like the Internet, and above all pray and lead a Christian life.

There will always be predators and people with perverse personalities. They have their way, and we ours.

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2 Responses to Swimming Rivers

  1. What an insightful and important message. Thank you.

  2. CJ Fish says:

    “The unity of the Church is not institutional but mysterious, sacramental, something that “works” in spite of human sin.” This is an amazing quote. Thank you!

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