Wednesday, October 11, 2006

If only...

I promised to write more about Monday's CME event on Anglicanism and there's certainly much to reflect on, - perhaps more than ever in the wake of yesterday's wretched Chapter meeting!

When Richard Giles had finished his first talk, I asked the friend beside me
"Did you recognise that church?" and she sadly agreed that she hadn't. However, his rather idealised picture of the Church of England (possibly viewed through rose tinted spectacles from across the Pond, since he is now Dean of Philadelphia Catherdral) did serve to remind us of what Anglicanism at its best might be.
For me, perhaps his most attractive image was of a church in transit, a "happenstance group of pilgrims" that has far from arrived, an oasis for the spiritual nomad, and he made much of the positive value of not being a confessing church, not one defined by our doctrines, nor standing on our dignity. We are, after all, a church of fuzzy an essay at college I quoted someone who wondered whether "it is possible for a doctrine to be formulated that is too extreme to be included somewhere within Anglicanism.."- and Giles presented this as a huge bonus, talking of generosity of spirit that allowed us to include everyone, without interrogation at the altar rail.
If only, indeed....
He was loud, too, in his enthusiasm for the parish system...but fresh from my visit to Derbyshire last week, I'm having to re-evaluate that. I too have always felt this was one of our greatest strengths,- and in a community like Ch Kings it is easy to believe that it is still as powerful in its statement of all-embracing pastoral care. But in conversation with my non-church friend it became very clear that however much those within the church may believe that we exist to serve our communities, for the most part those communities don't even notice! I may comfort myself that St M's stands as a symbol of the presence of God with his people...but if the people aren't led to recognise this, they aren't going to grasp it by spontaneous osmosis!

Giles also waxed eloquent about the power of liturgy to transform those attending, and had much to say about our worship as an expression of continuity with the past, ancient yet modern, dignified but accessible....At this point the urge to shout b******s almost overwhelmed me - it would be lovely if it were that way (and on a good day, maybe it is), but who is he trying to kid?

He struck more chords for me with his suggestion that, if we can hold together heterogenous extremes within the Communion (a pretty big "IF" right now) we are a sign of hope, pointing to the possibility of reunion between the denominations too. He spoke of the Anglican ministry of moderation, dialogue and reconciliation which, he opined, we lose at our peril...this is, for him, the heart of the Anglican vocation, the distinctive thing that we can offer to the Christian Church across the world. But yesterday's Chapter experience suggested rather that the Anglican church was carrying within itself the full d.n.a. of the broken body of Christ, with all that pain...Not a sign of healing, but of deep deep wounds. This was a theme that Favourite Canon picked up later, in his overview of the emergence of Anglicanism from conflict upon conflict...his theme was, broadly speaking, " a church less comprehensive than confused" and he included some very telling words of Michael Ramsey's
"The Church of England is sent not to commend itself as the best type of Christianity, but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died".
That did make sense to me.

Back, though, to Richard Giles who was entirely convincing when he spoke of the Jesus of the Gospels, the one who goes before us into Galilee, who invites us to follow, but promises nothing beyond the daily need to take up our cross. He contrasted this life of adventure and uncertainty with the popular black and white answers offered by other denominations, and indeed at the extremes of the Anglican spectrum too, and suggested that our pressing need was to find a way of "packaging" that "come and see" excitement. Here, for me, lay the real hope in his words. I loved the pictures he painted of the church he treasures. If it existed, I might well be seriously interested in joining it, but its not really the one within which I minister each day.
I guess, then, all I can do is keep on following,- rejoicing that we are a church on the move (even though it might seem that we are terminally stuck) and remembering always that "Aslan is not a tame lion".


Anonymous said...

From sort of the outside looking in I DONT have a despairing view of the wonderful old CofE even if it is, as ever, rather tatty at the edges and worn in the middle.

I see "inclusive Church" as including the lady who loves Matins, and those who struggle with accepting the sexuality of their neighbours as well as those who live in less "traditional" ways.

From my sidelines I can see real ways that the local Church IS including people and ministering to them and have been reminded of the care and support that the Church can give very strongly over the past week.

Then again I havent had to sit on committees discussing the inner workings of the Church. If I had I might be just as much in despair of it as I am of the NHS

Kathryn said...

Y, if that was how it worked it would be fine, anon. I agree that inclusive doesn't mean cool and alternative, though it might sometimes seem to...But the problem is that at the moment the church is asking us to draw lines all over the place, and create tiers of holiness based on those...She is also asking us to treat same-sex orientation as a sin in itself, and discriminate on that basis, while knowing full well that every one of her ministers spends more of each day sinning in thought/word/deed than will ever be acknowledged...thus creating a hierarchy of sin?? Even if I believed GLBT relationships to be sinful, which I absolutely don't, I cant understand where the integrity comes there...
However, very glad you feel included and supported. That is what it's all for!

Chris said...


Again a very interesting and honest piece. It is great to know that there are those who feel welcomed and included within the CofE. But there are many others who sense themselves beyond the lines that some are now drawing - lines on which walls will soon be built, if we are not very careful.

As you say, the lines and the tiers of holiness belie your speaker's assertion of "the positive value of not being a confessing church, not one defined by our doctrines, nor standing on our dignity."

Whatever we are standing on these days, it is not digni-fied, nor is it a witness to the all-embracing love of God in Christ!

cal said...

You have no idea (well I actually I hope you have some idea) how wonderful it is for an ordinary pew bod like me to know there are priests like you out there.

Chin up, keep going and eventually we will all get there!

Dr Moose said...

"in conversation with my non-church friend it became very clear that however much those within the church may believe that we exist to serve our communities, for the most part those communities don't even notice!"

I'm afraid that sounds very familiar, especially in MLPK. I'm more and more thinking that all clergy should have to do something like what I'm trying to do here, just to realise the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in here in the UK.

(But then again, with a lot of questioning going on about how I perceive and execute my role (Vicar? Missionary? Chaplain? Token? Any combination of the above?) I can't even begin to claim neutrality!

St said...

We can get very hung up about not being visibly available to the community, or not making much impact in the community.

Got me thinking that a fire service that taught everyone to take more care would become considerably less visible, apart from the fire station doors and the engine cleaning.

Maybe a strength of the parish sytem is that everyone in need could find their church, and therefore their minister too, if and when they need her.

Make the building obvious and stand outside cleaning things from time to time.

I just need to work out what to do if you have no building.

Kathryn said...

Y Steve...Because St M's is very much on the way to anywhere around Ch Kings, I'm aware of the value of that public face and the fact that portions of the community do indeed relate to us through that visible connection...But do the substantially un-churched really appreciate that we are there FOR THEM? I wish I was surer that this is so...