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 borders...in 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".