Michael Shier writes about the continuing church experience in Canada and South Africa
WHAT CAN I TELL you from the Pacific Rim? We had a great Christmas, zipping from church to church, staying with different families. We finally got to open our presents on Holy Innocents day. It sounds wonderfully energetic, and it was. However, it’s easy to get over inflated. We are still a skeletal existence. There are still not enough pieces of the jigsaw on the table to persuade `impaired’ Anglican stragglers of our viability. The truth is that Continuing churches have to bide their time. We sow seed etc. It’s an honourable calling. The new ice age of ‘impaired’ Anglicanism will crack one day. The ice is enormously thick. But it won’t resist African volatility.
In 1992 the ordination of women went through in South Africa. In all the resulting confusion some of our people looked to England for leadership. A `divine’ of some venerability came to address them. The meetings were fraught, turbulent and inconclusive. In desperation, someone asked about the continuing churches. Our eminence said, by way of discouragement, that continuing Churchmen were `pathetic people who worship in garages’
That was the breaking point for Traditionalists in South Africa. From now on the leadership of England was in doubt. For we all know that the basic instruction is `Keep the Faith’. You just do it. Wherever you are. This is obvious to Africans missionised by Mirfield and Cowley fathers.
So our people turned to Bishop Mercer. a Mirfield father and their one time neighbour in Zimbabwe. Bishop Mercer, running a fragile church that spans Canada. the second largest country in the world, provided immediate help. and still does. The largest African parish is run by Fr Ball, a Canadian priest.
But let us go back. The people of this parish had fallen foul of their Bishop in about 1987. They had refused to accept the ministrations of the charismatic priest who bad been foisted upon them despite repeated appeals to the Bishop to provide someone with a sense of church order. As a result of the impasse there were no baptisms, confirmations, masses or authorised burials for 5 years. But they would not be intimidated.
Now, with a treasurer who runs a chain of liquor stores, a warden known as Big Bertha, a people addicted both to partying and the Catholic religion, they have built our first church in South Africa. On Nov 2, 1997, this church, built to seat 350 people, was inundated with over 700 at the first mass.
And just in case the 12 other outlets in S. Africa be thought to be pathetic, take note that the next church is planned for Johannesburg.
The sheer vitality of it all provides an answer to the question that has been on my mind for the last few years. Are we just peddling some cranky form of fin de siecle `Englishness’ ?
Now that Anglicanism has surrendered its catholicity, is `Englishness’ all that is left? I can remember feeling, rather pathetically, when I arrived in Vancouver that whatever happens ‘there is some corner in a foreign field which is for ever’ Anglican. Well, there is more to all this than some pathetic form of sentimentality. Sentimentality does not win converts. Sentimentality has no vitality. Sentimentality does not produce a superb new version of the Liturgy in Afrikaans.
Yes, there are lots of ghettos. Where else do you start? The Chief Rabbi made an apposite comment in his response to ‘Faith in the City’. No one in their right mind intends to stay in the ghetto. You must have the guts to transform it or to work your way out of it.
But it is the fact that anything existed at all that has now led the Anglicans of the Torres Strait Islands to petition for membership of the Traditional Anglican Communion. My Bishop rang one night to say that Bishop Haley was at that moment hearing the confessions of 17 priests and 10 deacons prior to their admission to the Traditional Anglican Communion. A later report told us that the ensuing dancing went on till midnight. Sounds like the catholic religion to me.
What have they done? They have done precisely what we were encouraged to do while I was still in England – made an exodus. This, of course. is more difficult than it sounds. Even if you can get out, you then have to face the wilderness. And the wilderness is hardly an ideal world. Those who would have joined you if it was an ideal world tell you that the wilderness is not for then. `No buildings, Father, no money and we are too old to start again’
Well tough. More important than all this is the fact that the wilderness is the place of judgement. The Israelites were called into the wilderness, into exile into the place of separation. That is where life under Cod properly is. Judgement begins at the house of God. If we are not living under judgement, we are not living the Christian life. So however difficult it may be and however much we may be reviled, that is just too bad.
At least, in the wilderness you are not living on enemy territory. You do not feel the duress of alien power. The fear of the Bishop’s guillotine hanging over one’s pension, the pressure to write essays expressing opinions one disagrees with and radical lack of confidence in what is going on.
The question remains: “How happeneth it, Israel. that thou art in thine enemies’ land, that thou art waxen old in a strange country?” [Baruch 3:10]
Michael Shier was Vicar of St. Clement, King Square in the diocese of London. He now ministers to a group of parishes of the Anglican Catholic Church in Vancouver. Canada