Trevor Jones on remaining Anglican in a changed landscape
‘Life is not about surviving the storm; it’s about how you dance in the rain’ (Taylor Swift).*
I do not suppose that Miss Swift has many followers among New DirecTions readers, but perhaps
one or two of you could sing along to the lyrics of ‘Fifteen’ or ‘22’ to enumerate a number of her numbers. She has however, albeit inadvertently, offered a peerless description of the Anglo-Catholic adventure. We have never had a best day. We are however really really good at singing and dancing in the rain.
Better than revenge
There has been an Anglo-Catholic habit of being angry with the rest of the Church of England; it is not a helpful perspective. We owe it to the Church of England to be here, they need us. Without the classic/ traditional Catholic perspective there will be an ecological imbalance in the Church, the microsystem will be damaged, perhaps beyond repair.
The position we represent is an essential of Anglican identity, thus we must continue our presence, our work and our care for the Church of England. Our mission is as clear as it has always been; to bring full Catholic faith, morals and practice to the Church of England. This will require patience, love and graced determination. If it just got a lot harder, bring it on!
The postmodern world, indeed the post-Sixties world, has been a time of disconnection and loss. Our own history has become less real and less alive for all of us. Anglo-Catholicism has lost George Herbert and John Keble, Charles Lowder and George Rundle Prynne; there is a real need in a new paradigm to re-negotiate our sense of self-identity. We are the children of an enchanted realm, of a story of service and sacrifice, of whole lives offered and the creation of responsive ministry in difficult situations. We need to learn again the skills of our story and discern the radical and unexpected answers to serving the inner city and estate parishes that are still the bread and butter of our movement. Nothing will ever be the same again, well, thank God for that.
Tied together with a smile
The secret of the message and mission of St Thérèse of Lisieux is her smile. Hers is a spirituality offriendship and generosity, of simplicity and openness. This little way exemplifies service and relationship. The rule of the Priests Society of the Holy Cross
(SSC) requires that its members show nothing less than the highest standards of good manners and kindness to those with whom they disagree. All who identify with our movement should be known in the Deanery and Diocese as being exemplars of charity, patience, kindness and prayer; it’s all in the smile. St Francis de Sales taught that you trap far more flies with a jar of honey than with a barrel of vinegar. You win more souls that way as well. Ours is the smile that could save Anglicanism.
Everything has changed
The landscape of our life has changed; the decision to remain Anglicans in difficult times may require other changes. AngloCatholics have always been mission minded. The liturgical answers of the ARCIC centred environment of the Seventies are at least up for debate. Are the Breviary and the Missal the best tools for Anglo-Catholic evangelization in a changed world?
They may be loved, they may constitute a brazen war cry and statement, but they need a lot of explanation to Charlotte and Brand as they start coming to St Anselm’s. This could be the moment to engage with the liturgical element of our heritage and demonstrate the full and orthodox riches of the Common Worship and Office. This would invoke the Anglo-Catholic genius for transforming things, an experiment in ‘found’ art as we teased the pattern into shape, that would end all the accusations of illegality. The making of a new English Missal (in Word format that could be passed around by email for local printing and binding) would be a positive contribution to the Anglican story.
There is an ‘assertive’ self presentation that can be most unattractive; it is popular with those who are most unsure of their position. Once you start shouting you have lost control of the conversation. Anglo- Catholics have no need of such shallow presentations. We represent the essential DNA of Anglicanism, we are the Anglican mainstream. We need to be fearless in the presentation of our case, we are not a sideshow, we are not peripheral, we are not guests in the Church of England, it is our home, we grew up here and are not about to be shuffled out of the back door.
Where space is not made we must make the space, fearlessly and with impeccable manners. The next twenty years will be demanding, we must both adventure in evangelization and persistently demonstrate how urgently the Church of England needs our gifts and skills.
The great Anglo-Catholic skill has always been that of transforming lives and creating in the locale and the neighbourhood lives of authentic holiness. This happens because our parishes are places where Christ is the King. In our parishes the objectivity of our worship involves everyone, the pastoral goodness of our priests
and their lives of sacrificial service is a constant availability and the simple and social all provide room, holy ground, sacred space for an integrated and holistic humanity. We don’t do issues as much as Incarnation. This is our great gift to English Christianity and we must renew and nourish it, for with this tool we can re-educate the Church of England back into her real role. Even when it feels cold and wet our parishes sing through the rain; love and humour authentically inform and form us. Our small patches of Holy Ground are lights in the darkness of an increasingly grey and secularized nation; we needs must make the lights burn bright.
Stay, stay, stay
There is a sort of odd English temperament that enjoys there being no alternative and simply having to get on with the task at hand with whatever tools are available, however inadequate. Given any choice, ours is not the position we would have selected as a basis for the renewal of the Church of England. Well, guess what? Ours is a great and holy mission; most of us can only hope to see small transformations, the Church happens in centuries.
The task looks impossible, and indeed unless we stay and stick to it, it will be impossible. At every period of Anglican history people, clergy and lay, have felt the call of Jesus to guide his Church in this land to its full vocation. This call to holiness and Catholicity is persistent and recurring, and it comes again for our generation. Despair will not help, nor will anger. The Gospel is optimistic. However broken it is, the English Church remains capable of renewal and even in an age of no faith it is still the best voice with which to speak to the people of this land.
Anglo-Catholics have in all honesty (and only honesty will do) lost immense amounts of ground in the last decades. We are not a power in the land. That may be a good thing. Power is dangerous and when we had it we did not always use it well. Beginning again can only be good for us. We must think of new ways of attracting young people, in our inner city parishes, in the universities; we need to encourage
and build the Christian family and traditional concepts of marriage; we need to renew our worship in many directions and modes. We need to use the gifts of the communal and individual. Most urgently we need to believe that all this is worth doing because without us the Church of England will fail. Over the decades and centuries we are her only hope.
Back to December
Today is the day we begin, whatever the General Synod decides (I am writing in the first week of November). There is no room for tragic self-regard or triumph; both would be shallow responses. What matters is not short-term ecclesiastical politics but the Gospel and God’s people. The AngloCatholic vision has always been about dancing in the rain, doing something really wonderful under difficult
circumstances. Our response needs to be pragmatic, we have a job to do, and no one ever said it would be easy. When your closest friends make silly and tragic choices then you get closer and help more. Wherever we are in December the answer will still be deeper prayer, harder work and Christ- created joy.
Anglo-Catholics have in the last twenty years moved from being central to church decision making,
and sometimes this has been because we have de-coupled ourselves from the process. Our General Synod reps have worked hard, but we are unrepresented on committees and in leadership in Diocese and Deanery. We must re-engage at Deanery and Diocesan level, we must offer to serve, seek election and organize events that people other than our own will want to be part of (Walsingham is leading the way here).
An enthusiastic young priest said to me recently ‘I want Anglo-Catholics to take over Soul Survivor’; well, perhaps not this week! We are essential to the real authentic Anglican model, we must take up our share in making the future; time to breath in and step (back) though the door.
I’m only me when I’m with you
A priest of wit and insight commented in a pub after this year’s national assembly that AngloCatholics have been ‘bemoaning the decline since 1833’. Well enough, if things have gone wrong, and they have, it happened on our watch, we are responsible, so no bitterness; we are Catholic Anglicans; our living out of the faith belongs in the Anglican context.
We belong here and from here we start the work again in charity and hope. This time let us do the job of bringing the Church of England to full Catholic faith and order properly. ND
* Those who wish to further explore
the oeuvre of Miss Swift are directed
to iTunes or YouTube rather than
e.g. the library of Pusey House