Christopher Trundle highlights four themes to inspire us to think of examples of Anglican patrimony – a subject that has real ramifications for our mission and our future

In recent months I have been writing a number of articles in New Directions on the subject of Anglican Patrimony, the words on everyone’s lips for what now seems years. It’s become a slightly amusing phrase, one we like to attach to those quaint old traditions, and I don’t think that’s an altogether bad thing as the Church of England is a pretty funny place after all. But nonetheless, the danger in this enterprise is that I embark upon an endless series of miniature essays on the Collect for Purity, hassocks or something equally obscure; the opportunity, though, is to play a very small part encouraging people to re-establish confidence and common ground among those of us who have remained in the Church of England. For, on the face of it, Anglicanorum Coetibus seemed to offer an answer to the prayers of many Anglo-Catholics, and the departure of some who believed so has left a great gap. What we need to do, it strikes me, is to renew our enthusiasm, to find some things which we can be confident in espousing – otherwise we would have left, for there seems little integrity in hanging around simply because the offer isn’t quite generous enough.

Public discussion needed

Anglo-Catholics have done rather a lot of moaning in recent years, and that has, I think, bred a very real malaise, a malaise which has all too easily spilled over into retreat from the life of the wider church. It’s relatively seldom that we’ve heard talk of reclaiming the Church of England in recent years, and unless we think that there’s some benefit of doing so, unless we think that we’ve received some sort of gift from it, then we might as well leave today.

So the question we face is, ‘What is this gift we have received?’ Now, before I continue I do not pretend that I’m an expert, or that my little articles get anywhere near this grand plan of ‘re-evangelizing’ the Church of England – exactly how far a discussion of Rogationtide processions, gets us, for example, I can’t say. I do think, though, that the discussion of the good things the Church of England has given us, and of the things we value, needs to take place publicly and confidently. For as I’ve said already, there is little integrity in hanging around just because the offer hasn’t been quite good enough – Anglicans of other traditions need to hear that we are content here, or at least that we think it’s worth saving (being a persecuted minority is, of course, part of our patrimony). This discussion has real ramifications for mission and our future, for if it is clear that we are invested in the Church of England, rather than entirely uninterested, then we have a little more hope.

Parish and liturgy

I hope this brief talk will act as a catalyst for discussion about the more precise nature of this patrimony at some small length, but I think there are several key things to note at the outset: the parish system and its attendant ‘geographical embeddedness’, for want of a better phrase, and our liturgy – that might be a little more controversial, but we should remember that we’ve been doing liturgy in the vernacular for rather longer than our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. I also think that another significant thing, something which is more difficult to define, is the freedom we have as Anglicans to act a little outside the practice of the Western Church on a very small number of issues – take, for example, the admission of those who have been divorced to Holy Communion. This is not, of course, a license to go wild, but if used responsibly then it may help us to win souls for Christ.

Now, we all know that the clergy like nothing more than visiting their parishioners, and the parish system, when worked well, is perhaps the jewel in the monstrance (so to speak) of our patrimony. Indeed, many will remember Fr North’s demolition of the term ‘Anglican patrimony’ in this very building two years ago, in which he argued that it was actually the only real bit of it we Anglo-Catholics have left.

Not for us the ‘network church’ – the parish is the symbol of the Incarnation and a sign of the universal claims of Christ and his Church on our society. I would also venture to say that our Establishment gives further opportunities to exercise these claims. On the one hand, the example of some Scandinavian churches where clergy have become little more than civil servants is certainly a harsh warning to us, but equally the rather different picture on the Continent is a cautionary tale on the other.


But returning briefly to the title, ‘Anglican patrimony in context’, it seems to me that our patrimony is somehow contextual in itself. And the obvious example is the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, where one of the central pieces of patrimony, that is the parish system, does not exist. It is clear that Anglican patrimony in a Roman Rite parish will look rather different to the same in a Prayer Book parish, a university college chapel, or a church in Ghana. If it means the singing of Anglican hymns in one place and tambourines in another, what is at the root of it?

I put forward these four basic themes for further discussion and encourage you to think of examples of what you consider to be Anglican patrimony in the context of your church: the parish system; eloquent worship in the vernacular; inheritance of and belief in catholic order in Anglican Churches; and a thirst for the reunion of Christendom.

This paper was given to
a meeting of the New Oxford
Movement at Pusey House ND