Saturday, January 20, 2007

Why I Am an Anglican

(Sung to the tune of God Bless America:)
I am an Anglican, pure C of E,
I am high church, and low church,
In communion with Canterbury.
Not a Methodist, not a Lutheran,

nor a Baptist, white with foam!

I am an Anglican, just one step from Rome!

I am an Anglican, via media, A-men.

When I opined on another blog (see previous post) that I would not be interested in a reconfigured Anglican province in America whose liturgical discipline is based on either the (English) 1662 or the (American) 1928 Prayer Books, one commenter asked me, "Then why are you an Anglican?"

It's a fair question. I didn't answer there (it would have been comment #2 billion or so on the thread) and that (award-winning) blog doesn't seem to reveal email addresses, so I hope maybe that person finds his or her way here.

The first and last answer to the question is that I am an Anglican because I am an Anglican. I'm not trying to be cute, but to make a point about what I see as a virtue flowing from the old Benedictine discipline known as "stability of place." I think there's a presumption in favor of staying put, ecclesially. That's not an absolute dictum. I made a big ecclesial move (from free-church evangelicalism) in my early adulthood. But it's a presumption, a starting point. The burden of proof rests with the impetus to leave the church fellowship in which one finds oneself at present. If there's not a compelling reason to leave, then it's best to stay.

Here it would seem helpful to say that I am not an Anglican by conviction. I am a Christian by call, a Catholic by conviction, and an Anglican by choice (and an Episcopalian by expediency--more on that in a bit). I do not believe the Anglican take on the Christian faith is the most true or the most pure of the available options--theologically, liturgically, spiritually, morally, socially, or in any other sense--except that at this time it is the best option for me. It is not better Catholicism than the Roman or Eastern Orthodox versions, and it is not better evangelicalism than the Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, or Congregational versions.

I embrace Anglican Christianity because it has an ethos that quickens my soul, stirs my spirit, and makes my heart sing. I am an Anglican because the last verse of "Once in Royal David's City" with a treble descant and an organ reharmonization transports me to the suburbs of Heaven. I am an Anglican because the rhythm of daily Morning and Evening Prayer has worn grooves like wagon-wheel ruts in my soul for three decades. I am an Anglican because of a tradition of pastoral care that is "homely" (in the best sense of that word) and practical. I am an Anglican because it has an ascetical practice that treats grownups like grownups--with a lot of generous guiding and suggesting and precious little prescribing. I am an Anglican because of a collective habit of intellectual spaciousness that recognizes that all truth is God's truth, no matter where it comes from. I am an Anglican because Anglicanism has no peculiar beliefs or practices of its own, no distinctive doctrines, no "founder" (other than our Lord himself), but mediates the faith and life of the Catholic Church throughout the ages. I am an Anglican because, gathered at the altar with other Anglicans, I have known the Risen Christ truly present in the celebration of the Eucharist. I am an Anglican because of the stated intention of Anglican churches to "forego all preferences of our own" in the quest for visible Christian unity. I am an Anglican because of the very provisional self-image of Anglicanism; in its own ideal world, it would disappear as a distinct identity.

Enough said? Probably.

But a bit more, perhaps: I love the Cranmerian liturgical idiom. In fact, by my lights, Cranmer was a much better liturgical draftsman than he was a theologian. I'm glad that I get to preside at a Rite I liturgy every Sunday (the early said Mass). But, out of regard for the Cranmerian spirit (that liturgy should be celebrated in a language "understanded of the people"), I believe it is essential that the liturgical norm in most parishes be contemporary English. It doesn't have to be bad contemporary English. And I would suggest that the 1979 BCP is, for the most part, good liturgical draftsmanship. Compared with the Roman or Lutheran parallel texts, it is often downright literary and poetic. It is very much within the Cranmerian tradition.

Finally, I am wary (I have said this before, and recently, but it bears repeating) of any attempt to tie Anglicanism to a narrow formulary, either confessional or liturgical, that is rooted in a particular time in history, and therefore transports the polemical baggage of that time into our own. That was then; this is now. I want to see an Anglicanism that is affirmatively orthodox, joyfully embracing the creeds--yes, veritably loving even the Definition of Chalcedon!--while remaining intellectually supple and always in touch with its own soul. That's an Anglicanism in which I can happily live and work for the realization of our Lord's prayer that "they all may be one."

P.S. I'm an Episcopalian because that has been the normative manner in which an American can be an Anglican. In the event that the Episcopal Church is not fully and presumptively in unimpeded communion with the See of Canterbury, my interest in being an Episcopalian will evaporate.


Ann said...

You and Dylan Breuer seem to be thinking along the same lines.

Anonymous said...

This is a lovely, powerful statement, Dan. I am both moved and inspired.
Tom Woodward

Anonymous said...

Well said Dan,

Dianne Aid
Diocese of Olympia

Mark Jakubik said...

That is very poetic, Father, but dare I say you live in a fantasy world. If you would set aside your cute language for a time, you would see that the establishment expression of Anglicanism in Orth America is corrupt at its core. It seeks to coerce those who wish to adhere tom the faith of their fathers. Don't believe in women priests. Be gone. Its in the canons. Don't believe in gay bishops. Be gone. Like the old Prayer Book, or, God forbid, the Missal. Be gone. That is the Episcopal Church most of us experience. Might nit be yiur Episcopal Church, but that's what almolst ALL of us deal with. Wonder what Lou Pinella would think of that? Not much I expect.

Daniel Martins said...

To Mark Jakubik:
I would freely acknowledge that everything you cited does take place in the Episcopal Church. I have myself been on the receiving end of it more times than I would care to recount. With St Paul, if I'm not being too presumptuous, "I bear on my body the marks of Christ" for my attempts to live as an Episcopalian. It sounds like you also are wounded, and I bless you for your witness.

Mark Harris said...

Dan...a fine essay. I remember the lines of the dity as

I am an Anglican,
I am PE,
nither high church nor low church,
but Protestant and Catholic and Free,
not a ....etc.

About the end of your essay... being an Episcopalian...if it is a matter of expediency then you are quite right. But I suffer the problem of being an Episcopalian all my life, and back at least several generations where the revered ancesters (some not so savory characters) left England. They were CofE, not free church. Here they were Episcopalians.

If we were not in communion with Canterbury? I don't kow. I have no deep reason to think that the ABC is the link to our being a valid or even stable community. Would the Scots do? Or the Canadians, or the Brazilians (oops...went to far!)? I don't know.

I hope we don't have to choose between being Episcpalian and being Anglican. I'm reading a wonderful book - the Oxford Guide to the Prayer Book - and it reminds me again and again of the treasure we have in this sometimes unruly gang of churches.

Dan...your essay, as Tom said is lovely, powerful, moving and inspired.

The Caroica speaks, we listen!


Wyoming Dan said...

Like many others who have read this posting, I too am touched by your words. But I wonder, where is the role of scripture in your Christian experience? I don’t see it as a significant part of your listing of why you are an Anglican. Is that an inadvertent omission or is there something more foundational here?

My sense is that the root of the problem in the Episcopal church today is directly related to how the Church views the authority of scripture; some see it as central to the faith in the tradition of Hooker and others see it as less important, with the real power of the church coming from where the Holy Spirit is leading.

In my experience, if we use the Bible as our guide we both honor Anglican tradition and remain in touch with the key or essential elements of the faith. The Holy Spirit of course does guide us to new awareness of God’s call to us, but that Spirit never guides us off into uncharted territory not supported by scripture, much less to places that are clearly contrary to it. In my view the Episcopal Church has gone off into uncharted territory from a scriptural perspective and in many cases that territory is clearly outside the bounds of the faith that has been delivered to us by our forebears and the guidance provided to us in Holy Scripture.

I share in your appreciation of the liturgical traditions of the church as well as its music, its “homely” tradition of pastoral care, its intellectual spaciousness and its ethos which you mention. I too value these things greatly. However, I entreat you to also consider the foundational importance of Holy Scripture as one of the reasons you are an Anglican. I think this will pivotal in the process of informing the decision facing all Episcopalians in coming days as the Anglican Communion moves into the 21st century led in large part by the global south where the scriptures are still held up as the guide for Christian living. I would suggest that this decision while difficult for all will become a living example of the “provisional self-image of Anglicanism” to which you refer.

Daniel Martins said...

To Mark Harris:
A Google search will reveal several versions of the ditty. Yours is one of them. Mine is a redaction of several, but I'll let the Jesus Seminar do the source criticism!

To Wyoming Dan:
You make a good point, one that I did consider as I was writing. If my intention had been to set forth some sort of systematic explication of the basis of Anglican theology, I certainly would have included scripture as a fundamental element--yea, a normative element. But what I was doing was more subjective in nature--why am I an Anglican, not why anybody else should be one. (Indeed, I don't believe, as I implied, that anyone else "should" be one--not on general principles, at any rate.) So, granting the subjectivity of my comments, I hope my mention of the Daily Office can be seen as an indication of the central place of scripture in my spiritual experience.

Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo said...

Caroica makes the point perfectly about how Episcopalians see scripture fitting into their lives and practices when he indicates the well-worn grooves of Morning and Evening Prayer in his life. For many Episcopalians, myself included, the BCP is the connection to scripture, the mediator, if you will, between us and the confusing, contradictory conglomeration of books that we call the Bible.

The Bible is the keystone of the faith, to be sure, but the practice of the faith, and the history of the practice, are how scripture is lived. Living scripture--practice inside the church and outside of it--is more complicated than simply taking the Text as a static rulebook. Practice is where that comes home.

Marshall Scott said...

So, having had a few days, I have had some thoughts on this (posted on my own blog). Thanks for the inspiration. I think it would be helpful if more of us were to do this. It expresses that relatedness that is, I think, fundamental to being Anglican, and fleshes out the canned expressions of the Anglican tradition that are thrown around so indiscriminately.

Tom Brisson said...

Just happened across this and LOVE IT... terrific. Thank you.
BTW, I am in a diocese in the ACNA and don't disagree with a thing you've said.
God bless you!

Visalia, Ca.