Introduction

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January 24, 2009

Why I Remain an Anglican

this post originally appeared in the January 2009 edition of "The Diocesan Post" of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia.

If you have your own reasons "Why I Remain an Anglican" add them to the comments section.

Seven years ago I was invited by a local paper to write an article explaining why I “remain an Anglican.” The request came in response to a fellow priest’s decision to resign from the Anglican Church and start a new church.

Today things are not greatly different than they were in 2001. I remain an Anglican, serving now in the parish I served then and people continue to leave our church. Usually they depart one by one, sometimes as families. Occasionally whole congregations pack up and move to the other side of town. And so I wonder how might I answer the question if it were posed to me today, “Why remain an Anglican?”

I could give historical reasons; there are several and they are good. I could give reasons argued from theology; but theology can always be argued in a variety of directions. My real reasons for remaining an Anglican are deeply personal and they organize themselves around five basic convictions about the nature of life and of the Anglican Church.

1. I remain an Anglican because I know that life is messy. People are often disagreeable, hard to get along with, cantankerous and sometimes just irritating. We will always find things in other people that are disagreeable. No group of people larger than one will ever experience blissful harmony all the time. Families would seldom survive if we parted company every time we disagreed or had a squabble.

Seven years ago I said, “The tendency to separate seems to be contagious. The history of the Christian church indicates that those who divide will likely divide again. I cannot imagine what might merit risking one more break in the already fragmented body of Christ.” The last seven years has proven this again and again. Communities that divide because their way is the only right way soon find another way that someone in their new community is getting it wrong and division continues to spread.

Does this mean I have no convictions? Does this mean I settle for anything that goes just so we can stay together?

2. I remain an Anglican because the Anglican Church is a community of Christian faith. In 2001 my brother who left the church said he had to go because the Anglican Church “has increasingly allowed the values and demands of a decadent and demoralized western culture to set more and more of its agenda.” I did not see it then; I do not see it now. I do not believe we are any more or less greedy, self-obsessed, power hungry, or violent than every church has ever been throughout all of history.

The “agenda” in the church where I serve has not changed one bit in the last seven years.

We are a community of Christian faith. We exist to worship God who is known to us in Jesus Christ. We desire only to follow faithfully where God’s Holy Spirit leads us and to serve all people with love, compassion and grace. We believe God calls us to grow daily in our ability to bear the fruit of the Spirit in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” And, as I said seven years ago, “I will never learn these qualities from people with whom I always get along.” I need uncomfortable people, people who disagree with me and with whom I argue in order to learn “patience, kindness,” and the faithfulness to which Scripture calls us again and again. So I must not give up on those in my faith community who I find difficult or awkward.

3. I remain an Anglican because love never gives up. Even if the church to which I belong makes mistakes, or is at times compromised, confused, even a little bit chaotic love is stronger and more lasting than all of the ways in which we might get it wrong.

My mother recently died. As I write these words, my desk is covered with cards expressing love, compassion, care and concern for me and for my family. Many of the expressions of condolence I have received over the past few days have been deeply touching in their sensitivity, gentleness and kindness. These cards come mostly from Anglicans. Some of them come from Anglicans with whom I worshiped as a small child representing fifty-four years of connection and affection. The people who wrote these cards are people in whom I see the face of Christ. They are people who, even when the reflection was terribly faint, have been willing to continue struggling to see the face of Christ in my life. In these lives I experience the deep work of God’s Spirit. It is hard to imagine what would motivate me to leave these people.

4. I remain an Anglican because the Anglican Church is a large and diverse community. We live in a world that is deeply broken with often violent and horrifying results. Almost the only surviving international communities left in our world are the corporate consumer communities that are bound together by a common economic interest. The world desperately needs to see that it is possible for a community to hold together across barriers of culture, language, ethnicity, and race without the binding motivation of self-interest, or the benefit of economic gain or power advantage.

The Anglican Church contains people of many races, languages, and ethnic backgrounds. It is a church that has room in it for everyone. We do not demand that you achieve a certain socio-economic status before you join. You do not have to pass a theology test before you qualify for membership. We ask only what Jesus asked, that you acknowledge your poverty and are willing to mourn. You need only to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” be pure in heart, willing to exercise mercy, and to live as a peacemaker. (Matthew 5:3-9) And, in the end, we embrace one another even when we fail miserably to reach any of these exalted goals.

And so, my final reason for remaining an Anglican is the most important reason of all.

5. I remain an Anglican because I am a failure. The Anglican Church is a church for failures. The Anglican Church is a place where I can beat my breast and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

I remain an Anglican simply because there is room in this church for me. The Anglican Church is my home. And home is the place where they always have to take you in. If I can only belong when I get all the right answers, I will never be at home in any church. If there is only room for me because my behaviour measures up to some external standard of prescribed conduct, I will always be excluded. There is no room for me in any community where I need to be smart enough, good enough, clean enough, pure enough.

I can only belong in a community where I am trusted, not that I will always get it right but that I am doing the best I can to follow God’s Spirit. I can only belong in a community where, when I kneel at the altar rail and put out my empty hands, I am told that God believes the intention of my heart and desires to fill me with love, blessing, grace and mercy. I remain an Anglican because, when we gather at the Lord’s Table, we are all the same. None of us is special, none is better than anyone else. We gather with our shared poverty, our deep hunger and hearts that desire only to open to God in Christ and to receive again and again the bread that feeds us for eternal life.

You see, no matter how low I set the bar, there are no standards to which I can measure up. There are no great achievements I can hold out to say, this proves I am worthy to eat at the table with you. The only reason for us to separate is if you can no longer accept me just as I am - stumbling, confused, broken, and often lost, but longing to have you see Christ in me, as I long to see Christ in you. In the Anglican Church, I am encouraged to see Christ in broken vessels and to find the riches of God’s mercy in failing followers like myself. This community of mercy rooted in faithfulness and love is the only place I will ever be able to belong. This is why I remain an Anglican.

10 comments:

Rob Holloway said...

I cannot show any better expression then Christopher has written.
quote: " In the Anglican Church, I am encouraged to see Christ in broken vessels and to find the riches of God’s mercy in failing followers like myself. This community of mercy rooted in faithfulness and love is the only place I will ever be able to belong. This is why I remain an Anglican."

My creation time:
I was baptised in a small rural Anglican church in England during WWII. My parents were not active church goers but something told them to go and so I started. held up in prayer by friends and I'm quite sure grandparents I did not see.

My arrival:
So, I'm now in Canada ,left a grandfather behind, never to see again but what do I remember at almost three years old. By seven my parents have left each other and so I never get to see my other set of grandparents.
I do remember being part of the Church in downtown Montreal but now the Boys home have decided I need not go their anymore as they take everybody to Church on Sunday.
So this baptised Anglican with not much knowledge goes to a non Anglican Church.

Growing up:
I'm back in the search for more than I see as my heart tells me God is calling. I believe in Christ but know not the right way, so I'm told.

Married:
Now I'm married and we have a child so I have to convince the local minister I really do want our child baptised in the local Anglican Church as we settle down as a family. So, it happens and now we feel a welcome though we are the young ones amoung the established.

Moving:
We move across Canada to the West without family and find a local church as we now have a second child to baptise. God is funny as some of our oldest friends came from this Anglican church. The minister became my good friend and challenged me, no one had before.
Another friend took me for lunch a few times and my children said Mr so and so was asking about you Dad.

Belonging:
Well now we are involved with the Anglican Church in spirit and and body.
Teaching Sunday School, repairing walls, working on ladders so high , only Christ got me down. It was only him and me that day.

Growing in Christ:
We moved again , now at the Coast on an Island and Christ led us to a family Anglican Church that needed our service and skills , rough though they are.
Our children grew in love and support and faith but our lovely church deeply fractured a few times and we debated do we go.
We knew we had to hold together for Christ and ourselves for growth and stability as it would only happen again in another church. It hurt but Christ stayed with us and we I believe kept oursleves inplace.

2009 Ending;
Well, we are a few who held out and not moved in this lovely Anglican church and we see more young people here and are friends with some and our children have married and gifted us with grandchildren. It is joy for Christ to know that we can be visited in the same place and I'm a good friend of our pastor in this lovely Anglican Church.

I'm not the best guy around but He loves me and I guess other folks do also as we walk through life in his Love.

Rob

Anonymous said...

Rob,

Thank you for this lovely comment.

The kind of steady faithfulness and goodness that you describe in this comment is exactly what I mean by seeing Christ in the other person.

Again and again I see the work, presence, light and life of Christ in people like you and your family. This is such an encouragement and inspiration to me.

blessings,

Christopher

Kirsten said...

Christopher, this is beautifully and simply articulated. Thank you. I am going to give it some thought, and come back and post my own reasons for becoming and remaining an Anglican.

Christopher said...

thanks Kirsten. I look forward to reading your reasons "Why I Remain an Anglican."

Sherry said...

Christopher, being one of those people you call “a cradle Anglican” (baptized, confirmed and married in the church), your comments made me ask myself why I remain an Anglican. In my family both sides have been Anglicans or Church of England for centuries. To my knowledge, no family member has ever felt the need to pursue any other religion. What I do find interesting is attending weddings (or funerals) in other religions - how markedly similar components of these ceremonies are to ours. I firmly believe that we all share the same religious roots, no matter what our faith may be. In my mind, being Anglican means having the freedom to express one’s own beliefs while having the luxury of an ancient traditional framework supporting us. I’m proud to be Anglican. I’m proud to say I’m Anglican when asked. I just wish there were more of us!

Kirsten said...

Becoming

I was baptized Presbyterian, and raised in the United Church. And so my parents raised their little girls to be progressives seeking social justice. However, an important piece of the puzzle was that, on high holy days, my mother often brought us to an Anglican high mass (for the music, she said). Well, it was there, and not in my home church (with its multiple gasses of grape juice that came to you, for which you did not have to kneel humbly before the cross to ask, in a sweet statement of dependence, trust, mercy, and unity) that the Eucharist changed me, touched me, cleansed me, and filled me up with the tiniest sliver of Christ’s holiness, his power to redeem.

Still later, I read the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. “Where were these acts of power today?” I asked indignantly. “What has happened to the power of the Holy Spirit?” So off I went, seeking and finding the biblical literalists, getting “re-saved” - my soul counted up on one of their tally sheets - falling in love with their trust, their single-pointed intention to seek and do their Father’s will, how easy it had all become. In-group/out-group. Yet, as the numbers and ‘types’ of people who sparked revulsion in their hearts grew and grew…in no time I was out, and I was mourning.

Spooked by “extreme Christianity”, eventually I found my way into an Anglican parish that had the sensibility of evangelical worship; yet the traditional Eucharistic liturgy, in some form, was tucked in there somewhere between the praise-band and the spontaneous prayer. Could it be true? I asked-the best of both forms? Yet the ideological divide between evangelism and inclusively was far from resolved.

In the years since, I have participated with equal joy in ‘High Anglican’ and ‘Low Anglican’ worship. And yet there are still more gifts. The latest two have been teaching and silence. Anglican theology is sufficiently broad so as to leave room for growth and change, room to be mistaken, room to step out of the way of knowing the right answer, because maybe the Holy Spirit does… And then there is the gift of silence. The practice of centering prayer has brought me the permission to be still; to make time to listen, day after day, week after week, to the spirit of Christ within.

SO, just some of the gifts the Anglican Church has given to me are liturgical music, the Eucharistic Prayer, form/pattern, praise music, silent prayer, teaching, evangelism and mystical unity in the body of Christ. Blessings all.

Remaining

Well, becoming an Anglican was the easy part! Falling in love is blissful, while staying in love is not. Remaining an Anglican has been for me a daily practice; a kind of ground from which I can evaluate how it feels to claim an Anglican identity as an adult.
For me, claiming Anglican identity means accepting membership in a whole people unified in Christ, that seek to know him through the liturgical Eucharistic mystery. Yet it also means accepting responsibility for the shared corporate expressions, political, ideological, social, financial, and culpable, that characterize an institution with a changing role within the societies of which we are a part.

Remaining an Anglican does not mean finding a comfort zone and inviting other Anglicans the world over to join me within it. It does not mean indulging in nostalgia for the lost social unity of the pre/post-war era (that may appear to have stemmed from the BCP, but was in fact a sociological product of the wars, and the common social fabric they engendered).

Nor does remaining an Anglican, for me, mean collapsing the distinction between the idea of scripture actually being infallible (possible), and the probability of a particular personal or cultural understanding of scripture being the infallible truth (impossible). This is an important point. Somewhere along the meandering liberal path of my childhood, a conservative challenged me to read scripture as if I trusted the God who inspired it. So I tried it. And I was changed. I do need to respect and to trust scripture, but not to become confident that my interpretation speaks for God, but only, if I am sincere, of God.

Remaining an Anglican also means coming to terms, on an ongoing basis, with the quite convoluted Episcopal structure of the church. It means continuing to trust that such structure, overall, exists to provide space that is created and intentionally held open, a spaciousness opened by and for the Holy Spirit to dwell through, amongst, within and beyond the community of faithful. I hope to stay vigilant lest that structure begins to take on a vitality that seeks to sustain itself for its own sake, in my own faith journey as well as that of our whole church.

Finally, remaining an Anglican means keeping in sight the vast, rich blessing we share in God’s grace. Anglican approach reminds me of grace because God seems quite comfortable letting us draw near to him in variety of ways, the bulk of which will always seem “slightly off-putting” to some and “just the way God likes” to others. It is just this eclectic, personal, varied and deeply fallible approach to worship that gently reminds us that we are dependent on God, not the other way around. God is not depending on us to get it right, but only to draw near to him, and what a blessing that is to know!

Hannah said...

If I could add anything to your comments I might say something about the deep healing that takes place when the Gospel is read and
preached in a place that has been made beautiful by the Altar Guild,
by shared reverence, by tradition and by the power of metaphor and
symbol. The Communion is new to me every time I take part; always
strange yet comforting. Never without affect. It goes on and on
revealing its riches. Something like that.

Hannah

Nenya said...

Why am I Anglican? Well, I'm not, yet, technically. I'm a Canadian who found the Episcopal church during a sojourn of a few years in the US--and am now home again and looking around to see what's the same and different about the Canadian Anglican church and where and if I fit in.

I think what calls to me about this tradition is very much what others have said here. The liturgy and ritual give me space to breathe and worship in ways that other traditions haven't (even though I love modern music, too). The sense of ancient connection and the idea that, if I look down the altar rail a long, long way and squint, I can see my sister on the other side of the country taking communion too, is wonderful. The thoughtfulness. The genuine belief that community means working through our differences. The freedom to think and come to conclusions that may be different from the person sitting next to you. The fact that I share all this with my best friend, who explains a lot of the ritual to me. The chance that I won't be hated for not being straight.

And the chance to read blogs like this, which I've been enjoying very much. :D Thank you.

Bob MacDonald said...

Christopher - thank you for the excellent article which I just read in the DP - bravo. I did not know there were other bloggers in Victoria - I am delighted to discover not only another blogger but an Anglican blogger.

Walker Morrow said...

Hi Christopher. I don't want to be confrontational ( seriously, I don't ), but I was able to muster myself up into writing a response to your quite well-written article.

Here it is. The Anglican Essentials blog was gracious enough to pick it up for me:
(http://www.anglicanessentials.ca/wordpress/index.php/2009/03/03/why-i-am-no-longer-an-anglican/ )

"
In response to a very nicely written article by the Venerable Christopher Page, titled ‘Why I Remain an Anglican’ in the January edition of the Diocesan Post, I thought I would give a rebuttal. In all honesty, I think that the Venerable Page’s words were a good rallying cry for the Anglican faithful, or perhaps even the mere hopeful. Unfortunately, I am neither, so I thought I would give my own reasons for being so, in order that both sides of the spectrum can be represented - however badly on my part. Toward that goal, I’m afraid I might have to speak rather bluntly at times.

I don’t wish to offend those who happily remain as Anglicans. You have your reasons, and I can quite respect that. I am just stating my own dissatisfactions with the Anglican Church of Canada, and with the Anglican Church as whole. Perhaps I’m being unreasonable - I am human after all - but I can still say quite firmly that being a part of the Anglican Church was at some times enjoyable, but too many times depressing, disheartening, and disillusioning, and it undoubtedly contributed to the cynicism with which I now view most institutionalized religion ( although whether that is bad or good is up for grabs ). I have not set foot in an Anglican Church for several months, although to be fair, I haven’t entered a church of any other denomination either. I did not decide to remove myself from the official body of the Anglican Church lightly - it was a decision a long time in the making. But I do not regret the decision. And I think that if words are to be written in praise of the Anglican Church by a happy Anglican, then perhaps words of criticism written by an unhappy observer of the Anglican condition should be heard as well, in order that perspective can be gained. Perhaps my words will make you appreciate Christopher Page’s even more, in which case I don’t think my efforts will have been wasted at all.

I hope that you all remain happy with your own decisions. I certainly am.

Christopher Page had five reasons for being an Anglican. Being a slacker, I have only three reasons for moving to the fringes of the Anglican church:

1) I am not an Anglican, because I have lost most of my respect for either the administration or my bishop.
The Anglican church is not the only place where I display an anti-establishmentarian view, so I am at least consistent in that respect - although, to be fair, the actions of our resident bishop, and the general Anglican administrative body in Canada have undoubtedly contributed to my anti-establishmentarian cynicism. Said actions include a general inconsistency in approaching the ideals of solidarity and unity, and a general reluctance to accept responsibility for internal dissent. This is most painfully represented in the way that both same-sex blessings in the Diocese of New Westminster, and the St. Mary of the Incarnation, Metchosin, insurgency have been handled.

I have no particular dislike for Michael Ingham, or his views - indeed, I probably agree with him in some respects. But the fact remains that Michael Ingham, and several other bishops in other diocese, expressly disobeyed the dictates of their superiors and the body of their peers in regards to same-sex blessings. That is a disobedience which I wouldn’t mind accomodating, if other dissents were allowed to go forward at the same time. But they haven’t, as shown by the various attempts to financially and physically restrain and overtake the more orthodox parishes in Canada for attempting to leave due to their disagreement, for one reason or the other, with the greater Canadian Anglican body. I know the justifications which are given for such financial and physical harrassments, for the dismissal of pastors, the locking of parishioners out of their church buildings - it’s all for unity, and yet the ones initially disrupting the unity of the ACoC - Ingham et al - have had a much lesser reaction; the occasional revoking of a license here or there, and very little else.

Not that I was afforded much room to talk about such things, despite the constant dialogue which was apparently available to me. Our own bishop saw to that - when he openly said that any member of the clergy or higher church administration found accomodating non-approved dissenting dialogues would be removed from their position. In my limited experience within the Anglican church, the only dialogue that I saw was rigidly controlled and monitored - and anything else never happened, at least not in the eyes of anybody remotely official.

And the way that St. Mary of the Incarnation was handled was an absolute indignity for everyone involved. The parishioners voted to leave - that’s fine. They wanted to take their church building, bought and paid for - not so fine, and the parishioners were forced to go to litigation in order to attempt to keep what was, in effect, theirs. The congregation was locked out of their church - they had to go to court over that too - their pastors were barred from their former church’s grounds, and the second sitting of our last diocesan Synod was held in the very church building of St. Mary’s itself, as a show of support -or a reward- for the 12 or so parishioners who alone continued to follow the bishop.

I do not pretend to say that the dissenters have no share of the blame - of course they do. Everyone shares in the blame when it comes to such things. But the repeated attempts of our bishop to put the unpleasantness on the dissenters’ heads - saying that it was their fault, that they were the ones who chose to walk away, and cause a problem, and raise a lawsuit against the church - cannot be held up against the bishop’s claims of ownership and rulership over all in his jurisdiction without making the bishop’s claims inconsistent. If he wishes to claim ownership over everything that goes on within his jurisdiction, then he must accept the bad with the good, and that includes dissenters and unhappy, protesting, lawsuit-raising noisemakers as well as calm, dues-paying, happy churchgoers.

2) I am not an Anglican, because I do not respect the Anglican process of dialogue.
It is my belief that religion is a body for finding and divining what is true, and what is not true. In order to find the truth, then of course a discussion must be had, a comparing of ideas, a general agreement on the best paths, and on the best actions. I personally love that process - I find that it can be an incredibly stimulating and rewarding experience, and in essence I don’t have a problem with the Anglican process of dialogue.

But as I mentioned before, the increasing involvement of administration-approved dialogues, meant more for the purpose of determining where everybody stands on the issues facing the Anglican Church than for the purpose of reaching a conclusion, and the refusal of the bishop to allow unofficially-observed dissenting dialogues, proved a formula very unsuited to an open and free dialogue - on anything.

Same-sex blessings were the main issue of contention, and a more muddled issue could not be found. I cannot describe the feeling of exhaustion that being involved in that debate instilled in me - that the Anglican Church has been involved for nearly thirty years is almost grimly depressing. And repeated cries that approving same-sex blessings was about ‘justice’ or ‘love’ only further served to make the situation more difficult to resolve - it’s hard to be impartial and objective in seeking the truth when even the idea of opposition to same-sex blessings is considered a grave injustice to humanity by your philosophical opposition. Or, for that matter, when the very idea of bringing in same-sex blessings to the Anglican Church is viewed as a vile abomination before the Lord.

I think that the Anglican Church is a very diverse medley of people from all walks of life, and I value the friendships that I formed during my involvement in the ACoC. It’s unfortunate that said diversity did not extend to the realm of dialogue.

3) I am not an Anglican, because I am my own person. Not part of a whole, and not beholden to another’s religious authority.
Once again, my reasoning is seated very deeply in anti-establishment sentiments. I do not feel that religion is best suited by a cohesive and united movement, under the direction and the guidance of a strict hierarchy. It stands to reason that the Anglican Church is not a democracy ( it’s more of a theocracy, if anything…), but I do not see why the Anglican status quo is one which must be followed - I certainly don’t see religious fullfillment coming from that path of action. As to the authority of the bishops - they are men and women just like you or I. They are subject to the same mistakes, and beholden to the same consequences. I have some respect for those who wish to follow the path of the religious leader, but over-all, I cannot submit to the authority of another for no other reason than tradition. What purpose does that serve? And all attempts to preserve the Anglican Unity have resulted in ham-fisted measures which have only served to make the situation worse; I cannot support that - I can barely understand it.

I’m not saying that I think the Anglican Church of Canada needs to become the Anarchist Church of Canada - just that a collection of peers working toward a common goal would seem to be a more sensible way to go - for me - than a strict and highly bureaucratic hierarchical infrastructure. I believe that the individual holds infinitely more power, and is of much more importance than the group, and that has led me to distrust most religious structure in general, but the Anglican Church of Canada in particular. It is one thing to be humble, it is quite another to utterly illegitimize your own existence by making yourself a servant of the church. Christopher Page stated in support of his being an Anglican that “I remain an Anglican because, when we gather at the Lord’s Table, we are all the same. None of us is special, none is better than anyone else.” That is precisely why I disagree with the Anglican hierarchy of parishioner under church, church under bishop, and bishop under archbishop. That is not equality of man under God. That is a throwback to a time steeped in feudalism with little room for democracy. We put people in positions of authority where we think they can best lead us, for our common goals, for pragmatism, not for the reason of religious tradition. "

Cheers!

-Walker