Sunday, February 27, 2011

Unashamed Anglicanism

Leafing through a folder of old documents, I came across the certificate of my confirmation and realized that I have been an Episcopalian for just over thirty-five years. And you may ask, why?

Fair question. In three and a half decades I have endured so many low-grade, cliché-ridden sermons and winced at so much defective choral and solo singing that if there is anything to the Romish doctrine of Purgatory, my stay there should be seriously shortened.

There is also no particular social advantage anymore to Episcopalianism, which, paradoxically, is a good thing for the church. Now that it is no longer a place to be seen, except in certain pockets, or to make business contacts, it draws a much smaller crowd but people who actually want to be there.

I was drawn to the Episcopal Church for its orderliness and dignity. The liturgical calendar imposes a pattern and rhythm on the passage of time, and the lectionary imposes at least a theoretical limit on the waywardness of preachers, who usually feel compelled to talk about something other than baseball.

I am impressed that Anglicanism indulges intelligence—that you are allowed to  believe in evolution and geology and Copernican cosmology and the biblical scholarship of the past two and a half centuries.  

I love organ music and Anglican chant, and an Anglican church is pretty much the only place you can hear them regularly. I’m moved by the grace and eloquence of the Book of Common Prayer, which has its own music in prose.

I find the vestments and ceremonials, particularly the use of incense, to add to the weight and dignity of the liturgy. (Oh yes, I know perfectly well that the whole thing can get stale and arid, but I have seen it when it wasn’t.)

I am confronted by my own limitations and failings and forced to see them clearly, while being comforted that I am not entirely defined by them and can hope to rise above them.

And—here is where some of you may part company with me—I like what the Episcopal Church stands for.

In my parish, Memorial Episcopal in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill, the late Barney Farnham came in as rector forty-two years ago and announced that Memorial would be an open congregation. That meant that black people were welcome to attend.

I became an Episcopalian at the time that the denomination discovered that women are fully human and decided to ordain them. It subsequently discovered that they could be bishops too.

I am now an Episcopalian at a time when gay people need not conceal who they are, but can also become priests and bishops. And I have attended blessings, in church, of their unions.

Some of this, perhaps much of this, draws frowns from the schismatics who have broken away from the Episcopal Church, and I have no doubt that it is formally condemned by religious authorities such as the Reverend Doctor R. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.

I am content for them to pronounce their judgments on what I believe and practice, waiting as I am for the ultimate Judgment and remembering that the Founder never expressed much enthusiasm for religious authorities.


  1. The Romish doctrine of Purgatory, of course, is quite distinct from the Roman one (see section 6).

  2. Way back in 1958 in Little Rock, the Bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas stepped forward to support integration of the public schools--made the rest of us Arkansas Episcopalians realize that integration was a moral issue, not a political one.

  3. I hope a nonbeliever can make a comment without seeming impertinent.

    Living in rural England I have a particular relationship with Anglicanism, because among the great gifts of the English church (in addition of course to the BCP and the KJV) is the ancient beauty of its architecture, which almost defines an English landscape rolling from village to village, tower to spire. And it would be difficult to exaggerate the value of those churches, as buildings and communities, to the villages they serve.

    Your words about the Anglican "indulgence of intelligence" reminded me of reading reports of the English church's fruitful conversations with Old Catholics, European Lutherans and Evangelicals, and British Methodists: conversations which have been characterised by a search for understanding which is not always prominent when churches pronounce on their creeds and orders.

  4. I decided at the time of the False Ordinations, that if Betty Bone Schiess, who was an irritating woman even before her entry into the Church, was typical of women priests, that I wanted nothing to do with it - or rather them. Too many of them seem to have followed her lead - and parade about looking like frumps into the bargain. I see nothing in the Canons that require Ordinands to look like unmade beds - most of the male clergy are neat and clean - so why the women should drag themselves about this way is a mystery (not one of the great ones) to me. As for same-sex marriage,etc, when the Church, parts of which I love, gets herself up to her ears in lefty politics, we part company. The Church is, or should be, based upon faith and morals. When you have thinned out the moral requirements,it isn't long before the other begins to look shakey.

  5. Somehow I had missed the connection between dowdiness and immorality.

  6. Having attended your church a few times, while visiting in town, I can understand your support of it. Your statements help me understand why my daughter loves being a part of a small church with a large outreach.

  7. I just found your blog, via my favorite site, Strobist. Such lovely portraits of you, by the way. As a cradle episcopalian, in the deep south, I loved reading your sentiments. I'm not sure which one of your thoughts about our church impressed me the most, but one was certainly the part about orderliness and dignity. I particularly love the dignity, along with the history of that. I also enjoyed your part about being able to believe in evolution, etc. as well as the faith. Why must one nullify the other?
    Thank you for this post. I am going to save it in my collection of 'good things'