Hallo again to all.
The Church of England was once a principal export of the British Empire. All those areas of the globe that once were coloured pink were lands where the English church could be found. No doubt it was an odd concept to hear the cadences of Elizabethan English in Nigeria or to sing 'From Greenland's icy mountains' in Barbados, but with the expansion of the Empire came the expansion of the Church. Our ancestors likely did brood on whether this was a right and proper thing, but regardless of the soul searching, that is what happened. The question is now moot, since the empire became a commonwealth and the global Church of England became the Anglican Communion, but perhaps the question of defining the Anglican Communion could begin with what it once was. A subject serious enough for the season of Advent, even if it is not one of the 'four last things'.
If we agree that, at its heart, the strand of Christianity we call 'Anglican' is the Catholic Faith, perhaps reformed and more true, then surely that is the heart of what we need to be taking into all the world. The task for us must be to live the faith as we have received it, but always to ask ourselves whether we are so doing without the impedimenta of empire. A number of contemporary scholars are considering indigenous Anglicanismand that consideration cannot be more timely, in a world shorn of empires yet on the edge of dissolving once again, in places, into tribal nation-states.
It has been our privilege to visit Madeira and the Canary Islands this week, both of which have had strong and long Anglican presence. Perhaps it is in these less-mainstream areas of Anglicanism that we can best address the question of just what the Anglican Communion is. Parishes like these must routinely define and explain themselves lest they devolve into desiccated social clubs for British tourists and ex-pats. It is also our privilege to write this letter aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2, at sea, delivered digitally via INMARSAT to our server computers. For years on British-registry ships the captain presided over a 1662 BCP Morning Prayer service on Sundays at sea. That tradition is now vaguely followed by the 'Interdenominational Church Service', a shortened version of the 1662 Morning Prayer. But on board are a Roman Catholic chaplain and a rabbi, each of whom offers services every day. No Anglican chaplain is to be found. Perhaps the assumption is, well, the ship itself is Anglicanq.v. the captain leading the Sunday serviceand nothing more needs be done with regard to the spiritual needs of Anglicans or Episcopalians. But we note that the RC chaplain has included in the Daily Programme a set time for 'Questions and Answers', presumably about Christianity as it is received within his church. Surely the QE2 would be an appropriate mission field for an Anglican chaplain as well? This may seem to be a frivolous point, but we think it is not. Evangelise everywhere.
Here at the edge of the Anglican world we have a good perspective on its centre. We Anglicans must do more to define and present ourselves to the world, or our identity will soon dissolve away. Our Anglican brothers and sisters in developing nations are much more vigorous about what our church offers than those of us in the First World. Paradoxically, the Church of England in the United States, moribund after the War of American Independence, was the first to pony up to the task of redefining itself. It was accused of being part of the baggage left behind by the British and was predicted, even by those who had remained members of the 'enemy' church, as unlikely to continue there. Continue it did, after surviving the critical early years of the 19th century, where the defining and publicising of this new baby church took place.
As we address the question of 'What is the Anglican Communion?' we must be careful not to fall into the paralysis of analysis, and in our carefully-polished debates and occasional papers, must not forget to take our three-legged stool into the world. What is it on which we can all agree? And can we, for God's sake, take that message into the world in a clearer and more compelling way than we have been?
As the lights of Tenerife dim astern, the words of that great old English hymn float into mind:
May it please Our Lord and God that this small but faithful part of His Church we call the Anglican Communion continue until such a day when churches and denominations are no more, and we live once again that unity which is surely His Will.
See you next week.
Last updated: 16 December 2001