Hallo again to all.
The first Sunday of Advent. The first day of December. The day before Rowan Williams is confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The day our friend Katherine Bowyer celebrated her first eucharist at her new parish home in the Diocese of Newcastle, in Australia. We sing Advent hymns whose words are of renewal, anticipation, change, and arrival. We sing of events that make the world a new place.
Surely many of you have heard the jokes about the number of Anglicans it takes to change a light bulb (typical answer: one to change the bulb and five to form a committee to preserve the old bulb). We Anglicans seem to spend a lot of time preserving the old ways, for in a sense that is what it means to be Anglican. But it is the renewals and rebirths that form the future of the church.
We remember very vividly standing in the chapel at Ely Cathedral a few years ago, in shock at the physical damage suffered by that edifice during the Dissolution. We wrote this front-page letter about the visit, in which we noticed that the church has thrived even when some of its buildings had been smashed.
We can evaluate history, but not invent it. We can invent renewal, but not evaluate it. Some time must be allowed to pass. In the effort to report 'news' every week, we can fall prey to the urge to talk about the new and different, and pay no mind to the ordinary. It takes time to see whether new things are good or bad, permanent or temporary, timeless or dated. Sometimes the urge to guess quickly is strong. We'll admit, for example, to being somewhat dismayed by what is going on in the Diocese of Sydney, but only the passage of time will tell whether that diocese is renewing Anglican Christianity or is converting itself into 'Baptists with bishops', as one wag put it.
Somewhere between preserving in amber and pulverising in anger is the space where we live out our lives, in this funny communion we call Anglican. It's a hard job to find and maintain that balance, in a world where media pushes us to the edges of emotion, where the boring doesn't sell, where what doesn't bleed, doesn't lead. Cut to the sheer ordinariness of parish life, as a friend in suburban Canberra, Australia narrates it:
Admit it: That letter didn't put you on the edge of your seat, did it? Charming, gentle, full of good news and small successes, but hardly dramatic. That's the point. Parish life, diocesan doings aren't, thank God, dramatic and awe-inspiring every day. Sometimes they can even be a little dull. (Think of that last parish committee meeting.) But there is something good, true, beautiful, even Anglican, about accepting the fact that the matter of living is, for the most part, a steady and uneventful business for most of us. If we resist that fact—and much in the world today conspires to make us want to—the search for drama and novelty may well be our undoing.
As this Advent season progresses, as another church year begins and matures, we're sure we'll hear some of the same squabbles, the same theological nitpicking, the same cries of 'Heretic!' and 'Schismatic!' echoing throughout the Anglican Communion. Advent's mood is silence, waiting, expectation. Perhaps in honour of the season—and in honour of our heritage—we can do more praying and less shouting.
And our first prayer, in which we know you will join us, will be for the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury.
See you next week.
updated: 1 December 2002