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Hallo again to all, on this second Sunday of Advent.

Some number of years ago, when visiting San Francisco's sprawling Chinatown, at lunch we encountered a tour group from the People's Republic of China. One of our number spoke Chinese well enough to converse with them while we waited for our food to arrive. It was fascinating to learn that the Chinese were visiting San Francisco to look at their own history. They saw the city as a snapshot of Chinese culture, pickled in time, whose residents preserved as much as possible the China of 1850, from which San Francisco had been populated. The visiting Chinese were fascinated by the antique dress, the quaint old customs, and the old-fashioned language. Our most vivid memory of the event was of the visitor who spoke some English remarking 'This little town is more Chinese than China is.'

Canterbury pilgrims riding forthMuch more recently one of us was in England during Advent, in and near London. Attending Eucharist on Sunday at a visually delightful church that predates most of England's colonies (its 'modern' stained glass is mid-19th century, about the same time that San Francisco's Chinatown was built), we noted that its setting and construction imply age and tradition. But the worship service inside was entirely modern. Anglicans from the colonies tend to associate old buildings with old liturgy; the worship inside the church something to be preserved, along with the building itself.

Walking out of church that morning into the chilly bright sun of England's short Advent days, we found ourselves thinking of those Chinese visitors to San Francisco. Just as China had moved on but Chinatown had not, we mused that the mother country of Anglican churches has moved on, ever replacing many old traditions with new. Despite its ancient building, the church we attended that day retained few of the Victorian liturgical traditions that to us in the former empire were trademarks of Anglicanism. The language of Elizabeth I, of 'thee' and 'thou', still remarkably common in US churches, was nowhere to be heard in that church, in the land where she reigned. The liturgical nuances that, for many, define an Anglican liturgy were gone: no chanting, no genuflection, no bells. But by definition this church in the land of the Angles is an Anglican church.

We cherish the English traditions of the imperial era that set the liturgical and aesthetic tone for most Anglican churches round the world. We love the music, the liturgy, the art, the architecture, and the vesture. It's intriguing to note that the provinces of the Anglican Communion with whom those in the Episcopal Church in the USA have the greatest differences of opinion are in lands whose missionaries 'exported' different traditions than those exported to the States.

Many faithful Anglicans see their own parish church as typical, as an exemplar. But how do they know? Muslims, as part of their faith, must make a Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in their lives. What would the Anglican world be like if each of us were required to make some sort of pilgrimage? We rather suspect that Anglicans would never agree on the right destination: Canterbury Cathedral? St Albans? Holy Trinity Brompton? All Saints Margaret Street? St Andrews in Sydney? Church of the Advent in Abuja? We could all switch from the squabble over 'What is the Anglican Communion?' to 'What is the most quintessentially Anglican church?'

Urging every Anglican to travel to some holy place at least once in a lifetime seems to us a good idea. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales about one such pilgrimage; many of us have travelled in our reading with the Pardoner, the Knight, and the Wife of Bath. Is it too late to revive that tradition, to encourage every Anglican to make a real pilgrimage to an ancient Anglican place far from where they live and worship?

See you next week.

Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 7 Dec 2003

A thin blue line
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