Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 200,000 readers More than 10,000 links Updated every Sunday

New This Week
Everything new is here.

News Centre
News archive

News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Start here
Anglicans believe...
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
New Zealand

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
Awards and publicity
About our logo

Support AO
Shop for AO goods
Help support us!
Thanks to our friends

Our search engine


Hallo again to all.

Copper-plated zinc penny Steel penny

This week we found a steel American penny in pocket change for only the third time we can recall. Steel pennies were made in just one year—1943—in an effort by the U.S. government to reapportion metal resources during a critical stage of the Second World War. Many Americans themselves have never seen one, and though they are not worth very much more than their shiny modern counterparts, every time we have found one it has been an occasion of surprise and delight. (A lesser degree of surprise and delight wells up once or twice a month when we see a pre-1959 penny that shows sheaves of wheat on its reverse. All American pennies since then have featured a national monument to Abraham Lincoln instead of this symbol of agriculture.)

For us, the inherent worth of a find like this is not in its commercial or even in its numismatic value, but rather in its tactile connection with a relatively distant past. This penny was minted and used in a world most of us have not known—in which Australians still spent pounds, shillings and pence, German money had swastikas on it, and Newfoundland was the fourth country in North America with its own king and prime minister. The penny came from another world, but until a few days ago it was in active general circulation. Though it is made of strange material and would likely not be recognized as legal tender by many cashiers were they to remark on its colour, it could still be used today for a tiny fraction of one's purchase or bank deposit.

Human heart from Gray's Anatomy, 1918 editionThe thought that a very small, somewhat scarce coin is in circulation a full 63 years after it was minted gave us pause. A mute witness to the entrance into our global vocabulary of words like Auschwitz, Nagasaki, internet, Sputnik, multitasking and Euro marks off time even more eloquently sometimes than other chroniclers. And what, after all, had it been used for? We hope it went for a penny postcard to someone's grandmother, into the narrow leather slot of a penny loafer, for a piece of candy, or maybe once or twice into the poor box in the back of a church. Whatever it was used for, and no matter how many people have touched it, it has endured and still goes around.

With five or six degrees of separation a trustworthy rule for connections within our part of Ecclesia Anglicana, we find that anecdotes, rumors, heroic deeds and opinions have a way of circulating very quickly and with remarkable durability. In an odd kind of apostolic succession, jokes and stories are recycled over and over well outside their original parochial and diocesan orbits. As in the human body or the coinage supply, circulation is a principle in constant action on which the health of a given system depends. It refreshes our memory, amuses us, saddens us, encourages us, enlightens us, and keeps our good and bad emotions alike honed for easy recall. The internet has given this phenomenon an efficiency and permanence it had before only in a mystical dimension. Without circulation of various kinds, our hearts would stop pumping, our church life would seize up, and our monetary system would stagnate in short order.

At the risk of seeming to indulge in numismatic theologizing, our find of a steel penny was a sharp reminder that what we put "out there" stays "out there"—whether it is thoughts, words or deeds. The circulation of good material rather than bad material over time has cumulative, lasting effects. If a penny's circulation over sixty years and more keeps it fresh in hands and minds, we wonder about the durability and influence of things being circulated now in the church. Are the gentleness, joy, generosity, honesty, respect and integrity of genuine religious life freshly minted every day and put into serious circulation? We're not sure that they are produced in any splashy or mechanized, official way, but we know that they turn up in uncounted hearts and parishes in a regular, excellent fashion that sustains our life together.

The notion that good words and deeds will circulate for the long term, until we are gone ourselves, is as delightful and exciting to us as the chance find of a steel penny in pocket change.

See you next week.

Our signature
All of us here at Anglicans Online

Last updated: 8 October 2006


A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2006 Society of Archbishop Justus