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Hallo again to all.

This morning for our Sunday worship we attended a 'not in the communion' church. (On the ground, most people call these groups 'continuing churches'.) In many ways it was a lovely experience: decent, orderly, in earnest and mostly edifying. Had we missed the signs and leaflets, we might have mistaken it for a relatively traditional parish in our part of the mainstream Anglican Communion. It was better attended and more racially diverse than most other parishes nearby.

Koch snowflakeIt was not our first time worshipping with a congregation that calls itself Anglican but remains out of communion with Canterbury, and we imagine it will not be our last. We enjoy the occasional opportunity to worship with Christians of affiliations different from our own, and in this case the familiarity of the service was particularly appealing. We also like to think that if we had lived when it was possible to visit a congregation of Muggletonians, the Nonjurors, the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion,* the Clapham Sect or the Petite Église, we would have done so. Variations on the theme of Christian life and worship are interesting and helpful to us in our own life.

Our previous experience in NIC churches has varied considerably, from services much like today's to others comprised of half a dozen angry people singing Merbecke at one another. We have peered in at parts of the NIC world in which mitres nearly outnumber parishioners; we have also seen remarkable dedication and serious Christian work for good in its ranks. There appears to be quite as much diversity of life and practice in the soi-disant Continuing Anglican world as there is in the official Anglican world.

We found ourselves reflecting more than usual today on the peculiar phenomenon of Anglican attrition evidenced in various groups of organized Christians calling themselves Anglican. What would the Anglican Communion look like today had it not suffered various departures over the last two centuries? How would our lives and mission be different if we could share in the energy and effort being used now just to create and maintain these parallel Anglican groups and splinter groups? Would we be a better sign of God's love for the world if our disunion as people who profess and call themselves Anglicans were not such a stumbling-block? Would we be better at serving our neighbours and sharing our treasures with them?

NarcissusBoth inside and outside official Anglicanism, we find that the need to create separate institutional structures for various attitudes reflects the strange ecclesiastical utopianism we like to call Anglican Dream-Church Syndrome (ADCS). In one milieu, ADCS latches on to sacramental validity as a trumps-all guiding principle; in another, Anglican Dream-Church Syndrome is governed by the pole-star of purity; still elsewhere its engines are powered by monomania for relevance, a particular kind of aesthetic, a certain liturgy or specific attitudes toward certain sexual activities. 'This one thing is the touchstone of Anglican rightness,' ADCS tells us. But far from tending to be a hardening of positions and a theological rigor mortis, Anglican Dream-Church Syndrome culminates in a fixed gaze straight ahead into a mirror. It leaves us with church communities that, far from being themselves the very house of God and gate of heaven, are in fact little more than sharp reflections of our own opinions right back at us. We need fewer mirrors and more windows on the lives of our siblings in Christ. And as much as clean windows we need doorways for opening and welcoming, hands stuck not in rigorous grasp of documentation of episcopal pedigrees or property deeds, but opened and ready for clasping, calming and comforting.

It may not be possible to reverse the drift toward Anglican fragmentation, particularly if our dear Dream-Church Syndrome continues to walk about seeking whom it may devour. The historical record shows that the centrifugal self-expulsion of various groups from our fellowship—Nonjurors for conscience, the first Methodists for holiness, Reformed Episcopalians for protestantism and the previous century's Continuing Churchmen for their various convictions—has been an effective way of broadcasting some aspects of Anglicanism's peculiar gifts, traditions and charisms to recipients who might otherwise not have known them. With the singular and often wonderful exception of Methodism, though, when groups leave the main body of Anglicanism the breed seems soon to lose some of its original vigour. Groups with kernels of Anglican distinctiveness end up not unlike a Koch snowflake—a fractal curve with a fixed area, dividing endlessly in a set pattern and with an ever-growing perimeter. We know that we are not usually better off for their departure; not because of numbers, but for their zeal, organizational initiative, creativity and plain old pluck.

Next week we will be back at our parish church, warming our usual pew. As for Anglican Dream-Church Syndrome, we shall pinch ourselves should we feel it creeping up.

We hope to see you there, too, helping to open doors and to clean windows.

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Last updated: 19 November 2006

* We are aware that the Connexion still exists, but we would have preferred to have been able to visit when Selina was still alive.

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