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Hallo again to all.

A minus signNews reports in recent years have witnessed a slow but steady parade of people announcing that they were unhappy with an existing church so they were starting a new one. On rare occasion this is about a church building; usually what it means to start a new church is to start a new congregation. As part of its search for an identity, a congregation typically affiliates with other congregations, perhaps forming fellowships or dioceses or networks. A Baptist church can stand alone, led by and defined by its pastor, but an Anglican church needs to be part of something larger else it isn't really an Anglican church. Most of these newly-formed groups seem to define themselves not by what they are, but by what they are not:

'Who are you?'

'We are not like THEM. We are different. They do XXXX, which we think is awful.'

Would that we knew, actually, what it meant to be an Anglican church. We're quite certain that the essence of an Anglican church is not defined by a negative, by an assertion of what it is not*, but beyond that, we're pretty much stumped.

When we travel, we worship in whatever place we find ourselves, trying first to find an Anglican church but, if one is not available, finding a church that is close by. Sometimes an 'Anglican' service has felt more Presbyterian or Baptist, and sometimes a Lutheran or a Methodist or Roman Catholic worship service has been amazingly similar to what we were used to at home (which naturally we think of as Anglican, because we think of ourselves as Anglican).

A plus signWe can remember walking towards Anglican-branded churches in places far from home and wondering 'Will there be a Eucharist? Will I know any of the music? Am I dressed appropriately? Will there be incense? Will I be forced to identify myself?' We probably should have wondered (but never have) 'Will the priest consecrate the elements for communion? Will there be a general confession? Will the priest pronounce absolution? Will there be any music? Will there be scripture readings?' We've attended Anglican-branded services in which each of those did not happen. Not long ago we walked away after an Anglican service in which eucharist was offered with unconsecrated elements, and we found ourselves wondering on the trip home whether or not we'd actually taken communion, and whether or not that mattered. Certainly these were all worshipful Christian services, and certainly the congregations, for whom this odd-to-us behaviour was the norm, thought it was perfectly normal.

If you stay at all current with Anglican news, you will know that there has been in recent years a movement to define an Anglican church as one whose leadership has signed an Anglican Covenant. AO columnist Bishop Pierre Whalon has written this well-documented report on the third and possibly final draft of the Proposed Anglican Covenant. Our experiences during travel far from home have led us to believe that the churches whose members think of themselves as 'Anglican' are already far too diverse for any simple scheme to enforce uniformity of 'the brand'. The problem is, to our minds, fairly simple. Many Anglican church congregations define themselves in terms of what they are not, and the negative comparator — the thing that defines them by being what they are not — is another Anglican church.

An equals signNone of this will likely change, but we aren't certain it matters. We are all equal in God's eyes, even if some of our fellow Anglicans look down on us or define themselves by saying that they are not like us.

It doesn't really seem to matter who calls themselves Anglican and who tells people that they are not allowed to call themselves Anglican. As far as we can tell, the only reason that anybody actually cares about how many people are Real Anglicans is that in news coverage of religion, the reporter always begins by telling you how many people belong: 'Yesterday the world's 77 million Anglicans learned that ...' And in this bigger-is-better world, we instinctively cringe at the thought of that number getting smaller.

So, relax. It's not your fault. It's entirely the fault of the news media who insist on starting a report with 'The third-largest Christian denomination has ...', who have scared us into doing obsessive things to prevent us from becoming the fifth- or seventh-largest Christian denomination.

If we ever have to change our name to 'Anglican Online' then we'll know that it's gone too far, but we think that no one should care how many million of us there are, or where we rank in the popularity charts. There are more important worries.

See you next week. Well, most of you.

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Last updated: 19 April 2009

*Though we have observed that one well-known and wealthy diocese mostly defines itself as 'We are not Roman Catholic.'

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