What I am about to write is nobody’s fault (I think). It is probably part of the warp and weft of church life and also the fact that tides ebb and flow over decades. It is also because of some events in recent years and recent weeks, and I hope it is not a thing that will calcify into something permanent.
The brand of priest and Christian that I am is in the decline and under serious threat. I speak, of course, as a liberal Anglo-Catholic (as distinct from one who would apply the word ‘traditionalist’ to himself these days). I am a dog-collar wearing, black clad, sacramental, open-minded, priest, and I must report, dear readers, that I am nearly the last in a nearly extinct breed of Christian. I can offer a couple of examples from my present circumstance.
1. Deanery Chapter – this is a gathering of the local Anglican clergy in the town. They are lovely warm and wonderful people, but in their company, I am very much the odd-one-out, ecclesially. Not their fault, nor mine. I am the only one in that gathering (normally) who would be referred to as ‘Father …’ and there is actually a considerable distance between where I am where they are. Not their fault, nor mine.
2. My curate peer-group – this is a gathering of those of us who were ordained in the same academic year. Here, I really am the last of a dying breed. Very often I would be the only one in a collar (and would be gently ribbed for so doing), and very often the only one in the room not to know the words to the song in question, for example. Not their fault, nor mine.
The fact of it is, it’s hard. It is hard being different, the odd-one out. Not only that, but now those of us who are this way are incorrectly labelled as the next coach-load to be leaving for the Ordinariat. We are not. We support the ordination and consecration of women. We always did; we just love our ceremony ritual and focus on the sacraments. We delight in the priesthood of all ordained people – be they male female gay or straight. The thing is that when stood alone in a large gathering feeling a little like the one who rolled up in fancy-dress, it starts to gnaw away at one’s confidence. When I worship among those for whom the Eucharistic is out-moded and passé (and frankly wholly unfamiliar) it causes me to wonder if I somehow missed a bus in my mid-twenties and that I have been left behind. It is hard at times. I also feel that I have to be on the defensive all the time, to try and justify who and what I am.
I write this post after a gathering of a good proportion of the diocese curates and in which we enjoyed a wonderful act of worship, among other things. That act of worship was a fusion of the traditional (meant in the traditional sense) with the very contemporary, with ‘old’ words and ‘new’ music. For me (and I believe others) it was a wonderful time, holy and Spirit-filled, and I have no aversion at all to it. Yet what an effort to bring us to a point of commonality (speaking as the one who ‘designed’ the liturgy). As I commented at one point – how did we ever become so polarised?
I am not sure how I want to end this post, except to say that at times I feel sad, and at times I feel under siege. I don’t want to feel or be irrelevant, and I want to be or feel like a vestige of something long forgotten and wholly irrelevant. I didn’t like having fun poked at me by other priests because of the uniform I wear, but I put up with it.
So I will fight for my survival and that of my breed of Christian, for that is all I can do.