Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Ecclesial Anxieties

 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.


  1. As one liberal Anglo-Catholic to another, I sympathise, David. If you hadn't just been appointed to your new parish (and you may find things more comfortable in your new diocese) my advice would have been to move to Wales. The Church there is generally higher than in England and my parishes were quite used to vestments, reservation and even a sanctuary lamp when I arrived. The same was true of my curacy church.

    When I was in charge of initial CME for the diocese the curates almost always turned up in clericals quite naturally and the same was true for most clergy gatherings such as deanery chapter. You wouldn't be a sore thumb in Wales :-)

  2. I'm not really qualified to give an opinion, but I will anyway! It's the others who are out of step, not you.

  3. I'm not really qualified to give an opinion but I will anyway! It's the others who are out of step, not you.

  4. Haha, I told you you should have come down to the West Country! You can't move down here for blackshirts "fathering" each other all the time.
    But am I not right in thinking that London Diocese has a strong AC constituency?

  5. Keep on Going David, remnants have helped the Christian faith to keep going in difficult times all down the ages. I bet God has got a job for you amongst people who will only feel comfortable with YOU.

  6. The two services that for me have stood out far and away from all our daily worship this year have been exactly that - full on vestments and smoke, but with modern music (of the kind we can sing without cringing) and across the community, all traditions seemed catered for. It was more than a compromise, it was indeed accidental, holy, beautiful and Spirit-filled. We daren't *plan* another service like that, in case it doesn't happen when scripted, but I'm so looking forward to the next time it occurs. And praying that there is a future in such a glorious combination where noone feels left out or over-dressed, that there is life in the old church yet, and that you have many opportunities to make that known in your new post :)

  7. You have encapsulated exactly how I feel in all of those situations. It does feel like we are a dying breed, that said I think it's still the case there are more of us than we appreciate, and even it were not so, our brothers and sisters in Christ and in and out of collars need to remember we are a broad church, and we need to be if we are to be the church for the whole country. I too will endeavor to keep my liberal Anglo Catholicism alive. Glenn

  8. Thank you all. I was very careful not to turn this into a bashing session of others, and indeed the breadth of our church is why I would not leave it.

    Kate, it was great day for me. The act of worship in the afternoon was a perfect remedy and a chance to receive having provided. It is to your absolute credit that you envisioned a liturgy of fusion. I wish it had been filmed!

    I think it is also fair to report that this diocese errs away from the catholic more and more, which is just the way it is. However, it can't be a bad job if the curate sent from St. Mary Mags in Oxford has grown as close as he has to the curate of St Aldate's Oxford. Mad we may be, but a group jolly splendid curates we are here.

    I have rare days like these, but they are worth noting. The church needs us all, whatever pur 'colour' and will be the poorer if any of us become extinct.

    Blessings to you all.

  9. Just a thought - your identity as a priest/Father doesn't rest on being part of the masses (pun intended!). The Anglican church has always allowed its clergy a great latitude in style and manner, and the chance to be an individual. I don't easily fit into any group either, but I've stopped worrying. Maybe having passed the 50 age mark and turning daily into Victor Meldrew has something to do with it!

  10. ... and if you wait a couple of years there will be one more. This week, like any other, I are mostly wearing black.
    Random anonymous ordinand starting full time training Sept 2011

  11. You can only ever be yourself. Don't even think of trying to adapt.
    Your approach to ministry is uniquely yours and it works.
    If your new parish appreciates you even half as much as we do, you'll be a resounding success by anyone's standards.

  12. David, I've offered a slightly askance perspective on this which seemed worth a post of its own rather than a comment:

  13. You only have to nip up, go round MK and come to Wellie to find liberal Catholics a-plenty.
    (I'm not one of them, but it's useful to be able to do a good impression)

  14. Why Oxford area needs its own branch of the SCP? Your thoughts in a sense reflect mine http://www.future-shape-of-church.org/?e=4
    I'm not far away if you fancy lunch Father, but I fear you are off elsewhere!

  15. I hope and pray that you are mistaken in your belief that you are one of a dying breed. While I am probably from a middle-of-the-road background, I can value and participate in all types of worship, all of which I find have equal value.

    Having been brought up in the RC Church, I left it for to many reasons to go over here. But that was mostly about some of their doctrine and treatment of people. Not about the Catholic style of worship. I must admit that I avoided Anglo-Catholic worship on joining the CofE, until advised to experience it directly as part of the preparation to enter the discernment process. Since then I have attended all types of worship, and regularly go to Aylesford Priory on Retreat, where the Friar's have a wonderful facility, which is welcoming to all Christians. I have attended Mass there as well.

    Despite the media hype, there is room within the CofE for all traditions, and would be to the detriment of the whole church if we were to lose any of them.

    Please be encouraged that you have a much wider support base then you might think on your current exposure to the church. Hopefully, your new role will allow you to blossom and feel valued and respected within the church.

  16. I'm one of those who might be in your Curate peer-group. I do wear a collar but I come from that other tradition you mention with new words and less of a regard for the Eucharist (wrongly I hasten to add). I recognise the sort of clergyman you describe in yourself because my Curate peer-group has the same kind of person in it and I'm sure they feel a bit of an oddball too.

    I just want to say to you and to them - please don't change. You may feel out of place but, personally, I've never thought that way about my colleagues who come from a similar place to you. I very much value your presence, your tradition and what you bring to the table. Keep on keeping on!

  17. Fr. David,

    I have Blogged a response:


  18. I can identify with feeling the odd one out. I am very liberal in a very conservative evangelical church. It's exceedingly uncomfortable at times but I think it is what the Kingdom of God is about - people learning and growing in love through all their differences. You as an individual - and the anglo-catholic tradition - are a wonderful part of the diversity of the church and we all benefit and grow because of your presence. Don't be disheartened.

  19. I just wish you were my vicar as I long for proper sacramental worship, but with flexibly well used modern liturgy and use of things like Taize chants and modern songs rather than reliance on Victorian hymns. I am sacramental and high church - but not traditional - there is a difference.

    I feel at home with the Anglican Franciscans, with often ordained Sisters, but rarely elsewhere.

    I am also into the social gospel but that's another story

    Please don't let us all land up the same. How dreary.



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