Monday, 13 June 2011

Towards a Contemporary Catholicism

I am unashamedly Anglican Catholic, and in that there will be no surprises for you, dear readers. It isn't that I was raised in a particularly Anglo-Catholic environment either, because I wasn't. My church life, before ordination, ranged from membership of a modern church in an 'urban priority' area, through what could be construed or labelled as middle-of-the-road, all the way to Roman Anglo-Catholic (as distinct from the English Anglo-Catholicism of Percy Dearmer). Only the latter of these was my personal adult choice, the others being as a result of where we lived as a family in my formative years. 

I know what I like, and what enlivens and nourishes my encounter with God. By choice I seek it out when I am not the 'one at the front', but I have also experienced a quantum shift in what I believe the wider world wants. What I want and what the world wants are, I am fast learning, very distinct - even if there are some overlaps. 

Part of the 'problem' of Anglo-Catholic worship (which I will reiterate - I love with my whole heart) is that is it stuck in about 1845 if they are of the 'Romanising' style, or c1900 if they are of the Dearmerite 'English' style. In a digital on-demand age, such liturgical expressions are become much loved, revered and but sacred museum pieces. In my heart I crave a way in which the Sacraments can meet the world in which they are given by God, and at the point in time where we meet God in this age. 

You can cast your eyes around church websites or articles and find labels such as 'modern-catholic' or 'liberal catholic', 'traditional Anglo-Catholic', or a mix of them all and then you will quickly see the tell-tale markers of where that community is rooted in the context of the debate concerning women in ministry. They will display Resolutions or not, and the priest will be be suffixed 'SSC' or not. In short, the labels are contextual and in a fairly limiting way. My issue with 'modern' is that the rest of world will claim a 'post-modern' existence, with 'traditional' that it is regarded as the anti-women camp, and with 'liberal' that it is a little bit and pink and wishy-washy. None of these is the case, but they bring their problems as all labels do, including the one I am about to speak about (and may possibly be of my own invention, who knows): Contemporary Catholic. 

This is fast becoming the label that I apply to myself. The failing of present Anglo-Catholicism is that it is often received as the celebration of a former glory, as old, as out of date, arcane, fussy, strange, 'not for beginners' - and in many ways this is all true to a certain degree. I seek an Anglo-Catholicism that speaks of the moment, of now. This is not to suggest that I am proposing a poor mish-mash of incense and Matt Redman, because that would lack integrity in the hands of most of us. Our experience of God is found in the sensory, in beautiful  music, visual feasts, the counterpoint of silence and and exuberance, and in the adoration of God through the Sacraments. In that, it is the best of things, in my opinion - a position lost in political hang-ups and historical battle-lines. There must be a way that we can return to our Sacramental roots and still be children of digital 2011. The two are not, and cannot, be mutually exclusive. If they are, we are dead already.

I am not positing any answers or a new church order. I just express a developing and deepening sense in me that Anglo-Catholics need to find a new relevancy of the order achieved by Newman and Pusey in their day. It might even be a 'back to the drawing board' thing, I don't know - but something needs to happen. I know that I am not any breed of evangelical because I wasn't made that way or called to be. I am what I am, and so are many others, which is to say that a modern catholicism shouldn't be a slightly spiced-up evangelicalism. The world needs both to be done well in partnership. 

As I move towards incumbency and a whole world of fresh opportunity and potential, I place these thoughts here as I grow in new directions. If you saw me in action, you would already sense that I am unlike any Anglo-Catholic you have ever seen, liturgically - but change and development doesn't and shouldn't mean that the quality and integrity of the encounter with God be lost. 

* If you were wondering what the practical out-workings of the distinctive Anglo-Catholicisms were, be they Roman or English, it is to do with simplicity in the case of the English. English Anglo-Catholics, in being guided in some part by the Parson's Handbook will not favour the Roman taste cottas, myriad buttons on cassocks, umpteen candles on altars etc and will cherish a hymnody that is closely allied to that of Methodism, in the favouring of Vaughn Williams's versions of Wesley's hymns, for example. English catholics regard Romanisers as fussy and as a breed of lace-wearers!!


  1. We have a friend who is a Charismatic Anglo Catholic priest (retired) in this Parish. I have known him for 20 years and only just realised that he has those labels. The label which attaches to him mostly is that he has a living faith in a living Christ and everyone who knows him knows he has a Personal Faith which oozes from his every pore, so also the C of E might call him by the Evangelical label too.
    You seem to be a bit lost amongst the need in this broad Church to be affirmed for who you are. We all love you, and your blog, your honesty and your doubts and your admission of past mistakes. So this loyal follower is going to pray that you are filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit again and again . Father John Gunstone was in the 70s and his ministry lives on to tell the tale.

  2. Great post on an issue that I really struggle with - havening been a Christian for more than 18 years now, I still do not understand all these labels. I know labels can be a good indicator to people of where you are coming from, however I have absolutely no idea what labels others would put on the faith that they see me living!

  3. Interesting post Father. I think for me what is important in liturgy is to remember our starting point as Christians, for me the foundational text of my ministry is "and the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have beheld his glory" and that is what I aim for in worship, as Christ is present in word and sacrament we should behold his glory.
    David C

  4. I agree with you Jane D. What a shame this happens I'm sure that God only sees us as HIS .

  5. I really appreciate this post. It addresses some of my mistaken ideas about Anglo Catholic worship, which seemed to me to be in a time warp.

    I welcome any new experience of worship, particularly if it does not require me to acquire a label, which places me firmly in a category or box. So, your description of Contemporary Catholic speaks volumes to me.

    The church is reformed and catholic and as long at it is, it needs to explore its relevance to people through worship and liturgy as well as mission and pastoral care. Perhaps you should join the 'transforming worship' team as they seem to be trying to get a handle on how we remain sacramental while modernising.

  6. It is such a blessing to me when church services are compelling - - from rich teachings based on scripture, to soul-stirring music, and even to include a dose of humor (it helps me not take myself too seriously). Besides, I'm given to spontaneous napping when God's word & ways are cloaked in moth balls :)

    There's something so very God-honoring about a church that is fully alive - Sunday through Saturday.


  7. I wonder sometimes how helpful these labels are. Obviously we need some top-level indicators just so that such like as me doesn't find myself in a conservative evangelical edifice one Sunday by mistake - I wouldn't be comfy and they wouldn't like me crossing myself & genuflecting so, best avoided.

    But, taking my own situation (Not in the middle of the road, Fr. Acular, or we would all have been run over by now) we used to describe ourselves as 'modern catholic'. We wandered towards 'liberal catholic' under the influence of one sadly gone to Glory, but when we advertised for a new Vicar our advert was amended by men in high places to say 'anglo-catholic'. We're not that, mainly because the architecture does not lend itself to that kind of ceremonial.

    We haven't got a Resolution in sight, although our Vic wears his SSC with pride. A recent vote was heavily in favour of women bishops but unanimously in favour of adequate provision being made for those who disagree with us. We used to describe ourselves as 'traditional' but the word has been hijacked by FinF so we have ditched it.

    The parish down the road describes us a 'very high', the one up the road has been known to call us 'happy clappy' (the bloke who said that is receiving treatment) but what are we? And does it matter?

    We had a Confirmation on Sunday. There was much lace in evidence although the presiding Bishop belongs to Reform. We produced 16 candidates, although we are often criticised for not 'doing anything for the children' and all 300+ people present, including many children, managed to get through one and a half hours of liturgy without any murmur beyond a steady stream of exits to the loo. They were still smiling at the end.

  8. Have you talked to Simon Rundell at Blessed?



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