What is the Anglican Church for these days?

The Archbishop of Canterbury

That thing known as the General Synod is in session this week but do many of us really care?

No is the short answer.

The Church of England’s “parliament” is in session and they are in a right old state with the Archbishop of Canterbury trying bravely to sort it out. International Anglicanism is at risk of splitting and even the English Church is riven down the centre. Anglicanism, by the way, is really the good old Church of England plus other foreign churches that historically went along with the general ideas exposed by the C of E.

What those ideas were has always been a bit of a problem because it has survived as a strange muddle of doctrines that go back to its origins as a breakaway movement from the Roman Catholic Church when, in the 16th. Century, King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

So loads of different ideas got included in the new organization – old Catholic beliefs and trendy new Protestant ones were mingled together into something that down the centuries turned into a middle-of-the-road and very nice respectable part of the Establishment which most English people were happy to claim non-committal allegiance to on their passports and at their weddings, christening and funerals.

In England, it was non-controversial, sensible and rather dull to most of our eyes. More recently, in ecclesiastical terms at least, say in the last 100 years, it has gradually lost even that cozy relevance to most people’s lives.

It is different overseas especially in Africa where it is vibrant and energetically evangelical and in the United States where it has moved with the times and now embraces what used to be seen as wrong – female and gay priests and now even bishops.

Well, England bumped along trying to ignore most of this until the last few decades where it became obvious that this broad union of middle-of-the road Christians was finally falling apart.

If most people don’t go to church and also think that the Church of England, in particular, has lost its vision of society, those remaining members seem to have decided to rock the boat and finally stand up for what they really believe in and what they really disapprove of.

That sounds fair enough to me. After-all religious freedom has been fought and died for over the centuries and I would much rather live peaceably with my neighbours no matter what turns them on. They can worship tins of custard as far as I am concerned.

A tin of custard

So these Anglicans have been nailing their beliefs to the Archbishop’s door. First it was women priests – you either loved them or hated them – and in the end the church went for women. Now it is time for some of these women to become Bishops and the fighting has started all over again.

A woman priest

A similar row erupted when the United States ordained an openly gay bishop.

Now even though society as a whole think women should be equal to men and homosexuals should have equal rights too, some people in the Church don’t agree. It all comes down to what we think those early Christians believed.

The Bible has a passage in it, in Deuteronmy, where it warns men, amongst other things, not to waste their seed on the sand or to waste it on other guys either. This has led to the disapproval of all sorts of sexual habits which mostly don’t concern us non-desert people, when we meet on the street.

A gay priest

We were also taught that all our bishops are ordained by other bishops in an unbroken line going back to St. Peter who was ordained, of course by Jesus himself. So, some people say, you can’t have women priests or bishops because ordained Christians have to be male just like the original disciples. Some people also hold that the Communion, or Mass, is handing out Jesus’ body through the ministrations of the male body of the priest making a female body somehow inappropriate.

The ordination of priests

If this was a discussion down the pub we would all probably change the subject pretty rapidly and order another drink but the General Synod is taking it all very seriously indeed.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, made a passionate speech about this yesterday. He is pleading for the members of his communion to come together and sink their diferences in the interests of Anglican unity.

He is a nice man, an intelligent man and a pious man, no doubt. He has a God-awful job too.

How can these people sink their differences…..some of them would go to the wall rather than take communion from a woman and others believe that homosexuals will burn in Hell and certainly shouldn’t be preaching to them from the pulpit. We are not talking compromise here.

Maybe, a few people will decide that the Anglican Communion is worth preserving at any price – even if no one within it can say what they believe in. I suspect, however, that time has been called on this institution and that its many diverse sub-groupings should go out on their own and believe in whatever they want to believe in.

I for one would like us, as a nation, to keep all those lovely churches and cathedrals, the beautiful Cranmer Book of Common Prayer, the sonorous King James Bible, sung Evensong and those Nine Lessons and Carols. They are much too beautiful to have all those grumpy Anglican people fighting over and messing up.

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

So let’s leave the debate behind and listen to the king’s choir singing choral evensong.


  1. I do wonder though if we will be able to keep all those wonderful things like churches, carols and cathedrals as a secular nation. If we want to keep all those buildings the best way is for people to actually use them, and not for carving up into flats.

    I'm sure more enterprising churches are dealing with the problem by taking on lots of activities and becoming community hubs. I hear that some churches are being repurposed into sacred places for other faiths.

    I much prefer the idea of churches and temples being working buildings rather than museum pieces, much as I prefer a working farm to a National Trust relic all fenced off with ugly brown signs all over it. When you use something, you really value it.

    I have some faith that Christianity might gradually and painfully evolve into something a bit more in tune with mainstream society, cease its ridiculous obsession with sexuality, sex and women, and continue to fulfil the evident ongoing human need for ritual and a spiritual dimension to life. And then perhaps they could make churches the vital hubs of community life they probably ought to be.

    But for now I think the decline of Christianity probably means the decline of all that rich fabric that we want to keep…

  2. PS

    Was just daydreaming to myself about what my "church of the future" might look like. Thought I'd share my little vision!

    We sit on our old wooden pews on a Sunday morning, feeling the slightly chilly air, looking up at the compact but magnificent stone walls of this old building.

    Sometimes we think back and smile at the immature arguments people used to have in these buildings, such as the fruitless debate about whether "God" really exists or not.

    The priest steps forwards, he/she wears a simple white gown. Like many priests, yours is transexual. The church has learnt a lot over last few decades from the wise old shamanistic practices of indigenous peoples, which often pre-date organised religion by tens of thousands of years.

    Transgendered people are once again assuming special spiritual roles, celebrated and respected for the glorious natural diversity they represent, for their unique personal struggles, and the way they often stand squarely outside of reproductive imperatives.

    The priest leads the singing and each member of the congregation approaches, accepting a small square of blotting paper from him/her. Back in our seats we place the blotting paper on our tongue. We know it is impregnated with a hallucinogenic compound, an entheogen distributed by the Church of England. We think back to the Greek word that 'entheogen' is derived from, meaning 'that which generates the god within'.

    Like a wave of wisdom and ecstasy, the drug sweeps up through our bodies, giving us direct personal experience of the divine, a timeless moment when we are unified with the consciousness of our fellow human beings and the rest of the universe, reminding us as we remember every Sunday that each of us is God, we are each the arbiters of our own reality, responsible for choosing between good and evil.

    Then we go home and watch some Buffy DVDs. LOL

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