Thursday, April 12, 2012

Future fractions and Ecclesiological Integrity

Looking at the state of Christianity in the U.K., one might be forgiven for not being very optimistic. Not only is there greater antipathy towards the religion more ingrained in our culture as evidenced in the Radio Times and the increasingly critical attitude of the BBC, but Institutional Christianity itself is changing quite rapidly.

Over the life of this blog, I've been commenting on the fragmentation that is occurring within the Established Church. The Ordinariate has certainly increased the speed at which parishes are leaving the CofE and, judging by the Ecclesiastical press, there are rumblings within Southwark Diocese because the top positions are filled by "liberal Catholics" (whatever that means) and the Evangelicals feel squeezed out.

The Partisan nature of the Established Church has been with it since the Elizabethan Settlement. It is interesting to note that the main political parties are struggling for domination of the centre-ground, while, ecclesiastically, the polarisation and estrangement is increasing and little is being done to at least encourage some sense of brotherhood between the parties.

The latest parish to join the Ordinariate described the CofE's attitude to them as telling them to "Sod off" [sic], the formal statement from the CofE is "we wish them well in their new home." I;ve been there myself and have personally experienced this "well wishing" which we know is just lip-service. There has been no attempt by any diocesan officials even to discuss the situation and offer some understanding, some little show of encouragement to stay or real regret that some parting might occur.

Forward in Faith are trying to hold together the CofE and Traditionalists in the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda. The idea is to ensure the integrity of Anglican Orders by providing some enclave with Bishops, Priests and Deacons of the traditional mind-set for the Parishes that need them. The idea is certainly laudable in intention but overlooks the fact that the Bishops will be appointed by the CofE. Thus the Society's existence is entirely dependent on the goodwill of the CofE. Given the CofE's record, it seems that this goodwill will be supplanted by the strident voices of the liberals demanding total recognition of their changes. Can members of SSWASH be confident in the goodwill of the Established Church? Given that promises made to them in 1992 have been broken, this seems unlikely though not impossible and I will continually pray that they always have the provision they need. However, SSWASH would do well to ensure that it receives some concrete (and, regrettably, legally binding) assurance in writing!

What has to be appreciated is that there is more fall-out from the Established Church than just the Ordinariate and SSWASH. There are individuals who have fallen out as fragments from fractures, and they are very easily overlooked. These individuals are vitally important because they represent a silent majority of the unwillingly unchurched. These evolve into the willingly unchurched and, further still, into the increasingly anti-Church.

What can we do to reach these folk? There needs to be some kind of contact with these folk, particularly if they find themselves completely isolated. To develop a network of contacts is of vital importance. The more contacts made, the more communities can be built up. If individuals can be encouraged to follow a personal rule of life of prayer and reading, then there will be some binding influence for them to follow so that even the most isolated can find common ground with others.

However, this has been tried. A good priestly friend tried to do something just like this - an online community following the Rule of St Benedict - but it fell apart because confidences were breached. Without this trust, there was no binding agent.

So what do we need?

1) We need to reach out to isolated individuals.
2) We need to meet those isolated individuals personally to discuss their situations and needs.
3) We need to encourage them to meet together occasionally at some convenient venue in order to provide for them Sacraments and spiritual assistance.
4) We need to provide a quick and easy way to contact each other. An online forum would do well here.

However, one thing is clearly missing. How on earth do we find these isolated individuals? Well, this means that we need to be caring enough to look out for our isolated brethren and, if the isolated brethren are serious about their faith, they need to be searching too, though admittedly this is rather tricky.

Often what happens to us in the ACC is that someone pops into the parish, raves about what we do and then departs never to be seen again. Why? Is their raving false? No, for the most part it isn't. Often they find themselves a home in the Roman Church or they drop out altogether. If someone is isolated then we must establish what the real reason for that isolation is.

For many people, it is the loss of what they've been used to. The familiar words and expressions, the beloved prayers and rituals are being changed and adapted to respond to a modern and often more materialistic age. For the ACC where these rituals, words and prayers have not been changed but are used at their fullest, these will certainly gladden the heart of one from whom these precious morsals have been torn.

For others, it is the change in doctrine, though for many people this tends to be a bit superficial. They leave the church "because of gay clergy" or "because of women at the altar" or "because they've changed the words of the hymns" or "because they've got guitars" as if these single issues were entire of themselves. What they need to appreciate is that all these are symptoms of a deeper misconception which has infiltrated deeply into the system and that rejecting the symptom may affect how other issues that they had accepted.

For example, they may have become isolated because of gay clergy but be very comfortable with women "priests" unaware that the two are very much related. The same is true vice versa. What we have here, of course, is why the fractures from the CofE are so fine. Playing pick and choose with doctrine damages Ecclesiological Integrity. For the mainstream church, we see this in the fact that it is becoming an umbrella organisation for any philosophy imaginable in order to somehow incorporate those of all faiths and none. The result is a loss of any integrity because there is no way of reaching back to the same faith as our forefathers.

This is something that the Isolated need to consider. What do they want of a new establishment? If it really a single issue, then they will find another parish somewhere within the CofE. However, if they sit and really think, then they will realise that these issues stem from a matter of belief, not of superficiality. This needs encouragement on a 1-1 basis if they are to recover some integrity as well as find some confraternity.

The fact of the matter is that people do see through insincerity and single-issue Churches will not really give the depth for which people are searching, and people are searching for that depth and integrity. Why? Because integrity is born of endurance, character and love and these are all things that Humans are looking for.

However, if anyone is reading this and finding themselves isolated, or knowing someone who has been isolated by the movement of the CofE from orthdoxy, the Anglican Diaspora is a forum for people to speak to others. If anyone is interested in the ACC, then do check out the link on the right and do get in touch if we can help. You'd be very welcome.

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