Thursday, June 01, 2017

Can there any good thing come out of America?


One thing that I have been asked is, "why do you belong to an American Church?" Of course, I answer that I don't as the Catholic Church doesn't have international boundaries - it is One, a single family united in Christ.

What does the question mean?

It seems a little unfair to my American friends, both within the ACC and without, that the question seems to be asked either dismissively of America, or that somehow I have lost my "Englishness" by joining a Church which does indeed have its organisational origin in St Louis, Missouri in the United States. There is some suspicion here, and it seems that my interrogators are like dear old Nathanael: can any good thing come out of America?

There is a certain reputation that religious bodies that come from America are a bit "loopy" for want of a better word. We now have both Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons in this country imported from the U.S., and their door-knocking antics coupled with the toothy grin and wide eyes have certainly raised the British eyebrow: it is not the done thing. Of course, the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are not Christian because they are not Trinitarian - they have rejected the teaching of the Catholic Church in favour of their additions and dubious Biblical scholarship. Yet there have been some "Christian" cults, and I do hear of terrible stories of those who have been subjected to some grotesque forms of social conditioning all for the "love of God". This is where the idea of "cult" comes in.

The word "cult" has a rather vague meaning and one which sociologists haven't quite agreed upon; indeed the popular and academic definitions are somewhat different. Of course, in this context, it is the popular definition that we need to address here. It seems that this popular idea is that a cult is a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members. It seems that the British idea of American religion is bound up with cults like the Branch Davidian group led by David Koresh which was a breakaway group from the Seventh Day Adventists. If this is what British people think of when they think of American Religion, then that's a little bit racist against Americans, isn't it?

Certainly it upholds a stereotype of Americans being a bit overboard in their religion. They have enthusiasm for a country that they have built for themselves; they invest more into their religion than we do; they have forged their own identity via the Constitution and, as a result of that Constitution, they cannot have a National Church. The religious American is certainly more committed to their religion. I think that's a rather wonderful thing, and one that we could do well to remember. The typical lukewarm CofE member only generally invests in the CofE by taxes and by sprinkling loose change into the collection plate. The CofE members that I've seen in my time certainly do not want to be more involved than turning up on a Sunday morning for some nice hymns, a nice little talk by the vicar, a nice little bit of bread and wine, and then some nice coffee afterwards. Or perhaps, am I perpetuating another stereotype?  If we perpetuate the stereotype of the rabid American religious nut, then surely this gives license for the perpetuation of the anodyne, pew-warming Briton. Certainly British coffee could learn a thing or two from that Stateside. We definitely do better tea, though!

If that is not what the question means by being part of an "American Church", then what can it mean? Does it mean that an "English Church" is not good enough for me? Well, let me see. I use the English Missal and the English Hymnal which have English origins: some of my confraternity use the English Office. I conform to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer which is the basis of the 1662 BCP used (occasionally) in the CofE. Our Bishop is the president of his local Constitutional Monarchy Association. In the American part of the ACC, they use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which is theirs and they love it passionately! The Diocese of the UK is very different from the Dioceses in the United States but is still no less a part of the ACC. If the ACC is an American Church, then the Roman Catholic Church is an Italian Church. I have not been required to salute the Stars and Stripes, nor to swear an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. As far as I'm concerned, it's "God save the Queen" not "My country, 'tis of thee" even if I am not a supporter of the British Monarchy.

Thus, the question does not really make any sense beyond a superficial stereotyping of religion in the United States. The Church is the Church is the Church wherever it is. The ACC in this Diocese is a British Church because it is here in Britain. We do have parishes and missions in Wales and our Bishop has been given oversight of a couple of Chaplaincies on the Continent run by Fr Chadwick in France, and Fr Wassen in the Netherlands. Given that we have to maintain our own parishes, find our own buildings, rely on the investment of our congregations, that is how we follow the American model, but then other Christian bodies have to do so too. The Methodists certainly had to way back when. I suppose they were regarded as being a bit alien too, and dismissed as a cult.

Does the ACC fall into the popular definition of cult?

It is true to say that we're small worldwide, and tiny in this country. We're also rather strange bunch of people in that we have demonstrated a passion for our faith that many, perhaps, would regard as unEnglish. Yet, all our liturgical practices have been part of the CofE of old time. We don't do anything that hasn't already been done in the CofE before it went off the rails. We really cannot be accused of "strange practices" if we're doing what Anglo-Catholics in the CofE have done and still do.

Do we impose excessive control over our members? I hope that I have demonstrated that we don't already on this little blogling. Love demands consent, and there can be no consent without free-will. The ACC continues to regard as sin things which are only lately accepted as "not sinful" by Society and the churches which deform with Society. Sin doesn't get decided by society; Sin comes from separating ourselves from the Eternal God. If He does not change, then neither does what separates us from Him! Yet, all sin is done away by Christ - the repentant Christian will find a ready absolution and forgiveness at His Blessed hands. People are free to join and leave the ACC as they wish. Stay or go, the hand of friendship is always open to them, and if it is not, then the love of Christ is not being displayed in our hands and this needs to be addressed sharpish!

The ACC counts Anglicanism as its heritage and that heritage starts here in Britain having arrived from Jerusalem on Imperial Ships. The Americans and the British share this and we keep it as best we can given the divergence in our histories since we lost the Colonies in the Eighteenth Century. That's history. It's what we do with it that matters and we should learn from each other, taking on board the piety that we admire in the other. The intention of the ACC is to continue the Catholic Faith in the light of our Anglican heritage, both indigenous and colonial, so that we can be in union with that little first century Nazarene gentleman who turns out to be God. Blessed be Jesus Christ forever on both sides of the Atlantic!

No comments: