June 25th, 2008

Anglican Follies

I can't help but be sorry for the current embarrassments of the Anglican Church. I was raised in it, I used to work for it and it owns all those lovely, medieval buildings. It's a sheep-headed,  rackety, old institution but harmless- as churches go- and at its best promotes a spirituality that's reflective, tolerant and sweet-natured. It has or, rather,  had a genius for compromise. Eyebrows may have been raised over Fr Chasuble's young male lodger but nothing was ever done about it. Mischievous bishops could preach about the Death of God and no-one moved to unseat them.  Evangelicals, liberals, catholics and careerist worldlings all managed- with a little enjoyable feuding and sniping- to rub along together. Ah, well, nothing lasts forever.

And maybe this trouble is all for the best. The worldwide Anglican communion is a product of Empire. And why should the imperial church survive when the Empire itself has gone? Why should Africans conform to English norms of piety and virtue? What's happening now could be interpreted- with the church lagging behind the world by about 50 years (as usual)- as part of the process of decolonisation.

The latest news is that the conservative bishops gathered in Jerusalem are proposing to create a not quite schismatic church within a church- evangelical, fundamentalist, homophobe- and with its centre of authority somewhere other than Canterbury.  It sounds unworkable to me. Also essentially unEnglish.

Just let them go-  make a clean break of it- and take the Bishop of Rochester with them.

But nothing is ever that simple, is it? 

Messes like this take generations to clear up. Look at Zimbabwe.

England is a small country. How nice if the Anglican church could also be small again- based in England with a few Anglophile branches overseas- if it could return to being local:  unworldly-wise, slightly comic, charming.  

The sunlight sloping across vicarage lawns- as in Trollope, as in Agatha Christie, as in The Vicar of Dibley. 

Enough nostalgia!  Why should I worry?  I'm not an Anglican any more...

Or perhaps I am.  Is it possible to wash off the waters of baptism? Is it desirable?

I had a pagan friend once- he's on LJ; I tiptoe round him, hoping he won't spot me- who used to say he was going to write to the Pope asking to be excommunicated. He was a very pretentious, self-important young man. I may once have hated my religious upbringing as much as he hated his- but not any more.