Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why Anglicanism? or, BLOGFORCE Challenge Part Deux

Before I even think about launching into an explanation of why I have chosen to be a member of the Anglican Church, I have to emphasize just that; that it is a personal choice. My being a member of the Anglican Communion is not  an assertion that every person should be Anglican. Different people need different structures from their belief and sometimes those needs change during a lifetime. But as for me, my choice to be Anglican has two seemingly opposing sides: 1) it is the tradition that I was raised in, but also 2) it has been my choice to remain a part of the tradition.

And to further convolute my introduction, I also want to clearly say that I did not choose Anglicanism because of this guy:

Henry VIII

Nor even because of this guy (though I do have to throw some credit and props his way):

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

The biggest reason why I've stuck with Anglicanism is because of this chick:

Elizabeth I


So now that I've got all the church geeks' skin crawling because I called Queen Elizabeth a "chick," what connection is there between her and my choice to stay a part of the Anglican Communion? It's because of the Elizabethan Settlement, which in turn gave rise to the identity of Anglicanism as the via media. For those of you who are not church geeks (and thus are in the fortunate position of not having your skin crawling right now), it would be useful to know that via media means "the middle way" and refers to the practice in the Church of England (and by extension, the Anglican Communion) of avoiding theological extremes; of being able to find space within itself for a plurality of ideas, beliefs, and interpretations. That being said, the tradition of the via media has been paired with and informed by the profound sense of liturgical and sacramental tradition characteristic of the Western Church. So in the Western Church's Anglican iteration, I have to through props to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who wrote the first versions of the Book of Common Prayer which have guided the Anglican Communion in worship.

I could probably end my blog there, since those of you who have been reading my blog regularly know that I am a fan of inclusion and a defender of plurality in a church context. You know, my dear readers, that I am a church geek and I am always moved by the time-honored traditions of the Church. I could definitely end my blog right here, now that I've made that dissertation-style statement. However, I'll keep going because I think there is plenty of my own personal story to tell here.

The day that my mother dropped me off at college for my freshman year, I asked her what would happen if I came back from school and I didn't want to be Episcopal (American Anglican) anymore. I'm sure that her heart nearly stopped in that moment, since she and my father have raised my brother and I in that environment with great purpose. They worked hard in their marriage to find as a space for the both of them to be in, while still carrying something of their families' faith traditions. But at any rate, what she actually said to me was "well, I'll still love you."

I took that as a sign of permission and, believe you me, I tried pretty hard to find something else. I was interested in exploring other faith traditions in the interest of trying to find whether there was something else for me out there. I had plenty of opportunity, as I was attending a Roman Catholic university. That Roman Catholic university was smack on the Mississippi River in the heart of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, so there was a whole plethora of other religious options available nearby as well. I sampled them all as I tried to find something else, something that was more my thing. But I didn't find it.

Sometimes when I went visiting at another church, I would find a place that welcomed discussion about scripture and encouraged each person to explore the text and find their own understanding of it. But these churches were usually the ones that seemed to me to end abruptly. We'd be singing and then the preacher would be preaching and then we'd sing some more and then the worship was done. For me, I was only beginning to get comfortable in my seat as the preacher was coming to the end of the sermon. I was still expecting the second half, where we pray these communal prayers and break bread together, recognizing that we are the Body of Christ (if you're one who needs labels, I mean that it took me a long time to understand that the Evangelical churches had a dearth of the deep liturgical and sacramental tradition that I valued so much).

Meanwhile, here I was, attending the University of St. Thomas. A very liturgical, intellectual establishment of a very ancient tradition. But I was often put off by it because I kept running into an attitude that did not seem to have room for more than one interpretation. I can recall many times when I would be speaking with my classmates about liturgy and at some point I would mention my mother, the priest, and suddenly I was the outsider. I can recall times that I would be discussing scripture and, one time in particular, I was challenged because I had such "dubious ideas" about it. Some of my non-Catholic classmates found great power and truth in what they heard, while still being an outsider, so they underwent the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). I, myself, was always puzzled by that process, since I knew these individuals were already Christian, so why did anyone find it necessary to re-initiate them as Christian? (I feel that it is important to note here, for my well-being and the well-being of my family that this was my experience while I was discerning whether or not to continue as a part of the Anglican Communion. It was after I discerned that yes, I did want to be a part of it, that I met the woman who would become my wife and began to get to know and understand her Catholic identity and her family's Catholic identity... my experience of them has been distinct from my experiences of Roman Catholicity at my alma mater... this distinction may be obvious, since neither my wife nor I have "converted" in order to be married. Neither of us converted because we didn't see that we would be converting into anything other than what we already were... but that's probably a diverting explanation better suited to another post, or perhaps a discussion in the comments)

So returning to the original question (and attempting to end this post filled with complex sentences): Why Anglicanism? My response is that I have chosen Anglicanism because it is the spectrum of the via media. In the Anglican tradition, we have the ability to create a space in liturgy and in the sacraments and in scripture for each person to encounter God and to come to an understanding all their own. It is a tradition that has been mine for all my life, despite my best efforts to replace it, which means that I can own the fact that I have chosen to inhabit that space for myself, too.