Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How is your continuing Anglican parish doing?

There is a a good discussion going on over at the New Liturgical Movement about the challenges that traditional Latin Mass (TLM) chapels and churches face in getting started and staying going. As I read the comments I couldn't help but be reminded of our churches, as we face many of the same problems.

Some of the problems listed that hurt TLM parishes included: cliquish behavior and suspicion of "outsiders;" rude and unfriendly people and clergy with axes to grind; bad meeting times and places; and difficulties from the church hierarchy (i.e. hostile bishops), etc. The last one is not really problem in the continuing church much anymore that I am aware of. (It is certainly not a problem in the APA.) But the other ones are challenges that we sometimes face or have had to face as "traddie" Anglicans.

But there was one thing that was not mentioned - or not mentioned much - that I think is really the main thing that keeps us (and probably them) small. And that is that the culture has drastically declined intellectually, morally, spiritually, and in every other way even since I was a kid. What we do as continuing Anglicans is so incredibly counter cultural that, I think, people just don't know what to make of it or us.

Here are some examples: (Note these are mostly liturgical, but there are many other things that we believe and do [moral teaching, for example] that are just not in step with the culture, and so they think we we are very, very odd.)

Most people today do not even read for enjoyment anymore. Then they come to a church like ours where they find themselves reading Shakespeare-like prayers... and they can barely pronounce the words (or they butcher the pronunciation)! And then they hear the priest exhorting them to read the scriptures, and Morning and Evening Prayer at home! What?? They don't even read comic strips!! Why would they read what we're offering??!

Most people today think that artists like the recently deceased David Bowie were great musicians who created profoundly beautiful and interesting music. Then they come to a continuing church and don't know what to make of traditional hymns, or great organ music, or a great choir that sings chant and polyphony.

Most people today think that dressing up in nice clothes (suits, skirts, dresses, etc.) is strange. So imagine what they think of vestments?!

I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. The bottom line is that we are more and more speaking an entirely different language from our culture, and the contributes to our small size.

Now I am not advocating that we change these things. But I think we do need to at least be aware of the challenges that face us in these areas. They are not insurmountable. Remember that the Church spread all over the world in the missionary era with what were "strange" liturgies, music, and traditions to those whom they preached the gospel. So these things are not an obstacle to growth per se. We do, however, need to try to figure out how we can reach our world for Christ and his Church given our charisms and traditions, and given the state of people and the world today.


  1. Even when the culture was on our side the Episcopal Church was only a marginal (population wise) organization. It just happened to represent the most wealthy of Americans. Thus it had a far greater impact on society than its numbers justified. It remains to be seen if Anglicanism outside of strong financial and cultural support can exist. At least, in anyway looking like its former self. I doubt it can.

    As to how to reach people "out there". I don't really know. I suggest we need great preachers willing to put their neck out on the line. I believe history shows that most Church growth comes from a few godly men boldly preaching the word rather than the entire body of Christ engaging in evangelism.

    Finally, I don't want to mess with liturgy and worship to attract people. However, if I were to try something, it would be a modified MP as an ante-communion service (focused primarily on Scripture reading, Sermon and hymns) with an afternoon Holy Communion available to those who have committed to a regular practice of priestly confession, mortifications and almsgiving. Holy Communion would be available to all during the high Holy Days like Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, patron festival, etc.

  2. I think this is exactly correct. But I also think that trads of all stripes (continuing Anglican and RCC) have done a rather poor job of embracing and speaking from that position of counter-cultural witness. I am a member of that most written-about of generations, the millennials. I'm also a (D.v.) soon-to-be postulant to Orders within a continuing jurisdiction. As a young person, I'm often frustrated by the "everything's gone all to hell" mentality that often attends upon these discussions, especially because the blame typically falls in no small part upon my generation (usually with the qualification that my wife and I are not among the group of "terrible young people"). I don't disagree with all of the doom-and-gloom apocalypticism, but I also think that the obsessive focus we continuing Anglicans tend to place on it actually inhibits our witness. It can tend (in some precincts of the continuing Church) to turn us into small, self-enclosed little cliques that want to shake our fists at everything beyond the narthex door.

    But that's never a recipe for actually drawing in anyone who's curious about who we are and what we have to offer. We need to be straight with people: Anglicanism isn't for everyone. It's intellectually serious, ascetically rigorous, and historically capacious. When it's done well, it's not for those who are looking for a bit of Sunday morning entertainment that will reinforce their complacency for another week. Being a serious Anglican (because it means being a serious Catholic and being a serious Christian) is hard work. I'm a real believer in Thornton's theology of the remnant: if we can strengthen that beating, life-giving heart of the parish, people will be drawn to what we have to offer. But that requires, as Ken notes, not shrinking from emphasizing how difficult and how counter-cultural the Via Crucis ultimately is.

    Speaking as a Millennial (whatever that actually means) who made the journey in college from amorphous, warm-milk, feel-good, liberal Epicopalianism to black-coffee, neat-whiskey, orthodox Anglicanism, I can attest that the Millennials who are actually going to be at Church are those who want the rigor, the seriousness, the beauty of classical Anglicanism. We want to see that what the Church has to offer is what nothing else in our wretched, consumerist, materialist culture is able to offer. We want people who are don't perpetually gripe about how terrible the culture is but who are willing to point to a better, truer, richer, and ultimately real-er way. After all, we're the Church of T.S. Eliot, Donne, Herbert, Lewis, Andrewes, and Sayers. I think the way we reach people is by being unstinting in our robust Anglican witness. We won't draw a ton of people, but the Holy Spirit will draw the people who need what we have to offer. I'm excited about how much life Anglicanism has left in it. (I mean, it's the Church, so of course that's the case. Sometimes continuing Anglican realities can really make one forget that...)