Sunday 3 February 2019

Two Nations Divided

The playwright, G.B. Shaw is credited with originating the saying that 'Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language'. It is also true that language accounts for some of the differences between the Ordinariates. There are more fundamental reasons, though, that we seem so different from each other.
The way the English  (and it is in this case just the English, not the Scots or Welsh or Irish) have been Anglicans and the way it has happened for Americans is generally quite different. Americans have always had a great choice of different versions of Christianity, and seem to have chosen which one to join. Many of them have seemed happy to move from one denomination to another, depending on friendships, liturgical likes and dislikes and so on. The Anglican Church they have some across has defined itself by its use of the Book of Common Prayer in the most recent American version.
On this side of the Atlantic it has been very different. Only non-conformists (Protestant or Catholic) have chosen their denomination. For most people, C of E has been the default setting. Only the very zealous Catholic or Puritan Anglican has chosen which church to attend. For most, it has simply been the nearest - and that has usually been the geographical Parish Church.
My own parents were like many in this regard. I was baptized at Holy Innocents, South Norwood, my grandmother's parish church. Though the family seldom attended, they had the right (which all the English have) of being baptized, married or buried there.
We moved around during the war with my father, depending from which port his convoy would be sailing. So we managed to be bombed in Devonport, where we lost most of our possessions, and Birkenhead, where we nearly lost our lives, and Greenock where we only had to change digs after the place where we were living became uninhabitable from the Blitz. In each case I went to Sunday School in the nearest parish church; which included one Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) church. Just like the Queen, you might say, who is Cof E South of the border but Presbyterian once beyond Carlisle.
It was when we eventually settled in Keyham (Devonport) as the war drew to a close that I began to discover the variety within the Church of England. St Thomas' Keyham was distinctly Anglo-Catholic, and there I was taught the faith, presented for Confirmation, and became an altar server.
When at last after the war we move to a home of our own rather than a rented flat I attended the parish church at Higher St Budeaux (which ecclesiastically was much lower than St Thomas'). Sung Mattins followed sometimes by the Sacrament, or failing that the early celebration. All very BCP. I went there, though, because the Anglo-Catholic priest who had taught me said that we should always attend our Parish Church.
Oxford came as a great relief; besides attending college chapel you could choose where to go; and that was generally Pusey House. Great preaching, good music, and the catholic faith.
For most, the Church of England has meant the building near their home. It might be an ancient mediaeval bulding, ravaged by Protestant Vicars with a liking for guitars, multimedia preentations and very odd translations of Holy Writ (provided on each upholstered  chair. It might be a similar building decked out with roodscreen and hard pews with kneelers and a high altar in the distance beyond the robed choir making an attempt at Gregorian chant. When families were less peripatetic, the churchyard was where generations of the family were interred. Their loyalty was to the building, because Vicars with their funny ways some and go, but the Church stands firm.
What was assured was that the Vicar or Rector or Curate was the real thing. He might stand at the north end of the Lord's table wearing a black cassock and preaching bands, or he might be in Mass Vestments attended by servers with candles and thuribles. What we understood though was that however he dressed and whatever he taught, the Holy Communion was always the same sacrament, as ordained by Christ as the Last Supper.
The reason many in England joined the Ordinariate was that those old certainties had disappeared. We were not hankering for the language of the old prayer book. In my case I had last used it in my title parish in the 1960's. Some were accustomed to the Roman Rite (the prayer book with bits of Latin muttered surreptitiously by the priest) far more were used to Series I or II or Rite A, B or C; diversity which undermined the supposed unity of the Church of England. Far worse, clergy had come increasingly to doubt the most basic elements of the Faith. You have your truth, I have my truth.  When Rome through the person of dear Benedict XVI made the offer of joining the Catholic Church as a group, we jumped at it because whatever individual priests (orbishops - or even Popes) might believe, the faith was the faith was the faith; that is, the Faith once delivered to the Saints.
St Osmunds, an 'Arts Centre' - hence the totem pole.

Because it is not the Established Church, it seems that American Episcopalians can sometimes buy the building they have been used to and bring it with them into the Catholic Church. That is never possible in England. Churches may become redundant and sold off to become nightclubs or private dwellings or even Mosques, but never (up to now) can they be acquired by the Ordinariate. The sole exception I know of is in Portsmouth where Fr Dolling's St Agatha's went first into the hands of the Royal Navy, and so did not have to be acquired directly from the Church of England.
Episcopalians then have an experience of the Anglican Church very different from that of former members of the Church of England. The English Ordinarians are seeking the truth, quite separate from the language in which it is expressed. For Americans, it seems as though the language is of the esse of their faith. So forgive us, American friends, if we do not share your concern for such things as  plainchant or maniples or Tudoresque language. Some of us will have a hankering after these things; most of us do not. We are happily at home in the Catholic Church with Novus Ordo. What we still long for is a parochial system which does not just minister to those who have chosen to join but reaches out to an entire community. It may be impossible of achievement; but it is an honourable goal.
Forgive me if I have misrepresented anyone. I am happy to have comments made to redress the balance of what I have written here. And, in the words of Tiny Tim, God Bless us, every one.


  1. "Their loyalty was to the building, because Vicars with their funny ways come and go, but the Church stands firm."

    And that view prevails Father. Unable to distinguish between "their church" and "the Church", I have been told by many Anglicans that they could "never leave their church". That is regardless of what is going on in the Anglican Church which no longer stands firm but wavers according to the latest secular trends.

  2. Dear Father Edwin.
    Such a beautiful posting with which to leave us.
    May he rest in peace.

  3. How right HumblePie is! May he rest in peace.

  4. RIP, for him or whoever need it.

    Look at the dates:
    (6 February 1935 - 6 February 2019)

  5. RIP, care Pater, et intercede pro nobis!