I am an accidental Anglican, by virture of a beautiful lady I fancied who I followed to church back in the 90’s. I’ve now been married to the beautiful lady for 10 years and an undercover Baptist (erm, Anglican) vicar for 6. I don’t mean I’m married twice. I’m the vicar.
Accidentally and reluctantly, I was drawn into the strange concoction of personalities and traditions that is the Anglican church. A bit like George’s Marvellous medicine, it often feels like someone was having a laugh when they decided to put us all together. Po-faced cassock-wearing catholics / cords-and-shirt-wearing evangelicals * [* delete as applicable], too-trendy-jean-and-hoody wearing young upstarts and a whole load of [insert adjective] people across the board.
See what I have just done. Succumbed to the basic human desire to categorise according to prejudice. You are like me, you are not. You are different, so I will stereotype and ridicule, thereby reinforcing my own belief in my innate superiority.
I have just been to a licensing of a vicar in the neighbouring parish, and there could not be a more different church experience. From our low-church mostly evangelical working-class urban thing, to a cathedral-like exposure to choirs and cassocks and incense and posh people in suits and hats and a word called ‘Mass’ and someone called the Mother of God. This can bring out the worst in me. I look around and see so much that seems wrong.
God seems to be worshiped from such a distance, people seem to need to wear fancy haberdashery and look all solemn to approach their Saviour who bled and died and rose through shit and death so we didn’t need to do just that; where the church seems to say ‘over there, look, God!’ rather than ‘in here? God? amazing!’ Where the incarnation seems to be restricted to the sacrament, like God is bound into some contractual agreement not to cause too many problems by running around like a naughty schoolboy, but only to appear when the priest is there to maintain order…
There I go again. Sometimes prejudice just flops out. The way to challenge prejudice? People. Simple, really.
The way we structure our relationship with God is so precious to us. So it can dominate our thinking. But I meet people from the breadth of church traditions and, mysteriously (and occasionally disappointingly), find them to be genuine. Genuine followers of Jesus. In a very different way, and often in a way I do not understand. And some ways I cannot agree with. And me also for them. I know what I look like. Disrespectful of tradition, casual with the Eucharist, slouchy with the liturgy and lazy with the proper order of the church. Offensive, even.
But I follow Jesus. And people who fundamentally disagree with me can see that. Mostly.
One of the beauties of the Anglican Church is that we rub up against each others differences all the time. In charitable moments, this feels like a beauty and a gift. In less charitable moments it is frustrating and annoying, because so often we go for the lowest common denominator, bore ourselves to death and it makes me want to leave.
But we follow a subversive rabbi who included in his inner circle Matthew the collaborator and Simon the insurgent and used a Pharisee to build the church so I feel it must be right to try and find our common ground and purpose and try and see each other as people and not representatives of ‘tradition’ or any other kind of label. So I promise to keep trying. Maybe you will too.
That being said, please don’t put me in a cassock, sit me in a straight-line and make me enunciate every word to old hymns like I’m teaching a toddler to lip-read.