Monday, 23 April 2012


I wonder what flavour the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be? 

Even now, in vestries, parish halls and pubs, small groups of interested parties are weighing up the options and making pronouncements about the need for one churchmanship to prevail over another. We must get 'our man' in.

The papers will pit imagined candidates against each other, taking bets on possible outcomes and painting things in broad brush strokes for easy identification - 'Catholic', 'Liberal' or 'Evangelical' - terms which are at best only understood by select church people and at worst, properly understood by nobody.

So in an attempt to clarify, or you may say, muddy the waters still further, here is:

The Idiots' guide to Anglican Churchmanship - the three main types, the highs, the lows, the complications and the mix ups.


Highs: Incense. Barring a really sore throat, I'm all for it. Why not use all your senses in worship? The sense of smell is the only one of the five sense directly linked to the emotional control centre of the brain. Which explains why I suddenly thought the presence of God had come upon me while watching my son play football the other day. In a garden nearby someone was burning fresh apple wood - it just smelt like divine worship.

Lows: Unhealthy interest in arcane nomenclature of ecclesiastical vestments. To cotta or not to cotta? That is (apparently) the question.
Grown men in lace......................................enough said.


Highs: Permission to use your brain.
In other disciplines the word 'liberal' has a proud pedigree - it means freedom after all - so why is it such a dirty word among some? I've concluded that it's a 'good' word in direct proportion to to the extent to which you perceive yourself to be in a minority, or in a group that in some way has been historically restricted. So 'liberal' has always been good news for women who feel called to Ordination. This fact alone complicates churchmanship considerably.

Lows: A kind of scrupulousness and over-sensitivity about the more extreme and invigorating expressions of worship. The liberal middle ground can feel a bit safe. There's a jumpiness about intense Anglo-Catholic passions on the one hand, and on the other, a nervousness about heartfelt evangelical/charismatic songs which contain any hint of penal substitutionary atonement, the wrath of God, the certainty of faith, Christian truimph(alism) and Jesus being 'altogether lovely.' Apologies if occasionally us more enthusiastic types just want to jump up and down and punch the air and shout 'Our God is AmAzing, yeh!!!!!' - it must be terribly embarrassing for you.


Highs: They can find books of the bible (even quote great chunks of it) without resorting to the index. 
Lows: A bit wordy. You can feel like you have digested a lot of the same sort of food after 15 years of 35 minute sermons on the cross. Yes, yes, we all know Jesus died for our sins but what about mounting country-wide concerns about gross financial inequality/global warming/rubbish conceptual art/Britain's Got Talent?


The Charismatics
Can you actually get Charismatic Anglicans?
Two word answer: New+Wine.

Highs: Personally I find the idea of a lot of Anglicans in a massive camp site getting over excited about their faith quite refreshing - though you may need to take a couple of paracetamol. Also they do have some good tunes, thanks to a bunch of young guys called mainly Tim and Matt and some really groovy minor 9th chords:

Lows: A lot of the tunes are too high for ordinary people to sing: it goes back to the incense thing - after a while you just get a sore throat.

The Emerging Church
This is a biggie and complicates
everything still further.

Take the UK's Faith/Justice/Arts festival, Greenbelt for instance.

Where else would you find 1970s former charismatics rubbing alongside LGBT campaigner, Peter Tatchell; Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr; Chaplain to the House of Commons, Revd. Rose Hudson Wilkin and sacramental Fresh Expressions? (plus an awful lot of Anglican clerics going around incognito, eating vegetarian falafel pittas.)

The edges are blurring...I even went to an Anglo-Catholic Charismatic conference in Hertfordshire last year - Benediction of the blessed sacrament with people lying all over the floor, 'slain in the Spirit.' Loved it. Came back very confused.

Single issues such as poverty and hunger unite those from differing backgrounds under yet another label - radical - and get you into trouble with those who want to keep labels a bit more well defined. So contrast/compare Sara Miles, liberal Episcopalian and radical author of Take This Bread (Random House, 2007) and Shane Claiborne, 'evangelical' founder of The Simple Way...

All of which is to say that eating just the pink liquorice all sorts, or just the black ones, or sticking rigidly to the stripy ones, can be a bit boring (OR sensibly safe - after all you know you like those ones, you've always liked those ones and you know where you stand with those ones...)

And is variety always a good thing? I'm a big fan of a well organised supermarket but sometimes I get bamboozled by all the choice.

Have you ever felt the need to vary your diet/restrict it a bit more for simplicity? Does anyone out there want to ditch labels and get on with just serving one another in Christ? Or is that hopelessly naive, even dangerous to the true expression of the gospel/Church undivided?

Over to you.


  1. loving the sore throat/catholic /charismatic thing!

  2. I find that the best thing about being Anglican is I don't have to choose, but can learn from aspects of various churchmanships as appropriate.

  3. Loved it. Particularly loved the anglo-catholic charismatics. I'm currently teaching a course on the History of spirituality, looking at eveything from the Desert Fathers, Mystics, Benedictines etc etc, What is fascinating is that they are very diverse and some of the things some of them did strike my class and I as frankly batty (putting a piece of coal in your mouth for three years being on the more crazy end - how did he eat?) and yet you can hear the grace of God in what they say. In very different times and in very different approaches, God works. He is quite pragmatic I think - uses what is available. He is also amazing to cope with us all!

  4. PS The above comment was actually Mairion Goodman but it turns out our Google account has my husband's name on it!

  5. I always loved spirituality classes. Favourite book on the subject by far: Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster. He gives a complete historical overview of Evangelical, Charismatic, Holiness movement, Social Justice, Incarnational and contemplative spirituality and all the main characters in them. Brilliant, it opened my eyes to something so broad.

  6. In fact (as an Anglo-catholic ordinand at my open evangelical/charismatic theological college used to delight in pointing out), in the early days of the charismatic movement (late 60s/early 70s), ACs were quicker off the mark than evangelicals. Dennis and Rita Bennett, of "Nine O'Clock in the Morning" fame, were catholic US Episcopalians.

  7. I didn't know that about the Bennetts - fascinating! Thank you.

  8. K. C. Chu, Hull, E.R. Yorks. (originally Hongkong)31 December 2013 at 08:54

    A good and interesting read. I thank you.