Anglo-Catholic Future in the Episcopal Church

The news appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday that St. Paul’s K Street has gone through a process of discernment and is welcoming women clergy to their altar as well as same-sex blessings. I know with regard to the first that this was a move that had been in process for a while. There had been some discussions a bit ago about M being in residence there, but those did not come through at that time.

Serving on the SCLM has been a good experience in many ways; one is the opportunity to get more involved in church discussions at the broadest level. I get to see and hear things from a different perspective than what I just see in the life of one or two parishes. In particular, I have come away with two strong convictions.

First, the Episcopal Church needs a strong voice within its deliberations that will continue to champion a classical understanding of doctrine and a disciplined approach to the alteration of the church’s discipline. That is, we need advocates who are willing and able to teach the doctrines of the creeds and to champion authentic Christian discipleship rooted in the sacraments and spirituality that have been handed over to us. The church’s discipline—those things that are not doctrine but around which the church orders its common life—needs to be carefully thought through and alterations to it should be backed by solid theology and connections into our core doctrine. A catholic movement within the Episcopal Church ought to be able to make this case with credibility and conviction. It shoud have a clear sense of why we do what we do and be able to speak sensible with those who disagree and those who are undecided.

Second, there are many in the councils of the church who are quick to dismiss anything coming from an “Anglo-Catholic” source as inherently problematic because of an assumption of bias and irrelevance. Almost every time I opened my mouth in meetings or offered a proposal, there were those on my committee who would immediately suggest that my recommendation was somehow anti-women and anti-lay. As a layman married to a female priest, I found this bizarre! Or, alternatively, that what I proposed was of no interest to the broader church because it only addressed the needs of a shrinking “boutique” spirituality that had no connection or application to modern church life. They had slotted me into a mental pigeonhole and, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, were ready to dismiss me beause of biases they assumed I held (but didn’t).

If the catholic movement wants to be a relevant force in the church, if it wants to be listened to, to have its arguments taken seriously, and actually have an impact upon the decisions made by the Episcopal Church going forward, I believe that we need to both enact and communicate broadly three basic principles in our local parishes and beyond:

1) that openly gay and lesbian people are full and welcome members of our communities and should exercise their ministries among us,

2) that women are full and welcome members of our communities and should exercise their ministries among us, and

3) that children are full and welcome members of our communities and should exercise their ministries among us.

Now—I’m well aware that there are those who identify as catholic Anglicans who will take issue with 1 and 2 in light of what has been said above and identify them as changes of doctrine rather than discipline. I disgree and have written about both explaining my reasons in the past. Rather than get stuck rehashing arguments about 1—as the church is wont to do—I’d rather focus on 2 and 3.

The irony, as I see it, is that many of the catholic parishes that I know personally that do the best with 1 fail on 2 and 3.

What specifically do I mean about point 3? Case in point: removing everyone under the age of fifteen from the sanctuary at the beginning of the service and giving them coloring sheets in another room is something very different from seeing them as full and welcome members who have ministries to exercise in our midst. I’ll go so far as to say that any church that holds Sunday School during Mass (catholic or not) is failing on 3. When we don’t allow our children to be in Mass or suggest that they be somewhere else, we have failed. Now—there is a range here. At the parish where we attend now, small children are invited out after the Gospel for a children’s time that extends through the end of the prayers. I have far less of an issue with this because 1) Sunday School happens at a different time—this isn’t the only child-focused education on offer, and 2) it’s quite optional. Many children don’t go out; my children have never felt any pressure to do so.

(This is quite different from one broad-church parish we visisted. They were almost anxious to remove my children from the service when we walked in and were taken aback when my girls refused to go. Then, after the service, a number of adults came up expressing their surprise and delight that the girls were “good” in church…)

I understand that some parishes, particularly those of a more solemn bent, want to minimize distractions and disruptions. I get that some people—particularly those who aren’t parents—don’t want to deal with noise from other people’s kids. Three things: 1) it’s a gathering of the Body of Christ, not a classical concert, 2) parents should have an awareness of when it’s a good idea to remove a noisy child from a congregational situation—shaming them doesn’t help, 3) if your solemnity is so fragile that it can be easily shattered by the mere presence of a child, it’s more likely to be pretence and pretentiousness rather than true solemnity. (If it were true solemnity, the kids would be caught up in it as well!)

My experience, though, is that the kids who are “good” in church are those who are most used to it. Kids who are in church learn—and are taught—how to behave properly in church. They are taught by seeing how others behave, and by being hissed at and prodded by their parents.  Trust me: I’ve done it. Communities teach children what is expected. Too—and more to the point—children tend to be far less squirmy when they’re engaged and assisting! My girls always choose to sit up front where they can see what’s going on, but they’d much rather sit in the chancel helping out.

I have no issue with nurseries. There was a certain age between 18 months and 3 when I would often put H in the nursery when I was juggling G, but once G could sit properly by herself and participate, I brought H back in. (Because M is usually in a chancel somewhere, I’m used to being a single pew-parent.) Too, there are some children who have genuine difficulties sitting still and being quiet for whom additional arrangements may be necessary—but these are few and far between.

The reason why this matters is because it ties into both relevance and catholic evangelism. Children are just as moved by deep ritual and sacramental experience as anyone else. If we are unable to preach the Gospel and serve the sacraments to our own children, then we’d be better off packing up the place and shuttering it now.

Another piece here is that when 3 is not done properly, when children are not fully incorporated into the worship and formational life of the community, it inevitably impacts 2 as well. When children are not in the service, those who give care to them—usually their mothers or grandmothers—get marginalized as well. I was once in a parish where the Senior Warden and several other vestry members did not attend Mass or a hear a sermon for months on end. Why? Because they were the women teaching Sunday School which took place during Mass.

How a self-described catholic parish treats female clergy is one thing—and an important thing. But don’t forget female laity either. Don’t congratulate yourself for the occasional woman in the pulpit if you’re keeping a whole lot of others out of their pews each week.

The other thing about parishes where Sunday School happens during the Mass is that Christian formation is usually seen as something just for the children. There is rarely a separate time for adult formation—and everyone is thereby impoverished. Whole community formation is necessary—formation for children, formation for adults, and formation for adults that happens at other times so that those who teach can be informed as well. (No, I don’t want someone who doesn’t grasp the basics of the faith trying to educate my children in it!)

I want to be part of a vibrant catholic community within the Episcopal Church. I want my wife and my children to be full and equal parts of it as well as our gay friends. I want our voices to be heard and taken seriously when the church gathers for councils and decisions. As long as the catholic movement is regarded as a haven for the extreme, regressive, and eccentric, we will neither be heard nor heeded.

14 Replies to “Anglo-Catholic Future in the Episcopal Church”

  1. Derek:

    I may have mentioned this before, but it merits repetition.

    I grew up in a parish with an incredibly positive approach to children in church.
    The parish was an old-line Anglo-Catholic parish—Diocese of Fond du Lac, Peter-and-Paul missal, daily Masses, etc. But three unique practices I have never heard of elsewhere:
    (1) All boys in the parish (in those days only boys) automatically became acolytes at the age of eight! And all acolytes were vested and at the altar every Sunday. The youngest were torch bearers and boat boys—and all the boys entered in procession, and then the younger boys hung up their torches and lined up along each side of the (large) sanctuary during Mass. The older boys were servers, thurifers, crucifers, etc.
    (2) The rector moved the sermon to the end of Mass. After the Last Gospel, the children all processed out. Acolytes removed vestments and with the girls in the congregation they went off to Church School. The rector removed his chasuble and went back into the pulpit to preach the sermon in alb and stole to the adult congregation.
    (3) Children were allowed (required?) to be present for the entire Mass. But they were not to be restrained. That is, they were free to wander around the church, to go to sit with favorite friends, to look at the pictures and statutes, etc. I even remember a little girl wandering up into the sanctuary and onto the altar predella and standing next to the celebrant for a few minutes. Also, there was a huge pile of (quiet) stuffed toys by the baptismal font, if they wanted toys to play with. As a result, I never remember any “child-noise” during Mass—the kids were simply happy and quiet. (Of course there were some babes-in-arms who needed to be taken out now and then, but rarely.)
    Perhaps the only disadvantage to this system was that Church School teachers didn’t hear the sermons—but the rector mimeographed all his sermons and made sure that the teachers got copies.
    And I should add that in his twenty-seven years as rector, that priest was responsible for sending TWENTY-FOUR men to seminary!

  2. As a veteran of crying rooms (I was probably one of the special cases Derek refers to), I’m particularly sensitive to attempts to remove children from the liturgy. That said, 1) seems to me to err in the opposite direction. I’ve seen the video of the SSPX chapel in Paris with the hordes of small boys in doily little cottas doing nothing in particular, and was frankly creeped out. I have known some of a certain piety who defend the practice largely in the same terms as Fr John-Julian – that it gets them used to thinking about being around the altar and fosters vocations. (Many of these would be the same who object to the introduction of altar girls “because” – and this is often presented as an empirical observation – it leads to the disappearance of willing boys. Why we are supposed to want servers who are looking for a kind of holy Boy Scouts and who will lose interest if it is no longer their exclusive preserve is generally not elaborated).

    I think the issue of children in worship is symptomatic of a broader dynamic within Western Christianity when it comes to the liturgy. Western Christians, especially those of northern and Western European descent, seem to me to have a tendency to treat the liturgy like the theatre. I don’t mean that in the very true sense in which liturgy *is* theatre. I mean we tend to be in our seats 5 or 10 minutes before the service starts, and we expect everyone to be following along at the same pace, to remain quiet, and to maintain a relative uniformity of posture. This trend is most pronounced in the churches of the Reformation, which largely sought to remove sotto voce prayers and ensure that everyone was hearing one word at a time, and is mitigated somewhat in Mediterranean cultures, where it is more common to see people filter in throughout the service and to be occupied with other devotions alongside the liturgy.

    In my limited experience of Eastern churches, it’s the complete opposite. Even if you arrive before whatever service time has been advertised, there is no guarantee that it will begin “on time.” People are constantly arriving and leaving. Without pews or chairs, they freely move about, reverencing their favourite icons and lighting candles. It is a real “market place” atmosphere and it is difficult for children to seem disruptive or “out of place” because there is no one “place” where everyone is ordained to be (spiritually or architecturally). Many of us, I’m sure, played “Mass” as kids (you can buy twee little plush communion kits now but in my day I put on a borrowed housecoat of my mother’s and made do with Ritz crackers and fruit punch). But I never played Mattins, as I saw two Russian children do in one YouTube video that was forwarded to me not long ago! I think there’s something we can learn from the East about how we engage children (and more generally, people of different ages and abilities) in worship (and I admit I have followed the Society for Eastern Rite Anglicanism with interest!)

  3. Interesting post; I’d never considered that the Sunday School regime affected many other people as well.

    My last parish also had the “Gospel Gathering” for kids who could leave during the sermon if they wanted to; they’d return for the peace and for Communion. I agree this works pretty well. My current parish leaves the kids out for the liturgy of the Word entirely, and brings them in for Communion; the leader of the education department said that they felt Communion was very important. Even that is better than nothing, I think – and maybe it even works better for the younger kids.

    Kids do get bored during the wordy parts of the service – but they can read, or color, or find other things to do and still absorb what’s happening. And it’s wonderful to have them there learning the hymns and the service and other music. There’s no good excuse for leaving them out of Communion, though; that IS the most important thing. (In the old days, kids couldn’t even receive Communion until they were Confirmed, so that explains part of the Sunday School phenomenon, I’d think….)

  4. Maybe if Anglo-Catholics stopped holding themselves out as practicing a superior version of the faith, they’d face less discrimination; I don’t know. The discrimination certainly isn’t right and I don’t want to blame the victims; on the other hand I haven’t seen a discussion like this in decades, where churchmanship (for want of a better word) divides people into camps. Instead, what I see denomination-wide is that the Catholic movement has won (but thinks they haven’t), thanks by and large to the rubric in the ’79 Prayer Book mandating the Eucharist as the principal Sunday service.

    My diocese has always been Broad Church, but I don’t recognize our practices from Derek’s descriptions; nor is there any correlation I can find between churchmanship/theology and what kids do on Sundays. High church parishes send them out, low churches parishes do and Broad Church parishes the same – but by and large, Sunday School is dead and we’ve stopped sending kids out!

    Meanwhile the “evangelical wing” has been thoroughly routed and/or has walked out. We are all catholic now, we are all evangelical, and thanks be to God.

    This post started out with news about St. Paul’s, K Street, then dropped that subject for other topics. Maybe what Derek omits is that (and I’m going to exaggerate now) Anglo-Catholics used to oppress women and LGBTs, but most no longer do, because A) that no longer attracts members and B) it’s patently unjust. But some parishes like K Street are still adjusting – in 2015. I’m sure this is much better than, say, the northern diocese in my state, which has always been Roman wannabes “except-our-priests-get-married;” but I’m at a loss to explain why these ancient issues keep coming up. The rest of The Episcopal Church has moved on! Why haven’t they?

    It’s true that Derek and I disagree about the usefulness of pious add-ons (my term) to the liturgy, and that TEC as a whole will never adopt them for general use *unless they appear in the Prayer Book.* But as I survey all the changes in this Church in the last 40 years, in which Protestors have moved almost entirely to the Catholic side, I’m astonished at the persistence of these distinctions, as if the Catholic movement cannot rest until every pious add-on has been adopted by every last one of us. Uh, what do you care? From Mass on Sunday to incense, vestments, lights and postures, the strife is o’er, the battle won! – Particularly in the area of mission work with the poor, which was always a Catholic strong point; Prots only cared about mission if it was sending tattered coats to the Reservation. (Sr. Margaret Hawk once said, “As if we want your junk any more than you do.”) Mission has exploded, in parishes which once never cared about anyone but themselves. Can Catholics never simply declare victory and throw a party?

    Apparently not; it really is about all those pious add-ons now, isn’t it. Anything to continue dividing us. Maybe that’s the real reason Catholics still feel put upon. And maybe that’s why words like “boutique” and “relevance” appear in this post. Maintaining the last remaining distinctions helps some people feel holier than thou. Not you, Derek, but we must all beware that hidden motivation. It’s always that impulse that divides the Church; you should see how many fights the Amish get into, with each splinter group vying to be stricter than the last, until someone finally stands up and shouts, “That isn’t a ‘decoration’ on my buggy, it’s a reflector so we don’t get run over!” Then things quiet down for a few months until someone starts a new round of Uproar.

    Episcopalians are never going to be uniform in our practice; if we were, we’d stop being Anglicans. If K Street has helped the Broad Church become centered around the altar, then God bless K Street! And if the Broad Church has helped K Street stop discriminating and committing injustice, then God bless the Broad Church.

  5. What an interesting set of reactions, Josh–to quite a lot of things I neither said nor think…

    I started a response to your comment but it crossed the point of being a full-on post in its own right. I’ll link to it when it’s up.

  6. I am challenged by your self-description as an “Anglo-Catholic” only because, in the history of this blog, I have never seen you cite, or even mention having read about, the Tractarians, especially Newman and Pusey, the Ritualists, the founding priests of the SSC, the slum priests of the late 19th century, the “martyrs of ritualism” who were jailed for violating the Public Worship Regulation Act, the early AC religious orders, the Anglo-Papalists of the early to mid-20C, the participants in the Anglo-Catholic Congresses, the work of Frs. Huddleston, Raynes, and other CR priests in South African missions during apartheid, and so on. I think those of us who were steeped in that tradition, by the priests who formed us, chafe at your description of historic Anglo-Catholicism as “extreme, regressive, and eccentric,” and at your reference to “the sins of the fathers” in your response to Josh. Your vision of Anglo-Catholicism seems historically myopic, and I think it is easy to dismiss those of us who differ with your understanding of the movement if you lack a full knowledge of that history. I say this in good faith after a few days of bemusement.

  7. I used to attend St. Paul K St. when I lived in DC, and it was the best experience I’ve ever had in church; I miss the people terribly. I think that by allowing that parish time to adjust, the diocese stayed away from schism. In places where this did not take place, the results were… not so good. (Please note: I am completely pro women’s ordination and pro gay marriage. I simply mean that people move at different paces. I think allowing for that can bring eventual reconciliation and healing).

  8. I understand where you’re coming from, and am preparing a more complete explanation to you and to others who, in my next post, agree with what is there but don’t consider themselves to be catholic.

  9. Let’s not whitewash the situation at St. Pauls, one of the three parishes subjected to “Jackboot Jane’s” (as she was then reviled) visitations. Between the first and second such visits the rector resigned. Lane Davenport is still at Ascension & St. Agnes (possibly because they were eventually allowed to have visitations from Bp. Ackerman) and St. Luke’s Bladensburg became an ordinariate parish. The whole affair was carried on in an atmosphere of confrontation to the point where Bp. Haines’s wife spoke out as one of his detractors. I really can see no sense in which there was meaningfully effective “oppression” of women at St. Paul’s, not in the face of what was an exercise of raw power in the opposite direction.

    In the same time period (and one assumes continuing into the present) there was a great deal of tolerance for what I must call heresy. I see today that St. Mark’s Capitol Hill offers the eucharistic elements to all “regardless of whether or not they have been baptized”, and the former rector, Jim Adams, was well-known for his spongy theological eccentricities. High-and-wide theological liberalism is the core churchmanship of the diocese, but I see no catholic commitment at all in this.

  10. It is sad that as an Anglo-Catholic, here in the TEC Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth we can be treated with contempt. I’m not a conservative, or even a liberal… I’m fairly moderate and pretty easy going.

    I had enough of it eventually, and my family and I have since gone to the ACNA. It’s shameful that it had to come to this, but what can you do? Now, we actually enjoy going to church, and look forward to mass every week.

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