Why No New Oxford Movement

There was a thought-provoking post up at Covenant the other day on Fr. Hendrickson’s call for a New Oxford Movement.

Both posts are worth reading and pondering.

But the time is not yet here. Sadly.

Fr. Hendrickson, a figure who needs no introduction to most of my readers, is—by all I can tell for someone who doesn’t attend his parish—a great priest and I count him as a friend. He is one of the core people who assisted in the creation of the Society of Catholic Priests here in North America. There is a point he makes in his original post that I think may explain why we still lack such a renewal:  Individualism unchecked.

A friend asked what a group of us thought of the article. A fellow layman explained his experience of being or, perhaps, finding his place as an Anglo-Catholic within a reverent low-church parish. That was something I resonated with very much and this is my reaction…

The elephant in the room is Catholic Anglican identity: What does it look like, what does it mean, how does it live? The chief issue that the Society of Catholic Priests has brought out into the open and laid bare is that organic “Anglo-Catholic” identity has broken down thanks to splits, departures, and arguments. It’s no longer a matter of being formed organically in a loose network of affiliated parishes; it’s largely a matter of self-study by clergy and laity grouped around a set of disconnected idiosyncratic parishes whose ritual practices and theological teachings are, again, based these days largely on the memory/dream/projection of an organic past and whatever self-study the rector/former rector thought was right (or fun, or liturgically titillating). There won’t be a new Oxford Movement for the Episcopal Church until those of use who identify as Catholic Anglicans figure out why we do and what that looks like, and how that theology is expressed, habitually and ritually. And the key point there that my friend has identified is how lay Catholic Anglicans live that stance out in parishes that aren’t Catholic and (these days) may only be marginally Anglican. Like mine too…

A revival of Catholic Anglican substance will not occur by means of priests writing treatises. That ship has sailed; those days are past.

A revival of Catholic Anglican substance will occur when the imagination of the lay faithful are caught by a vision of the church that is deeper, more beautiful, more compelling and that can be practiced even in communities that fail to grasp that vision or perceive a different vision of the church at work.

8 Replies to “Why No New Oxford Movement”

  1. How timely! I have the privilege of being priest-in-charge of the most prominent, historically Anglican-Catholic parish in my diocese. Lately I have noticed that there are some traces of a more Catholic past in a number of other parishes, that do not so self-identify at present, if they ever did. I have been thinking about how to find and provide support for Catholic Episcopalians, without taking them out of their current parishes. At this very moment, we are gathered in diocesan convention; if an opportunity presents itself to put out a call to gather, I will do so. Then we’ll see. But I will be grateful to hear what others have done or learned in this regard.

  2. Thank you Derek – I think I just responded to another blog (responding to Robert) – in much the same way – we had a good conversation at the Atlanta SCP meeting on this issue – what is Anglo-Catholicism in the 21st century?

  3. Derek, I see you are using the phrase “Catholic Anglican.” How do you see that as different from “Anglo-Catholic” if at all?

  4. This resonates with me too. I have recently balanced my experience in a TEC liberal Anglo-Catholic parish with visits to several in the CofE, and while it certainly leads to interesting insights (one parish they really seem to have thought out something coherent, one parish is loosely carrying on a local tradition of liking things “high”). there is no larger principle to tie together a “movement.”

    I see the goal of harmony with the early Church—praying, thinking, and acting in dialogue and communion with the depth of tradition. And valuing something very much like the 1979 prayer book as an expression of that tradition. The CofE’a lack of such a book only makes me more sure what a great gift it is. In TEC, we can and should simply say, “We care about every page of this book and how it can affect our lives and hearts, not just on Sunday, not just when we are praying from it.” As you say, this mere Anglicanism is imperiled, so maybe “Catholic” niceties beyond that are un-Catholic as a core identity marker.

    A single motto could be Andrewes, “four councils and five centuries”—and certainly an invitation for appreciating the course of seven councils and ten centuries, but I personally wonder about expressions of AC identity like Benediction when this more universally valid core of quod semper et ab omnibus creditum oratum & factum est.

    Some of the CofE’s priests who spend the most of their attention in fruitful reflection on what the Scriptures and writers like Augustine have to say are “evangelical” or even charismatic. It makes me wonder sometimes if by choice I should be more like your friend—an AC witness in a modern-worship community who are at least trying with more intensity to respond to the basics. On the other hand, as far as “isolated” Christian witness goes, trying to get a comfortable beautiful-Sunday-AC parish to live out the fullness of that a bit more is also worthwhile.

    Sorry for rambling through here, but in summary if there were a high/low alliance built around “praying the Daily Office and working as a Christian community to deepen our theology and carry it out into the streets,” I think that would be a much more practical attempt by Anglo Catholics not to see what they love die out than a more purist “new Oxford Movement.”

  5. Bob, I responded to your comment but somehow it got eaten… There is no functional difference between Anglo-Catholic and Catholic Anglican, but I do think that the second formulation has three things going for it. First, I’ve been reminded by people of color that “Anglo” sometimes has a particular meaning. Especially in Hispanic communities, “Anglo”=”White.” As a movement that’s long been thought of as the part of the church against people (anti-women, anti-gay, etc.) the last thing the movement needs is to create an unintentional and unnecessary barrier by not considering use of language. Second, in some minds the term “Anglo-Catholic” is pretty irrevocably tied up with the gin & lace old boys crowd that perpetuated the “antis.” Third, it helpfully clarifies the intent of the contracted “Anglo”; Anglo stands for Anglican which is an essential part of what this movement is. It is fundamentally Anglican in character, not Anglo (White) nor English nor Anglophile: Anglican, and is the heir to the spiritualities, practices, and habits treasured in the part of the church catholic that happened to be in England and is therefore connected to English identity—but is also separable from it.

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