Ecclesia Anglicana

Having recently become canonically resident and active in ministry in the Diocese of New Westminster, I am now also attending “clericus”, the regional meetings of diocesan clergy.  I’ve been to these types of gatherings in four different countries within the Anglican Communion and they generally hold to a similar pattern: we pray, have coffee and cookies, share what is happening in our parishes and personal lives, express our “concern about where the diocese is headed” (no matter where it is headed), come to a tentative agreement about our next meeting date and pray again.

My first clericus was held at St. John the Divine in Maple Ridge.  According to the commemorative plaque affixed to the portico, this small, wood-frame church is the oldest in all of British Columbia, having been built in 1859 and then barged across the Fraser River to its present location in 1882.  So Christianity in any significant form arrived on the northwestern shores of North America a mere 166 years ago.  Before that the Great Spirit was worshipped, for millennia, through rituals more ancient and indigenous.

As I stepped back and looked at the church in the bright, early spring sunlight, I recalled the words of two quite divergent authors.  The first were of Maria Pascua, a member of Washington State’s aboriginal Makah people at Neah Bay, just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Vancouver Island.  At the end of her 1991 article for National Geographic magazine (“Ozette: A Makah Village in 1491”) Ms. Pascua, a Christian,  expressed her gratitude for her people having been introduced to Christ while at the same time acknowledging a deep sadness that remains for having been robbed by the European conquerors of a treasure trove of ancient rites and customs.  Would it not have been possible to embrace Christ without becoming European?

The other words which came to mind were those of Robert Louis Stevenson on leaving San Francisco for the South Seas: “I was now escaped out of the shadow of the Roman empire, under whose toppling monuments we were all cradled, whose laws and letters are on every hand of us, constraining and preventing…”.

The Sunday previous to our clericus meeting was the Second in Lent and also St. David’s Day.  On arrival at the church that Sunday I found the sanctuary decked out in daffodils; it was lovely and expected. But I also found the flag of Wales prominently displayed in floral arrangements either side of the altar and later as the icing of a large cake at coffee time.  I gladly engaged the festivities, congratulating and thanking the Welsh contingent in our congregation, explaining a bit about St. David, and lustily singing “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” as we recessed out of the church.  And yet, I left the church with questions on my mind.

I was ordained and served for over a decade in the Church of England and, even though I am not British and was serving in mainland Europe, never batted an eye about the “CofE” being a church so thoroughly British in all that it is and does.  Ecclesia Anglicana; it makes perfect sense.  Celtic enthusiasts and Robert Louis Stevenson know better of course but, those objections notwithstanding, the Church of England is a fairly indigenous expression of the Church in the British Isles.

However, after four years in Canada I’m still getting used to the Anglican Church of Canada being so British.  Or perhaps more accurately, being so purposefully British.  Yes, we should honour and be glad for our British heritage, its peculiar Saints and customs.  The Queen is our Queen too and the Church which she governs gave birth to our own.  That is our history and we cherish it.  But as an independent Church in a multi-cultural society, especially a Church that wants to grow and be welcoming of all people of whatever background or pedigree, would we not do well to continue to widen our celebrations to include those of other cultures and peoples?

Coming home from clericus I set to work on my sermon for the next Sunday.  The reading from the Gospel of John had Jesus driving out the merchants from the Temple.  Surely among the possible motives for his protest is the fact that the currency trade and livestock market was being held in the Court of the Gentiles, thus robbing the non-indigenous worshippers of their access to unencumbered prayer.  How often those of us of the dominant culture fail to appreciate what the marginalized have to bring, instead appropriating their space at our discretion and for our own purposes.

Our Church and our diocese have been blessed with some rich history of multi-cultural ministries.  The Reverend Robert McDonald in the mid 1800’s and the Reverend Dr. Cyril Powles more recently come to mind.  Today there are hopeful signs that we are becoming a true home for an even greater number of peoples from varying cultures and traditions.  The Ecclesia Anglicana runs through our veins but, following the Spirit, we are becoming so much more than that.  Thanks be to God!


7 thoughts on “Ecclesia Anglicana

  1. I enjoyed reading Ecclesia Anglicana in the May issue of Topic (and I enjoyed your two previous articles also). In the present one two points caught my eye.
    I fully endorse your hope that our Church will become increasingly multicultural. Last year in a casual survey of our 150 adult parishioners I reckoned there were 93 native-born Canadians (most from provinces other than British Columbia) sixteen from the British Isles, twelve from the United States, thirteen from West Asia and East Asia, and the others from Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and New Zealand. So we are not too homogeneous.
    You mention clergy meetings. The last one (reported in the March issue of Topic) riled me with the expression of “…..concerns about …. the ongoing problem of extended exchanges of the Peace.” I wrote a rebuttal for Topic but it got passed by. Could I send you a copy?

  2. ps Regarding homogeneity, I forgot mention that our confessional connections range from Evangelical to Oriental Orthodox not to mention none of the above.

  3. Thank you, Leslie. Yes please! I too felt that was a topic that could have been discussed in more depth.

  4. Peace be with you!

    Reading the report in the March issue of Topic on the recent Clergy Day I was struck by the item that read “There were concerns about …. the ongoing problem of extended exchanges of the Peace.” Problem, did you say? Ongoing problem? Whatever could they have been talking about?

    My immediate reaction was to think of how quickly people forget. Did these clergy remember the time before exchanging the Peace became common practice, when we all sat tightly in our own small corners oblivious of everyone else, when we were expected to walk into church unobtrusively without looking anyone in the eye and quietly give the nod to God while waiting for the priest to enter, and then leaving in much the same manner?

    True, the Exchange of the Peace formed part of high-church ritual. The liturgical ministers including servers – all male, of course – performed a choreographed clasp of the shoulders, but nothing too outrageous. Even that never went beyond the sanctuary.

    Then, in the seventies, priests suddenly began to move out of the sanctuary. They came down into the nave among the common herd. They shook hands with the person at the end of the pew and that person then decorously passed the gesture to the one next in the pew and so along the line. The new practice was met with a mixture of amazement, embarrassment, and delight. We were all in this together – and rightly so!

    There were, we are told, several men at the Last Supper. As portrayed classically by Leonardo da Vinci most were interacting vigorously with each other. It was hardly a foretaste of your usual 8 o’clock said BCP liturgy with everyone occupying the space available so as to maximise the average distance between them. (Leonardo omitted to show, of course, the women who must have been there if only to clear the dishes. Perhaps they were on the near side of the table and had to move out of the way to let Leonardo do his thing.)

    Apart from the introduction of the Peace, those long ago times also saw the use of Scripture extended by readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, and lay persons (even women!) actively participating in the conduct of the liturgy for the first time, and many other changes as well. All of this is so common now that younger clergy, I suspect, do not know that it has ever been otherwise. So what is it all worth?

    It has, I suggest, brought our liturgy back to its origins, making it an encounter with God through Word,
    Sacrament and Community, all three. My point is that the presence of others with whom to interact is a vital component of the Eucharist. It is not an optional extra, something that might be problematic.

    Do things get out of hand? Does the priest presiding at the liturgy lose control? Well, maybe. But some spontaneity, some chaos even, should never be out of place. If it looks like a riot is developing (what a chance!) control can readily be re-imposed. A forceful “The Lord be with you!” or the introductory notes of the Offertory Hymn will work wonders.

    If the church is really full things may get difficult. The more present, the more extended will be the exchange. Is that a problem? If it is we can always close the doors and stop people joining us.

  5. I know that I am riding a hobby horse here, but I gathered from one of the postings that you had had difficulties in connecting with some parish communities and that reminded me of the difficulties my wife and I had when we arrived in Canada in 1967. One of our first initiatives was to attend a parish church but we discovered that we were invisible, which was surprising given that we had four young children with us. We spent more than a year passing through several parishes before we were noticed. It was at the sixth that the situation changed and it was there that we first experienced the exchange of the Peace. My point is that our first experiences may have been quite different if the practice had been common then as it is now.
    Apart from its obvious value in integrating newcomers, I believe that exchanging the Peace is an essential feature of our Eucharistic celebration. If one needs a private word with God (as one should need from time to time) the place for that is in ones closet. The Eucharist, on the other hand, is public worship and there we encounter God as a community. We must interact with each other if our worship is to be valid..

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