Anyone reading the more reflective pieces I have offered here (as opposed to religious news commentaries) will have realised that I was inhabiting a position that was in of itself unsustainable as a quite disciplined, attending, communicating, Anglican. I treat all this very seriously, and the sense of internal inconsistency has been growing for some time.
My history and background in this is no secret, that I have always been on the edge of the Christian institutional world, and I have come in and fallen out on a number of occasions, and been blighted by considerations of ministry - the notion of taking commitment to its fullest and of developing a serving, pastoral, intellectual seat. I was confirmed in 1984 and almost immediately took part in the Fellowship of Vocation in the East Riding of Yorkshire (in those days there was less emphasis on younger people going into ministry). From a year or so on I had rejected the appeal of Unitarians, but with a collapse of liberal-realist belief I went across, rejected myself and eventually trained for the ministry, lasting just a year as I realised how little sympathy there was between traditional Unitarian chapels and me. It was eighteen months, 1992, after when religious observance began again, a very quick in and out of Sheffield Unitarianism, a commitment to Western Buddhist attendance and a developing relationship with a local parish church. Moving to New Holland in 1994, the old Unitarian church was revisited, to realise that I was the bad boy who'd let the side down years back at Unitarian College. As controversies half-emptied that church, I deliberately stayed marginal and I became little more than my mother's taxi driver. I was the last one to leave who was going to leave, and so when she confirmed leaving I did too (and Elena was hardly gripped either). I was, already, however, becoming more pro-symbolic and taking the view of a pathway, assisted by occasional attendance at an Anglican church in the next town to where I live.
It would be right to say that I launched into my full involvement there in 2006. Now I was wary of the ministry question again raising its head, but pursued it, let it drop, and pursued it again. It was going to be a regular conversation but the issue of the promises was raised, and I stopped it.
Now the idea was that having a fairly non-realist (or pushed to apophatic) approach to faith matters was a kind of foundation that would working the tradition on me develop. However, there was one of those remarks that made a difference: highlighting the difference between the person who takes a whole tradition and is critical on the one hand and that of the liberal who comes at each part critically on the other. Here was a crucial difference that reverberated from then on.
Then came a curate, who had given and continued to give these promises, and I realised that I could not in all honesty give such promises. I did see how I could, and I am sure some people do, but really I could not. Now it seems to me there should not be a lay-ministry divide. It should be a united entity. Nevertheless, if I couldn't symbolically handle such promises, then why symbolically handle the creed? Yes the Nicene Creed is a Church statement of faith, but the earlier Apostles' Creed is not.
I am not a creed literalist. I used to hate Unitarian sermons banging on about creeds, because they were like a mirror of literalism. It is all more complicated than this: it handles different forms of expression. Nevertheless, I had to use the analogy of taking a scroll out of a museum glass case, reading it as a reminder of historical origins, and shoving it back in again afterwards. You can still read it, but it's old and hardly relates to how to think.
All the time I have a well-rooted Eucharistic theology, which I had begun to build reflectively from late Unitarian times: my last occasional Unitarian service that I took (in 2002) was one experimental version (thus a lay-led Eucharist!). It was a pointer for me, that I took up from 2006. It has been grounded in social anthropology.
However, staying silent at the creed but going to the communion rail was inconsistent, and soon I was itching not to go forward. Here was a problem: I was attending quite a few services in a week, and part of that community (though pretty much everyone who might know does know my views). There are strong relationships there. So I decided I'd do nothing rash, nothing spur of the moment. The only argument in my mind was whether to wait until after the midnight communion for Christmas or stop now. Such was just overtaken by the decision to pause: do it now. That's another aspect of my theology: the urgency of the decision (for someone who delays and delays).
This week I just came to the view that I had to at least start a phase of not going forward, despite my theology. So this Sunday morning was different. Now the rash move would be to go forward. So when the preacher rose to give a sermon, I muttered to myself that it would take a miracle for me to rise and go to the communion rail afterwards.
His sermon was about being authentic: that in Advent to take the new road, to have the trust to leap off the diving board rather than again to do the walk back. So that decided it then. I was taking the authentic decision.
I shall probably continue with the same sort of spiritual practice, and see how it works. But really, for me, the Christian dots do not join up.
There are ethical arguments here too. For example, I've commented here on Conservative Evangelical positions, and they seem to be thoroughly unethical. From Akinola and Orombi to Sugden and Minns, the positions they spout make my flesh creep, to be honest. Then there is the kind of Fulcrum position, more reasonable as a beginning but it is just ending up somewhere near their game. Fulcrum people are bureaucratic apologists for the reprehensible. It also comes across as degrees of intellectual bankruptcy, and all about an internal dogfight over arguments lost in the wider world a long time ago.
Then there are various other strategies and positions, including those about which I have considerable sympathy, but they are all based on maintaining a frozen reasoning from the past, or at least some sort of appearance of such. Otherwise, we have practical and usual reasoning. I realise there is no contemporary developed path of religion, no easy vessel for building spirituality, but the intellectual division between liturgy and theology has become so wide it starts to lack a relationship. I don't like conserving strategies of living in bubbles, because the motive is to maintain the bubble. We should be able to see the bubble burst and have authentic religion.
These strategies and positions are more ethically sound, indeed an exemplarist approach to Jesus of Nazareth is intended to be ethical - but somehow none of the liturgical presentations deliver ethical wholeness or overcome the ethical disaster that is within an increasingly sectarian Christianity. My own position of arrival, though, is not principally an ethical one, but is an intellectual one. It doesn't work; it does not add up.
When people are identified as liberals, or misidentified as liberals, they usually have far more in the believing bank than me, and I'm afraid I have had another belief crunch. It is different from the rest, but it seems to be familiar too.
And that's it. Of course I can still reflect on the Christian tradition, and there is much inherited that challenges. It may be that a pattern of activity has to take precedence. But intellectually it strikes me as dead. The effort to blow life into it just overwhelms. Well, I'd stopped doing that some time ago, but it also stopped blowing life into me as delivered.
Maybe I'm not just a religious humanist, but this is how I am going to be for a short time at least, or perhaps it is how I have always been.
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