Tuesday, 13 April 2010


I am withdrawing a little bit further from Anglican involvement. On a Tuesday I go out with friends in Hull, so it was relatively convenient to call in for the half hour service in the evening that finished on the travel time to pass through Barton to Hull to pick up friends and get to our destination. A tiny handful attend this service, and I was one of them, indeed probably the most regular of all.

This was increasingly odd as I didn't participate in that part of the service concerning the Eucharist, but there was usually an ad-libbed sermon even for the few given by the priest-in-charge. Now that he has 'gone' for three months, the others standing in usually do not give a sermon. That pushes the balance of purpose for my attendance beyond the point, and so I've let everyone who stands in know I'm going no longer. I am going to attend Sunday evenings and occasional Wednesday mornings.

The church does have an inclusive ethos, but it is ridiculous to be inclusive of me given that my beliefs are clearly now outside those of such a church and its promises. In any case, as something of a religious anorak, and being somewhat of a megalomaniac for a minute, there is no purpose in being inclusive of me as I can turn up at all sorts of things, and there is no need to be any more than this church is supposed to be. I'll do the In Depth presentations for as long as the group and the powers that be accept this: if either say no, I stop.

The church has somewhat 'risen up the candle' in recent years, but not by as much as it might have. It cannot because it serves a town and is the only Anglican institution. As for myself, I did use the place as an experiment in going a little up the candle, but it proved unattractive and somewhat illusory. I did gain a little more in the way of appreciating notions of 'transcendence', but in the battle between non-realism and real absence I'm on the non-realist side - just. What in the end undermines 'going up the candle' is hierarchy and the inner core of deference it creates. For example, I have never called any priest "Father"; the only father I've ever had is now dead. I'm afraid I want the liberality I express to be combined with a democratic and equalitarian spirit - indeed ministry for me is a matter of training and position and respect comes to that and the person as a human being. Such does not prevent cliques forming, but we can always say that they should not. Nor does it deny that some people have more spiritual development than others, but that should not come via a sacred position. Such preserved 'sacredness' is at odds with a more rational liberality. Either you have developed your sacredness or you haven't.

The fact is that the church where I now give more of my time and attention gives more opportunities for participation and creative involvement. It lives and dies by the seat of its pants, and it is, as such, more exciting. Things sometimes happen for random reasons, but it's how you then grab that randomness and use it. Experiments can be tried and, if they fail, you don't do them again.

I don't know the future for a moderate, inclusive, Anglicanism. Who does? I identify its liturgies and this constant Eucharistic repetition as a barrier, because they are such an acquired taste and require much pre-knowledge and pre-understanding. Take the psalms, however insightful they may be regarding the human condition. I wonder when the Hull Unitarian church last sung a psalm. Maybe the early 1970s? Perhaps there was one later that was isolated. Yet the Church of England church uses psalms still periodically in sung form.

In the 1950s and 1960s the Unitarian congregation might have used Orders of Worship (1932), which remains the last recognisably consistent liturgical book in British Unitarianism; but I know this was being reduced in use even then, becoming pick and mix for a while, and now I look at my borrowed copy and almost all of it is impossible to use without major transition of language and belief (which I do, which is why I borrowed one - not that the copies are in any demand at all). I wonder how people with no former insight regard the Church of England liturgies at first or even after several sights. What do they think of the strange way to sing psalms and what do they mean?

I know at the margins there is this attempt at 'Fresh Expressions' but some are wondering where that leads, as it gets caught up in the current religious wars of evangelical, traditionalists and liberal, and it lacks transitional stages into the more standard material. Do they relate to the sociology of knowledge? In other words, given the this-world practicality of most thinking, and the absence of Christian formation anywhere else (the social role of the choir and Sunday School is pretty much dead), I cannot see where even handfuls of regular attenders will come from. Obviously some must, otherwise the places will close. It is not for nothing that twenty years ago many trainee ministers were in their thirties and now many are in their fifties - training is largely drawing from the same conveyor belt.

That someone like me moves on is neither here nor there. I'm a rather strange anorak and religious theorist. What I'm puzzling over is what there is beyond the sectarian. One possibility is community groups - there is a thriving ladies group at that church - but the question is how such filter into a worshipping community, if at all. People are quite specific about what groups they will join (if they join any) and why. The British are clever at using religious institutions and keeping religion at arms length.


JCF said...

I don't know the future for a moderate, inclusive, Anglicanism. Who does? I identify its liturgies and this constant Eucharistic repetition as a barrier, because they are such an acquired taste and require much pre-knowledge and pre-understanding.

It IS strange, Adrian: it seems we share a common social ethic, and yet this ethic to me is unimaginable WITHOUT the Self-Giving Christ, giving me his very self to EAT (the Last shall be First).

Sermons? Feh. Take 'em or leave 'em.

"constant Eucharistic repetition"? That's the ticket! The very foretaste of Heaven (which, as I've imagined, is the Great Gay (or Straight, if you must) Disco Up Yonder.

Food as "barrier"? Are you sure you don't have an (forgive me) Eating Disorder?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

To me there is no cosmic, all-embracing, self-giving Christ. There was a man who may have been self-giving (or following the suffering servant idea in his scriptures for a greater purpose) but he is no more self-giving than any other self-giver. I simply take him as a human being and that's it.

My point regarding the ritual is that it is exclusive. It is for members. So people drifting in from the outside have to sit out. It also carries all sorts of meanings you acquire over time, so the new person puzzles over what is going on. The language of the ritual is also of another time. So altogether it is excluding and exclusive as a ritual. So I do not have an eating disorder, but I have a contemporary diet.

I have no idea what heaven is, nor do I seek it. If heaven is a nirvana it might make some sort of sense once translated into a sense of the endpoint rarely achieved of a coming to terms with yourself and your own transience. That's it and that'll do for me.