Monday, 19 January 2009

Institutional Vichy Blancmange

There is a new word in town used by one branch of Anglo-Catholics for the other: Vichy. This word comes from the Daily Telegraph and is picked up. The context is the parting of the ways of Forward in Faith (FiF) type Anglo-Catholics with a Church of England that approves women bishops and only provides a code of practice. Damien Thompson in that Daily Telegraph piece says that such Anglo-Catholics have to bypass English Roman Catholic bishops (who want to get on with the Church of England as is), and seek out friends in Rome. However, going over to Rome is only by individual decisions, and some will go Orthodox and some leave to nowhere.

There is an article by David Smart in Ebbsfleet Extra for February which states: is certain that eventually the Church of England will have women bishops. It is also certain now that there will be a Parting of the Ways among Anglican Catholics...

In the long run the choices that have to be made are the same for both clergy and laity, and though differing in detail they will be equally costly for both. There are no longer any easy answers, only painful ones. I do, however, have a sense that at the moment the clergy have a clearer sense of what has happened and its consequences. We laity, though fully aware of the gravity of the situation, are perhaps slower in coming to terms with it.

The different directions concern the FiF type Catholics and their individual decisions. Some will go. Some will hang on: laity with no other church to attend and social networks in place, clergy with perhaps families and being nakedly obvious about keeping a pay packet coming in.

Those who decide to stay can stay, using a code of practice, but those who can't will just have to leave. The boundaries are changed by women becoming bishops: those once excluded are included, and those once included become excluded or marginalised. The Church of England operates a division of inclusion anyway; there are virtually no effective tests of lay membership: you just nod to baptismal promises from time to time, and read out the Apostles Creed. (It says "I"; the other one says "we".) But clergy make stronger and more extensive promises, and have a higher test of inclusion. I think this is inconsistent, but I don't make the rules.

From a different perspective I face the same problem. My views are, basically, non-realist and Western religious: in the end they remain of an evolutionary Unitarian character. No quantity of absorption into Anglican liturgies and singing along makes a difference to that basic, underlying theology. Religious practice benefits from a pathway, but it is a kind of holy fiction. That's it. I'm torn between postmodern wrapping and doing a bit of historical research for a missing kernel. The Church of England has a generosity towards people like me as lay people, but because I've never practised a kind of total postmodern presentational package, I have been prevented in approaching Anglican ministry. I am told I can make such promises, in that it all depends what they mean, but I don't think I can as part of the Anglican division of labour. It's from that position that the rot sets in, and down it goes, and the obvious point exists that there ought to be a non-dogmatic, different way of doing symbolic worship that does a religious task without offending the intellect.

In the end those like me have to decide whether to put up with what we don't like or do something else.

Interesting: am I a Vichy liberal Anglican? Well Vichy is a place of mineral springs, so it might mean watered down, but it could also mean refreshing. Henri Pétain collaborated with another invaded power, probably on the basis of thinking this was the best way to preserve something of France. Of course the use of Vichy towards Anglo-Catholics of the Affirming Catholicism type suggests a traitor to the real cause, to real Anglo-Catholicism and real resistance (and historically a proper definition of France). So, in my case, instead of going back to the Unitarians, a real resistance, I collaborate with a Church that is an occupying power over too much other religion, spreading itself across like a big blob of blancmange. On the other hand, the Church of England is not an enemy, and the word Vichy hardly seems appropriate. Institutions do not possess the whole of what seems right: they add too much, they lack too much, and individuals fit in awkwardly with institutions. I do whether Anglican or Unitarian, but the sheer weight of dogma in the Church of England and its division by clericalism is rather overwhelming. It needs to be clearer than liturgy is not theology, though it has forces at work that want to make life narrower not broader.

In the end the institution sits lightly on individual decisions: few get removed. Liberals especially have always been very reluctant to leave. The FiF Catholics have obviously decided that they will have to be somewhere else but it is individuals who will make the decision, and not all will go.


Anonymous said...

"Liberals especially have always been very reluctant to leave."

No surprise, Where would they go and get a house and salary too??

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I knew one very well who became a Unitarian minister with accommodation (the home underneath the London church) and he wasn't the only one. There are quite a number in history who moved. I'm also referring to lay people.