Sunday, 9 August 2009

My Reflection, My Decision

August is a funny month church-wise. Church time remains ordinary time until Advent suddenly appears, but August is still the sleepy month: allowing people to be away for holidays. It is a time to pause, perhaps, and think about the autumnal relaunch.

This reflection is no 'reflection' on the church I have attended with intent since around 2004. The church is generous, friendly and, though I am by necessity tight-fisted when it comes to money, I've always been happy to contribute by effort when asked (I have, though, stopped doing readings and prayers). The sermon today was an example of that openness and generosity. I listened carefully, as I always do (people put a lot of work into them), though I started to conclude that I didn't "buy it" in the end, though I would something similar from a different angle.

The sermon was, in effect, an invitation to the meal that is the centrepiece of the church service, based on an examination of the first and later hearers of John's gospel wanting to hear something that they didn't necessarily need to hear or indeed actually hear. They were like "consumers".

I didn't buy it because in the end the production, even the original production, is specific, whatever the consumers 'want', but of course the production then relating to specifics is now even more specific and this church does not act in isolation.

There are some liberal Catholic groups who have what is called an 'open table' and this table is not dependent on personal belief. Indeed, for some, entry into orders of ministry is not belief based either, except at a basic or reduced level. The trouble with many of them is that they are so small that they confuse their personnel and possession with what they represent. They splinter between individuals, and personalities matter, and so a noble idea is lost. They retain a connection with credal statements, but although they either reduce them, ignore them or replace them in actuality, it is when individuals split and fight that there suddenly seems to be far more going on regarding assent than the reduction of those formal creeds.

Liberal Protestants and derived have minimal creeds or creedlessness conditions, though again the local committee and even the congregation can be, in effect, a creed by the back door. How a church manages inherited traditions and new material in conditions of apparent freedom is at best ambiguous and often unsatisfactory. Misrepresentation is rife. There is no perfect denomination at all.

The Church of England does not have such an open door or open beliefs. In the eucharistic service, sermons are followed by the Nicene Creed, a sort of corrective to any loose offering, and I now refuse to say any of the creeds. Furthermore, the local church is a representative of its bishop, who himself represents a Church that is now becoming appalling in its whole outlook (whether 'of England' or 'Anglican' or both). I do not believe its central beliefs, nor the added extras now part of the Church of England and its direction of travel, and so I'm not persuaded to join the meal. I'll make my peace with anyone and everyone, which people do in approach to that meal, but I won't join the meal. The crux of this is my rejection of apostolic authority, as I conclude it distorts the authentic search for truth.

Couple of things after the service were significant. Someone gave a quick reply after a question, and I realised quickly I'd read too much into it as simply a lot was happening (a meeting). Nevertheless I must have been sensitive to have thought "Oh!" and considered I'd received a brush-off. Secondly someone else came along and said he agrees with my previous thoughts here about resurrection, and that with the brain decaying so rapidly at death it must be a spiritual resurrection. I just had to square with him: I said, "I don't believe in a resurrection of any kind." And I don't. I used to think you could talk about your own 'resurrection life' in terms of renewing it and moving it towards some fulfilment, but this could use any sort of language and is just about your own effort and reorientations. It does not derive from something that 'happened' and it is some stretch to relate the consequences of early Christian belief with your own belief, even if their consequences don't have further historical origins. These theological terms are like a high-wire act that fall off. I do not believe that Jesus was resurrected in some sense of himself, physically or spiritually, nor that there will be something for him to be of the first, nor is it particularly useful talk for the future.

This reflection is not new. And my viewpoint is across the range of apparent Christian beliefs. That sense in which one could construct a package of association with these beliefs has rather gone. But what is more the case now, really, undermining any wish to still ' join the meal', and weighing heavily, is that I do not want to be associated with the Anglican name. I think to be associated with this name is to be morally suspect. It associates with a range of social attitudes that I reject. It says I will enter a debate knowing I'm losing it with this Archbishop and a bunch of bishops who either lack backbone or are travelling in a direction with which I cannot even be associated. I feel not that I want to disagree and argue with them, but I want to bring them down. The only place to do that is from outside, from rejecting what they stand for, and maybe lob in a few missiles for their undue influence on society.

I'd still want to engage in reflective worship, and I'd still be happy to put some local effort in, but my attendance does need restructuring towards the shorter services when eucharistic (sitting out that part) and perhaps towards the non-eucharistic. That's a local consequence and all despite a generosity of relationships about which I am indeed sensitive. But in the end the denomination is undermining the local, and all I can do in response is to acquire some personal autonomy and be a free-floater, still visible and still approachable, and still appreciative and still friendly, but without the label and without the mind-based obligations that even many a non-member participant shows.

I did get to call myself Christian and Anglican at one point. Then I could still be called Anglican whilst being a person who 'practises Christianity'. Now I want none of these labels, and I shall travel light. I might be called a religious humanist again, or indeed a religious pluralist, though the humanist label isn't quite broad enough (because there are Christian and Buddhist elements) and the pluralist label does not included the content, just an intention, which is to discern from many sources as an individual while hearing and talking to others.


john said...

The C of E does have an 'open door'. There are creeds. You can accept them or reject them. You can say them or not say them. No one will compel you. There is a liturgy - you can dip in and dip out. Many people do this. Your self-regardingness is oppressive and deeply tedious.


You do really need to move on.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It is not an open door policy. Participation in the eucharist is for the confirmed and members of approved churches. No one compels or checks up as a matter of practice but not as a matter of rule. That's the difference. And I am moving on, moving on to a position of clarity.

June Butler said...

Adrian, I can't say that I'm surprised that you've arrived where you are, whatever you label yourself.

I don't know about the Anglican label for myself any more either. It's become smeared. How on earth do you define yourself as a Christian by excluding people. I think of Bp. Gene Robinson locked out at Lambeth, and I can't get over it. How was that in any way gracious or hospitable? It was a disgrace, a scandal.

For you, there's morning prayer and evening prayer that could give you the opportunity for reflective worship and the sense of community that you'd miss, if you didn't go. With that, along with attendance at services at churches of other denominations, you'll make your free-floating way.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Appreciated. Fortunately there is evening worship available, though it is not the best for socialising afterwards. Wednesday mornings are OK because with no hymns it can be more reflective anyway (to sit out the eucharist part) and there is as much socialising afterwards as on a Sunday if with a smaller number. I'll see how it goes.

Anonymous said...

with a wondering and floating life for years, I turned back when heard the voice saying "there is someone praying for you".

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Someone praying does not change the nature of believing or the ethical decline of the Church of England and Anglican label as a denomination.

Yeah right.... said...

Archbishop Williams has retracted his "reflection" after reading Pluralist's criticisms...he and Tom Wright are on their way to ask Pluralist's advice on what to do in the CofE.............

(you write as if this was even a remote possibility!)

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Don't be silly. Er, Me thinks you are Nersen Pillay.

john said...

'Participation in the eucharist is for the confirmed and members of approved churches. No one compels or checks up as a matter of practice but not as a matter of rule.'

This seems to me incorrect. Two formulations frequently used are (a) 'baptised'; (b) 'used to receive communion in your own churches'.

Furthermore, the fact that any distinction between so-called practice and so-called rule is ignored is itself a tribute to the C of E's 'open-ness'.

But 'yeah, right' alludes to a more general criticism implicit in my post: that for people such as yourself 'Anglicanism' or 'the C of E' merely provides a platform for public attitudinising/opinionating. It's a serious criticism. I make it.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Not true. The baptised come to the rail and receive a blessing. To receive communion you need to be confirmed. A Methodist would be a member, receiving communion there, and thus can receive communion in the C of E. The table is not open.

The lack of enforcing the rule is the distinction made between being a Church rather than being a sect and is just practical.

You can make what criticism you like, but actually I am one of the more frequent attenders at the Anglican church I attend and that indeed the C of E is principally a liturgically means of worship and further contributions and is not 'merely' for opinionating at all.

john said...

'To receive communion you need to be confirmed.'

Not true of the church I go to and of many I have attended. I note these things because they interest me. 'Baptised' is often specifically mentioned.

Even children not yet confirmed regularly receive communion at such churches - as indeed they do in RC churches.

This attempt to portray the C of E as in any way 'coercive' and - hence - your own bruited 'independence' of thought -just bears no relation to what goes on in most C of E churches.