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.