I was writing to my friend and fellow Anglican Priest, Fr Aaron Burt of Advent Anglican Church in Bellevue, Seattle and we were talking about things Anglican, and I was talking about the good things that distinguish Anglicanism from other Christian traditions. And Aaron wrote this:
“Anglican by conviction” is only recently becoming a “thing” in America. I was shocked, when our small parish (about 80-90 on a Sunday) offered Confirmation, we had about 35 people who wanted it and worked through a lengthy set of classes to obtain it. They are definitely proud to be “Anglicans.” They consider “Christian” their true identity (and that’s as it should be), but they are grateful–exuberant even, some of them–when it comes to their self-identification as Christians specifically in the Anglican way. It’s very cool to see”.
Something I have observed in a certain city in recent years is the trend to downplay the label Anglican, by even changing church names to something else such as (making up examples here…Harbourside Community Church, Wharf Church, Dockyard Church). The thinking is that to keep the name Anglican will turn off the outsider, and this is all done in the name of contextualisation. However I think there is a danger of letting our culture dictate our contextualisation, when this happens a shift from contextualisation to chameleonisation has occured. We then conclude that if outsiders experience, see, feel, or hear anything in our services that they 1. don’t like 2. don’t understand 3. don’t agree with 4. don’t find funny/entertaining 5. find ‘posh’ (whatever that is supposed to mean) that they will be innoculated against the Gospel (or to put it another way, it will .’freak them out’), so we try to make things as appealing,as palatable and as ‘normal’ as possible in order to win the outsider. Here is how my friend Aaron put it:
There seems to be the false theory among clergy that they should try to show that their particular Christian express is “normal” and broadly palatable. It’s like they are trying to sell a Ford Taurus or a Honda Accord. “We promise this experience will be exactly what you’re used to.” It’s almost like they are trying to hide their distinctions–everything that might actually make them interesting, like a lectionary or liturgy, etc. In fact, in our country there is a massive trend among churches to remove any denominational reference from their church name itself. Kent Nazarene is now Hillside Church, Northshore Baptist is now Northshore Community Church, and so forth. My conclusion is that their goal is to be as broadly attractive as possible. But this seems to me to be folly. That is how you sell things to consumers. It’s not how you connect and build relationships with people. Imagine if you were dating someone and your pitch to them was constantly that you were unfailingly average and totally a good fit for anyone! Your partner would never feel like you were a good fit for them specifically. And Anglicanism has some delightful quirks that not everyone will enjoy–but a sizable portion of the population will adore. And if we reveal those quirks boldly, well, that’s when people fall in love. Sure, some will walk. But others will feel the intensity of their ardor increased, and they will begin to connect deeply and strongly.
Thankyou Aaron, I could not put it better myself. Anglicanism does have its quirks, and some may find them delightful quirks (i.e BCP, Scripture soaked liturgy, just to name two) so reveal them boldly I say!