Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An Apology of Anglican Catholicity

The new Chicago Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests
While Philadelphia (and the world) waited with great anticipation for Pope Francis to open the World Meeting of Families last Saturday, my friends and I were preparing for an event of our own here in Chicago. After two and a half years of discussion, discernment, and preparation, we gathered at Grace Episcopal Church in the city's South Loop for a mass to inaugurate the Chicago Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests. It did not involve barricading downtown streets or ticker-tape parades. None of us drove through adoring crowds in a Pope-mobile. Just bread and wine, hymns and holy smoke, and champagne at the end.

The frenzy of activity and interest in the Pope's visit demonstrates the power that the notion of
Pope Francis greets admirers in Philadelphia
catholicity still has over people generally, and Anglicans, specifically. My Facebook feed filled with commentaries about Francis's statement on same-sex marriage and the ordination of women, the moral example he was setting by snubbing an invitation from congressional leaders to eat with the homeless, and even how his presence would likely influence the upcoming presidential election. In a way, it makes me sad that many Anglicans feel they have to piggyback onto the Roman bandwagon to satisfy their fascination for and experience of the universal Church.

It speaks to the fact that Anglicanism, including the Episcopal Church, is timid about claiming its catholicity. When we do it, it's in a half-hearted and qualified way, as if we're either embarrassed or not quite convinced of it. Maybe we feel insecure that we're so much smaller or that we're a more recent creation. Like the rural cousin that arrives to the fancy gala in her simple homespun dress, we feel we just don't measure up. After all, it's hard to compete with the sheer scale of the Roman Church's presence and of Pope Francis's popularity. But if Francis has taught us anything, it's that the Church is not about riches or pomp or who's got the tallest mitre.

John Jewel
I think about the many great theologians in our tradition that have crafted sophisticated apologies of the Church of England, how they too wrestled with the concept of catholicity. Whether it was an attempt to recapture the purity of the ancient Church, reconnect with the roots of pre-Reformation Sarum, or enter into a more expansive understanding of catholicity, they all had to make sense of the unique place of the ecclesia anglicana in the universal Church. Jewel and Hooker, Newman and Keble, Ramsey and Williams have thought and debated in just the same way we are thinking and debating within the Society of Catholic Priests. As I looked around Grace's sanctuary on Saturday morning, I remarked on the diversity of our members' priestly ministry, the variety of contexts in which we serve at the altar. We are urban and suburban, in mostly white congregations and mostly black, in small parishes and large, in broad churches and Anglo-Catholic churches, in affluent communities and in poor communities. If this doesn't represent the universality of the Church, then I don't know what does.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

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