The Tablet Blog
More to Anglicanism than Evensong
15 June 2012, 9:00
Anglicanism. What comes to mind? Evensong? Robed choirs? Rousing hymns? Rowan Atkinson-esque vicars? Theological fuzziness?
Last weekend the Vatican’s ecumenism chief, Cardinal Kurt Koch, had a crash course in Anglicanism, a whistle-stop tour that took in Canterbury Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Church House, Lambeth Palace, Holy Trinity Brompton (home of the Alpha Course) and St Martin in the Fields, famous for its homeless outreach. In addition the cardinal met Anglican Benedictine sisters in West Malling and Anglo-Catholic clergy in north London.
Coming from Switzerland, home of Calvin and Zwingli, the cardinal had grown up among Reformed Churches, but he admitted that Anglicanism was a grey area.
I’m pleased he didn’t just see the formal side. While cathedral Evensong may be beautiful and dignified, it is not celebrated in a huge number of Church of England churches. Gone are the choirs, the robes – and even, in some cases, the organ, and instead you find a piano or a band, and vicars in smart casual, with or without clerical collar.
From the Vatican’s perspective, Anglicans generate bad headlines – they ordain women as priests, many allow other denominations to the communion rail, and some of them (in the US) have ordained women and active gays as bishops.
The cardinal was amazed at the range of Anglican life, but was surprised at how much the two Churches have in common. He asked the Anglo-Catholic clergy what, if their theology was so Catholic, was keeping them in the Church of England. (I wonder if any mentioned their wives and salaries.)
However I wonder what he would have made of a service he wasn’t able to get to. It was mooted that he would make an appearance at two or three of the five evening services of Holy Trinity Brompton congregations, but his meeting with the leaders of the Alpha course over-ran. So while he was in the HTB vicarage, two services packed with young people (ie under-40s) were going on concurrently at two of its different sites. The congregation sang for half an hour led by a loud eight-piece band swirled in dry ice and spotlights. The notices were given as a slickly edited video news bulletin, and many people followed the Bible reading on their iPhone. The church’s latest innovation was to offer members the chance to make their offering by text message. Doctrinally conservative but technologically open to anything, and hugely popular. An assault on the senses maybe, and probably not the Vatican’s standard view of Anglicanism. Obviously HTB is just one church, but its fashions do tend to get picked up among other parishes.
So Cardinal Koch, thank you for coming. The Anglican Church is a muddle but somehow it all hangs together and in various corners of it, devout people are earnestly seeking God doing truly inspirational things. It doesn’t quite fit any one stereotype – which in a way makes it rather like your Church.
Abigail Frymann is The Tablet’s Online Editor
The U.K. Roman Catholic newspaper, ‘The Tablet’, often publishes articles about British Anglicanism – usually more friendly than not – and here we have a story about the visit of Cardinal Kurt Koch. the Vatican’s ecumenical representative, to some of the better known and more celebrated aspects of the Church of England.
In his flying visit was included a taste of the centre of the ‘Alpha’ movement at the Church of Holy Trinity, Brompton – not far from the Roman Catholic Brompton Oratory in London, that citadel of U.K. Roman Catholicism associated with the one-time Anglican, Cardinal John Henry Newman.
If Cardinal Koch had not been detained in the Holy Trinity vicarage, he might have had time to join in the song-fest next door in the church, where “The congregation sang for half an hour led by a loud eight-piece band swirled in dry ice and spotlights. The notices were given as a slickly edited video news bulletin, and many people followed the Bible reading on their iPhone.”
This style of worship, though common to H.T.Brompton and its satelite congregations around the world that have absorbed its Alpha ethos, is not typical of ‘normal’ Anglican worship, and may have caused the visiting Roman Prelate to wonder what had happened to the ‘dignity’ of sacramental worship in the Church of England – that had been evident in the more traditional centres of Anglican worship. Perhaps its as well that Hos Lordship did not get the opportunity to ‘sing-along’, he might have given a different report to his home-base.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand