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Why I am no longer an Anglican - Bishop Gavin Reid

Why I am no longer an Anglican

By Gavin Reid
Church of England Newspaper
August 2008

Recent events have made me aware of something I haven't realized before. I am not really an Anglican! I am, first and foremost, a Christian by God's good grace. I am secondly, a member of the Church of England.

That is where I learned Christ (as St Paul once put it) and that is where I believed myself to be called to serve And the reason why I am "Church of England" is simple yet also crucial. I am such because when I came, as a small Scottish boy, to live in South London, it was "there" for me. It was "there" in a Church School. It was "there" in an amazing Sunday school, and then in Bible Class and the congregation of the parish church itself.

The Church of England has a special relationship with the English people and nation. That relationship is geographical, cultural, and historical. It has been a key player in the nation's history. The Elizabethan Settlement gave it the vocation to serve the people of the country.

It was a call to a divided Church to keep our differences within a fellowship committed to the cure of England's souls. That is something
that cannot be exported, and no matter how similar an Anglican Church is in another country, it simply is not the same.

Anglicanism developed in other countries throughout the world by one of two routes. It went overseas because English people went overseas, and we saw the development of Chaplaincy Anglicanism as a result. The Anglican Churches in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all have chaplaincy origins.

The other route for Anglican overseas travel was the missionary route. Here the dynamics are different. The missionaries went via missionary societies, which nearly always reflected one or another tradition of the "home" church. They went with simplified ecclesiologies that did not reflect the English mix of traditions, and they went with a clearcut desire to change people from what they were to what, it was deemed, they should be. Chaplaincy Anglicanism was about affirming and supporting people.

Missionary Anglicanism was about changing them. In the current Anglican crisis, some of the problem lies in the different dynamics between these two overseas versions of Anglicanism. It is not an accident that Anglicans in the United States and Canada are open to the affirmation of people who profess Christ but want to lead gay life-styles.

Confrontation is not part of affirmation and support. It is not an accident either that Anglicans in Africa and Asia and other former "mission fields" take a far more aggressive attitude. While we may hear a great deal of argumentation, theological and otherwise, I think the real business goes back to chaplaincy and missionary instincts.

The crucial issue for us in England is how much we should allow ourselves to be driven by a controversy that basically belongs to the non-English provinces and is not, therefore, "Church of England". In saying this I am well aware that the controversy over homosexuality and Christian discipleship is well established in this country. I am also aware that the dynamics of the Church of England are essentially
chaplaincy dynamics rather than missionary. It remains true, however, that the official position of the Church of England is nowhere near that of the Episcopalians of the USA.

Yes, there have been isolated acts of rebellion is some parishes and vicarages, and there is and will be a strengthening lobby for change, but that change has not happened as yet and I do not feel it is imminent.

All of which brings me back to saying that it is important to remember why the Church of England is its own animal, and not just a local branch of Anglicanism Inc. It is important because it is the Church by law established in this land. It is the reason why it is not strictly true to say that this is a secular country.

It is still the Church which has cathedrals pulling in thousands of worshippers and visitors. It is still the Church which is a ma jor player in the education of our children. It is still the Church which covers every
square mile of our country with it's,admittedly very overstretched, parish system. At its best it is still "there" for every English resident, and the greatest threat to this self understanding lies not with changing
attitudes in society but changing attitudes within the clergy and congregations themselves.

And this is the rub, and especially for those of us who are evangelical in our theology and priorities. It is very tempting to want to belong to a Church or network that looks at doctrine as we do, but I believe it would seriously weaken the mission of the Church that tries to serve our nation and its communities if we were to put too much of our efforts in that direction. Networks and associations of the like-minded have great value in terms of encouragement and support, but they are not substitutes for the Church that we are called to serve.

I hope that evangelical clergy will keep their nerve and commit themselves to the vision of a Church which has not given up on its official hold on the scriptures - and a Church which is committed to serve the all the people of our country. I hope they will remember, as I do, that they were accepted and at least partly funded for their training by a Church where there was not all round agreement with our theology, and yet which recognised that God was calling us.

I rejoice in some of the things I have heard about Gafcon - we need its kick in our cassocks! I would be alarmed, however, if it served as a distraction from our calling to be loyal (even if critical) members of the Church of England. It need not be so and it must not be so.

---The Rt Rev Gavin Reid was Bishop of Maidstone, England from 1992-2000

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