I was born an Anglican.
This means that I have always belonged to the church associated with King Henry VIII, of England, and his break from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry wanted a son. His first wife, his deceased brother’s wife, didn’t bear him one. He wanted a divorce from her so he could try begetting a son with someone else. The Pope agreed that the marriage was invalid because it was against the church law to marry your brother’s wife.
Henry had been given a dispensation for that error. And now was being let off the hook of having made the error in the first place.
How convenient for Henry.
But the wife he wanted to divorce was from Spain. And Spain was in the process of providing the Pope with war ships.
(One of my favorite things about the Roman church: its need for war ships.)
The Pope decided he wanted the war ships more than he wanted Henry’s happiness and his loyalty to a Pope who changes his mind because of his need for war ships.
So Henry, who before he was king and never seeing himself as ever being king and so was a very serious student of theology, thought it over. Figured he, himself, could be King and Head Of The Church, and divorced the first one of his wives named Catherine.
He beheaded his second wife that was named Catherine.
So, essentially, I was born into a religion based on a desire for divorce.
One could poke around in the muddle of the church, generally, and admit that the Roman church allows divorce. They just call it, annulment, and charge money for it.
And this form of dissolving marriages has existed since almost the beginning of the church.
All of the above, while seeming like a hodgepodge, is what this essay is all about.
Although, before I go on I will expound a bit more about what it is to be an Anglican.
Anglicanism, with its various names, flows from the Church of England. The church of the Royal Family and those who prefer a form of catholicism without a Pope.
But American Anglicans have their own characteristics.
This is because Anglicanism came to America before it was America. And was still just a colony of England.
When more people here decided they wanted to be here-people and not over-there-people, we had a war.
The Revolutionary War.
A war against England.
So all the English clergy hiked up their cassocks and caught the first ship home.
Leaving Anglicans here bereft of ministerial care.
When Anglicans came here to begin with, they came to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mostly.
So when the clergy fled, the Virginia Anglicans got down – more than on just their knees – to the very serious business of keeping the church alive.
The result was a form of church that looks very much like America after the Great Depression.
Everything in the church was held to be very, very dear.
Candles are kept short.
No little fonts tacked near the church door to hold Holy Water.
The Anglican Church in Virginia, born from the impulses of a royal court, which could once outdo any church anywhere in terms of pomp and circumstance, was now plain.
This explains why I have had the repeated experience in my more recent life of listening to arguments over a new priest’s desire to add prayers to the service in our prayerbook.
Churches all around me have broken apart over these differences.
The candles are too tall.
He announces himself with a bell before the procession.
I cannot understate what horrors these things can be to some people.
Now, yes, I realize that I am taking a bit of this writing and pointing my finger, not flatteringly, at my own, most beloved, church.
But no church denomination is free of such frivolity. Such superficiality.
What is nonsensical about these arguments is that they are based on knowing what God wants.
God prefers short candles, it seems. And a service that is short and sweet. You’re in. You’re out. With a bite of a donut in between. (The most important part?)
If you ask Helen.
But if you ask Bill, God likes a smoky church with grandiose displays of adoration.
And two-hour-long sung masses.
I have been studying the issue of church unity For Years.
Which makes it sound like a reasonable amount of time.
But it hasn’t been a reasonable amount of time.
It’s been Forever.
Which is to say, that it’s taken me this long to get in front of the study, and not be always running to catch up to whatever fleeting insight I might get from time-to-time.
And here is what I have come up with:
The Problem With The Church – I’m only addressing Christians here – is that the church is treated as the property of the clergy and the bossiest people in the parish.
And Not As The House Of God.
The longer I pondered the concept of “house,” the more I saw what is truly wrong with the entire system.
A house is a place where people live.
The door is designed to let people in.
And let them out again.
A church is the place where God “lives.”
That’s all they are.
The door of a church is designed to let the people in who either want to be with God or whom God has invited.
And what goes on in a house? It’s where a person goes to be maintained and restored. To eat. To relax. To sleep. To connect with family. To be.
So a church is a place where people come to be maintained and restored in the realm of God.
It’s about God’s maintenance. It’s about God’s restoration.
Which is available to everyone and anyone.
It is a place for silence, and for discussion. For crying, and for healing. For finding a way to forgiveness, for others and for ourselves. Even for God. And ultimately a church is a place for God to reconcile himself to us, and for us to reconcile ourselves to God.
When the doors of our churches are opened, is any of this on the list of what we have to offer? On our menu, so to speak?
While our sacraments are designed to accomplish some of these things, is that how they are handled?
Or are they treated, instead, as goodies – party favors – given out to those we approve of? Our friends?
How many people do we allow be healed by receiving communion? Or is it just a line-up, a mysterious act, and then being herded back to our seats?
What has actual meaning in a church?
How many houses do we know of that are only open to the family that lives there once a week?
And are locked tight in between times?
Think about how many houses host a Thanksgiving dinner every year. And the variety of people who are invited and welcomed to that event.
How many of us stretch on that day (and perhaps others) and invite people we know who are lonely, who may not dress as well as we do, who don’t share our views? How many people lengthen their table to accommodate more of their own family, with their own ways of doing things and their own say of expressing themselves?
How many churches think this way? (And not just as a means of getting more people in the church so the plate will fill up that much quicker?)
How many churches work on the basis of the absolute that God’s love belongs to everyone?
And, yes, like every house, there has to be some absolutes.
But these should be kept to a minimum.
We need to help our churches change from basing their membership on the style of shirt collar a person wears – button-downs collars, to that church; spread collars, you are down the street to the left; club collars, you follow those folks; and Nehru collars, you’ll find your group in the meeting room in the hotel across the street.
That’s what we do. Even though we think we do this sorting process for much more important things.
Like the length of a candle.
Priests should not consider themselves to be the be-all and end-all of all things God.
Really. They shouldn’t.
Instead, they should assume the role of the steward of the house.
They are there to look after the smooth-running of the church. And to take care of the people.
When was the last time a priest welcomed people into the church by asking, Is there anything you need? Is there anything I can do for you?
And then setting about to find a way to give that person what they asked for.
Epiphany goes for a while.
So I’ll get to expound on this in later posts.
I’ll end here for now.
But my last word, for today is this:
It is not the church’s responsibility to measure people by the measuring sticks the church itself has created, but to simply ask everyone who comes in the door, How can I serve you?