Sacramental welcome

If my becoming an Anglican were just about the steadying rhythms of the liturgy, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism would have been paths I would have considered. 

Christ Church, Montreal  

Christ Church, Montreal  

I have been profoundly moved by the Antiochian and Ukrainian Eastern rite worship services I’ve attended. And yet worshiping in Eastern churches feels to me like indulging in the exotic – my inner experience of their worship more like an intrigued tourism, less like an attentive awe. What connects me with worshipers in Eastern churches matters more than what makes me feel like a welcomed stranger – but, a stranger – in their midst. If I had no other options (and some other time I should think out loud about church and choice) I would have accommodated myself to a life of worship in Eastern churches with delight and gratitude.

The public library is perhaps to be blamed for my finding myself more at home in Anglican than Eastern worship. As an Afrikaner I am no more English than I am Arab or Greek or Ukrainian. (I’ll have to say more sometime in the future about the reality that English is the language of the enemy for me, as the great-grandchild of an Orange Free State republican soldier in what my ethnic community continues to remember as the Second War of Liberation – the Second Boer War, in British imperial historiography.) A childhood spent in British novels has, I suppose, given me an English imagination.

Why not Roman Catholic, then? The aesthetics of the Anglican Reformation as it is paradigmatically expressed in the Book of Common Prayer is certainly part of my answer to that question, but here’s the real reason: I want to worship in a church where both men and women may be priests and I want to worship in a church that recognizes the blessedness of both singleness and marriage, the blessedness of both different and same sex marriages. In the Anglican Church in Canada the priestly vocation of women as much as men have been recognized for something like four decades. In the continuation of a legacy inherited from Catholicism, Anglicanism has always recognized and nurtured the blessedness of a celibate singleness, partly so in its continuation of the sodality of religious orders. And in Canadian Anglicanism there is at least the prospect of same sex marriage and, with that prospect in view, no less of a welcome to the sacraments for people in same sex relationships than for anyone else.

Am I right in wanting to worship in such a church? My short answer is: I don’t know. (I am unflinchingly certain of far less now that I have turned fifty than I had been at forty or thirty … and I cannot remember anything with regard to which I was not unflinchingly certain at twenty! I thoroughly trust in the love of God; I gratefully believe that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again; I passionately yearn for God’s renewal of all things in Christ and through the Holy Spirit; I am quite convinced that the Christian Bible is a trustworthy revelation of God to humanity, though lisping in its significance – as John Calvin suggested – and unyielding to efforts seeking to exhaustively master its meaning; I’m quite certain that I’ll be able to confess the Apostle’s Creed without amendment for the remainder of my life. But beyond this handful of durable affirmations, I am quite open to persuasion, however vehemently I may express my many opinions.)

I doubt that what is good, right, and fitting is merely a matter of my own personal preference or opinion. I wager that what is good, right, and fitting can – within limits – be known. And without doubt I am quite frequently wrong about what is good, right, and fitting. It should come as no surprise that one of my very favourite songs is Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” which starts with a confession I hold dear as my own: many’s the time I’ve been mistaken. (Here’s hoping that my Christian friends and I will continue to consider one another to be fellow followers of Jesus even as we disagree – perhaps learning from someone like Alan Jacobs.)

But I don’t believe I am wrong, broadly speaking, in wanting to worship in a church that ordains men and women to the priesthood and that marries couples of different sexes and of the same sex. I am far from ready to make biblical hermeneutical or ethical arguments on either ordination or marriage, even as I believe such arguments are necessary. For now it is enough for me that I see sanctifying lives being lived by my friends in same sex marriages, as much as any other of my fellow believers, and that I am blessed in worship to receive the eucharist, be led in prayer, and hear the good news of Jesus proclaimed by women and men alike. In this setting I feel more truly human, welcome in all of my own frailty, persistently confronted with the holy and loving Jesus.