Beginning with a title like ‘Why the World Needs Anglicanism’ makes me want to back pedal and ask ‘Does the World Need Anglicanism’? Does this world need this particular expression of faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ? I don’t know. But I do believe that Anglicanism offers much that is beneficial to the world.. particularly in our time. So what are our unique characteristics that we can lean into as Anglicans as we inhabit this world within our individual communities and cultures?
When I fell into into Anglican Christianity in 2004 while living on the island of Ireland, I had just come through a time in the desert, spiritually-speaking. I had spent my whole life worshipping in an array of evangelical Protestant traditions. Prior to entering the Anglican Communion, I had begun to experience what I can only call a frustration, an irritation, in my soul. Whether it was due to personal circumstances, deconstructionism of cultural Christianity, or something else.. I felt like I was in a sealed room and the oxygen was running out. I was restless, angsty and ready to jump ship – so I did. I didn’t renounce faith in Christ.. I invited God to engage me in my doubts and questioning as an active participant and conversation partner. Oh, and I resigned from my job in the UK with no other job to replace it.
With the clock ticking, my family and I had just a few weeks before we faced a subsequent move back to the U.S. to live in our parent’s home, while we reassessed our lives and sense of vocation, when I was offered a job within the Anglican Communion. The Church of Ireland Youth Department was in need of a Youth Ministry Development Worker for the Republic of Ireland. With no other non-churchy prospects, I accepted the role not knowing more than a pipe bowl full of tobacco about Anglicanism. But only a few years into my role, I heard myself say something I don’t remember thinking ahead of time.. “I could remain in this tradition for the rest of my life.” By the grace of God, I had found my tribe, my people, by walking backwards into the Anglican Communion.
After only 15 years in this quirky and wonderful band of believers, here’s what I have come to know and love about them (us!).. Anglicanism has a Reach, a Rootedness, and a Rhythm in the context of Relationships and Rest. I give you the ‘Five R’s of Anglicanism’! There have been times in my journey of faith when the underlying understanding of certain Christian traditions, and their implied applications, caused me to feel like I was navigating a narrow labyrinthian passage of colorless grey walls and low ceilings, in little light. I need space to breathe – actually and metaphorically. When I began living into the culture of Irish/British Anglicanism I started to feel alive again. My soul had room to run, dance (something I don’t often do), explore and wonder. There was an inbuilt flexibility which allowed for unique contextualization, not only in disparate cultures but within particular generational proclivities, without compromising the truth of God in Christ and the Scriptures. Anglicanism had breadth and depth. It had a Reach which I had not experienced to that point.
If any tradition is to call itself ‘Christian’ it must stand under both the Scriptures and the revealed Word of God in Jesus Christ. Most of the traditions I’ve participated in throughout my life have held the Bible in high regard, while worshipping Jesus Christ as Lord and God. When a community of faith does both, in word and deed, they become an enigma (or a perceived threat), in a world that worships self – naturally believing personal preference is a fundamental human right – even at the expense of the wider community. An untethered, esoterrogative (alert: intentionally made-up word) people need a cure for their souls outside themselves. What I found in Anglicanism is a Rootedness in the immutable Word of God, through regular, intentional participation in the private and public reading of it. Since its inception, Anglicanism has celebrated the public reading of the Bible so those within hearing would be saturated in words of life, and marinated in the light of God, in order to be transformed. As Cranmer intentionally employed in the Book of Common Prayer, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”.
Another captivating aspect of Anglicanism that I felt soon after discovering it was a distinct Rhythm which mirrored the seasons of the the year, the passage of life and, more importantly, the grand Story of God. It took some time for me to get in step with the cadence of the liturgical year, but I now gratefully enter into the movement of it, celebrating its ebbs and flows through color, liturgy and pace. You are, quite literally, invited to enter into what God has done, is doing, and will do on behalf of His Creation. Our hyper-stimulated western society needs an antidote to its manic, distracted tendencies. The rhythm of tradition offers us a running partner to help us stay in step with God’s gait, His activity and the timbre of His voice as He, in Christ, continues His world-renewing work (Rev. 21:5).
In contrast to our human tendency to institutionalize and regulate through hierarchical systems, the Anglican Communion (in principle) is predicated upon maintaining good Relationships. This is the most aspirational aspect of Anglicanism, but one that is worth fighting for. Everything God does revolves around relationship. Embedded in the very triune nature of God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, is the demonstration of healthy, wholesome relationship. The ancient notion of perichoresis illustratesGod’s intention for His Creation, and specifically, His children. This Greek term depicts the three Persons of the Trinity mutually deferring to one another, as in a dance, allowing the others to take center stage. It’s the desire for the ultimate good of the other, and the intention to work toward it, that most clearly defines the relationship we, as God’s children, are invited to participate in. Relationship implies a connectedness and inter-dependency on one another that radically interrupts our fallen nature’s tendency toward independence. When the love of God does not take precedence above all else, things fall apart. But in its best moments, the Anglican Communion can be a beautiful glimpse of what is to come when Jesus Christ makes all things new.
Finally, due to its historical origins and its particular DNA, Anglicanism’s natural, default posture is one of balance. From the hard work exerted in its inception during the Elizabethan religious settlement, and the resulting mantra ‘via media’ (middle way), the Anglican Church has often sought to position itself between extreme modes of thought and practice, preferring instead to inhabit a place of tension between extremes. To the consternation of many who may have perceived Anglicans to be indecisive on certain issues, we have instead preferred the ‘third way’ which, in some cases, allows for a both/and, rather than an either/or, viewpoint. In our presently polarized society, seeking to find middle ground on many fronts (at the very least in mutual consent to respectfully disagree), is a priceless practice. I have come to greatly value this characteristically Anglican disposition of Rest,which I can morally, intellectually and faithfully inhabit as an environment that nurtures life by giving God space to act as He wills.
Does the world need Anglicanism? I don’t know. It does however need a people working for the renewal of all things who faithfully follow in the steps of the Savior, Jesus, who are fueled by the love of the Father, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit. These ‘Five R’s of Anglicanism’ – Reach, Rootedness, Rhythm, Relationship and Rest – are an invaluable resource which can inform the way we live as ‘Peregrini pro Christo’ (wanderers for Christ) while we have both feet on terra firma. What do you think? How can we be faithful to Christ, as we authentically lean into our Anglican tradition, for the good of our world? I’m certain of one thing.. with Jesus in the lead, the best is always yet to come! (Ephesians 1:3, 3:20-21).
Fr. Shane Tucker
Spiritual Director @ Soul Friend
Anglican Priest @ St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, Ohio, USA