Due to the varied circumstances of my life, if my family were making it to a bricks and mortar church, we would not be attending an Anglican one. Not only that, but, for reasons of my own, I have become a lay president of Holy Communion at the Free Methodist Church we attend. You would think that this would mean that I have shaken my Anglican identity. After all, in some ways, Anglicans would seem to have a weaker identity than some other Christians. For example, we have no single theologian or founder we lionise like Calvin, Luther, or the Wesleys.
Nevertheless, there is such a thing as Anglican identity, and I have never escaped it.
I remember when I first realised my own Anglican heart. Back in undergrad, I wanted to be a “mere” Christian, not necessarily deeply committed to any particular expression of the Faith. However, when my faith was challenged in any way, my answers always came up Anglican: a leaning towards liturgy, agreeing with the 39 Articles on everything but predestination, that sort of thing.
Lately, worshipping at home via Internet has reinforced for me my own Anglican identity. Certainly, I’ve never given up using or loving the Book of Common Prayer. And when I want to think about certain issues, such as how to do moral theology or the theology of the sacraments, I find myself referring to the 39 Articles. I do, however, greatly prefer the historic Anglican liturgical process to modern evangelical worship events.
This has become apparent because there is no nursery full of volunteers where we can send our children when their attention spans run out during the livestream of our own church service. As a result, the few Sundays we tried joining our church’s livestream, we found ourselves attempting to quieten preschoolers or just missing the majority of the service, including most if not all of the sermon.
Furthermore, sitting at a computer for church makes you aware of how much of a spectator you are at these events. There are two or three songs prerecorded, but for the rest of the church event, we sit and listen to the children’s pastor and the main pastor talk to us. The live chat helps mitigate these feelings to a degree, but it’s not actually instantaneous. And preschoolers just don’t care.
So after making it through one week of that, we started adding my brother’s rural Anglican church via Zoom right after. They do a modified Morning Prayer from the Canadian Book of Alternative Services. My brother leads the liturgy, one parishioner leads the hymns with her piano at home, and there is one reader each for the Scripture readings, plus yet another parishioner for the Prayers of the People. We are expected to say the Lord’s Prayer, responsory Psalm, and Creed together, although it was learned early on that Zoom doesn’t deal well with that, so we end up keeping our mics on mute.
There is a lot of congregational participation at an Anglican service. The minister leads the worship — although he need not do so for Morning Prayer — and preaches. Various other voices join in, and we pew-warmers have things to say and do as well.
We are not spectators but participants. This is the nature of historic liturgy — even if sometimes, a High Mass by the Anglo-Catholics or Roman Catholics, and some Orthodox congregations might give you the wrong idea. We not only give our, “Amens,” we also give our “Kyrie eleisons”, our “Pater Nosters”, our “Gloria Patris”, our “Glorias in excelsis Deo”, our “Alleluias”, our “Credos”.
And when we are able to gather in the flesh, we give our bodies — standing, sitting, kneeling.
Richard Hooker may make me want to be an Anglican (as I recently told my brother). I may agree with most of the 39 Articles. But even without these, the Anglican order of worship draws me in and ushers me to the throne of grace. It doesn’t really matter if I don’t go to an Anglican church regularly, or how many Orthodox, mediaeval, patristic books I read, or how I feel about the larger structures of Anglicanism, or how often I pray the Jesus Prayer, or how many postcards of Byzantine mosaics adorn my desk.
Anglican identity is inescapable.