For years when asked about my faith I have described myself succinctly as “high Churchman of the Anglican catholic tradition” to fellow Episcopalians. However, it’s only recently come to my attention how little understood this statement is…even though it’s pretty much straight from the Oxford dictionary.
Even a decade or so ago such a statement would have been understood by most well-read Episcopalians or Anglicans. Further, my distaste for the term “Episcopalian” may well have been misunderstood as well. As a person aspiring to represent my parish as a vestryman I found it necessary to clarify my position and I repeat that clarification here.
First, and before all, I believe Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ). I made that surrender publicly in a Baptist church and by that became a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, even though I didn’t know at at the time. Even the largest cities in the American south were provincial, at best, at that time and most of us assumed the Southern Baptist Convention was the predominant expression of Christianity on the planet. What a shock to find out in college that it could only be described as a “niche” movement when one realized it represented only a tiny number of the billions of Christians in the world.
Second, I believe in unity of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. It was this expression of my faith that led me to the Anglican catholic tradition as being the most faithful steward of that belief. While there are many practices by Rome that I find theologically unsupported, it is, in fact, only their communion rail being closed to all Christians not on their rolls that prevented my joining that branch of the church. I do not support further splits within my chosen expression excepting the case that it should separate itself from the one holy catholic and apostolic tradition.
Third: Everything else.
As to “Episcopalian,” my issue is not so much with anything political but the word itself as being understood by only a few within the church and almost no one without.
Samuel David McConnell put it best in the introduction to his “History of the American Episcopal Church 1600-1915”
“I shall speak of it habitually as “the Church“–not as arrogating for it an exclusive right to that title, but because its legal name is uncouth and clumsy.“
Finally, as to ”protestant,” I reject that term entirely and ask those who use it “Just what is it you are protesting?” I rarely get an answer that makes any theological sense. The historically correct term used by historians is “the English Reformation” as opposed to the Protestant Reformation of Calvin, Cromwell, et al. Numerous attempts as far back as the Oxford movement, the period of Muhlenberg and Wilberforce, and in the 20th century as well have been made to change it to reflect our true nature but none have yet succeeded. It is noteworthy that one will not find the word “protestant” on the home page of the national organization. That which has not been accomplished de jure has been done de facto.
Given this has turned into an essay, might as well provide a definition for my usage of “high churchman.”
High Church — n 1. the party or movement within the Church of England stressing continuity with Catholic Christendom, the authority of bishops, and the importance of sacraments, rituals, and ceremonies — adj
High-Churchman 2. of or relating to this party or movement — n
Do not make the assumption that “smells, bells, and chants” are required for me or anyone. I prefer this form of group worship due to the beauty and discipline involved in the group experience of a high Anglican mass. When enveloped in clouds of Frankincense and Sarum plainsong I feel one with 19 centuries of Christians. The acolytes on torch bring to mind the torchbearers flanking the officiant holding the Word and leading the persecuted Christians into a dark, secret place in the first century of our faith.
You may find it odd that my home parish is a low church. Well, while I love the high church experience there isn’t one in my neighborhood and while I could go to another church the members wouldn’t be my neighbors. A Christian should serve their neighbors.
All the above I express in the “via media” of catholicity, evangelism, and liberalism. I see my home parish as a fine example of this. We are founded in the continuous expression of the one holy catholic and apostolic church as received by us through the continuity of the Church of England back to Gilda’s statement in his “De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae” that the British church was started by Christians with Claudius expedition in 47 AD, making it contemporaneous with the earliest patristic and apostolic congregations of believers. I also fully support our evangelical outreach through our contemporary services and community outreach to share the good news, the authority of the scripture and a personal relationship with Christ. Finally, I greatly value our liberal tradition of open communion with all Christians, the use of reason in theological exploration, and creative response to wider advances in human knowledge.
UPDATE: 45 years after leaving, I have returned to my home parish of St. James in Texarkana. It is a high church of the Anglican catholic tradition. When I introduced myself to the rector my first time back and told him how long I’d been away, he looked me straight in the face and said “Is this religion as you remember it?” It was, and I am still not quite sure who that message was from…