Monday, 1 October 2012

Anglican Church: An Analysis

I ended up going to the Anglican church mostly out of desperation (see my last post). Although Anglicanism and liturgical churches aren't quite off-my-radar like the Mormon or the JW churches I visited, it's still a bit of a stretch from what I'm used to. Yet one of my cohorts, Jaynette, had been there before and said that last year she had contemplated making it her regular church. Also, my school's chaplain is Anglican. Figuring it couldn't be too bad, I asked Jaynette if she wanted to go again with me.

"I don't think you'll like it," she said, but she agreed to come anyway.

So we dressed up and drove downtown and found a place to park. Then we walked around the building to go inside. I remark on this because my first impression was formed before we ever got inside.


I've been in churches like that before, but never for service.

The problem with awe inspiring architecture and stonework is that it can also be intimidating, but I have to give the church this: the people themselves were very warm and welcoming. The older gentleman who opened the door for us was happy to see us. The "greet your neighbour" time that seems to be universal among churches of every denomination was uplifting. And we were invited to stay for a light lunch afterwards. But more on that later.

Second impression: Wow. Given the formal setting, I'm surprised so many people are in jeans and t-shirts.

There was even one point that a guy in a Rider's jersey got up to pray in front of the congregation. It felt a little odd to watch him, and to simultaneously see the priest behind him, decked out in full ecumenical wear. But I guess in a way, it was a good thing. In my mind, uniformed robes like the church clergy wear not only distinguish the "holy" people from the lay people, but separate them. Yet here, the run-of-the-mill congregants and the clergy interacted and treated each other like normal people, robe or no robe. It was one community - not one set of people putting on a show for another set of people. And even in the football jersey, the man still solemnly bowed his head before the image of Christ at the back of the church before he sat down again.

The service itself was very stimulating. For one thing, Jaynette and I had a fun, if not mildly frantic, time of flipping through the two books and the bulletin that contained the responsive readings and the hymns.

These weren't your average hymnals, yo. They were the "Book of Common Praise" and the "Book of Alternative Services", which were affectionately known as the "Blue" and "Green" books, respectively. My praise book had all the lyrics, but not the music. And you needed the music, because the tunes went all over the place. They were highly creative and pleasant melodies, but not exactly easy to catch on to. And the organ music didn't lend you a lot of clues about where the song was going to go, either.

Jaynette's praise book had the music, but the substantial score made following the stanzas a mind melting task. So basically, I'd end up trying to read both of ours at the same time, which is another trick in and of itself. And then, in the middle of the song, the congregation would stop and go into a responsive reading, which was in neither of our books. Then we'd just scratch our heads until Jaynette discovered that unannounced responsive readings were typed out in the bulletin. Sometimes the readings were in the green book, but if you missed the brief mention of what number was being used, you were lost. I was lost most of the time.

But throughout all the songs and all the responsive readings, I didn't find anything that I felt I couldn't say. Granted, I only found some of it, period. But what I did see and hear was very clear, classic, and poetic.

Impression number three: Aha! I'm catching on to this cue and response thing! We even do some of this at school!

For example, whenever a portion of scripture has been read, the reader will follow it up by saying, "This is the word of the Lord," to which the congregation replies, "Thanks be to God." That's the one we do at school. The church also used one during prayer. Whenever the person who was praying felt like it, they'd say, "Lord, in your mercy," and the congregation would join in, "Hear our prayer." And during the neighbour meet-and-greet, the standard exchange was "Peace be with you," followed by, "And with you."

I like those things. They helped to make sure that you didn't zone out and start thinking about how a ninja could creep along the structural supports or how much starch they used in the ecumenical robes. You had to be paying attention so you could reply appropriately. We use this kind of tactic at kids' day camps, only it feels rather more sacred at this kind of church.

When the priest gave the sermon, I was pleasantly surprised. Usually, when any non-Pentecostal or non-hellfire-and-brimstone pastor is depicted preaching in movies, it's a reverend of the liturgical brand. And the scene usually proceeds like this:

Reverend: drone drone drone
Congregation: yawn.... sniff, blink
Reverend: buzz buzz mumble
Congregation: zzzzzzzzzzz.....

But the priest here was very dynamic, upbeat, and relevant. He cracked a few jokes and at least once prompted someone in the congregation to talk to him. He seemed to have a twinkle in his eye the entire time. Maybe he knew how funny it was to watch a man in ecumenical garb enthusiastically discuss the Avengers movie. Apparently he had only been at the job in this church for a matter of weeks, but he seemed perfectly comfortable. And the sermon was a beautiful mix of one part scriptural exegesis, one part what-that-means-for-us. I got the impression that he would have no problem with challenging the congregation on a point of devotion or morality.

At the end of the service was the Eucharist. They specifically said that anyone who had been baptized in any denomination should feel welcome to take part, and I'm glad they did. It was a special experience. I've done communion many times, but it was done just a little differently here.

First, you lined up and put your hands cupped together to receive the bread. The bread was disgusting, by the way. Not that it matters, but it tasted like styrofoam. At any rate, you waited until the priest came down the line and personally took a piece of "bread", blessed it, and put it into your hands. Then the People's Warden came after him with the shared goblet of wine. Real wine. You took a sip, and then before moving on to the next person, she wiped where you had sipped with a rag to give the appearance of sanitation.

I make jokes, but I found the experience moving and actually felt as if I had been blessed.

After the service was over, the People's Warden introduced herself to us. "Hello," she said, "I'm Carla."

"I'm Carla," I replied.

After musing on the sameness of our names, she invited us to the basement for crackers and cheese, which we accepted. While we were there, several different people came over to find out who we were and to chat. And we kept them quite a while. Jaynette and I had a lot of questions about what exactly the Anglican church believes about the sacraments, salvation, and what role of the queen has (her picture was prominently hung in the basement).

So far as I can tell, they don't believe anything too bizarre or even non-protestant. At least, these ones didn't. I don't know if the priests would claim an apostolic inheritance of their authority or not, but this church seemed pretty down to earth.

I don't know if I could attend an Anglican church full-time for an extended period, simply because I would miss the more laid back Protestant evangelical kind of church I've been raised with. But I would definitely encourage people to visit one from time to time, to remind themselves of how sacred and awe-inspiring God really is.

Unfortunately, I don't have any particularly relevant quote to end this with, so I'll use something I found from Saint Athanasius:

"For God is good, or rather the source of all goodness, and one who is good grudges nothing, so that grudging nothing its existence, he made all things through his own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ." (section three)

If God creates things based on not grudging them, think of how many things he must have created! It's incredible!


Rachel said...

(Sorry that's the best my brain can do, but it is a significant :), not just a random :) at a stranger, it's a :) for you and your post which was great!)
So :)

Wilkie said...

I love your posts. They are thoughtful and well written, but make me laugh and chuckle every time.

art said...

I wonder what an Anglican would think of a laid back protestant church? I wonder if they would consider it even church. I think it is good to try out a bunch of different churches.