by Lorraine Cavanagh
from Signs of the Times No. 69 - Apr 2018
At a time when Anglicanism is in danger of disintegration, this collection of short essays reminding us of the joys of being Anglican could not be more welcome.
In these fractious and difficult times, we badly need to be reminded of the subtle joys which Anglicanism has always brought to the practice of the Christian faith. Joy is not only of God, but is constituent of Anglican freedom, the essential freedom of belonging together in Christ. Each of the contributors celebrates the freedom which comes to us in the hospitality of God, and in the loving engagement of God’s purposes for world and community, focusing it on the iconic presence of the church in any given context.
We read of the real significance of church buildings not only as sacred spaces, but also as open spaces which permit Godly joy through mirroring God’s hospitality in new and imaginative uses of church buildings. The joy of prayer and liturgy, too often kept separate, are brought together in essays contributed by Simon Cowling, Rachel Mann and Daniel Newman. Rachel Mann’s thoughtful engagement with some of Anglican’s greatest poets takes us into the realm of the contemplative and is a reminder of how Anglicanism has both inspired and supported the contemplative life and the art which it has produced over centuries. A closing interview with Leigh Nixon, former chorister and longtime music associate of Westminster Abbey, gives special weight to the place of choral music, and music in general, in the life of the church as a worshipping community, from cathedral to small country parish.
As a late convert to Anglicanism, I have always been particularly grateful for its theological breadth and for its down to earth approach to the human condition. It is not by nature either ponderous or doctrinaire, although the lightness of touch and generosity of spirit which, until now, have been the mark of Anglican ecclesial authority are being strained to the limit by misplaced notions of uniformity, too often mistaken for unity. The book serves as a timely reminder of the fragility of the unrelenting strain placed on it by reactive conservatism and anxious managerialism.
In this respect, Paul Kerensa’s essay on the joy of laughter is particularly valuable. Not only are we given permission to laugh in church, laughter being, after all, the natural expression of joy, but his piece also suggests that it is high time the Church of England took itself less seriously, especially if it is to retain the particularly English resilience needed to weather the crises and controversies of both church and politics today. Laughter is the most effective antidote to the ills which accompany serious religion.
I would highly recommend this short and readable book as an overview of the salient features which make Anglicanism so attractive and ultimately so compellingly lovable. It would be an excellent introduction for those preparing for adult Confirmation, or for any formal engagement with their own Anglican church, such as agreeing to serve on the PCC or to become a churchwarden. The latter would find John Witcombe’s essay on vocation, and Victor and Nolavy Osoro’s on service, particularly inspiring. Ultimately, this is a book for all who would like to explore ways of transcending the politics of difference, which all too often dominate church life at every level, with a view to embracing one another in the joy promised to us in Jesus Christ.