Recently I received a handwritten letter. Handwritten letters are quite an event in our higtech communication culture. This letter came to me from an Anglican priest in Bolton Est, Quebec. He had read an article I wrote called “Why I Remain An Anglican” (see separate post below) and had called me on the telephone (another quaint practice) in response.

At the end of our conversation, I encouraged him to write down his thoughts and send them to me. This summer I received his reply and received his permission to share it on my blog. I find these words quite touching. I do not know much about John Serjeantson. We have never met. My impression is that he may not be in the first flush of youth. So I find the spirit in which he writes quite touching. His words speak to me of a profound combination of passion for Christian truth and yet openness to different expressions of faith that I believe represents something that is deep and profound in our Anglican way of being Christian.

10 August 2010

Dear Christopher Page,

Some time ago you invited me to send you my reasons for remaining an Anglican. This was after I commented on your article “Why I Remain An Anglican.” (see January 24, 2009 Some of the reasons appear to me to be more ‘valid’ than others. I have come to understand that for me it is helpful both to make a list of reasons why I remain Anglican and why I would like to change. There are presuppositions that have not come to mind on both sides. One needs to start somewhere.

I am aware that I am a Christian first who happens to be an Anglican now partly by conviction. I was brought up in England in a Church of England subculture. It wasn’t ’till I came to Canada, as a young man working has way round the world in 1959, that I had an experience of being loved by God and hat this love is shown in the person of Jesus. It was a pivotal experience for me. It was soon after this that I had the conviction of being called to be a priest. This I write because it all happened for the most part amongst those who were Anglican. I saw no reason to change. That, then would be my initial reason for being an Anglican. Since I have not had, in my estimation, sufficient reason to change. though I have from time to time had inclination.

There is a part of me that would like to be more fundamentalist than I am. It would have saved a lot of heartache. However, it would not have been true to Jesus as I understand him.

I find Anglicanism (which I understand to be a system) is closer to our Jewish older brothers and sisters, than many other traditions in the Christian Church. This I like.

I find that there is room in the Anglican way to maneuver. There is room for John Spong and John Stott etc. I am excited by the authority structure of Bible, Tradition, Reason and would add, as some do, Experience. I like having these four, although adhering to them and what they symbolize has caused me pain. (Although I have misgivings re: the historic episcopate and its fragility, it ties us to history, which I consider important.) As part of this tie to history are the roots of the Anglican tradition way past Henry VIII into the mists of the first century, before the coming of the Christian faith to Britannia, during the time of the Romans. Our Christian Celtic roots (I am interested in Celtic Christianity and its meshing with the Roman shape of the faith to the Reformation till today are important for me.

I agree with Herbert O’Driscoll that there needs to be renewed study of Scripture. Yet it needs to be done in conjunction with Reason. There needs to be a balance in interpretation through the lens of much profound modern knowledge. This is not forbidden in the basic Anglican way, though it may be within certain Anglican circles. In this I rejoice although, as I mentioned, the outworking of it I sometimes painful.

One of the reasons I consider leaving is because of Tradition. Tradition with a capital “T” I find enlightening; but the traditions spelt with a small “t”, which abound, I find claustrophobic, stultifying. I remember Archbishop Andrew Hutchison once said we Anglicans sometimes worship our small “t” traditions.

I include Experience because without it I would not be where I am today. It made the difference. As someone once said, it makes the difference between the steak in the freezer and the steak in the frying pan.

Although there are elements in the Anglican way which would come against it, there is a path within its genius that can enable the way into the future. I believe that people like Gary Nicolosi and Phyllis Tickle (The Great Emergence) are prophets of this. Also there are people like Cynthia Bourgeault, Julian of Norwich as interpreted by Holly Ratcliffe.

I look with foreboding at what I can only describe as a new legalism descending on our tradition, as represented for me in the Diocese of Montreal in our new clergy handbook. Yet at the same time I read through our synod journal and am amazed at what is being done in “Christ’s” name.

I am finding this hard. I am sorry it is such a hodge-podge. We are in the process of selling/buying a house. Yet somehow it is important for me to do this. I am grateful that you are asking these same questions, or similar at least, and that you are willing to receive my contribution.

We have been discussing in our local clericus, the nature of Anglicanism. Some consider that the Anglican Communion Covenant is contrary to what it means to be an Anglican. The pre-reformation church, the 39 Articles, the BCP preface, the 1893 declaration, are all part of the expression of a church rooted in history and yet changing. It seems to me that we belong to a body/an organization that came into being by an Event, a Person that is past human categorizing. All through the church’s history people have been trying to put into words something that is beyond human systems.

In an article in our Montreal Anglican newspaper William Converse quoted Immanuel Kant defining “monstrous” in this way. “An object is monstrous when by its size it defeats the end that forms its concept.” It seems to me that the Jesus event by its “size” “defeats” all attempts to define it, creeds, philosophizing, theologies, even the writings of St. Paul. I consider that it is part of the Anglican genius that we respect tradition and learn from it. Yet we are not hemmed in by it. We are open to new ways of being and understanding. The Jesus event is greater than we can express in words. So, to paraphrase Jesus when he is speaking about himself: “something greater than Solomon and Jonah is here.” (Luke 11:29-32). Somehow in the Anglican ethos we have an openness to receive that which is new. We are thus free to express ancient truths in fresh ways. I believe it was Winston Churchill who said something like this, “Democracy is a bad system, but it is the best we’ve got.” I would say something like that about Anglicanism as a system. Considering human perversity it has various checks and balances.

It is both democratic (Synods) and autocratic (bishops, rectors). It deals to some extend with the human inclination towards power and control. It is perhaps too cognitive in its approach, not allowing the Spirit enough room, frowning on emotions, and perhaps by its set up enabling the projection of the shadow side. Some don’t like what might be described as its laissez-faire attitude. One reason they want to be told what to do and to believe. There is a certain attractiveness in this. Eric Fromm wrote an interesting book, Escape from Freedom. Many of us don’t want that freedom.

Paul wrote in I Corinthians 14:8 “if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle.” This it seems to me is one of the weaknesses of Anglicanism – an uncertain note.

There is an element in me that would like not to belong to any organized tradition – just have a spirituality. Yet if I did this I consider I would be going contrary to the particularity and belonging evidenced in Jesus’ call of the 12 and the disciples. God is the centre of the fellowship. Yet it is a fellowship of fallible sinners on a journey, like myself.

As Anglicans were are not hemmed in by a particular cosmology, by particular interpretations, definitions. This has its plus and down side.

Well I could write a lot more, but think this is enough. Thank you for your article “Why I Remain An Anglican,” much of which I would say “Amen” to. Included is an article I wrote for the Montreal Diocesan paper, which expresses part of why I remain an Anglican. p. 6.

Shalom and Prayers for you Sincerely,

John Serjeantson