Canterbury Trail Revisited

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
TLC Correspondent

More than a quarter-century after Wheaton College professor Robert Webber reported a surprising migration of evangelicals to Anglicanism, an updated version of his book now provides a closer look at what keeps the phenomenon going.

Morehouse Publishing released the first revised edition of Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church in January. Webber died in 2007, and Duke University historian Lester Ruth oversaw the revision largely by writing a preface and editing new essays and testimonials.

“They are looking for worship that has a sense of rootedness and connectedness, especially in the sense of well-crafted liturgical texts, that reaches across the ages, is strongly tactile and tangible especially in its sacramentality,” Ruth wrote via email. “They are finding it by migrating to Anglicanism and also Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.”

In testimonial reflections, evangelicals from various backgrounds tell how they appreciate the multiple dimensions of Anglican worship life. They value not only the centrality of the sacraments, but also how worship life consists of more than praise music and preaching. They report that experiencing a full diet of prayer and staying mindful of the liturgical calendar have enriched their spiritual lives.

Tales from the trail are not entirely rosy. David Neff, an editorial vice president of Christianity Today who coauthored an essay for the original 1985 edition with his wife, LaVonne, writes in a new chapter that for him and others, “the charms of either Canterbury or Rome … have lost their sparkle and appeal as spiritual homes.”

Neff is organist and choirmaster at St. Barnabas Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where he and LaVonne settled in their journey away from Seventh-day Adventism. He has stayed, he said, in large measure because he appreciates ancient liturgies and his rector’s skill in managing dynamics within the congregation.

“What has disappointed has been the leadership in both Rome and Canterbury,” Neff wrote via email. “Rome has been too conservative and controlling for me, and Canterbury too progressive and unable to actually lead. New leadership is slated for both places, so we’ll see what the future holds.”

Many who have made the journey, Ruth said, find power in the liturgy, specifically how it doesn’t depend on emotionality for its integrity. Though Anglican worship has an affective side, evangelical contributors find “it does not seem manipulative or coerced,” Ruth said.

“God will be worshiped one way or the other” in Anglican worship, Ruth said. “That happening is not dependent first of all upon the worshiper’s emotions or feelings.”

Canterbury Cathedral from the cloisters by Kai Hendry [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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