Deepening Roots

The Rev. Calvin Lane asks a question at “Anglo-Catholic Roots II.” | By G. Jeffrey MacDonald | TLC

Audio from “Anglo-Catholic Roots II” can be found here.

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Episcopalians gathered in Boston for two days of exploring Anglo-Catholicism’s roots and what it offers a 21st-century world.

“Anglo-Catholic Roots II,” a conference sponsored by Church of the Advent and TLC, gave scholars a platform to discuss the nature of unity in light of Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition. It also gave clergy and laity a chance to probe their tradition for insight into how to live their faith in challenging times.

“I’m committed to serving the Lord Jesus and I want to be able to be a witness for him in the world today,” said Anastasia O’Melveny, a parishioner at Church of the Advent. “But there are so many negative things that so-called Christians do that when someone says What’s your religion? I hesitate to say Christian because they will think of you through this lens. That’s very, very upsetting.

“So I look at this conference as a sign that we’re all searching for ways to make the church a living witness for the Lord.”

Anglo-Catholicism is a strain of Anglicanism that traces its beginnings to the Oxford Movement of the 19th century, which gave rise to a cohort of street priests who worked among the destitute in England’s cities. It’s marked by emphases on traditional liturgical worship, orthodox doctrine, service among the poor, and radical hospitality.

Anglo-Catholicism has shown signs of dying out in recent decades, said the Rev. Jeff Hanson, Roots II organizer, a research associate in philosophy at Harvard University and curate for Christian education at Church of the Advent, which hosted Roots II on Nov. 1 and 2. But the movement has more to offer than has been realized, he said.

“The Anglo-Catholic tradition did not set out to say, Well, we’d better bring back chasubles,” Hanson said. “That wasn’t the first impulse. The first impulse was revival.” He said early Anglo-Catholics emphasized how church was for everyone, not just for patrons who had paid for a box or a pew, and a church for all can be energizing.

“I want to see that vision come back where the Anglo-Catholic tradition, it seems to me, ought to be a rival for something like Catholic social teaching,” Hanson said. “We all recognize the body of moral teaching and instruction shaped by Roman Catholic theology. But I don’t think we know a thing in the world about what sort of moral vision was articulated by ourpredecessors.”

Before turning to social and political implications, Hanson said, Anglo-Catholics need to find their common moorings in the tradition’s core principles. To that end, Bishop John Bauerschmidt of the Diocese of Tennessee set the tone with a talk on church unity and how it depends on preserving orthodox beliefs.

“Scriptures create sacraments and episcopate,” Bauerschmidt said. “These elements have roots that stretch back to the first centuries of the church. They are explicitly the basis of the unity that characterizes our own churches in the Anglican Communion.”

In the Scriptures, he said, are common beliefs that transcended local settings of the early Church. The Bible also contains warnings about heresy, or false teachings that lead followers astray and create division that leads to destruction. Among the texts he cited was Titus 3:9-11, which calls for avoidance of “stupid controversies” and consequences for “anyone who causes divisions.”

“There the heretic is one who causes divisions, rather than any formal concept of false doctrine,” Bauerschmidt said. “We’re more accustomed to think of division as schism, but there is a common thread of thought. The heretic chooses his or her own truth, while the schismatic chooses his or her own leadership. It’s the preference for one’s own that provides the connection.”

Bauerschmidt said he does not want to restore heresy trials. He argued instead that heresy can be “an important diagnosis tool” for assessing what lies at the heart of church divisions.

On the conference’s second day, four presenters further explored the theme of church unity and its nature. Among them, Virginia Theological Seminary theologian Katherine Sonderegger engaged the topic of “Catholic Visibility.” Christopher Wells, editor of TLC and executive director of its foundation, explored “Anglican Augustinianisms.”

Laypeople listened for deeper insight into their tradition, which has enjoyed a resurgence of late in Boston, where it is drawing even hard-to-reach demographic groups from across one of America’s least religious cities.

It is not uncommon, parishioners and clergy say, for Church of the Advent to pack its 11:15 a.m. Rite I High Mass to near capacity on an average Sunday. Unlike many Episcopal congregations, Church of the Advent attracts more men than women to worship, and millennials are well-represented.

“Now there’s a sort of critical mass, and they bring other young people of that age,” said the Rev. Jay James, associate rector at Church of the Advent. “That was not representative of the church 25 or 30 years ago. It was dying off.”

Parishioner Mike Rolish credits the parish’s strong music program and aesthetics in High Mass liturgy.

“If you go to the service on Sunday with the choir, it’s amazing,” said Rolish, 36, a former Lutheran who develops software for a hedge fund. “Most religious millennials go to contemporary services, which are a more emotional experience. It is what it is. But it’s hard to find this level of beauty outside of major cities like Boston, New York, or Philadelphia,”

“Roots II” marked the second time in as many years that Church of the Advent has hosted a November conference on Anglo-Catholicism. The parish hopes to host two more in 2019 and 2020, Hanson said. He would be glad to see it be sustained as an annual tradition if other congregations or institutions will host it after 2020.

Audio from “Anglo-Catholic Roots II” can be found here.


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