The Rich Soil of Anglicanism

After the Eucharist - St. Luke's West Holloway

I’m in London for the Annual General Meeting of the Compass Rose Society which begins on Monday.  Part of what I love about the Anglican Communion is its theological breadth and liturgical diversity.

For me, the Anglican tradition is less about institutional preservation  – though I believe the tested wisdom and organizational strength of that tradition is a charism worth preserving  – and more about being rooted in rich spiritual, liturgical and theological soil.  It’s the same soil that gave us Julian of Norwich, Thomas Cranmer, C.S. Lewis, Rowan Williams, and Katherine Jefferts Schori for goodness sake!  We are living in a time where we need leaders, deeply rooted in the wisdom of Jesus, to till this soil in a rapidly changing world and post-Christian context.

It was Archbishop Rowan Williams who aptly coined the phrase “a mixed economy” to describe the kind of church which might emerge if this post-Christian context is taken to heart. Traditional or “inherited” understandings of what it means to be the Church, and emerging “fresh expressions,” should ideally be seen as complementary aspects of a single coherent ecclesiology.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes in London today.

Fr. Dave Tomlinson

This morning I attended the 11:00 Liturgy at St. Luke’s West Holloway, a parish church currently led by Fr. Dave Tomlinson, whose preaching and writing  I have admired for some time (see his Re-Enchanting Christianity here). On the parish website, Fr. Tomlinson states:

“I think I’ve the best job in the world! I’ve been the vicar of St Luke’s since 2000, and I’m more enthusiastic about the job now than the day I first took it on. St Luke’s is a glorious mishmash of people – young and old, men and women, black and white, gay and straight – who have found in this place somewhere to belong, somewhere to make friends, somewhere to grow personally and spiritually, somewhere to laugh and weep together, somewhere to explore the mystery we call God. We are a church that tries to combine the rich and broad tradition of Christianity with insights and understandings from the present, and this is reflected in our theology and worship. ”

These words are congruent with what I encountered at St. Luke’s this morning.  I was warmly welcomed both before and after the service and felt quickly at home in the open and creative set-up of the worship space.  The liturgy included a judicious use of video, poetry, and music, featuring both an adult and children’s choir accompanied by piano and organ.  The theme, based on the lectionary readings, was the “God of Creation,” and Dave concluded his fine sermon with a video setting of the poem ‘Wild Geese‘ by Mary Oliver.  It takes both spiritual sensitivity and artistic skill to blend traditional and modern elements together in a liturgy like this, and as one who believes liturgy demands our very best, I was pleased to see both elements in good evidence.

Evensong at St. James, Paddington

This evening, I made my way to St. James Paddington for a traditional liturgy of Choral Evensong.  Here I experienced a liturgy more catholic in style, in a gothic space enriched by a brilliantly designed lighting system, professional choir, dignified ceremonial, and the scent of fragrant incense beckoning the faithful to raise their hearts in glad adoration of the living God.

At St. James, Paddington,  the music of Orlando Gibbons, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittus, the chanted psalm, the Biblical readings, the choral anthems, the opening and closing organ voluntaries, were faithfully offered–leading us into the Divine Mystery at the heart all things.  Two very different approaches to worship yet one Spirit inspiring and blessing us all.

Very rich soil indeed.