Is the Church of England a Coffee Chain?

November 10, 2010 § 7 Comments

Bishop Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, is one of the ‘flying’ Bishops who has announced his resignation and intention to become a Roman Catholic and join the ordinariate. I wish him well: he has been a formative influence on me from the moment, 22 years ago, that we evangelical theological students at St John’s Nottingham had to go and learn what would happen if we were to say Mass at a neighbouring anglo catholic parish and he taught me how to genuflect. We shared ministry in Southwell Diocese. We debated Prayer and the Departed for Praxis once. We had time together on the Liturgical Commission, particularly on the Daily Office Group. I’m glad that he’s one of the ‘authors’ who signed my Common Worship book at the end of the Commission’s work on it. His is a decision I fully respect. His Pastoral Letter is here.

He’s being quoted this week as to some of his reasons for going, and it’s this I want to think about. He’s worried that there are too many versions of the C of E, and likens it to retail chains which need to preserve their brand image. He says (to the Telegraph)

If Costa Coffee, every time you went to a branch, did something different and you didn’t know what the product was, they would go out of business.
We have got to the stage now in the Church of England where there are so many different products that you don’t know what you’re going to get.

The interview seems to suggest that it’s flavours of worship which are assumed here, though it alaso mentions the fact that some churches will have women priests and some won’t. Well…if it’s about worship style then we are in no different a position now than we were years ago – right back to the 1870s when permission was given to do other services as well as the classic BCP ones, and even before that when some started getting ‘high’ under the influence of the Oxford Movement. It would have been very hard, a century ago, to say that the C of E was as unified in its ‘product’ as Costa is now. The Liturgical Commission of which Andrew and I were members made quite a lot of the fact that our worship was not uniform, but had ‘family likeness’. Some of us think it’s a strength.

If diversity is a problem, then I wonder what the effect of the Ordinariate will be on the Roman Catholic Church. Take the home life of priests for example. There are already some Roman Catholic priests who are married – those who have converted from the C of E, for example (of whom my ecumenical colleague in Beverley is one). But there will be loads more in the ordinariate, Andrew among them Have a look here at an amazingly powerful RC view of what this influx might do to the standing of the celibate priesthood they are joining.The ex anglicans in the ordinariate will be straining at the uniformity of the way priesthood is practised inthe RC church, won’t they?

And what about uniformity of worship? What can a faithful RC worshipper expect when they go to an ordinariate church? Here’s the relevant bit of Anglicanorum Coetibus, helpfully provided by the excellent St John’s Sevenoaks Blog:

II. Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman Rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.

In other words, Anglican liturgies (suitably tweaked and approved) will be OK. Won’t this mean that an RC, looking for their familiar product, will find it a bit changed? A Common Worship Eucharist with a priest whose wife and children may well be in tow doesn’t do much for the uniformity of the chain.

I’m sure that Bishop Andrew’s thinking is a lot more subtle than that: I have personal cause to be grateful for his fine mind and pastoral generosity. And I wish him nothing but good things. But I think that the diversity of the C of E is one of our strengths, and I’m not sure that the kind of uniformity Andrew seems to be arguing for is as good as it’s cracked up to be. If it is, then an influx of anglicans doing anglican stuff in the RC fold might be more complicated than he might wish.


§ 7 Responses to Is the Church of England a Coffee Chain?

  • Bishop Andrew also suggests that

    “The pioneering Ordinariate groups, when they come into being, will be ‘fresh expressions of church’..”

    I wondered what you think about that idea 🙂

  • Simon, that’s wonderful!! Why didn’t I spot it? So much more for Giles to get his teeth into. I look forward to the column.

  • Doug Chaplin says:

    Surely longer than 22 years ago, Jeremy, even if not by much.

    Oddly, no-one ever sent me to learn how to say Mass down the road in Beeston, and possibly optimistically may have assumed college chapel had taught me how to take Communion services!

  • Fr Edward Martin says:

    There is both uniformity and diversity within the Roman Church. There are the linguistic variations of the translations of the normative Latin Missal and Breviary, the monastic variations of the Office and Mass (the Carthusians being one example) and also the local variations of the Roman Rite including those of Milan and, more recently, the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite in the US (a very odd beast if you ask me). We shouldn’t forget that the Eastern Rite is also used within the Roman Communion. There is plenty of diversity there but also, I would say, a detectable uniformity of doctrine, practice and teaching.

    I think the question that +Andrew asks is whether or not a clear uniformity within Anglican belief and practice can still be detected from our worship and formularies? If someone asked me what Roman Catholics believe I would recommend they attend a Mass (any of the above) and read the Roman Catechism. But what about us? If someone were to ask the same question about Anglican belief would I recommend they attend any local Parish and read the Prayer Book Catechism? Probably not (although I don’t think reading the Prayer Book Catechism would do them any harm!). The reality that I’m going to have to ask my PCC to folk out another couple of hundred quid for the new CW altar editions (editions!) has reinforced to me that with variety must also come some degree of consistency otherwise variety for variety’s sake can only benefit publishers and runs the risk of allowing the faith and witness of the Church to be manipulated and distorted (after all, isn’t variety supposed to be a different way of saying / expressing the same thing?).

    We certainly have variety in the CofE but can we also claim the same degree of consistency in doctrine and practice? As long as CW and its successors are only ‘alternatives’ to the BCP I’ll sleep easy on this issue, beyond that I’m not too sure.

  • Sarah says:

    Doesn’t our consistency lie in the common affirmation of the Apostolic, Athanasian and Nicene creeds?

  • Stefan says:

    “We have got to the stage now in the Church of England where there are so many different products that you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

    At least the CofE knows this and celebrates their diversity. In fact, if you do your research, you do know what you’re going to get: churches advertise themselves as Anglo-Catholic, evangelical, liberal, etc. You don’t even have to be an internet sleuth! If my parish church has, over the past ten years, started putting the Vicar’s name as Fr. and referring to the Sunday Mass on its noticeboard, it’s pretty obvious the ‘brand of coffee’ you’re going to get there.

    Not so the Roman church. Sometimes they deign to inform you on their list of Sunday services that the 10:30 Mass is the ‘Family Mass’, the 12:30 is ‘Said’ and the 18:00 is ‘With Youth Group’. No mention, of course, as to the particular worship style or the church’s general place on the belief spectrum. I can recall hardly any Roman churches which have acknowledged the diversity within their church and advertised that they may do something distinctive, or occupy a particular place within the varying traditions. No – you pop along to Mass, and you get what you’re given. Which, in too many cases in my experience, has been quite frankly awful and depressing.

    +Burnham really has got the wrong end of the stick here.

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