It seems that pieces on “Tiber swimming” have become my stock in trade. Recently I did one on the conversion of Swedish Charismatic pastor Ulf Ekman to the Roman Catholic Church. I must admit, however, that I was blindsided by the piece simply entitled “Waypoints” by the proprietor of the Anglican blogosphere’s premier conservative site, Stand Firm in Faith. Greg Griffith’s piece started with a very simple but surprising revelation:
After more than ten years on the front lines of the Anglican wars, I have made a major change. This past Easter vigil, my family and I were confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church.
Although it’s tempting to try to draw parallels with the last high-profile conversion reviewed, the two really don’t compare. The two situations are entirely different, a difference enhanced by the fact that Griffith is a layman.
Rather than rehash his well-written piece, I think some takeaways are in order. Let’s start with this one:
So for me, a move to Rome is not about a revolution in my theology, and certainly not about a rejection of Anglicanism. It is about a very painful choice between two dilemmas:
On the one hand there is Anglicanism, an expression of faith that in the abstract – its doctrines and theology – is as nearly perfect as I believe man has ever succeeded in achieving, but which in practice has unraveled into a chaotic mess…On the other hand there is Roman Catholicism, some of whose doctrines give me serious pause, but which in practice has shown itself to be steadfast in its opposition to the caprices of the world.
I think that puts into a nutshell the practical core of the dilemma between being Anglican and Roman Catholic. My most popular piece is this comparison (which I hope Greg read somewhere along the way). My point and his is that the choice between the two isn’t as clear-cut as one would like, especially when viewed from the pew.
…the promise of the orthodox Anglican movement outside of The Episcopal Church never materialized either. Populated as that movement is by many good people, it has the institutional feeling of something held together by duct tape and baling wire. It is beset by infighting and consecration fever, and in several of its highest leadership positions are people of atrocious judgement and character.
My guess is that some of the bad actors he’s thinking about are the likes of Chuck Murphy, John Hepworth and of course Tory Baucum. But there are some more general problems in North American Anglicanism that would challenge any leader. I’ve mentioned these before but they bear repeating.
The first is that the seceding people, with or without their parishes or dioceses, brought two very divisive and unresolved issues with them: women’s ordination and the Anglo-Catholic/Reformed divide. The latter is fairly recent; the former goes back to the nineteenth century. Setting aside personality problems (and, of course, coming up with golden parachutes for the redundant bishops), these have perpetuated many divisions and added to the confusion.
The second is the obsession with union with Canterbury. Had this not been on so many people’s agenda, it would have simplified the setup of orthodox North American Anglicanism considerably. That misplaced focus lead to the multiple provincial jurisdictions which tried to achieve that on an indirect basis. It was great in its own way but hindered things when it was time to unify. That said, I still believe that the last hope for Anglican Christianity to be anything else than a footnote are the Africans. But even here a unified North American entity, unconcerned with communion with Canterbury and reaching out to the orthodox provinces, would have made things simpler on both sides of the Atlantic.
And that doesn’t take into consideration the problems with either Rowan Williams or Justin Welby…
There’s one more thing that I’d like to comment on, and it’s this:
We began attending services in March of last year. At first just once a month, then with increasing frequency. One morning I noticed that my daughter had recited the confession and the Creed purely from memory, while I still had to read the text to keep from reciting the Anglican versions. A month or so later, we were literally having to drag her – I mean, knock on the door and walk in and take her by the arm – from Sunday School to get to Mass on time. It was impossible not to see that she was very, very happy, a perception punctuated by the knowledge that all she has known her entire life is that her parents have been in a very public and very pitched war with her church.
Choosing a church isn’t the straightforward proposition that enthusiasts make it out to be. One has to deal with many things: local situations, parish variations, different ministers or priests, family requirements (especially with children), the perennial class stratification of American Christianity, and what not. Having done enough of it in my lifetime, I’m sympathetic to what Greg has gone through. The key, as always, is keeping what’s really important in front of you; God will take care of the rest.
And as for Stand Firm? That, to borrow a phrase from the Occupant, is beyond my pay grade. There are non-Anglicans on the bloggers list already; throwing one greenhorn Roman Catholic into the mix won’t hurt. But I think that the centre of the drama of the Anglican Revolt is pretty much past, and Greg’s conversion is a sign of that about as much as anything. Stand Firm will continue to enlighten and sometimes entertain, but now we all should focus on the mission that God put us here to do. I think it sad that we have had to spend so much time and energy on trying to fix churches that won’t be fixed.
We, like Our Lord, must be about our Father’s business. May God bless Greg and his family in the days ahead.