The Anglican Communion and the English Breakfast

Oliver Pritchett’s piece on dumping brunch and bringing back the English breakfast has me thinking of many things English, American and otherwise.  That’s especially true with the upcoming Anglican Primates’ meeting and Justin Welby’s last throw at getting everyone to play nice.  In particular, this statement from the Curmudgeon piqued my interest:

And it can no longer be called “Anglican”, because while that term may once have taken its meaning from the doctrines and worship of the Church of England, that body’s ever-dwindling membership, too, is no longer of one mind on just what its doctrines and worship should be…Having left the Episcopal Church (USA) on account of its adoption of blasphemous marriage rites, I no longer even have a formal tie to the wider Communion…

That, I think is the core problem with ACNA’s whole approach to the Church of England: they’re fixated on communion with Canterbury, which they see as the tie to the “wider Communion.”  Getting Foley Beach to the Primates’ meeting was a major step in that direction; getting TEC out of it will be, as the Curmudgeon points out, an entirely different matter.

That’s where the English breakfast comes in.

I’m one of these people who, with exceptions, eats pretty much what is put in front of me.  That’s a product of upbringing, where even criticising the food was, as the Chinese would say, buxing. That’s held me in good stead during my travels in China, Russia and other interesting places.  But it was another matter with many of my working colleagues, and the following story illustrates that point.

In 1982 two of my field service people and I went to Rotterdam, the Netherlands on a major repair project.  We stayed in the Novotel and were regaled with the “Continental breakfast” of cold cuts and hard bread.  (The Finns and Russians raise the stakes with smoked salmon, I must admit).  One of my service people was a country boy from Stevenson, AL, who was just starting out in field service.  He had had enough of the “baloney sandwich” for breakfast and demanded a bacon-and-eggs production like he had back home.  My senior man and I looked at each other with one of those “this should be interesting” looks.

The Novotel came back with bacon and eggs, all right, but it was the “English breakfast” and not the “Southern breakfast”.  And there are important differences.  Right off the bat there’s the definition of “bacon”, although the Canadians have tried to broaden our view of same.  (Sausage, with its German, East European and Southern variants, complicates things further). Then we have the grilled tomato, which I don’t mind but in a region where the ne plus ultra of tomatoes are the fried green kind, it doesn’t go over very well.  Finally much of this food is, by our standards, barely cooked, with the eggs runny and the fat glistening in the “bacon”.

My junior man got through his breakfast, but he never asked for it again.

Implicit in the idea that the Anglican Communion revolves around the Church of England is the idea that the CoE is the”reference standard” for everyone else.  But the British Empire, which the Communion is one remnant of, doesn’t support that idea.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, the British Isles, for all of their storied castles and history, managed to fill up two continents with people who wanted or had to leave.  And the former colonies represented at the Primates meeting are, in various ways, an improvement over the mother country, which is why people from the UK keep moving to these places.

Quite a bit of that improvement is the food.  Most white Southerners (like Foley Beach) are descendants of people who came from the British isles, but they modified and (IMHO) improved the cuisine from the mother country in many ways.  (I’ll bet that, while in the Greater London area, Beach and his colleagues won’t search out the English restaurant). In the meanwhile they improved a few other things, such as a written Bill of Rights that addressed some shortcomings of English law, and they disestablished the beloved Church of England, which ended up being a boon for Christianity in general and the Episcopal Church in particular until the latter lost its way.

The idea that Anglicanism can be improved by getting away from Mother England may come as a shock to some, but there are some possible benefits.  To look at a parallel situation in another part of Christianity, we should look to Russia and the sad story of the Old Believers.  This started when the Patriarch Nikon decided to impose the ways of the Greeks on the Russian church, and ran into vehement opposition, which he and the Tsar brutally suppressed.  It never occurred to Tsar or Nikon that the Russians, isolated for centuries after their “baptism” by the intervening Mongols and Turks, had practices more authentically in line with traditional Greek practice than the Greeks did!  I suspect that the Russians regarded the Greeks as the “mother church” and felt that they had to “keep up with the Joneses”.  Well, the Greeks were under the Ottomans, the Russians had (and have) a larger church, and the Russians would have done themselves a favour to realise that they were the Joneses!

The divisions in the Anglican Communion are far larger than those faced by Nikon, Avvakum and others in their day.  Ultimately, however, the weight of the Communion, both in numbers and in future, is in the African provinces and their allies elsewhere.  They need to put in forcefully to Justin Welby that they, like the Russians of old, are at the centre of this part of Christianity and that either he gets with their program or he will end up isolated in his own Constantinople, dominated by the same religion that took the last one.

That’s what I’d like to see in this Primates’ meeting.  The North Americans in particular need to put sentiment–and really ancestral ties–aside and realise that the only blood line that really matters is the one that flows from the Cross.

Who knows, unlike my field service man, we may get a decent breakfast in the bargain.

3 Replies to “The Anglican Communion and the English Breakfast”

  1. The worst part of the English Breakfast is the baked beans next to the eggs, I was staying at Trinity College Dublin and the Irish cashier even agreed baked beans for breakfast were plain yucky!

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