The Church of Serelia (Anglican)

(This originally taken from the appendix of At the Inlet.)

The Serelian monarchy is probably the central institution depicted in At The Inlet; almost on par with it is the Church of Serelia. Although Anglican Christians will find much familiar with the Church (as it is frequently referred to in the Narrative) there are many things that are unique about it as well, mostly owing to its unique relationship with the State and to the Island conditions in general.

History

When Albert Serelia proclaimed the Kingdom that bears his name in 1923, one of his first decrees was the abolition of the Lodge, that venerable institution that had been central to Beran from its beginning. One reason why he did this was political; he wanted to separate himself from the Claudians, whose dream of continuing Beran included the Lodge as a central institution. One option would have been to create a separate Lodge, but for reasons that are not entirely clear Albert opted for Christianity. One reason may have been the visit of the Suffragan Anglican Bishop of Verecunda, Peter Cord, late in 1923. Cord was a consummate politician who had a healthy collection of both friends and enemies in the Church of Verecunda.

Cord’s work with King Albert resulted in a royal charter being issued for the Church of Serelia the following year, with Cord as its first Bishop. He was a vigorous leader who was able to obtain the necessary resources from the King, bring in able ministers from Verecunda and the mainland, and overcome much of the residual Masonic opposition in the country by converting the leading people, first and foremost Elton Amherst. 1929 saw the consummation of his masterful campaign to have the Church of Serelia recognised as a province in the Anglican Communion, a difficult step considering that many in the U.S. and U.K. felt that the Church of Verecunda was too small to be its own province. In 1930, the Cathedral of St. Thomas was completed; in 1931, the Book of Common Prayer for the Church of Serelia was ratified. The liturgies fall somewhere between the Church of England’s 1662 and the Episcopal Church’s 1928 book.

Cord’s achievement should not be underestimated; Serelia was and is the Island’s only nation to have ever proclaimed any form of Christianity as its state religion. The assist of state coercion made the Church of Serelia off and on the Island’s single largest. Unfortunately Albert saw the Church as another patronage vehicle, and used his extensive waiver powers to reward friends with sinecures and siphon off church revenues for his own purposes. As long as Cord was Bishop, this kind of thing was manageable; however, Cord’s sudden death in 1945 eliminated this check. His successor was Francis Denton, a weak administrator who got the position because his wife was a sister of Albert’s Queen Maria. Matters came to a head in 1951 with the execution of the Cavitts; even Albert realised that he had a serious problem on his hands. Because of the Bishop’s family, he had to finesse the problem by bringing in Colin Sellers, another Verecundan, as Bishop Co-Adjutor; Sellers became Bishop when Albert managed to pension Denton off into retirement in 1955.

Sellers was a narrow-minded High Churchman who nevertheless was able to put through enough reforms to get rid of the worst abuses. He began sending some of his more promising ministerial candidates the U.S. and U.K. for their education. Unfortunately this resulted in conflict, because Sellers, always the conservative, disliked the liberalism with which many of his students were being trained. The educational quality of his ministers, however, improved, and the church in general did well.

His last achievement was the appointment of Nicholas Tanger as Bishop Co-Adjutor in 1963; Tanger became Bishop upon Sellers’ death in 1967. Tanger’s tenure was short lived; when Albert died in 1969, his son Adam had his lifelong friend Weston Collingswood made Bishop Co-Adjutor. Tanger himself was eased out in 1971; he went on to become Bishop of Alemara and Vidamera, a very small province which suddenly expanded when they acquired the Drahlan churches during the struggle for independence.

Collingswood and Sellers doubtless didn’t get along because they were too much alike; Collingswood continued Sellers’ conservative policies. Collingswood, however, faced challenges that his predecessors did not have to. To start with, he was forced to cut back (but not eliminate, as evidenced by Desmond Lewis) his predecessors’ practice of sending people abroad for seminary; the leftward drift of Anglicanism necessitated that. The lack of any higher educational system in Serelia, combined by his own unwillingness to establish a seminary of any kind, led to a patchwork solution that resulted in a decidedly uneven quality of ministers. He was able to keep out almost entirely any of the liberal currents abroad, which isolated the Church from the rest of the Communion. But his greatest challenge came from an entirely different quarter: the Drahlan war. The Church’s tepid response to the agony of the war, combined with the animation of the Drahlans by Pentecostals and other groups, degraded the image of the Church, and led to inroads by these groups, although they were illegal at the time of At The Inlet. The Church also had to deal with the loss of its congregations in what became Drahla.

Charter and Governance

Like anything else in Serelia, the Church was allowed to operate only because of its royal charter. This charter was issued in 1924, and with a couple of amendments was in full force at the time of At The Inlet.

The charter gave the Church a number of monopolies and privileges, the most important of which were as follows:

  • The Church was designated as the only legal religion in Serelian territory, except for those places (principally the chartered cities, such as Drago and Cresca) where previous exception had been granted. It was given civil power to enforce this; the Ecclesiastical Constabulary was established for this purpose immediately after the charter was issued.
  • The Church was enabled to own property fee simple, which in the Serelian context was a major concession on the part of the crown.
  • The Church was given a monopoly on all education within Serelia. In this respect the church succeeded; by the 1950’s Serelia had the best educational system on the Island outside of Verecunda, although other places (such as Alemara and Aloxa) were able to catch up in the 1970’s. The crown jewel of this was St. Anne’s School for girls, north of the capital, which was attached to the convent there.
  • The Church was entitled to a subsidy from the crown. This subsidy varied depending upon the pleasure of the monarch. Albert frequently raised and lowered it to suit his purpose; Adam was more consistent. The Church was entitled to receive offerings, which it did. Serelian stewardship left a lot to be desired, especially compared with, say, the Pentecostals. Church of Serelia ministers frequently derided their Pentecostal and Baptist counterparts for always begging for money, but in secret they wished their own parishioners were as generous.

One additional privilege the Church did not explicitly have in the charter was the various and sundry requirements by the state that persons be communicants with the Church. Many offices of state required this; these included any of the major offices such as Chancellor or the Ministers, many of their direct subordinates, and any position connected with the palace. This requirement was vexing for many people but did not stop the high percentage of, say, Tim Mallen’s church people from working in the palace and many of the ministries. To be a communicant was also required of virtually any immigrant within a year of arrival as well.

With all of these privileges, there were two other aspects of the Church of Serelia that need mention: the Convention and the waivers.

The Convention was the annual legislative gathering of the Church, usually held at the end of Winter Court in January. It was made up of two parts: all of the ordained ministers, and all of the Senior and Junior Wardens of the vestries of the various parishes of the Church. Passage of items required the majority vote of both parts, similar in concept to the French Estates-General. The only exception to this was canon law changes; these could be approved by the ministers only. As with the Lodge in Beran or Claudia, it was the only democratic institution the country possessed, and its powers were limited, as many decisions ultimately rested with the Crown, acting through the Bishop.

The royal waiver was a fixture of Serelian life, extensively used in civil and sometimes criminal matters in addition to the Church. According to the charter, the waiver power of the king in the Church was extensive; it could extend to just about any matter except those explicitly addressed by the Thirty-Nine Articles. King Albert used the waivers extensively to pursue pet projects or have unqualified people installed in various positions; Adam’s use of these were sparing, in part because Bishop Collinsgwood was generally solicitous to carry out his wishes.

Appointment of prelates, rectors and other ministers was a very centralised matter in the Church of Serelia. The King appointed the Bishop at his sole discretion; his only check was the fact that it required three bishops to ordain, which necessitated outside assistance. The existence of a co-adjutor was normal. The lack of one at the time of At The Inlet was because Collingswood disliked the obvious candidate, Desmond Lewis, and was stalling his ordination. Assistant bishops were common under King Albert but Collingswood managed to outlast all of these, mostly royal favourites. Suffragan bishops were rare; there had only been two of them.

Rectors were appointed by the Bishop, although generally the Bishop, though his Dean or Co-Adjutor, would consult the membership. This extensive power could come in handy; when Anselm Gant, who was rector at St. Matthew’s, was caught in an adulterous affair, he could have been defrocked. Having married an Amherst, though, defrocking him would have created serious problems; thus, Collingswood “exiled” him to Denton.

Parish polity was typically Anglican, with a Vestry complete with Senior and Junior Warden (conveniently corresponding to those offices in the Lodge.) One of the strong points of the Serelian system was that, excluding the Cathedral and St. Anne’s (both of which were special cases,) there were only five full parishes in the whole system, along with a collection of chapels to cover the remote areas and special cases (such as prisons and military installations.) This meant that every parish had membership in the thousands. This avoided the balkanisation of many other types of churches, where average church size ran just below one hundred.

The result of the legal setup of the Church meant that it was, for all intents and purposes, a department of the government. This was, of course, part of the preference for an Anglican church in the first place, a communion that started with the nationalisation of the existing religion.

Doctrine and Practice

The Church of Serelia was very much a “Thirty-Nine Articles” institution. In spite of Serelia’s long standing alliance with Verecunda, the Church did not follow their Verecundan counterparts; in fact, some Verecundan Anglican ministers moved to Serelia to get away from the liberalism there, which only accentuated its conservatism.

In spite of a succession of “High Church” bishops, the Church of Serelia was decidedly “Low Church” in practice. The Cathedral was something of an anomaly in that regard; most Serelians regarded it as the place where bishops got the High Church out of their system before making their visitations, which in Serelia were bi-annual. The Church of Serelia was definitely out of the loop of a lot of the Catholicising practices that came into Anglicanism—especially in the U.S.—with the new prayer books. Serelia’s own Prayer Book held fast through the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, not only because of the doctrinal and aesthetic preferences of clergy and laity alike, but also because the conservative nature of Serelian society made the book very relevant to people’s current conditions.

As mentioned before, the education of ministers in the Church of Serelia was an uneven business at the time of At The Inlet. Ministers tended to fall into one of three categories. The first were those, such as the Lewis brothers, who were sent abroad for their education and then returned to Serelia; their diaconate was for the required year and regarded as something of a formality. The second were the Verecundan “refugees,” likewise educated off the Island but had moved to Serelia as they had become too conservative for Verecunda. The third were the “apprenticed” ministers, those who had no formal seminary training but who had been ordained deacons and set to work in parishes under rectors for at least a year, usually more.

All candidates for ministerial ordination—Serelians disliked the term “priests,” even though it was used in the Prayer Book—were subject to an extensive oral examination of their beliefs and knowledge. Terry’s examination was admittedly something of a “rush job” because her ordination was secured by the royal waiver. In King Albert’s time, ministers ordained under a waiver—and these were frequent—seldom even went through this kind of formality.

The Church’s attitude towards Roman Catholicism was traditionally hostile; this was in part a natural outgrowth of its traditional Anglican outlook and in part a legacy of Beran’s Masonic heritage. The state’s attitude was no different, but this was because of the traditional dislike on the Island for churches with “external governance.” Popular attitude towards Roman Catholicism mollified somewhat after the Verecundans persecuted the Catholic Church; Bishop Collingswood’s attendance at Raymond des Cieux’s ordination was recognition of the need for Christian unity on the Island, at least on an initial level.

One interesting point that deserves mention here is the validity of baptism other than that of an “apostolic succession” church for reception into the Church of Serelia. Bishop Collingswood’s rejection of Terry’s baptism as a Pentecostal was doubtless a stretch; it reveals the degree to which he perceived her as a threat. Most of his rectors would not hesitate to accept this baptism, although they would require confirmation (if necessary), as one would expect.

The conservatism and isolation of the Church of Serelia, combined with its status as a part of the government, made it something of an anomaly in the Anglican Communion. Serelians who travelled abroad were subjected to a great deal of pressure by other liberal Christians in general and Anglicans in particular; the Lewis brothers had both experienced this, although their response was entirely different.

Divorce and Remarriage

One aspect of Serelian church practice that was a definite departure from traditional Anglicanism was the issue of divorce and remarriage. The Church of Serelia started with the usual Anglican position, i.e., that remarriage after divorce was not permitted while both spouses were living. Annulments were certainly permitted and the courts (under ecclesiastical advisement; church courts per se didn’t exist in Serelia) granted them.

The problem—as was often the case—was with the chartered cities. The predominant churches there, such as the Methodist and Baptist churches , took the position that, if a person was divorced for Biblical reasons, i.e., infidelity of the other party or a new convert with a non-Christian spouse, then they could remarry. This led to jurisdictional difficulties.

In 1956—the same year the Crown forced the Church to marry and educate people who were not communicants with the Church of Serelia—the Crown also forced the church to allow the remarriage of divorced people whose spouses had been unfaithful. This was regarded by many Anglicans outside of Serelia as “liberal” but the fact was a product of the relationship of the Church of Serelia to the state.

It needs to be noted that divorce was an ordeal in Serelian courts; unless the unfaithful spouse was prepared to admit it, the other had to prove infidelity. This, coupled with the tight Serelian social organisation, made Serelia’s divorce rate the lowest of any nation on the Island. This was enhanced by Drahlan independence, although the social dislocations caused by the war obscured this fact.

The “Anointing Nard”

One peculiarity of the Church of Serelia concerned the substance it used for anointing for events such as chrisms, anointing of the sick and dying, coronations, etc. Most Christian churches that actually anoint people and things attempt to use substances that are mentioned in the Bible, such as olive oil, etc. The “nard” the Julian refers to, however, is not the spikenard referred to in the Bible, but was the common Serelian term for the ointment that their ministers carried around with them. Although the use of a solid, ointment type substance for anointing is not unique to the Serelian church, the substance they actually used certainly was.

Beran had from its beginnings an active herbal medicine tradition, which should be evident from the narrative in Paludavia. The Kings of Beran were anointed with an aloe ointment, usually spiked with bay rum or another aromatic herb for fragrance. It was chosen as a piece of non-Christian (but not really Masonic) symbolism, as kings in some pagan lore were supposed to bring healing with them. In addition to its symbolism, the ointment was used in variant forms for actual medicinal purposes as well, as it is today.

With Beran’s collapse, the use of the aloe ointment passed into Serelian church tradition. The Church adopted it (not entirely willingly) because of royal preference; a special formulation of it was reserved for the crowning of Serelian kings, as was done with any of the Island’s monarchies (including Aloxa.) It had the additional advantage of ready availability, which reduced the expense. The Alemaran church adopted it as well, but the Verecundan Anglicans used more traditional substances, as did most Roman Catholics (but Avalon was a great fan of the aloe anointing.)

The introduction of Pentecostal Christianity added a new twist to the whole subject of anointing. Drahlan and Sangler River Pentecostals, in their quest to be Biblical, used olive oil exclusively, but Aloxans were known to use either, depending on the local church and minister’s preference. However, the differences over the substance obscured an important theological point: the concept that the king brought healing—both the one in heaven and the ones on earth—was in reality a Christian one. The significance of the fact that Serelia’s Crown Princess was a full gospel Christian, an accomplished herbalist and the descendant of the kings of Beran was not lost on many people on the Island—Christian or pagan alike.

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