Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Not Angels, But Anglicans

As the Episcopal Church in the United States prepares to secede quite merrily from the Anglican Communion, the dear old C of E seems finally to be cottoning on that “unity with Canterbury” is not the crux of Anglican identity to almost anyone outside England.

It is a strange feature of the Church of England that neither of its Archbishops is currently an Englishman, nor even, I believe it is correct to say, a native speaker of English (although all Welsh-speakers in Wales rather than in Patagonia might as well be). Both Dr Williams and Dr Sentamu are really figures of the Anglican Communion rather than of the Church of England. And the Anglican Communion was overwhelmingly created by people who did not like the Church of England.

Most were either hardline Anglo-Catholics or hardline Evangelicals, and had deliberately gone to the ends of the earth (by no means only within the British Empire) in order to escape from the Church of England and start again from scratch, keeping in touch for purposes of spiritual and material support only with parishes whose clergy were, and are, seldom or never made bishops in England.

The Episcopal Church in the United States is a product of the American Revolution, deriving its name and orders from the Episcopal Church in Scotland, which then had a recent history of armed insurrection against the Hanoverian monarchy, and which remains heavily concentrated in the area where the SNP is also strongest. The Church of Ireland has provided two Presidents of the Irish Republic (including the first), both in the days when that Republic’s Constitution still laid claim to “the whole island of Ireland”.

And so on, and on, and on.

It is no wonder that there is such bafflement at the smug English oligarchic suggestion that Anglican identity consists in unity with whoever some Muslim or atheist Prime Minister of the United Kingdom chooses to give a seat in the British Parliament. It is not so much that most Anglicans have, say, moved away from that sort of thinking. It is that they had never, ever heard of it in the first place.

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