“I’m not actually Anglican”. I find myself admitting it with a bit of trepidation.
I admit it: the Book of Common Prayer and Book of Alternate Services confuse me no end (what page are we on?). The word “warden” has always conjured up images of penitentiaries and not church officials. And even though I know it’s coming in the service, I’m always caught off guard and wonder for a moment why people are coming towards me with hands outstretched murmuring whispered words of God’s peace. It’s all very confusing. I’m not Anglican.
And yet here I am, working for the Anglican Church. I am one of those people who was scarred deeply by their church upbringing, but have somehow been unable to shake the mysterious pull towards what lies beyond the margins of this life. I go to a community church every Sunday and try to get involved and do the things I’m “supposed” to do.
But on the side I have what I sometimes feel is a guilty pleasure – every Wednesday I go to a chapel service held at the synod office for the staff. There I fiddle with the service book trying to get to the right page before the words in bold have been spoken by those around me and we’ve moved on. I listen carefully to the words being spoken as the elements are passed, trying very hard to remember them so I can say them to the person next to me.
I watch in wonder as the colours of wall-hangings and stoles change with days and seasons. I take in the messages. I ask silly questions. I said to a friend the other day “These Anglicans…they understand something…they ‘get’ something that I don’t”. I have been trying to figure out what it is that you get that I don’t, and why I am so irresistibly drawn to the services and the people of this denomination.
I think it’s in the balance and tension between a sense of faith-filled conviction and a sense of mystery. The liturgy and structure of the service speaks to the faith-filled sureness that humanity is desired, loved, and upon “acknowledging our brokenness,” forgiven – absolved by God. The words are solid.
And yet there is a sense of mystery in the service that keeps me rapt. Does anyone really understand what occurs when the elements are blessed? Seemingly without fail I mess up those two simple lines spoken as the elements are passed. Each time I find myself rendered speechless by the wonder of it - the mystery - that I forget what I’m supposed to say. Sometimes all I can manage is “This is Christ’s body”, “This is Christ’s blood”. The person next to me never corrects me. “Be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread”. How does that happen? Do we need to understand or can we embrace the gift?
I wonder what it is like to grow up with these phrases – to know them so well one needn’t even think to recite them. You have given me a gift of renewed hope and a passion to discover both the sureness and mystery of faith. My hope for you would be that you would see again your traditions, your liturgies, your lives in this Body, with the eyes of a yearning outsider, as if experiencing their power and vitality for the first time.