Dean Alan Jones, right, speaks with the Rev. Canon Bernard Barrett and Pauline Barrett at St. Philip’s, Vancouver, after the dean’s address. (Brenda Berck photo)

In this personal response to a lecture by Alan Jones, Dean of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, it seems most appropriate to begin as he does—with some information about myself, to give a context for understanding what I found important and exciting.

I was born in Winnipeg in a diverse working class neighbourhood filled with immigrants. I have been a Quaker for almost 40 years; within that period, I have also been an Anglican for about 11 years. I cherish this combination of experiences of silent worship and of the mystery of the Eucharist.

I am a member of a parish that “appears” not to be very diverse. And yet when recently asked to write down the reason they came to church most Sundays, those in attendance submitted over 100 different responses!

Among many other things, I believe that since God gave me a brain, I must use it to think for myself.

The Very Reverend Alan Jones gave my brain, my spirit—and my assumptions—a good workout. Based soley on what I had heard about Grace Cathedral—altar in the centre, spirited spiritual dancing, etc. — I fully expected Alan Jones to be a Californian who was laid back, possibly wearing Birkenstocks. From the first word, I discovered that he is British-born and further along, that he describes himself as an Anglo-Catholic, very committed to the disciplines of our faith tradition. If he owns Birkenstocks, they were not in evidence that evening.

Alan Jones had been invited to speak to the topic The Genius of Anglicanism: Does It Have a Future?”

Over 200 people gathered on February 4, 2006, at St. Philip’s to hear his thoughts on how we might become a Church of which it could be said: “See how those Christians love one another!”

That’s not a statement that we expect to hear in 2006. As Jones reminded us, the conflict with those who say “it is written thus and such,” and “you either believe this or you are condemned,” is not a new situation for the Anglican Church. I am reminded that when various Non-Conformists (including Quakers) rebelled against the strictures of the 17th century Anglican Church, they were jailed. In 2006, there is punitive mean-spiritedness instead.

In both cases, the problem rests in the need that some feel for certitude.

Jones points out that certitude can give a sense of security because it ends the chaos we feel when surrounded by too many questions or comments like: “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know”. Or even “I don’t know but I’m working on it.” Life is too messy when we can’t count on things for forever. However, Jones argues that certitude is the opposite of faith. We don’t know the answers to every question; that’s why we have faith.

Quoting the author Parker Palmer, Alan Jones urged us, the Church, to:

  • Invite diversity because diverse viewpoints are required;
  • Embrace ambiguity;
  • Experience humility;
  • Be open to learning something new;
  • Create honest conversations;
  • Create a community of trust such that “we can fight and with you in charge, I would be safe”;
  • Listen to one another.

For, says Jones, when we abandon talking to each other, joy goes out the window. After all, Christianity is not a state, but a way