I am an Anglican because Anglicanism is like the body of a tree fostering and supporting branches to me. Reflecting on myself in writing this essay, I concluded that it is difficult or even impossible to give a simple and definite answer to this question, ‘Why am I an Anglican’. Many complexly intertwined factors led me to my path. So I chose the words ‘a body of a tree and branches’ which can be interpreted in many different ways.
My paternal family members are Anglicans. My great-grandfather was a priest of the Anglican Church in Japan. But this was just one of the reasons why I was baptized. I did not have a very active involvement in church activities when young. I was absorbed in swimming and playing the violin, and thought of working in the sports industry in the future. However, when I was 16 years old, my grandfather passed away. This made me think repeatedly about the questions, ‘What is church?’, ‘What does death mean?’, and ‘Who am I?’. This experience led me to the decision to be baptized. Of course, I could not give an answer to these questions quickly. However, after my grandfather’s death, I started to go to church often as a server.
Feeling uneasy about not being able to answer the questions, I entered Japan Lutheran College. I was greatly inspired by taking to my friends at the college who were from different denominations to me, but at the same time I was shocked. My friends who had experienced being driven to despair told me without hesitation that Lutheran theology had saved them. I did not understand at all how an existence suffering from despair could be saved by theology, not what it meant. Because I was a beginner in theology, I could not explain the features of Anglicanism to them. I was only able to explain superficially, nor could I imagine the connection between theological concepts and anxiety in our daily lives. This experience was a setback, making me aware how ignorant I was about Anglicanism and who I was.
2017 was the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I was a senior then. The Lutheran church and my college celebrated the events, and Lutheran theology was discussed on many occasions. This gave me the motivation to deepen my understanding of Anglicanism and the relationship between theology and myself. I decided to enter the graduate school of St Paul in Tokyo, which is an Anglican university, and I studied under Prof. Renta Nishihara.
Many people say that Anglicans troubled by an ‘ism’ should define their identity. However, from my point of view, defining always entails tension. In order words, we will end up a merely ‘dry’ definition, unless it is linked in dynamic relationship with individual experience and lives. Anglican theology should empower and sustain individuals. Anglicanism should oppose a static theology, a theology which is like a valuable artifact kept with care in a museum. Rather, Anglicanism should be a ‘communion continuing interpretation’, which is like organic matter, dynamically changing. We can indicate Anglicanism’s pre-eminent theologians and its significant theological streams. For instance, Richard Hooker and his insistence on dispersed authority, remains an Anglican theological standard for the Anglican communion. But these cannot provide a complete explanation of what Anglicanism is.
In my undergraduate days, I continue to play the violin for worshipping with my friends. In the lunch break, we assembled in chapel to worship God. We did study theology every day, but it was difficult for me to understand perfectly. Much that looked good on paper wouldn’t quite work in practice. Of course, studying theology on paper is also important for us. I wanted to cherish ‘dry’ theology, but also I was experiencing this vivid theology: talking to and worshipping with my friends in practice.
It was at graduate school that I faced Anglicanism and its nature for the first time. The spirit and attitude of ‘a communion continuing interpretation’ became an integral element which constitutes me. In my day-to-day life, I interacted with many people who were oppressed, such as my LGBTQ+ friends, and female ministers. The encounter with them changed me, making me realize that I cannot disregard them.
As Anglicans, we should continue interpretation not only in our practice of theology as a practice rooted in our lives. Each of us is the subject of the practice of ‘a communion continuing interpretation’. We seek theology empowering and sustaining us in our daily existence.
In that sense, the Young Anglican Theology project has meaningful aspects for us. Even though we have cherished a ‘communion continuing interpretation’, many of us find it difficult to put it in practice. Focusing on individuals will be key to understanding theology more actively. However this will still be inadequate if we think of ‘each of us’ without ‘communion’. And yet, in a communion as an organic body of people, matters are bound to be complex. The more we try to define something, the more difficulty we face. Recently, for example, the global Anglican communion has been caught up in an increasingly intense conflict over the role of gays and lesbians in the church.
In his current situation, while we try to remember a ‘communion continuing interpretation’, we must still think about what our theology has been looking for and what Anglicanism is. We must give an answer to current issues without resorting to exclusive methodology.
We are given such an opportunity by this significant chance to hear voices from diverse Anglicanism all over the world. What are considered weak points can be strong points. Anglicans have cherished and will be able to cherish diversity. The answer to our future will not be an absolute one, but a relative one. We have to be wholly respectful of Anglican identity as a communion that continues to interpret who we are.
Through reflecting on myself, I found out that I would always like to be inclusive rather than exclusive. This is probably the reason why I avoided giving a definite answer to the question. Why am I an Anglican? My family, my grandfather’s death, Anglican theological features and my personal experience are intertwined and make up me as an Anglican. However, I can say that the spirit and attitude of a communion continuing interpretation is very important to my identity. It is like the body of a tree fostering and supporting branches to me.
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