Dave Thomas: Why Am I An Anglican?

In 1983, Jeremy Taylor organized a working committee for the conference of Anglican Primates in Brazil. The name of the organization was “Theological Education in the Anglican Communion” (TEAC). This group’s mission was to oversee the styles and substance of educational programs for clergy and laity across the world’s component churches. Part of its responsibility was to comprehend and describe Anglican distinctive ethos and contribution to the larger church for what may be considered the Anglican way. The vast majority of texts authored by Anglican scholars depict Anglicanism as complicated and contentious. Richard Hooker, arguably the most esteemed author of the sixteenth century and widely regarded as the foremost Anglican theologian, asserted: “Anglicanism strikes me as being a bit like the religion of the Christian Hebrews; decorously ceremonial, often a bit childish in its dependence upon secondary matters, and very slack in its grip upon the really essential core of the Christian faith.”[1] Mark Chapman contends, in terms comparable to James Dunn’s account of the epistle to the Galatians[2], that, “Anglican theology was forged in the heat of controversy… Its theology was always political and the practical theology of authority in matters of interpretation and church polity was usually just as important as controversy over doctrine.”[3] These reflections may well be true. But from my perspective, the Anglican church’s history is also a history of creativity, pointing us to renewal and deeper conformity to the mind and will of Christ as we come to know them.

            The blend of this creativity and intellect can be found in the great hymns of the church in the 1662 Book of common prayer. In my early years, I lived at home with my maternal grandparents, aunts and uncle.  All of them grew up in the church as altar servers. In fact, my grandfather functioned as a sexton for the church.  Each time he had to go to church he would put me in the back of his Oldsmobile along with his cassock and surplice.  As a result of his faithfulness and devotion, I was in the church often. I was not fond of church as a child because I believed that the services were too long. But though the length of the service was annoying as it would be to any child, I always loved the music that stemmed from the old German organ played by Mr. Arthur Rolle who would practice every Saturday evening while my grandfather prepared the church for Sunday Mass. The music was heavenly. At that stage, I knew nothing about hymns, settings, scores, theology, etc, but I knew I loved the sound that came from those pipes. Hence, I “hummed”, and “whistled” during Mass and at home. It wasn’t until one day my grandmother listened to the humming and started to sing the hymn to the “hum”. This was the first hymn I learned; #331, ‘We are but little Children Weak’. Every night before going to bed, my grandmother sang that hymn for me, along with another hymn that belonged to her long list of favorites. Introducing me to the hymnbook, the words of 331 exposed me to truly what beauty, and hymnody was.

As I grew to an age of reason, I was able to sing along in church and with my grandmother. The tone was beautiful, but learning the words exposed me to even deeper knowledge of Anglicanism and its teaching on who I am in relation to God; a child, but a child on a mission for God. Going to college and to seminary further exposed me to a more profound understanding of the words of 331; learning its biblical foundation, the composer’s story and the message behind the music. Beauty, Bible and brilliance unified. My favorite stanza, “

“O day by day each Christian child

Has much to do, without, within;

A death to die for Jesus’ sake,

A weary war to wage with sin.”

This stanza, though short in composition, it is mighty in theology, specifically the cost of discipleship. Teaching me and so many others of the relevancy and truth of Proverbs 20:11, Matthew 18: 3, Matthew 28:8-20 and of Jesus himself who values all, calls all and sends all. All that make this hymn what it is, provided for me a unique understanding of Anglican Identity. Yes, Anglicanism is complicated, varied, and contested; this is consistent with its history and character. Nonetheless, the creativity in the Anglican tradition gives meaning, substance, knowledge to the worship experience.  It was in the hymns of my upbringing that I came to love God and the Church and they propelled me to be what I am today. If you are looking for theology, it is in our hymns; if you are looking for beauty, the hymns are poetic; if you are looking for self-worth and confidence, the hymns give you so much more. To me, this is the beauty and joy of Anglicanism. The hymns, that blend creativity and intelligence that point us to renewal and deeper conformity to the mind and will of Christ as we come to know them.

Father Dave Thomas is a priest in the diocese of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

[1] Holloway, Richard. The Anglican Tradition. Barlow Co.Inc., Wilton, Connecticut, U.S.A. Pg. 7.

[2] See, James D.G.Dunn, The Theology of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Cambridge University Press. 1993. Pg.3.

[3] Chapman, Mark. Anglican Theology. T&T Clark International.2012. Pg.6

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