Greetings from the Diocese of Victoria-Nyanza to the United Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway.
Last autumn, I read a book called Why I Am Still An Anglican in which a series of apparently eminent peoples talk about their experience of the Anglican Communion. Well, I say the Anglican Communion. The majority of the conversation is about the Church of England, and, certainly in the earlier chapters, seems to be talking about a Church of England that I only recognise from Midsomer Murders. I’d no idea that so many people were so violently opposed to the sharing of the Peace. Or that there was such a huge demand for churches whose liturgy is taken exclusively from the 1666 Book of Common Prayer. And I’ve spent so long in a church where everyone is welcome to take communion that I was rather taken aback by the abhorrence expressed for people who take it when they, quote, aren’t entitled to. We aren’t the Vatican. Besides, short of demanding to see a baptism certificate before allowing someone to go up to the altar (which would presumably make the whole process of giving communion so lengthy that the clergy and choir and servers would constantly be keeling over), how can anyone possibly judge who is and who isn’t ‘entitled’?
But for one brief chapter, they did remember that the Anglican Communion is made up of considerably more than just the Church of England. The author of that chapter was someone who has lived all over the world and worshipped in numerous Anglican churches in countless countries, and one of the things he says is that the nature of Anglicanism is such that when someone walks into an Anglican church, the shape and the spirituality of the service will be familiar, no matter where they are or which language is being spoken.
My church attendance has been a bit hit-and-miss while I’ve been here. On my first Sunday, I was in a corridor in Nairobi Airport when I would normally have been at church. Last week, I tried to go to the nearest Roman Catholic church and accidentally ended up at a Swahili language service in a Lutheran cathedral. There are parts of that that are still very confusing, most notably the man from the choir who distributed cabbages and fruit amongst the congregation while doing some sort of comedy routine. This week I tried for the Anglican church at the bottom of my hill, its main selling points being the fact that I could walk there and the sign on the fence that said, “Worship God In English Every Sunday.”
I found it oddly comforting to hear the liturgy. Even though I never actually say some parts of it these days and even though my mouth kept on trying to insert things from the liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church, I liked it. It felt like a little bit of home.
The rest of the service mostly felt like someone had taken Anglo-Catholicism and English evangelism and thrown them together in a blender on high speed.
It was comprised of the previously mentioned Anglican liturgy; an English deacon who preached for half an hour on three different subjects, gave chapter and verse every time he quoted anything from Scripture and then made us all wait while he leafed through his Bible to find the thing that he had just quoted, and drew the whole thing to a conclusion five or six times before going off on new tangents; a building and decor straight out of traditional Anglicanism except for the pink fabric draped artistically across the altar rail and secured by white ribbons; and the very worst in English evangelical praise music led by the very very worst in English evangelical praise music musicians as issued forth from tinny laptop speakers, at which point I thought of at least eight different people who would have lain down and wept.
But despite all of that, the thing is that I sat down on Sunday in a church in a town in the middle of Tanzania and in company with thousands of people across the whole world, a congregation of God’s people said, “We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your compassionate and great mercy.” I’d find it difficult to think of another institution whose internationality is quite so striking as that.