The oceans of the world exert a near universal magnetism upon the human psyche.
Generations of school children have read and re-read Nicholas Monsarrat’s classic WWII convoy novel “The Cruel Sea” or Paul Gallico’s equally famous “The Poseidon Adventure”.
Such a literary diet of maritime daring-do is not for the queasy. As Monsarrat’s Corvette and Gallico’s great liner go to the seabed the loss of life is monstrous. But surely a more or less subconscious fear of drowning is a not insignificant part of our fascination with the sea? While we might not actively welcome “from dust to dust”, from “dust to deep” is a different proposition altogether.
In scenes that for a younger generation would be reminiscent of Leo, Kate and Titanic the only hope of salvation from the Deep for those aboard the fictional Compass Rose and Poseidon is a rag-tag assembly of lifeboats which, without exception were numerically inadequate and poorly equipped. Hubristic humanity, whatever its (post?)-primordial fear of the Deep seems to equally invariably eschew adequate provision against perils on the sea.
Or at least that seems to have been true historically. Perhaps, for once, at least in this country, we have learnt the lessons of history and accordingly are not doomed to repeat it.
The Royal National Life Institution (RNLI) is, with much justification, one of the most respected charities in the country. Steadfastly apolitical, providing a service the cost of which would otherwise fall upon the public purse and staffed by the admirably courageous and the admirably committed it serves the nation with quiet excellence.
The RNLI rescues twenty-three people a day from the seas and rivers of the UK. They do so using a fleet ranging from the little five metre inflatable “D” class inshore lifeboats through to the latest mighty “Shannon” class boats – those that look a little like huge mouldings of Tupperware. The Shannon class are fast, self-righting and fitted out to the most exacting standards.
There are lifeboats and there are lifeboats: a “Shannon” class is superior in capability and construction to the vast majority of leisure craft afloat in these waters and to many commercial boats as well. To be “rescued” by such a vessel whilst doubtless a last resort often entails transfer to a vessel far superior in safety, amenity and capacity to the abandoned one. Sea miles covered in a Shannon class lifeboat are covered more swiftly and more comfortably than in most craft not least because they are crewed by exceptional exponents of seamanship under outstanding skippers. There is even a certain unmistakable rakish glamour to lifeboats and their crews.
It is because of this that the Anglican Network in England instinctively resists the description that it is a “lifeboat” for those forced to abandon the wreckage of the Church of England.
If it is a lifeboat at all, it aspires to be an exceedingly well appointed one, superior in its (super)-structure, design and leadership to that offered by large parts of the Church of England.
And because of that aspiration the lifeboat depiction does not really work at all. Vicars and churches are joining to ANiE not so much because they require rescue (although some do) but because they wish to join a more functional and attractive expression of Anglicanism. They are electing for a superior means of conveyance as much as simply being forced to abandon ship.
This is seen in the number of new Anglican churches seeking to come under the auspices of ANiE who have never been within the formal structures of the Church of England and which do not desire to be so in the future. Despite being led by ordained Anglican clergy and with congregations who would regard classical Anglicanism as the best theological expression of the Protestant Reformation they have decided, often in their infancy as churches, not to identify with their diocese.
To many faithful members of the Church of England this is incomprehensible – who would want to be “Anglican” but not “Church of England”? Is it even possible?
It is undeniably possible because it is happening but to explain the potentially incomprehensible it is necessary to understand both what these new, young, vibrant Anglican churches are rejecting and the concomitant of that: what they are seeking.
What they are rejecting are those expressions of what was once Anglicanism that are now holed below the waterline. That means they want to leave a sinking ship, or often, understandably they are refusing to join it in the first place, for fear of certain shipwreck.
The Church of England that is being rejected is that which is in terminal decline and yet perversely still commands the fleet of churches and orders its manoeuvres. It is the Church of England where, according to YouGov, only 7% of Cathedral Clergy, 22% of Bishops and 31% of parish clergy agree the “Christianity is the only path to God” but 45% of archdeacons, 65% of Cathedral clergy believe that Same Sex Marriage is “right”.
Such theological revisionism, accompanied by such moral relativism has little to say to a secular generation. The Church of England is not content with simply torpedoing its own future prospects, rather it has decided to just throw open the hatches and allow itself to be swamped by the cultural tide.
Such a Church of England routinely rejects those who would make its best officers – young, married men of a conservative theological, ethical and moral stance in favour of the short-term solution of drawing its leaders from a dwindling number of (often unpaid) kindly but biddable middle aged women. The RNLI has a slogan “Train one, Save many” and yet perversely the Church of England focuses its training ambitions on those with the fewest number of years and least aptitude and energy to do so. It is as if the RNLI rejected able young mariners in order to draw its crews exclusively from a pool of ageing applicants who can barely swim, let alone handle a line, navigate a stormy sea or helm a boat.
Those unwanted men, Anglicans by conviction, but denied access to ordination, and even if ordained, to ministry opportunities, by the liberal flag officers of the Church look to ANiE with understandable enthusiasm.
In ANiE they see not rescue but adventure. The adventure of ministry liberated from the dead hand of the Church establishment and from the suffocating protectionism of the failing parish system. Freedom to be a conservative and the space to establish, grow and duplicate local churches that serve local communities and which the people of those communities actually want to attend. They are churches seeking reputations not so much for tradition or orthodoxy but for spiritual integrity and sincerity.
Far from seeking rescue, churches accessing ANiE are seeking resourcing. That is resourcing in terms of wise episcopal oversight and advice and support from those with a proven track record of local church growth. Resourcing comes too by way of finance, training, staffing and protection from clergy resentful of the challenge to their hitherto complacent local monopoly. In fact what they seek is all the things that a diocese should provide but rarely does for those who dare to be anything other than theologically supine and morally sheepish.
As it hoves into view what is seen by those calling on ANiE is not a “D” class lifeboat or even a “Shannon” class one. Nor even do they see the thirty-nine destroyers and hundreds of big ships and “small ships” of the miracle of Dunkirk. What they see is a peaceful international armada: ANiE in convoy with those in the Church of England who are battling to maintain orthodoxy but moreover in convoy with the growing churches of the 85% of Anglicans globally represented by the GAFCON movement.
The flag officers of the Church of England would rather go down with the ship than recognise what is going on. The pews of empty churches will be rearranged on the decks to the end and the remnant of once great Cathedral choirs will sing Nearer My God to Thee when in truth the Church will have long since lost its moorings to anything resembling the God of Christianity. If the alternative for the church hierarchy is to admit who was on the bridge and what course they were steering when calamity struck, then even a watery grave will be preferred. Little do they know how fast it will happen: once the ballast is disturbed, the bulkheads breached and where there was once buoyancy there is nothing but deadweight the ship is soon lost. It is lost even sooner if those who could have manned the pumps were rejected from ordination and if others have long since departed.
By the time the ship goes down, the Church of England will have drifted so far from the main convoy of Anglicanism that rescue will be impossible. The good ship CofE will not perish entirely alone: the few remaining revisionist Anglicans of the USA, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere will deploy the few remaining resources garnered from past generations to desperately man the lifeboats but the effort with be futile.
The only hope is that by then ANiE will have sufficient salvage crews to refloat and restore what can be saved from the wreckage of the Church of England.
So what might be incomprehensible to members of the Church of England of past generations is manifestly obvious to the next generation.
Why would a young person commit themselves to a church whose leaders rarely say anything that would not meet with the approval of the Guardian and who in any event say it less well than the Guardian?
Why would a young man commit his future as a clergyman to a church so intent on revising its historic orthodox theology that he could at any moment suddenly find himself deemed “unorthodox” having done nothing other than live consistently in his vocation and in accordance with the vows he took?
Why would anyone wish to serve in the long term in a church which according to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ironically titled “Director of Reconciliation”, in fact believes so little in reconciliation that it intends to sacrifice a significant percentage of its members in the immediate years to come if they fail to accept whatever “new orthodoxy” is down the line?
When put this way it is inevitable that the next generation would rather crew quietly for ANiE in the international Anglican armada than being repeatedly spiritually keel-hauled in the Church of England.
Doubtless the clergy and congregations of ANiE will, at least for now, be condemned by some as something akin to “rats leaving the sinking ship” … but better a realistic rodent than a purblind Primate?
As Bishops identify ANiE as a threat to their near five century-long monopoly of Anglicanism in England the transition for a local church from “Church of England” to ANiE may be rocky, even stormy. In the short term some may have a somewhat undignified scramble aboard but surprisingly quickly, the more who do so, the smoother the ride will become and the more viable transition will appear. Before long there will be more than enough hands to man the tenders and pipe the new arrivals aboard in due, if modest, dignity.
The Anglican theology found in the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal, together with the spiritually inheritance that has flowed from them is one of the greatest gifts a nation has ever received. Assuming that the Church of England does not dramatically change tack that legacy will be lost unless ANiE succeeds in its mission. All Anglicans of goodwill, however attached to what has gone before, can only offer them at least half a “yo ho ho” by way of encouragement as they set their course.