Tuesday, 26 February 2013

On Loyalty

Loyalty: noun Late Middle English. Origin: Old French.  The fact or condition of being loyal; faithfulness to duty or in love, friendship, etc; faithful allegiance to the legitimate monarch or government of one's country.  (OED)

What are the entities to which one might feel or express loyalty? I am (among other things and in the order they occur to me but no other): a Christian, an Anglican, an Englishman, a Briton, a Londoner, a European, a companion, a friend, a son, a brother, a cousin, a godfather, a godson, a priest and a deacon.  Each of these identities inspires in me a different sense of loyalty to something or someone; and if I had to put them in order of the strength of the loyalty engendered, I would be hard put to it in some instances.  This is perhaps partly because loyalty is not just a matter of unforced feeling or affection; it is sometimes a matter of perceived duty.  It is easy to be loyal to (say) my brother because he is a human being in respect of whom my loyalty is a subset of my love, an outworking of our personal relationship. Loyalty to (say) my country is different because, although I certainly also love it, I also have a stronger sense that my loyalty is something I owe it.

But what about religious identity?  I feel a strong loyalty to the Christian faith.  I hope this means I will be faithful to it and to the truth of the gospel to the end of my days; that I will advance its cause when I can and defend it when attacked.  I am also loyal to my Church: to the Anglican tradition, to my bishop and parish, to my brothers and sisters in the faith.  I recognise that this is of a different order of loyalty to that which I owe to the wider Christian faith and Church; though in truth the two are hard for me to separate.  Within Anglicanism, tribal loyalty to the CofE is a slightly awkward thing, because of its established status and the (perhaps consequent) lazy, hazy public view of it as a quasi-official entity in the same broad category as the BBC and the NHS.  It's just there, part of the landscape: criticise it and mock it by all means, even if you work in it - that is your birthright.  But loyalty to it is not required.

Yet loyalty to it is what I feel.  I am in it and of it; I could not think of leaving it.  To turn from the Church in which I was baptised, confirmed and ordained, which has nurtured my faith and vocation, and supported me in distress and weakness would be like abandoning my own mother.  I feel pain when it is traduced, and anger when it is misrepresented and abused.  That, you may say, is a cross I carry.

But there is more.  I am an Anglo-Catholic. I stand in an ancient and continuous tradition of English Christianity, revived and emboldened by the Oxford Movement of the 19th century, and which lives on in the modern Church of England.  This tradition places the Incarnation at the centre of the Christian understanding of the faith and the world; insists on the centrality of the sacraments (especially the Eucharist) in the life of faith; regards the Church on earth as having been founded by Christ himself, and as being unbreakably united to the Church in heaven and the communion of saints; and holds to a proper ordering of its structure and life according to ancient wisdom and practice.

This little summary, you may have noticed, would be endorsed by most Roman Catholics (and certainly officially by their Church) but rejected to a greater or lesser extent by evangelical Christians, including many who worship in the Church of England. When the evangelical view is in the ascendancy, and when wider public assent to traditional Church structures is simultaneously fading, the tendency is for conservative Anglo-Catholics to move further into their comfort zone, away from what has apparently become "mainstream" Anglicanism and towards Roman Catholicism.  In this way, they can find themselves in a liminal, intermediate place between Canterbury and Rome, sometimes with a stronger sense of loyalty to the latter than to the former. This can manifest itself in small things like the use of the Roman Rite and the inclusion of prayers for the Pope at mass; but also in overt and damaging public criticism of the Church of England from the pulpit and in the media. This can be taken to the point where an Anglican becomes a sort of pretend Roman Catholic: still in fact a part of the Church of England (and in the case of stipendiary clergy, still paid and housed by it) but in spirit a citizen of the Roman household of faith.  It is this little constituency for whom the so-called Ordinariate was designed by some bright spark in the Vatican. When you are desperate for priests and you know of some alienated, sympathetic Protestants, it is simple, pragmatic common sense to help them take that final step.

Yet it needs to be said that not all Anglo-Catholics inhabit this no-man's-land.  Most, while having a proper regard for the Pope and Catholic tradition and teaching, are quite clear about and comfortable in their Anglican identity.  For them, calling the Eucharist "mass" and the priest "Father"; invoking the prayers of the saints as a natural part of worship; instinctive awareness and celebration of the incarnational in ordinary life - none of these or associated "marks" of Catholicism translate into an ecclesiastical identity crisis.  Clergy in this situation might well describe themselves as "Catholic" within their own context; but are conscious that to do so indiscriminately and without qualification can cause confusion - both among those to whom they are called to be shepherds and in the community at large. And an important pastoral responsibility of the priest is to strive to hold confusion at bay.  Their Catholicism is dispositional, not institutional.

Also, they are aware that, as enfeebled a movement as it now seems, Anglo-Catholicism changed the Church.  The battles which it fought in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - to restore the Eucharist to its proper centrality and to increase the frequency of its celebration and in an identifiably Catholic authorised rite; to restore recognition of the ancient threefold order of ordained ministry; even to be able to wear vestments and to make the sign of the cross - these battles were won. They were not won as comprehensively as some had wanted (and still want); and reunion with Rome is undoubtedly as distant as ever. But, given the history of the Church of England, they were won as far as they could be; and to an extent that the Anglo-Catholic can usually worship comfortably and unapologetically somewhere within reach of his home.  And if he is averse to women priests and bishops - and not all are by any means - he can avoid them without too much effort.

Loyalty is a state of mind - or perhaps a state of the heart.  As virtues go, it is one that has a rather old-fashioned ring.  But, for the Christian, "faithfulness to duty or in love, friendship, etc" is second nature; it is, in its highest form, what binds God and man, the essence of the covenant.  It binds us to others, whether by love or by duty.  We need it to flourish; to interact wholesomely with each other.  It is a kind of currency.  And it is of God.


  1. I note your comments about being unable to leave the Church that nurtured you - and I understand that strongly, albeit, I came to it very late in life.

    I left the Roman Catholic in the mid-1980's, This was the church that I was born into, that had (after a fashion) had nurtured me in childhood (in care) but had become increasingly irrelevant in my life. I could probably write a book on the many things that happened, but essentially I was an outcast when I could no longer believe or follow much of the doctrine, which we had to accept and were expected to obey unthinkingly, something which I found increasingly hard to do.

    After a 25 year break, I joined the CoE, and I felt that I had come home. A Church where the breadth and depth allowed me to worship and participate without too much emphasis on doctrine, apart from being Trinitarian and accepting the Nicene Creed. It was a blessing and an opportunity to live and grow in an environment with may strands, Anglo Catholicism being one of those in the notional shopping basked. Given my Catholic background, for some reason I felt that Anglo Catholic wasn't the branch of the church that I would be comfortable with, how wrong can you be.

    I have learned to love all strands of Anglicanism, remaining middle of the road liberal, but with a leaning towards the Reformed Catholic as Dr Williams described it. And I now find myself becoming more Catholic as time goes on. By that, I mean Anglo Catholic not Roman Catholic.

    It's a process of growth and development and one which is wonderfully fulfilling. So, I have a definite loyalty to the CofE and will not leave it for any reason.

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful summary of your own journey. The need to belong is very deeply embedded in human nature, and finding a spiritual home where you can be yourself is indeed a blessing. I am conscious of course that some of my colleagues have taken the opposite journey to yours; and it is good for me to be reminded, when questions of loyalty are raised, that they too are seeking a way home to God.

    2. Many RCs do not agree with the Ordinates, we had many good priests who left the church because they were human and fell in love. I know many good men such as these who are shunned as sinners by Rome, but, to me would still be great priests. Until Rome connects with these men, then most of us do not see how one branch can be married and still minister.