What do these churches have in common?

One of my reasons for coming to study in Cambridge, England was to learn more about the Church of England. I got to work this past Sunday.

I went first to Holy Trinity Church solely because it is the church where Max Warren was once the vicar. As a result, I expected it to be a good representation of the evangelical wing of the C of E. It was. There was no liturgy to speak of. The music was from a band, not an organ. There was lots of hand- and arm-raising during the worship. The church was quite full and I was close to the average age or a little older. The sermon was a close exposition and teaching of a Biblical text. No one wore vestments. The dress among the congregants was quite casual.

Following the service, I walked 500 feet (or less) down the cobblestone streets to Great St. Mary’s and into the end of the matins service. The priest was giving a sermon about the faith and public life. He wore vestments, as did the choir. The music came from an organ and the hymns were easily recognizable “classics” to me. The church was practically empty. (I wondered how my Sudanese friends would react to the situation of showing up to church so late and having one’s pick of pews to have to oneself.) I skewed the average age much younger.

I’m not going to draw any conclusions on the basis of a single Sunday morning in Cambridge. The school term hasn’t begun yet and things will likely change when students return. But I was left wondering about what the common nub of Anglicanism was in each church that united them in the Church of England. And, if there is such great difference between two churches in such close physical proximity, what unites these churches with churches in Sudan or Nigeria or Japan or New Zealand?

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3 thoughts on “What do these churches have in common?

  1. Blake

    Good question (though I would also suggest Little St. Mary’s for increased breadth of sample), “bonds of mutual affection and shared history” only get you so far – that’s ultimately about compatibility, and, as you note, there’s nothing compatible about Sudanese and English Anglicanism (there’s little enough compatibility as it is within the community of English Anglicans!). A deceptively simple answer might that the college of Anglican bishops is in communion with the see of Canterbury, and with each other through Canterbury; such communion is enlivened by the four instruments of communion, and will soon be put into language by the covenant. I think it’s important to recognize that communion is not about compatibility, nor uniformity in local peculiarities of theological emphasis or liturgical style, nor even agreement on the historical interpretation of our tradition; but rather about an ongoing life of submitting to one another in love for the sake of Christ.

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