English bishop Nick Baines has posted about the differences between the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Church of England. After a year in the C of E, I thought I’d do the same from the perspective of an American in England, with the proviso that I am writing in broad generalities and, of course, from my own experience of the church.
- In England, it is quite common to have baptisms outside the regular Sunday-morning service. In fact, I’d say this is when the majority happen. People request a “private” baptism. Often, huge numbers of friends and family attend these services. This takes place without a Eucharistic service. All of these things are exceptionally rare in the United States. I have very mixed feelings about the English practice.
- Clergy stipends are standardized across dioceses in the Church of England. That means what a vicar of a hugely successful parish gets paid is not different from what the vicar of a struggling, multi-point benefice down the road gets paid. This is hugely different from the U.S. where one’s compensation is tied to the size of one’s church. I have this sense in the C of E that there is less ladder-climbing and competition among clergy, and more collegiality. I like it. For one thing, it ensures rural ministry is given adequate attention.
- I came to England as a skeptic of Establishment and especially of the parish system, whereby every square inch of the country is under the care of some priest somewhere. But it is quickly growing on me. The default orientation of clergy here is towards their entire community, and not just towards that portion of it which darkens their doors on Sunday morning. There are American clergy who have this orientation too, of course, but I don’t get the sense it as widespread there as it is here. Here, it just has to be. Every soul in the parish is in your cure.
- One result of the parish system is that priests mostly live where their people do—no matter if the socio-economic background of the parish is such that an educated professional might not usually chose to live there. In the United States, I know lots of commuting priests. There are fewer here.
- In England, dioceses are larger (in terms of number of clergy and parishes, not geographic size, of course), which means bishops are more distant from their people, their ordinands, and their clergy. What’s more, to the best of my knowledge, there is no canonical requirement for a bishop to visit his parishes. In the American church, bishops have to visit every parish once every three (I think) years. Bishops (and archdeacons) only visit parishes when invited. This only makes the bishop seem more distant, if the only time you have seen him (and it is, sadly, only a him) is when he is presiding in his finest vestments in his ancient and towering cathedral.
- The Church of England strikes me as much more heavily bureaucratic than the American church. I’m not quite sure how to illustrate that claim, but I think it has to do with Establishment and the larger size of the church relative to the population of the country.
- On the other hand, the C of E has a pretty good system of raising up lay ministers—readers, licensed lay ministers, etc.—that some American dioceses could really learn from.
I’m sure there’s more, but those are a few that stick out. I’ve spent lots of time with the church in places like Nigeria, Sudan, China, Ecuador, and others, and know what it’s like to be in a church that challenges all my assumptions. But I don’t think I expected quite so many major differences between the American and English churches. And I’m sure there’s much more to learn in the years to come!
UPDATE: I realize I didn’t write a thing about Common Worship and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer! Will have to be a separate post altogether.