Wednesday, December 08, 2010

And Proudly So

Another reader writes:
Father A.,
I believe you too left Anglicanism for Lutheranism, no? Maybe you've spoken to it before, but I'm always curious why one leaves one tradition for another. Of course, it isn't any of my business...
Actually, no, we were never Anglican. Father Anonymous was baptized into the chill Nordic bosom of the Evangelical-Lutheran movement, and expects his funeral obsequies to be read by somebody named Gundersen or Mittelhofer. Cut me, and I bleed little tiny Luther Roses. Mother Anonymous claims that in my sleep, I occasionally mutter passages from the Smalcald Articles.

But bless you for thinking otherwise.

The truth is that we at the Egg have gained immensely from the witness of our ecumenical partners, Anglicans by no means least. During our thee-plus years at a Presbyterian seminary, two of our favorite instructors were from the Moravian Church and the Church of South India, and we worshipped faithfully at the Episcopal parish across the street. During a much briefer stay at a Lutheran seminary, we divided our Sundays among the local Lutheran churches (neither a very satisfying experience), a Southern Baptist congregation (explanation below) and a Romish community administered by one of the orders (as splendidly led as the novus ordo permits).

But yes, the CofE and her many daughters occupy a special place in our heart. Despite the significant amounts of Anglican-baiting that take place in the Egg's frat-house atmosphere, we expect that even a casual reader can sense our affection. Some of this comes from the shared experience of Lutherans and Anglicans, which goes back to the very beginning and has enjoyed many twists and turns since then. We are good sparring partners.

Much more comes from Fr. A.'s English-major-y habits of mind, and the fact that many Anglicans write in English. As a youth, the college boy then called Secular Humanist Anonymous was deeply moved by the works of George Herbert. Moved, in fact, to a radical reconsideration of his own worldview. He read a fair deal of Coleridge, although without understanding very much. (He also won a prize for his BDSM-themed parody of a John Donne sonnet). In the fullness of years, his STM thesis dwelt at length upon the sacramentology of Donne's preaching. And he read all the Peter Wimsey books in a single summer. So, yes, Anglican writers have helped to shape the way we think as, say, Methodist writers have not.

But no. We were never actually Anglican ourselves. The closest we have come is probably our unofficial membership in an Episcopal summer congregation, up in the Adirondacks. But it hardly counts.

Honestly, we don't really know all that much about why somebody leaves one tradition for another. Of course, ignorance has never kept us from offering our thoughts previously, nor shall it now. Often, as everybody knows, it is simply a matter of convenience -- the choice of a particular parish, or the desire to worship alongside one's spouse. But sometimes, there is much more to it.

Consider the beautiful Mother Anonymous. She was raised, educated and ordained as a Southern Baptist. She even served an assistant pastor at a Southern Baptist congregation. Why did she leave? Not, as you might think, because the SBC has grown ever-more-resistant to women's orders. She could have managed that; several of her friends have done so. She was driven by a deepening love of tradition, meaning continuity in life and doctrine, and particularly by a love of traditional worship. In other words, catholic religion. Lutherans, when they are not messing around, can offer that. So, of course, can other people. But the other thing that Lutherans can offer, when they are not messing around, is a gimlet-eyed focus on the Gospel, understood despite the world's Pelagianism as the forgiveness of sins by grace, through faith, and for Christ's sake. In other words, evangelical theology. Neither of these things is especially hard to find, but it's the combination that matters.

They say that converts always pray loudest in church. Although Fr. A has a notably loud voice, Mother A. proves the truth of the saying. She is the high-church member of the family. Her collection of chasubles is like a jungle of silk and orphreys. She drinks chrism and exhales incense. We don't let her hang around maternity wards, for fear that she'll declare a general emergency and baptize everybody. By comparison, your humble servant is really just an old-fashioned evangelical gnome with a few higher-than-broad-church tendencies. Well, maybe more than a few.


Daniel Spigelmyer said...

Father A., I'm a lurker on your site, but you've mentioned several times that you used to be "Secular Humanist Anonymous" before becoming "Father Anonymous." Would you mind sometime in the future elaborating on how the Holy Spirit worked in your life to bring about this repentance?

Father Anonymous said...

Absolutely. It's a long story, and pretty boring, but I love to tell it. The nutshell version is easy, though: George Herbert's Prayer (1). That poem, by itself, worked wonders.

But of course it wasn't working in a vacuum.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

My daughter also went the Presbyterian Sem route, then on to a Lutheran Sem, taking 5 years to become a Lutheran pastor, but if she had already been Presbyterian, she would have been done after the first 3 years. I wonder how much overlap she would have with your background. But she doesn't write like you do. I think her time between semesters was spent toting a backpack in the mountains.

mark said...

Fullness of years . . . humbug!