Anglicanism, Change, and the Great Christian Tradition
The Reverend Sandys Wason (1867-1950) was an eccentric, to put it charitably, Anglo-Catholic Priest and Perpetual Curate of Cury and Gunwalloe over the course of his surprisingly lengthy ministry career. Wason was an Anglo-Catholic at a time when the Church of England was very much opposed to the rapid advance of Roman practices in English Churches, and was so staunchly committed to practices that were nothing short of being blatantly Roman Catholic, that he was passed along by three Bishops who refused to ordain him; until he landed in rural Cornwall where the Bishop was desperate for clergy, and ordained him to fill a position no one wanted. Wason rapidly and dramatically changed the liturgical and worship life of the two tiny parishes under his care, immediately instituting two-hour long masses in Latin, among other Roman practices, into the life of his churches. The most dramatic and, shall I say enduring, mark of his ministry there is a stone altar that he placed in one parish at his mother’s expense, put there to replace the wooden table that stood there before (this was at a time when it was literally illegal to use a stone altar in a Church of England Parish).
When the Bishop got wind of what was going on, he rushed to the church and, desperate to make a symbolic act to signal to the Church his commitment to Anglican practice, tried to remove the stone altar. What the Bishop found was that the altar was so heavy that it simply could not be moved, and so it remains to this day. That is certainly one way to make changes in a Parish.
I do not bring this humorous anecdote to your attention because I plan to make any changes in the style of the Reverend Wason (his parishioners responded by placing dead animals at the doorstep of Wason’s Vicarage), but to introduce a topic that is uncomfortable for just about everyone, change. Change is rarely easy, rarely welcome, and rarely well-received, particularly when traditions, symbols, and values that we cherish appear to be in jeopardy through the process of change. I say this as someone well-versed in the difficulty of changing, as even the best changes in my life have not been without challenges. Yet, change we must at times, never for the sake of change, but to grow and, in the life of the church, grow in our knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In that spirit, I offer you some suggestions for understanding, processing, and adapting to any changes that I may, I hope thoughtfully and graciously, make as your new Rector. First, know that I do not make changes flippantly or without good reason, but with an eye on a number of factors, including the sensibilities of a Parish, but also and most importantly the weight of the great Christian tradition as it is expressed in Anglicanism. Secondly, if you are uncomfortable with any changes, I ask that you come directly to me to discuss your discomfort, perhaps over a cup of tea in my office, so that I have an opportunity to share my reasoning with you, and listen to why some symbol or action may be of great value to you. Lastly, please remember that, while I have been blessed and burdened by the weighty call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as an Anglican Priest, I am not sinless. To the contrary, I confess my sins at least twice a day in the Daily Office, and I can always think of at least one thing for which I need God’s grace and mercy each time I do confess. So, if you think I have made a mistake, that should not come as too much of a surprise to anyone, I simply ask that you communicate that sentiment directly to me with grace and kindness.
As Anglican Christians, we have been given the gift of a great tradition to stand beneath, not uncritically, but knowing that centuries of practices and rituals crafted for the worship of the Triune God are no accident, and ought not be cast aside needlessly or thoughtlessly in favor of local or personal expressions. I believe that God has incredible plans in store for St. Peter’s Anglican Church, plans which begin with our worship of Him, which is always “our duty and our joy.”
The Rev Matt Rucker, Rector