We are roughly three months into a global crisis of health that has shaken society, economy and polity. During such a time, should the church not play a very particular role as the claimed body of Christ present on earth? But when we regard the recent actions of the Anglican leadership in general – with some exceptions – what appears is deeply disturbing. What this might reveal is that the leadership of this communion is deeply lacking in creativity, boldness and the sense of the moment in which the church has a duty to provide balm, salve and hope.
This is not a pragmatic moment to benefit the church.
It is not a moment to be called, as some have, “A tremendous Gospel opportunity” as if now is the time to pounce with the message, “Jesus loves you”. This crass seizing of the moment for such an end should be anathema. I say that even as one who believes that the Gospel is a great victory announcement over sin, and the beginning of redemption. But there is indeed a clear call to the Church during this time.
We see in Christ the right example.
Christ never appears to take advantage of human need to make his most important didactic points. He taught to large crowds, and yet in the moments when approached with a personal request He simply acted and said remarkably little. “But Jesus”, we may think, you missed an opportunity to convert a soul! I don’t know what to say, other than perhaps Jesus knew what the Jewish Scriptures taught Him – there is a time for silence, and a time to speak. And now, during Covid, is a time for silent acts of prayer, service and piety which open us to the graces of God.
Now is a time for the church to boldly act!
This is a moment in which such actions must be used to bring help and hope. This requires creativity and can lead to many small yet powerful initiatives and actions. The Anglican leadership should be encouraging its local leadership to seek ways to continue public and private prayer, to keep churches “open” during the week (supervised for safe gathering), to read Scripture together, etc. Surely some simple creativity can mean that we both keep the community safe, and find a way to continue what is core? Imagine the hopeful image of a Bishop holding court in a Cathedral while reading aloud the Psalms of lament and comfort (streamed? or not) – these sorts of visual and symbolic acts are critical.
The mad dash to the novelty of online services belies a further problem.
Few understand how the online medium changes the very nature of personal presence, and so to simply move traditional formats online and expect people to politely sit through an hour is simply inhuman. Simplification, varieties of engagement (readings, testimony, short homilies, musical lament and celebration, etc.) would better engage the human mind and soul. Why continue with the Sunday morning timing at all when spreading these critical moments throughout the week might engender better engagement? Why also not offer alternative formats? For example, where a 15 minute Scripture reading is all that occurs ? But, this is a topic for another day.
When we return to the issue of how the Anglican church has handled the CV19 crises, here is what we have observed:
1. Churches closed despite no Government requirement. Little effort to open the doors an hour a day for prayer with social distancing respected. Little to no effort to demand that Vicars, Priests, Deacons or Bishops go to church alone to pray for the people as both a visual and a public act of faith and hope in God.
2. The Archbishop of Canterbury retreated to his kitchen to remind us of the victory of Easter! A shocking and jarring visual, that perhaps reveals much about the Anglican leadership’s sense of the faith. Rather than boldly and physically stand present in the Canterbury Cathedral – he choses to remain warm and cosy in his kitchen. I trust his latte and eggs were warm? Too biting ? Sorry – it is deserved.
3. A retiring, tentative and weak sentimentality in how the church has communicated. “Wash your hands, be good citizens.” Period. I expect as much from a Government poster – not the organization that claims to stand in for Christ in time and place.
What is unforgivable to me, as a Christian, is the immediate retreat of leadership. Perhaps that one image alone – a man hiding in his home – captures the sad and true essence of the soul of Anglicanism today.
Lord, help us.