Anglophobia, Anglophilia, and the Cultural Apostolate

In 2018, March 12 is Commonwealth Day, celebrating that strange and amorphous organisation that succeeded the British Empire. Ecclesiastically, the mark of that Empire was made not only in the Anglican Communion, but also in the nations whose Catholic Episcopal Conferences belong to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. These United States, who (apart from the Irish Republic, which left in 1949) are the only major English-speaking country outside the Commonwealth – having seceded from the Empire before the Commonwealth’s formation in 1931 – have a strange and contradictory relationship with the British. This odd contradiction left its mark on American Anglicanism, and said mark provides both challenges and advantages to American Ordinariate members who would evangelise their non-Catholic neighbours.

On the one hand, both the national mythology concerning the Pilgrims and the American Revolution as well as the inherited Irish hatred of the British Crown have made Anglophobia an enduring part of our national life. But on the other, the obvious British origins of our language, culture, and governmental structures – and a sneaking admiration of the Monarchy – have rooted Anglophilia just as firmly in it.

Historically, American Anglicanism has threaded between these two poles: in the beginning, Southern Anglicans were – alongside New England Congregationalists and the Ulster Scots – one of the three major groups responsible for the break with Britain. The formation of the Protestant Episcopal Church was needed both to finalise an ecclesiastical break, and to counteract in the public mind the taint of Loyalism that was particularly attached to Anglicanism in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. After the Civil War, the Episcopal Church sought to and in great part succeeded to become the preferred religion of the American Establishment (the humourous gibe of that time, that “the Episcopal Church was the Republican Party at prayer,” echoed similar jokes about its sister churches in England and the West Indies being either the Tory Party or the Planters in the same position). During this time, when the American upper classes were avidly seeking noble transatlantic marriages for their daughters, and refashioning the St. Grottlesex schools and the Ivy League into Public School and Oxbridge imitations to educate their sons (latterly in the hope that the smartest of them might merit Rhodes Scholarships), Anglophilia became firmly ensconced among them. The National Cathedral was just that. This ethos even made its way into everyday life, via those mistresses of proper behaviour, Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt.

This cosy arrangement lasted until shortly after the Second World War on the national level, and in various locales has not passed away entirely even now. If one wished to rise socially, and was not particularly attached to a given Protestant faith, then in moving to a better suburb, in addition joining the country club and the local historical society, having one’s wife enter the junior league, and finding a suitable school and cotillion for the children, the family joined the Episcopal parish.

Regardless of said parish’s level of liturgical and/or doctrinal churchmanship, it offered its parishioners something else – Anglophilia. There might be cream or afternoon teas, tea dancesgarden parties, Shrove Tuesday pancake races, Advent Lessons and Carols, Boar’s Head feasts (complete with eponymous carol), madrigal dinners, Burns’ night suppers, blessings of the hounds (in hunting communities) or animals in general or the yachts (in maritime ones), kirkin’ of the tartans, May festivals, Easter egg rolls, elaborate celebrations of the feasts of Ss. George, Andrew, David, and even Patrick, Remembrance Day services, and on and on. Local hereditary, heritage, civic, and veterans groups would be invited to stage their annual services in the church and the Rector might well be chaplain – with minimal duties – to any number of these. For the more intellectually minded, there would be reading groups, dedicated to one or more of the British writers whose works are sufficiently popular to inspire literary societies. Local theatrical groups, historic dance companies, and early music ensembles might be invited to perform in the parish hall or even the church itself. Indeed, depending on the locale, writers, artists, and actors were often particular targets of a parish’s outreach, and appropriate guilds created for them.  Parish outings would be organised to take members in groups to local museums, historic houses, Renaissance Faires, Revels, Scottish Games, Celtic Festivals, and the like – or even to racetracks or golf courses (the latter being arranged at their country clubs by members of said clubs to give their fellow parishioners a taste of the high life; they might do the same for various civic and religious holiday banquets for the parish).

Now all or many of these may seem silly. But they served a number of useful purposes. They gave the parish a strong self-identity, and as well as made it a player on the local scene. These practises were pleasant in and of themselves, and often as not even beneficial. Moreover, they attracted new members from the various outside elements that they brought parishioners and clergy into contact with. Moreover, they did so while reinforcing the Anglican mystique.

Now, it might be objected at this point that in so doing, such observances carried more than a whiff of snobbery. Indeed they did – and do. But let us not be so quick to dismiss them on those grounds. The late Hilaire Belloc, in considering possible venues for missionary endeavour, noted that there are three ways to influence people’s actions: force, corruption, and snobbery. Force, he noted, the Church no longer has recourse to, and corruption is forbidden to us as an evangelistic tool by the Faith herself. That left snobbery, of which he famously remarked that, “we must spread the impression that everything outside the Church is somehow suburban.” To a self-congratulatory egalitarian society such as ours, that sentiment may seem objectionable. But the truth is that the Household of the Faith is a Royal Priesthood, into whose ranks we should wish to bring everyone from the homeless to the Royal Family itself. When the Faith first came to Rome, the two classes that converted en masse were the slaves and the old Roman aristocracy, who had been shunted aside under the Empire. For the first named, it gave their lives value and meaning; for the second, it meant that their attempts to retain their old noble customs and virtues had not been in vain, but could be supernaturalised into something far greater. This is the example that should ever be in our hearts and minds.

But what does that mean for those of us in the Ordinariate? Well. For most of us, our time and treasure is often enough primarily going to getting our fledgling communities off the ground. To call our priests already hard-working is to honour through understatement. But it shall not always be that way – and in some few cases, things are already a bit easier. We do need to keep in mind the big picture.

In this writer’s humble opinion, our proximate goal should be assuming one day the role of the Episcopal Church in national life, as a social and cultural force – not for merely social or cultural or political reasons, as was so often the case with PECUSA, but to forward the conversion of these United States to the Catholic Faith, in keeping with the Great Commission of Our Lord Himself. But that grand goal has to start at the local level, with the means we have discussed. The Holy Ghost Himself shall bring success to these efforts to the degree our zeal merits and His own plan permits.

All such initiatives shall have to be lay-based, as indeed they were in the Episcopal Church. But any of us who may have memberships in any of the sorts of organisations earlier mentioned should set about securing for our pastor or an assistant cleric the sort of nominal chaplaincies earlier mentioned – offering grace at the annual banquet, and perhaps Evensong for the annual service ought not to take too much time from his more important duties, but it shall raise his visibility in the community and possibly inspire some to ask about the parish. The same goes for any of the other sorts of activities we touched upon – with the realisation that if we propose it, we should be ready to organise it! In all of them, we must remember what the Episcopalians of yore tended to forget; what all of these things, however good or pleasant they may be in themselves, they are a means to a much greater end – the bringing of individual souls to Christ.

8 thoughts on “Anglophobia, Anglophilia, and the Cultural Apostolate

  1. Thank you for mentioning Evensong! One great cultural gift that the Ordinariate can contribute is to the Church at large is proper lay leadership of the Divine Office. It was common for Anglican layman to lead Morning Prayer and Evensong in cassock and surplice.


  2. The American Revolution had a particularly catastrophic consequence for the Anglican Church in the southern colonies, where it was the predominant church: the bishops, being English Lords, withdrew and left dioceses with no episcopal leadership. The colonial pastors chose men to become bishops, but they could not receive ordination from the English bishops because the Church of England required all bishops to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown — which no American was about to do. Thus, they turned to the Episcopal Church of Scotland to consecrate their first bishops. This fact is preserved even today in the shield of The Episcopal Church (TEC), which has nine small white crosses representing the first nine dioceses arranged to the form of the Cross of St. Andrew, Patron of Scotland and of the Church of Scotland, on a blue background in the upper left quadrant formed by the red cross that’s centered on the shield.

    From the OP: If one wished to rise socially, and was not particularly attached to a given Protestant faith, then in moving to a better suburb… , the family joined the Episcopal parish.

    This remark reminds me of a story of a woman who stopped to talk to the pastor of a Methodist church as she was leaving after a service. The pastor listened patiently as the woman explained that the family moved to the neighborhood and came to the church from a Baptist church several years earlier when her husband received a promotion into middle management. She went on to say that her husband had just been promoted into a senior executive position, and thus that the family would be moving to a more neighborhood and would be going to the Episcopal Church as of the following week, then asked the pastor’s opinion.

    The pastor’s reply: “Ma’am, it does not matter what label you put on an empty bottle.”

    Methinks the mission of the Church to be that of bringing people into the fullness of Christian faith and supporting their growth in Christian faith — not that of providing social stature.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Manythanks for both the historic note and the story – and it is precisely that sort empty-bottleness that brought not just PECUSA but all the mainline Protestant churches to their present pass. It is all on a par with President Eisenhower’s quote “In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is,” or Amy Vanderbilt’s – to me – horrific reason for sending children to SUnday School: “Most children benefit from some ethical and religious instruction in groups with other children. From it they get a valuable grounding in the Bible, knowledge of which is so vital for a full understanding of literature, our mores, and our moral precepts. If all the other children in your neighborhood go to Sunday school and your child, because you have no particular religious affiliation or, perhaps, conviction, stays home, you run the risk of letting him become an outsider in the activities of the group. I am thinking not only of the pleasure, inspiration, and spiritual growth children get from the Bible stories as they hear them in Sunday school but of the skills that the child may develop from Sunday school activities, such as singing. It seems to me that young people should not wait for courses in comparative religion in high school or college to find out about these emotional and ethical experiences that influence our thinking and effect our literature, our laws, our whole cultural pattern. Consider, for example, how meaningless would be such titles as “The Voice of the Turtle,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” such expressions as “Adam’s rib,” “manna from heaven,” “he has a cross to bear,” “it was another case of David and Goliath,” to someone entirely ignorant of the Bible as the living literature it is. ”

      Obviously, when advocating the use of some of the things that made Episcopal parishes so attractive to outsiders, I have no desire to simply repeat their past empty use. Indeed, it is precsiely the Catholic Faith that can make these dry bones live. Similarly, I have no desire to commemorate the Druids with my Christmas holly and mistletoe! In any case, it will be a long time before we have to worry about membership in the Catholic Church bringing one any kind of social cachet in this country.


      • Charles,

        Unfortunately, we have long had plenty of empty bottles in the Catholic Church, too. It’s most prevalent in ethnic neighborhoods that are culturally Catholic, where there’s a lot of familial and social pressure to conform to the precepts of the church: individuals and even small groups conform outwardly, but do the complete opposite in private. A few years ago, a fairly large number of these empty bottles formed a political organization called “Catholics for Abortion” that engaged in political advocacy in which, obviously, no real Catholic could ever engage.

        There has been debate in recent decades as to whether the pronoun that begins each section of the creed should be singular or plural — the “I believe…” verses “We believe…” debate. The English translation of the Roman Missal has been back and forth with this: the interim form introduced in the mid-1960’s used the singular, the first translation of the current ordinary form introduced in 1969 used the plural, and the revised translation introduced in 2011 reverted to the plural. But, fundamentally, we believe as a community because each of us holds to those beliefs. Thus, the singular and the plural should be are equivalent, but there is a difference in emphasis: the singular underscores the fact that each of us must believe all of the tenets of the creed, and thus can be a counter to the “empty bottle” syndrome, while and the plural underscores the fact that these tenets are beliefs that we share in common and thus can be a counter to individualism in our expression of faith. The reality is that, in modern culture where individualism is the norm, we need both.

        Related to this, we seriously need to obliterate the mindset that regards the sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation, and first communion — as rites of passage in a Catholic culture and substitute real spiritual discernment of which individuals are and are not ready to receive these sacraments. Baptism of infants does make sense for children whose parents are living witnesses to the faith, providing a real expectation that the children will grow up in the faith, but it does not make sense if the parents are empty bottles who will not instill genuine faith in their children. Likewise, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is not intended to be a pipeline that potential converts to Christian faith enter in September or October that leads to automatic baptism at the Easter Vigil early in the following year. Rather, it is intended to be an ongoing entity that prospective converts to Christian faith can enter, becoming catechumens, at any time of year and in which there’s real discernment of the progress of each catechumen: those who are ready embrace the fullness of Christian faith in the sacraments of initiation are enrolled as the Elect, to be baptized that year, on the first Sunday of Lent while the rest continue as catechumens through another year of preparation and discernment. This is in fact stated explicitly in the rubrics of the RCIA, but rarely followed.



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