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 dances, garden 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.