Anglo-Catholics enjoy 'pickles, pop tarts and cutting-edge catholicism' at conference

May 23, 2003

"Catholic Evangelism" was the topic for the sixth biennial conference of the movement known as Affirming Anglican Catholicism, held May 19-22 at Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal, Quebec.

Described as "the new catholic movement with the Anglican and Episcopal Churches ... call(ed) to a mature, living Christianity where Scripture, Reason, the Sacraments and Catholic Tradition make sense of our lives today," Affirming Catholicism is under the patronage of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and in the United States, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold.

Affirming Catholicism conferences in North America have traditionally begun with a brief retreat, and this year's was led by Bishop Geralyn Wolf of the Diocese of Rhode Island. Her dramatically presented meditations were drawn from her recent experiences on sabbatical, during which she lived with the homeless in an attempt to re-discover what she called her "first love for Jesus, lived as an inner-city parish priest in Philadelphia."

Wolf reminded participants that their Anglo-Catholic forebears in the late 19th and early 20th centuries knew the lives of the poor and homeless because they lived among them and engaged in radical social action to change their conditions. "The people saw that and followed them. Maybe that's what we ought to mean by ‘Catholic Evangelism,'" Wolf commented.

Pickles versus pop tarts

Dr. Ellen Charry, a systematic theologian teaching at Princeton and a convinced Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, gave the major keynote address of the conference. She contrasted what she described as an "atonement" theology of salvation with a "participation" theology, while acknowledging that both are biblical and part of the tradition. Drawing a trajectory from Irenaeus through Richard Hooker, she described this "participation soteriology" as fully Trinitarian, drawing the one saved into the very life of God, while atonement soteriology is more Christocentric and Cross-centered, often using the language of substituting Christ's death for the one sinners "deserve."

Believing that "participation" theology is more compatible with catholic teaching and "atonement" with the more Protestant, Charry playfully entitled this section of her paper "Pickles or Pop Tarts." In this case, "pickles" describe the process of the "slow God" who transforms us over time in a process of sanctification. "Pop tarts" illustrate the activity of a "fast God" who converts us instantly in the experience of justification.

In her final section, Charry postulated that if the early centuries of the church's life could be described as "the age of bishops," and the medieval period as "the age of monks," then the modern day is "the age of the laity." Since "all people are theologians, the task of the church is to help them become more sophisticated and theologically literate ones," she said. A few practical suggestions for parish practice in this new age included:

--Full immersion baptism in large fonts with running water;

--Processing the newly-baptized with their baptismal candles around the church and outside to symbolize the new light kindled for this darkened world;

--Celebration of baptismal (not birthday, or ordination) anniversaries in church;

--Creation not only of a Book of Occasional Services, but a "Book of Home Services" so that families and individuals can celebrate liturgically events and ministry in daily life.

Cutting edge catholicism

Practical catholic evangelism was also the theme of a presentation by Bishop Keith Whitmore of the diocese of Eau Claire entitled "Cutting Edge Catholicism." Focusing particularly on the "missing generation in our churches" (sometimes called Gen X), Whitmore challenged participants to make connections between the Church's rich tradition and the thought world of these young adults in their twenties and thirties.

"For a generation raised on Star Wars and now captivated by the two Matrix movies, an alternative reality is not such a stretch," Whitmore stated. "We need to remember that we 'Baby Boomers' are the last vestiges of the Enlightenment. Gen Xers want an experience of God, an experience of the numinous, which they will reflect on and theologize about later. Our liturgy and worship can do that if we make it accessible to them."

'Maternity ward' for new Christians

The conference concluded with a lecture by Canon Stephen Cottrell from the Church of England and author of "Catholic Evangelism," one in a series of books published by Affirming Catholicism in the United Kingdom. Acknowledging the very low church attendance and participation in the Church of England, Cottrell said that it had caused his church to raise serious questions about just how to be the church in a "post-Christian" society--one which will be seen in North America as well. He encouraged participants to learn from insights gleaned even in evangelical circles today that evangelization does not occur in a straight line from contact to conversion to church membership, but rather from contact through nurture into conversion and membership.

"Does your parish have a 'maternity ward' for the birthing of new Christians?" he asked. Programs like Alpha and the more catholic Credo as well as catechumenate programs will be increasingly important in the coming years, Cottrell believes.

Worship highlights at the conference included Solemn Evensong and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Montreal, and a Solemn High Mass in Christ Church Cathedral presided over by Archbishop of Montreal Andrew Hutchinson.