The role of Christianity in shaping the culture, laws and ultimate identity of both the United States and United Kingdom specifically and more widely of western civilization has been central to the emergent intellectual and cultural crisis that may well prove for history the most enduring legacy of the COVID virus.
It sets a powerful context and agenda which the Society will be addressing in the pages of its new look Anglican Way magazine – set for relaunch in January 2021 !
The seeming zeal to many, with which bishops closed churches and the State shut down public worship and access to the sacraments has exposed a fundamental crisis about what the fulness of life and its support requires. Is human life really just about mere physical well-being and comfort in the end?
The cooperation of the churches in their own marginalisation is striking and threatens deep change for their influence, unless firmly turned around and challenged. While on a more mundane level, hard questions will soon have to be faced too about the long term consequences of promoting “live streaming” of worship with the express intent that congregations can therefore stay at home!
While speaking on one level merely about Britain, the perspective can readily be expanded more widely, when Matthew Grimley wrote of the first of half of the twentieth century that:
Religion remained central to the articulation of the idea of national character … When commentators referred to the English as a Christian people, they were referring not to their propensity (or otherwise) for churchgoing but to a belief that Christianity (and specifically Protestantism) had shaped the distinctive political, legal, and associational culture of the nation. The frequency with which they did this suggests that the idea still resonated with a public that still saw itself as Christian. Alongside loosely Christian codes of respectability and sexual morality, the sense of belonging to a Protestant nation was an important component of the “discursive Christianity” that Callum Brown has identified as dominating British culture
(Matthew Grimley in “The Religion of Englishness: Puritanism, Providentialism, and “National Character,” 1918–1945”, Journal of British Studies , Vol. 46, No. 4 (October 2007), pp. 884-906)
The present crisis threatens a profound change to the institutional legacy of this heritage which Christians will surely have to contest.
Recent contributions to our pages are eloquent of the struggle that lies ahead. These have included William Murchison’s questioning of why “Cuomo Sees No Place For God In Crisis” https://anglicanway.mystagingwebsite.com/2020/12/13/governor-cuomos-defeat-on-limiting-church-attendance/;
the protest in the Church Times that “The Church’s sacramental ministry is not an optional extra”
and now today the devastating “A Prize Charlie” – A. N. Wilson on the Archbishop of Canterbury”
One of the most evocative, pervasive and deeply telling images in English art and literature through earlier times of crisis –such as the First and Second World Wars, was that of the humble country church. And it is notable for Anglicans that it was the single, small and rural chapel at Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire (home of a Caroline Anglican community) that provided the resolution to T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, first published in 1942 in a spirit we need to ponder that was so well captured in an earlier age by John Keble (https://soundcloud.com/user-140188366/choral-evensong-sermon-for-the-feast-of-john-keble-july-2020) when he stressed that for him in the end Christianity was always to be found and upheld in the individual congregation and church
– even – in the words of Eliot
So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
(T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” in Four Quartets (1944; repr., London, 1959), 46.)