“What era?” he asked.
“Twentieth Century American History!” came my enthusiastic reply.
He sort of chuckled and said, “My dear young man, that barely qualifies as current events!” His view was History was something that took a while. Perspective and reflection were always the measure of Historical accuracy and interpretation on what the signs of the times might really have meant.
I’ve never forgotten that, especially when (in whatever context) people say one of two things:
1. Things have never been worse!
2. I really miss the good old days!
Generally speaking there is always some point in history that we can point to to learn about the current state of affairs. Sometimes what we learn is simply that ‘it’s not so bad, after all.’ I have to say that we in the Church get caught up in hand wringing from time to time. When that happens what always suffers is the Mission of the Church (look up p. 855 BCP again!!!).
I genuinely believe we’re on the cusp of losing focus again. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the current climate in the Anglican Communion over issues of Women’s Ordination and Human Sexuality are important and that the Communion is in a fragile state! What I would hope we could remember is that this is not the first time there have been profound disagreements about doctrine and it won’t be the last!
What I believe would be a real shame is for us to act as though we are at the make or break point with regard to the work of the Church. And I don’t mean the Episcopal Church, or even the Anglican Communion. I mean the Mission of Jesus. That will go on until the Kingdom comes on earth again.
One of my favorite websites, Anglicans Online, published the following bit of historical perspective on their homepage this week.
Hallo again to all.
There is much at present in the Anglican Communion about which we can be gloomy. But since the 19th century, in matters of church basics, we’ve made enormous advances. We take for granted an understanding of the importance of the two dominical sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion in parish liturgical life. To a greater or lesser degree, parishioners have an informed understanding of those sacraments. The primacy of the Eucharist is established in most parish churches; just a short time ago, historically speaking, it was likely a four-times-a-year occurrence or, in advanced parishes, perhaps once a month. From Kilvert’s Diary again:
‘Tackling’ is assumed in most parishes now! Yet it’s easy to forget that our present liturgical state is the result of hard-won victories. From the early high-church heroes who risked gaol (in England) and presentment, trial, and opprobrium elsewhere to advance the understanding of sacramental liturgy, to the Oxford movers-and-shakers whose concentrated energies burst onto the world and made theological tracts best-sellers, from clergy who daringly risked for the ‘adornment’ of churches and argued a return, to more historically correct ecclesiastical vesture — all these made the parish church the place we know today.
When we’re tempted to be glum and weary about the struggles and strife in the Communion in our own time, just remember that not long ago, in the mother church of the communion:
Take heart! Life is better now. Whatever our problems be today, they seem more refined than those of a century or two ago. Perhaps the source of the problems will never change — human nature — but the problems themselves do evolve.
This week let us not ‘forget’ Candlemas. And we’ll see you next week.
I for one am not looking forward to going back to these ‘good old days!’ That being said, continue to pray for our Church and particularly the sinful human beings (that’s all of us) that call it home!