Tuesday, April 27, 2010

You Gotta Have Faith

I should preface this post with a little bit of background.  I am Jewish; I was bat mitzvahed at 13 and, although I mostly only celebrate the holidays, still consider myself actively Jewish.  Growing up, though, I attended an Episcopalian school, sang in the Washington National Cathedral Girls' Choir, and internalized a deep understanding of and respect for many aspects of Christianity.  In fact, I chose to focus most of my studies though college and graduate school on medieval Christianity, which I found myself able to study objectively rather than subjectively (which I consider my appreciation of Judaism to be).  I joked to a friend once that I'm a "Jewpiscopalian," and it's sort of true.  I am spiritually Jewish, but culturally I feel equally Anglican and Jewish.

I bring this up because of an article in this week's New Yorker entitled "A Canterbury Tale."  It focuses on the ordination of women as priests in the Anglican Communion, especially in England.  I was drawn to this section:

There are twenty-three million Anglicans in England. They get baptized in the church, married at the church, and buried by the church, and most of them show up for Christmas and Easter services, when the music is undeniably celestial. On an average Sunday, all but a million or two stay home in their bathrobes and read the paper. They are, however, riveted by the fight over female bishops. Judith Maltby, a Reformation historian and Anglo-Catholic priest who serves as the chaplain of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, says, “To understand this, you have to understand ‘establishment’ as not just about Lord Bishops or the Queen—you have to understand it parochially. An Episcopal priest will say, ‘I have three hundred parishioners,’ meaning the people in his church.’ A Church of England priest will say, ‘I have twenty or thirty thousand,’ because legally his or her pastoral time is for everyone in the parish, no matter who they are”—or where or how they worship, or even what religion, if any, they practice.

I remember a conversation I had about a year ago with an English friend of mine.  He is a spiritual atheist who does not support the organization of religion; in fact, when I took him to a service at New York City's St. John the Divine he was visibly uncomfortable.  However, we talked about weddings once and he - he who could not wait to flee St. John and he who was coerced into going to an organ recital at Westminster only because I was a friend of the organist - mentioned that he envisioned himself getting married in a quaint little stone church on a village green.  This, from an avowed atheist!

I guess that this is what Judith Maltby means when she talks about the "parochial establishment."  The Church of England is so firmly ingrained in the English consciousness that it is a cultural identity for native Englishmen, even for those who are only Christmas/Easter churchgoers or those who never darken the doors of a religious house.  I don't know what legal basis this has - my medieval studies stopped well short of the Reformation and of Henry VIII - although I do know that the king or queen of Great Britain is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.  I have to say, I find it comforting that many Englishmen take solace in the concept of the Church as a sort of home base (my friend included, his protestations aside).  I know it's not financially viable, but I do think it's a sign of success for the Church - for any church.

(As a side note, I wonder how I'm going to find a synagogue in London.  Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions?  I might have to resort to Google...)

1 comment:

  1. Betsy,

    Adam and I were married down near City Hall today. As you observe, living together is tough – especially when you're older and you've had a few (or more) hard knocks - but being alone is, I daresay, a hundred times worse.

    The immigration stress has taken quite a toll on us too. As you may be aware, we're internet-challenged, so we've been suffering for it. And how!

    Now: when I was looking for a nice shul last September, as often happens the two big Liberal ones were already full up months in advance (one is near Marble Arch, I think). So I took Adam (who, being agnostic, was markedly uncomfortable down in the men's section) and our German girlfriend to an Orthodox shul in St John's Wood. That was a mixed bag, but the main point is: THEY HAD ROOM! They charged something like 50 quid a head.

    That's my two cents.

    Kind regards,

    Rebecca H.


I love reading your thoughts and suggestions! Please do leave a comment so we can get to know each other better.