The things I love about being in the Church of England
Posted by Eleanor Brindle, 8 Jan 2021
Eleanor Brindle shares some of her personal reasons for enthusiastically remaining in the Church of England, despite all the current challenges.
I affirm the 39 Articles, and I love them as a confession. I think they are perfectly pitched to be lowest common doctrinal denominator for a national church to unite around. I love having a confession to identify myself with. It does not supersede my identity in Christ, but rather places me in context within the church catholic (hereafter meaning universal and transcending time and space). I love that the confession is also enshrined in law, and I believe that to be the means by which God has preserved a faithful evangelical core in the CofE for 500 years, while so many who’ve left it have fallen into error and obscurity.
I love that the clergy vow to teach and uphold what they teach so far as they are agreeable with scripture. I love that the canons enable the dismissal of clergy that flout that, and that it does occasionally still happen.
I love the scriptural richness and the participatory nature of the liturgy; the gospel shape of the service; the importance given to the psalms that both reflect and instruct the soul of the worshipper; the thorough confessions at the beginning, that cut you to the quick and yet are followed with absolution to rebuild you and remind you that you have the right to approach the throne of grace with confidence; the collects of grace and peace so personal and universal; the way it teaches me to pray and think of and know God as revealed in His Word and to pray for the church and nations; the way it comforts the weary soul and points you to Christ, demands repentance and is inflexible in it’s condemnation of sin, yet shows the tender grace of Christ to the sinner.
I love the emphasis placed on knowing the creeds (proclaiming our faith together as a church is a personal highlight in the service), and on communal prayer, for both our communities local and national and for our leaders, both clerical and secular. I love the conviction of saying: “This is the Word of the Lord: Thanks be to God!” at the end of every reading -particularly the hard ones!
I love that our liturgy ties us to the church catholic: we are not the first to be real Christians, and in the way we conduct our services we stand on the shoulders of our brothers and sisters who have come before.
I love the church calendar. I find following it for my own spiritual rhythms incredibly helpful (I do think of them as ‘helpful’ rather than ‘holy’ days and seasons). They teach me to consider more deeply doctrines and events I would not the same way otherwise (I’m still learning the importance of the doctrine of the ascension, for example) and to continually revisit those central doctrines I can all too easily be convinced I know and don’t need to revisit in a timely fashion (I’m always wrong). They teach me that to be in Christ is to celebrate in feast and festival the wonders of His goodness and grace.
I love the embodied physicality and movement of the prayer book service, that we honour God with our bodies and actions and not just our words. I really appreciate kneeling to pray: it reminds me I’m addressing my liege-Lord and King and should not be distracted! And I NEED the reminder, because to my shame, I DO get distracted while praying.
I love covenant theology and the way it opens up the Word as the eternal story of God being faithful to his people, not holding back the gospel from any of them: that we can view OT believers as Christians, that is, those trusting in, saved and justified by Christ’s work on the cross, with as much knowledge of the trinitarian nature of God and a comprehensive understanding of the gospel makes more sense in my reading of the OT than anything I understood before, where I was always left grappling with how ordinary men and women seemed to know so much of the gospel that had not yet been brought. Grasping covenant theology has been a gift that keeps on giving, changing and illuminating my reading of both scripture and life.
I love the calvinistic sacramentology: that Christ communes with us by the sacraments after a heavenly manner, and gave baptism and communion as a means of grace to build up and comfort the church.
I love that we can baptise whole families together, and I love that the church promises to support them in upholding their baptismal promises. I love being taught each time to find assurance in remembering my baptism and comfort in God’s promises and the knowledge that he is faithful.
I love the common cup and the one bread for what it teaches us of unity and the eucharistic liturgy for what it teaches us of how Christ loved us while we were still far off, and teaches us to approach the table with both reverence and joy. I love the charity with which people’s faith is approached: though you are meant to be confirmed to receive, the table is not fenced as such, once the explanation of whom the supper is for is given, access is self regulated. We do not presume to judge who is and isn’t saved off a short interview. The Bishop must be consulted for someone to be denied communion.
I love that confirmation is not tied to age, but that the catechism expects you to know and understand and explain the apostles creed, the ten commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.
I affirm reduced episcopacy (as per Ussher) as the most biblical form of church government and see Timothy and Titus as Bishops, appointing elders in every city, pastoring the pastors and defending sound doctrine. While I agree that the local church is the primary expression of church the I find Independent expressions isolationist and lacking in its view of itself as part of the global and Catholic church. I think government a secondary issue, but I think Bishops have a distinct purpose to pastor local presbyters, and historically and missionally (and currently, in some of the bishops of the Global South who actually act like Bishops) I can see, and I love the great service and benefit faithful Bishops rendered the church. I love the devolved nature that means every parish can be different and distinct and not under the roman catholic style of tyranny of a bishop. The Bishop cannot preside without being formally invited, and they can’t tell us what to do.
I love our Reformed Catholicity, and I find great comfort in being so tangibly connected to the church catholic both globally as an Anglican, and historically in doctrine and practice. The model I was taught when I worked in an Independent church, where the natural lifespan of a church was about 100 years before it succumbed to error and died, seemed horrifying to me. On the contrary, I find great comfort worshipping in ancient buildings and congregations, knowing that men built them hundreds of years ago in faith for future generations and seeing God’s faithfulness in how a congregation has been worshipping, being baptised, married, and buried there through good times and bad, peace and war, famine and plenty -through all that history’s thrown at it, the church family are still here. A faithful remnant is preserved. I love standing as a visible inheritor to the tangible faith of my ancestors.
I love being part of a worldwide catholic communion with a catholic vision, and how that’s expressed at things like GAFCON, and through the partnership with our link dioceses in other provinces. The greatest joy of my Diocese is the opportunity to host, meet, make connections, friends and pray with Anglicans faithfully serving Christ in our link Diocese of Kagera, in Tanzania. What a blessing to be able to stand so with our brothers and sisters in Christ far away.
I love the heritage of an established church, and still think the Church of England offers unique opportunities to be able to reach and witness to the country. As an Independent I was taught that the benefits of being Church of England were so quickly disappearing as to count for nothing. But that’s not what I’ve found. We were always scraping around for ministry opportunities, and expending SO MUCH ENERGY on trying to get people through the door (or in their doors). In a CofE church, we have the benefit of generations of community involvement and trust and familiarity. We’re invited into schools - so many schools! As a staff member I really feel the difference. We got half the teachers from the Church primary school to an Alpha last year! There’s the evangelistic opportunities through weddings, funerals, and even sometimes christenings. Here I’m not scraping around for people to do ministry with, I’m having to choose how to best spend my resources on all the opportunities that present themselves to me.
And I love the potential of the CofE. The CofE has been a mixed bag in practice since conception, and the last 500 years have been a bit of a rollercoaster to say the least. But God has not abandoned us. By his grace he has preserved us and by his goodness evangelicalism within our ranks has boomed over the last twenty years. The extent to which I see Paul fighting for wayward churches in the NT teaches me that contending for the gospel from within the existing churches rather than abandoning and replanting should be the norm. I’m more invested in revitalisation and reforming work than church planting in places that already have an evangelical presence. 16,000 parishes and the principle of the cure of souls is a mission I can get behind. The catholicity I so cherish and the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to preserve and build his church compels my steadfastness. I could not in good conscience abandon what He has seen fit to preserve. I think it’s worth all the heartache, politics and bureaucracy. There’s no denying there is cost, but as every church is full of sinners, all churches will have these issues eventually. If the Church of England for all its warts, were to become overwhelmingly truly evangelical, and make no mistake, I believe even this is within His power, can you imagine the power it would have for the gospel??
Eleanor Brindle is the Youth Minister at Mission Ipswich East.
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