Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Decline of the Church of England

Peter Mullen, the rector of St. Michael's, Cornhill and chaplain to the London Stock Exchange had a wonderful, hard-hitting piece (free registration required) on the decline of the COE in The New Criterion which is a superb monthly.
Mullen presents an excellent synopsis on what's gone wrong with the COE in exceptional prose. Excerpts: (bold = emphasis added)

As we prepare for our Harvest Festival Services, we see that what’s left of the English Church is indistinguishable from a lunatic asylum. Everywhere you peer inside this once refined and educated, lovely and lovable national institution, there is only a mania for self-destruction. How else can you account for church services that compete with pantomime for dramatized idiocy?

Oh my.

They have thrown out the Book of Common Prayer and The Authorized Version of the Bible and substituted dumbed-down, politically correct prayers which sound as if they were written by a committee made up of Tony Blair, Karl Marx, and Noddy.
When it comes to Christenings, Weddings, and Funerals, the Church has given up talking to grown-ups and instead produces the sort of touchy-feely guff used in adverts directed at moony adolescents. At the Wedding, for instance, the new official book for every parish, Common Worship, makes the priest pray, “Let them be tender with each other’s dreams.” I think there should be a rubric in the margin saying, “At this point the congregation shall throw up—bride’s family’s side first.” At Christenings they have dropped the renunciation of “the devil and all his works” and there is barely a mention of sin.
So what is Holy Baptism for? Only a sentimental prelude to the booze-up and the cake.

Back in the day when I was at university I found a quote (from a Catholic) that I thought so outrageous yet elegantly constructed that I posted it on my door:

"Going to bed with the Episcopalians is like ecclesiastical necrophilia."

[The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion and the American version of the COE.] A bit rough? Not really when you see this:

And, where the traditional Prayer Book’s Holy Communion used to say those unbearably moving holy words “In the same night that he was betrayed,” the new book says, “He had supper with his friends.” I am not making this up. You couldn’t make it up. This is the official worship book of the Church of England.


...[t]he Archbishop’s Council has produced an idiots’ Guide to Common Worship which enables us to dumb down even lower than Saturday evenings on BBC1. “Compline” becomes “Night Prayer.” In case we cannot understand, “O Lord, open thou our lips,” the Guide suggests we print at the start of the service, “We say hello!” And “Con- fession” is retitled, “Doing the dirt on ourselves.”

The description that sticks in my memory:

The whole institution is like a psychotic kindergarten. To this is added a myop- ic, self-righteous arrogance which allows modern clergy to mistake their failed parroting of 1960s corporatism—taxation, intervention, regulation—for prophecy.

How did it all go to hell in a handbasket?

In the early 1960s when I was a young man and a candidate for Ordination, the Church was enjoying something of a revival. The figures for Baptism and Confirmation were all rising steadily along with Sunday congregations. There were more men offering themselves for the priesthood than at any time since before the First World War. So how did the rot set in? There were three main causes: theological, liturgical, and social.
First, the 1960s saw the popularization of radical theology largely through the media of paperback books and television documentary programs.
The liturgy was next to suffer. W. H. Auden referred to the Book of Common Prayer as the “good luck” of the Church of England and, in the face of its sidelining, asked, “Why spit on our luck?” But spit the authorities did, introducing new rites and ceremonies wholesale...At a stroke this cornerstone of Anglican devotion was removed and usage in the Church came to resemble a new Babel. Suddenly there were four or five versions of the Lord’s Prayer. The result for Christian education, particularly of the young, was catastrophic.
Finally, the Church accepted wholesale the new social agenda of permissiveness. Bishops and other leading churchmen urged their congregations to give support to the proposed new Parliamentary Bills to liberalize abortion, divorce, and homosexuality...The old belief that certain actions were prohibited by God’s Commandments was simply passé—something that “modern man come of age” could safely leave behind.
Perhaps it is not altogether too late? The Church has been at death’s door before. And the Lord did say that the gates of hell would not prevail. The gates of hell are having a damned good try. But it will take a miracle to revive the Church now.

Always remembering that the enemies are within.

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