Calling on the
Spirit in Unsettling Times: Discerning God's future for the
L. William Countryman
Canterbury Press £12.99
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THE internal divisions in
the Anglican world have absorbed a disproportionate amount of time
and energy among those who care for the future of this particular
suburb of Christendom.
L. William Countryman is a
priest of the Episcopal Church in the United States, a poet, and a
biblical scholar. He knows how weary the endless arguments have
made people, and how tempting it is in such a time to lapse into
defensiveness and cynicism.
He urges us to resist. This
is a time for prayer and re-formation. If the title suggests that
Countryman has an answer to our problems, he quickly dispels the
suggestion. He does have a clear view of where the Spirit is
leading us, but he invites us to re-examine our heritage with the
aid of the Book of Common Prayer and some marvellous prayers of
The essential part of any
such re-examination is a return to the fundamentals of our faith:
to the belief that our common life is truly animated by the Holy
Spirit; to a renewed trust in Jesus as our priest and our lover; to
a recognition that we are part of the communion of saints; to
thankfulness for the gifts received within the Anglican tradition;
to a rediscovery of humility; and to a willingness to join in the
work of the Spirit. It is a gentle, pastoral, and wise book, to be
taken slowly and pondered.
English readers will sense a
cultural distance. To be an Anglican outside England is to be much
more aware of cultural distinctiveness. When Countryman writes
about Evangelicals, Catholics, and liberals in American
Anglicanism, he assumes firmer and clearer divisions than are
familiar to us. He does not include Charismatics; his Catholics
seem remarkably tame and actually rather Protestant; and genuine
liberal theology seems to be a much more vigorous option in
American Anglicanism than it is here.
Some will be irritated (I
was) by his constant use of the feminine pronoun when speaking of
the Holy Spirit. The intention is innocent enough, but the usage
jarred on me, not least because the theology of the Holy Spirit in
the West is either so deficient or bizarre that speaking of the
Spirit as "she" seems to confirm the "lesser" quality of the
feminine as opposed to the masculine, even in God!
The key message, however,
transcends these limitations. Anglicans are called not to
uniformity, but to community. This is the heritage that we have
received, and which we need to treasure and pass on. In the final
chapter, Countryman suggests that we find our own way to reconnect
to the Holy Spirit by doing some deep breathing, and imagining the
kind of Church that the Spirit might be building out of the
wreckage. There is a future, but in the mean time we need to hold
on tight, breathe deeply, and prepare for a rocky ride.
The Revd Angela Tilby is
the Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Adviser for
Ministerial Development for Oxford diocese.