A FRIEND who is familiar with the ways of our theological
colleges stopped me in my tracks when he said: "The problem is that
we are preparing people for ordination who have no idea where we
have come from." Too many ordinands today, he said, have only the
haziest ideas of Anglican church history and spirituality, or of
the notable figures in that history.
Is he correct? It is a serious matter if the priests of the
Church of England are ignorant of our story and our spiritual
tradition; and yet, looking back on my own ordination training in
the early 1970s, I remember no sustained instruction on our
Anglican heritage. That might still be the situation.
The late Henry Chadwick warned our Church of the danger of
becoming like someone who has lost his or her memory; but this
suggests that the person once possessed the information that has
vanished. It is far worse if our clergy never had the knowledge to
A question remains about where ordinands are to acquire a
familiarity with our past and our foundations. Many who are in
training are routinely made to read for degrees in theology, but
courses on specifically Anglican history and spirituality are
unlikely to feature there.
IT IS clear that rooting ordinands in our own tradition is work
for our theological colleges, and it must be done in a way that is
not simply academic, but also experiential. Any lectures on the
history of the Prayer Book, for example, must be balanced by a
living acquaintance with the forms and language of the BCP which
have shaped our spiritual inheritance, notably the offices of
morning and evening prayer.
Bishop John Moorman wrote: "Anglicanism has a great tradition of
spirituality, different from Roman Catholic or Protestant
traditions." This needs to be handed on. Poets such as Herbert,
Donne, or Vaughan may be familiar to our future priests, but what
of our doctors of theology and spiritual guidance?
Think of the men who established the nature of the Church of
England over against Puritanism, and who formed its distinctive
voice by drawing together older schools of moral and ascetical
theology to make a new "practical divinity". Think, for instance,
of Hooker, Andrewes, Taylor, Sanderson, and Beveridge. These names
might not mean much to those in training for ordination, and would
Bell, Temple, or even Ramsey fare much better?
I AM not advocating ecclesiastical antiquarianism. I do not wish
to set up the BCP, still less the King James Bible, as idols. We
cannot return to the mind of the 17th century: we have different
needs, experiences, and understanding. Yet we must not fall into
the arrogance that says that these past writers have nothing to say
to us. They are the people who have made our Church what it is, and
if we are unaware of their existence and their teaching, then we
have no solid ground beneath our feet.
It is worrying when the term "Anglican" is slapped on to
positions that have little justification from our history, just as
it is disturbing to hear of people who say that they seek
ordination in the Church of England "because it's the best boat to
fish from", and not because they are committed Anglicans. If we do
not learn and own our historical tradition, we, too, easily become
unfocused in our purpose, and lacking in conviction about the worth
of what we have received.
We have a responsibility to our future clergy to see that they
are grounded in our inheritance, and, if this is not being done,
then we need a serious review of our procedures for priestly
formation in both residential and non-residential training. In
particular, we must recognise to a greater extent how the
requirements of ordinands differ from those of university
We must also acknowledge that ignorance of our historical
background will have an impact on ecumenical dialogue. Proper
ecumenism must rest on the contribution made by the traditions of
the dialogue partners. What have we to offer to Christians of other
denominations if we do not know our own inheritance?
CHURCH history is too often the poor relation in religious
studies. In the training of our priests, Anglican history needs to
play a leading part. Then clergy must hand on this knowledge to a
generation that has been deprived of its Christian and Anglican
heritage by society, education, and even by the Church.
"Anglicans are heirs to a tradition of which at present they are
often almost unaware," A. M. Allchin wrote. "There is here a need
for a recovery of memory, which will allow for a recovery of
identity." This requires an understanding of our distinctive method
in theology, and recognition of our inherited ways of worshipping
and serving God.
An outstanding anthology of four centuries of Anglican
spirituality was published in 2001: Love's Redeeming Work,
edited by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams
(OUP). I wonder how many of our ordinands are instructed to buy a
copy and read it, in order to absorb the great heritage that is
Anglicans are too often prone to belittle the qualities of our
Church. It is time to restore proper self-confidence, and a sense
of identity, by embracing our inheritance.
If we are to meet the third millennium's challenges, we will
need to become renewed Anglicans. This renewal must grow from
knowing the intentions and devotional spirit of our founding
divines, who also lived and worshipped in times of rapid
People are seeking out definite instruction in Christian faith
and practice. If we are asking them to listen to us, then we should
have no diffidence about offering them a tested and demanding
Anglican way of discipleship, rooted in "the faith of our fathers",
and reminted for our time.
The Revd Dr Barry Orford is a Priest Librarian of Pusey