IN THIS bravely entitled collection, 15 very varied contributors offer personal accounts, at a popular level, of the joy that they find in a particular aspect of Christian life as Anglicans. They range over the seasons, church buildings, liturgy, laughter, poetry, the family, scripture, vocation, the Prayer Book, service, prayer, education for women, music, and relationships — relationships, that is, between ecclesiastical bodies.
Their voices are mixed: clergy and laity, men and women, British and overseas. The editors admit that the African and Indian voices were something of an afterthought to a largely Church of England perspective on Anglicanism.
The Joy of Being Anglican does not aim at being a systematic, searching, or critical examination of Anglicanism, but, rather, at celebrating what a variety of Anglicans love about the Church they belong to. That said, issues do get raised. Ruth Gledhill writes warmly of the “understated, modest, anonymous way” in which churches get on with doing good, but offsets this against “the hurt felt by many LGTB people, who are also part of the Church family”. Trevor Dennis vividly evokes the joy to be had from scripture — “Really? For an Anglican? Are you quite sure?” — but admits that “sometimes, let’s face it, the Bible is very wrong,” and accuses preachers of evasiveness in confronting difficult passages.
Rachel Mann has a penetrating chapter on the Anglican tradition of poetry, admitting that to some extent it has been tied in with authority and privilege. And, in a volume that generally has little to say about Anglican theological thinking, she does affirm that “To be Anglican is to be free of the need for doctrinaire safety or dogmatism,” and offers W. H. Auden and R. S. Thomas as examples. Casual references to “Hegelian rigour” and “dialectical encounter” seem to have slipped through the publisher’s declared policy of using “simple, everyday language”.
Heather Smith provides an engaging account of finding her way towards the use of set forms of prayer, valuing the rhythm of the Daily Office as well as contemporary approaches to the prayer of silence. In the process, she offers a memorable insight into feeling drawn towards ordination: “It seemed to explain me, and everything about me.”
Students of Anglicanism will find this book lightweight and uneven, and jaded Anglicans may remain unpersuaded. But ordinary church members wanting to learn more about the kind of church they find themselves going to, and who may not be in the habit of picking up a religious book, will find The Joy of Being Anglican an approachable and enjoyable way of widening their horizons.
The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London. He was formerly Vicar of St Stephen’s, Rochester Row, Westminster.
The Joy of Being Anglican
Caroline Hodgson and Heather Smith, editors
Redemptorist Publications £9.95
Church Times Bookshop £8.95