Subversive or Supportive – Pt.1(The Anglican Enigma)

In 2002, Linda and I took a break from our new monastic journey, and we went to Bermuda for a short time so I could exercise a full time ministry as a Priest in the Anglican Communion, and recover from heart surgery.

Bermuda is a tiny dot on most maps, and is located in the North Atlantic Ocean, off the east coast of the USA. It is a very beautiful place, with a turquoise sea, pink sands and warm and friendly people.

Our job was to help empower local communities to ‘take back’ their neighbourhoods that had been over run by drug pushers and users. We solicited the help of the National Government, the Business Community, and listened to the needs, aspirations, and initiatives of the local communities. Two of our local Anglican Congregations who had participated in securing human rights and desegregation in the 60’s and 70’s were at the centre of these neighbourhoods, and though older and depleted in numbers they once again rallied to join this new initiative. Although we had a very supportive Bishop, Rector, and Parish the speed at which the Church could manoeuvre the complexities of the various partnerships and decision making processes was extremely slow and debilitating. As a result we had to form a ‘tactical community group’ that had the authority and ability to act quickly, when circumstances required it.

One afternoon, I was sitting drinking tea with Neville, a friend of mine, a ‘pillar of the parish’ for over 40 years. I was sharing with him the difficulties we were facing with the ‘Community Renewal Projects’ and in particular the ability of the Church to make decisions when faced with new challenges. He responded in a very ‘matter of fact’ kind of way with a story that I thought was both a profound and prophetic explanation of the predicament the ancient historic churches find themselves in today.

He explained that there was an old and well established Insurance Company which had for many decades been a trusted and respected leader in the Insurance Market. In recent years it began to lose its share of the market. As a result its share price began to fall, and its executives came under pressure to evaluate and address what the problem was. They called in a well known and progressive Management Consultancy.

They reported that the company was no longer in a position to respond to the ‘revolution’ that had and was taking place in the Insurance Industry. The company’s products no longer fitted the needs of their customers, and they were unable to keep up with the pace of their competitors, whose company infrastructures had been created to manoeuvre quickly to anticipate and respond to market trends.

Shocked by the results but committed to doing what ever was required to change and adapt to the new business environment, the Executives of the company asked for a plan of action they could execute to introduce the necessary revisions in the company approach and infrastructure.

The response from the consultancy group was devastating. First they concluded that the company culture was founded on the belief that they couldn’t fail. Second, they believed they had overcome change in the past, and this current market situation would pass, they just had to ride out the storm and then they would return to their prime position. Third, this optimism was shared by the majority of senior and middle management, most of who had been with the company throughout their working lives. Fourth, the company still had the appearance and feel of ongoing success providing a false optimism to most employees who were unaware of the real situation, that they were living off their reserves rather than their income. The conclusion from the consultancy was that no change would be sort until circumstances demanded it, until then any discussion would be pointless. As a result they said they were unable to help.

At this point Neville put down his tea cup, reached for his hat and said to me; “You know John, the Church is in the same position as that company, for similar and very different reasons. We have to be honest and humble enough to admit we need help.” “OK, I am off then, we can talk next time and I will tell you how the old dodgers in that Company got on.” He was then off out my front door without another comment.

I sat in silence for sometime. Neville had just explained to me in layman terms the predicament of the historic churches in this new epoch of human history that was now upon us. By historic churches, I mean those churches that make claim to Apostolic Succession and share an ancient history. Neville had put into layman terms what I had been trying to express philosophically for many years: We are in a period of history, a major turning point in western civilization, out of which the historic churches will emerge, bruised and battered, but transfigured into a new expression of an ancient faith.

In the new monastic community any discussion related to the relationship between a new type of monasticism and the historic churches is based on the proposition that the transfiguration into a new expression of an ancient faith is inevitable rather than optional. A new type of monasticism cannot be bolted on to a structure that has been served a ‘relocation notice’ in the new era.

Neville promised he would return to let me know if and how the ‘old dodgers’ in the company responded to their crisis. I was astounded by what he had to say when he did return.

Next time…..