Anglo-Catholicism grew out of what is known as the Oxford Movement – a movement of spiritual renewal beginning in the Church of England in the mid 1800’s. The institutional church of that time was foundering, at a loss how to respond spiritually to the modern, dehumanizing powers of industrialization and urbanization. The gift of the movement was, and remains, to reach back into the spiritual gifts of the past – not in a romanticizing mood, but in order to find ways of entering more deeply into the original practises and commitments of the faith before it was divided by schism and denominationalism in order to bring new energy, life, and hope to the present.
The founders of the Oxford Movement.
Indeed, it was at first met with even violent resistance. It is, and has always been, not simply about beauty and ritual but a protest against the forces of industrialism and consumerism that make human beings small. It is and has always been protest in the name of Christ against everything that destroys the beauty of God’s image imparted to every one of God’s creatures. Anglo-Catholic churches are therefore typically constructed in the poorest, working-family areas of cities and towns. The interior beauty of these churches, the colour, incense, music of the worship – all dedicated to helping those who the world treated as less than human, as cogs in the industrial machine, to know that they were beloved and infinitely precious to God.
It teaches us to see the world, not as ‘resource’ but as sacrament – as an epiphany of the presence of God. Eating Christ’s body given in the sacramental bread, drinking Christ’s blood in the sacramental wine opens the eyes of our heart to see that Christ gives himself to us everywhere and in everything; and so the world, every human and non-human creature, is precious beyond our imagining. This protest, this counter-cultural spirit, this openness to the mystery of God, allows us to let go of our anxiety-driven need to master all things. Quietened in faith, we are able to hear God address us and call us into his life of love, repentance, and joy.
This counter-cultural thread is what can make worship at St Barnabas at first seem so strange. But as we allow the liturgy to wash through us, it begins to work God’s metanoia in us – literally, the embracing of thoughts beyond our thoughts, opening us up to possibility beyond the closed world of merely human possibilities.
We sing and pray, receive God’s word and sacrament, cross ourselves amidst rising incense. All of these actions are ways of listening; all of them are ways of responding. In worship, as we offer our lives in praise and thanksgiving, we engage the whole of ourselves – body, mind, and spirit. We use gesture (genuflecting, bowing, kneeling, crossing ourselves), we engage our senses (music, incense, holy water, bells, candles, colourful vestments and silk altar hangings); we are challenged by thoughtful preaching; we raise our voices in hymnody and in prayer. We welcome periods of silence.