Simply … making Christ known and loved everywhere
St Francis was hailed as the saint of the moment at a recent meeting held in Swanwick to discuss the current relevance of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis.
St Francis lived from 1182- 1226. He was told to rebuild the Church of his time and the meeting in Swanwick looked at how the Order might contribute to rebuilding today’s Church.
The Dean of Chelmsford, the Very Revd Nicholas Henshall, described the Order as “having a theology of joy, a theology of social action”. This seems very attractive now when so many are looking for a spirituality which combines developing their personal faith with social action to protect the poor and marginalised, and our threatened planet.
The Third Order is a worldwide Anglican Franciscan Religious Order of men and women over the age of 18, lay and ordained, married and single, young and old, and of various ethnic and educational backgrounds. It was formed in the Anglican Communion around 1936.
‘WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?’
Who Do You Think You Are? is for some an unmissable part of their TV viewing. With versions shown on BBC and RTÉ, it is a series in which celebrities trace their ancestry, discovering secrets and surprises from their past. They discover roots and influences that have helped shape them in the present. It’s a fascinating exercise, though not one I would care to engage in with a TV camera pointed at me.
One of the most memorable episodes featured Jeremy Paxman. Initially, he was quite dismissive about being involved in the series and about family history in general, saying: “I’ve always thought you have to live life looking forwards, not backwards … I’ve had no interest at all in who my ancestors are.” Little did he know what lay in store. It all gives hope to lesser mortals like you and me.
It is important to have a sense of identity – a sense of who we are and where we fit into the world. Having that sense of identity seems to come easily to some but can feel like a lifetime’s work for the rest of us. However, as Brené Brown says: “Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect.”
Having a sense of spiritual identity is also important – to know who we are, where our roots are and how we fit into the world.
Even though we were “cut from the same cloth”, my parents and I would not have used the same language to describe our Christian faith. It was never a big issue – we would have simply described our faith journey in different ways.
They were churchgoers all their lives and faith was part of who they were, in a traditional Church of Ireland way. My journey to adult faith was different, with a moment of adult commitment at university. The language for each of us may have differed but the substance was essentially the same. For my parents, concepts such as churchmanship or which tradition you were from would
not have been part of their vocabulary. It was simply not relevant.
I decided to look up a definition of churchmanship. It is difficult to find another, more gender-neutral term. Churchmanship is a way of talking about and labelling different tendencies, parties, or schools of thought within the Anglican Church, which obviously includes the Church of Ireland.
Interestingly, the terms to describe whatever tradition you choose are often rooted in Church history. To talk about being ‘high church’ indicated a leaning towards Anglo-Catholicism. ‘Low church’ indicated something that was more evangelical. Then there was ‘broad church’ which, as the term suggests, looked for something more in the middle.
Churchmanship, or describing our tradition, is sometimes a way of describing our, or indeed others’, preferences in style of worship. But it is about more than describing whether we like vestments, formal liturgy or guitars. Using the term can be a way of describing what is important to us in our faith. It can help us to understand and express our theological convictions. In that sense, it is not unimportant.
Perhaps you are scratching your head at this stage and thinking: “Why do I have to describe myself as anything? Is it not enough just to be a Christian?”
The trouble with any churchmanship or tradition is that it can become the ‘thing’. It can become what gives us our most fundamental sense of identity or who we are in the world. Churchmanship can be enriching – something that helps us express what we believe is important in our faith. However, it is never meant to be the place where we draw our most fundamental sense of spiritual identity. That place is surely meant to be the person of Christ himself!
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