by Rev Anthea McCall
Anthea is the Associate Dean of the Anglican Institute, one of Ridley’s Learning Communities. She also lectures in Biblical Studies.
Whilst there are a pleasing variety of denominations represented by the student body at Ridley, my role means that a fair share of my time is spent with people thinking about or preparing for leadership in the Anglican Church.
Some people require some convincing to see that the Anglican Church is a good, even great denomination in which to serve. This is understandable. Let’s face it, the Anglican Church can cop a bad rap. Worldwide it has faced rocky roads on several issues of theology, discipline, and church governance. And on a pragmatic level, whilst there are several signs of healthy ministry and church growth, many of our ordination candidates will face challenging contexts. This can lead to a crisis of confidence. Why not jump ship and paddle your own canoe – start your own independent church or join another denomination?!
The reasons why you put yourself forward for ordination in the Anglican Church are in some sense personal. But here are a few of mine:
One of the main reasons I put myself forward for ministry in the Anglican Church was personal. I ended up in the Anglican Church after an Anglican minister took my father’s funeral. I was 22 and had never been to any church. But it was there in the Anglican Church that I was first taught the gospel, was nurtured in spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer and Christian witness, and received strong Bible teaching, and experienced caring Christian fellowship. It was where I was encouraged to develop gifts for service in the world. Our church regularly had student ministers from an Anglican training college who provided positive models of ministry, so it was almost instinctive that I chose a college with Anglican roots when I was deciding where to train for ministry.
So personally, I feel comfortable in the Anglican Church. I have come to feel at home with its style and structure, its music, its values and emphases, and its customs. I owe so much to the many Anglicans who have contributed to my life, and who have spurred me on to maturity. It’s the denomination I know and love.
But whilst you might start here, good Anglicans make decisions on the basis of great truths, not personal heritage. I have now stayed in, and chosen ordination in the Anglican church by conscious decision. This decision is based on two main reasons: doctrine and practices.
I am confident as an Anglican minister because Anglican theology has solid foundations. It gives primacy to the authority of scripture and the word of the gospel. The theological formularies of the Thirty-nine Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer are not seen to be over the word of God, but to be only true insofar as they reflect what it says. I love the fact that there is clear distinction between what is core (such as the Trinity, and Salvation), and where we are left at liberty on lesser issues (such as the Sabbath). This allows for some breadth in different traditions and styles within the Anglican Church, and even for different views on certain aspects of doctrine.
Anglican theology and liturgy also find their strength in their grand vision of God’s person, work, and concerns, and in the central place given to the work of Christ in his death and resurrection for the salvation of the whole world. This is accompanied by healthy reminders of the response of repentance and faith wrought by the Spirit in the lives of his people. The services of the prayer book are also designed to get people hearing the whole counsel of Scripture – Psalms, OT, Gospels, and NT epistles. Whilst many evangelical Anglican churches seem to have reduced Bible reading in church to one short passage per week, the authors of our theological formularies not only provided scripture soaked liturgy, but clearly want us to be thoroughly versed in the truths of the the Bible, so that the Christian may be equipped for life. Furthermore, by hearing lots of Bible, and a variety of it, it speaks to different questions and affections of the whole person. This is another strength – by praying the Psalms, for example, we give expression to our varied human experiences and emotions. The pastoral services, prayers, and various collects also acknowledge human complexity such as our frailty. The more I have been in ministry the more I have appreciated the depth, order, and comprehensiveness provided in these resources. And the more I have appreciated the strong stream of scholarship and excellent theological reflection engendered amongst Anglican clergy and lay people.
Form, Structures, and Practices
I enjoy the Anglican Church’s relation to Christian history. Being a reformed church, it inherited the practices of the church of its day, and opted for complexity. That is, it chose to keep much from Christian tradition that it considered either good or unimportant. This has potential costs: there are ways of doing things which look a bit strange now, and are difficult to excise. But it also has great gains. The Anglican Church has a thorough familiarity with the founding Christian creeds and the best liturgy of the early church. There are things that might need to be changed and adapted, but of course, the Articles allow for this (see eg. article 34).
There is not just a connection to history but to a worldwide fellowship. Anglicans have taken the gospel all over the world through missionary work in Africa, South America, Asia, and many other regions. These places have grown their own flavour of indigenous ministry, yet are connected to a world-wide fellowship. The global Anglican Communion runs to around 80 million people. That not only means there is a good fellowship with Anglicans in lots of places when you travel, but also Anglican clergy enjoy an equivalence of ordination wherever they go, though at the discretion of the local bishop. It also means that the Anglican Communion is highly multicultural.
It accommodates different personal styles of ministry. Some clergy are strong leaders and can grow existing parishes, others are great church planters, others are excellent trainers and scholars, others have a passion for schools, prison or hospital ministry. The Anglican church provides some flexibility within its structure to embrace such variety. It also enriched by the variety amongst its clergy in terms of age, race and gender. Some Diocesan clergy in Australia are still marked by a dominance by white anglo middle class men, but Melbourne at least, is less of the ‘boy’s club’ that it was, and enjoys fellowship with women, Sudanese, Burmese, and Chinese clergy, just to name a few.
In Australia, indeed the world, most Anglican Dioceses are eager to focus on opportunities for new ministries and pioneering new ways of doing church. The recommendations of the Church of England’s Mission-Shaped Church report received positive acceptance. In Australia the Bishops of each Diocese take the initiative in developing such vision and training and investing in leaders. When this works well, it ensures that the whole Diocese is reached with the gospel and there is a unified plan for future growth and opportunities. The episcopal and parochial structure also provides a good mix of support and autonomy for local ministry. For example, local Churches are responsible for paying for their own ministry, while the diocese is willing and able to be of assistance in the work of the gospel in the church, where possible. The bishop also provides pastoral support to the local clergy. The denomination ratifies the suitability of ministers for all the churches in the diocese, and works in partnership with local churches to provide a vicar, yet cannot impose an unwanted vicar on a particular local church. On a very practical level, a centralised system for managing, payrolls, insurance, professional standards and other compliance and administrative stuff is an incredible support for each parish church. The resources of buildings, especially churches which are often welll-situated in towns and suburbs, along with a house for the minister and family, can be a very useful asset.
The system of Anglican governance at the parish and synodical level is open and participatory. It has a concern for honesty and accountability, especially in financial matters. In addition, there is a complex yet workable set of balances between the varying members of the denomination. For example, each of the churches has its say in the system by representation at Synod, and laypeople are well represented in the committees and councils of church and denomination. This ensures a healthy distribution of responsibility and power.
An added bonus is that Anglicanism is a well-recognised form of ministry that is also culturally appropriate for mainstream Australian society, much of which has historically come from Britain. Anglican clergy still enjoy good relationships and access to institutions. This provides an advantage when we seek to speak up for the common good, or reach out to the still relatively large number of Australians who call themselves agnostics or who say they have some belief in God. Yet Anglican churches also have great cross-cultural potential and have the ability, at least in principle, to adapt to different contexts and cultures.
Being ordained in the Anglican Church is not the only way to exercise Christian ministry —far from it. The Anglican Church doesn’t pretend to be perfect. In fact you won’t find any perfect denomination – even going solo is not perfect. However, for the personal, theological and practical reasons touched on above, Anglican ministry is a worthy and workable choice. If you are thinking of throwing your all in with the Anglicans, and want to explore more, contact Richard Trist or myself at Ridley Melbourne.