Published on April 6th 2012Home » Columnists » By The Way with Bill Chapman » The Anglican experience
by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
Although I was baptized in my father’s church, The United Church of Canada in Fredericton, New Brunswick on February 13, 1949, I received the Apostolic Rite of the Laying on of Hands at a Confirmation held in Trinity Anglican Church, Aurora, Ontario on May 6, 1964 by Bishop of the Diocese George B. Snell, and my first Communion was at the same Church the following day in the presence of Rector John E. Speers. The impetus for the shift to the Anglican Church arose entirely from my attendance at St. Andrew’s College (a boys boarding school) on the edge of Aurora. The College was unequivocally Anglican in its preference. Oddly enough however I am likely to end up back in the United Church because I have paid for the perpetual care of a plot (being 40 square feet should you care to know) at The Auld Kirk Cemetery, Almonte, Ontario. Notwithstanding the very pleasant view of my much anticipated final resting place, for many years I was an active member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Almonte under the auspices of Rev. George F. Bickley and Rev. Harry H. Brown. My connection to St. Paul’s Anglican Church was strengthened because when I first came to Almonte I rented the home of Rev. and Mrs. Bickley on Martin Street South until they retired and moved from the Manse on Brougham Street.
As I mentioned my early career was in an environment about the size of Almonte. Aurora in 1964 was considered miles and miles from Toronto and it really had the feel of small-town Ontario about it. Likewise Trinity Anglican Church (which we boys attended every Sunday morning by walking there from the College) was small and quaint. It required no adjustment to reconvene years later at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Almonte.
At St. Andrew’s College, all three hundred boys attended Chapel on the campus every morning during the week. The service lasted no more than twenty minutes and always involved singing which was sometimes so powerful as to make the stained glass windows shiver. On Sunday evening we were further required to attend Vespers which usually lasted about an hour. At Sunday Vespers parents often attended, particularly if they were returning little Johnnie to school after a mighty luncheon at the family home or some nearby restaurant or golf club.
In the Chapel we used the Book of Common Prayer and sang familiar Anglican hymns, among them "Jerusalem" (aka, "And did those feet in ancient times…") William Blake’s short poem from the preface to his epic Milton: a Poem (1804) as popularized in the movie "Chariots of Fire". Of course not everybody at St. Andrew’s College was Anglican; however, all boys – no matter what their religion – were required to attend Chapel and participate. Not only did we have one Jewish student, we even once had a Jewish Choir Master.
The grandest ceremony of the school year was the springtime Cadet Parade in full-blown highland regalia. The battalion was headed by the pipers and drums. The parade wound its way through Rosedale in Toronto to St. James Anglican Cathedral on Bloor Street.
Competing with the Cadet Parade for popularity was the Christmas Carol Service held in the Chapel. The Service actually repeated about three times to ensure that everyone who wanted to attend would be able to do so.
As you no doubt know, candidates for Confirmation were required to attend Confirmation classes to familiarize themselves with the liturgy and doctrines of the Anglican Church. Many years later when I joined the Anglican Church in Almonte, a series of lectures was sponsored by the Church to enlighten even older members of the Church in the more evangelistic side of the Anglican teachings. It was called the "Alpha" course.
A more social side to the Church experience in Almonte was fostered by the various dinners put on throughout the year in the Church basement. Most parishioners contributed to the corporate good at one time or another, either by baking goods or serving food or cleaning up afterwards.
My limited musical talents secured fleeting employment as a member of the choir in Almonte and as part-time player of the organ before the commencement of Wednesday Vespers. I had developed a preference for the Wednesday service because many weekends I was staying at a pied- á-terre which I had in Ottawa. The Wednesday service permitted me to satisfy my obligation without compromising my recreational time.
The Anglican Church, being of course the Church of England, has a robust alliance with the Crown. No surprise for example to discover St. James Cathedral celebrating the 60th anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty the Queen. By virtue of the same alliance I have encountered many people from Britain who are members of the Anglican Church. It is likewise notable that our British ancestors who established the Town of York (which became Toronto in 1834) held the first Anglican service in 1793. Similarly John Strachan was consecrated first Bishop of Toronto in 1839. Bishop Strachan girls school in Forest Hill later adopted his name as their own. It doesn’t take long to cultivate a distinct flavour to the Anglican Church which is often of the same high order of formality as found in the Roman Catholic Church. Generally the "high Anglican" churches are found only in larger urban settings. This is particularly so as a result of the recent migration of the Church towards more casual services and popular music. When I was in Toronto attending Osgoode Hall I knew of several Anglicans who insisted on attending only the "high" services, which frankly I always thought mirrored the direction of their noses. The tradition of the Sunday after-service sherry and luncheon is not lost on most Anglicans. Again it reflects the permeation of the British tradition. Finally as Mr. Wikipedia reminds us there is no single Anglican Church with universal juridical authority, since each national or regional church has full autonomy. As the name suggests, the Churches of the Anglican Communion are linked by affection and common loyalty. They are in full communion with the See of Canterbury and thus the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his person, is a unique focus of Anglican unity.
Although there are certainly many Anglicans who take the business of religion very seriously, my sense is that most Anglicans are less convinced than members of some other religions of the ability of Anglicanism to secure themselves a comfortable pew in the hereafter. In that respect I have found Anglicanism to be more of a social convention than an entirely spiritual or philosophic forum. From my perspective (which by the way included being a Warden of St. Paul’s Church), ecclesia anglicana is a necessary adjunct to the well-rounded social and spiritual life of those who hold fast to British tradition. Compared to other Christian traditions, Anglicanism enjoys an identity which some describe as the via media between emerging Protestant principles and Roman Catholicism. If push came to shove I rather suspect most Anglicans would be more inclined towards Roman Catholicism than say The United Church of Canada. There is something about an Anglican which relishes the pomp and ceremony of it all, a feature which may similarly disturb others. However in the current diluted market of religiosity I doubt that anyone is about to make a point of it one way or the other.
It is indisputable in my opinion that the position of the Rector of the Anglican Church, as opposed for example to the Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, is quite distinct. The Roman Catholic priest appears to enjoy a more patriarchal position in the lives of his parishioners. This is certainly not to suggest that the Anglican Rector is not respected; however, the mere fact that so many Anglican ministers are not celibate gives rise to a singular perspective. Furthermore there are increasingly ordained female Anglican ministers which again qualifies the Anglican experience. In sum the uniqueness of the Anglican minister is somewhat compromised by virtue of being so much like his or her parishioners. I must say I do not view this as a bad thing; it is merely a statement of fact.
Even with the increasing progression of people away from the church, any church, it remains to be seen how gutsy these people will be when the time at last comes to make one’s final peace. I don’t know about you, but I find I am far less vigorous about my convictions in the middle of a sleepless night. This idle condemnation of "organized religion" while preserving a life-line to a "Supreme Being" or even dare I say it "God" may evaporate more quickly than one had imagined in the strength of the moment. In the end I believe one’s religious experiences can be remarkably supportive and the ultimate need for assistance of the most spiritual kind can easily reignite some of those very fond memories, in my case of the Anglican experience.