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Having addressed the family unit, we move to the community.

We must articulate norms that once went unspoken by resurrecting, for lack of a better word, manners. I don’t mean to suggest rigidly clinging to empty forms. The most Episcopalian thing I can possibly do is suggest that we have a tea party on a sinking ship.[1] So to be clear, I’m not arguing for snobbery. Snobs and TRM members are anxious and ill-behaved because they play a part; social grace, like God’s, is about acting on the assumption that others should be put before oneself.

Implicit in such a social contract are rules by which acceptable behaviors may be determined. We must resurrect, decently and in order, the traditional customs (Let’s start small: No phones at the dinner table) that our culture has prescribed for behavior outside of church as well as inside. They are the missing customs that we need in order to complete our meta-narrative.

If we only abide by traditional Anglo-American expectations of conduct and civility, there won’t be an Anglican equivalent to convertitis, just people who suddenly have great nobility of spirit because they started going to this really traditional kind of church.

The only alternatives are irredeemable normlessness on one hand, or mindlessly aping foreign customs, which have no meaning for us, on the other. When material culture, like phones, dictates that custom adapt, we’ll adapt. Tradition, secular and religious, is organic. We are influenced by American cultural assumptions to educate the Christian mind, but not to edify the Christian soul, manner, or discourse. That changes now.

Alternative Christian Media

As a Millennial, I get to listen to unchurched old people complain that my generation has no values. Tattoos? Drugs? Living beyond their means? The world’s going to hell in a hand basket! Don’t you see? We didn’t leave the faith out of apathy; we were never part of it! Billions are made on television and movies that are basically violent porn, and we grew up with them while you made us go to church once in a while; part-time work with no benefits is ruining your chances of having grandchildren, faithful or otherwise.

Our parishes, media and schools must produce a beautiful alternative world that can fester in the secular world like cancer. Evangelicals have tried this, with their Christian schools, praise bands and sexless romance novels about Mennonites. Some spend their whole lives in these emotionally and intellectually-stunted bubbles. It doesn’t work (in fact, it cannot) because everything they generate is a knockoff of secular media. It almost seems to say, We didn’t do a very good job, but you have to be nice because we’re Christian.

And now for something completely different!

Alternative Christian Media (ACMs) will defy the secular modality, dictating the terms on which we transmit messages, whole and unadulterated once more. In secular terms, this means “marketing” conservative Anglo-Catholicism as a “lifestyle choice,” then challenging the “customer” to rise to our dare: Live the Faith. We must also get our house in order. Do we still hold doors open for women? Have debates, civil or otherwise, on social media? What is Anglican conduct? What does our tribe do six days per week?

This series is itself an attempt to produce an ACM.

The virtues are the manner in which the Faith is lived.
Lacking secular liturgies, they cannot be internalized.
If the virtues are not internalized, the Faith has not been transmitted.

Conservative Anglo-Catholicism is a gestalt lifestyle. It can only be transmitted by the formation of stable communities in which the Christian worldview is taken for granted, not taught from books even to cradle church members who never paid attention in Sunday school. That’s why TRMs cling so rigidly to the customs they think they remember, and still fail! When we figure out how to get to inquirers, we will have to disciple them as well. This is why ACNA fails to assimilate its Charismatics. They are outsiders who thought liturgy was “on trend.”

They consider themselves “nice” and “casual”, unlike the hidebound, stuffy Old Guard. Unfortunately, two can play that game: “Being oneself” is a mass culture-derived excuse for misbehavior. Anglicanism is hidebound and stuffy. We call it “Temperance.” Whining about temperance isn’t “sincere.” It’s vapid, unchristian and legitimizes all criticisms of Charismatics. Especially the ones they resent. The very nature of the argument also demonstrates that these people were never a viable mission field. I hope they repent.

Ill-formed newcomers have brought bad manners, and the mass culture-driven assumptions that shape them, to the Holy Table. In response, some conservative Anglo-Catholics have done away with mission. I get it. But that’s not tactically wise. If inquirers try to bring their “gifts,” nobody can force us to confirm them. And we shouldn’t.

Deus Books has reissued The Practice of Religion, by Rev. Archibald Campbell Knowles. The first edition was published in 1906; it became a favorite resource for a generation of Anglo-Catholics. It was recently republished. I hadn’t even heard of it until most of this essay had been written. Its “Afterword of Counsel” says in few words what I have explained in many. All my armchair theology is straw:

“[Christian] Character shows a close association between [those] Manners and Morals… possible in any walk of life where there is a consideration of others and a refinement bred of high ideals and standards.… The coarseness and vulgarity so common today are but the evidence of the decline of Morality and Religion” (p. 255, emphasis added).

[1] I once met an Episcopalian by chance and invited her to Evening Prayer. By doing so, I committed the Mortal Sin of talking about religion; the sort of sin that was sinned only by deplorables, whose daddies vote for bigots and don’t have country club memberships. Clearly, I wasn’t her sort. Thereafter, she pretended that I didn’t exist, as the righteous do when they meet trash. She was the one who mentioned that her father was a priest!

Some of you are aware that I informally polled members of a discussion group about their introduction to Anglicanism. Here’s what I found.

In a discussion group of over 450, I received responses from almost two dozen people, of whom three-quarters were converts who fully explained their entry into our tradition. Almost all were pious but disaffected Protestants. Their inquiry into the ancient Church led them to want access to the whole communion of saints. Most were clergy. Several were personally invited to church or given reading material by an Anglican they knew.

These results resonate with history. Anglo-Catholicism has been heavy on converts, and especially convert-clergy, for the duration of its existence. To my knowledge, there is nothing else like it in any faith. Could this even be a charism in some way?

This study was informal and undoubtedly skewed by its sample demographic, a group that was overwhelmingly clerical (therefore male) and interested enough in church politics to join a church-themed discussion group in the first place.

That said, these results are consonant with research presented here, and my own experience. In every Anglican church I’ve been to, most converts of any age are educated Evangelicals who have come to realize that their assumptions simply weren’t true. A smaller number of converts, who merely felt in need of redemption, were apathetic “nones” or unchurched Romans, rather than people who have consciously broken from religion.

All felt the need for rootedness. While they always frame it as an intellectual imperative, I think it’s really also an outgrowth of the existential loneliness and despair that is so ably analyzed in Rick and Morty. We must build on that.

Currently, to reach Millennials is to reach the small contingent of Evangelicals who are tired of “Church lite.” These Evangelicals grew up in a milieu in which Anglican meant Episcopalian, and Episcopalian meant “Church lite with Wicca thrown in.” They may take the Canterbury trail, but most go to Rome or the East; once there, some end up in TRMs.

If that trend continues, we should expect the remains of creedal US Christianity to one day be heavily influenced by CO, and by a certain breed of hidebound Ultramontanist who fears the Jew and the Mason more than he loves our Lord. Our society is already very unstable, so we had better pray on our knees that it doesn’t get to that point.

Finally, it should be abundantly clear that the postmodern condition has stripped every demographic of the moral conviction necessary to make substantive decisions. Our enemy isn’t atheism, it’s apathy.

  • If Anglicans develop a signature “brand” of outreach that Middle American Evangelical inquirers can understand, we may thrive. We’ll do what Methodism almost did.
    • This outreach will likely consist of face-to-face interaction and personal invitations to church. We should also talk up former Mormons and Romans. All have problems with facing the past; their former members may try another church, but not the one they left.
      • Some of you may still think that Episcopalians will join the Continuum en masse when the scales fall from their eyes. Guess what: They don’t know what a Continuing Anglican is.
  • If a drastic social crisis does not soon challenge the basic tenets of postmodernism, (which historically is how -isms come to an end), the number of potential spiritual inquirers of any age will remain vanishingly small and intellectually-oriented. At this time, there’s nothing we can do but get to this demographic first while increasing our retention and birthrate.
    • We have lost and will continue to lose that battle without devising a new form of Anglican media while cultivating a parish culture that retains children.
    • Many of you talk about how we should give up power, money and respectability to become pure. That’s a joke. We need to hold onto as many of those things as we can in good conscience. We’re gonna need ’em really bad. None of them are inherently wrong if we steward them well.
  • If Evangelical study of the Early Church turns out to be a fad (unlikely) our pool of inquirers will dwindle.
  • If our country’s economic structure and workplace demands continue to ruin family stability and keep birthrates down, it may already be over for all churches.
    • Money has greater value than sincerity and pluck. That sounds bad because it’s true, so I’m not sorry for saying it. We must discuss large families, parochial schools, gentrification, and media outreach NOW OR NEVER. If a single new law or economic trend makes it any harder to settle down and have large families in a stable environment, Anglicanism is already nonviable.

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