Pagan Children & the Anglican Death Spiral

Photo: The Very Reverend Jane Hedges rides the 55-foot high “helter-skelter” inside Norwich Cathedral in England.1)While her official biography says she was ordained a “deaconess” in 1980, she was elevated to “priest” in 1994. You can’t say “priestess” in the Anglican church — evidently the word makes them think of filmy skirts, tambourines, and sex. If you want a sort of objective correlative for the church’s health today, there it is, a downward spiral. (BBC)

Be patient, I am coming at this the long away around.

I was raised in the American Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, at the time. When I walked into an Anglican church in Canada or in Jamaica (where we lived for a couple of years) and picked up a prayer book, it obvious we were all in the same family, so to speak. There was an Anglican joke that referenced the church’s strength in all the former British colonies in Africa: “The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British make the rules.”

None of this is true anymore. In the United States, several different organizations compete for the allegiance of local Episcopal church parishes: the breakaway Anglican Church in North America,  the Anglican Church in America, the Church of Nigeria, and The Episcopal Church, the original body. And there are more. It’s very complicated and not germane at this point, except to say that the total membership of The (original) Episcopal Church is cratering.

In England, where the church was “established,” i.e., intertwined with the government as the official church of the nation, its piight is even worse, As columnist Rod Dreher (himself an Orthodox Christian) sneerlingly wrote, “Would the last Anglican left please remember to bring out the vestments? The Victoria & Albert Museum would no doubt like to preserve some evidence that there once was a thing called the Church of England.”

You can imagine his reaction to this article, in which clergy at a medieval cathedral defend their decision to (temporarily, they say) remove all the furnishings and replace them with amusement park rides and miniature golf:

The Reverend Canon Andy Bryant, from Norwich Cathedral, said he could see why people would be surprised to see the helter-skelter.

But in addition to showcasing the roof, he said it was “part of the cathedral’s mission to share the story of the Bible” and was a “creative and innovative way to do that”.

I don’t remember miniature golf (crazy golf) in the Bible, but maybe they are using a different translation.

I have two takeaways from this story.

For one, it is obvious that a lot of the Anglicans have “lost their contacts,” as the ceremonial magicians say.2)That is not the same as dropping a contact lens into the lavatory sink drain. In other words, their connection to their deity is not there anymore, there is no “juice,” and they are just trying to fill the void by social movements and entertainment.

For the second, at least within the liturgical churches there is a lot of learning for children. Not the hellfire part, but the importance of symbolic art, the transformative power of music (especially when you are doing the long chants yourself), some knowledge of sacred theater, exposure to ritual ways of dealing with birth, sickness, death, and everything else, and even a little about meditation and sacred reading.

I walked out the door myself at age 16. I was not mad at any one. No priest molested me or any of the altar boys that I knew about. I was not stewing about “adult hypocrisy” more than the average teenager might. I had just come to the conclusion that the church’s picture of the cosmos was not mine and that I could no longer accept its theology. So I spent the next five years as a “seeker” before someone showed Herself to me.

Now if I had a dollar for every Pagan who has said in my hearing “We won’t ‘push our religion’ on our children,” I could pay my fare to the American Academy of Religion meeting in San Diego next fall.

What I would like to say is, “If you don’t put something in that space, what are they going to fill it with?”  Digital nothings? People need forms for doing things. We need to be aware of other dimensions. I am no longer a Christian, but I do in retrospect thank the church for giving me a “vocabulary” of ritual and so forth — not the only ways of doing ritual, but at least some ways.

Of course, being Christian, all their focus was on the vertical axis — God up there, us down here. There was no significant “horizontal” engagement with the other-than-human world, aside from an occasional Blessing of the (domestic) Animals. Everything was put here for us to use, as described in Genesis. (The “stewardship” teaching is just watered-down domination.)

It delights me to see adult Pagans involving children in ritual and other “horizontal” engagements, giving them ways to think about relationships with other beings and ways to mark life’s changes. Memories made with the body and witch actions last longer than words and doctrines.

I am taking this quote from John Beckett’s blog out of context, but it fits. The topic is “sacrifice.”

Letting perfectly good food sit on an ancestor shrine was so foreign to my kids when our family began ancestor offerings. It smacked against their overculture, their appetites, their unawareness that physical objects are envelopes of intent.

If the parents are Wiccan, for example, will the kids be Wiccan? Who knows? But at least they will have a vocabulary for the sacred dimensions of life.

Miniature golf they can learn on their own.

Notes   [ + ]

1. While her official biography says she was ordained a “deaconess” in 1980, she was elevated to “priest” in 1994. You can’t say “priestess” in the Anglican church — evidently the word makes them think of filmy skirts, tambourines, and sex.
2. That is not the same as dropping a contact lens into the lavatory sink drain.

6 thoughts on “Pagan Children & the Anglican Death Spiral

  1. Hi Chas,

    thank you for this blog and completely agree with your main point about providing our children with space for engagement with the divine. And, also to the point, the absence of religion in a child’s life when their parent(s) practice a religion daily becomes the presence of absence and has affects anyway.

    Obviously, slides and mini-golf are just nonsense. This news comes at the time a UK political party has elected a leader called ‘Dick Braine’. I am not sure which is more surreal.

    The reactive convulsions of the CofE to try and make things ‘more relevant’ eschews the sacred at every turn, because relevance when judged by secular society IS secular. However, many in the Anglican Communion are aghast as you are at these turns of events. And for those of us who have past esoteric and Pagan experience, we are shaking our heads even more. In that sense large chunks of the Communion have lost their contacts, though this analogy can only be taken to shallow levels, the ecclesia being founded by a completely different mystery to esoteric Orders.

    A couple of minor things in response here.

    Genesis can and is translated and read in many ways, and has many different things to say to us, including being the foundation for the Anglican Fifth Mark of Mission: “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”. There are plenty of books/resources for you to find on this 🙂 That this is the Fifth Mark is very significant in a church that historically implicitly and explicitly despoiled the earth.

    The idea that the Anglican Communion had (does?) have “all” its focus on “the vertical axis” is very surprising.

    There are and have been numerous examples of non-vertical focus, including helping to lay the foundations for the welfare state in the UK. In Australia today we have had a succession of governments that deny welfare and services for people seeking asylum. Without the churches over the last 20 years, these people would have starved and been destitute. Services (at least from the Anglican churches here) were offered without any kind of “conversion” agenda or pointing to the vertical axis at all. You may not consider this horizontal engagement, being focused on the human, but if it’s not vertical, what is it?

    And there significant sub-groups of the Anglican Communion engaging in partnership and working for ‘nature’ (worshiping in even!). Not as visible as slides in Cathedrals, but still there quietly working away.

    You are dead right about the word “priestess” though … it fairly gives my peers the willies when i use it.

    THANKS 🙂

    • Yes, when I speak of the horizontal axis, I am speaking of the other-than-human world: animals, plants, mountains, local spirits, rivers . . . in both their seen and unseen forms. As for the welfare state, well, humans taking care of humans is fine and good, but there is more to the world than us. And the church’s inability to articulate that “more” is a large reason why I left.

  2. “Orthofox Christian” ? Is “orthofox” a typo or, if it’s not, could you please give a definition?

  3. Okay, maybe I’m nitpicking here but… ” lot of learn for children.” Shouldn’t that be “lot of learning for children”?

  4. I am a life-long Pagan. Still, thanks to Kenneth Rexroth, godfather of the San Francisco Renaissance, I have a good regard for the now shattered Anglican Communion–mostly because of his endorsement of The Book of Common Prayer as a a source of pretty good poetry and decent moral sense.

    Paganism has its own doctrinal and denominations fissures, so I kinda get that about today’s Anglican factions. Folks can dig in about what they prefer to believe and about those who believe or practice different.

    Nevertheless, I (when I saw this story on the internet), found it hella puzzling. Carnival rides inside a church!?! Elevating the host as amusement park.!?! Religion in the tradition of a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel.!!! .

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