To admit my own mixed family history (including being fair to my mother, a gentle royalist), one of our ancestors actually preached the Restoration sermon for the last King Charles of England in Gloucester Cathedral (I have a copy). What is particularly interesting about him is that he was one of the few pre-Civil War clergy who survived as a parish priest (in the Cotswolds) through all the upheavals of the 1630s-1660s, and (unlike the fabled Vicar of Bray) was clearly held in continuing high esteem - despite being hauled before Presbyterian and Congregationalist inquiries (including the Parliamentary Committee which dismissed errant Ministers) whilst also coming under some attack from ultra-royalists/episcopalians. Maybe having run-ins with church structures, and being attacked from various different quarters, is in my blood?!...
I’ve long pondered what kept my ancestor going, when so many of the outer frameworks of what we now call ‘Anglicanism’ were torn from him and the people of his parish (the liturgy, ordered life grounded in time and place, bishops and catholic understanding, regular sacraments and the articulating of their deep meaning, and, above all, the distinctive Anglican nurture of ‘the beauty of holiness’ in prayer, art, poetry, fittings, pastoral care, lives and spirit). My sense is that what ultimately mattered was, on the one hand, the importance of still praying as a priest (in whatever form the butchering Presbyterian Directory of Worship would allow, or, later, the slightly more expansive Congregationalist based Cromwellian regime would permit) and the love of the people and place to which he had been called. It also reflects the abiding nature of what we now call ‘Anglicanism’ as an integral part of the English, and wider, soul - though the Presbyterians and many Congregationalists tried to ban it, as with ‘papism’, they discovered it was not actually borne only of autocratic power and supposed ignorance of the Bible and reason. Arresting people for things like sharing communion at Christmas isn’t really a great witness to ‘Reformed’ truth or ‘liberty’ either. Sadly the English republican experiment thus died with excessive Puritanism and was then met with repressive Church of England reaction.
I think there is a message there in my ancestor’s faith (not least in its incognito times) - both ecumenically and also for those whose circumstances do not permit their own full ideals or the full supports they need - including queer people and Catholic and other women finding themselves as spiritual emigres.
I also feel that my ancestor’s experience suggests that just as there is truth in the saying ‘what do they know of England (or any other country) who only England (of any other country) know?’, so, spiritually speaking ‘what do they know of Anglicanism (or any other faith tradition) who only that faith tradition know?’ As we struggle with attempts to revivify narrow tribal religious formations and denominational ‘brands’ on various sides, maybe we need to go deeper and live more expansively with others - who knows, maybe with more real religious ‘comprehension’ and more openly ‘uniting’?
Cavalier or Roundhead, we shouldn’t have to choose - it was and remains another set of false binaries. Royalist or republican, how, more importantly do we nurture the ‘common weal’?
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.