The Deep Church
I am told that there is no legal person called 'The Church of England' but I appreciate that to some people this will be a surprising fact. All that technically exists in England are forty-two diocese who are in communion with themselves and various other ecclesiastical bodies around the world, but not in communion with other diocese who are in communion with the Holy See or Constantinople. I say all of this because there is a spiritual danger that modern Christians envisage and experience the 'church' on a superficial level. We talk of it (the church) as a building - "Lovely church vicar! - can we get married here?" We might talk of it as an institution - "Fred has decided to go into the church." We might even speak of the church on a national level - "The Church needs to get with the programme and modernise like the rest of the world." All of those comments are skating on the surface of the mystery of the Church.
It's a bit like oranges. In Salcombe we give out about 200 oranges at Christingle Christmas Eve service to represent the world. But, what if they represented the Church? The outer peel as a surface is not really consumable. Yet cut it up and you get all the juicy flesh - dig deeper and there are seeds. The danger is that our experience of the Church is concerned with its exterior - its inedible peel. We forget that this mystical body is two thousand years old and embraces Christians from all over the world while also uniting us with all those who have gone before us. It forms, one flesh, one singular society, that is guaranteed by Christ to survive even the end of the world, or at least secularisation, the world economic recession, and God forbid - a moment of madness from leader of North Korea or Trump's Twitter feed that would ensue a global war.
This is what you might call with a small 'c' the catholic nature of the Universal Church - its worldwide dimension. C S Lewis (Narnia Chronicles) called this the 'Deep Church' - the mysterious bond that draws believers into one supernatural body. He had a sense that this Deep Church held a Deep Memory - which is the reality of Jesus in the lives of men and women through the ages who followed the carpenter. Sometimes I really worry that Christians, and especially Anglicans, in England forget this. As Anglicans we get so overly provincial and treat these 42 diocese as if they were some special brand of Christianity that somehow excuses our disunity with other parts of the worldwide Church. My gut sense is that this can all become an excuse not to go deeper, not to press for unity (yes - unity in diversity). I've even heard people say ,"Shouldn't we ditch the Anglican Communion - since the majority of its international members consists of conservative post-colonial countries who are a bit of a nuisance."
For me a more fruitful spiritual path would be for us to regain our sense of us being part of the Deep Church - the catholic communion. There is some signs that this beginning to happen in American where for instance, evangelicals and catholics are finding they have much more in common than they previously thought. That same heart for the Lord is being experienced in the Middle East where Christians barely notice their denominational affiliation in the light of dire persecution.
The problem is that in our consumer culture human beings are being turned into perpetual shoppers. So we believe that fulfilment comes from shopping around even in religious terms and we forget that God is the consumer not us. This in turns places an existential crisis on church authorities who feel that have to overly appeal to a buyers market in the face of endless morbid news of 'church decline'. "We've gotta make it relevant vicar." I'm not trying to diss communicating the Gospel with clarity, verve and imagination. Rather, I am noting that our 42 diocese of this part of Global Christianity seem to be perpetually worried about their own relevance to modernity. This is because we are cut off from our Deep Memory. This is not just the ancient schisms of the Reformation onwards but the even deeper schism that lies in the hearts of our spiritual community and that fear to taste the flesh of the orange.