Anglo-Catholic Rectors’ Conference
This week I have been in Charleston, South Carolina, at the annual Anglo-Catholic Rectors’ Conference. I was meant to be there from Monday to Wednesday only, but the snowstorm closed Philadelphia airport on Wednesday and Thursday; so I had to stay on in Charleston for an extra two days. Those of you who know Charleston will understand when I say, there are many worse places to be stranded.
I spent my extra time fighting a severe case of house envy. Usually this malady hits me only when I read the English magazine “Country Life” and see the fabulous houses for sale all over the country. This is especially true when I contemplate the many gracious and beautiful “Old Rectories” or “Old Vicarages” on sale for a million or two. It used to be the case that almost every village in England had a spacious Rectory for the parish priest; it could be Victorian or Georgian or Queen Anne or even Elizabethan.
Sadly, about three-quarters of these wonderful houses have been sold, and in most cases replaced by a modern brick-built Vicarage of no architectural merit, the kind of place John Betjeman would have deemed suitable for his “Metroland”.
Of course, the old Rectories were too big for modern clerical families, and indeed their sale represents a triumph of the Roundheads over the Cavaliers. Modern clergy wives were not happy with Aga Cookers in large stone-flagged kitchens, and it is true that it could be a struggle to make ends meet on the clergy stipend. But these houses were valuable assets for each parish, and with a little imagination could have been adapted to modern parish needs instead of being sold for a pittance, a pittance that was then taken into the central funds of the Church, which have had some spectacular multi-billion pound losses over the years.
Be that as it may, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, the historic houses of Charleston – hundreds of them – are simply stunning. It could snow as much as it liked in Philly; Charleston was sunny and gorgeous, and also full of good restaurants.
And all this because of a Conference of Anglo-Catholic Rectors! Which was itself a good thing, though our stated aim of discovering what is an Anglo-Catholic was never achieved. There was a call for a new Oxford Movement in the Episcopal Church; there was talk about Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury; there was much discussion of various liturgies; Bishop Ackerman did his best to get us back to basics, but these basics (to his credit) sounded just like the Christian Faith!
The big elephants in the room which were carefully skirted round, were the Papal claims, women priests and bishops, and non-celibate gay clergy. The trouble is that there are Anglo-Catholics who are papalists and can see no future for the Anglican Church without reunion with Rome. There are Anglo-Catholics who are in favour of women clergy and are themselves women clergy. And there are Anglo-Catholics who are in favour of non-celibate gay clergy, and are themselves non-celibate gay clergy.
All these groups call themselves Anglo-Catholic, and who is to deny them the title? Some would say that the genius of the Anglican Church is to hold them all in the one body – but only if they are willing to live with these (and many, many other) anomalies.
Charleston, with its history of being at the front of the States who wanted to secede from the Union, was probably one of the best places for us to have such a conference – or not, as Eleanor Roosevelt might well have added.