Twist of the Collar - Clerical Memoirs by Rev. L. E. A. Ehrmann
IX - THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
[p44] As John Wesley said, so do I: "I live and die a member of the Church of England." Even from what 1 have written, it will be seen that the Church has weathered many storms. I might mention the Kikuyu affair of 1914, and the recent South Indian Church Amalgamation, but space will not permit, and it is really outside the scope of this humble effort of mine. Yet, the Appendix will contain some important remarks written in 1915.
I feel justified to devote one chapter to the English Church.
That she is Catholic, the Book of Common Prayer clearly asserts, i.e. she claims to be part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and "established" by the Holy Spirit of God on the Day of Pentecost. She holds the doctrines of the Apostles, and has always possessed the full threefold ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In this sense the Church is Catholic - not merely a conglomeration of Christians believing in an Universal Creed, but in a world-wide fellowship of believers who hold the faith "once delivered to the saints," and are welded together as one family in God through the Apostolic Ministry and the Sacraments.
When I look back along my seventy years of life and see the progress the English Church has made in its spiritual life and practice. I take courage and thank God, in this I see that the Holy Eucharist is much more frequently celebrated in Parish Churches, the Sung Eucharist was seldom found, and Confessions heard more rarely still. These are things that matter most.
As to Ceremonial, I dislike the word Ritual, the former sounds more dignified, and better adapted to the worship of Almighty God. there has also been a most conspicuous advance, and here I must say in common fairness that the bishops, who are so often considered to be retrograde, have in many cases been the leaders, especially when they assumed Cope and Mitre on special occasions and festivals.
[p 44] Portable lights in Processions are becoming more general, and here Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. to say nothing of other Churches have done much to show the dignity of them, the use of Incense, while on the increase, is rather lagging behind, although most scriptural. I remember the words of the late Fr. Stanton, that there were only two stinks hereafter, the one brimstone and the other incense
Bishop A. C. Headham often told us that where the Gospel was carefully preached there would always be a congregation. I think we clergy are more careful now to give definite instruction instead of discussing a pet topic of our own or some abstract subject. We were ordained to preach the Gospel and not to give our own opinions
Then, the matter of Reunion has advanced and shown the vitality of the Church, or more accurately the working of the Holy Spirit. The Association for Promoting the Reunion of Christendom did a good work fifty years ago, in which the honourable name of Athelstan Riley is associated. I joined it on 18th April, 1890.
Its membership was open to members of the English. Orthodox and Roman Churches and was a fellowship of prayer. That prayer paved the way for a better understanding between Christians appears intelligible and right, for Our Lord insisted so largely on Prayer, and His desire for Unity was given to the world in a prayer. "That they may all be one."
The better understanding between Noncomformists and ourselves, which the last generation has manifested, was in a measure due to the tact and friendliness of Archbishops Lang and Temple. Bishop H. M. Burge told us once how it grieved him that there were so many divisions in Christendom, and added "When I pass by a Nonformist Chapel it always makes me feel sad." I always regarded him as a real Christian and true follower of Jesus Christ; he was humble, kind-hearted to all, and a true Father in God, who ruled his diocese with love, sympathy and consideration. It was a great loss when he left Southwark for Oxford.
It is refreshing to see that steps are now being taken to revive the C.E.M.S., a most valuable adjunct to the Church which suffered much during the war. Every effort should be made to encourage men to join their womenfolk in worship. The average man is shy, and time after time I have come across men who prided themselves that as boys they were in the choir, and yet never continued at Church afterwards. The fact is that, especially in the country districts, a man is reluctant to return to Church after having lapsed even for a few Sundays.
In these days when the whole aspect of living has changed, and women often go out to work in the fields and factories, and when hardly any domestic help is obtainable, it does make it difficult to attend the services of the Church. Yet, let me put out the plea for perseverance. Never mind what [p 45] your neighbour may say about you; do your duty to God, and that is what matters most. It may be some reader may think I have digressed from my subject. Perhaps I have, and yet with a good reason. For the Church must be evangelistic if she is to win the world. There are so many attractions to divert Christians nowadays from worship to pleasure, that the keynote of all Churchlife must be evangelistic as well as helping the Faithful.
Divorce is a growing scandal to the Christian community, and I have not hesitated to speak out about it. I had reason to do so in my last parish, and the appendix gives my sermon on this subject. How any believer in Christ can shut his eyes to His plain teaching puzzles me. Much more care is needed in instructing the youth of England in regard to the causes for which Matrimony was ordained, and that Holy Matrimony is a life-long sacrament.
Only recently one had a vivid picture of the Anglican Communion at Canterbury Cathedral, where the opening service of the Lambeth Conference, 1948, was held. The Procession of Archbishops and Bishops of our world-wide Church was an inspiring sight. I felt more than thankful that I belonged to such a vast Communion and Fellowship, where prelates of many races and languages met together for prayer and for the praise of God. Again, the dignity of the rendering of the services in that Cathedral compared with fifty or seventy years ago is one more sign of the fruits of the Oxford Movement.
Private judgment, which I regard as the sin of Protestantism, is still blinding many people to the true faith. We often forget that it is condemned in our Prayer Book. The English Church, while clinging to Holy Scripture and tradition and professing to hold the full faith, is much more likely to be a safer guide for Christians than their own individual judgment, which varies in each person. Yet how dull the world would be if we all thought exactly alike on each topic. Of course there are some things upon which we should, however, agree.
No, the Church - the Ecclesia Anglicana - is God's great gift to mankind for safety (or salvation) is to be found in her. Let us all be more loyal, obedient and faithful to her teaching, and then, if we all do that and honour the Lord's Day by being present at the Holy Eucharist, we can in process of time look forward once more to a Christian England.
May God, of His infinite mercy, pardon all that has been amiss in this book, and bless what has been according to His Divine mind, so that some may be helped in their religion by reading of my life's journey and particularly young men who, seeing what can be done by one unimportant individual in the great Church of England, may offer themselves willingly for her sacred ministry and then do greater things than the writer has been permitted to do. [p 46]