Big media events and the churches that make them

When you have a big event, lots of cameras and a global audience, what do you say…and what does your choice say about you and your church?

Bishop Pierre Whalon writes about what the big media events say about the churches that create them.

When I am asked what the difference is between Rome and Canterbury, my usual answer is “no Pope.” Authority has been increasingly concentrated in the papacy over the past thousand years, and John Paul II, with his brilliant management of the global media, brought the power of the See of Peter to its greatest height. Anglicans are clear, on the other hand, that they want a diffuse authority that emanates from a balance between clergy and laity.

But there is another difference, and the two big events clearly displayed these. While the Roman Church emphasizes the heroic, the extraordinary, as examples to the rest of us, Anglicans lift up the ordinary. For Roman Catholics, God is found in limit experiences, on the edge, whereas for us, God is most clearly revealed in daily life and the rhythm of human community and family.

Watching the royal wedding, you may wonder just how ordinary it was. But in fact, it was, as I said teasingly to an English friend, just two kids gettin’ hitched. They looked appropriately nervous. While very few couples have the Archbishop of Canterbury to officiate at their marriage, the solemn words of the liturgy that he intoned are shared, more or less, by all 80 million Anglicans. The glorious music — who can forget for instance the opening strains of Parry’s “I was glad”? — is part of our common heritage, though not always done as well as by the musicians of Westminster Abbey. The Scripture reading was very pertinent, and the Bishop of London’s sermon was brief and to the point. It was a perfect celebration of the ordinary: quintessentially Anglican.

Anglicanism, Whalon says, tends to lift up the ordinary, while Roman Catholics like to emphasize the heroic.

Roman Catholics overwhelmingly emphasize celibates who perform heroic deeds, sometimes sharing visions of the Blessed Virgin. Anglicans lift up other virtues. Comparing the lists of official saints, one finds virtually no married couples among the Catholics, except for Joseph and Mary, and St. Adrian and St. Natalia. John Paul, who declared more saints than any other pope, made none, although the parents of Ste. Thérèse have been beatified. Only a relative handful of people who were married are included. In Anglican lists, which differ to an extent from province to province, there are several couples, and many married persons.

Each church’s emphasis is not only its strength but its weakness. The über-concentration of decision-making in the Roman Church in the hands of one man, the insistence on celibacy for ordination and the continuing elevation of the unmarried over the married, have had serious consequences. Anglicans all too often become indistinguishable from their national cultures, and have sometimes allowed their traditional access to the corridors of power to trump the needs of the mission of God. Until the churches take seriously the fact that our divisions mean we are separately just fragments of the One Church, our individual strengths can only be partial as well. Not to mention the general scandal of schism and its effect on our credibility…

But Christian people will still get married and need examples of holy living to inspire and to emulate.

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