‘I’m a trapped Anglican.’
THESE ARE WORDS which a friend recently used in describing to me his situation at the moment. We live in different parts of the country and had not met for a number of years, so we were catching up.
As he explained his circumstances, his use of the word trapped became clearer and more poignant.
On one hand, many of his recent experiences with the church had been disappointing, even disillusioning, and had left a bitter taste. He lives with a sense of personal injury that he is only beginning to work through.
On the other hand, his faith in God and his allegiance to Jesus Christ remain as bedrock, unshaken and constant. Even more than that, other churches or other ways of nurturing and expressing his faith do not seem appropriate for him.
His quandary finds him unable to abandon or renounce his commitment to the Anglican Church, but at the same time unable to participate in a way that brings joy or fulfilment.
My sympathy, empathy even, with him is complete. When I consider my own 45 years of conscious, active participation in the life and work of the church, I can identify periods all along the way when this combination of commitment and resentment have thrashed about within me. And I am hardly alone with this experience.
To use the word trapped expresses all the feeling of immobility, fear and anger, together with the paradoxical realization that this trap is not made solely by others, solely by myself, solely by God, but by us all together.
A mentor of some decades ago pointed me to a key incident in the life of Jesus and of the disciples, Peter especially, as it is told in the Gospel of John, chapter 6.
Jesus had been speaking about himself, his mission and his relation with God. He made affirmations that were cast in powerful imagery that was highly offensive to many who heard him, some of his disciples and others among his own people. He spoke of others eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and he contrasted those who would do so and live forever with the ancestors who ate manna and died.
This imagery was not only hard to conceive and repugnant if taken literally, it created a comparison disrespectful, even insulting, to the ancestors.
And many simply packed it in.
Jesus asked the Twelve if they were leaving and Peter answered “To whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
When I hear those words, and especially when I turn to them in my entrapment, I hear Peter speaking for me. I hear in his words not resignation but reality.
I hear in them words that have an echo in Paul’s greeting to Philemon when he calls himself “a prisoner of Christ Jesus,” not “apostle” or “servant,” his more common self-descriptions. He speaks not only of a physical imprisonment for the Gospel but the deeper paradox of the imprisonment of commitment worked out in struggle.
So my prayer for my trapped friend, and for thousands like him, is not that the trap will magically vanish, but that he can identify the various architects of the trap, recognize the universality, at least at certain moments, of entrapment in the spiritual experience of Christians, and move on, even grow, within it.
Archbishop Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.