So today starts my writing about faith matters, and where to start?
I thought I would start with the Church of England, as that is the Church to which I have belonged all my life, and in which I now serve. It may seem a strange place to start, but the Church of England is a church unlike any other. Many churches will have statements of faith, often called catechisms, with which you have to agree before you can belong; for example the Westminster Catechism. Others have a highly hierarchical structure, for example Roman Catholics with the Pope at the head.
In the Church of England we have a much looser definition of membership; for example there is at least an argument that everyone who lives in the Parish is a member of the Church of England, as they certainly have the right to a vote for Churchwardens, even if they espouse a different religion (The Churchwardens measure). Another possible definition is membership of the electoral roll, though here the only requirements are:
(2) A lay person shall be entitled to have his name entered on the roll of a parish if he is baptised, of sixteen years or upwards, has signed an application form for enrolment set out in Appendix I of these rules and declares himself either –
(a) to be a member of the Church of England or of a Church in communion therewith resident in the parish; or
(b) to be such a member and, not being resident in the parish, to have habitually attended public worship in the parish during a period of six months prior to enrolment; or
(c) to be a member in good standing of a Church which subscribes to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (not being a Church in communion with the Church of England) and also prepared to declare himself to be a member of the Church of England having habitually attended public worship in the parish during a period of six months prior to enrolment.
which only objectively require someone to be 16 and baptized.
Finally there are those who regularly attend services and those who carry out God’s mission.
Unlike those churches with a very clear membership, the Church of England is as clear as mud on this!
When it comes to a hierarchy we have the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and Bishops, but they have limited power over anyone. At ordination and licensings clergy swear:
I, NN, do swear by almighty God that I will pay true and canonical obedience to the lord bishop of DDD, [the area bishop of X] and his/their successors, in all things lawful and honest: so help me God.
Incumbent clergy can only be removed from their post for gross misconduct, not because the Bishop would like to move them on, and under the clergy discipline measure clergy cannot be disciplined for “doctrine, ritual or ceremonial“.
Why have I spent so long explaining all this? Because it gives the Church of England its uniqueness. A wide variety of (incompatible) views can (and are) be held by those who consider themselves members of the Church of England and that is alright – in fact in my view it is more than alright, it is essential, for if it is not the case then a church either has very strict criteria for who is in and who is out, or a hierarchy who decide this.
In the former case when people disagree the church schisms – as demonstrated by this joke, which won Ship of Fools religious joke competition a few years ago.