Our traditions are not about being stuck in the past

Bishop Linda NichollsBy Bishop Linda Nicholls

We are the butt of many jokes about it. We tell jokes on ourselves about it.

The typical Anglican is stereotyped as resistant to change and stuck on rituals and traditions. “How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?“ “Change!! My Grandfather gave that lightbulb!!”

In an age of rapid change and individualism the habits and patterns of our traditions seem out of touch, rigid or maybe even quaint. Yet they each have roots in something important – a way of living what we believe so that the commitments of our hearts can be seen, touched, tasted, smelled and heard as ways of strengthening faith through experience.

In other areas of our lives we each have traditions – things we say or do that have emerged in the life of our family that hold meaning for us, remind us of one another and of the bonds between us. Just think of your family traditions at Christmas or Easter or birthdays – those common to many families and those that are just your own. In my family it just isn’t Christmas if there isn’t a mandarin orange in the toes of our Christmas stockings! The feel of the orange in the toe and the smell and taste of the mandarin as it is peeled are traditional touchstones that fill me with memories of the love of my family for one another.

In our church life our traditions have been shaped over centuries of shared worship as we have gathered to praise God, hear God’s word and been fed at God’s table. As the church desired to shape its life to remember and deepen its understanding of the gospel we set out Seasons of the year to help us remember. Currently we are in the season of Lent when we recall Jesus’ journey toward the cross and our need for repentance and renewal.

The richness of the traditions that have grown, however, are only as satisfying as our willingness to participate in them – to let them speak to us about our relationship with God in Christ – and to practice them with intention so that the outward habits become inward habits of the heart.

However, many of our traditions have simply become the ‘thing we do’ and we forget why we do them. We forget the intention that they are meant to convey to us about God and our relationship with God.

One of those traditions is that of receiving Holy Communion. The priest says, ‘We break this bread to share in the body of Christ’ and the congregation replies, “We being many are one body because we all share of the one bread.” The act of coming to the communion table is a sign of our willingness to move towards Christ and our unity in Christ. We are one, not because we like each other or agree with each other, but because each of us is in Christ when we share the same bread and/or wine and that makes us one with each other. When we receive the bread and share the common cup we are one. When we leave the table we are called to live as one – in love, respect and unity. Communion is not just about me and Jesus but about all of us together with Christ, signs of God’s love for a broken world, together.

Anglicans have a rich history of signs and sacraments to help us outwardly practice our faith. It is important that we know their meaning so that they can continue to teach us and teach those who join us. Some of you may have come to the Anglican Church from another tradition and never had an opportunity to learn more. Some are Anglican from birth and no one has ever shared the meaning and history.

Our traditions are not about being stuck in the past!! They are a rich resource for our faith journey. If you have a question about our life as Anglicans – ask your priest or parish leaders.

Today some young adults are seeking out rituals and traditions, looking for roots that help bind us to God and to one another. Cathedrals are seeing an increase in attendance at evensong and interest in the rhythms of the Church year. Our heritage is a rich resource for our faith and is not simply inherited habits. Listen to them and learn from them as we practice them together that we may be rooted more deeply in Christ.