Trad Expressions™: why High Church is contemporary

Are calls for the renewal of the High Church tradition anything more than quaint ecclesiastical antiquarianism?

Four recent articles suggest that, rather than being antiquarianism, a renewal of the High Church tradition would contribute to the Church responding meaningfully to contemporary cultural movements.

Firstly, Dawn Foster wrote of her rediscovery of Christian Faith, after having being a lapsed Roman Catholic:

a small routine – a universal pattern of chanting, praying, kneeling and sharing bread – has given me a framework to focus on and a regularity in an otherwise chaotic life.

Here are the High Church virtues of common prayer and conformity - the stability of common prayer and its rites and ceremonies - shaping our prayer and spirituality over the years, over the generations, not abandoning us to our own resources or the resources of the 'spirituality' collection in the bookshop or (worse) the result of a Google search. In an age when the emptiness of secularism and autonomy is prompting a seeking of identity and roots, common prayer offers such an identity, drawing us into communal practices and rhythms which nurture our well-being.

Secondly, another Dawn Foster article, this time not so positive, criticising flags in churches:

Churches are a place of worship and reflection: a place you go to participate in religious, rather than nationalist, rituals, and the place you visit when you need spiritual guidance. Flag-waving and patriotic songs rather than hymns should have no place in a church, and politics should be left at the door.

A High Church vision, of course explicitly rejects such a stance: national flag and national anthem have a place in the Church's life. Civic allegiances, duties, and identities are rightly caught up in the Church's life of prayer, there to be sanctified and oriented towards the City of God, rather than these allegiances, duties, and identities being left naked and exposed to passions and prejudices, anger and selfishness, as is all too evident in contemporary politics.

Thirdly, Giles Fraser has reviewed the weaknesses on both the contemporary political Left ("not even the Green Party seems to believe in small any more") and Right ("Most conservatives have yet to recognise is that capitalism is not their friend").  He thus turns elsewhere:

he thought has started to dawn that the old-fashioned Right – with its emphasis on family, religious belief and small-scale wellbeing – might be a better place from which to challenge the evils of capitalism than from within the assumptions of the progressive Left. And nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the environment.

Traditional High Church political economy offers, in the words of John Milbank, "a practical critique of homo economicus".  As Laud declared in a sermon before the King in 1621:

If any man is so addicted to his private, that he neglect the common state, he is void of the sense of piety, and wisheth peace and happiness to himself in vain.

A renewed High Church political economy - with its emphasis on the commonweal, communal obligations, and place - would nurture localism, regionalism, distributism, and care for the environment, challenging both the contemporary Left's promotion of social rootlessness and the Right's promotion of economic rootlessness at a time when both of these are subject to considerable popular scrutiny and questioning.

Finally, poet Mica Montana has explored 'Why millennials are turning to poetry':

The questions of meaning and identity for our generation are no longer answerable by occupation, what we can achieve or what degrees we hold, because we have seen how these things have failed to hold the minds of those in the generations before us.

Before we work, we want to know who we are. We want to know who we can be. What it means to feel.

We want to know our souls deeper in order to manage our mental health. To know what it means to exist as a human being.

The answers to these questions come from the poets. The explorers of soul. 

What immediately came to mind when reading the article was Choral Evensong (and particularly its growth amongst twenty-somethings): the poetry of Cranmer (BCP), Coverdale (Psalter), and Andrewes (AV).  Form and content cannot be separated for embodied, cultural beings.  As Hooker says of the chanting of the Psalms in the offices:

They must have hearts very dry and tough, from whom the melody of psalms does not sometime draw that wherein a mind religiously affected delights (LEP V.38.3).

High Church liturgical concerns and a commitment to traditional liturgy can address that millennial desire for poetic meaning.

Four contemporary issues, each with which the High Church tradition can resonate.  A renewal of the High Church tradition - Trad Expressions™ - is not antiquarianism.  It is mission.


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