What is Anglican identity? That issue has been wrestled with over and over by Priests, Bishops and Scholars hoping to pin down those traits which identify one as an “Anglican” as opposed to anything else. So far, the definition has been elusive because of the inclusive nature of Anglicanism. I have friends who wish to emphasize a more congregational style of worship with an absolute reverence for the Bible even if it means reducing or shortening the liturgy to accommodate church school classes and Bible studies. On the other hand I have friends who cannot get enough liturgy with all the bells and whistles including, especially incense. To them reducing or eliminating liturgy is a special, kind of heresy for which no real penance exists on this earth. However, even in the extremes one finds a common quiet devotion to the Book of Common Prayer and its deliberative dignity in presenting the scriptures through a liturgical context.
Charles Chapman Grafton who we remember today was a bishop of the Episcopal Church, He was the bishop of the Diocese of Fond Du Lac, and an Ecumenist. The official calendar of the Prayer Book does not denote today as a remembrance or veneration of his life and work but those of us who also use a book called Holy Women Holy Men as a supplemental reference find him listed for today.
Bishop Grafton’s life and work is significant for a number of reasons but primarily for his willingness to openly acknowledge the liturgical heritage of the Anglican church whether it be the Church of England, the Episcopal Church of the United States, or one of the other churches in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the consecration of his successor Bishop Graton invited the Russian Orthodox Bishop, and the Old Catholic Bishop to attend. He created a stir by releasing a photograph of all the Bishops in attendance which showed them vested in mitre’s (the tall pointed hat worn by Bishops) and Copes (a special liturgical type of cape). These two items of clothing squarely connected the proceeding with the ancient traditions of the church and brought the issue of our liturgical heritage into the light of day. Many referred to the photograph and the consecration as the “Fond du lac Circus” reflecting the then cautious, even suspicious, attitude of Episcopalians toward vestiture.
However, once blessed by a bishop, the practice of utilizing that “liturgical heritage” became more acceptable and more practiced. It was a victory for a form of symbolism which connects us to the earliest days of the church christian and transcends a mere reading or recitation f the scriptures. We now see the results as illustrated by the embrace of his grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and his holiness Pope Francis.
While Anglicans will continue to have differences with Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians thanks to the work of men like Bishop Grafton we feel comfortable acknowledging our common ancestor, if you will, that being our liturgical heritage. If asked about your heritage you can clearly say you are a liturgical christian whose religious beliefs and practices extend back unto the earliest practices of the Christian Church.