Bibles, arm-waving, and incense

Sep 9, 2017 by

by Philip North, Church Times:

TRADITION — in the sense of what we used to call “churchmanship” — is a feature of church life which is almost unique to Anglicanism. It is an exquisite irony that black-scarf conservative Evangelicals, arm-waving Charismatics, myth-busting liberals, and incense-swinging Anglo-Catholics all claim to be faithful members of the same communion. To other denominations it is bizarre and inexplicable. To us Anglicans, despite the odd fallout and blow-up, it is a matter of delight.

If you want to see Anglican tradition (or tribalism) at its best (or worst), then what you need is a little summer tour because, despite the fact that heavy rain in July and August is as inevitable as death, we all set off for our various outdoor events. This year I managed three in three weeks: the Keswick Convention, New Wine, and the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage.

At Keswick, the gospel is a serious affair. The worship leader takes us through a selection of traditional hymns and seemly worship songs without so much as dreaming of cracking a smile. Well-thumbed, leather-bound Bibles are clamped like life jackets beneath the arms of earnest Evangelicals. People come for the preaching, which is sound, gimmick-free, and grown-up, the crowd clinging to any opportunity for a polite laugh with the tenacity of Harry Potter with the snitch.

But there is a simplicity and an honesty to Keswick which makes it oddly attractive. It is a gathering that is proud of its long history, entrance is still free of charge, and there is a pleasing wholesomeness to the event. The preaching is enormously impressive in its intellectual rigour and, while it may not be to everyone’s taste, the purpose of the conference — to sit beneath and be converted by the Word — is never diluted.

In the afternoons, families take to the hills, and the top of Cat Bells was populated by large numbers of absurdly healthy, bright-eyed boys and girls proudly sporting Keswick wristbands and basking luxuriantly in all that children need — fresh air, food, faith, and an extravagant abundance of love. It may, strictly speaking, have been hors convention, but that will be my abiding memory.

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