Truth and Tradition

Dec 4, 2020 by

by Dr Philip Murray:

Philip Murray considers his own sense of call to faith and to priesthood, and questions if the Church of England risks its own identity by its enthusiasm to seem relevant, asking questions about truth, tradition and seeking a younger more diverse church.

On 29 April 2011 the most unexpected thing happened to me. A gently enthusiastic if not wholly uncritical monarchist, I’d gathered with a small group of friends to watch the broadcast of the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, at Westminster Abbey. Like the millions who watched the wedding around the world, I was duly impressed by the sights and sounds of that auspicious day. But, perhaps less commonly, as the liturgy unfolded on screen, as Rowan Williams lent his unique voice to the sixteenth-century words of Cranmer’s marriage rite and the Duke and Duchess pledged their troth each to the other, something truly life-altering happened.

I still can’t quite put my finger on it, and, wary of coming across like the sort of person who takes a monthly subscription to Majesty magazine and owns a full set of souvenir wedding thimbles, I remain more than a little embarrassed of linking any radical transformation in my spiritual life to a royal wedding. But something in the beauty of the liturgy, the music, the architecture, the ceremony of that day communicated the possibility of the transcendent in a way that was more powerful and pronounced than I’d ever experienced before. I became aware of the metaphysical possibility of something other, something more, than that which was reducible to empirical observation in the world in front of me—something which undergirded and gave value to all things. As much as I couldn’t explain it, I had a clear sense of God—of a God that was calling me into deeper relationship with him.

From that moment, after a childhood of churchgoing and then a very boring and typical period of teenage atheism, I became a Christian again. I started attending Mass and Evensong in my college chapel and parish church each week, praying the daily Offices and exploring the faith through reading and conversation with other Christians. Before too long I started to sense a call to ordination, too. The rest, as they say, is history.

I don’t think I’m alone in this experience. Well, maybe the specifics are unique to me. But the general story of conversion through “traditional” Church, and particularly the conversion of those in their 20s and 30s, is now widely known and written about. We all know about the success of choral evensong, and how this has provided a way into Christianity for many. Traditional liturgy, both in the Church of England and other communions, is providing a converting experience for a wide range of people who, thus far, have had no regular commitment to the faith. The Church confident in its identity as Church, it seems, works! Souls are converted.

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