My husband works this job which I’m now able to describe on a basic level to cursory enquirers, but I would have not the faintest clue how to do any of what he does. When I overhear him talking on the phone to colleagues or the guys he manages or clients, I hear words that now sound familiar to me after six and a half years, but most of which remain just as meaningless to me as they did the day we met. He’s a good communicator, and I’m not dumb, but I have no real life context for understanding them.
I’m a little afraid this post is going to be kind of like that, making little to no sense (or difference) to anyone who wasn’t both raised in the Church and also at least at one time pretty deeply “into it” on some level. Before we go any further, let me just say my main point in this post is that it has saddened me (and many others I know) for decades that the worldwide Church is so divided (for millennia), particularly when Jesus Himself prayed for its unity–with itself and with God–in John 17. If what follows makes no sense to you and you don’t want it to, no worries–feel free to poke around here until you find something a little more compelling. If you do want more context into what I’m talking about, ask me some questions. I actually love talking about this stuff.
Even though the Church has fractured into multitudes of fragments, it’s possible to “gather” many of those fragments under broader categorical headings (sometimes in the case of the Church, for some reason, known as “streams”). A well respected writer on these matters, Richard Foster, identifies five streams, although the fifth one seems to me a little like an ideal, more than a reality. Three years ago, when I began training as a spiritual director, our group instructor, the Reverend Susan Skillen, presented us with the following graphic. As you may notice, she identifies four streams, which seems truer to my own experience.
(Note: I would probably name the top one “Liturgical” even though the other ones all have a type of liturgy whether they acknowledge that fact or not, because the term “AngloCatholic” leaves out the Orthodox churches which, I feel, should have a place in this chart! Maybe Orthodox churches think they encompass all of these elements; I don’t know them well enough to be able to say one way or another. Also, I suspect those finding themselves in the “Liberalist” stream would prefer the term “Liberal Progressive” at this point, but feel free to let me know, liberalists, if I’m correct about that!)
You can see that she names the four streams and further identifies two primary temptations away from Christ by which each stream may become polluted. She also identifies three gifts or blessings that each stream can bring into the Church as a whole, which reflect Jesus Christ and bring the practitioners closer and closer to Him. As you may have noticed first of all, Christ is at the center. He is the goal of the Christian life, by almost any member of any Christian stream’s definition.
I love this graphic. I love it so much that two years ago I made it way more complicated and turned it into a coloring-page-Advent-calendar. (Next time I’ll unpack that for you.) I love the graphic partly because I have experience in all four of the streams and I feel like it is a simple but fair assessment of each. I grew up in the Evangelical stream. I worshiped and worked in Charismatic churches in London in my 20’s. In my late 30’s/early 40’s (why are my early 40’s a past phase of my life already??) I worked in a Liberal Progressive church for seven years. Then I trained as a spiritual director with the Anglicans and as a chaplain part of the time at a Catholic hospital.
There are things to really really love about each of these streams, and things to make a person want to run screaming into another faith system entirely. But the things to love, when followed to their logical conclusion, end up at Jesus, which is why to love them. And they also open up all the gifts of all the other streams, which, while not ends in themselves, certainly help with the transformation to Christlikeness. And this is why I still hope and pray and try to work with Jesus for unity in His wounded Body, His beloved Bride (those are two metaphors used for the Church in the Bible). Because it’s what He wants. And it’s what we need, maybe now more than we ever did.