If there is one thing just maybe every reader here might agree on it is that being a Christian in the 21st century seems to get more and more complicated. Whether one is a Christian in England feeling the tide of established Christianity is ebbing fast, or a Christian in the USA trying to negotiate a way through the 'culture wars' there, or a Christian in Iraq bewildered by the way in which life has become more dangerous in the years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, or even an Anglican in Christchurch unable to work out how a secular city with a cathedral has become a spiritual conflict zone over the prospect of not having a cathedral, the way of Christ seems more complicated than it was in the 20th century.
One sign of that complication is that when we think about the best form of Christian community to belong to, that is, which church to participate in, this too seems complicated. One way to think about current Anglican difficulties is that we are searching among ourselves for the things we agree together are characteristically Anglican, the things that is that distinguish us as one group of Christians from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Is it our common prayer, our continuity with English Christian tradition, our coherence in respect of certain theological markers (such as incarnational theology)? Is it somewhat more negative: we are quite catholic but do not think it good to have a hierarchy like Rome, or we are quite evangelical but value being an episcopal church (so long as no bishop tells us what to do!!), or even when all sorts of unsatisfactory things are at work among us, the Anglican church is still the best boat to fish from? The complexity of the situation is that it has become incredibly hard work to secure any kind of agreement among us (dare I mention what is a relatively simple proposal, the Covenant?)
Naturally in such a situation it is tempting, perhaps very tempting to find an alternate community of faith to belong to. Part of what is going on in global Anglicanism is the setting up of alternate communities under an Anglican umbrella (or, if you prefer a different image, within an Anglican framework). But also we are finding that the search for a workable community of faith has led to some unexpected proposals such as the Anglican Ordinariate within the fold of Rome proving attractive. For some this is an unworkable halfway house, and the step is taken to transfer straight through to Roman Catholicism without the Anglican flavours of the Ordinariate. The Telegraph offers a report on one parish's experience in London of losing its vicar and a sizeable chunk of its congregation. (It is worth persevering right to the end of the report to find that the ex-vicar will soon be ordained to be a Roman priest and will be given charge of the congregation which his fellow parishioners have joined, a congregation of no less than 2000 people. How many C of E congregations are that large?)
On the face of it, in an Anglican world of shifting sands of what it is we believe about theology and ethics, the Roman option has definite attractions because of its definite doctrines and ethics. The departing vicar quips,
"In the Church of England, you don’t know what the Church believes from one synod to the next."
Except life is not quite that straightforward, even in Roman Christianity. Head across the Atlantic to find the mother of storms brewing within American Roman Catholicism. Nuns in conflict with Rome is scarcely a new story, but this particular story has an edge to it. In the context of the great culture wars being fought out in 21st century America, Roman Catholics (absolutely, by a huge margin, the largest community of Christian faith in the States) are speaking with a forked tongue, the bishops saying one thing, the nuns another, and many Catholics by their actions (e.g. using artificial contraception) another (albeit more closely aligned to the nuns than to the bishops). Can Roman speech in that context be united? Has the genie escaped from the uncorked bottle?
Time will tell, but right now, surveying the global landscape of Christianity, working out the simple questions of what we believe, how we should live and who we should associate with as church appear to have complicated answers. It's a long and winding road to finding the perfect church.
And, as the old joke goes, when you find it, do not join it, lest it cease to be perfect because of its latest member.