Summer solstice was celebrated on June 21st this year, and in England, Pagans and Druids gathered at Stonehenge 20,000 strong to watch the sunrise at the famous monument after a 27 million (pounds) restoration of the site. And in light of that celebration, the Church of England got a revolutionary idea: to make a place in Anglicanism for Pagans. The Telegraph reports:
The church is training ministers to create “a pagan church where Christianity [is] very much in the centre” to attract spiritual believers.
Ministers are being trained to create new forms of Anglicanism suitable for people of alternative beliefs as part of a Church of England drive to retain congregation numbers.
Reverend Steve Hollinghurst, a researcher and adviser in new religious movements told the BBC: “I would be looking to formulate an exploration of the Christian faith that would be at home in their culture.”
He said it would be “almost to create a pagan church where Christianity was very much in the centre.”
The Church Mission Society, which is training ministers to “break new ground”, hopes to see a number of spiritual people align themselves with Christianity.
Commenters on the article were not impressed. Some saw it as trying to put a Christian gloss over Paganism which has already been done by the Catholic Church. One commenter said:
given that much of Christian culture is the result of putting a monotheistic gloss on pagan ritual, this seems like the only way that Christianity will survive in England (or did you think that a Xmas tree was part of the nativity)
Then again, maybe this is just what we need. Converting the pagans by coopting some of their beliefs worked wonders the first time, and made Christianity a whole lot more fun in the bargain. Where would we be without Christmas trees?
Then again, its worth pointing out that the Church of England seems to think they are dealing with real druids here.
Excuse me while I go watch the wicker man. The old one, not the Nicolas cage version.
Another expressed indignation that once again, Christians of another stripe were dissing Paganism out of one side of their mouth while trying to co-opt Pagan beliefs:
Let's see if I have this correct? The Anglicans are trying to co-opt their religion to get people who believe in a god or goddess or gods and goddesses who is/are not the Christian god and who don't believe in Jesus, to drop their existing religious beliefs and to follow the Christian god and to believe in Jesus?!
I have a prediction on how this will result: MASSIVE FAIL!
It sounds like it will be quite a deity mash-up, doesn't it? The American Anglican, in its article entitled "Are Pagan practices meeting an increasingly receptive audience in the Episcopal Church" from 2010 adds:
Wrapped around a rite for “croning”, the meditation embraced a history of mystical women and offered prayers to “Mothering God” and “Eternal Wisdom.” But the article was not in a new age publication or Wiccan blog: it was on the pages of the September newsletter of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
Entitled “Crone Power”, the meditation innocuously sat opposite a story about choosing a children’s Bible and next to a column on St. Jerome. The newsletter quickly drew the attention of Anglican bloggers, many of whom found the placement of what appeared to be a Wiccan ritual to be jarring in an official church publication. But intentionally or not, the publication and placement of the rite were reflective of a new reality: one in which practices drawn from or inspired by pagan belief, including witchcraft, are increasingly finding acceptance within the ranks of the Episcopal Church.
“Croning rituals have been a part of modern day witchcraft since [English occultist] Gerald Gardner invented it in the 1950s,” explains Catherine Sanders, author of Wicca's Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality. Sanders, an evangelical Christian, spent several years researching pagan practices and witnessed their incorporation into the church during the writing of her book. Sanders said that croning, the practice of honoring a woman who has gone through menopause, became more popular in the 1970s with the women’s movement.
“Most of the mainline denominations had people within them experimenting with pagan rituals,” Sanders said. “A lot of these people were searching for a way to affirm what they were going through in their lives.”
While the croning ritual was notable for its prominence in a diocesan newsletter, such pagan-inspired practices are not new in the Episcopal Church. In 2005, Pennsylvania Episcopal priest Bill Melnyk was outed as a Druid (he belonged to the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) after posting a druid ritual to an Episcopal Church Women’s website. Melnyk, who had taken the name “Oakwyse,” was forced to resign by his bishop.
In 2009, at the National Cathedral, an Episcopal cathedral, held a Sacred Circles ceremony in which the feminine divine was honored. The Institute of Religion and Democracy roundly condemned the ceremony, even though they call themselves "ecumenical," calling it "idolatrous:"
As the conference opened, the assembled were led through a breathing exercise and a responsive chant: “Holy is the silence and Holy is the sound. Holy is each one of us and Holy is the ground.” Aside from displaying a vague spirituality worthy of Oprah, the silly chant was minor compared to the next activity: a Native American ceremony offering a gift of smoking tobacco to welcome the spirits from the four cardinal directions. Originally scheduled to be led by the Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher, the retired assistant bishop of Newark (and a Cherokee Indian), illness had instead required a Lakota medicine woman to lead the offering.
“To the sacred guardians of the West,” the medicine woman cried. She identified the west as the place of great mystery, the vision quest, and death, “The place of finding your own divinity.” The congregation faced each direction as brightly colored streamers on tall poles swept through the air, symbolizing the invited spirits.
While this activity at best was inappropriate for an Episcopal cathedral, and at worst was blatant pagan idolatry, it is important to emphasize something about the women who gathered on Friday night. Each was an authentic seeker, someone who was in good faith attempting to respond to the “God shaped vacuum” in her heart.
In a society where Christians struggle to evangelize an increasingly secularized and disinterested populace, these women had traveled of their own means to an Episcopal cathedral in search of God. The tragedy is that they were greeted on behalf of “the spirit of many names” rather than the life-changing Savior, Jesus Christ.
It certainly doesn't sound as if this will be a match made in heaven.