There is a lot of talk about Anglicans becoming Roman Catholic, but we rarely talk about those who cross the Tiber in the opposite direction.
In December 2006 I was in Paris, having been invited to preach at St George’s Church there. A few weeks before I went I was asked to confirm a young Frenchman called Régis Blain during the service. Since then we have kept in touch from time to time. Recently we were in email contact and I invited him to write something brief about why he decided to become an Anglican in France – several people here were intrigued, especially after Régis created a page for Common Worship on Facebook. This is what he wrote (in the form of a letter to the most famous Englishman to have converted to Roman Catholicism in recent years) – I thought it was an interesting ‘take’ on things I don’t often refer to:
A letter to Mr. Blair : a new French Anglican writes to a new British Roman-Catholic
Recently, Bishop Nick Baines, who confirmed me at the Anglican St Georges Church in Paris in December 2006, told me that some of his colleagues were ‘intrigued’ by the fact that a French citizen would choose to be Anglican. I’d like to explain how this is possible by writing an imaginary letter to the former Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair.
You are British Citizen and you have an Anglican background. You decided to become Roman Catholic 3 years ago. It’s your right and I respect it. I ‘m a French Citizen with a cultural Roman Catholic background, and I decided to become Anglican from the Church of England 4 years ago. It’s my right too.
Guardian journalist Andrew Brown reported (June 22,2007):
For the last decade at least he has made it plain that he prefers Catholic services, and perhaps Catholic priests, to Anglican ones.
I myself prefer William Temple, the ‘Anglican Churchill’ (who was in Normandy in June 1944) or the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams to all the Popes of Rome (except John XXIII). I had the chance to meet different priests from the Episcopalian Church and the Church of England here in Paris, in the US and in Turkey and I find I like them perhaps better than the Roman-Catholics priests.
I have to confess that I praise you for your honesty and consistency in becoming Roman Catholic. I become sceptical when the ‘extremes’ want to change the spiritual and liturgical history of the Church of England. I have always thought: if you are deeply evangelical, why don’t you join a true Protestant community? If you feel more Catholic than everything, why don’t you join the Roman Catholic Church? There is no problem in the end.
So you did right and I’m sure I did right too.
I like the diversity of the Anglican Communion – from all the countries – and I do recognize that everybody can be ‘high’ or ‘low’ church. But people like me, and former Roman Catholics who were looking for freedom of thought and worship, have joined the Anglican Communion. I think we are strongly opposed to any form of intolerant orthodoxy (sorry for the pleonasm), but at the same time we need tradition, history, honesty and also freedom.
I like also in your former church what it has taken from Catholicism, Protestantism and Latitudinarism. Therefore it seems to me that the Church of England is a proof of historical consensus and wisdom, a moral and spiritual space for everybody, a pact between the community, the church and the state.
Anglicanism represents also, for those who know history, the memory of refuge in the 16 and 17th centuries. Some French pastors and lay people were integrated within the Church of England during this time. I guess you know this fact. For example, today the old Huguenot Church Eglise du St Esprit in New York City belongs to the Episcopalian Church. To this day there is still a Huguenot Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral.
What I like above all about the Anglican Church is its modesty and tolerance. Like Mr David Cameron, I don’t have any ‘direct line’ to God and I need – I guess like you and him – a priest and a prayer book.
I know there are good places for worship and good priests within the Roman Catholic Church. But in my case after attending so many services and talking to so many priests and pastors, I could not find better representatives of Christ than Anglican priests and in particular those I met from the Church of England.
From my perspective, the diversity, tolerance and creativity of my church offer the best means to win the fight for an updated and renewed Christianity, far from extremes and anomie. I also hope that all Anglicans, Catholics and Protestants can work together to keep the churches open and full and not open bars or galleries in them. We will try to keep honest in our thinking and behaviour as imperfect Christians with varying degrees of faith.
My wish is that your compatriots could really appreciate the religious patrimony they have and I’m sure you do.
Régis Blain (France)