01 December 2009

Anglican: What's in a name?

So, let’s talk about “Anglican” churches. I have found it to be very difficult to understand what it means to be “Anglican”. I am also unclear as to what the relationship is between the Anglican church and the Church of England—perhaps they are synonyms, perhaps they are entirely different; I have no idea. In other news: In many ways this is similar to my understanding of the relationship between the terms The United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England. I knew this—or better put, someone explained it to me—at one time, but I have a hard time keeping it straight. If you want a real challenge, try explaining these concepts SAT style:

England is to Great Britain as ________ is to the United States.
United States is to the UN as ________(GB, UK, England) is to the UN. (This one is doable)
Great Britain is to the United Kingdom as __________ is to the United States.
(UK/GB/England) is to (UK/GB/England) as Missouri is to the United States.

I am sure I have stumped you. This may not even be possible—I can’t remember.

Understanding the Anglican church is complicated by the fact that I can’t identify a “representative” Anglican church. My impression of the Anglican church was that it would be much more “conservative” (whatever that means—probably “traditional”) than protestant churches in the US. I assumed that it would be much closer to a Catholic service. Well, let’s just cut to the chase and say that this assumption has not held up. For example, there is an “Anglican” church in Oxford that would be described as non-traditional (aka charismatic) churches, even amongst protestant denominations in the states. At this church, there is speaking in tongues, the opportunity for healing after every service (and in the streets on Thursdays), as well of lots of everyone praying out loud together. Apparently, this is called low-Anglican. Even amongst this distinction, there is great variety; there are other “low-Anglican” churches with none of the charismatic elements described. It seems the greatest difference between low- and high-Anglican churches is the level of liturgy. Low-Anglican churches still use several of the corporate prayers and formal structures but do not stick to the traditional Biblical readings. I think.

This reminds me of a great statistical concept, and a chance to include a bit of the “school” portion of my experience, and thus correct the 80:20 shift (or maybe 70:30)—that is, I spend 80% of my time focused on academics, but less than 20% of my time talking about those experiences. Perhaps this is for the best; I doubt anyone would read this blog if I inverted the ratio, but this is actually useful.

What does this have to do with statistics, you ask? Well, I have been learning that when making comparisons, it is only useful to use classifications (denominations) when the variance between groups is greater than the variance within groups. So, essentially, it is useless to talk about “Anglican” churches if the difference between low-Anglican and high-Anglican churches is greater than the difference between the “standard” Anglican church and the standard Catholic church (or Baptist, Lutheran, etc). This is demonstrated by the graph below.

So, each circle represents a different “standard” representation of a denomination. This circle would represent the average answer to the questions “What does X denomination believe/practice?” However, the lines through the circles represent the range of beliefs/practices within that church. (For some protestant denominations, there are not significant ranges because churches just split when the beliefs/practices diverge significantly, but that is another blog post.) Now, these circles just represent hypothetical denominations/ranges, but they illustrate the point. While there is a significant difference between “Denomination 1” and “Denomination 4”, the range of practices/beliefs in each are much greater than the differences between the two. So, it doesn’t really make that much sense to talk about the difference between the two. Also, I would suggest that the Anglican church would best be represented by “Denomination 4”.

(In order for this to really be a useful exercise, the y-axis—which in this case is “degree of conservative-ness” would need to be more specific. It could cover any topic from the style of worship to beliefs on various issues).

End academic talk. This is the disclaimer for what is to come.

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