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Easter, 2014: Bronwyn Short & J.I. Packer

Photo: Julie Lane-Gay

Photo: Sue Careless

Julie Lane-Gay talks with two of the Canadians who helped create the latest Anglican Catechism.

TAP: Why is there a new Anglican Catechism?

BS: When the Anglican Church in North America was formed in 2009, the House of Bishops was concerned about practices of discipleship – healthy practices of discipleship – to be in all the ACNA parishes. A taskforce was created to look at this.  Two years later, the House of Bishops asked the taskforce to actually write a new adult catechism. It had become clear that the content of what would be taught needed to be provided. Both the magnitude and the historical significance weighed really heavily on the group of writers. Apart from Cranmer’s, this sort of Anglican Catechism has never been done before.  It was huge.

TAP: What is Catechesis?

JIP: The word ‘catechesis’ comes from the Greek katecheo, which means “to instruct.” Catechesis is instruction in which two things are brought together: 1) the doctrine by which Christians live, and must live, and 2) how to live by it.  These two things are not always linked in the practical way in which Catechesis links them, so we need Catechesis to make sure that both are taught and that this link is established.

TAP: What is covered in the new Catechism?

JIP: We used as our ground-plan the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, just as Cranmer’s does. These three together are the classic foundation for catechetical teaching. The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the truth that God has told us about Himself, particularly about His redemptive action for the salvation of sinners. The Lord’s Prayer is a model for our conversational communion with God, which ought to be, needs to be and must be part of a faithful Christian’s life.  The Ten Commandments are the backbone of Godly ethics.  Regular reference to these formularies will keep our discipleship in shape.

TAP: How have you seen the lack of Catechisis  manifested in the church?

JIP: First, I ought to say that many younger people have become aware of this weakness and have taken the initiative themselves to think and read and talk about Christian basics, and get themselves abreast of pressing questions in our society on which Christians need to have an opinion – that encourages me greatly. But, I regret, and I am generalizing here, that a lot of folk in our parishes haven’t picked up this slack as yet. They have not been sufficiently reflective to realize how the culture has changed. Reflectiveness is the issue here – there is no lack of magazines or TV programs telling us how it’s changed – but there is a mental complacency that marks Christians—Evangelical Christians in particular.  Though Evangelicals think about their doctrine, they are not prepared to think about culture, a culture that surrounds us and, in fact, infects us. They do not know their faith well, cannot state it clearly, and are not good at applying it to life.

BS: Many people felt that the “crisis” in the Anglican Communion was largely a failure in catechesis. Laity were no longer being thoroughly grounded in the foundations of their faith, and no longer understood how to live by that faith. In 2009, when our taskforce surveyed a wide number of ACNA parishes, it was apparent that the new work of discipling all ages needed to be taken up.

TAP: You speak of how Catechism should “link” us to how we live our lives.  For example, when the Catechism asks Question #44, “Why do you call God the Father, ‘Creator?’”, how does that affect how we live?

JIP: We live in a world which we must remember is God’s world, in which he is bound to be more interested than we can ever be, and we should live in it in reverence to him, as the One who is in charge of the overall situation. And we should do so with a properly inquiring interest as to the possibilities of this world, of which God has made us stewards and managers. This is what catechetical instruction should lead us into.  Every truth should become something behavioural.

TAP: What was the process of creating this Anglican Catechism?  

BS: We gathered a team of Anglican theologians and writers in Vancouver in February 2012, and agreed to both the key principles that would shape the work, and the historical documents that would inform and shape the writing. Four teams were formed to write the catechism, each gathered around separate parts of it: The Apostles’ Creed, The Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments. A fourth team was formed to handle the more complex issues – the trickier bits that would need considerable thought and attention. It was our aim to write a catechism that would serve all of ACNA – specifically the three main strands of the Anglo-Catholics, the Evangelicals and the Charismatics. On several occasions the draft was presented to the House of Bishops for their feedback and the teams then sought to edit and adjust the work in line with their wisdom. Our deadlines were very tight – the team worked extraordinarily hard over the past two years to finish this draft on time – and there were times that I worried it wouldn’t work.

As it now stands, it is a working draft and will stay that way for two years. Hopefully, teachers’ notes will be written and a shorter children’s version will be written. As well, feedback will be gathered from across ACNA as parishioners use the catechism – and then a final draft will go to the House of Bishops in 2016.

TAP: What were the biggest challenges in writing the Catechism?

JIP:  Two things were a constant source of struggle. First, there was a string of decisions about what should go into our documents. A Catechism should major on the majors rather than secondary truths.  So, which were the basics? Our committee came from different backgrounds so there was lots of serious discussion about what were the fundamentals that must be included.  

Secondly, there were always struggles about the way that language should be used, even though we all agreed that everything had to be brief, clear and as easy to explain as possible. By God’s grace, we came to a place where we were all happy to be – substantively, stylistically and verbally.  I was as delighted as I was surprised.

BS: We had such tight deadlines. How could we ensure all of ACNA was represented?  How could we make sure that we didn’t lose sight of the bigger picture – the vision of helping parishes do catechesis?  And I am still concerned that, in the end, it will be put on a shelf and not be used.  That the laity won’t be better equipped to live as disciples in this century.  That it won’t matter.

TAP: What was most encouraging about writing it?

BS: Seeing God do it. I could see how difficult it would be – all the problems, all these profound differences of all kinds.  It was hard to really listen to each other; we all had to decide where to hold on and where to let go. I was so blessed by how we held together and the different gifts that came together, and by how hard people worked.

JIP: The sense that God was in control and quietly showing it. In terms of my own vision for the Anglican future, hope grew. Hope, that is, for the Province of tomorrow as a fellowship of congregations in which learning the basic doctrine is as much a part of all-age congregational life as Bible studies are today.

TAP: How do you hope the Catechism will be used and regularized into Parish life?

JIP: When I came to Vancouver and to St. John’s (Shaughnessy) Church in the late 1970s, Rector Harry Robinson had just come from Toronto, and he started pushing the importance of Bible study groups like crazy. Harry showed that Bible study was a necessary health-giving activity in which we all should engage.  Forty years later, Bible studies at St. John’s are happening all the time, everywhere. I am hoping now to see the clergy – young clergy in particular – pushing to make Catechism as regular as Bible study.  I am hoping all clergy will grasp this vision and pick up the importance of making this happen through organizing Catechism in their churches – which they are in a position to do, and no one else really is.

TAP: What do you hope are the next steps?

BS: That parishes in ANIC [The Anglican Network in Canada] and ACNA will pick up the vision and run with it!  The writing of the Catechism is just the beginning! We need to train lay catechists to teach the faith to children, teens and adults. We also need to see a variety of great resources being written that will take the content of the catechism and have it engage as many people as possible.

One of the first big steps here in Canada will be a workshop sponsored by ANIC for children's ministers (and by that I mean anybody who teaches the faith to children in our churches!) on May 30th-31st at St John’s Richmond [see the ANIC website for more information]. Dr. Packer will be teaching on "Why Catechesis?" on Friday night and on Saturday we hope to strengthen, encourage and equip people in the task of teaching the faith to the children God has given us.

JIP: We need to do a slimmed down children’s version.  I am hoping churches get to identifying “catechists” and training them – and that ACNA and ANIC will get to training catechists together, so that individual congregations don’t get overwhelmed by trying to do this separately.

I hope we can muster up the enthusiasm to really get it all done. I hope the Catechism will prepare all Christians to be a credit to their Lord—knowing their stuff and living it out.


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