The Joy of Being Anglican

by Graham Kings

Date added: 26/07/2020

The Joy of Being Anglican

Foreword by The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings

to Caroline Hodgson and Heather Smith (eds), The Joy of Being an Anglican (Redemptorist Press, 2017)

Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion and Hon Fellow of Durham University



I commend this imaginative book with joy. The diverse chapters from England and around the Anglican Communion, on various themes, are a delight to read. Buildings, Service, Scripture, Liturgy, Family, Poetry, Laughter, Music, Vocation, Seasons, Prayer and Reconciliation all come alive through multiple voices. The editors and authors are to be congratulated on bringing to fruition an endeavour full of vitality.

Thomas Traherne (1637-1674), an Anglican priest, theologian and poet who served a parish near Hereford in the middle of the 17th century, wrote a spiritually profound book, Centuries of Meditations. This was only first published in 1908, its manuscript having been left undiscovered for centuries and found in a barrow of books about to be trashed.[1] He wrote of the beauty of nature and of the soul’s capacity for joy:

You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.[2]

For Traherne, the joy of worship led into the joy of mission:

Yet, further, you never enjoy the world aright, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it, that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it.[3]

On 19 August 1945, C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), an Anglican layman, English Don at Oxford and great admirer of Traherne,[4] wrote to Mrs Ellis:

Real joy…jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’nights.[5]

This handwritten letter was discovered inside a second hand book by C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. Lewis, a few years later, wrote his memoir, Surprised by Joy and included this passage:

Joy must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.[6]

Perhaps one way of looking at this concept is that peace is joy resting and joy is peace dancing?

The Anglican daily liturgy, drawing on Benedictine roots, is permeated with joy. Morning Prayer begins with the call to worship, Psalm 95, the ‘Venite’, after its opening Latin word:

O come, let us sing to the Lord;

        let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.

The third canticle of Morning Prayer is Psalm 100, the ‘Jubilate’:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

Come into his presence with singing.

The central canticle of Evening Prayer is Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ (Luke 1:46-55):

My soul magnifies the Lord,

        and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

Of the Gospel writers, Luke in particular picks out the theme of joy. The birth stories are shot through with this theme: the angel tells Zechariah, ‘You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth’ (Luke 1:14); his wife, Elizabeth, tells Mary, ‘As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy’ and her friends rejoice with her at the birth of John (1:44, 58); Mary’s response to God, the Magnificat, is quoted above; the angels greet the shepherds with ‘news of great joy for all the people’ (2:11); in Luke’s version of the beatitudes, Jesus says, ‘Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven’ (6:23); Jesus ‘rejoiced in the Holy Spirit’ (10:21); the parable of the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son all mention joy at being found (15: 5, 9, 10 and 32); during his entry to Jerusalem, the disciples ‘began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice’ (19:37); at his resurrection, they ‘disbelieved for joy’ (24:41); and after his ascension, returned to Jerusalem ‘with great joy’ (24:52). Thus, Luke begins and ends his gospel with this theme.

Of Paul’s epistles, his letter to the Philippines in particular resounds with encouragements to rejoice. This is ironic, in that he is imprisoned in Rome (Phil 1:12-14). ‘Constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for you’ (1:4); ‘Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…’ (1:18); ‘make my joy complete: be of the same mind…’ (2:2); even if he were to die he says, ‘I am glad and rejoice with all of you – and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me (2:17-18); he is sending Epaphroditus ‘in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again…welcome him then in the Lord with joy’ (2:28, 29); he ends that section by urging the Philippians ‘Finally, my brothers and sisters rejoice in the Lord’ (3:1) and calls them ‘my joy and my crown’ (4:1); and repeats it again ‘Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice (4:4); now that they have revived their concern for him he says ‘I rejoice in the Lord, greatly’ (4:10).

The traditional phrase used to describe the Anglican tradition is ‘Catholic and Reformed’. Too often the middle word ‘and’ passes unnoticed. Connecting words are crucial, humble and worth contemplating. They introduce links between polarities by contributing ‘three-ness to duality’. If we try to replace ‘and’ with the word ‘or’, we would soon see its significance.

Perhaps Anglicans in England have four founding patron saints of this little word ‘and’? Thomas Cranmer (1480-1556), in The Book of Common Prayer, reshaped patristic prayers in the light of renewed evangelical theology; Richard Hooker (1554-1600), in his Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, countered both Roman and Puritan demands with God’s layered wisdom; Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), to the King James Version of the Bible and sermons before the Royal Court, brought erudition and insight; and George Herbert (1593-1633), in his temperate prose and allusive poetry, expressed profound spirituality in subtle rhetoric.  

Anglicanism, thanks be to God, is now global. As well as drawing on British authors, this book introduces us to theologians and minsters around the world who are developing their own insights. There may be tensions in the Communion, but also profound relationships of trust and mutuality.

Celebrating and discussing theological insights on mission with Anglicans around the world has renewed my joy in Christ and appreciation of worldwide Anglicanism.

As we approach the 2020 Lambeth Conference, when Anglican bishops from six continents will gather at Canterbury, I pray that this book may enliven minds and envision imaginations to rejoice in the traditions which interweave being catholic and reformed.

Having begun with Traherne, I conclude with George Herbert, the final verse of his poem, ‘The Call’:

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:

Such a Joy, as none can move:

Such a Love, as none can part:

Such a Heart, as joys in love.[7]

[1] Denise Inge, in her Happiness and Holiness: Thomas Traherne and His Writings (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008) tells the story of this discovery well and also of further manuscripts of Traherne, which Jeremy Maule and, later, she found in Lambeth Palace Library.

[2] Thomas Traherne, Centuries (London: The Faith Press, 1960), p. 14.

[3] Ibid. p. 15.

[4] On 23 December 1941, C. S. Lewis wrote to his friend, Arthur Greeves: “I’m re-reading Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations which I think almost the most beautiful book (in prose, I mean, excluding poets) in English’, Walter Hooper (ed.), They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S.Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963) (London: William Collins, 1979), p. 492.

[5] C. S. Lewis, letter to Mrs Ellis, ‘Unseen C. S. Lewis Letter Defines his Notion of Joy’, The Guardian, 9 Dec 2014.

[6] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955), p. 24.

[7] George Herbert, ‘The Call’, in Helen Wilcox (ed.), The English Poems of George Herbert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 538.


Graham Kings

Graham Kings

A bronze


Wood panel

Wood panel