A Millennial on Christianity and the BCP
(Louis Harris is a son of the Revd. David Harris, the past national chairman of the PBSC. (Fr. Harris was also the assistant priest at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Charlottetown, PEI for a number of years, and afterwards became the rector of St. Giles’ Church in Reading, England.) Louis was one of the PBSC bursary recipients in 2017, and kindly agreed to provide an interview for the PBSC newsletter.)
You come from a religious family background; how has that affected your faith?
It’s true that my father is a priest, and so the Christian faith has been a part of my life. But I would say that my own journey into the faith didn’t begin, at least cognitively, until I moved away from home at the age of 18, (my family was in England and I moved to back to Charlottetown). I very quickly abandoned the faith, which was unremarkable since I was labouring under the conviction that I had been indoctrinated. There were about two years during which I was a fairly vehement atheist – I would say Dawkins-esque; I would throw parties and I’d be the one, along with a few of my friends, who would be railing against religion and talking about how evil it is while thoughtlessly participating in that certain kind of debauchery that is standard at undergraduate university parties! Oddly, it was without my family that I came to understand the faith, when the life I’d built without them came crashing down and I realized that I was surrounded by people who weren’t good for me and weren’t good for themselves, and the whole mechanism of our friendships and our relationships was beginning to break down. For a few months after this breakdown it gradually dawned on me that love is the most important thing in the universe, and that this is what my dad had been talking about my whole life, and that was when I understood the Christianity that I was brought up into. It was pretty humiliating at the time, but it was also enlightening. Finally there came a moment when I acknowledged that there was a God, and I would say that that was when I became Christian again, although it took about another year for me to actually acknowledge who Christ was. I think the primary influence my family has had on my faith has been as a forum to ask questions. Once I came to the faith properly there was a lot that needed to be sorted out, and indeed there still is, and my brothers and sisters and I talk about the questions we have and will often go to our father to sort out good answers. Beyond that, my parents were very good at letting the faith work itself out in our lives, and so most of my siblings would probably say that they experienced their journey to the faith outside of our family life.
You were raised in a largely Prayer Book environment. What experience have you had of other liturgical forms vis-à-vis the Prayer Book?
I have family members who are of other faith traditions. Primarily through them I’ve had experiences ranging from the far-out charismatic end of the spectrum– the Toronto Airport church, for example – to the extremely Anglo-Catholic end in England. While I lived in Reading, I attended a church called “St. Lawrence In Reading” for two and a half years. It’s a youth-oriented church with a focused youth-oriented style of worship – raised hands, big projector screen, sitting on couches and beanbags, et cetera. It was a fun thing for a 16-year-old, but it wasn’t what I’d call a deep Christian experience. You go and hang out with your friends, and do some vaguely Christian activities. The administration members were definitely Christian, but the environment was attractive not because it was particularly deep, but because I was dancing around with my friends and laughing and making jokes. And I certainly made great friends there. But I wasn’t being drawn into infinity, so to speak.
The BCP has always been there, throughout these various experiences, and there’s certainly a part of me that loves it simply because it’s something I’ve known my entire life. But that love is broadened by the fact that the contents of Anglicanism for the last 400-plus years have been defined by it. I’ve found nothing else even remotely as solid. The Anglican vision is a particular interpretation of Christ’s invitation into participation in the divine life. The Prayer Book happens to be a product of the tradition of the Church of England, but as the title implies, it’s a book for everyone, at all times, in all places. It tries to draw us into a common life of worship that opens us up to this grand historical vision of the Church, but with a strange, pure, almost sublime simplicity. I love and have a taste for high Anglicanism, but there’s no part of me that says that’s the way it has to be done. I say nothing with any authority and I hope if I’m wrong to be corrected, but it seems to me that the vision that you’re invited into in the Book of Common Prayer doesn’t say that it is the only way to do it. This vision offers the Prayer Book as a really good tool for living a prayerful life, and I do believe that it is.
I do think that if we’re going to resurrect a vision for Anglicanism, (because right now Anglicanism, at least in the west, seems to me a little confused about what it is) I believe it’s going to have to be through the Prayer Book, and through participation in our tradition. The Prayer Book is essential to the Anglican identity. If Anglicanism has an insight, which I’m inclined to think it does, for the church universal, it is going to be in the Prayer Book. The problem that I see with many of the modern forms of Anglican worship is that the motivations underlying their creation are fundamentally flawed. The rationale that the revisers gave us for producing them seemed to lie in their being scared that people weren’t going to church any more – the idea that they were responsible for saving the church. They thought that the faith had to be watered down to make it palatable. I think the future will see a Church that expresses the overwhelming nature of the vision, and stops trying to simplify it. I think that will probably take the shape of a return to the tradition.
How do other young people of your age view liturgy? What forms of worship do they tend to prefer?
I know of a few, especially those who were brought into Christianity by less traditional forms of worship, who continue to have a taste for those forms. Overwhelmingly, though, in my experience, (and I know a good many young Anglicans at this point from many places in the western world – Europe, Canada, the United States), my generation’s basic question is, should we even bother with this Christian stuff? And if you get to the point where you answer yes, generally you’re not looking for something watered down anymore, you’re looking for the real thing – something ancient and traditional and something that you don’t understand yet. So the way you find that is by going to an ancient tradition and participating in it, being formed by it. Logically these new Christians won’t be inclined to have a taste for the modern stuff, because why would you bother? If you’re going to bother being a Christian, you’re going to bother with all of it – it means going in and being overwhelmed by something strange and timeless. For example, I know a lot of young people in PEI who have converted to Roman Catholicism because of the old Latin Tridentine mass. I remember, I had a conversation two or three weeks ago with a very close friend of mine whom I met at St. Lawrence’s in England, and he had always been very drawn to their free-form kind of worship – he even once told me that he didn’t like the old stuff because it’s boring and it’s too much work. Yet he told me in that last visit that he had come to realize that the church absolutely needs to be grounded in the ancient things, because otherwise it’s going to lose itself. And the fact that he could come around like that was a real eye-opener for me. So yes, I think that for my generation, if they don’t already realize that to be a Christian means to participate in the ancient faith, they will come to that realization. And when they realize that, they aren’t going to be impressed by liturgies that were written just thirty or forty years ago. There’s a girl that I know in England who came to faith at St. Lawrence’s as well; she later left, but even now she says that when she feels like she needs to go to church, she’s going to look for an ancient church. So this is a sensibility that even secular millennials have.
So how do you see your future? Are you are seeking ordination?
Right now, I think what I’m doing is wandering, in a sense, rather than actively pursuing ordination. When I’m participating in a mass it’s true that I look up at the altar and there’s a longing in my soul to be there. But I’m not filling out paperwork in every diocese I can to make that happen. The truth is that it feels like it’s happening organically – over the last three years it feels like I’ve moved closer to that, and the trajectory seems in that direction. When I came back to the faith all those years ago there was this weird disjointed conversation that I had with my parents, where I blurted out that maybe I’m supposed to be a priest, and I had never thought about that before … and so I’m kind of going with that. I don’t yet know what a vocation would look like, and I don’t know where it would be; all I know is that I have a longing to be there, at the altar. Maybe that might sound egotistical? I suppose that’s one positive thing about eastward celebration (which for me is the norm): it’s not about you, it’s entirely about the Person in front of you. Christ is the centre of attention!
How do you see the future of the Anglican Church?
That’s a difficult one, because things are so confused right now. I don’t see a strong resurrection/ recovery movement right now of the kind that I was describing, involving the Prayer Book and a rediscovery of our tradition, but if such a movement is happening, if the seeds I see are in fact being sown, I’ll be here to watch them grow. Through thick and thin, I’ll be here. I think it comes back to what I said a minute ago about service. It’s not always gratifying, and it’s certainly not glamourous – faithfully abiding in the mire that we find ourselves in. Maybe we’ll be out of the mire later and we can joy in that. There are certainly threats of schism, and indeed a certain amount of schism has already occurred. But I’m inclined to think that since we are promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, some parts of Anglicanism in its most faithful form will remain. I have a personal hope that I’m called to serve not only the church that I’ve inherited, but the part of the world that I’ve been brought up in, and that I look at with a certain amount of sadness, and a hope for something better. I would hope that some day my path may be participating in a process of rejuvenation. But it’s not our place to make a plan. It’s entirely our place to listen. And I do think that I’ve come to the realization that because this is what I’ve inherited, I have to carry it forward. I know that I will be an Anglican until I die; I don’t know what it will look like when that happens.
(From the PBSC Newsletter, Michaelmas 2018)