At the Canterbury Club at my university we learned the song "I am an Anglican." sung to the tune of "God bless America." It went this way. I am an Anglican, I am PE. Not high church, nor low church, but protestant and catholic and free. Not a Presby, or a Methodist, or a Baptist white with foam. I am an Anglican, just one step from Rome. I am an Anglican, Via Media, boom boom.
Perhaps theologically wanting, the song nevertheless forged my spiritual identity with the idea that Anglicanism was the middle way between Rome and Protestantism. Episcopalians were the perfect bled of the two, and we embraced all sorts and conditions of theologies and rituals into one Liturgy blended into one magnificent church.
The Via Media of Anglicanism began with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Act of Uniformity of 1558 allowed both the subjective and objective belief in the Real Presence at Holy Communion, thus blending the Reformation and Roman Catholic theologies of the Eucharistic Presence. The original words are still found in our Prayer Book, Rite I, though they are rarely used. In the bread words at Holy Communion, the Catholic position is present this way. The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. The Reformed tradition lay in the subsequent phrase. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. In the early days of my ministry this had morphed into a creative tension between high and low church rituals in parish churches. We all believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament.
The key idea here is that in spite of our differences in theology and liturgy, we were held together by this Via Media glue. The Prayer Book was the guiding force that directed our theology, and the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church guided the discipline and order of the church. Diverse elements within the church were pulled together under the wide umbrella of the Via Media, and even though we disagreed, we were loyal.
In the late nineteen sixties it all began to come apart. As my friend and fellow blogger Bill McVey says, "we drew a line in the sand" between the conservatives and the liberals, mainly over new liturgical materials and civil rights issues. This does not mean that it was wrong to be either liberal or conservative, it is that in most instances the two decided they could not live together in the same church. The first "line in the sand" was drawn over the civil rights movement, closely followed by liturgy and woman's ordination. Now the split centers around sexual orientation. Many have left the church. The Via Media drifted away.
I suppose that it could be said that throughout my active ministry I would have been classified as a "liberal," whatever that truly means. While I am a fiscal conservative and was mostly a good steward of the financial resources of the parish, I admittedly was a theological and social progressive. However, I now lament the reality that the church put itself in the position where both liberals and conservatives drew such a hard line in the sand where neither side could give. Hence the split and therefore the functional demise of the Via Media. I grieve that loss and am sad about the fact that loyalty to the church faded away into the fundamentalist sunset.