I’m sure there is a sort of universal truth here about any group, but in my context I’ve seen three different ways that people become Anglican and it seems to affect the way they go about being part of the church. The three ways one can become Anglican are accident, birth, or conviction.
Some people become Anglican by accident. Either they were invited to a friend’s bible study at the local Episcopal church or maybe they just moved to town and St. Paul’s Anglican Church was the closest thing to home. Whatever the circumstances, these folks didn’t exactly choose the Anglican church, but rather found themselves in it. This kind of Anglican can bring a level of detachment from the tradition that can be healthy when it allows them to move on with changes, but harmful when they disregard the past. They often have a sort of natural “catholicity” because they didn’t choose their church over against other traditions and they can tend to focus on what’s most important (like Jesus!), not getting caught up with tangential arguments about which prayer book version is best. If they aren’t careful, however, in their desire to “major on the majors” they can sometimes fall into pride and look down on their brothers and sisters who rightly think the history and liturgy of their church matters. They can also lack foresight because they don’t have hindsight or understand the history of their new family. That being said, they can greatly help those who were born into the Anglican tradition ask themselves why they do what they do, and they can force those who are Anglican by conviction to chill the heck out and refocus on Jesus.
Anglicans from Birth
Commonly called “cradle Anglicans,” these folks were born into this tradition and know it like their mother tongue. They knew the liturgy before they knew how to read it out of the book and they have the “Anglican Way” in their bones. Of course, the danger for those who have always been Anglican is that they can lack conviction about what they are doing and even have a thoughtlessness about God because they talk about him the same way they did when they were children. They can have irrational fear of change and even think of the church as “theirs” instead of seeing it as God’s. They too can fall into pride when dealing with those who have joined their church later in life and don’t know all of the right times to cross oneself or whatever. Ultimately, however, these folks have so much to offer young Anglicans. If they take the time to think about their own tradition, they have the opportunity to help a church remember who it is and who it serves. They don’t need to be educated in all of the ins and outs of how Anglicans do things and therefore have the freedom that comes through mastery. That freedom can allow them to pursue Christ through the tradition unencumbered by anxiety, and they can give that gift to the next generation who desperately needs that kind of spirituality.
Anglicans from Conviction
Finally, there are those who are Anglican because they chose to be. For whatever reason, they fell in love with the Anglican church from afar, courted it for a while, and then finally made it their home. These folks can have passion about the tradition that the other two groups can sometimes lack which can be a strength and a weakness. When the passion drives them to take Christ’s church seriously, it can be a wonderful and inspiring thing. When it drives them to fight with others or look down on an accidental Anglican who frankly just doesn’t care about these little issues, it can be devastating not just to individuals, but to the very church they love. This group is unique because it can also include both cradle and accidental Anglicans, whereas an Anglican by conviction can’t turn into one of the other two. Conviction Anglicans also need to be careful to not hold other Anglicans to the vision they have built up in their head by reading books about the church. They can sometimes have a dead academic understanding of the church and could greatly benefit from cradle Anglicans showing them what it’s really like to be Anglican. Anglican history books can be notoriously bad at building this church up as the perfect church, when the reality is that there are just as many problems here as anywhere. Conviction Anglicans can also greatly benefit from a certain level of detachment. Nevertheless, the Anglican church has a rich and complex history, tradition, and ethos that can be very beautiful and God glorifying when done with conviction.
There are probably some other categories which I haven’t thought of as well as other strengths and weaknesses within these groups. Feel free to add comments below.