Anglican History in the 21st Century: Remembering All the Baptized: How Then Shall We Teach?

By Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, Daniel | Anglican and Episcopal History, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Anglican History in the 21st Century: Remembering All the Baptized: How Then Shall We Teach?


Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, Daniel, Anglican and Episcopal History


Jane Shaw has argued that to remember all the baptized within the history of Christianity is to introduce ambiguity into prevailing narratives of Anglican history and the history of Christianity writ large. While Shaw has addressed what the turn to a history of all the baptized means for understanding the current context of the Anglican Communion, I want to think about what this history means for teaching those within the communion and, given my context, the Episcopal Church in particular.

As the sole professor of church history at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, I am responsible for teaching a year-long survey of the history of Christianity from its origins to the late twentieth century for incoming students. When I teach the history of Christianity it is with a view to the history of all the baptized. This teaching is further grounded in my own identity as a member of the Episcopal Church and as one responsible for teaching people who will take up leadership positions, whether lay or ordained, in the Episcopal Church or other member churches of the Anglican Communion. When I think about remembering all the baptized in the context of the discipline of Anglican history in the twenty-first century, I think first of my students and all they need to know to come out of seminary as people reasonably knowledgeable about two millennia of the Christian tradition. More specifically, I face the dilemma of how both to teach about important traditional subjects such as the rise of Christological and Trinitarian confessions, the development of the institutional church, the complexities of the English Reformation, and the emergence of a distinctive Anglican tradition while at the same time finding it imperative to set forth newer - and equally important - topics in the history of Christianity such as the presence of women in the church, the varieties of Christianity outside western Europe, and the encounter of Christianity with other cultures. In other words, remembering all the baptized requires talking and thinking about our history in different ways in this new century. If Shaw is correct that we choose to write, and teach, on subjects that in part are determined by our contexts, then I do not see how the realities facing us in the forms of globalization, continuing socio-economic inequalities, and the present crises of the Anglican Communion cannot help but shape how we talk about our collective history.

Shaw has helpfully proposed two important contexts for considering Anglican history. First, is the context of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and its fallout that led to the realization of the significance of the Anglican Communion for its individual churches. This context has pressed to the forefront the historical question of how the Anglican Communion developed and why it matters to the life of its member churches played out in discrete cultural locations. Our second context is the problem of the "church going context." Just who are we talking about when we talk about the history of all the baptized? Do we mean those who regularly participate in the life of the church or also those who stand around its margins, either by choice or by exclusion?

I want to address these two contexts for their implications in teaching history. By this I do not mean only in formal seminary contexts, though that is where my experiences lay, but also in other activities that often rely on content delivered by people who have received some form of instruction derived from courses on the history of Christianity. Here I am thinking of very common activities found in most Episcopal parishes such as confirmation classes, adult education forums, and Education for Ministry courses. We can also think of other media by which people are exposed to narratives of the history of Christianity such as Forward Movement pamphlets, bulletin inserts, or the "Today in History" notices from Episcopal Life Daily that come to me by e-mail. …

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