Saturday 16 October 2010

When 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly

Same blog, different site: sorry if you have seen this already on the Anglo Catholic, but there was not time for something utterly new.
Odd, isn't it, that Forward in Faith is compelled to worship in a building belonging to a defunct sect, the Irvingites, and to hold its Assembly in a former Christian Science building, now the home of a group of Evangelical Chinese? Yet that is how it was these last few days, meeting in the "Emmanuel Centre" in Westminster and celebrating the Eucharist in the Catholic Apostolic Church of Christ the King in Gordon Square. Perhaps this is how it will always be for us in future, having to beg, borrow or rent buildings from others. You might also find it odd that my text – the title at the top of this piece – is not from Holy Writ but from the Scottish Play of Wm Shakespeare. We performed it at school, and I was Duncan and Noises Off. Duncan does not last long, so giving me the opportunity for my second role. I made a great owl. In the play Lady M is determined to do away with Duncan at the earliest possible moment. Would that the Church of England were equally expeditious and kind where Anglo-Catholics are concerned. Instead, it engages in a drawn-out death by a thousand cuts, gradually letting us realise that there is no place for us any longer.

The Assembly occurred just as a sizeable number of us have realised that "the game is up". The Reverend Judge James Patrick outlined the sort of route which may be available to anyone entering the Ordinariate – it sounded remarkably quick, his draft; something set up soon after Christmas, a short time of preparation, then a joyful Easter and Pentecost. For those of us who are seriously considering this option it seems incredible that anyone should still think there is anything left to play for. Yet there are honourable men and women who plainly do think this. For their sake, we heard the other day about the launch of a new Society, under the patronage of those two incorrigible Romanisers Saints Wifrid and Hilda.

Well, today we heard about this Society (SSWSH as it has become known) once again. Some of us were looking forward to being able to ask questions of the sponsors of the Society Model. There is a string of distinguished bishops who have lent their names to this, indeed the Bishop of Plymouth came all the way to London a fortnight ago to tell a Sacred Synod what was being done. There was no debate at that time, no room for questions. But that was all right, for on the agenda for today we saw the name of that same Bishop, and also that of the Bishop of Beverley, the North's own Flying Bishop. In the event, neither of them found it possible to be present. Instead it was left to the Bishop of Burnley and Fr David Houlding to do their best to "reflect on developments following the Sacred Synods". Now I have a great affection for Bishop John Goddard. His father was Vicar of St Nicolas' Guildford when I was in the next-door parish, and he was my confessor for a time, so I knew Bishop John when he was nobbut a lad. He did his best with a brief to tell us why things are different up North. He told us that in the Synod elections there had been some gains by lay catholics especially. There was no great enthusiasm for the Ordinariate and it had been left to Bishop John himself to put the case for it at that northern Synod. Now it could be that the two things are not unrelated. If you have to have as spokesman someone who is not keen on it, small wonder that the laity are seeking to get help from the Synod. In the South, the PEVs have consistently helped us to understand and appreciate what the Holy Father is offering. The North has not had, it seems, any similar explanation or help.
I worked for nearly a decade in the Northern Province. I believe that priests and people there deserve better than having to rely on a bishop who does not support the Ordinariate telling them about it. Instead, they are being offered SS Hilda and Wilfrid. It must be said that Bishop John Goddard did his best with us; but he had to admit that unless the Society could achieve Jurisdiction for reliable bishops, it would have failed. Well, I was on the General Synod back in the 1980's [representing the Diocese of York, as it happens] and we got nowhere. Bishop John's wife pleaded with us today, tearfully, to give it once last chance. She was elected to General Synod not many years after me,and she has been a doughty fighter for the catholic cause. And of course we will try to give Synod a chance, those of us who are left. But no-one should expect us, who have been in the battle for thirty years and more, to put the offer from Pope Benedict on the back burner while we draw one more line in the sand and give Synod one more chance.
After the Bishop of Burnley, Fr David Houlding was given an opportunity to gild the Hilda. "In July we failed" he told us. "It was about jurisdiction and alas it is not to be". So why does he persist in clinging to the wreckage of the General Synod? The Society Model was floated in the Revision Committee, the details all worked out by Fr Houlding, and it was turned down flat. Now Fr David finds merit in having it rejected by a committee but not put to the vote in General Synod. He believes it may yet succeed second time round where all else has failed. But again, he says "it will be useless unless it has jurisdiction", and asks "Will the House of Bishops recognise such a grouping?" Well, I am ready to bet my zuchetta against a burst balloon that it will not. Still Fr David persisted, and laid out five requirements of the Society. Mission, our Catholic Identity being honoured, the ARCIC vision, a guaranteed sacramental life and being seen as a Gift to the Church of England. In speaking of the guaranteed sacramental life (you can hear the whole of his and other contributions on the Forward in Faith website) he asked "Will those bishops be prepared to break the rules? We must ask that question now at the beginning". I wish that question could have been put to the galaxy of SSWSH bishops – Plymouth, Beverley, Horsham, Chichester and the rest. Unfortunately, there was a question which preceded this: where were they? None of them but Burnley had found time to come to the Assembly. They are men who claim to be leaders in the catholic movement. So where were they when we needed them today? Indeed where have they ever been? John Broadhurst, John Richards, Michael Houghton and other PEVs have had to bear the brunt of it, with only sniping from some who reckon themselves catholic bishops. What is different now? I hope SSWSH will flourish and achieve what has never been achieved up to now, the things which Fr Houlding listed … but I am not holding my breath. And even Fr David seems to think it will be short-lived – about up to his date for retirement, I would guess.

The Assembly ended with tributes being paid to Fr Geoffrey Kirk, without whom many of us would not have survived these past acrimonious years. His learning, his wit, his friendship and good humour have sustained us. John Broadhurst spoke of him with great affection, a presentation was made to him, and if you listen to nothing else from the podcast, do listen to Fr Geoffrey's words of farewell. He has seen it, and told it, as it is. We shall still need him, although he has retired as Secretary, to continue to prick the pompous nonsense of any of us when we are tempted to rely on the promises of the Church of England.

Finally, an unashamed plug: 'Sea Without a Shore', the life and ministry of Michael Houghton, one-time bishop of Ebbsfleet is now out, available from the Additional Curates' Society for £15.99; their website is at www/

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