Saturday 23 October 2010

Many or Few Revisited

I have been properly rebuked for the harshness of what I said in the last paragraph of "By Many or By Few" , so I have amended it.

I've been too ready to criticise those who have not yet been able to decide in favour of the Ordinariate. Theoretically I have known it's been much easier for me, in retirement; but in practice I have still been horribly judgemental. I am very sorry for that.

I suppose after thirty-five years of being on, or following, General Synod, I have become a bit case-hardened. I have seen that body grow progressively more illiberal, and have come to the conclusion that we can expect NOTHING of any value from it for Traditionalists. The offer of the Ordinariate came as such a relief to me that I failed to appreciate the difficulties for many others. As a result, SSWSH appeared to me as a last straw, an attempt by the Establishment, under the guise of being 'catholic', to undermine what the Pope is doing for us.

Others have thought much the same (for instance William Oddie) - but it is not the whole truth. There are honourable men among those setting up SSWSH, and some doubtless genuinely believe that the Church of England will back down and give anglo-catholics their own bishops (as in the former Act of Synod) but this time with Jurisdiction. I think they are wrong, but it is clearly a hopeful shelter for those who cannot yet accept the Ordinariate. So, we go on praying, for those who are deciding (some at great cost to themselves) to seek to join the Ordinariate, and those who still trust in the generosity and good will of the Church of England.

For myself, once again, I ask pardon of those I have offended by harsh and judgemental words; I will try to do better in future.

Friday 22 October 2010


So busy with posts about Ordinariates and such that most blogs seem to have missed the court decision to allow Pre-Nuptial agreements. These are set up to avoid a millionaire having to pay the bulk of his or her fortune to a gold-digging spouse. What no-one seems to notice is that such an agreement would nullify the marriage; for it is setting limits to the "Have and hold - better or worse - richer or poorer" - to say nothing of "with all my worldly goods I thee endow". Surely if a marriage is entered into with its ending foreseen and pre-arranged, it cannot be a lifelong marriage?

I seem to remember that French kings were always married with great splendour in Cathedrals - Rheims or Paris, I think - but despite the presence of Cardinal Archbishops, one person was always excluded - the local parish priest. That was because in law his presence was necessary for a valid marriage; so if things did not work out, it could always be claimed the marriage had been illegal from the start.

Maybe that was just a Protestant canard; but if anyone wanted an easy escape from a marriage, a pre-nuptial agreement might prove equally helpful. If Henry VIII had had such a pre-nup with Catherine of Aragon, maybe there'd have been no Church of England? Now that's a happy thought...

Wednesday 20 October 2010

By Many or by Few

Simon Killwick addresses the Assembly

Great excitement in the Wifred & Hilda bunch (the soft-centre Anglo-Catholics), and Reform (the hardline Evangelicals). Between them these two strange bedfellows can derail the consecration of women bishops; that at least is according to a press release from the Christian News Release Service UK, reported and commented on by Damian Thompson in his Telegraph blog. Here is what is claimed:

"Subject: Women Bishops in the CofE now to be BLOCKED after latest General Synod Election
Following the Election of the new General Synod of the Church of England, Evangelical and Catholic Groups on Synod have now swapped lists of candidates.
The results show that 66 Clergy (32.10%) and 77 laity (35.46%) will vote against the current Women Bishop legislation unless it is amended to give those who for conscious/scriptural reasons, cannot accept WBs.
Only 34% is needed to block this when it returns from the dioceses. For the first time, it can and will be blocked by both fully ELECTED houses. In the clergy only a further 1.81% is needed, and that’s just ONE person. There are 21 new evangelicals on this new synod, and one out of a possible 58 undecided is a given!
The Bishop of Fulham’s departure to Rome, announced on Friday, was therefore a little too early and the Catholic Group on General Synod have distanced themselves from his position and will be staying within the CofE."

Well, we have been here before, notoriously in the General Synod on 11.xi.92. On that day we were to be saved by our clear 1/3rd in the House of Laity. And if they did not prevent the Ordination of Women as Priests, then the House of Bishops would. In fact, a couple of women (who had been elected because they were opposed to women's ordination) abstained and the Bishops, who thought they would leave it to the laity, caved in; hence women's ordination went ahead. Incidentally, one of those women who changed her mind has since been 'ordained' as a priest - and her priest husband is now a Roman Catholic.

It would only require one or two of the laity or clergy to be indisposed when the vote happens - a funeral, a heavy cold, something compelling of that sort - and all the prognostications could once more prove wrong. But in any case, should the doctrine of the Church be determined in such a way? Far from being 'too early', the Bishop of Fulham's promise could not have come at a better time.

Some of us have spent half our lives seeing the Church of England descend into chaos. The question is not primarily one of women's ordination; it is about Authority. The Church of God is not ours to alter at will, its future depending on whether a third of the elected members of a Synod is ready to stand firm. We already have women as priests, and no doubt we shall have them as bishops before very long. Then, whatever 'safeguards' can be squeezed out of a reluctant Synod, it will not alter the fact that the Church of England can no longer claim continuity with the Church founded by Our Lord.

And what are those safeguards likely to be? Reform and SSWSH have very different requirements. For SSWSH (as the Bishop of Burnley reminded the FiF Assembly last week) "a Code of Practice Will Not Do". For Reform, it is all about Headship; and provided their parishes do not have to accept the ministry of women bishops, it will not matter greatly to them who joined in the laying on of hands when their Vicar was ordained. He is a man, that is enough. For them, a Code of Practice (even without Jurisdiction) probably will do. There may be concessions made next time round - perhaps in a Synod in 2012 - but those concessions cannot satisfy Catholics in the Church of England.

I originally ended this with some pretty harsh comments about those who remain undecided; and that resulted in a couple of helpful rebukes (see comments below); so I have deleted that, and would simply say that we must go on trying to find the right way ahead for us, for now - but don't be too easily deceived into thinking there will be a rescue package from the C of E similar to the Act of Synod. Sooner or later, women are going to be admitted to the Episcopate; and sooner or later we shall all have to decide if a church which determines doctrine by majorities in Synod can honestly claim to be part of the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" which we have always said it was. Meanwhile all of us should be praying for discernment, our own and others'.

Remember, "nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.” I Sam. xiv 6

[This post also appears on the Anglo-Catholic site]

Sunday 17 October 2010

A Parish Sermon

'The need to pray continuously and never lose heart' : from today's Gospel

We were secluded in Walsingham this week, and only heard second-hand about the rescue of the Chilean miners. One report though that came to us said that one of the men, on being released, knelt to thank God; and the crowd fell silent. How heaven must have been battered with prayers for those trapped men, not just with prayers from their families but from all over the world; and those prayers were heard and answered.

We don’t seem terribly good in the Church of England – or maybe not terribly good in England at all – at calling on people to pray. It happened during the war, the second world war; and even more during the first war, the Great War. But I don’t recall much of a public response in prayer even during the Falklands, and the nearest thing to prayer with the present conflict in Afghanistan is the crowds who gather to welcome home the bodies of the dead as they arrive at Compton Bassett. Perhaps we no longer have Church leaders who believe they have the authority to call the nation to prayer. So there have to be spontaneous events, like Wootton Bassett – or the national outpouring when Diana died.

Just occasionally, though the call is not to the nation at large, our bishops and archbishops ask the churches to pray. We took the week of Prayer for Christian Unity very seriously back in the sixties; Portsmouth Guildhall would be filled with Christians of every denomination back in those days. That praying continued for a long while; certainly all through my student days, and well into my early years as a priest. It seemed as though the answer was being given us; it came in a series of reports by the Church of England and the Methodists; and by the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. Somehow, when the Anglican-Methodist report produced no results, we gave up on praying for Unity. Our schemes had come to nothing, and we were in no mood to go on asking.

Well, someone must have continued to ask; for suddenly there came an answer that none of us had expected. It is only a year since that time-bomb with the strange name was planted among us. Anglicanorum Coetibus it is called, in that peculiar Latin way that the Catholics use when they are being serious. It is just the Latin version of the first words of the Pope’s document, which in English is “Groups of Anglicans”. That is who it is for – groups of Anglicans.

As we saw during his visit to England, the Pope is very straight-forward. He had been heavily involved in those earlier conversations, the ARCIC conversations as they are called, the Anglican Roman Catholic International Conversations. They seemed to be getting somewhere, in all sorts of previously difficult areas. They reached agreement on paper over the Eucharist, the Ministry, even the role of the Pope in a unified church. But what was also clear was that though there might be agreements on paper, it made no difference to the way the Church of England behaved. You would think that since we were agreeing on the ministry, we would not alter that ministry.

There were pressures, though, to change the ministry quite dramatically. For twenty centuries, following the example of Jesus in appointing his apostles, the ordained ministry was always male. The Archbishop of Canterbury consulted with the leaders of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. They made it clear that if our church altered the unvarying practice of all the Episcopal churches up to that time, it would be erecting great obstacles to Christian Unity. The Pope even sent a Cardinal to the Anglican Bishops to tell them this. Well, we all know that the Bishops, and the General Synod, ignored this advice, and ploughed on regardless.

Actions have consequences; and the consequence was that the Catholic Church felt it could no longer deal with the Anglican Communion as a whole. Instead it would be prepared to deal with Groups of Anglicans - (Anglicanorum Coetibus, you remember) – who asked for help. Some of us, who would call ourselves catholic Anglicans, had been dismayed at our church’s action. It was not just a matter of ordaining women as priests or bishops; it was, rather, the question of where our Church thought its authority lay. Were we a Church founded by Jesus Christ on the Apostles, continuing their teaching; or were we a body which could make up its own doctrine, change the unbroken tradition of the Universal Church? How could our little fragment of a church dare say that we knew better than the overwhelming majority of all Christians?

But the prayers we had made for unity were not wasted; it is just that they were answered in a surprising way. No one supposed that an octogenarian Pope would be a great innovator. Well, we reckoned without God’s sense of humour. He answered our prayers, unexpectedly, not by giving success to any of our schemes for reunion, but with a generous offer from an aged Pope – an offer which had no precedent in history.

It has taken a year from the time of that offer for many of us to get our act together. It is beginning to happen now, and within a year, possibly even within six months, both the Catholic Church and the Church of England will look very different. Some of you here at St Francis are taking the Pope’s offer very seriously indeed. No amount of planning, though, will produce results. Only prayer will resolve things. Today’s gospel tells us how even an unjust judge will give in if an old lady goes on battering at his door; God is not unjust, quite the contrary; and he wants to answer our prayer. But we must make that prayer, and go on making it. This is a crucial time, not just for the churches, but for England, and indeed for the whole of Britain. We must pray and pray and go on praying, and be ready to be surprised by God’s answer. As Jesus taught his disciples, pray continually, never lose heart. Then it will be better for us, and more overwhelming, than we can imagine. Nothing less than the start of the re-Christianisation of our Nation.

[A Sermon preached at St Francis' Bournemouth, 17th October 2010]