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An antiques roadshow

Ed Tomlinson argues that instead of battling our opponents, we should concentrate our efforts on presenting the Catholic faith to those Anglicans who have unwillingly accepted the status quo

Last month I reported on the positive nature of Anglo-Catholic blogs and their ability to reach a diverse readership. I am certain such diversity exists because I often receive emails from my readership. What intrigues me is that these messages, from unconnected strangers, invariably contain a common theme. In order to share it, allow me to concoct an invented but typical example:

Dear Father,

I wish to thank you for your outstanding blog [there are perks when inventing correspondence!]. For many years I have worshipped at St Trinian's, Little Tittingham. Several years ago we merged parishes and our vicar, Revd Fluffy, introduced Comic Worship.

Though I still attend, I have long felt the Church has abandoned the faith of my childhood. There is no silence, just third-rate entertainment, and I cannot remember when I last heard a sermon which preached the faith without compromise.

It was therefore encouraging to discover the blogs! I am pleased to hear from others who share my views and fears! It is liberating knowing I can connect with a voice I recognize. I want you to know how much this means to those unable to attend churches which maintain the faith once delivered. Yours sincerely, Rowanus Williams (or similar)


The orthodox Christians

Our attention is drawn to a stranded multitude surviving in the Church of England; a faithful rump, existing in churches swept up by a tide of modern and heretical teaching. Considering only a few can have found blogs, and even fewer write emails, we might wonder at their actual number. How many live as sheep without a shepherd? How many, though silent, are praying for revival of the faith once delivered? And what role have they to play in our future?

I reckon we could divide modern Anglicans into three distinct categories. Accessing the right group might become a priority in mission; for this group is, I suspect, larger than we imagine and broadly sympathetic to our aims. But first my groups:

1) The 'Broadhursts': orthodox Christians of varying traditions who seek obedience to scripture, reason and tradition. They oppose innovations, like 'women's ordination', for the simple reason that such things are not in keeping with tradition and/or doctrine. This group is fast losing an honoured place within a church choosing obedience to secular mores over obedience to Christ. Despite winning Synod's arguments, they never win its votes.


Disproportionate power

2) The 'Schoris': bloody-minded liberals who desire our termination. Nothing will change their minds. This group is resolutely anti-Catholic and claims that 'human experience' reveals the mind of the Spirit (unless experience is orthodox!). They yearn for a church which embraces the politically correct opinions of secular society. They are here to transform the church to something new and refute the existence of absolute truth.

As we pray for revival we must be clear (I riskbreaking Anglican laws of etiquette here) that such people are not Christian. Furthermore they remain non-Christian 'indaba' and 'outdaba'- so seeking common ground is pointless. We must love such people and desire their conversion, but we must never delude ourselves that they contribute to Christian debate. They do not posses an alternative, acceptable position and until they submit to the teaching of the Gospel, such people remain a cancer in the kingdom of God. Strong stuff, but I stand by every word.

Fortunately, this group is smaller than we might imagine. Yes, they dominate headlines, but only because the church resembles a swimming pool; with all the noise emanating from the shallow end! Most in the pew are neither as strident nor uncaring, but decent people who are simply ignorant of Catholic theology and the ecclesial need for structural provision.

Less fortunately, the 'Schori' group loves politics and committees, viewing, as they do, the church as institution and not divine body. This means they occupy many a seat in General Synod. Furthermore, a great swathe are clergy and bishops and are well placed to give 'jobs to the boys/girls' and set the agenda. (Just ask how many orthodox gained preferment since 1992!) Thus the non-liberal liberals have gained a disproportionate amount of power. This is worrying, but so be it. It was probably ever thus and, in the words of the Gospel, we must 'bang the dust from our shoes and move on...'


Grass roots mission

This leads to the final group, the focus of this article.

3) The 'average Joes'. This group has niggling doubts over the theology espoused by the 'Schoris'. However, they wish to be faithful Anglicans and are unlikely to be stridently Catholic or Evangelical. Most 'went along' with women priests as it resonates with the voice of Radio 4. They are unlikely to understand Catholic theology, having never had it explained in a reasonable way. Thus they (sort of) accept the status quo. Nevertheless, they secretly wish the innovations of modern Anglicanism would quietly go away. They yearn for the Church of their childhood.

I fear we expend too much energy battling 'Schoris' and teaching 'Broadhursts' when we should be appealing to 'average Joes'. What we must ask is: how can we reach the heart of the average Anglican? How can we present orthodox theology in a loving, non-threatening way?

A suggestion to FiF: as the end game approaches, let's go to the heart of the people. Let's mobilize our communicators, armed with content from our theologians! Let's tread the path the Wesleys trod! Synod is deaf, so leave it be. Let's go instead to the grass roots. Let's organize a (potentially) last hurrah for Anglo-Catholicism, visiting every deanery in this land and preaching the faith of Christ crucified with zeal! It might just make a difference and help people see us in a new and positive light. A warm presentation might even sit in the minds of Synod when the vote for a Code comes to pass! (NB: 'It will not do.')

I maintain that most people, if they only understood, would fight on our behalf. What might Synod do then? Tiny acorns of support might just grow to be the mighty oak of our revival.

So send us out in pairs; let us present Jesus to the people! Let us deliver the faith as though new! An 'antiques roadshow' to help the average person move forward in faith!