The Rock, August 1996 In England Now
Forward into battle . . .
In the early 1980s, long before the vote to have women priests in the Church of England in 1992 I decided that the time had come to learn as much as I could about the Continuing Churches throughout the world.
The story of all the obstacles which were put in my way by those whose job supposedly it was to disseminate accurate information about Anglicanism worldwide would take up an entire article and I don't propose to go into that now.
Suffice it to say that, after much perseverance, I was put in touch with Dr Trueman Dicken, who was, and probably still is, the greatest authority on the subject and who, over many years, has faithfully written this columns In England Now for The Rock.
I went to see Trueman at his Cotswold house and learnt a great deal which stood me in good stead for my first fact-finding visit to the USA Continuum, including the then AEC, ACC and Diocese of Christ the King. I had the good fortune to meet with the leaders of all three communions, and one or two smaller ones beside, and everything that I learnt has been of inestimable value since then.
Trueman and I have become close friends, not least through our membership of the committee of Cost of Conscience (which I had been instrumental in founding shortly before my visit to the States). With his intimate knowledge of the intricacies of the American Continuers'' saga he was able to steer Cost of Conscience away from many of the mistakes which we would undoubtedly otherwise have made.
Trueman has now decided that the time has come to hang up his prophetic mantle and I felt it was great honour to have been asked by Bishop Crawley to take over the writing of this column in future.
Certainly I shall never be able to match Dr Dicken’s immense scholarship and incisive style which have helped to make this column what it is. That bit of Elijah’s mantle fits particularly ill over my shoulders, though, who knows, I may yet grow into it during the course of time (as my parent’s always used to say, rather desperately, when they made me wear my cousin’s oversize cast-offs rather than buy me a new school uniform!)
Some Personal Details
I'm a parish priest in South London (Lewisham). The church where I have served for the past 30 or so years is called St Stephen's. The majority of our congregation come originally from the Caribbean, India and Africa, and one of our Churchwardens is from Australia: so we're a very cosmopolitan congregation.
I'm married to Anne and we have five sons and six grandchildren. One of our sons and his wife live in Tasmania, another is a priest in Africa, and a third is running a language-school in Poland – so we get a good deal of news from various parts of the world from them.
And, oh yes. Just in case anyone is interested I am a relation of "Gardie" Gardom whom some of you living in BC will know well.
I haven't been paid for many years by the Church of England, so I earn my living teaching computers.
Of more immediate interest to some readers is the fact that I run the Trushare Bulletin Board which offers, free of charge, an 80-page Newsletter (revised at least every week) and nearly two-thousand files of downloadable Christian material, including all the back issues of New Directions, Sermons, Talks, Lectures, Articles, Poetry and much else beside. You don't have to be on the internet to communicate with it – just get your modem to dial the local equivalent of our number 0181-293 4407 and you will be connected immediately. It doesn't take a long amount of telephone-call time to download a package of material which includes the newsletter, a list of new files available, and any messages which may have been left for you by other users. So do give it a try.
Enough of me! You can sum my interests up in the single word – Communications!
A Nugget in a Nutshell
I have been asked this month to write about Forward in Faith (of whose Council I am a member) and our vision for the future.
Like nearly everything to do with Church history and politics it is a convoluted subject, but I shall try to assume as little as possible about the amount that readers of The Rock already know about us, and make my apology at this stage if some of you find what I am saying “all old hat”. In my experience it's better to have a few disgruntled people say "we know all about that already" than to have many saying to themselves "what on earth is he talking about?"
On November 11th 1992 the General Synod of the Church of England voted to proceed with the ordination of women as priests. The voting was taken by "Houses" (Bishops, Clergy, Laity) and needed a two-thirds majority in all three Houses in order to pass. It only succeeded by the narrowest of majorities in the House of Laity (2 votes).
Since the Church of England is "by Law Established" any such far-reaching changes are subject to the approval the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. Those who sit on such Committees are people from both Houses who have expressed a particular interest in or knowledge of the subject under discussion. Whether this is the best way of managing Church legislation is a matter of debate; the fact is that it was the procedure which, constitutionally, had to be applied.
For those of us who see ourselves as trustees of the faith once delivered to the saints this process was, as I shall explain in a moment, a great safeguard against those, who by contrast, believe that they have an unrestricted licence to do whatever they see to be necessary to commend that faith to contemporary man. For it meant amongst other things that we could continue to insist that there should be adequate safeguards and provision for those who were, in conscience, unable to accept this novelty.
This was in stark contrast to some other Anglican provinces, where those who didn't like the decision or found themselves unable to accept it on theological grounds were given no choice but to leave, with very minimal financial provisions, and sometimes, I gather, none at all. It was a matter of "like it, lump it or get out"!
In England it was very different. For the Ecclesiastical Committee were guided by the two Reports of the House of Bishops on the subject as well as the Eames Report, which accepted, from the very beginning that the ordinations of women as priests could, for the present, only be “provisional”.
Armed with these three documents, bodies like Cost of Conscience, The Church Society, The Prayer Book Society and individuals like John Broadhurst, the future Chairman of Forward in Faith and soon-to-be-consecrated [25 September] Bishop of Fulham, were able to persuade the Ecclesiastical Committee (and subsequently the General Synod) that it was only by providing adequate safeguards for those who chose to stay, and financial provisions for those who chose to leave, that they would be prepared to recommend that the matter should go forward for ratification by Parliament.
The long and the short of it is that the necessary Measure and legislation would never have been recommended to Parliament unless the Ecclesiastical Committee had been satisfied that the “degree of provisionality” about the whole enterprise did not result in people being penalised for their lack of conviction about something which was, by its own admission, a matter for doubt.
To admit that there was a "degree of provisionality" about the orders of women ordained under the Measure was to concede that this novelty rested upon no clear-cut agreement by those concerned; secondly it implied that the Church of England might lack the authority (except in a narrow, legal sense) to take such a step; nor, thirdly, was it possible to claim, for the present at least, that anyone could say for certain whether the taking of that step was in accordance with the will of God or not.
It followed logically from this that anyone who had doubts on any or all of these subjects, or even question the very possibility of women receiving the order of priesthood, must have their views respected and suitable provision made for them to enable them to continue their ministry.
It was accepted, then, and the legislation reflected this acceptance, that from now onwards in the Church of England there should be two integrities existing alongside each other, each integrity respecting the other and continuing to work together in all areas where this was possible; and that this situation should continue unless and until the whole worldwide Church, East and West agreed that the ordination of women to the priesthood was in keeping with the will of God.
For those unable even to accept this degree of provisionality, financial provisions were made to enable them either to retire early or else to start up some new modus vivendi outside the sacred ministry.
So we have now entered upon a Period of Reception during which time it is hoped by those who framed the legislation that the answer whether the right decision has been made in this matter will become apparent. No time limit has been placed upon this “Period of Reception”. It will come to an end finally only when the Churches of East and West had agreed that either it was right/possible to ordain women as priests or it was not.
What Happened Next
Some priests have already decided to “resign under the Measure” and received financial and other help, generous or otherwise according to perception. The total is presently [22 July] 504, of whom some four hundred have joined the Roman Catholic Church, a couple of dozen are now Orthodox and some of these in both communions have been or will be ordained. Others may follow, and have another five years or so to make that decision under the provisions of the Measure.
About another 24 (so far as we can ascertain) have joined one of the Continuing Churches in England, of which there are at least five. The oldest of these by far is the Free Church of England, dating back to the 19th century and directly descended from the Reformed Episcopal Church in the USA; the others are being led respectively by Bishops Hamlet, Whiting and Samuels, whilst the fourth has decided not to consecrate a bishop of its own, for the time being at any rate.
About 50 others have "resigned under the Measure" but remained in the Church of England. Increasingly they are being allowed to continue their ministry in sympathetic parishes as (unpaid) assistant curates.
Enter stage right Forward in Faith
The large majority of those clergy and laity of the Church of England who opposed this innovation, however, decided to “stay put”. Many decided that their future lay in forming themselves into a single organism Forward in Faith, in “impaired communion” with those who have accepted women’s ordination as priests, but seeking to be the encapsulation of that “valued integrity” within the Church of England spoken of during the debate.
Forward in Faith, against confident predictions that opposition to women priests would "fragment and melt away", managed to organise itself in a very short space of time into becoming that "integrity". It was helped in this of course by having the examples, both positive and negative, of other Anglicans' experience elsewhere in the world.
So successful was it indeed that the idea that Alternative Episcopal Oversight could be organised locally, diocese by diocese, on a purely ad hoc basis, was seen to be mistaken, and thus it was that the General Synod approved, overwhelmingly, the appointment of two (later three) Provincial Episcopal Visitors (PEVs), or “Flying Bishops” to provide the necessary pastoral oversight for those of that integrity.
No time was lost either by the PEVs or Forward in Faith in starting to repair the damage which had been done by the decision of November 11th.
The monthly periodical Directions (later to be called New Directions) was launched and has rapidly become the largest circulating religious monthly journal in the country; a network of Regional Deans was set up to administer the dozen or so areas into which England was divided (taking little account of old diocesan boundaries except where these are convenient delimiters); a long-term lease has been negotiated with a body owning a large church building in the centre of London; “charitable status” has been afforded and tax can therefore be reclaimed on people’s donations; local and national events continue to be well supported, and a new scheme for training ordinands, both before and after their ordination is being set up.
So What's the Catch?
Perhaps this all sounds too good to be true; so now let me mention some of the difficulties and hesitations we have encountered.
Firstly of course, there are those who see what Forward in Faith has achieved as "yet one more compromise". Far more honest, they would say, to be shot of the whole thing and start again.
We respect those who hold this view, and a number (as I mentioned above) have acted upon it. There has been no animus against those who have taken the financial provision and gone elsewhere.
It must be said, however, that the familiar process of fragmentation has already started taking place amongst those who have joined, or formed, other communions; and several others who became Roman Catholics or Orthodox have discovered that it was “not for them”.
In reply to the more serious charge of "compromise" or "fudging" it must be said, over and over again, that what Forward in Faith has done is only what the General Synod, in its wisdom or otherwise, had already made provision for and incorporated in its enactments.
Synod took these decisions in the knowledge that without them the legislation would not go through at all. They considered it a price worth paying for getting what they wanted. From start to finish Forward in Faith has only been "following through" the consequences of those decisions which General Synod took.
Our second cause for disquiet is the number of people, clergy and laity who are known to be "of our integrity", but who simply refuse to “put their heads above the parapet.” They do so, often, in the (misguided) belief that their career within the Church of England, or their parish's future would be jeopardised if they did.
They are mistaken if only because our experience, like that of many of our forefathers in the faith, has confirmed that if one stands firm, potential persecutors very quickly lose interest and go off to attack some easier target - churchwardens, maybe, or ordinands, telling them (quite falsely) that the future of their parish or of their ordination may be endangered if they fail to toe the line.
The third area for concern is that a number of our erstwhile supporters, seeing how favourably things are progressing, are beginning to fall back into the "Let's Take It Easy" state of mindwwhich avoids controversy and confrontation on the grounds that “I all have retired by this time next year” or "So long as dear Fr X is vicar we have nothing to worry about."
This attitude is doubly unfortunate since not only does it effectively isolate them from their fellow-believers, but it really does put the future of their parishes at risk, more effectively than anything else, once their present parish priest has left. Experience proves that it is only those parishes who have asked for “Alternative Episcopal Oversight” (in the form of a PEV) whose next parish priest is certain to be someone who will uphold the depositum fidei – the faith with which we have all been entrusted.
Where that “Resolution C” (for alternative episcopal oversight) has failed, either because it didn’t get the necessary two-thirds majority or (much more frequently) because the parish priest didn’t allow the matter to be debated at all, the future is bleak. All too often anew vicar is appointed who does indeed “respect the traditions of the parish” but the "traditions" in question have more to do with vestments, ceremonial and the externals of the faith rather than sound Catholic teaching – the "faith once delivered to the saints".
The other threat which hangs over Forward in Faith and indeed the whole Church of England like the sword of Damocles is the likelihood that within a few years we shall have women bishops. The situation which obtains at the moment only “works” because those of our Integrity accept that the present Bishops in the church of England, however faulty their views and actions, are really Bishops and all the (male) Priests ordained by them are really Priests. In such circumstances a modus vivendi remains workable because of the provision of PEVs to provide episcopal ministration.
However, once the logical conclusion of the novelty of having women priests is accepted and put into practice, namely that if it’s right to have women priests it must be right to have women bishops, then the concept of the two integrities disintegrates immediately. For by taking such a step the Church of England would have accepted into the House of Bishops people whom our integrity would believe not to be bishops, and whose subsequent ordinations, both of men and women, would be equally a matter of doubt.
The Bishops of the Church of England realise this only too well, and apart from the (very few) who have the courage of their convictions about women priests, the others are now seriously talking about trying to postpone the advent of women bishops for 25 years – by which time of course most of them will be either retired or have more serious matters to be concerned about!
However, the Movement for the Ordination of Women which disbanded itself after the 1992 vote, has recently been resuscitated with the express intention of putting to right this next, and greater "injustice" which they see as a slight upon their sex.
It is with this eventuality in mind that Forward in Faith has been particularly careful to remain in the closest possible touch with the Traditional Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Synod of America, and those from the Lutheran Churches in Scandinavia who share our beliefs. We have operated a policy of interchangeability and full communion with these bodies, in contrast to our “impaired communion” with those who have embraced the novelty of women priests, with whom we neither concelebrate or act as alternates.
The Forward in Faith Communion Document and its accompanying Code of Practice is quite fundamental to this process. They state in the clearest possible terms where we stand in relation to the “other integrity” and lay down a suggested way of behaving towards each other such as to ensure that the gap which exists between us is quite apparent.
There are those, of course, who believe that this document goes too far; whilst others think that it doesn’t go far enough. Each party maintains that “out there” there are copious numbers of people holding themselves aloof from Forward in Faith because of these policies who would throw in their lot with us “if only we were more (or less) rigid”.
I seriously doubt whether this would be so. More and less rigid alternatives in the form of Rome, Orthodoxy and the Continuing Churches already exist, and have only succeeded up till the present in attracting a tiny minority of people. It seems very probable that any increase or diminution of our policies would alienate as many if not more people than such a step would attract.
So what then of the future?
I am continually reminded of the incident when Samuel the prophet, after the people of Israel had repented and turned back to the Lord and he had decided to give them victory over their old persecutors the Philistines, took a great stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” [I Samuel 8:12]. Everything that Forward in Faith has so far set out to do it has achieved, despite the notorious inability of Church of England clergy to work alongside each other. We are a breed of rugged individualists, but somehow, miraculously I believe, we have been able to hold that individualism in abeyance whilst the serious work of rebuilding the walls has been going on.
If someone had said even as recently as November 1992, just after the vote, that within 4 years we should have a really recognizable alternative, with an extraordinary capacity for unity; that we should have a quality periodical being read by many of other integrities besides our own; that there would be a parallel but separate organisation of evangelicals called Reform whose members would be contributing a substantial proportion of the material which appears in New Directions; that we should have a network of Regional Deans working alongside the PEVs; that we should have the National Chairman become a bishop; that we should enjoy more cordial relationships with the Continuing Churches than at any time in the past; that we should be working towards selecting, training and ordaining our own ordinands for our integrity....
...I don’t think I would have believed it!
Yet this is precisely what has happened.
The Future and our Security
Writing in the 17th Century, an age which had experienced both security and disaster in equal measure, Thomas Fuller said “Security is the mother of danger and the grandmother of disaster” In our present situation, which seems just a little more secure than it did two or three years ago, those of us with eyes to see realise that danger and disaster are but a stone’s throw away. Those of you who have been less fortunate than we know only too well how quickly the situation can change for the worse.
This is particularly true when those who have made mistakes realise that they have done so. They may do one of two things: repent or turn really nasty. In the present climate of opinion repentance is a word seldom heard amongst liberals.
There are signs that at least some of those who campaigned and voted so enthusiastically for women priests are now beginning to realise that they were mistaken. One bishop, who shall be nameless, said immediately after the vote “If I’d known it was going through I’s never have voted for it”.
Such a statement is fairly typical of the mentality of the present House of Bishops. They will do what they think they can get away with. What some of them really hoped and expected in 1992 was that the Measure would fail in one or other house by a narrow majority. This would have enabled them to say to the aspiring women priests "We did our best... next time for certain!", knowing full well that by "next time" the legislation came up they would have safely retired!
Chief amongst the victims of this duplicity are of course the women priests themselves. Many of them find that the "job" is not what they had been led to think it would be, and some, as a result, have simply "given up". Many parishes which raised no objections to the idea of women priests find, mysteriously, that they don’t want to have one themselves, particularly at the head of their parish. All this, combined with the fact that a substantial number of their fellow-clergy don’t believe that they are really priests in the first place adds up to a sense of rejection.
The number of ordinands (both male and female) has dropped spectacularly since the vote. The idea that there would be hundreds of suitable women coming forward for ordination and that they would fill churches where men had failed has simply not been borne out in practice.
Add to this the prophecy which we made in the early 1990s to the effect that the women-priest concept was just the “presenting issue” for a whole number of ideas which would quickly render the faith we believe unrecognizable, and the fact that the prophecy has been fulfilled in less than three years, in contrast to other parts of the world where the process has been rather slower, and the whole picture is enough to make all but the most determined liberal sick with anticipation. Experience elsewhere suggests that there is nothing more intolerant than a frustrated liberal!
Like Jeremiah, we contemplate with sorrow the ruins of the City of God which lie around us; like him however, we do not look back to a Golden Age (which never really existed except in people’s imaginations) but we press forward in faith that “he who has begun a good work in us will finish it until the day of Jesus Christ”. [Phil.1:6]
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