News from the Forward in Faith Assembly
he National Assembly of Forward in Faith is a major event in the life of the constituency. Here delegates from the regions, the dioceses and the Forward in Faith registered parishes meet to discuss common concerns and to make the policy which the Council will pursue in the coming year. The Assembly is followed by a residential meeting of the Council , which considers, among other things, the budget for the coming year.
This roundup of news and views from the Assembly begins with a reflection by the Chairman, Fr John Broadhurst, on its implications for our future together.
Towards the end of his life, as part of the Testament which he left to Israel Moses spoke of a choice between life and death. `I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him’. (Deut. 30. 19ff.) Of course, they are words which cut very little ice with today’s advanced churchmen. Our modern world sees everything in shades of grey. But it is wrong. Just as there are two ways, whether we see them or not, so there are two responses, between which we must choose. They are the active response and the passive response. But before we make a response we have to make an analysis of the situation.
For some time the Church has reminded me of a river. When it starts its life it bubbles and rushes, carrying all before it. Then it becomes a mighty torrent with the power to move rock, and soil and rubbish. Eventually it reaches the plain. For many years the Church in the west has been on the plain. Here the river meanders and divides. It deposits the debris it has carried down stream; its flow becomes sluggish. Often the river splits into several arms. When you approach one of these arms it looks just like the river, but when you cross to the other side and find another arm, or even the main stream, you realise it was no such thing. Eventually, these arms get silted up, and clogged with weeds and reeds so that the flow of water diminishes. Finally they become completely cut off from the flow. These horseshoe lakes are quite a common feature of rivers. When the cut-off lake is approached from the side it still looks like a river and for many years supports a lot of life. But it has no flowing water. In the rainy season flood water will occasionally rush in and replenish the water supply; but in the dry season it rapidly diminishes. Completely cut off it evaporates and dries out, leaving only a slight indentation in the land where once water flowed. Some of the water will have soaked through the soil to return to the main stream but most will have evaporated.
I have always believed that separated national churches are like the arms of a river on the plain. At the Reformation the reformers grasped the problem and tried to increase the flow of the water. They did an enormous amount of work and the arm of the river flourished for a while. With hindsight we can see that some of their work was exactly what was needed and some left long term problems. The Catholic Revival in our own church again tried to tackle the problem, deepening the channel and clearing the reed beds upstream and downstream so that the river could flow where we lived. Their work lasted 150 years. Now we can see that our part of the river is really blocked. It is clogged up with silt and weed and the flow has almost ceased. What are we to do?
If this picture makes some sense to you, I suggest that the only possible response is to cut through to the main river. There seems little point in struggling again to re-open channels which have ceased to have any reason for separate existence. In America I have observed the passive response. Our fellow sufferers there, led by bishops who are all my personal friends, said women priests would destroy the unity of the church and the collegiality of the Bishops. When women were ordained they said it wasn’t such a crisis, after all, and drew a new line in the sand. `A women Bishop will be the last straw’, they said; but again it wasn’t! Now they find themselves on the point of being forcibly ejected from ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada by those they sought to appease. Passive resistance is irresponsible. They are much weaker than they were ten years ago.
Forward in Faith is committed to an active response. What we need to do as Christians is to embark upon a process of convergence with the main flow of Christian faith, order and morals. Forward in Faith in association with its Scandinavian partners is doing just that. At our National Assembly we asserted that the faith and order of the undivided Church are normative for all Christians. In other words what the Church believed when it was still one has to be the basis of everything that we do and are. We reject the notion that local Churches can act unilaterally on issues of importance.
If we are again to find the river, which is the Body of Christ, and the People of God, we need with faithfulness and tenacity, to come out of our shallow lake. To reassert the faith is simply to say that we intend to be a river and not a lake. But to find our way back to the river we need determined action. The call to Christian Unity is a Gospel command, not an incidental part of the Christian faith. And it involves, too, the recovery of the Order of the undivided Church. The motion which came from a backbencher at our Assembly, and asked for the consecration of Bishops for our integrity, surprised me greatly. I don’t think anybody present would have prophesied that it would have been passed without any votes against. Personally, I expected an enormous row. What that reveals is a common perception that Order is also of the very essence of Christianity. This perception appears to be allied with a will to re-find Order if it is not given to us.
The Council of Forward in Faith will need seriously to consider the implications of this motion and to pray about future direction. My own view has been for several years that we have a duty to pray for, and love, all those in our cut-off lake, while not allowing that love to deflect us from our intention to find our way back to the mainstream. A cut-off lake can not join the river by affirming `I am a river’; that is a pretence. Nor can it be part of the river simply because it thinks it is. Only action can rejoin it to the main stream. That is why, ever since we started, I have asked others who would lead us: `what is your policy and what is your strategy’. The silence has been deafening!
Of Regional Deans and Resolutions
Well over 500 delegates, clergy and lay, gathered in Westminster on October 6th and 7th for the second National Assembly. One of them, Gill James, a lay delegate from the diocese of London and a lecturer in physiotherapy at University College, London reflects on the experience . . .
Last month, I attended the FiF National Assembly and a part of the International Conference that preceded it. Hearing of the experiences of the Norwegian and Swedish representatives created mixed emotions since it was clear that they were suffering considerable persecution. It was, however, inspiring to hear how firmly people are holding fast to orthodox beliefs.
Friday evening saw the Assembly proper begin and after some preliminary work (and a supper break!) we all listened with rapt attention to the Bishop of Richborough and Fr John Broadhurst. Then Night Prayer and trying (fortunately successfully) to find my guests for the night. Happily, they found me and we headed home for coffee, a chat and a late night. We were all up early on Saturday to attend the Concelebrated Eucharist and Commissioning of the Regional Deans in a moving service, despite the unlovely venue.
Then to business and continuing the work begun the previous evening on resolutions. It was noteworthy that although people’s views differed the Assembly dealt with such disagreements in an atmosphere where consensus was sought and views were respected, not trampled on. Surprise has been expressed that the resolution about the consecration of bishops was so overwhelmingly passed but there was a sense of the inevitability of that step. We left feeling refreshed and uplifted, if a little tired!
What will I remember of the National Assembly of 1995? Certainly, the Commissioning of the Regional Deans and the feeling that this is a positive step towards supporting all those of our integrity. The low spot has to be those singularly uncomfortable seats which must increase the work of every GP and physiotherapist in the country. The irony of the weekend? The news about George Austin breaking on the very day the Assembly began. But, my enduring memory is hearing about the Norwegian ordinands who have refused to accept ordination from their apostate bishops. We are privileged to stand alongside such people – and we must not fail them.
We don’t know how we’ll cope . . .
“We don’t know how we’ll cope if more than 3,000 people turn up” lamented the staff of S. Paul’s Cathedral at a recent planning meeting for the forthcoming Forward in Faith London Region Festival in the cathedral on Saturday, 25th November at 11.00 am. Well, of course, we are entirely confident that they will cope . . . But let’s make sure that they have the challenge to face! Together, we can make absolutely certain that well in excess of 3,000 attend what will surely be a most marvellous occasion and give the cathedral staff the opportunity of finding out just what we – and they – are made of!
In the Steps of S. Richard
Over 900 pilgrims responded to the Bishop of Chichester’s invitation to meet with him in his cathedral to walk In the Steps of S. Richard on Saturday, 14 October.
Organised by Forward in Faith and the Catholic Societies in the diocese, they gathered for a Mass of S. Wilfrid, the bringer of Christianity to Sussex, and with over 60 concelebrants in addition to Bishop Eric, the Bishop of Horsham and Bishop Luxmoore, sang lustily and prayed for Canon Beaumont Brandie, the new Regional Dean, who (predictably enough!) was organising the choreography and motivating the stewards via a walkie-talkie!
After a break for lunch in glorious sunshine the pilgrimage re-assembled in the nave of the cathedral at 3 o’clock to celebrate their common heritage in the sacramental life of the Church. They were divided into 8 groups and, singing Laudate Dominum, moved round 8 stations in the cathedral celebrating their Baptism, Confirmation, the gift of the Body of Christ, their belief in the Communion of Saints, their devotion to Our Lady, their willingness to be forgiven, their quest for Christian Unity and their task in Mission. The sheer logistics of moving these groups around the cathedral worked like a charm, thanks to the ubiquitous walkie-talkies and encouragement from the cantor, who sang the verses in an exhilarating tenor from the pulpit. At each of the stations there was scripture reading, prayer, teaching, versicles and responses.
After a break for tea, the pilgrims returned for Cathedral Evensong, following which they formed a procession and, singing For All the Saints, moved through the Cloisters and down S. Richard’s Walk into the gathering dusk to re-group in front of the Bishop’s Palace, where Bishop Eric gave Benediction, during which there was a meditation by the Regional Dean which reflected the tone of the whole day – “Seeing that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. Tired, but enthused and re-committed, the pilgrims piled into their coaches and cars and set off across the Sussex countryside to take the faith once delivered to the saints back to their parishes.
Peterborough Forward in Faith Assembly , Saturday 14 October 1995
More than a hundred local members of Forward in Faith crowded into seventh-century All Saints’ Brixworth, the oldest church in the Diocese of Peterborough. The meeting began with a Eucharist, at which the celebrant and preacher was the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Revd Edwin Barnes, recently appointed as local Flying Bishop. He urged those present to keep up contacts with isolated traditional Anglicans who find themselves in unsympathetic parishes, but together number a third of the Church of England. The need for his ministry is overwhelming, and his diary is already solidly booked for many months ahead.
After lunch, the meeting was addressed by Anne Williams, Vice Chairman of Forward in Faith, who spoke about the recent National Assembly; and by the new Regional Dean, Canon John Laird, as well as by Bishop Barnes.
International Synod of the Westminster Group of Churches
The Forward in Faith Assembly was preceded on 6 October by the first International Synod of the Churches which produced the Westminster Statement of 9-10 May 1994. The English delegation from the Forward in Faith Council was joined by delegates from the Free Synod of the Church of Sweden, and from the Council on the Foundations of the Church in Norway. Observers were also present from the Church of Denmark, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, and from the Polish National Catholic Church of the USA.
The morning session was taken up with addresses from the leaders of the English and Scandinavian bodies, describing the history of their Movements, and the present situation in each country.
Forward in Faith, with its three Provincial Episcopal Visitors, has at present a much more firmly assured future than colleagues in Scandinavia, where any provision once made for the position of traditional Christians has now been withdrawn. After further debate and discussion in the afternoon, the Synod took the historic decision to pledge to bring the participating church movements together, in a process of convergence in the faith and order of the undivided church. This was promptly endorsed by the Forward in Faith Assembly, raising the exciting prospect of a new ecumenical integrity across Northern Europe, fulfilling the Reformers’ original vision of a restored Catholicism.