The National Secretary of FiF reports to the Assembly, and outlines plans for the future

MR. CHAIRMAN, Rt. Revd Fathers, Revd Fathers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure, and not a little pride in the increasing seriousness and maturity of our democratic institutions, that I welcome you to this third Forward in Faith National Assembly. We have with us, apart from delegates from every region of the Church of England, friends from Scotland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, and Germany. Their courage in the fight and their willingness to share with us the wisdom and experience they have gained is cause for immense gratitude. We welcome them with all our hearts. Delegates will, I know, want me at the very start of this Assembly, to send to Credo Cymru, our sister association in Wales, expressions of regret for the decision which was taken there yesterday, We have for many years admired the tenacity of their witness. Within minutes of the decision of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, I received a message from Fr. Alan Rabjohns on behalf of the central committee of Credo Cymru asking the Director and me to meet with them next week in Shrewsbury to consider how our two bodies might work more closely. We have agreed to do so and hope to have proposals from that meeting to put before the Council before very long.

In reporting on the activities of the Council since the last Assembly I propose to deal with unfinished business first, to move next to resolutions of the 1995 Assembly (for which delegates may wish to have the appropriate pages of the Assembly handbook at the ready), and then to speak about projects and proposals for the future.

Two major items outstanding from my last report (both involving protracted legal negotiations) have now been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Tomorrow Forward in Faith will be holding its first service in the Church of Christ the King, Gordon Square. All legal documents have been exchanged and a license has been issued for the use of the building as a place of Anglican worship. An ad hoc committee has already met under the capable chairmanship of Geoffrey Wright to consider the use of the building. Redecoration is now in progress in the crypt meeting rooms, sacristy and office, and provision has been made for the celebration of the Eucharist each Wednesday at mid-day in the English Chapel at the east end of the Church.

More protracted even than the matter of a license to use Gordon Square have been the negotiations with the Charity Commissioners to secure charitable status. The Council is grateful to the untiring work of David Morgan which has brought those negotiations to a conclusion. Delegates will have seen the changes to the constitution which the granting of charitable status necessitates. They will be put before this Assembly for approval in due course.

Turning to the resolutions of the 1995 Assembly, the Council has to report some successes, and to its regret, some failures.

In Resolution 95/04 you welcomed the theological discussions between members of Forward in Faith and Reform. I am pleased to say that those discussions continue under the enthusiastic chairmanship of Fr. Francis Gardom, to whom the Council expresses its thanks and appreciation.

About Resolution 95/08 I cannot report so positively. You instructed the Regional Deans to investigate Church planting possibilities and to seek in every way to utilise retired and resigned priests to provide a sacramental ministry in areas of difficulty. The fact is that under pressure to establish themselves and their role in the regions to which they have been called, the Deans have met only once in the last twelve months. Little progress in this matter has therefore been made. I can only assure the Assembly that your Council has this concern very much in mind, and that more frequent meeting and consultation between the Deans in 1997 will, we trust, allow action to be taken. I note that, in his private capacity, Major Patrick King chastises the Council and the Deans for their inaction, through Resolution 96/05 to be put before you.

You asked us (Resolution 95/11) to take various steps, as the Council thought necessary, to foster and support orthodox ordinands. I am delighted to say that Prebendary John Brownsell has undertaken, on behalf of the Council, a ministry of co-ordination and encouragement in this area. Fr. Brownsell has already made considerable progress. The Council thanks him for his industry and encourages clergy and lay members who are seeking to foster individual vocations to be in touch with him. We welcome Resolution 96/06 on the order paper standing in the name of Mr. Andrew Lomas who is himself an ordinand. Delegates will be glad to know that the collection at the Assembly Eucharist tomorrow will be for the Forward in Faith Ordinands Fund.

Resolution 95/12, proposed by the Coventry Area Assembly proved less controversial in the event than the Council expected. You passed (nem. con.) the instruction to the Council ‘to take steps to ensure the consecration of bishops for our integrity’. At a day conference to consider strategy over the coming years, the Council viewed your instruction as related to, indeed part of, the wider commitment to a Third Province which emerged from the first National Assembly. Accordingly it has set up a working party, under the chairmanship of Prebendary Sam Philpott to consider the legal and practical steps which the establishment of such an another independent Province of the Anglican Communion in the British Isles would entail. Aware that the establishment of a working party can sometimes be interpreted as a mode of inaction, rather than of action, the Council has determined that the Report shall have been concluded and a course of recommended action prepared for presentation to the Assembly within a twelvemonth.

Though the main task of the Council is to respond to the Resolutions of the Assembly, it has also, of course, an initiative role of its own. In this area there are two things which I would like to bring to your attention; the first developments in Forward in Faith publications, the second our proposed celebration of the Millennium.

Whilst New Directions, our journal of comment, has for some time been breathing a little fresh air, and introducing not a little controversy, into the stuffy world of religious journalism, the Council has not thought it a sufficient vehicle of communication. Some time ago we promised a weekly pewsheet for use in Forward in Faith and other parishes. I am delighted to say that that project is now a reality. Under the guidance of Fr. Ronald Crane and after a trial run during Lent of this year, Forward! has been launched, and is already in use in over seventy parishes. Our aim, in the first instance, was to achieve within three years a circulation of 10,000 copies weekly. That target now appears certain to be achieved and surpassed. The Pewsheet aims to provide sound teaching in an attractive and colourful format, Sunday by Sunday. In Fr. Crane’s own words it is ‘a controversy free zone’ – it does not campaign or hector, and it has proved attractive even in parishes where opinions on the ordination of women are sharply divided. Also to supplement New Directions, October sees the birth of Forward Plus, under the editorship of Fr. Ian Brooks. This tabloid quarterly will be available free to Forward in Faith parishes, and to Area committees for distribution to members. The aim is to present news and views of the organisation in a breezy, tabloid style, and so to supplement the more cerebral approach of its sister publication.

The Council hopes that these three ventures, taken together, will address most of the constituency’s needs. We are grateful to all those many people, editors, designers and contributors who have worked so hard to realise this threefold vision.

The proposed Millennium celebration, Christ our Future, with the period of preparation which will precede it, is a project more ambitious than any previously undertaken by Forward in Faith. Your Council is only too aware that without the wholehearted support of all our people it cannot be brought to a successful conclusion. Delegates will have read about the proposals in the September edition of New Directions. They will be repeated in a different format in October’s Forward Plus. Suffice it to say that the whole exercise – the study days, retreat/conferences, the publications and the festival Eucharist itself – are intended as an opportunity for us to deepen our faith and commitment, and as a sign and a pledge to our brothers and sisters in the Church of England that we have confidence in the future of our cause. The challenge is to fill all 10,000 seats in the London Arena on Saturday, June 10, 2000 and so to begin the third millennium of our redemption with hope and a renewed vigour. The Council proposes that challenge to every member of this Assembly.

Mr. Chairman, the year since our last Assembly has been one of bright new ventures and solid achievements. It has seen a modest growth in membership ( around seven hundred new members net since our last Assembly), and the establishment of a sound financial regimen, with a sensible surplus against new projects and further developments. In welcoming delegates to this Third Assembly I do so in the awareness that Forward in Faith has reached that position of stability and permanence at which we aimed in the months preceding our first Assembly, and which our opponents in the Church of England have always feared.