BACK IN SEPTEMBER, when most delegates were making their way in a leisurely fashion to the Camden Centre for the Forward in Faith National Assembly, Forward in Faith’s Readers were already hard at work at the Abbey Community Centre in Westminster. Reader Peter Arnold takes up the story:
“Conference Chairman was Colin King, Member of the Forward in Faith Council and himself a Reader. In a developing and evolving Church, he said, Readers are needed, and working to a fuller capacity. There was a great need for public, orthodox teaching of a kind Readers were well-placed to give. Our guest speaker was Fr. Ivan Clutterbuck and his subject was the Lay Apostolate. Fr. Ivan looked to the gospels, wherein Jesus “appointed a further 70, and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place He was going to visit Himself” [Luke 10.1]. These 70 were the proper inspiration and example of the faithful laity today. In that example, too, the lay people of the very early Church, as described in Acts and the Epistles, communicated the faith and spread it, caring pastorally for others as well as for members of their own community. This is what is needed now, a laity who will teach, win converts, and care. There are a good number of stout, orthodox congregations in existence now, but, without growth, they will die and wither. A Lay Apostolate, working in the image of the 70 are what good, healthy Church growth needs.
A great problem in the Church of the 1960s and 1970s has been the lack of good, sound theological teaching based on the authority of the Gospels. Modern trends – fashions – in theology had conspired to belittle the importance of scripture and the authenticity of the Four Gospels, to the extent that some scholars held that Jesus was Myth rather than History. The consequences were pretty disastrous. Many clergy had been led astray by this teaching, and too few knew their Gospels as well as they should. Even those who were faithful lacked a good solid theological foundation to their ministry.
New scholarship was coming forward (for example the work of Carsten Thiede) to the effect the Gospels had been written down very early in the life of the Church and were based on authentic eyewitness evidence. Communications in the ancient world were fast and the four Gospels as we know them today would have spread round the churches as quickly as they could be copied. A form of shorthand was available and it was pretty likely that some of the world of Jesus would have been recorded as He spoke them. The Gospels were reliable, and authentic. We could trust them and use their teaching to the full. But first the teachers needed to be re-trained in order to appreciate the far-reaching authority of an authentic Gospel, so that it could be passed on to the faithful and enrich their spiritual lives and their living-out of the Christian faith. Fr. Ivan was looking towards gathering together a new 70 lay people to be trained in these new Gospels insights in order to transmit them. What did we, as Readers, think about it? And were we willing to help?
The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Bishop John, was our welcome “keynote” speaker. The Catholic Movement in the Church of England had tended to be too “clericalised”. This had to change. The future of the Church depended on mobilising the laity and using their gifts. This needed to be articulated and directed. Readers were the best people to do it, as, effectively, the leaders of the laity with a particular ministry to teach. Parish clergy needed to ensure that their readers gifts were properly used, used to teach congregations to interpret their experiences theologically and to acquire a devout but not unthinking orthodox faith. The whole Church urgently needed Repentance, Faith and New Life. These were the great objectives to be worked for. And in the face of the moral dishonesty that is present in the Church today. Outside the Church, the media were leading public opinion, and leading wrongly. Both these tendencies needed to be confronted in the light of Christian truth. It was important that England had a network of “safe” parishes where worship and teaching were theologically sound. This involved Readers in using their position to encourage their own and other parishes to pass all three resolutions. Parishes didn’t have to be Catholic tradition. Those that were middle-of-the-road in churchmanship were now passing the resolutions to ensure that they received orthodox clergy. And Readers needed to care for each other. In the Diocese of Lichfield, for example, there was now an Alternative Readers Circle for those of our integrity. Those Readers who felt isolated in Parishes that were not of their integrity should resort to such groups for moral support and encouragement. Finally, if unsound things were being done and said within Dioceses, Readers should take advantage of their position to question them – and send their PEV details.
In the afternoon, we divided into three groups to discuss our reactions to the Lay Apostolate and look at positive ways in which Readers could be involved in the work of Forward in Faith. The Lay Apostolate definitely confirmed and endorsed the work Readers were already doing and members of the conference were willing to be enrolled amongst the 70. The Lichfield Diocese group of Readers meeting at Stafford could provide one regional nucleus for re-training in the study and understanding of the Gospels as Fr. Ivan had suggested. Lent and Advent courses in individual parishes would pass on this Gospel teaching in time for the Millennium.”
Note: Despite coverage of its work in these pages, the Forward in Faith Readers’ Group is certain that there are many more Readers out there who would be interested in the work it is doing. If you are a Reader – or if you know a Reader who might be interested – please write, without delay, to Colin King, c/o Forward in Faith, Faith House, 7 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QN.
For your Diaries . . .
London Region Vocations Weekend for young men aged between 18 and 24 : Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd February, 1998. Details: Fr Malcolm Gray (Tel & Fax: 0181 360 2947)
Vocations Day for the Northern Province with Bishop John Gaisford : Manchester, Saturday 28th March, 1998. Details: Fr John Brownsell (0171 727 5919)
Forward in Faith London Day Pilgrimage to Boulogne : Saturday, 9th May 1998. Concelebrated Mass in the Cathedral of Notre Dame at 12.00 noon. Details: Fr Malcolm Gray (see above), Geoffrey Wright (0181 805 5107) or Len Gibbs (0181 452 0507).
Second Christ our Future Conference on Ecclesiology : University of York, Tuesday 7th / Thursday 9th July, 1998. Details available early in the new year.
Forward in Faith National Assembly 1998 : The Camden Centre, Bidborough Street, London WC1 – Friday 25th/Saturday 26th September, 1998.