I am an ordinary parish priest. I have served in the C of E twenty odd years. If I’m given the full biblical span I could serve another twenty. I serve in an ordinary parish. It is a happy place to be and over the years we’ve grown gradually and our congregation and roll have doubled. At the end of this year I will resign my living and leave the Church of England. It will not make headline news – perhaps a paragraph in the local paper and then I shall simply become another statistic at Church House. If it follows the usual pattern of resignations in this diocese the bishop will receive it with a mild pretence of disappointment and none of pastoral care. He is not a bad man but he is very busy and hasn’t the slightest idea what orthodoxy is about so he is probably right not to waste both our time. I will have to resign myself to becoming a non person whose years of ministry will be airbrushed from the diocesan memory. Ask our diocesan office for an address for any of those who have resigned, even those who have remained Anglicans and you are routinely told there is no record – even though they were given details. Go to an Induction of a priest replacing a resigner, as I did twice last year, and you will hear your official epitaph. Twenty years and fifteen years exceptional and unsung service summed up in the bishops sermon thus: “Whatever may have gone on here in the past, today is a new day and a new start etc etc.” Clergy resigning after a scandal in this diocese have had a more fulsome obsequy. I was angry at the time but even that has passed.
I remain deeply concerned for the parish – good people who have worked hard over the years and come a long way in the journey of faith together. The pattern here has been more alarming. A parish that has passed votes usually receives visits, interviews and constant pressure to reverse them. Those that have not voted are told that they will be offered someone who “will respect your tradition”. This roughly translates into “no woman curate for eighteen months.” (Livings are routinely and illegally suspended to avoid patronal interference so it would be hard to argue that traditional parishes are worse off in that respect though, of course, they are more vulnerable.)
Giving up the parish will be the hardest decision of my life. My wife and children have poured their lives into this place every bit as much as me and it will be hard for them too. But we are all agreed, we can’t go on with the C of E any longer.
The other day we bumped into an old friend who had become a Roman Catholic. “How’s it going?” my wife enquired. “The cat’s delighted”, he replied “when I come home I don’t need to kick it anymore.” It was a brief and eloquent summary of those days when no matter how hard you work in the parish it is all being slowly and deliberately undermined by doctrinal, moral, liturgical, organisational buffoonery at national and diocesan level.
So, apart from the cat factor, why go and why now? Is it just women priests? No, it isn’t. Though how any evangelical who respects scriptural authority or any catholic who cares for unity and catholicity could have voted for it or accepted it remains a mystery to me. Of course the issue encapsulates those major issues but it also exposes a major schism in Anglican belief about Jesus. Those who hold that He is the Eternal Word made flesh, the Divine Wisdom, the only begotten Son of God cannot comfortably co exist with the cultural relevance brigade who have reduced him to a good man doing his best rather difficult circumstances. The truth about God and man has not been enlightened by the feminists and they have left ruin in their wake. We do not know better than Jesus and the appalling decline of western Christendom is in direct proportion to the arrogant assumption that we do!
I don’t have to work with women priests, so I don’t but I am unfailingly courteous to them. Their effect on the diocese however has been disastrous and I know, from New Directions, our diocese is pretty typical. In spite of “Bonds of Peace” there is not a single traditionalist at any level of diocesan government. The Bishop of this diocese once told us that if he needed to know our views he would telephone the head of the Orthodox Chapter. It is, I hardly need add, a call that has never come.
In a neighbouring diocese the whole synodical process is completely skewed. There are over one hundred voting women priests – even highly qualified liberal men lose out to the women’s caucus never mind any traditionalist. Traditionalist women, always the majority in the C of E (Women against the Ordination of Women was a bigger organisation than Women for the Ordination of Women.) have no say at all because they are not ordained. This process cannot be reversed.
Is this, as they say, the tin lid? No not really. It’s just cumulative. let me give you a few examples from recent weeks –
1. At a weekend teach in the diocesan Sunday School advisor told the assembled teachers never to use the bible with their children. We pay for this!
2. The last parish I served in, very traditionalist, has just been handed over to a liberal with an alcohol problem. After years of temporary appointments and diocesan politicking – this is the last of many blows and the wardens, who were not consulted, have resigned. None of the congregation that I knew now remain. The parish has been purged, the congregation cut by 75%. The Bishop and the Archdeacon seem undisturbed by this fact – just delighted that “another fortress has fallen.”
3. Bishop John Spong’s point by point denial of the Christian faith was published. After the initial shock at the comprehensives of its apostasy, I suddenly realised something far more alarming. There was not one solitary statement of his that I had not heard before at theological college, from Anglican academics or, increasingly, members of the episcopal bench. It’s a curious thought that John Spong and Don Cupitt will be Anglicans long after I have ceased to be.
4. A young man came to see me about ordination. My last three candidates have been “failed”. Before 1992 only 1 of my 12 candidates had been rejected. The diocesan staff are all women priest leaders or supporters. Do I subject another good hopeful to this abuse and…… if he gets through where do I send him? There is no orthodox seminary.
5. The biggest fund-raiser for a national children’s charity came to see me in great distress. The charity had appointed a bishop who was a long standing advocate of feminism, homosexuality and abortion – how could this be? I had no answer.
As I write the bishop in this diocese has just appointed a promiscuous homosexual to a senior post and is about to ordain a man with a live in lover. No doubt our bishop was part of the group who warned the House of Commons not to send a wrong signal to the nation recently over the lowering the homosexual age of consent to sixteen but their own signals could hardly be clearer.
6. Remarriage of divorced was not looked on favourably in this diocese until the bishop’s daughter wanted to marry a divorcee. Then the cathedral was magically available! As a result diocesan policy melted so that, just recently, a mother of three, abandoned by her husband, has just watched as a vicar two parishes away has prepared the mistress for confirmation prior to marrying her to this faithless man. Only the abandoned mum was a practising Christian. What does that say to the faithful? There is here, as in so many things, no discipline, no truth, no authority – just chaos.
The list goes on.
I do not want to enter into the debate about leadership, appointments etc. but , sitting down with a few old friends the other day we tried to compile a list of bishops who were either great preachers, good teachers, excellent scholars, encouraging pastors, holy confessors, keen missionaries etc. I do not need to tell you the result. Only those under the Provincial Episcopal Visitors gave positive pastoral report. The rest just spoke of varying degrees of neglect and poor man management.
In the end I asked myself three questions.
1. Could I encourage any young man to be ordained in the C of E today?
2. Would I be delighted if the whole nation started to come to the Anglican churches tomorrow?
3. Would I want my grandchildren to grow up in this church?
I am desperately fond of Anglicanism. I owe a lot to the many saintly priests and parishioners and friends on the way but I can no longer stand, hand on heart, and say this tragic shadow of its former self is any longer the Church of England and I do not think I can, in all conscience, spend what time I have left encouraging anyone else to believe that it is.
Is there anything that could keep me an Anglican now? To be honest I doubt it. But there is one sign that could be given, even now, to the very large number of orthodox believers remaining in the C of E.
If, at the Lambeth Conference this year, the bishops of the growing second and third world churches would seize the hour and call this mother church to repentance and faithfulness.
Of course they will need to see beyond the camouflage of English heritage and English politeness, and the unedifying pretence that all is well. They will need to challenge the arrogance of patronage that a deeply sick American church has exercised for so long.
They will need to know that, for all the rhetoric about democracy and overwhelming support for liberalism – the parishes of England have never been consulted or offered a vote. They will need to know that since the coming of women priests no new orthodox appointment has been made onto the bench of diocesan bishops and the more indiscreet liberal hierarchs have made it clear that such exclusion is to be operated at every level.
Our missionaries to England from the second and third world will need to make a huge mental jump from their countries where, to be a Christian often means being persecuted by the society in which you live. In England people are largely indifferent but not unsympathetic. They are puzzled by, and sometimes contemptuous of , a church which consistently fails to stand up for what it ought to believe. The sad truth is that for all the new language of management and “spin doctors” the C of E has become largely incredible to the nation it is called to serve. For too many faithful priests and parishes in England it is not a lost world that makes life so difficult but rather the very institution which is supposed to serve the ministry.
Fathers in God, we will pray for you here – for many of us you are the last chance to remain.