Brother Martin SSF tells of a meeting of monks friars and nuns

THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE of Forward-in-Faith members of Religious Communities took place again in July at Saint Stephen’s House, Oxford, by kind permission of the Principal. Twenty-four members attended, representing ten of the Communities of the Church of England. We were privileged to have all three Provincial Episcopal Visitors and the Bishop of Fulham with us during the conference.

It is always a joy to meet in what was once the mother house of the Cowley Fathers, and to worship in their chapel. The fire alarms (presumably unknown to their great founder Father Richard Meux Benson) were switched off during the Mass so that incense could be used. Hospitality was most generous as is characteristic; the meals were lavish, and even a cooked breakfast was provided; this was an unusual treat for most of us.

It was indeed a most friendly gathering. Naturally the individual participants will have come away with different impressions. For many of us, one of the real benefits was the feeling of solidarity with others who share the same views about the faith and practice of the Church.

Some of the Sisters and Brothers spoke of their feeling of isolation and marginalisation experienced within their own convents and houses, while others were able to say with thankfulness that they felt totally accepted. Exchanging of news and the renewing of friendships were probably among the most important features of the conference, as also the encouraging news of the steady growth of the Forward in Faith movement.

Mother Mary Teresa SSM (Walsingham) had convened the conference. Father Gregory CSWG was the chairman; and there were some extremely good talks and lectures, with a great deal of fruitful discussion.

Bishop Edwin Barnes spoke of the inevitability of the Free (Third) Province if the Church of England presses forward to the consecration of women to the episcopate. He said that there was no need for this as things stand, but the appearance of women bishops would leave us with no alternative.

Some unease was expressed concerning the implications of this for Religious Communities, because it could lead to a situation in which members of the same Community, living in the same house, would belong to two different Provinces. Perhaps in a household of five there would be three belonging to one Province and two to another. Someone pointed out that this would be in keeping with the Gospel (see Luke 12:52) though no one seriously suggested that this particular situation was precisely what Our Lord had in mind!

It did, however, become clear that the painfulness of present divisions would be greatly increased in these circumstances.

At Mass on the last day Bishop Michael Houghton, who was the celebrant, gave us a very moving homily. Taking the theme of the Old Testament lesson for that particular day, he spoke of Joseph being sold into Egypt and how evil was turned to good as the story unfolded, for God was in the situation all along. He urged us to see God even in the turmoils of the troubled times through which the Church of England is passing, for after death there must be a resurrection.

Brother Martin is the Secretary for Mission in the Society of Saint Francis. He lives at their Cambridge Friary.