Christopher Smith explains the resolution that emerged from the recent Sacred Synod
As the Legislative drafting group begins its work, this Synod affirms that nothing less than a structural provision (such as the alternative province outlined in ‘Consecrated Women?’) will suffice for our ecclesial future in the Church of England, and enable our work, pastoral, evangelistic and ecumenical, to grow and prosper.
We therefore request our bishops and Forward in Faith to take immediately the steps, financial, demographic and structural, which will make that province a credible present reality and bring it into being in the event that the provisions of the proposed legislation are inadequate to our needs.
I do love my brother priests in the Fulham Episcopal Confraternity. Tay are a bright, interesting, varied, even godly bunch! Tay are also generously tolerant of opinionated upstarts like me. At a meeting with Bishop John Broadhurst recently, we discussed the future (as we clergy inevitably do at such meetings), and we wondered what we might take to the Sacred Synod of priests called by the PEVs for 6 October. And what we took was the above motion, which was carried without objection at the Synod. It was born out of a desire not to lose the momentum of the Consecrated Women? proposals, which all readers of New Directions will know are realistic suggestions for a new province in the Church of England which preserves Catholic faith and order. We have talked about those proposals in our parishes, and they represent a way of enabling us to carry on in the Church of England without being fatally undermined by the ordination of women to the episcopate. It’s lovely being part of Bishop John’s ‘fraternity’ of priests, but it would be infinitely better to be part of his ‘jurisdiction’. He is only ‘our’ bishop at the moment to the extent that our diocesan bishops allow him to be. Some of them seem to be more threatened by him and the PEVs than others, resulting in a terrible inequality of treatment from diocese to diocese. Our line has always been that we need to have not only a fraternal relationship with ‘our’ bishops, but also a legal one. This is what seems to frighten many diocesan bishops, but they and we need to wake up to the reality of the situation.
The Evangelicals used to say that the Church of England was the best boat to fish from. We said that it was the Catholic Church in this land. Is either of us right any longer? The Church of England seems radically to have turned away from its Catholic roots. During the last year, this has been demonstrated to us by its failure to engage in any constructive way with Consecrated Women?, or with the Rochester Report, or with Cardinal Kasper’s remarks to the House of Bishops. The mainstream of the Church of England has placed itself very clearly outside Catholic Christianity, which at this particular moment in history is madness. We will have to strive hard to retain even the most basic elements of our Christian heritage in this country, and the Church of England is not prepared for the struggle.
The issue for us, it seems to me, is the conflict between utility and truth. Newman knew it, and said so in his Grammar of Assent in 1870! If we prioritize utility over truth, we are no more than the mouthpiece of the spirit of the age. The time has come for us to be honest about the future. Without a proper jurisdiction, we are lost. Truth will have been swallowed up by utility, and we can only watch as the Church of England loses its grip on the faith once delivered to the Saints. Colin Gunton, paraphrasing Newman, said, ‘A Christianity dominated by thoughts of its relevance only advertises its own irrelevance.’
As the Fulham motion says, ‘Nothing less than a structural provision…will suffice for our ecclesial future in the Church of England.’ We need to be honest with ourselves about that, and we need to have the courage of our convictions. Let’s get on with it!