As we consider what a new province might look like, what of those young men who will be serving within it as priests decades hence? An Ordinand, whose anonymity must be protected shares his hopes
Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’
Those words from the Book of Common Prayer ordination service concisely summarize what is at the heart of being a Priest in the Church of God. It is to this that I believe God is calling me: to serve his people, the Church, here in England as part of the Church of England.
Ordinands are often told by their bishops (and by this I mean the sound ones) that they should not be concerned with what is going on around them in the CofE. One bishop told me to ‘leave the church politics to those in the know.’ That is all very well, but it is not an easy thing to do.
Branded as bigots
Many of us know only too well the distress the ordination of women to the priesthood has caused. We have seen our parishes under attack and our friends and loved ones labelled as bigots. For many this has been too much and they have left the CofE and entered into communion with the Holy See. How many more will leave if suitable provision, for those of us who cannot accept the ordination of women to the episcopate, is not offered?
The Church of England is being asked to take a brave step, to admit that there are two equally important integrities within it, and to make provision for the smaller one. These proposals, as set out in Consecrated Women? will not be met with universal approval but, God willing, General Synod will set us free. It is this freedom that I and many other young Anglicans are looking forward to experiencing.
So often traditionalists are told that they only care about one issue, and that their insistence on opposing changes in the Church of England are preventing the Church from getting on with the business of spreading the Gospel. These are often the very people who oppose our desire for a free province, which would allow both us and them to witness to our faith rather than arguing about the legitimacy of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. A new province would not only set us free but them as well.
It is to this renewed freedom to spread the good news that I most look forward: the ability to minister to the people in our parishes without having to worry about passing resolutions or whether the lady archdeacon is trying to close the church. A free province would give us the ability to live out the promises made at our ordination without the politics that so dominates the church at present.
Clearly there will be much work to do if we are to make the province a success. Central to this will be the need for cooperation between both the laity and the clergy. If we rely entirely on our clergy then the province will not be able to function. As Christians we are all called to spread the good news whatever our vocation or job may be.
In order for the province to function properly our priests and people must be given sufficient support. It is never too early to start preparing for this. The past few years have been dominated by discussions over the ordination of women. The Catholic wing must return to the task of educating people about the Catholic faith. If we are to be of any use we must place an emphasis on educational programmes for both children and adults. It is only through educating people in the faith that our parishes will grow and flourish.
Back to church
An emphasis will have to placed upon encouraging people to come to church; the Oxford Movement began with a concern for the ‘condition of England’ and we must not let this concern disappear. Anglo-Catholics have had a long tradition of working with those in society who are most in need. This work must continue. Anglo-Catholics must be willing to minister where many others fear to go.
This may mean working in the inner cities but it will also mean working in rural areas of Britain. These areas are so often forgotten by the church as a whole. Many people in rural communities feel that they have been abandoned by the church as parishes close.
We must also try to bring together through house groups or meetings those of our integrity who have been un-churched by the advent of the ordination of women. Indeed one of the great tasks facing us is encouraging those who for so long have been without priest or sacrament to return home to the Catholic Church. If ordained I foresee a great deal of my time being spent pounding the pavements of our towns and villages, just as our Anglo-Catholic forefathers did before us.
Remembering the words of Bishop Weston to the Anglo-Catholic conference we cannot be an insular church happy to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if we are unwilling to get out into the world and help Jesus in those most in need of the Church.
The Bishop of Fulham addressing last years National Assembly suggested that any province would have to be ‘light weight.’ It must be a flexible body in which we are all willing to play a part. Where priests are needed they must go, where churches need to be planted they must be planted, and where people are calling out for the Catholic faith as the Church of England has received it, we must be there to ensure they are free to worship and praise God in union with Catholic Christians all over the world.
Whether or not I am selected to be a priest I hope to be able to serve God’s people in the new province, to spread the good news. This will not be an easy task but with a lot of prayer and determination this vision can be achieved. We have come this far, now it is time to prove that we are united in our vision, and that together we can go forward in faith.