Geoffrey Squire tells a homely tale of the merits of being friendly to those with whom we disagree
Youthlink mostly operates byway of ‘Journey Groups’ for churchgoing young people and their friends. Two lads aged sixteen found out about the groups and asked if they could join in; they lived in the Midlands but there was space to take them on a trip to Holy Island.York, and Whitby with others from the south-west. On the first evening of the trip I discovered that the youngsters came from a church where the vicar was a lady.
On the day following our return the phone rang; it was the lady vicar from the parish where the two lads came from. She was like a wild cat, and was furious that I had trapped two youngsters from her parish into going with a group connected with Forward in Faith and against women. After some more angry words, I suggested I visit her at her vicarage. This was agreed and we arranged a time.
Tea at the vicarage
I had no idea what to expect when I knocked on the vicarage door and was somewhat surprised to be greeted with a smile and offered a cup of tea. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘Where shall we begin?’ I suggested that I explain how I saw the situation. I told her that Youthlink accepted youngsters from all traditions, as well as unbelievers, and explained the wonderful results of following this pattern. I added, ‘We do not interrogate young people as to their background and we would never exclude a youngster on the grounds that their vicar is a woman.’
I then said, ‘Now, over to you.’ She replied, ‘Well, firstly I must apologize for acting like a wild cat, but I was extremely annoyed when I heard the name Forward in Faith mentioned, as that lot are very much against women.’ I accepted her apology but added that far from being ‘against women, the majority of members of FiF are women themselves. I took her mind back to 1992.
I said that, while many left the CofE over the issue of women priests, many of us decided to stay, supported by the Act of Synod, and go forward in faith into the unknown. I added that, far from being divisive, FiF has helped greatly to maintain greater unity than would otherwise have been possible, and the present system, though far from ideal, is better that having continuing or breakaway churches. Her head slightly nodded in agreement and she said ‘Please will you stay for lunch and meet my young assistant curate, another woman I’m afraid!’ I thanked her and the atmosphere changed dramatically for the better.
The lady curate then arrived and she too began talking like a wild cat, but only for a short while, before she changed. There was a wonderful atmosphere over lunch and at the end she said ‘Now for the summing up. I have not changed my views one tiny bit about woman priests and bishops, but I have a very different understanding of Forward in Faith, the Act of Synod and the winged bishops as a result of our conversation this morning.’
And the lady curate
She has not budged in her views and I have not budged in mine, but there is an atmosphere of real Christian love and a better appreciation of each other’s position. Our own understanding of the nature of the ordained ministry is not always understood by others, as it is not simply about women but about authority and ecumenism. It is therefore my belief that if we were to meet in a quiet prayerful atmosphere with those lady ‘priests’ and others who take a different view from us, everyone would benefit.
With the resulting greater understanding, there would be far more support for a proper provision for those of us who support the ancient tradition of the Catholic and Apostolic Church that we profess to believe in whenever we say our creeds. Maybe if all areas organized such small-scale low-key encounters it would be to the benefit of us all.