Peter Anderson summarizes a recent clergy discussion on the future of the Catholic Movement in the CofE
Let us, one member of the Bishop of Fulham’s Council suggested as we planned the July Clergy Meeting, just for once divide into small groups (groans and laughter) so that everyone has a chance to contribute.
On the day of the meeting a brief introduction asked the clergy to consider how the Catholic Movement might grow and its parishes and institutions become more effective; how the clergy are strengthened and supported; and how the Catholic Movement challenges the Church -of which we are an honoured part – effectively and constructively.
Five groups talking
The results of that seminar were remarkable. The ideas were fresh and positive, and there was a marked consensus in several significant areas. My own hope is that these concerns will be developed over the next few months in New Directions, and provide the basis for discussion among Catholic clergy and laity.
Of the five groups (there were about fifty clergy taking part) four raised the question of our identity and three were Specific in wanting to assert our place as Anglicans. A similar number argued against the use of Catholic language and thought forms by the liberal faction in the CofE. Many felt that it had been misappropriated and then evacuated of meaning. Too much from the Fresh Expressions stable continues to equate ‘Catholic’ with icons and incense, or with ‘traditional church’ meaning old-fashioned services for the older generation.
That the Catholic and Christian Faith should mean what it says was clear when the groups turned to evangelisation. The CofE is faced with the continuingsecularisation of British society, and the challenge to Christian morality posed by marriage law and assisted suicide. Some are tempted to respond with a gleeful embracing of inclusivity along the lines of the American Episcopal Church, or total
capitulation to the state as in Sweden. By contrast Anglo-Catholics will be inspired by a vision of the Church which is greater than the nation. It is the conversion of England which we seek. Establishment must be revisited; many nowbelieve that it will be forced on us eventually; few in the hierarchy seem to want to discuss it seriously, but the ‘conspiracy of optimism’ is wearing rather thin.
We believe that Evangelicals will understand something of what we mean. Several called for us to continue talking with very different groups within the Church of England. This was recognised to be uncomfortable at times, particularly in recent years. It may well reflect our own uncertainty, and we must be cautious about assuming the role of victims.
For a priests’ seminar there was a lot of talk about the laity. Many of the older clergy have watched as parish curates have almost disappeared. While we may regret the shortage of priests, we have seen exciting experiments in lay leadership and lay training. Nonetheless, many of our parishes are set in areas where Christian commitment is hard to maintain, and where the professional skills necessary to run a modern Anglican parish are in short supply. It is ironic that the parishes which have the high wage earners to pay an administrator and a youth worker are always those with highly skilled professional laity and a bevy of Readers and non-stipendiary clergy. The poorest parishes are those which need their priest just to survive.
None of our readers will be surprised to hear that the issue of women’s ministry surfaced, but some will be surprised to hear the way it was approached. ‘Yes to women’s ministry’ declared one group boldly. Another demanded the urgent consideration of the role of talented and energetic women in the leadership of the Church, and asked how Catholics had positive things to say.
I don’t want to give the impression that the groups were impossibly cheerful. Anxieties were expressed about the (quite near) future, and our continuing divisions and negative attitudes. We recognised that older clergy and laity were not being replaced in similar numbers by a younger generation. Some voiced their discomfort with clergy chapters and with their diocesan bishops, and with General Synod, while others insisted that we must continue to play our part in these structures. Yet in spite of this one group bravely demanded that the Catholic Movement should have a twenty-year vision. In this, as in so many areas, we are challenging the prevailing culture.
England is now a fragmented society, and politicians struggle to placate the rights of every group which can find a voice. Overburdened by endless legislation, as the common culture, principles and even common sense, have been demolished, people turn in on themselves. The future can seem grim. But Catholic Christianity, constantly renewed by the refreshing grace and power of the Holy Spirit, breaks out of the tired dreariness of western consumerism – now sick unto death.
Augustine of Hippo saw this as the Roman Empire, exhausted and decadent, fell apart. He placedhis trust in God and was not confounded. Fifty or so priests meeting in the summer of 2009 understood, albeit in a small and h