In the second of our interviews with Bishop Martyn Jarrett he looks towards the future
ND You were much involved with an issue that you can’t avoid still in General Synod. Were you on General Synod before?
I was elected to General Synod in 2000 in my last few months as Bishop of Burnley. That was my first experience of General Synod other than as an officer and it was quite interesting to see it from a different angle. Certainly the ordination of women has rather overshadowed the Synod. I have tried to speak on a number of issues at the Synod. I think my first speech was on proportional representation which is a cause very dear to my heart. But I also spoke on Interfaith issues. Yes, this has been a major issue. Then, of course, I ended up being on the Revision Committee together with Fr Simon Killwick and then Fr Jonathan Baker. I have to say that of all the experiences of the last twelve years serving on that Committee was probably the most unpleasant. Somehow, that group, to my mind, just didn’t gel or interact in trying to seek a common solution. It tried but of course as we know it failed dismally. There are those in the constituency who have regarded me as being over-irenic, so to find oneself, in the context of the Revision Committee, being seen as a real hardliner was something of a learning curve as to how I was being perceived. We are where we are on that now.
ND How do you see it developing?
I think that the legislation that is on offer at the moment quite clearly comes nowhere near to what Catholics have always said that they need in order to play their full part in the Church of England, to have authentic life. I think there now comes a second question: that if the legislation were to be enacted, is it sufficient enough that Catholics could remain with a good conscience, rather like they did with the Act of Synod, not with what they want but with sufficient security to stay and fight on with integrity for what they truly need. I think that the last-minute amendment in the House of Bishops, although a very modest one,
nevertheless has great significance in that regard. I am rather sorry, though perhaps not surprised, the Synod seems to be walking away from this. I think that if that first amendment had remained in the legislation, it still wouldn’t have made it something for which I could have voted but I think it might have provided something that many of us could actually live with, and see if we could achieve better days.
ND When the Act of Synod was passed it was not easy to work out how it would develop as it has and you think that there might be sufficient in the present wording to build on?
I think that, within that amendment, there was sufficient ground for Catholics probably to be able to take the ecclesial and sacramental life within the Church of England that was provided for them, and then see if they could continue to grow or whether it turned out to be terminal care. There are those, and I quite understand why, who say that whatever comes now we should let the legislation go through and live with it. The Church can’t fight over this forever. But I do think that if legislation is fundamentally flawed, we have a moral duty to oppose it, and to trust in God who will lead us towards something more wholesome. But, were the legislation to be carried, it would be wonderful if it were at least amended enough to let people stay with integrity within the Church of England.
ND One of the developments during the course of this has been the founding of the Personal Ordinariate and two of your PEV colleagues Bishop Newton and Bishop Burnham went one way, and you decided to stay within the process. How difficult a period was that?
Very painful. But whichever side one was on, it was actually the second time since 1992 that we were living through what Newman called ‘the parting of friends’ and that is bound to be painful. Increasingly, I think that that is not the right term for it because actually it’s not the end of friendships. That’s the important thing now. I have immense sympathy for those who have felt it right to be received into the Roman Catholic Church. At a very basic level it is always right to follow your conscience. Until Christendom is completely reconciled, there will always be people whose individual path of discipleship will take them into other communions. We do need to be much more relaxed about this than sometimes we have been. I am not personally at the moment convinced by the position of the Ordinariate or obviously I would have joined. At the end of the day one would still have to be received into the Roman Catholic Church in exactly the same way as one always did. If I felt that were right I could have done that at any time. The great and generous difference at the moment is that, having been received, ex-Anglicans can now be organized in an Ordinariate. That’s a very generous gift. But I don’t see that as the reconciliation of our Churches. That will be when our bishops are reconciled and move into communion with each other. So I think sometimes there are over-generous claims made for the Ordinariate. I do note that Cardinal Koch, the new head of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has made a somewhat similar statement in this regard. The Ordinariate is a very significant part of Roman Catholic Church life but it is not the coming of two churches into unity, and those that claimed such a thing are overstating their case. Other than that, I hope that the Ordinariate flourishes. I hope it flourishes by becoming a powerful instrument for mission in this country. It would be very sad, and, though it sometimes sounds like it, I’m sure it is not on the agenda of the Ordinariate to convince as many Anglicans as possible to join it. That is not mission. The days of fishing from other Christian churches are long gone now that we live within the context of the ecumenical movement.
Just occasionally you hear comments from Ordinariate members that do not seem to have taken this on board! The evangelistic task in this country is to bring people to Christ. One welcomes the efforts of the Ordinariate as much as anyone else in fulfilling this task.
ND Will you miss General Synod?
To my surprise, yes. At its best General Synod provides very much for the mission of the Church by looking into the Church to see how best it might harvest its resources but also it engages with the world. I think the whole balance of the Synod in regard to deciding matters of doctrine quite seriously needs looking at. Synods in the Church, historically, were where the faithful gathered around the bishops to advise. That said, we do sometimes forget that in our Church of England polity the House of Bishops has the right to veto anything it does not like. The House of Bishops has only itself to blame if it ends up with something of a doctrinal nature being passed that it does not like. We have acquired a theology of the majority vote and we do not grasp the distinctive role of the various houses. I think that the original understanding of ecclesiology in regard to the Synod’s role has not worked out well in practice.
ND What about the idea that we are episcopally led but synodically governed? There does seem to be a shift to a purely parliamentary system where majority votes count rather than the bishops’ role.
I don’t know where that phrase ‘episcopally led and synodically governed’ first came from because I think it is inaccurate. It may be that the Church of England has slipped into that but I don’t believe that was ever the theology of the Synod as it was set up. The Church of England
is not solely governed by the General
Synod. It gives a lead on certain issues.
ND The democratization of the Church may follow perhaps…
I’m all for elected elements; I’m all for democracy; one of the great French Catholic philosophers, Jacques Maritain, was quite clear that democracy is one of the finest expressions of Catholicism. If synods are elected, particularly in our English context, sometimes without a catholic understanding of what is being done, we should not be surprised if many of those electedtothe GeneralSynodsoon misunderstand its role and its powers. That said, when I worked at ACCM and I used to see the Archbishops arrive at the door for General Synod, I was reminded of Stuart kings arriving for parliament. You may be king, you may be archbishop, but unless you can win the support of those who control the purse strings, you can do nothing. I think that is the increasing reality for the Church. I might add that even in more seemingly authoritarian communions than our own, this is becoming increasingly observable.
ND What do you like most about being a bishop, if you had to choose one thing that you enjoy most?
The bishop leads the Church in mission and I enjoyed that engagement in a number of ways. At the forefront is evangelization, which includes a concern for society’s well-being. I loved one-to-one relationships. There is a sense in which the bishop is only a parish priest writ large. The joys and sorrows of the parish priest are those of the bishop.
ND What did you not like, what was the most frustrating?
I think one of the most frustrating things about being a PEV is that at
one level you have no power, but again I suppose that was true of a senior selection secretary. When you are a senior selection secretary you are as good as people trust you to be and inasmuch as they judge your advice to be sound. As a PEV you function very much in that way, both to the wider House of Bishops of the Church of England and also of course to your own constituency who (however much you might like them to) don’t take an oath of loyalty to you.
ND Did you have good relations with the diocesan bishops?
With one or two exceptions, excellent. One of things I won’t miss is the endless round of diocesan senior staff committees.
ND And what of the future?
I’m retiring to Worksop. I shall be worshipping at Worksop Priory which is a very vigorous parish and also has responsibility for a couple of other churches. It has an outstanding parish priest and I would be very happy to be used as much as he would want me to be used. I am thoroughly looking forward, if I may be permitted to do so, to doing the bread and butter things a priest in parish life does. You very rarely take a funeral as a bishop, even more rarely do you take a wedding – all those occasional things – when I go to parishes for Holy Week and I hear confessions – I miss the daily round of the parish priest. I would like to give some help in that respect but I have some wider interests that I obviously want to pursue. In recent years I’ve become quite interested in bird watching, not in the sense of being a twitcher – but more time for pursuits like that. I also used to go to the cinema every week at one time. I cannot now remember when I last went so I’m very much looking forward to taking up again that cultural life. Betty retired from being a psychotherapist a few years ago. The other strand to her bow is that she is an artist and in recent years has become a keen painter of botanical subjects. She has had some pictures in exhibitions and so on – resuming some of the landscape painting she used to do. She remains one of the Guardians at Walsingham – they have I think a statutory retirement age, but I’m sure she hasn’t reached it yet. ND