Ian McCormack encourages us to make the most of the golden opportunity provided by the legislation of 14 July
Monday 14 July 2014 was a sad day for the Church of England. As Catholics seeking to live out our vocation within the Anglican Church, we would be foolish to deny that, just as our General Synod members had no choice but to vote against the legislation. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their dedication and commitment in hugely difficult circumstances. The legislation of Monday 14 July marked another stage in our separation from our brothers and sisters in the ancient churches of East and West, with whom we claim to share our ordained ministry. It made reunion with (not submission to – even corporately!) those same churches substantially harder to achieve, and was passed in the certain knowledge that that was so.
And yet. And yet. Monday 14 July 2014 also represents a golden and priceless opportunity for our movement, and one which we must not allow to be wasted. First and foremost, this is true because the mill-stone of uncertainty and anxiety which has hung around our necks since 1992 has been removed. Hearts, minds, souls and bodies which for over twenty years have been consumed (rightly) with the issue of women bishops can now be set free to do what the Church actually exists to do: proclaim the Gospel, celebrate the Sacraments, and save souls through mission and evangelism. Of course, we have never stopped doing this – and in most cases we do it better than the rest of the CofE – but we have been weighed down and distracted (necessarily). Monday 14 July 2014 should unleash upon the Church a fresh wave of missionary zeal, theological debate and insight, catholic teaching, and pastoral and evangelistic concern for the people in our care and those who are still waiting to encounter Christ through our life and work in the CofE.
It would be naïve to assume that there will not be enormous difficulties placed in our way as we seek to achieve this. The remarkable atmosphere of tolerance and respect that has flourished in Synod recently will now no doubt dissipate as the reality kicks in. There will without doubt be new cases of our parishes and people being bullied by diocesan hierarchies, and we will need strong hands and large hearts not only to resist them but also to love them in their error. Forward in Faith has already committed itself to being a resource to people and parishes in this situation, and we must also pray that our bishops and the still-fledgling Society will provide the inspiration, guidance and courage to see us through these difficult times when they come.
We will not be entirely without official support either. For the first time, discrimination against our parishes and people can be challenged through an official process involving a Reviewer with staff support in Church House. But far more important than that is the invitation which is extended to us by the legislation of Monday 14 July.
Remarkably, that legislation invites us to flourish. Not to be tolerated, or humoured, or given pastoral care until we die a natural death, but to flourish. That is a remarkable invitation, and it should mark a monumental change in the way that we see our relationship with the rest of the Church of England.
The legal Resolutions – A and B – that parishes were provided with after 1992 were effectively an invitation to opt out of bits of the CofE. Yes, they had legal standing, but they were a negative, reactionary provision. Post-2014, we are being offered something different. It is the distinction between Law and Grace. Now, our legal safeguards are stripped away (though not completely), but they are replaced with an invitation to flourish. What a gift that is! It is an invitation to opt in wherever we can; to involve ourselves in every aspect of Church life, to place ourselves at the centre of our Church, and to make
ourselves so indispensable to the communities we serve and to the Church at large that our opponents couldn’t afford to do away with us even if they wanted to try. So long as we are given the tools necessary for this work – primarily our own bishops consecrated in the historic succession – then there is no reason why we cannot achieve precisely that. I say again: this is pure gift. How will we respond?
Clearly, we must not respond – or ask others to respond – in ways that impinge upon conscience. We have fought too hard and too long to go down that line now. In some ways, Monday 14 July must of necessity mark a line in the sand as to what it is and is not possible for us to do alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet it should nevertheless be possible for us to work in and with the structures of the CofE to a considerable extent, while at the same time honouring, respecting, cherishing and loving the gift that we have been given by God. And if we can do that, then we can go a step further, and offer that gift to the rest of the Church. We can invite the rest of the Church to learn from us, to grow with us, to flourish alongside us.
Such an approach will not be easy. Our Lord himself said there would be times when following him would not be. But it is the only viable option we have for the future. And – for once – the future is in our hands. General Synod has invited us to flourish. We must take it at its word. Surely we would be rude to refuse? ND