As he steps down from the role, the Bishop of Fulham reflects on his time as Chairman of Forward in Faith
The Clerical Vice-Chairman of Forward in Faith, Fr Ross Northing, expressed the thanks of the Assembly to the outgoing Chairman, Bishop Jonathan Baker, for his contribution to the work of Forward in Faith. Bishop Jonathan then addressed the Assembly.
Fr Ross, first as National Secretary, and latterly as clerical Vice-Chairman, you have been an absolutely loyal and resolute right-hand man, full of wisdom, and with a sure touch in communicating the mood and insights of the grass roots. I am delighted, Father, that you have been re-elected unopposed to your present office in Forward in Faith. I am equally delighted that Dr Lindsay Newcombe continues as Lay Vice-Chairman. Lindsay, you too have been unfailingly supportive. You never seek to dominate a meeting, but your counsel and contributions are always hugely valuable, carefully thought-through and born of a deep faith and commitment to the Gospel.
With priests and lay people like this to lead, Forward in Faith is very blessed. I want to put on record my thanks to both Fr Ross and Lindsay not only for professional support, but also for personal friendship. I would like, with them, to couple the names of all members of the Executive Committee, past and present. Will you please give them a round of applause?
When I was elected as Chairman of Forward in Faith, it was not the easiest time to take on leadership of this organization: an organization of which I have been a member, member of Council and national officer for many years. Four years ago, much of an entire generation of Forward in Faith’s leadership was on its way to new ecclesial pastures, among them the long-serving, colourful and media-friendly former Chairman, Bishop John Broadhurst, who by personality and conviction had towered over the traditionalist landscape for so long. I knew I could not be another John Broadhurst; who could be? But new challenges were on the horizon in any case, and a huge amount of work needed to be done. There were challenges of structures, membership and money. I knew that it would not be long before Stephen Parkinson would retire as Director, leaving a huge gap which would have to be filled by someone really capable and committed if Forward in Faith were to have any future at all. Above all, the political landscape at that time looked bleak.
Well, it will be for others to judge the achievements of the last four years, but I would hope that anyone making those judgements will reflect on this. We have appointed an outstanding new Director, who continues to bring a wealth of skills and experience to the post, whose command of detail is second to none, and who, crucially, is able to work across the Movement, with bishops, clergy and lay people, not only in explaining and interpreting the new situation, but also in keeping us focused on the big picture and a positive agenda. We have begun to put our finances in order, though there is a very long way to go. We have begun to attract major new donors, surely a sign that an organization is taken seriously and that people ‘out there’ wish for its success – as well as being a spur to us to keep focused on what really matters and not to become distracted.
We are beginning to refresh our membership. We have streamlined our structures and are in the process of making our constitution fit for purpose. In the midst of all this, we have continued to publish one of the very best ecclesiastical journals from any stable in the Church of England, one which we know is read and respected across the board. We have done everything possible to foster an ethos of mission, evangelization and the nurture of vocations, so that Christ may be made better known among the people of England.
Above all, we have worked tirelessly, and successfully, for the defeat of bad legislation; and we have then played our part in bringing to birth the present arrangements which are so much better, and which offer us so many possibilities for the future – a future which, under God, is in our hands.
A huge achievement
What a lot of flak we received when the old Measure was defeated in the General Synod of November 2012. But then, lo and behold, all sorts of people started piling in to say that, actually, they agreed that that Measure was no good, and that they were pleased that it had gone down. Funnily enough, they had not said so at the time. What it is to be prophetic! And so to the arrangements as they now stand, on the verge of coming into force. Had you told me that the doctrine of Reception was going to be enshrined in a House of Bishops’ Declaration, attached to a Canon which could only be altered by a two-thirds majority in each House of the General Synod, I would not have believed you. Everywhere in the new arrangements we read of a commitment to our flourishing, as those whose convictions are fully within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition. This is a huge achievement – and we should all be very proud of ourselves.
May I thank you, as I come to a conclusion, for your good wishes? Please pray for me, as I do for you. I ask you to give all the support in the world to Bishop Tony and his team, old and new, and especially of course to Colin and David, his new assistant in the office, in their vital work. It has been a privilege, and I look for all future success.
I pray, dear friends, above all that we may love one another; for without love, all our doings are nothing worth. Thank you so much. ND