The ordination season is upon us once again. As advertised in this issue of NEW DIRECTIONS, bishops of The Society will be ordaining men to the priesthood in churches from Liverpool to Camden and Horden to Portsmouth, and many points in between. Ordinations to the diaconate remain, for now, almost entirely in the hands of Diocesan bishops, but we know that there are many new Deacons too drawn from among our constituency. Please pray for them, and for the parishes they will serve.
Is the glass half full or half empty? The Church of England as a whole is faced with the prospect of a sharp decline in the number of (stipendiary) clergy, unless significantly greater numbers of candidates proceed to ordination year on year. The average age of a newly ordained Deacon remains too high, though there are signs that the number of younger candidates is edging upwards. Traditional Catholics are very well represented among the younger ordinands and newly ordained deacons and priests. (And here’s a thing: one-quarter of the women aged 30 or under being trained for ordination last year were doing so at St Stephen’s House.) Genuinely encouraging is the quality of so many of these younger candidates: men (and women) who will, God willing, bring great gifts to the Church, and exercise their ministry for many, many years to come.
The priest is expected to be many things in today’s Church of England: pastor and teacher, yes, but also business manager, property developer, educationalist, HR expert, entrepreneur, stakeholder in community-related projects, able to bid with efficiency and persuasiveness for time, money and regard in a crowded civic and secular market-place. The occasional offices do not simply flow in as once they did; the confirmation candidates do not line up on parade as biddable infantry in the army of God. It is a daunting prospect, or it would be without the assurance of a supernatural power at work. As the common Worship ordinal has it: ‘You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God…Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.’
In his excellent little book In Search of the Sacred (Was Heisst “Sakral”?) the German Catholic neo-Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper reminds us that the only thing which truly designates the priest, and makes his office distinct, is the special spiritual authority invested in him at his ordination – which in turn, as Aquinas teaches, consists in his power to celebrate the Eucharist in persona christi and for the universal Church. Nothing else comes close to that. No wonder readers of NEW DIRECTIONS will be celebrating with our new priests and attending their ordinations and First Masses with such joy. Whatever the challenges and crustrations of ministry in the contemporary Church, all else pales into insignificance besides this truth of the Catholic faith: God gives priests to his Church, that the grace of Calvary might be re-presented anew every day, and the Risen Lord of the Emmaus Road encountered once again in the breaking of the bread. So it is with immense gratitude that we celebrate the ordination of our new crop of priests in the Church of God.
Well, hands up, and we’ll come quietly. NEW DIRECTIONS (this mighty organ) was wrong: wrong about the outcome of the General Election of May 2015. We are in good company of course, for so was everybody else. No coalitions, no deals, no stitch-ups: instead, a slender Conservative majority which not even the Conservatives were expecting. It will be a fascinating Parliament. Of course another General Election is coming very soon, to that ‘other place’ – the only other place outside the Palace of Westminster which (as all new members are reminded) has the power to make the law of the land, the General Synod of the Church of England. There are of course no parties in the General Synod. (Readers should be aware that this editorial contains irony.) The 2015–20 Synod will be as critical for the Church as this Parliament will be for the nation and we look forward to following the campaign unfold. Meanwhile, following the success of our electoral crystal-ball gazing last month, we confidently predict that it is only a matter of time before the Bishop of Willesden decides to become an Arsenal supporter and the See of Malmesbury is revived to provide a national episcopal co-ordinator for Café Church. Odds on one out of two, anybody?