The summer season is upon us and in the life of the church that can only mean two things: ordinations and patronal festivals. This year’s statistics show a rise in the number of those being ordained; over the past few years there has been a steady rise in the number of younger candidates. Ordinations to The Society have continued to hold steady and we can be rightly proud of the number and calibre of the candidates. If we want to maintain this calibre then we need to ensure that theological education is of the highest calibre as well. The Catholic movement of the 19th Century is rightly famous for its pioneering work in areas of social reform but we ought not forget that these seeds were planted in the academy. We need to ensure that we have priests to serve in our parishes but also priests and lay people to teach in our theological colleges and on the courses that train for ordination. It may be that someone doesn’t have a vocation to the priesthood but that does not mean they don’t have a vocation to teach and train our priests and people in order to equip them for the work of the church. Equally we ought to encourage (and not hinder) priests who are considering work in academia. We need to be a movement that works in all areas of the life of the church. That is what mutual flourishing is all about – being at the table, offering our skills, and working for the spread of the Gospel.
Tied up with the idea of mutual flourishing is one phrase that raises its head during this season which is ‘sacramental assurance’; that the person receiving a sacrament can be assured that it is valid and efficacious. The Society seeks sacramental assurance in all that it does, so that those who worship in Society parishes and seek the ministry of Society priests and bishops can be sure of the sacraments they receive. This does not detract from the ministry of others in the Church of England, on the contrary it sets them free to get on with the work of building the church and spreading the Gospel. This work of spreading the Gospel is the very work we in the Society are likewise dedicated to accomplishing to the best of our ability. As with all matters of conscience there will be those on both sides who have a change of heart and we must be respectful of that. This will however raise questions and issues in the future for us when it comes to sacramental assurance; the time is soon coming when our Council of Bishops and others will have to deal with this in a pastoral but theologically rigorous way. To fail to do so would be to ignore our past and jeopardise our future.
A recent advertisement for a ‘Strategic Programme Manager’ in the Diocese of Truro required the applicant to lead and manage the ‘transforming mission’ programme across the diocese in order that churches might be appropriately resourced for mission. All well and good you might think, a valuable work to be done to help build the kingdom. If you read on you would discover that ‘you do not need to be a practising Christian’ to hold the post but simply ‘sympathetic’ to the work of the Church of England. Whilst it is fair to say that a fresh pair of eyes might shed new light on the Diocese of Truro it is hard to see how someone with no Christian faith would be able to adequately manage the post, one which surely must be grounded in prayer. We wonder how many other senior development posts in the Church of England are offered to those of little or no faith? At a time when parishes are struggling to pay contributions to the diocese as well as manage their buildings it is hard to see how dioceses can justify employing someone who does not fully join in with the Christian mission of that diocese. The Church of England needs to think seriously about her future. Growth comes when people are clear and serious about their faith, when they are confident in the Gospel message. This message offers hope to a world that desperately needs it. As the national church the Church of England has an important role to play in speaking out about issues that affect the lives of all men and women. In doing this however we cannot divorce God or our Christian faith from it. The work of the church should not be simply seen as one of valuable social work but the one of bringing about the Kingdom of God. In order to do this our leaders must share our Christian faith and our desire to grow in discipleship the people of God. We in The Society need to commit ourselves to this work alongside our sisters and brothers.