In April, in a room in Westminster, Jane Ozanne a member of the General Synod launched the Ozanne Foundation. The gathering included bishops, priests and lay campaigners. Among the supporters of the Foundation are the Bishop of Liverpool and the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. These senior clerics have under the banner of the Foundation called for the exemption from the Equalities Act held by the Church of England to be revoked. The aims of the Foundation centre on issues of sexuality and in particular the issue of same sex marriage. It might be added that a perhaps unintentional result of removing the exemption would be to undo the 5 Guiding Principles. A further knock on effect is perhaps more drastic: the Church of England would no longer be allowed to insist that her ministers and employees had to be Christian. It seems bizarre that Bishops and Priests would support such a move, let alone committed members of the Church of England. It would be to remove from the make-up of the Church of England any vestige of being able to claim to be a Church. A Church in which the ministers don’t have to be Christians, and all in the name of equality. It seems dangerous to try to solve a theological problem by appeal to a secular Act. This movement seems to be going against the whole thrust of the Church of England, rather than seeking to unite various strands and traditions it seems to be a movement that says ‘if you don’t agree with us, you had better leave’. This sort of attitude, prevalent during the debates about the ordination of women to the episcopate, needs to be put to one side in favour of trying to work together in mission and to deepen understanding of different traditions. The Five Guiding Principles aim to do just that, to allow us (all of us, whatever theological view) to deepen our faith and to flourish. In order for this to happen there needs to be a deepening of trust among us and also a desire to collaborate in mission and ministry to the highest degree possible. This is happening on the ground in many good and fruitful ways; very often the headlines and the sound bites from the likes of the Ozanne Foundation do not reflect this. It suits a narrative that is spun which says the Church of England is totally divided.
Collaborative ministry gets a bad press among some people. The idea of collaborating and working with anyone can seem an anathema in among our parishes and in our deaneries. Perhaps out of a fear of losing souls to other places of worship or a desire to be totally in control we can build imaginary walls around our parish boundaries. And this is understandable: the yearly returns ask for breakdown of the numbers of people worshipping in church, the parish share has to be paid and the Church is pressing us to engage in more mission and evangelism. Naturally we feel we want to make sure our parish is flourishing. This however is not the message of the Gospel. We are called to ensure that the whole church is flourishing and growing. In order to do this Jesus sends the disciples our in pairs, to collaborate in ministry, and we should take this to heart. Alone we are simply a group of people gathering to worship God, but alongside other groups we become the Church, which is the body of Christ. Naturally in the Church of England that is divided on certain matters of doctrine there will need to be clear lines in the sand as to what can be collaborated on and what can’t; but this should not put us off. Rather, this should be seen as an opportunity to learn from others and to share our understanding and good practice. The yearly ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ time of prayer seems to be one such example of way in which Christians of different traditions can work together. In one sense it is a sign of how far the Church of England has come. It would have been totally unthinkable 50 years ago for the Diocese of Canterbury to be holding something called a ‘Novena of Prayer’ sponsored by the Archbishop. Yes there would have been periods of prayer but the beautiful language of a ‘novena’ would have been seen as too Catholic. So this time of prayer is a good opportunity to work with different parishes in the Church of England and also ecumenically, a time to set aside difference and focus on praying for our nation, the church and the world. In doing this people will see how Christians can work together, can collaborate, and then perhaps the phrase ‘see how these Christians love one another’ will be said in admiration and not in derision.