In a recent article Canon Angela Tilby caused something of a furore by highlighting and bemoaning what she called the ‘evangelical takeover of the Church of England.’ Her view is that there has been a seismic shift in the way the Church of England operates and in its ethos. The Church of England has lost that quiet, ancient, prayerful style and replaced it with a loud, brash and much more business-focussed model. For Tilby it seems the contrast been the quiet private novena between Ascension and Pentecost and the louder and evangelistic ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ novena have brought this so-called takeover into sharp focus. This, however, does not seem to be the full story. Tilby seems to be reflecting a liberal catholic view once in the ascendancy in the Church of England, certainly under the leadership of Archbishop Rowan Williams, and which now seems to be waning and in danger of disappearing. It should, of course, be possible to have the big events and the quiet times of reflection without feeling somehow that our position is in decline and in danger of being subsumed in a takeover by some other party.
This feeling of decline is not something which we traditional catholics share: confident of our own tradition we are able to embrace ventures like ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ and ‘Leading Your Church Into Growth’ without any fear that our catholic faith will be diluted by them. Perhaps it is because we have always accepted that as a minority we could not hope to have great influence that we do not mourn over or worry about the change at the top. Our style of worship, both ancient and modern, and our faith—that from the Apostles—is always fresh and renewed has nothing to fear from the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Canon Tilby’s worries seem to reflect a lack of confidence across the liberal catholic movement, because if anything goes and if every change is embraced what happens when things go too far? Our confidence is shown in our dedication to working and serving in the Church of England as we seek flourish and spread the gospel. This means making partnerships and collaborations with those of different traditions.
Confidence, however, is not the same thing as complacency. There can be no complacency in the need to defend the catholic identity of the Church of England. We look to our Society bishops and members of the General Synod to do this. In the years to come there will be many challenges to the historic faith and we are grateful they are willing to stand firm in the face of opposition on issues of life and morals. We also need to continue our focus on vocations, not just vocations to the ordained ministry and the religious life but perhaps more importantly in developing each person’s vocation as a Christian and finding ways in which lay women and men can serve in the church. There is a vital need to find ways of encouraging and celebrating these various Christian vocations. It is to be hoped that our vocations initiative which seeks to encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life will seek to encourage these vocations to come from across our nation’s society—so that no one feels barred from exploring their vocation whatever their background might be.
We need also to make sure that we have a place for our catholic movement in academia and education. We have perhaps for too long neglected this side of the life of the church. We cannot hope to serve those most in need in our society if we do not take the study of the theology behind these works seriously and in depth. Our movement has come such a long way since 1992 and, despite periods of struggle and times of being disheartened, we can now look to the future with hope and confidence. There are now more parishes under Society bishops than ever before, seeking to flourish and grow, to teach and maintain the faith, and to serve their communities, some of which are the most deprived and in need in our country. Time and time again Society parishes are found where the need is greatest and the resources are least. We need to think about new ways of resourcing these places. When the measure to ordain women to the episcopate was passed many of us would not have imagined we would be in as good a position as we are now. Our task is always to do God’s will in the service of his Church and people. We must not waste the opportunities God offers us and the challenges he sets before us as we seek him. Let us thank God for all that has gone before and say yes to the joys and hopes of the future.