2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Church of England. In terms of the history of the church, 25 years is no time at all, and yet for the catholic constituency in the Church of England these 25 years have been seminal in seeing what place the catholic voice might have in the Church of England. It is clear that the hopes of our Oxford Movement forefathers that the Church of England would rediscover her catholic identity have been moved to one side. And yet we continue as a faithful group of Anglo-Catholics continuing to call the Church of England to that vocation, reminding her that she has duties to the universal church and not just the whims of the modern world. No one could have predicted what the last 25 years have held for our constituency. Many will have hoped we would have disappeared, and yet we remain and we continue to flourish. At last count, 421 parishes have passed the full resolution asking for the sacramental assurance of episcopal oversight. That is the highest number of parishes seeking a Society bishop there has ever been, and this number continues to grow, as does the number of clergy registering to The Society. We have a steady number of vocations to the priesthood and our parishes continue to work in communities up and down the country engaging in mission and social outreach. We must not forget however that the basis of all of this work is in teaching and understanding the catholic faith. It is to be hoped that the teaching mission of the Anglo-Catholic constituency can be improved and widened in the coming years. We perhaps need a return to the vigorous apologetics of the past, although perhaps it will be through podcasts and tweets, and not pamphlets and tracts, that we spread our message. In doing this we must remember that we do not express some fringe opinion when we defend a traditional understanding of holy order, the Seal of the Confessional, and the sacraments (to name but three issues Forward in Faith continues to engage with), but we express the view held in the historic teaching of the church. It is important that we also deepen our dialogue with our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church so that we can continue to ensure that we understand the ecumenical implications of any decisions that are made both by the The Society and the Church of England in general. Our work is not simply for the Church of England but in the hope that one day the vision for unity which Christ prayed for might be realized. We have our part to play in this by calling the Church of England to account and reminding her of her catholic heritage, in the hope that in the next 25 years unity might become as much a possibility as it seemed in the middle of the last century.
2019 also marks the 130th anniversary of the consecration of the Chapel of St Mary, Clumber Park; a chapel which from the outset was firmly in the Anglo-Catholic tradition and whose architectural style and liturgical practices were from the outset criticized. Not only was the chapel liturgically catholic, but the 7th Duke of Newcastle ensured that what was taught in the chapel to those on his estate was catholic too, and this included devising his own Clumber hymnal. This part of our history serves to remind us that when we seek to do liturgy well we must also ensure that the teaching and doctrine that accompanies it are orthodox as well. Very often this does not happen and so church communities that are ‘extreme’ liturgically have abandoned the teaching of the universal church, particularly with regard to the teaching on holy orders and marriage. We only have to look to the Episcopal Church in America to see that this is the case. As we seek to carry on the work of Forward in Faith for the next 25 years, let us make sure that we do not simply become purveyors of beautiful liturgy and worship but that we continue to do what Anglo-Catholics have always done and through that liturgical expression promote and defend the catholic faith as received by the Church of England, and as understood and proclaimed by the universal Church.