Edwin Barnes explains the rationale behind a unique meeting of the clergy which is being called in Westminster in October of this year
COMMUNICATIONS HAVE never been easier. Even geriatric bishops find their way around the mysteries of E-mail. Yet still communication, the two way business of listening and responding, is difficult. That is especially so when the people who need to do the listening and talking are scattered up and down the country.
So the PEVs have taken the initiative, along with that quasi-PEV the Bishop of Fulham, of trying to get “our’ priests together. Except that even to talk of our priests begs many questions. We all of us have to take oaths of obedience to diocesan bishops, men with whom we are in what they have called ‘impaired communion’. So first, who can come to this get-together – which we are rather grandly calling a “Sacred Synod”?
The first people are easy enough. They are the incumbents of parishes which have petitioned their bishop for ‘extended episcopal oversight’. That’s another grand phrase. It simply means they want another bishop of their own, to work alongside the diocesan, and care for them pastorally and sacramentally; “C” parishes, for short.
There are a few hundred in this category. But take, for instance, Chelmsford diocese. There are sixteen “C” parishes which have gone through all the hoops and successfully petitioned the bishop of Chelmsford. Yet at the ‘alternative’ Chelmsford Chrism Mass last year, there were about sixty participating priests. Who were these others? A few were retired. Some were in chaplaincies, hospitals, the Services and so on. There were priests from parishes which had passed votes A or B but not achieved a 2/3rd majority on the third question, others whose parishes had not even considered the issue of women’s ordination.
When you have totalled all these, the tally is still not complete. Parishes in the Horsham area rarely ask for extended episcopal care; for their diocesan is a traditionalist, and if they asked for an alternative he would be their own area bishop. The situation is similar in a few other places such as the Edmonton area in London.
So the PEVs are asking all the ‘Traditionalist” bishops, that is all who have not ordained women to the priesthood, to join us at the Synod. Including retired bishops, there are some thirty in this category. Nor do we want to exclude any deacons, or any male priests. If you consider yourself “orthodox” or reckon you belong to the “constituency” or “original integrity” or ‘Tradition” (none of these names is acceptable to the modernisers, and none exactly suits us either) then you are very welcome to participate. Our mailing list is about 2,900 clergy in England and we hope we might be joined by a few observers from elsewhere.
The church press, with its customary perversity, called the proposed Sacred Synod “a rally”. It is much more to do with communicating with one another than with rallying. “Rally” suggests megaphone diplomacy. A Sacred Synod is when we shall try, prayerfully, to listen to one another, and to address difficult questions. Nor is it the invention of Forward in Faith or SSC or any other organisation; though priests who belong to these, just like priests who belong to nothing, are very welcome.
To ensure that the questions we discuss are the ones people are really asking, we have created a small steering group of the four PEVs and four priests. We would like those who will be coming to the Synod to prepare for it by meeting locally with other participants, and making a list of things you really want discussed. Then send those responses as soon as possible to the Synod Office which we have set up at Faith House (7 Tufton St, SW1 P 3QN). Only then can the programme be drafted.
We know, from initial responses, that there will be some solid theological input: Christology is a likely theme as we approach Christianity’s two thousandth birthday. We think there are some good initiatives in different parts of the country in teaching, and we want to learn about them. We also believe that a renewal of the life of prayer is essential, and we want to share one another’s insights in order to pass them on to the church outside the circle of traditionalist waggons. With such contents, clergy attending the Synod should achieve support from diocesan CME funds.
We want this Synod to be inclusive not exclusive, and with the help of all participants we shall try to ensure that the worship does not only serve the exotic tastes of one part of our very broad-based constituency. It will be hard to achieve, but we simply must recognise that we include evangelicals as well as catholics, country-dwellers as well as city-slickers, distinctive deacons as well as bishops and priests.
So why are the laity being left out? We hope you do not see it like this. The Caister event each spring brings together laity and clergy. The Sacred Synod is answering another perceived need, the desire of the bishops to gather together those in holy orders to seek the mind of Christ in matters which are especially our responsibility.
This first Sacred Synod will take place from October 27-29 at the Emmanuel Centre, Marsham Street in Westminster not far from Wippells and Mary Sumner House (I mention that so that if the clergy cannot find it, their Enrolling Member can direct them). If any ordained reader of New Directions has not yet had an application form, then please write at once to the Office at 7 Tufton Street. We can only accommodate the first thousand applicants. If we find there are many more wanting to attend, then next time we shall set our sights higher. Meanwhile, please pray for this venture, which has such a potential for renewing and heartening our constituency.