Andy Hawes reviews ten years of growth and fellowship
‘All things work together for good, for those who love God.’ So writes St Paul. A retrospective review of FiF over its ten years of life argues that (as usual) he is right. Nevertheless, in the inky dark of a chilly November night it would have been a bold prophecy by anyone who had seen and heard their claim to a Catholic inheritance lost by two votes. Despite the reassurance of the Archbishop that those who had ‘lost’ would have ‘a permanent and honoured place within the life of the Church,’ there was in many homes confusion, hurt, and anger that echoed the experience of bereavement. They were difficult times made more difficult by the absence of any clear leadership and very patchy pastoral care. It has to be recorded that there were some people whose lives were wrecked that night and who, even a decade later, have never found peace or wholeness. Yet despite the ‘gathering gloom’ there were ‘small steps’ that were made of such deep significance that even now their meaning continues to unfold.
It was at this time that ‘Forward in Faith’ was established as an umbrella organization for all those organizations, societies and individuals who ‘could not in conscience accept the ordination of women to the priesthood’. There was already in place the co-operation of Catholic Societies, which had co-ordinated the ‘Festival of Faith’ at Wembley Arena in June 1992. Cost of Conscience had over a period of years prepared for this eventuality with vast clergy gatherings at Central Hall, Westminster and Keble College, Oxford. This membership organization, of around a thousand clergy, had already met in regional meetings to debate and finally approve a proposal for alternative episcopal oversight. In retrospect none of the time or effort was wasted, for at the time of crisis the relationships and the plans were in place to move forward in Faith.
Like many others my first contact was the receipt of a photocopy of the FiF mission statement – ‘to pursue unity and truth, and uphold the doctrine of the Church and the sacramental life we have received, that it may be handed on to our children and grandchildren.’ The rest of the sheet provided a ‘membership’ form and a central address. Like many others I copied and distributed reams of these. Thus it was that a network waiting to burst into life was activated and years of frustration born of fruitless trench warfare was released in a torrent of activity.
In December and early January many local meetings were convened and a clear objective developed. It was imperative that the House of Bishops, due to meet in January, should know the full extent of the problem they had. The situation in Lincoln Diocese at the time illustrates this well. A group of orthodox clergy asked the Bishop for a meeting; a date was agreed – 7th January 1993. These clergy had to arrange the venue and convene interested brethren. The Bishop expected five or six dissidents; fifty-three clergy received him, about two-thirds of whom were incumbents. The meeting was a revelation to all present, especially the Bishop, who claimed that there was nothing he could say or offer. Alternative episcopal oversight was placed at the top, middle and bottom of the agenda.
Those first weeks achieved so much. Within days of the vote ‘Directions’ appeared as a supplement to the Church of England Newspaper. It proved to be essential reading; it provided national and international communication for the orthodox constituency, both Catholic and Evangelical. It revealed to the average reader and the bench of bishops, the strength in numbers, and the power of thought and conviction, of the orthodox members of the Church of England, who were waxing in confidence and numbers day by day. ‘Directions’ set a pattern often repeated down the decade. Here were lay people and clergy of immense talent and expertise working together voluntarily for the Gospel. They were without exception individuals who had already been overlooked and marginalized in their home dioceses or sphere of ministry and experience. There was a momentum that the House of Bishops could not and did not resist. Their January meeting produced ‘Bonds of Peace’, a document setting out the theology and ecclesiology of ‘two integrities’ and of ‘extended episcopal oversight’, a scheme which relied heavily on the groundwork of Cost of Conscience.
Walking in the Way
Forward in Faith continued to develop apace at a local and national level. It had become an extremely effective lobby group. Its next target was the July York meeting of General Synod which was to debate the controversial Act of Synod. The culmination of sustained pressure on General Synod members culminated in May with the ‘Walking in the Way’ gathering at Westminster and the Walk of Witness to Lambeth Palace. This same period saw more regional meetings for clergy and lay supporters of FiF which discussed the constitution of the new organization, the establishment of Regions with Regional Deans and the outworking of impaired communion, which would follow the ordination of the first women priests.
Within two years FiF emerged as an organization with secure finances, a full time director, a fully democratic system of governance and a growing membership. ‘Directions’ became ‘New Directions’ following a change of policy by the Church of England Newspaper, and has continued to appear monthly as part of the ‘membership’ benefits of FiF. FiF also began to publish a quarterly newspaper ‘Forward Plus’ and a weekly full colour pew sheet ‘Forward’. All these publications continue to be written and typeset by volunteers. They are the best known example of the spirit of service and co-operation that is the hallmark of FiF. The experience of working in this way is a rare and wondrous thing in the life of the Church!
Up to this point FiF had seemed to its many critics to lack breadth and maturity. It was caricatured as ‘Backwards in Fear.’ Then came the first Provincial Episcopal Visitors +John of Beverley and +John of Ebbsfleet. Both were Archdeacons, both mature men of the establishment; it was thought that they were safe pairs of hands. They were full of surprises, energy and conviction! Within months their ministry released parishes from any remnant of a ghetto mentality. They were straightforward, unfussy, uncompromising pastors and teachers and they placed the pursuit of holiness at the heart of the organization. There is no doubt in my mind that they steered FiF from heading down a political cul-de-sac and pointed the way to a renewal in spirituality and evangelism that can only spring from orthodox ministry. The most lasting memories that many FiF members will have are those of worship and prayer; in parishes, cathedrals, in small groups and in vast crowds. Their ministry and that of their successors has meant that FiF is an organization seeking God’s will and not merely another church society with a narrow agenda.
In the security of shared values, shared prayer and the grace of full communion, FiF has been responsible for fostering the deepest and abiding friendships. This unity and mutual commitment which began as ‘fellowship in adversity’ is for many individuals a profound experience. Many Anglican religious have found new strength and hope in the biennial residential meeting organized by FiF. In many areas FiF has provided a renewed way of living out the Christian life. Many folk could gladly witness to the joy of being involved in FiF. I have to say that I have had more fun and unbridled hilarity through FiF than through any other group of people! Sometimes people ask, ‘What has FiF achieved?’ One answer might be ‘it has replaced anxiety and fear with happiness and hope.’
Given its breadth of membership, the depth of its Gospel foundation and the quality of its communication and administration, it is not a surprise that it continues to hold its own in a rapidly diminishing Church. It is a Kingdom movement that has found common cause with the Orthodox of Baltic nations, those of other British provinces, as well as Australia, Canada, and the United States. FiF seems to be one of the few Anglican organizations that takes the Anglican Communion seriously! The contribution of overseas members to the Annual Assembly has been both profound and long lasting.
It is impossible for FiF to be a backward-looking movement. The daily Mass of its parishes and the faithfulness of its prayer feed its roots. This has produced a fertile ground out of which countless good things have grown. There is ‘Sheepdip’, both regional and international, which gathers young people together. There is ‘Forward Teaching’, a wonderful and well-used resource for Sunday Schools and other children’s work. The vocation to the priesthood of many young men (who were not in their teens in 1992) is powerful proof that the Lord has blessed and is blessing us; FiF now runs vocation conferences in both the north and the south of England. If the Lord is moving in this way who can deny that there is a future for what in now called Forward in Faith.
Christ Our Future
On my study wall hangs a large photograph of the ‘Christ our Future’ millennium celebration; ten thousand people gathered to worship in the London Arena, the biggest Anglican millennium event. For me it is a constant reminder that God has and will continue to work for good through those who love him. FiF began in difficult times and no doubt difficult times are ahead for orthodox believers in the Church of England. There is still much for FiF to do, but let it continue on the road which has brought it thus far. Let it never be diverted from its first hope and love – the vision of God, the source of Unity and Truth.
Andy Hawes is Vicar if Edenham with Witham-on-the-Hill and Rural Dean of Bettisloe, in the Diocese of Lincoln.
Here were lay people and clergy of immense talent and expertise working together voluntarily for the Gospel.
In the security of shared values, shared prayer and the grace of full communion, FiF has been responsible for fostering the deepest and abiding friendships.