This month’s issue of New Directions comes out in time for Easter, print runs and Post Office permitting. A few days before Holy Week Britain will see the opening of the film that has already smashed box office records on other continents and looks set fair to become the definitive religious film of this decade and beyond.
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has already become, in a few short weeks, one of the most talked about and argued over movies of our time. ‘It is as it was’, the Pope is rumoured to have commented after his private viewing. Its importance for the work of the Church should not be underestimated. Much of the mission of late twentieth-century Christianity foundered because it did not know how to communicate the Word to a ‘visual’ generation. Gibson’s work offers us a starting point for that conversation with those who have never heard the Good News for all our faithful proclamation.
For that reason New Directions includes four different reports on the film that will shape the next generation’s consciousness of Christ. We asked for a theological reflection from our staffer who went to the press preview; a parish priest’s view from Gibson’s home territory ‘down under’ in Australia; a young agnostic’s impression from the American continent; and an assessment of the political storm and the future of Jewish–Christian relations.
It is our hope that you will find them a useful guide. Above all, we hope you will see the film and take a wavering or non-believing friend. For the believer it is a powerful devotional aid and an opportunity to articulate the Faith. For the non-believer it may just bring him up hard against the central challenge of Jesus’ ministry: ‘But who do you say that I am ?’
We are delighted to publish (on page 5) the full text of the sermon preached by Dr David Hope, Archbishop of York, at St Bartholomew’s, Armley, on the tenth anniversary of the consecration of two of our ‘flying bishops’ under the provisions of the Act of Synod.
For some months beforehand it was rumoured that the Archbishop would take the opportunity of that occasion to make a significant statement about the future of the Church of England. The reality did not disappoint.
As the senior traditionalist catholic clergyman in the Church of England he holds a unique position of oversight. As the Bishop (of London) who inaugurated the first diocesan scheme for dealing with the post-1992 divisions, he has an unimpeachable track record of just dealing with those with whom he does not agree. As Archbishop of York he has bent all his efforts to making the 1993 peace treaty, ‘Bonds of Peace’ (and its institutional offspring, the Act of Synod) hold the Church of England together.
The Archbishop spoke against the background of the imminent publication of the Rochester Report on Women Bishops, growing calls for the repeal of the Act of Synod and the prospect of more division in and departure from a wounded and rapidly declining church. His words at Armley, therefore, carry considerable weight.
Dr Hope is careful to remind us of the duties of the episcopate and its ‘special responsibility to nurture and further the unity of the Church, to uphold its discipline and guard its faith’. He is only too aware that the consecration of women to the episcopate will, of its very nature, finally and irretrievably shatter the fragile unity that remains. Unfolding events on the American continent, extensive documented research in the public domain and his own acute theological intelligence bear witness to the fact that the hermeneutic behind women’s ordination is the seedbed for Communion-wide disorder and that many of its leading proponents are now in high office here.
Dr Hope reminds the Church that the Act of Synod settlement was not only vital to making the ‘new situation’ work, it was a major argument in convincing Parliament to allow women’s ordination to proceed. It gave notice of an intention of just dealing and an open-ended period of ‘reception’. That so many of those who were keen to give these promises – at a time when it suited them – are now in the forefront of those seeking to renege on the settlement augurs ill. Dr Hope warns that to rescind the Act of Synod would be’ a tragedy’. It would, he declares, ‘be an act of betrayal and trigger a new crisis for our Church’. The Archbishop is not a man to use words lightly and his grave assessment is correct in every particular.
He then moves on to the situation that must arise when women are consecrated to the episcopate. He asks if the Act of Synod could survive such a development and answers bluntly, ‘Plainly it could not.’ ‘Extended Episcopal Care’ can no longer work. ‘Alternative Episcopal Oversight’ is the very minimum requirement. That could only occur in some yet to be devised development of the Act or in a Third Province. Nothing less will do the job.
The significance of Dr Hope’s words would be sufficient in themselves. But he does not stand alone. In accepting and articulating the urgent need for a permanent structural solution to our current unhappy divisions, he stands foursquare with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is clear from recent conversations, articles and sermons that the leaders of the two great provinces of England recognize that a deepening civil war will continue to undermine the Church’s recovery and her Gospel task. The uncertainty of temporary measures, and their dependence upon those who find their promises inconvenient, must be replaced by a new confidence and fellowship born of the trust that only a legally guaranteed structural solution and constitutional settlement can bring.
Let the negotiations begin.