Stuart Seaton on a full house at St Alban’s Abbey
ASK ANY PARISH PRIEST and the answer will be the same: it is extremely daunting beginning one’s first incumbency at the best of times. In these difficult days for orthodox Anglicans, new perils have emerged. Not only is it now essential to be carefully selective when looking to the wider Church for support, inspiration, and guidance within the parish, it is increasingly important to ensure that the disorder of the wider Church is kept our of the parish.
It is only against this background of ecclesial isolation that my sheer joy of attending the Richborough Festival of Faith at St Albans Abbey can be understood. For on entering the Abbey to find the longest nave in England packed with enthusiastic, faithful Christians of all ages, it was evident, that despite it all, orthodox Christianity is alive and well, and living (among other places) in the Church of England. As a beautiful liturgy with first rate music followed, it became even more clear that our integrity is a vibrant Christian tradition. So often maligned as being negative, and backward looking, we are in fact absolutely confident of the life-giving faith we have received. How wonderful to be able to witness so formidably to the presence of the historic faith in the Church of England today!
It was fitting that we should meet at the great shrine of St Alban — the first member of the English Church to suffer for the faith delivered once for all to the saints. The historic Abbey which bears the scars of earlier controversies, reminded us that we are part not only of a world-wide body, but also of an ancient tradition. In that respect we were privileged that Bishop Keith (who presided), was joined by Bishop Edwin. Both bishops were reminders that our faith and ministry have been handed down to us from the apostles who first received them from the Lord. Bishop Keith preached an inspiring, hopeful sermon, which encouraged us to face the struggles which are now breaking upon us. A concelebrated Eucharist in which so many people partook of the body and blood of Christ, emphasised (contrary to many celebrations in the Church of England today from which a substantial number of faithful Anglicans have been tacitly excluded), that the Eucharist is a sacrament of unity, and the priesthood a ministry of reconciliation, rather than a cause of division.
After a picnic lunch outside the Abbey, there was a little time before those who could, gathered once more, this time for Choral Evensong. Clearly the Abbey staff were not expecting so many orthodox worshippers at the service! All the seats were quickly taken, so people ended up sitting just about anywhere, including on the communion rail step. Eventually, even the supply of hymn books and BCPs dried up. Doubtless, our Abbey hosts were as delighted as we were that so many orthodox Anglicans were present at Evensong.
Returning home to our parishes, I am sure we all felt, with gratitude, that the Richborough Festival had refreshed us and renewed our confidence in the future. While the actions of many in the Anglican Communion today are setting one Christian against another, orthodox Anglicans in the Richborough area are joyfully holding fast to the apostolic tradition and are supporting one another as they do so.
Stuart Seaton is Parish Priest of St Peter’s Bushey Heath.