As a recently ordained priest, Lee Kenyon is aware of the temptation of indulging in isolation, and explains why and how the Church of England should avoid becoming isolated from the rest of the Church
As a 29-year-old priest – ‘hands still dripping with the oil of chrism’ (to quote an older priest friend) – the newness of ordained life within the Church of England brings many temptations to indulgence. Aside from (rightly) indulging in the joys of celebrating the life of Gods Word and Sacraments with his people, there is the temptation to indulge in a splendid isolation.
Many still fall into the trap of believing that the Church of England is the only institution that matters and that Synod somehow has the authority to redraw the lines of our theological and doctrinal inheritance. It is a fallacy which has its roots in a misunderstanding of the priesthood as something deserved and owned by the individual.
This view detaches the priest, turning his work into a private pursuit, forcing him to live a life between the vicarage and the church, blind to the outside Church and world, adrift and without adequate guidance or fellowship, and free to innovate according to his own understanding and interpretation of scripture, tradition and morality. This is certainly where the Church of England as a whole seems to have been since 1992.
Wisdom of the ages
In my own ministry, this temptation to indulge in isolationism manifests itself most rudely when I attend training conferences for the newly-ordained. Here, as in other places, fractured Anglicanism gathers and ‘bonds’ with one another, sitting around tables and discussing ad nau-seum ourselves and what we are doing, what our parishes are like, and what bits of gossip we know about so-and-so in the diocese, usually between PowerPoint presentations on topics deemed relevant to parish ministry: the environment, alternative spiritualities, race, etc.
I know these things have value, but, without wanting to seem a philistine, our priestly formation could be better spent examining doctrine, canon law, ecclesiology and other areas which, if taught in a spirit faithful to Christian tradition, have the potential to free us from the cold individualism of modern Anglicanism. Exposure to the warmth of the wisdom of the ages can only give us a more catholic approach to ministry and ecumenism, saving us, spiritually at least, from being divorced from the rest of Christendom.
Abandoning its heritage
At my ordination, I was called to ‘the office of priest in the Church of God’. Yes, as a priest within that part of it called the Church of England which still has the good sense to recognize, at least in its Declaration of Assent, that it is ‘part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’, and not a Church in isolation. Yet a consideration of the times is sobering. To the man on the street and in the pew, the Church of England might seem more concerned with her own internal wrangling than with the Gospel. Bit by bit the Church is being pushed – deliberately, I believe – further away from her claims to catholicity in doctrine and in practice, and don’t our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brethren know it well?
I am who I am because I try to be faithful to my calling and to my ordination vows made to God in Christ and to his Gospel. This is what makes me a traditionalist. It is not complicated. I don’t seek to pursue my own agenda in matters of faith and morals and I try to live with one eye on the domestic – on my particular ministry in the parish – and one eye on the universal – on what is going on in the Church of God as a whole, within and without the Anglican Communion. And I ask myself: what am I doing to further the cause for unity and truth in both of these? If the Church of England continues to ignore the moral and spiritual decay in society and in the Church, as it abandons its Catholic heritage in exchange for theological innovation, it will be mired in its isolation in ever-decreasing numbers. And it will die.
This, I believe, is why those of us who seek to maintain the faith need to keep an eye on global Anglicanism, particularly in North America. As I write, parishes and dioceses across the United States are embroiled in bitter legal disputes over property: the messy fall-out of the decline of the once-great Episcopal Church into an ever more progressive and heterodox mindset. Litigation is the new orthodoxy of Mrs Jefferts Schori and her like-minded bishops as they set about undoing the faith. Those – who have kept their ordination vows are now finding them sorely tested by those who have already abandoned theirs (and by those who never had them to keep!). The situation in the Diocese of San Joaquin – with the recent deposition of its orthodox bishop – is a microcosm of a state of affairs which has the potential to become the norm in the Church of England within a short space of time.
The failure of liberal Episcopalians to be liberal enough to accept those who seek to do as they have always done is a scandal. Yet the pursuit of splendid isolationism, seen in the Episcopal Church since the 1960s, has become infectiously appetising for many in the Church of England since 1992. How much longer can we expect our bishops and priests to abstain from the temptation to indulge?
The fellowship I find within the Catholic Societies reminds me of the unity to which I am called as a priest. My participation in them keeps me from the temptation to live my priesthood cut off from the rest of what the Church around the world and in other communions is doing.
The real sadness is that this sort of fraternity, which ought to be normative for Anglicans, is enjoyed by few and regarded with suspicion by many. We who enjoy the richness of Catholic faith and worship found within our Catholic Societies have a real task to promote the uniqueness of a way of life and practice which is genuinely Anglican.
The road ahead is uncertain and our freedom as traditionalists will continue to be threatened, as events in The Episcopal Church demonstrate. Yet despite all this, I love being a priest and doing what God has called me to do and, for all its errors, I love the Church – local and universal – and I hope to be here still in forty years’ time, with the oil of chrism as fresh as ever.