Andy Hawes offers a personal perspective on the challenges that face all who seek to minister within our fractured church

I am a card-carrying member of FiF and I stick rigidly to its Statement on Communion. This means that I am in impaired communion with most of the church! I am a parish priest and that produces few problems in this regard.

I am a Rural Dean in a Deanery that has two women in its Chapter ordained as priest – that produces a few. I am also warden of a retreat house – which also happens to be my home. This ministry of hospitality produces many a conundrum, particularly regarding the ministry of women priests and my relationship to them.

Varied reactions

In one way the situation is simple and clear; the House is in a parochial setting, the PCC has passed resolutions A, B and C, and therefore women who are priests cannot preside at the Eucharist in the church nor in the retreat house chapel. This is the published policy of the house trustees, and anyone booking the house receives a letter setting out the position.

It is the various responses that make life interesting! Some parishes simply boycott the house and make a political fuss about it. Others take a different approach. Typically, it depends on individuals.

For example, next week I will celebrate the Eucharist for a visiting parish whose vicar is called Barbara. It will be a quiet day; another woman priest will be leading it. Yet they both respect and respond to the policy of the house is a constructive way. It doesn’t all have to be so unpleasant (and let me assure you it can, in other situations, get very unpleasant!).

Welcoming women clergy

One of our regular groups is Clergy Cell – all female – they enjoy coming and accept things as they are as fact, and live and pray with it. Fifteen years of wrestling with this issue has taught me that there are more women who would like to operate within the Bonds of Peace than those who belong to Watch. The problem is they are usually in pastoral work and not getting involved in the lobbying and scaremongering.

In the Deanery we follow the ecumenical principle; we do what we can together in ministry and mission and don’t make a fuss about the rest. In practical terms, it means that we never meet for the Eucharist (Chapter meetings begin with Morning Prayer and all Deanery services are non- Eucharistic). Nevertheless, we have discovered ways around this to build up and maintain fellowship – we now have regular Agapes, which each parish hosts in turn. Most importantly, we pray for one another.

Recognizing difference

The house then has a firm and recognizable spiritual foundation. It stands square in the tradition of Prayer Book Catholic, but this does not seem to be an inhibition. In fact, the use of the house has increased markedly in the last few years. The majority of our guests are non-Anglicans and range from the radical Protestant charismatic to the local Greek Orthodox parish!

Sometimes our dining table has more denominations present than the World Council of Churches. Twenty years of this ministry has taught me not to ‘stifle the spirit’. This year I invited a Baptist minister to conduct a retreat with an Anglo-Catholic priest acting as chaplain. It worked!

Like many others, I have been deeply shocked by the promise, from the General Synod, of expulsion from the Church of England simply for being orthodox. It is possible to live with an enriching graceful experience of unity in the present, but only when differences are recognized and boundaries clearly and firmly drawn.

The concept of integrity in ‘wholesome’ and ‘holy’ would not have chosen to have lived this way. It was not my hope or expectation on being ordained nearly thirty years ago. But I can see that God turns all things to good for those who love him – even members of FiF!