Gary Waddington, Team Rector of the St Wilfrid team ministry in Harrogate, reflects on the Northern Sacred Synod held on 23rd September 2010

A wit once retorted that clergy were like manure: in a pile they stank; spread thinly they did some good. Clearly the exception to this bon mot was the Sacred Synod for the Northern Province held in the Church of Ss Barnabas & John, Belle Isle in Leeds. There was indeed a great heap of clergy, so much so that lunch was very much in danger of running out! Yet there was no stink. The day focussed itself on the question of the future following the July session of the General Synod.

The Bishop of Pontefract acted as a congenial compere, setting a positive tone. Welcoming the clergy he noted that in a time of uncertainty it was good to take council together. He read greetings from those bishops who could not be present and invited the Bishop of Burnley to lead the participants in Bible Study.

Commenting on Hebrews 11.8– 16, Bishop John spoke of the faith of Abraham as a priestly archetype walking with God in the loving service of the people. He then drew out our place as strangers and pilgrims whose eyes are fixed on the heavenly city who ‘must resist burying ourselves or becoming obsessed with the issue’.

Catholics and Evangelicals

Simon Killwick then spoke of the work of the Catholic Group in General Synod and how the synodical process continues. In this, he reminded that assembly that contingent motions in the process of remitting legislation to the dioceses may yet throw up surprises, andthatthe House ofBishops still had the ability to make changes to legislation before final voting. He then reminded us of the vital nature of the synodical elections under way, for it will be the new General Synod that will finally determine the outcome of the legislative process.

Dr Nigel Atkinson spoke to Synod from an Evangelical perspective. His lively and engaging presentation reminded us that conservative evangelicals also had a spirited objection to the legislation. The legislation could not be consistent with any Protestant heritage of the Church of England, simply because it was not consistent with Scripture, and that inconsistency made the issue a first-order problem. Neither could it be consistent with the Catholic heritage of the Church of England because the relationship of fides et ratio meant that individualistic modern exegesis of Scripture could not (following the rationale of Hooker) overthrow the weight of the teaching of the Church through the ages. He concluded by reminding the synod members that many evangelical parishes would simply not tolerate taxation without proper episcopal representation in terms of quota payments and orthodoxy.

Rabbit out of the hat

The Bishop of Beverley then rose to speak on future possibilities. He reminded us of the generous offer of the Holy Father in the potential creation of an Ordinariate. Yet, while this was an honourable route for those who felt this was the best option, whatever the outcome of the synodical process, he also said that for perhaps the majority, this was neither the right time nor right option to pursue.

He then stunned those present by outlining the creation of the Society of Sts Wilfrid and Hilda, as a corporate body for clergy and laity gathered around faithful bishops. He spoke of the rapid work being undertaken to produce a theological interpretation of this societal model, and how it would work and relate to the rest of the Church of England. He stressed that this society would only come into full ecclesial operation if and when a women was consecrated.

He also pleaded that this was not a means for staying at all costs. It must, he said, be a path to be followed only if it provided ‘Anglicanism with integrity’. There was a real buzz around the room at this announcement, and following midday prayer, most of the clergy present were to be seen filling in the forms.

Animated discussion

After lunch, Canon Glyn Webster more than ably chaired a panel discussion responding to questions formulated in advance from the floor. We ranged a discussion through the potentiality of the Society to questions of the Ordinariate, coherency of practical ecclesiology, encouraging people to sign up for the Society, the general levels of support for provision in the wider CofE.

In all of this it is perhaps worth noting that the responses gathered so far to the Ordinariate are small. It would appear that whilst the Church of England still holds marks of Catholicity there is a future for us. Strong leadership and faithful response may yet secure a provision in which we can all flourish. This is, in so many ways a question of Vocation: for some that will be a call from God to seek full reconciliation with the Holy See, and to do so quickly. For others that same journey may take many years. For more, that vocation to exercise a Catholic Ministry remains within the Church of England, but not at any cost. Proper provision is still needed. The Society model might well be the way in which it could, with enough support, be secured.

Bishop Tony dismissed us with the blessing after reminding us that we need courage to stick together and see this process through. Whilst the future is uncertain, the process is not yet over. By the looks on the faces of those leaving the Sacred Synod, perhaps there is a second wind yet. ND