Living in hope

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

Following last month’s ‘Ghostly’ emphasizing ‘the ecumenical imperative’ in the Christian life I have had considerable correspondence in every medium – some of it transatlantic! Some readers found it consoling and inspiring – one said ‘it even made me want to be good!’ Some found it infuriating – given the widening chasms of the ecumenical landscape. It was met with amazement by one correspondent – once an Anglican priest, now a Roman layman. All this has given me cause to reflect on why I appear to live in hope when others live in depression at best and in bitterness at worst.

My ecclesial world view is shaped by certain assumptions. The first is I do not expect church life to be neat and I expect it to be a bloody mess. ‘On the night that he was betrayed he took bread,’ I remind myself and the people at every Eucharist. Our Lord’s gift of himself to us is in the middle of the brokenness and power games of our common life. The Body of Christ has been endlessly broken and I do not expect it to be any other way – at the parish, deanery, diocese or any other level. Because of this I have always cause to be thankful when there is a sign of unity – and I know that this unity is the work of God’s grace. We don’t live in heaven yet – and yet occasionally we have glimpse of it.

Secondly, I have never bought in to the concept of the ‘final battle’. It seems to me that as soon as a person adopts a posture of confrontation the idea that one will be a ‘winner’ and one will be a ‘loser’ must be the logical outcome. Some people don’t want to end up on the losing side and so they pick up that bat and ball and start another game with another team. Be careful in adopting an adversarial stance if you’re a bad loser. I was nearly always on the losing side!

Thirdly, I take comfort from history – particularly history of the Church in England. It is a feature of our society that it is very bad at history – and sometimes even in the pages of this journal! The situation of the orthodox believer in the contemporary church is nothing compared to most of the eighteenth century, never mind the wilderness of the ‘Commonwealth’. History gives evidence to the wisdom of St Paul: ‘we may deny him – but he (Christ) cannot deny himself’. In the midst of our faithlessness the faithfulness of Christ is at work.

Finally, I have long understood that ministry of the orthodox and traditional believer in the Church of England is a prophetic one. This means often to be misunderstood and to stand in contradiction. It means a constant returning to God in Word and Sacrament. It is a call to holiness. Although I never envisaged life would be like this I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do feel that I share with Christ in his suffering – even in a small way.

The Pope has described the ‘Ordinariate’ as a prophetic witness in the life of the Catholic Church. I hope and pray for a similar way to witness to their Lord and ours within the Church of England.