The End of an Era

Sam Philpott refects on the work and witness of the founder of Forward in Faith

The aftermath of the November 1992 General Synod at which the Ordination of Priests (Women) Measure was passed is still a vivid, and somewhat painful, memory. Like so many of those newly elected to the Synod, it had never crossed my mind that a scene of all pervasive devastation was about to sweep through the Catholic Group like a tsunami removing in its wake all trace of confidence and coherent thought. It seemed to me that those to whom we might hope to look for a lead had either fled from London or been reduced to emotional wrecks, heads in hands and incapable of offering any rallying call to reflect on the event that had just happened, let alone to regroup for the future. A sense of hopeless impotence settled like a dense black cloud – as though all our dreams of calling the Church of England to realise her catholic self had been put to death. But the good God had prepared for a time such as this.

Calm in the storm

John Broadhurst kept his nerve and calmly took action to gather Catholics together with an agenda for a future that now lay beyond the enactment of the Measure and the Church of England’s disobedience to Catholic Faith and Order. He was determined that Catholics would pick themselves up, and his long experience of participation in the ways of General Synod – he was then a member of the Standing Committee (replaced by the Archbishops’ Council) – and of having ‘won some and lost some’, enabled him to stand back from the frenetic activity of those focused on planning how to play the debate and, to consider what to do if the vote was lost. Knowing that voting on the Measure would be by a whisker one way or the other, almost everyone had simply concentrated on defeating the Measure. John Broadhurst had calculated that it was very likely that we would lose, and lose we did. That result, along with the cheering and celebrating by supporters of the Measure at the Dean Yard’s entrance to Church House came as no surprise to him while it proved highly destructive of the morale of others. He had already conceived an embryonic plan for what we must now do and he was ready to give a lead. And, that is exactly what he did, lead.

Gathering leaders of the Catholic societies together, along with others, he brought into being Forward in Faith. It was a very fragile venture at first but soon he was joined by other significant players, Fr Geoffrey Kirk being one who remained at his side from 1992 until stepping down as National Secretary of Forward in Faith in 2010. Under John’s leadership, Forward in Faith was very quickly formed and became a force with which to be reckoned. As a senior member of General Synod, he contended with the bishops and with the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament on behalf of traditional members of the Church of England seeking an ecclesial provision that would allow them, with integrity, to remain in the Church of England and to prosper and grow. He and Fr Kirk produced a paper on Alternative Episcopal Oversight, to which the House of Bishops response was the Episcopal Act of Synod (1993) which made provision for extended Episcopal care.

Not exactly what they had asked for, but just enough for catholic life and work to continue within the Church of England. The existence and effectiveness of the ministry of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors has been well rehearsed and, more importantly, experienced by the both faithful priests and people.

Growing into life

Very quickly Forward in Faith grew to be the largest voluntary society within the Church of England with more than 30,000 registered supporters. In time the organisation became a membership society. The bonus was that membership subscriptions made Forward in Faith financialy secure. From the outset John insisted that the organisation should be fully democratic with laity and clergy having an equal say in its vision and the programme of action to achieve that vision. Apart from a small number of co-options to its membership made each year by the National Council, every voting member of that body owes his or her place to election by the wider membership. Every year, members elect representatives to the National Assembly which is the body that mandates the National Council’s work and direction of travel.

When he was made Bishop of Fulham, true to his democratic principles, John offered his resignation as chairman. He remained in that office at the express request of the National Council. In the early days the National Council had the feel of being a gathering of friends who met to brain storm about their plight and possible solutions to it. But under his chairmanship, it very quickly became a well organised and efficient management group with an executive group, and a secretariat ably headed by Stephen Parkinson. Folk had real confidence in the organisation as it continued to prosecute the cause of catholic Anglicans who had been increasingly marginalised within the life of dioceses. Evidence of this confidence is witnessed by the number of financial gifts and bequests that it continues to receive to ensure that Forward in Faith’s voice will be heard.

At home, under his chairmanship, Forward in Faith established a significant niche for itself among teaching resources. New Directions, among the best monthly journals playing a serious contribution in the ongoing debate about Catholic Faith and Order as well as other matters – was sent to members, to every bishop and, to all the members of General Synod. Forward Plus, a newspaper style publication, was offered free for distribution in every registered parish and has proved itself ideal for use as a tool for mission. FORWARD, a weekly pew sheet, provides good teaching on its cover and space for local news. And, there has been the very successful work with children and young people through SHEEPDIP and the weekly catechism resource Forward Teaching.

on the road

He took a team of colleagues around England in a series of road shows. In part they were about encouraging members and drumming up support. But their purpose was also about stating with clarity the reason why the Church of England was wrong to break with the Church, East and West, by admitting women to the priesthood. John Broadhurst has always been clear that opposition to the ordination of women is entirely based upon theological and ecclesial principle and has nothing to do with being anti women.

Outside England, he travelled extensively and established firm and lasting mutually supportive relationships with traditionalists across the Anglican Communion. In the USA and Australia traditionalist groupings became part of the Forward in Faith family, and the organisation went international, with John, who proved to be a trusted confidante to many in harder places than England, became its international chairman. John Broadhurst is not a little Englander but an ecumenist with a real sense of the Universal Church and a passionate commitment to her unity. It was not surprising that very quickly the organisation had active and beneficial relationships with traditionalist Lutherans in Scandinavia and with the Polish National Catholic Church in America. National Assemblies held in London always had a strong contingent of observers from its sister societies and from other churches.

Ecumenical domension

His ecumenical commitment was in evidence when Forward in Faith established the working party that produced Consecrated Women. In the construction of its membership, before names were spoken of, it was firmly in his sights that the group should include ecumenical representatives and, he insisted, that they should not be invited to be observers but participants. The Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain provided Bishop Kallistos, now Metropolitan of Diokleia, and the Archbishop of Westminster provided Fr Aidan Nichols OP both of whom made robust and helpful contributions to the working party’s deliberations. John remains grateful to them and to their Archbishops for such warm and generous companionship in the Gospel. The working party also consulted beyond its membership with, for example, Mary Tanner and Bishop David Hope, then Archbishop of York. The agenda and purpose of the working party was the pursuit of truth and it was firmly intent on avoiding devising a ‘party statement’. It was a matter of disappointment that the Methodists, who were known to hold opposing views on the issue of the ordination of women, declined to participate. John was a member of the working party but he neither chaired it nor wrote the final report, always being concerned to recognise that his colleagues were as responsible for its work and report as he was himself. One of his character traits is that he has always been open to and warmly and generously received the benefit of their knowledge and gifts. When the Report was ready for publication, although some expected that, as chairman of Forward in Faith, he might assume the prime place at its launch, John stood aside to allow its editor, Fr Jonathan Baker, to fill that role.

Face and voice

John Broadhurst became the public face and voice of Forward in Faith in print, on radio and on television. Unafraid to state the case for orthodox teaching and behaviour on behalf of traditional Catholics, he willingly accepted the invitation to go on BBC’s Hard Talk and to face a rigorous grilling of his beliefs and position he held and represented. He is well known for his sharpness and, at times for his seemingly unguarded and stinging remarks, but those who know him well will also tell of a man who is pastorally sensitive and kind. He is not as thick skinned as people might think, and as he may pretend. There was ample evidence of his softer side when he came to the National Council to tell members of his decision to step down as chairman of Forward in Faith. We saw a graciousness but also a vulnerability that few see. Although he is firmly convinced of the rightness of the decisions he is making about his own future, he is finding leaving the organisation he founded and the friends who have kept him company in the struggle, some from the very beginning, quite painful and costly. However, he has readily recognised that because his future is in another place, his energy and his commitment must be given to the Lord in that place.

Dropping the pilot

When we reflect on the role he has played in our lives, as persons and as traditional Catholics and our longing for that honoured place that the Church of our baptism has promised us but now seems firmly set on denying to us, those of us remaining have cause to offer heartfelt thanks for so many things that John has shared with us, but above all that he has shown us how to be courageous and true in our work for the Lord and his Church. And, we should offer thanks that he has bequeathed to us a strong Forward in Faith and the new generation of younger leaders who are already emerging and who already demonstrate their ability to take on his role.

He and we need always to remember that the Tiber is not very wide and that we have good friends on both its banks. May we be diligent in our prayers for one another. ND