Robin Jones and John Caster reflect on the Southern Sacred Synod

He holds him with his glittering eye-
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

As the Catholic clergy of the Southern Province of the Church of England gathered on the 24th of September, there were no doubt many questions about our near and long-term future. Where will future ministry exist for Anglo- Catholic clergy?

Like the wedding guest in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner (referenced by Fr Jonathan Baker in his address to the Synod), many of those present at the Synod approached the tale which would unfold with a certain level of trepidation. In the two sessions, it could be argued that many left with more questions than with which they had arrived.

And now the storm-blast came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

Fr Baker set the tone by describing, from an insider’s perspective, the present situation for Anglo-Catholics as a result of the actions of the General Synod. Considering the July Synod in light of the recent Papal visit, Fr Baker drew on the Pope’s addresses and argued that Anglo-Catholicism remains where the Church is; it is simply others who have moved. Benedict’s call to a fidelity to the word of God which was ‘free of intellectual conformism’ and a deeper devotion to the Eucharist in ‘sacramental and liturgical life’ was called for. This was echoed in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement that ‘Bishops are servants of the unity of Christ’s people’.

This understanding not only presents challenges in our present situation, but also focuses us on our priorities for a positive outcome. On the other hand, the synodical process had provided a negative contrast. What Fr Baker described as a ‘Blitzkrieg’ of amendments in the revision committee and the eventual rejection of the Archbishop’s amendment in the July synod gave no reason to believe that the legislation would be revised or substantially altered.

Aiden Hargreaves-Smith spoke from a lay perspective on the current situation. He was keen to point out that clergy should be aware that they are ‘loved and supported’ and that laity shared in a process of ‘mutual responsibility’. He reminded those present that laity need active support and encouragement. Urging those present to remember that no one has ‘a monopoly’ on the Catholic faith, he warned that precipitated action might not be the best way forward in a context of doom and gloom. He also pressed the importance of the current synod elections.

The Bishops of Ebbsfleet, Richborough, and Fulham spoke of the Ordinariate and the potential this model could hold for Anglo-Catholics. Andrew Burnham’s, referencing his oft quoted ‘Rita’ (Rome is the answer), considered the Ordinariate as a fulfilment of the Catholic societies’ desire for corporate reunion. He opined that the eventual outcome for the Church of England was that of a “branch [which] would wither”, whereas the Ordinariate had been devised in conjunction with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He could not see a possibility of any form of independent jurisdiction in the CofE after numerous rejections. Keith Newton acknowledged that there were many ‘unanswered questions’ and that, in reality, the ordinariate was ‘not for all of you – it may not be for most of you’. Though unable to provide exact details about timescales, clergy housing and stipends, he was emphatic in his belief that these issues would be dealt with, not least of all because the Catholic Churches authorities would not wish to be placed in the position of having failed people. He urged for channels of ‘communication and affection’ to be kept open. John Broadhurst spoke of Forward in Faith’s original vision for ‘unity and truth’ and the desire for jurisdiction and freedom in a form which takes our ‘culture, history, and people’ seriously, which he argued would be best served in an Ordinariate.

Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The lighthouse top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own country?

The Ordinariate was not the only model for future ministry presented, and, indeed, the second proposal presented was obviously the reason for this Synod. Bishop Mark Sowerby introduced the alternative as the Missionary Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda, which aims to ‘organise a structure inside the Church of England’. This model had been revealed the previous day at the Northern Synod. There was little detail beyond which Bishops had given their support at this point, with the intention of showing the Church of England that there remained thousands of laity and clergy opposed to the current innovations.

Fr David Clues also spoke in favour of such a model talking of the history and context of his parish in Willesden. He pointed to the generations of faithful laity and clergy who, despite numerous attempts, recent and past, to keep the Catholic faith alive and active. Such a society model had the potential to allow this unbroken link to continue.

During the two sessions of this Synod, it was clear that there exists enthusiasm for one option or the other, but there are also many who have yet to discern where their future ministry lies. To be fair, very much was discussed about the practicalities for clergy without a great deal of information given to possible modes of mission and evangelisation to the respective flocks. As John Broadhurst reminded the assembly, “’You can’t join something that doesn’t exist.” Possibilities have been presented, and those affected will need to see details and continue to practice patience and charity with their brethren. Nevertheless, there are rumours of viability and those who may have felt themselves without a future may see openings of hope. The participants, unlike the wedding guest, had no reason to be sadder, even if they left not much wiser. ND