Ian McCormack on a conference held to discuss the current situation in the Church of England and the need to focus on the Church’s mission rather than present difficulties

In his sermon on National Apostasy, preached in the University Church in Oxford on 14 July 1833, John Keble maintained that Christians had a duty to undertake two things when surrounded by a rising tide of apostasy. The first is intercession, and indeed at his parish church in Hursley, after the Gorham judgment of 1850, public prayers were said ‘for the whole Church of England in her present distress’ whenever the Litany was recited or the Holy Communion celebrated. The second duty is Remonstrance. ‘Remonstrance, calm, distinct, and persevering, in public and in private, direct and indirect, by word, look, and demeanour, is the unequivocal duty of every Christian, according to his opportunities, when the Church landmarks are being broken down.

Meeting at Ascot

It was perhaps in something of this spirit that a small group of young people – women and men; committed laity, ordinands, deacons and priests – met at Ascot Priory in early March for a conference to discuss ‘the present distress’ of the Church of England, and possible ways forward. Five papers were presented, on topics ranging from Mary as a model for ministry, via some ecclesiology through to an example of Catholic mission in North London (see elsewhere in this edition). Ascot Priory, with its rich history of loyal service to Christ’s Church – and the Church Union’s Ascot Statement on Church and Ministry from 1988 – was a fine place for us to meet. The Conference was generously sponsored by the Cleaver Trust.

The Gospel imperative

As one might expect, we were a varied group of people with a consonantly wide range of opinions about the present situation and what the future might hold for us. What became clear, however, is that those present want to focus not on current difficulties – Synod will do what Synod will do, and beyond the duty of prayer there is little that most of us can do to alter substantially that decision – but on the mission of God’s Church.

Where we are and how we got here is important; as is the direction in which we are headed. But the Gospel imperative is to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.’ This must always be our priority, and our joy. Furthermore, Good News is all around us, and we need to recognize and rejoice in that fact. We also need to promote, develop and enhance it. As a Church and as a movement we are prone to focus on the negatives. There are valid reasons for this, of course, but it must not be at the expense of forgetting or sidelining what is good in our movement.

Practical steps

What practical things can help us in this? In our discussions there was strong support for widening the Church’s concept of Vocation: too often young people who give voice to a possible vocation are set immediately along the path to priesthood, without consideration of other possibilities. The Church needs to value those men and women who are committed to actively serving Christ as lay people. A more coherent approach across the Church as a whole to the work of pastoral assistants might be of help here.

There is also room for a wider understanding of training (perhaps offered specifically by and for traditionalists), so as to equip both laity and clergy to answer Christ’s call. The fact that one diocese is soon to abolish compulsory CME in favour of a ‘self-select’ model of ongoing training gives an idea of the potential for this concept. Several other ideas were discussed, all of which pointed to the fact that what our movement is for – the Mission of Christ’s Church with a Catholic understanding of Holy Order and the Sacraments – is what should define us.

Duty to fight

Our movement has within its ranks, as it always has done, clergy, ordinands and faithful laity who are among the youngest, brightest, and most committed in the Church of England. It is our duty to fight for the faith, and to make remonstrance against those who would seek to destroy it. What better way could there be of so doing than by being proud of our Good News, and of celebrating it loudly, so that the rest of the Church of England cannot help but sit up and take notice?

The New Oxford Movement – Statement We call on Forward in Faith to:

Celebrate and give thanks for all that is good in the Universal Church;

Encourage and promote the Mission of the Church to the people of this land, that more souls might be won for Christ;

Equip all Christ’s people to further the Kingdom of Heaven;

Dedicate this year’s national assembly to a celebration of mission and evangelism in our parishes. ND