Philip North explains why the Catholic Movement
needs a changed mindset to re-engage with the wider CofE
Last month I offered a survey of what the Catholic Movement offers the Church of England, So why then do we find ourselves
in this mess? Why is Synod so consistently reluctant to offer the provision that we need? And why do we need to have this conversation at all? Why is it that we feel a need to justify ourselves? Why are we failing to make the contribution to the wider church that we should?
Partly the reasons are not of our own making. There is a strong, liberalizing tendency in the Church of England that finds us awkward and an embarrassment. We have been constantly misrepresented and deliberately misunderstood by those who find orthodoxy a blockage to the implementation of a very different agenda. However I want to leave that on one side. Part of the problem of this debate is that everybody wants to feel persecuted and we end up with a rather pointless pain competition. So let’s leave the feeling that we are being sidelined and marginalized to one side.
One tradition within many
Because a great deal of the problem lies with us and with the ethos and mentality of the Catholic Movement. We came into being in order to convince the Church of England of its catholic identity. We exist for the conversation with the wider church, and yet somehow we have allowed ourselves to be ghetto-ized and we have ended up talking to nobody except each another. Why?
The first mistake, I suspect, was to allow ourselves to become a tradition within the Church rather than a movement calling for the reform and renewal of the whole. The Church of England has a wonderful way of dealing with difficult or challenging new opinions or movements which is to domesticate them by labelling them as one of the ‘traditions’ or ‘constituencies’ that make up a diverse church. A new group or movement is given its own little space and allowed to go on saying what it thinks as long as the others have equal space.
You can see this phenomenon happening very clearly at the moment with Fresh Expressions.
You hear people talking about ‘Fresh Expressions Worship’ and ‘Fresh Expressions Churches’. That movement was intended to change our whole way of thinking about the way the church is structured for mission and yet we are making it into just another tradition or a fourth subset of Anglican life. It is a marvellous way of taming rebellion. And that is what happened to us. We accepted our role as one tradition amongst many and so became more absorbed with the health of our own constituency than trying to change the mindset and thinking of others.
We then allowed ourselves to become respectable and establishment. We had Bishops and Archbishops and were increasingly given a responsibility for the whole church. That may not seem like bad news, but once you become respectable, you lose your appeal to the young. You have to compromise your views in order to make them acceptable to the wider church. And then the seeds of division began to open up with the development of a more extreme, papalist Anglo-Catholic wing determined to keep alive the atmosphere of rebellion and naughtiness. That latter group began to develop an ethos of exclusivity, a feeling that they alone were in possession of the truth and displayed an archness, even a distance, to those of other persuasions.
Then, over the issue ofwomen’s ordination, the movement divided and did so with considerable bitterness. One group accepted the development but have since struggled to articulate their position as catholic in the sense defined by the founders of the movement. Another group doggedly maintained an orthodox position but felt under attack, unwanted and at times persecuted.
A ghetto movement
And that is where we find ourselves today. The traditionalist Anglo-Catholic movement, for all sorts of complicated reasons, has developed a mentality of apartness. We have become a ghetto movement. We use ceremony, rites and ritual to mark ourselves off from others. The PEV system
has given us our own Bishops which means we can stand aloof from Diocesan structures. We have used the Forward in Faith statement on communion to justify some very extreme theological stances which have opened us up to the charge of having a theology of taint. We mix only with our own and clergy often boast about openly their non-engagement with Deanery, Diocese and colleagues of other traditions. We have a deeply ingrained culture of cynicism and of criticism of the wider church. We want provision in order to have a sanctuary, our own safe space where we can go on worshipping in the way we like whilst ignoring what is happening in the rest of the church.
True to our roots
I am of course stating my case deliberately very strongly. What I am describing is a shared ethos rather than seeking to attack the attitudes or behaviour of individuals. The vast majority of our priests work incredibly hard and are wonderful pastors and shepherds. But I am sure that most of you will be able to see some grains of truth in what I am describing. And it can’t carry on. If the Anglo-Catholic movement is to have a future, we must change the mindset. Why? First because apartness is not our charism, and when a movement moves away from or betrays its charism, then death will soon follow. We came into being for the conversation. We came into being to bear witness to the truth of the catholic identity of the Church of England. That is what we are for, and if we are not engaging with others and having that conversation, we are not being true to our roots. Provision cannot and must not be a sanctuary. We must spurn safe places and ghettos.
Provision must be the springboard from which we can restart the work of witness and proclamation. To have a future, we need a new mood of engagement with the wider church, a fresh willingness to play our part and to make the sort of contribution that I was describing earlier. I am not talking about betraying deeply held convictions, I am not saying we should sell out or change our views. The very opposite is the case. There is no point in witnessing if we are going to change what we believe. But we do need to re-examine where the boundaries are and be prepared to push at the edges of conscience. Evangelism should never feel safe or comfortable.
And the second reason we need to change the mindset is the Ordinariate. For years many Anglo-Catholics dreamed of a structural solution from Rome, an easy way of slipping across en masse and achieving our ecumenical goal through conversion rather than
convergence. Well, our prayers were answered. That offer is now on the table. And we have declined it. The implications of accepting that offer and joining the Ordinariate are very clear. The people who have done so have shown great integrity and courage. But not joining the Ordinariate has equal implications. It is just as much a positive and life changing decision. The Holy Father has put an offer on the table for us as traditionalists, and we have said no.
That means that we have re-committed ourselves to an Anglican future. The bitter half-life we have lived since 1992 is no longer available to us. Nor is it acceptable to go on indefinitely limping along with two opinions, constantly threatening to leave and them never quite doing so. In many ways that is the most damaging option at all and it has meant that entire ministries have been put on hold. We must stay or go. If we think the game is up, the project has failed, we have lost the debate and the Church of England has embarked irreversibly along the course of state Protestantism, then we have no excuse any longer for remaining. But if we stay we must do so joyfully and positively, contributing richly and constructively to the life of the wider church. For we have so much to give, and the Church of England has so much it needs to receive.
Having the conversation
At a meeting of the College of Guardians at the start of the month, one of those around the table expressed the view that in the future there would inevitably be fewer Anglo-Catholics. I and some others opposed that presumption with some vigour. I looked around the five parish priests sitting at the table all of whom are running churches which have seen strong numerical growth. I thought about the large intake this year at St Stephen’s House, almost all traditionalists. I thought about the hordes of young people who continue to pack Walsingham for the Youth Pilgrimage. We are not a movement in decline! Death is not inevitable. We can turn this round, and if we really believe that we are guardians of important truths about the nature of Christ and his Church then we will turn it round. But we need a changed mindset if we are to fulfil our vocation and make the rich contribution to the life of the Church of England that we are called to make.
The days of Anglo-Catholic apartness must end and we must be prepared to re-engage with the wider Church at every level and in every way possible within the boundaries of conscience. Why? Because we exist for the conversation, and if we are not having the conversation or think we have lost the debate, there is no longer an excuse for sticking around. We change or we leave or we die. ND