Daniel Howard reports on the 19th Forward in Faith National Assembly
This year’s National Assembly of Forward in Faith was the first I have attended. I certainly hope
it will not be my last. Every year I listen to the speakers as they inform our constituency about the latest developments, struggles and hopes for the immediate future. National Assemblies of years gone by had been about our struggle. This year was different.
At the heart of the assembly was a strong element of positivity, without succumbing to naivety. Throughout the course of the weekend constant updates were flowing from both Twitter and Facebook keeping the assembly up to the minute regarding developments from our friends who could sadly not be with us. The buzz word was, and continues to be over the course of these coming weeks and months: ‘#followingmotion’. (Twitter users will get this point!)
It was energizing to hear that our friends were, as the Bishop of Beverley constantly reminds us, “of good courage’ being a truly Incarnational presence within their local Diocese’ embodying our cause with, as Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ so aptly describes, ‘great grace and charity’.
This approach clearly paid off and the assembly rejoiced with applause as news of results from Blackburn, Wakefield and Winchester were duly announced from the stage. Following motions had been passed, some by a considerable margin.
This, however, is only part of the story. The main focus of our assembly was to come together and be blessed by one another as we continue in the service of the Gospel in the light of uncertain times. Those in attendance were reminded of the plight of many of the Fathers of the Oxford Movement who had suffered as a result of calling the Church of England back to its Catholic roots and heritage. In my eyes, the highlight of the agenda was to hear my friends talk passionately about the creation of a new movement in the spirit of our forebears. A thoroughly welcome call came from Clare Rabjohns as she challenged Forward in Faith as a whole to reconsider and have discussion surrounding the ministry of women within the Church – a powerful statement that was long overdue.
In his first address as Chairman, Bishop Jonathan Baker outlined our history once more, recognizing the failures of times gone by and presenting a strong case for our future life together.
The Bishop recalled that this life is borne out in the unique ministry of traditional Catholics stating that the proposed legislation lacked the traditional inclusiveness of Anglican ecclesiology. Furthermore, our new Chairman noted that such a ministry is deeply valued by those who are in disagreement with us. It was particularly powerful to hear that area Bishops recognize that Churches under extended episcopal care are often the best at embodying the traditional values of Anglican parish ministry.
Bishop Jonathan’s passionate speech provoked due applause from those gathered and touched heavily upon the devotional address of the Bishop of Plymouth. At the heart of Bishop John’s address was the notion of ‘abiding’. As Catholic Anglicans it goes without saying that we find our fullest expression within the mystery of the celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, our hopes and fears for the future were gathered at the altar in the packed Church of Christ the King, Gordon Square. Here the Mass was celebrated within the earthly Jerusalem, our visible and united Church, gathered around a united Episcopate.
Within our celebration we partook and were joined together with the invisible Church, as we celebrated our truly unique patrimony by raising the roof to ‘Joy to Thee, Queen! Within Thine Ancient Dowry’. This is our abiding: abiding and being transformed by the love of God in the Eucharist, abiding with the people of God by ministering in today’s world, and abiding with the whole Church to build up the Kingdom.
As a young Anglo-Catholic exploring a call to priesthood one is acutely aware of the issues the Church is facing. One is often aware of the desperation of the situation and ponders how this in turn relates to a possible priestly vocation within the Church of England; but, gathering together for worship, listening to one another, spending time with like-minded people and old friends, and perhaps more than anything, discussing a possibly tenable future was a joyous relief. And thus this assembly left me re-energized, passionately Anglican but unapologetically Catholic – ‘a certain call in uncertain times’. Let us pray that our Dioceses, General Synod and the House of Bishops will be gracious to us, enabling us to ‘get off the battlefield and into the mission field’. It is in this light that the assembly was charged to move ‘Forward in Faith’. ND