Much of this issue of NEW DIRECTIONS is devoted to the proceedings of the 2014 National Assembly of Forward in Faith. What a splendid occasion it turned out to be. An outstanding sermon from our newest bishop-designate; challenging but also heartening reflections on urban ministry and vocations; hands-on, can-do and business-like presentations from Forward in Faith’s Director, Treasurer and Webmaster; a vision-casting address from the new Chairman. And all framed by inspiring worship, with the Blessed Sacrament at its foundation – the Body of the Lord, offered, received and adored. It was a joy to be there, and to be part of something which genuinely feels once again like a movement: the pilgrim people of God, a people on the Way. The elections for membership of the Council were especially encouraging. Wisdom and experience were acknowledged, in the re-election of Frs Ian Brooks and David Houlding; but so too was youth and potential. Fr Corbett, Fr McCormack, and Mr Carter are all young enough to have worshipped as student members of the congregation of Pusey House, Oxford, in the last decade. They each have much to bring to the table. The only disappointment is that, with only five places available to be filled, a young laywoman did not quite make the cut (this time). Forward in Faith has many able and talented members who are women. We need to ensure that our female membership is better reflected among the leadership. (For now, welcome back, Dr Lindsay Newcombe.)
This is a good time to be a member of Forward in Faith. To all our members: the next bit is easy. All you have to do in 2015 is recruit one new member of Forward in Faith. Just one. Or more if you like….but one. Please. Will you do that?
We are almost certainly only weeks away from learning the name of the first woman who will be appointed to the office of Bishop in the Church of England. It will be a peculiar burden which the first tranche of consecrated women will bear. The Archbishop of Canterbury has described the coming of women bishops as a ‘completely new phase’ in the life of the Church of England. That has always been one of the dilemmas of ordaining women as bishops: is it a new thing, or an old thing – episcopal ministry – done in a new way? What is undeniable is that the first women to become bishops will bear an extraordinary burden of expectation. Whatever the bright spots, the latest set of statistics about Church of England attendance makes chilling reading. A 1% decline year on year across a decade in Average Weekly Attendance. A 9% drop in electoral rolls since the last revision. 97 confirmation candidates altogether in Truro Diocese in 2013; 117 in Derby. Bath and Wells has 3,000 worshippers under 17, and 11,500 over 70. In Lincoln, the figures are 2,900 and 9,000 respectively. You do not need a doctorate to, as they say, do the math. It is in this context that the first women will step up to episcopal ministry, and the really unfair thing is not that some Church of England folk will be unable to receive their sacramental ministry, but that many more will invest them with extraordinary (and fantastical) powers of prompting revival and turning decline into growth. Whoever is the first – and second, third and fourth – to be appointed, Forward in Faith says to women who will be made bishops: we pray for you, we rejoice in all that we can do together, in our partnership in the Gospel; and we hope very much that the inflated expectations of others will not lead to your being built up, only then to be knocked down.
Meanwhile, there is scarcely space to mention the response of the Welsh bishops to the representations of Credo Cymru concerning the Code of Practice which is on offer to traditionalists in the Province. This is just as well, as this Editorial might otherwise exhibit a worrying lack of charity to brothers and sisters in Christ. That, of course, would never do, and would be a cause of huge embarrassment, shame and regret.
We enjoyed Sally Muggeridge’s defence of Master as a gender-neutral title, based on the practice of Oxford and Cambridge colleges and City of London Livery Companies. Christmas chocolate is on the way to our prizewinner. And to all readers of NEW DIRECTIONS, Christmas cheer! ND