Nicholas Turner is conscious of our responsibilities

What a great article that was last month from Fr Grant Naylor, recounting his visit to the Diocese of Kofuidua in Ghana. Seven orthodox Anglican dioceses in that country, no doubt with many problems, but bursting with youth and energy Such ecclesiastical travel writing makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I warmed to his initial ambiguity about what it means to be Anglican and his scepticism about the communion, and yet the bit which encouraged me most was his reference to Bishop Francis’ `visit to St Helen’s parish when, during the interregnum in the See of Beverley, he confirmed 8 of our candidates, thus maintaining that great Anglo-Catholic tradition of importing far-flung bishops:

I once served in a small Anglican diocese in the tropics, and so am now in the process of advertising for a priest to serve out there. True, it is in many ways very different to Kofuidua, being the smallest diocese in the Anglican Communion, comprising the tiny island of St Helena and its dependency, Ascension Island, 700 miles to the north. As a British Overseas Territory, it looks to England, even if in church terms it is part of the (now liberal) province of Southern Africa.

Important for all

What happens in the Church of England does matter to Anglicans abroad. The most vivid reminder of this for me came in 1992. We were driving up to Green Mountain to the little farm built by the Royal Marines in the early nineteenth century, for the monthly Mass there, when the BBC World Service News, for which we had been waiting all day, announced the result of the General Synod vote on women priests. I could still paint you the entire picture on that mountain road and pick out every tree; that historic moment of loss, with an intense sense of what it means to be cut off.

In formal terms, it made no difference at all, for the Southern African vote had already been taken, and was not going to be ratified by St Helena diocese anyway. But there is a quality of given-ness that is inextricably part of what we mean by the tradition of the Church. As a simple matter of history, what happens in the Church of England will always be hugely important to all who are Anglican, wherever they are.

Avoiding isolation

By the grace of God, and another Synod vote, we shall by now be looking to The Society as the framework within which to continue to be part of the Church. What has for so long been an almost paper exercise becomes now our new ecclesial home. Despite the early disappointment of the Ordinariate, we must hope for eventual union with the full Catholic Church; but while we continue our ministry as Anglo-Catholics, it will be within The Society. What then of those Anglo-Catholic parts of our communion that have gained their heritage and tradition from the same well-spring as have we? What role will The Society play for those who are not formal members of it?

At the time of writing, the vote is still to come. I think I know howl shall feel. I wonder what they will be thinking in Ghana or St Helena, when they hear what has been decided thousands of miles away.

We still have a responsibility beyond our shores. FiF always understood this, and has extended to the United States and Australia, and in a less formal way to Scandinavia, but this still leaves many dioceses and other havens of Anglo-Catholic tradition as yet untouched. Some, because of their British culture, are clearly dependent on strong links with England. Others, young and growing, may have quite different priorities, and find much less support in our English forms. But there must be some way in which our mutual responsibility can express itself.

The practicalities will come later, and how far they will mirror the forms created by our Evangelical brethren, I would not like to guess; but do see it as part of our vocation — this responsibility for our brothers and sisters overseas. It should surely help us to avoid the isolation of the ghetto, into which the liberal majority hope to put us. And we will in the end learn more than we can ever teach, and receive more than we can ever give.