In the second part of his address to a gathering at St Martin’s, Salisbury, Colin Podmore reflects on the ‘shared future’ to which the Church of England has committed itself.

Disparities of power

In the first part of my address I may have said more than some wanted to hear about the past; but the past lives on in the present, so it forms part of the context for our shared future. I turn now to one other aspect of our present context: power. Any attempt to live together must acknowledge the power relationships at play. In many dioceses there is no traditional catholic in any position of leadership or influence. The senior staff and the diocesan advisers may not feel powerful, but that is how others perceive them, and in relationships perception is all. By contrast, many catholic parishes are marginal in more than one sense: when I go to a town and try to find the catholic parish, I look for the railway line: the catholic parish is bound to be on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks. Many of our congregations are in poor and disadvantaged areas. That is a strength as well as a weakness, because they are much more immune than the metropolitan middle classes to the winds of fashionable opinion. Many of our congregations have a significant ethnic minority element – again, that is a strength. But in any engagement between a white middle-class, male bishop or archdeacon and a black working-class female churchwarden, in a diocese in which no one of any influence shares the churchwarden’s views (and that is quite a common scenario across the country), the bishop or archdeacon must recognize the need to bend over backwards to equalize as far as possible the multiple inequalities. I fear that few of them have any sense of this at all. I spend a significant part of my life responding to requests from humble and faithful laywomen for advice on how to avoid being out-manoeuvred by powerful ordained men.

The House of Bishops’ Declaration and the Five Guiding Principles

The charter for our shared future is the House of Bishops’ Declaration. The Five Guiding Principles differ markedly from the ‘ABBA’ approach of the failed legislation (‘The winner takes it all, the loser standing small.’) The drafters saw them as ‘something around which all those who aspire to keep the Church of England as a broad church might gather’. They commented, ‘We are perhaps at a moment when the only way forward is one which makes it difficult for anyone to claim outright victory’ (GS 1886, p. 8). Some may have hoped the ordination of women as bishops could somehow be prevented. It couldn’t, and that has to be accepted. Equally, others may have hoped for a Church of England in which all must accept the ministrations of women as bishops and priests. That isn’t going to happen either. Part of our shared future is accepting the Church of England as she is, rather than as we might like her to be. If you want a pure church, look elsewhere, though I doubt you’ll find one of any size.

The first Principle speaks of respect for lawful office-holders: mutual respect is an indispensable basis for living together. It speaks also of canonical obedience. Owing canonical obedience to someone from whom you cannot receive sacramental episcopal ministry is not ideal, but neither is it unprecedented – in the Church of England or the Church Catholic. As a catholic Christian, I’d rather have a bishop ministering under the Declaration who isn’t an Ordinary than an Ordinary who isn’t a bishop (as is the case in in the Ordinariate).

The second Principle speaks of à clear decision’. Even the clearest of decisions may not last for all time, and no one can be forced to believe it to be right. But we have reached a settlement, and I doubt there will be much patience with anyone who seeks to overturn it. Before long there will probably be a group for rescinding the House of Bishops’ Declaration; but I cannot believe anyone will have much interest in re-opening the decision anytime soon.

The third Principle speaks of a ‘process of discernment within . . . the whole Church of God’. The technical term for that is ‘reception’ – the idea that ultimately a doctrine or, in this case, a practice may come to be received by the whole Church or rejected by the whole Church. With a humility not given to all churches, the Church of England acknowledges that its ‘clear decision’ may ultimately be found to be a wrong decision.

The fourth Principle does what the previous legislation failed to do. It recognizes that the position of people like me is one of ‘theological conviction’, and furthermore it recognizes that conviction as one that is authentically Anglican. The Church of England commits itself to enabling us to flourish.

The fifth Principle promises pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority without limit of time. It speaks of ‘the highest possible degree of communion’ and ‘mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England’. The reference to a ‘degree of communion’ is significant, not least because it recognizes that full communion no longer exists.

The House of Bishops has decided that acceptance of these principles should now be a condition of ordination. Forward in Faith is committed to them wholeheartedly.

The key concept underlying the first fifteen paragraphs of the House of Bishops’ Declaration is that of diversity. I would ask every diocese, ‘What are you doing to foster diversity on this issue?’ In some dioceses there are 25, or 30, or 50 traditional catholic parishes; but elsewhere there are very few. In this diocese of Salisbury, for example, there are just four traditional catholic churches left. I would say to the majority: I hope you regard these as precious exotic flowers. I’m sure you’re not pulling up those plants, but are you treasuring them? Are you clearing away any weeds that might choke them? Are you watering them copiously? The promise is not that we will be allowed to exist: the Church of England is committed to our flourishing. What do you need to do to ensure that these little plants, so crucial to the bio-diversity of this diocese, will flourish in their difference?

The questions to the minority are different. Looking at Principle 4: What are you contributing to the Church of England’s life? What part are you playing in its structures? And in the light of Principle 5, how are you manifesting the degree of communion that we continue to share with the rest of the Church of England, flowing from our common baptism and our common profession of the apostolic faith? The Council of Bishops of The Society has published two statements that offer our people guidance on those issues, under the title Communion, Catholicity and a Catholic Life. In the first statement the bishops make this comment:

‘Our communion with the rest of the Church of England must be characterized by the love (charity) that arises from our common life in Christ: our love for the Church of England, for its people, structures and mission. As in any family, after a time of disagreement and tension the recovery of love involves a recollection of common identity and mutual belonging.’ (para. 4.1)

The journey that brought us here has involved pain on all sides, and that is not going to be healed overnight. Those who have felt unwanted and discriminated against are not going to recover their trust in the Church of England and its structures overnight. Trust has to be earned. Anyone who thinks that, now the war is over, we can just forget all about that and work together immediately has little understanding of how human relationships work. People are only going to emerge from their bunkers or ghettos when they feel secure, and they will only feel secure when the necessary resolution has been passed and has been accepted with good grace, and without quibbling, by the diocesan bishop. (I’m afraid the ham-fisted responses of a few bishops have not been calculated to foster goodwill.) That process is going on at the moment. Only when it is complete will there be that general sense of security that will make more relaxed engagement possible.

But our bishops are calling us, as traditional catholics in the Church of England, to a recovery of love for our church and its people, and we must respond to that call as soon as we can. The first statement also sets out what we can hope to contribute to the Church of England’s mission and growth. It would be interesting to see how much of that others can affirm. In their second statement, the bishops offer guidance on how our parishes, clergy, and people can respond to the Fifth Guiding Principle. They offer a list of what they believe this should involve and add, ‘Such participation in the life of the diocese and the wider Church of England will be an expression of the love (charity) that is an essential characteristic of the communion that flows from our common baptism.’ Most important will be what this gathering offers us – the opportunity to re-kindle relationships and to make new ones. Only love can shape a common future that is more than mere co-existence within the same space. Only in the context of conversation and relationship can such love be recovered and grow. ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of your love.’


Dr Colin Podmore is Director of Forward in Faith.