In September Colin Podmore addressed a gathering at St Martin’s, Salisbury. He began by reflecting on the background to the House of Bishops’ Declaration.
When I have told people in some other dioceses about this event, organized under the title ‘Our Shared Future: Catholic Anglican Perspectives’ as part of the Diocese of Salisbury’s Continuing Ministerial Development Programme, the response has been one of incredulity. That says something. Our shared life together, ‘our shared future’, will only make sense if it involves fellowship, and that must involve conversation.
As our brief for today reminds us, ‘for over 20 years we have wrestled with this issue, sometimes painfully’, but I fear that for much of that time the wrestling didn’t involve much real conversation. There was too much inhabiting of separate spheres, the failed legislation was based on debate in formal contexts, not real conversation, and the result was the car crash of November 2012. It was conversation that produced the solution. I want to pay tribute to the role of the organizer of this event, Canon Jane Charman, as a member of the Steering Committee, in the conversations that produced the House of Bishops’ Declaration.
Part of today’s agenda is to look at what needs to be done in our church and what we might do together, where we might make common cause, but we mustn’t put the cart before the horse. Co-operation is only possible where there is a relationship. Therefore, after twenty years of division, the first task is to restore relationships. I want to sketch some of the background, as I see it, to that prior task.
We are asked to ‘take stock of the journey so far’ – an invitation that no historian could refuse! We can’t begin to shape our life together unless we understand our past. Such reflection mustn’t be an exercise in ‘looking back in anger’. Anger is emotionally and spiritually destructive, and recrimination is not the mark of a Christian. The text that I urge all members of Forward in Faith, especially those with long memories, to place over their computer keyboard is 1 Corinthians 13.5: ‘Love keeps no score of wrongs.’ But I do need to speak of pain, marginalization and the scars of battle: their effects live on.
I begin with the grief and pain of 11 November 1992. In his sermon ‘The Church on the Cross’ later that month, Geoffrey Rowell spoke of ‘the deep trauma of bereavement’ experienced by many faithful Anglicans: ‘There is a sense – quite understandable in the light of Anglican ecclesiology – of the shattering of a whole way of understanding the Church of England. The blow has been struck on one small corner of the glass, but the fissures and cracks run wild.’ I am old enough to remember the pre-1994 Church of England – a church whose ordained ministry was visibly congruent with that of the Church throughout the world and across the ages, a church in full communion with itself, with a fully interchangeable ministry that all its members could fully receive. The loss of that caused me pain. How much worse must it have been for those who were older? Bereavement hits people in different ways. It can be debilitating, it can manifest itself in anger, bitterness or withdrawal, its effect can be delayed. Bad behaviour can never be justified, but it can be explained, understood and forgiven.
Time heals, as bereavement recedes, but is the healing ever complete? There is pain in the continuing situation. I find it painful that, as a lay person, I can no longer just turn up at a parish church on a Sunday morning and expect to be able to receive communion. In many rural areas, if I didn’t have a car, I would effectively be deprived of the sacraments. Does anyone in authority in any of those dioceses care about that? It is hard not to feel resentful, even though I know it isn’t a Christian emotion. I am far from claiming a monopoly of pain, nor even that our pain is greater than that on the other side: there is no point in competitive pain. I am not asking those who disagree with me to feel my pain: you can’t, any more than I can feel the pain of a woman whose episcopal or priestly ministry others cannot receive. All we can ask of each other is that we acknowledge that there is pain on the other side and try to forgive its consequences. Happily the traditional catholic bishops are now ordaining each year significant numbers of priests who have no sense of bereavement or loss, for the simple reason that they are too young to have any memory of what the Church of England used to be like. In my observation, younger generations on both sides live together more easily. ND
To be continued next month.