As Candlemas marks a turning point in the calendar, it is also time to refocus our attention on flourishing together as one church, writes Hannah Cleugh

Candlemas marks a turning point. The Epiphany season ends with the infant Christ placed in aged, faithful hands, then recognized and proclaimed as the light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of God’s people Israel. Almost with relief we turn to a brief respite of ordinary, green time; we turn from festal celebration to the daily work of our celebration and proclamation, of learning to live faithfully, and to proclaim Christ when we see him. It is one of my favourite points of the calendar – bathed in glorious candlelight, but bittersweet, as we hear Simeon tell the Mother of Our Lord that a sword will pierce her own soul too. Before turns to after; we re-focus the lens and re-direct our attention.

A whole ministry

Such, beyond my imagination, was Candlemas Day – fair, bright, and very cold – in York Minster. A week earlier, I had been delighted to rejoice there at Libby Lane’s consecration. This was a day I had longed to see – a day when we would have a whole ministry, reflecting more fully the whole people of God, and better able to proclaim the wholeness of life Christ promises to his hurting world. I know that for many readers of this magazine, it does not seem like that; I know that it was a painful, or at least bittersweet, day for many of you.

And it was with some misgiving and a warmer pair of socks! – that I headed back to York on Candlemas. As last month’s editorial noted, anxieties had re-surfaced in the runup to Bishop Philip’s consecration: about impaired communion; about what it means to belong to the same church; about, sadly, ‘taint’; about recognition of Bishop Libby’s orders; and about the future. I shared some of these concerns very deeply. But I think my greatest fear was that after the incredible affirmation of Libby Lane’s ministry, our divisions would again be laid bare. I did not want our corporate support of the new Bishop of Burnley to seem grudging, nor for it to appear that – by whatever accident or design – traditional Catholics were being marginalized.

A good beginning

It didn’t. The service was wonderful, joyful, and hopeful. The particular arrangements did not – to me at least – seem odd, and nor did they suggest a church divided. Rather, they spoke to me of a church that is learning how to live together again. It was with a profound sense of eucbaristia that I received the sacrament alongside sisters and brothers – many of you – who would not be able to receive it from me. This seems a good beginning to living in ‘the highest possible degree of communion’, and nothing exemplified that more powerfully for me than the presence of the Revd Alice Whalley as deacon at the service.

Scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear. Neither our imperfect love, nor our best attempt, can allay all theological anxiety: questions – genuine and pertinent ones – remain for all of us about just how tightly these five principles can really be held in tension. I have no doubt that there will be points at which the elastic is stretched very thin indeed. Winning this peace is not going to be easy and it is going to take time. It will not be won merely by willing it: rather, in every extension of invitation or acceptance of hospitality, in every choice to be somewhere we feel a bit uncomfortable or to engage with those with whom we disagree, in every decision to restrain from making an unnecessary comment or throwing an old, tired word, and in the hopeful and imaginative ways of which the Archdeacon of Hackney wrote here last month – there, the peace will be won.

Points of difference

That will not tie up every theological and ecclesiological loose-end. Nor should it: we have all committed to enabling all of us to flourish, and there are clearly (and will remain) key points of difference. Flourishing means that we are neither silenced nor marginalized – we must all of us be able to share our anxieties and concerns, to say how things look from where we stand. We do not flourish if we are either too afraid of causing offence to express an opinion, or if we are out to score points off one another. This is hardly a revelation, but it is worth all our remembering. And if we genuinely will the flourishing of those who with whom we differ, it means openness, rooted in prayerful, faithful humility. Simeon and Anna, watching in the Temple day after day with fasting and prayer, were able to recognize Christ, freed to speak about the child to all who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem. This openness makes us vulnerable – it is risky – but it also frees us to see Christ where he is present, to proclaim his salvation, and to share his light among the nations.

Joyful commitment

Speaking in Synod in July, I agreed with Philip North saying that ‘we need now to win the peace’. In voting for the legislation, I was voting too for the five principles and all they entail. I meant it. On Candlemas Day, I realized what it feels like in practice: it was not straightforward, and it was bittersweet, for our communion is not complete. But, above all, it was filled with joyful, hopeful commitment to our future and our flourishing together as one church. And for that, I thank God. ND