Dr Colin Podmore
A Catholic Christian needs to be part of a local church that is led by a bishop with whom he or she is in full communion. In their statements on catholicity and communion, and the leaflet that goes with them, our bishops have reminded us that all the baptized are part of the communion of saints – the fellowship of all the holy ones of God. In that sense we are in communion with all bishops of the Church of England. But full communion with a bishop involves being able to receive the sacramental ministry of all whom he ordains, so we are not in full communion with those who ordain women as priests. Recognizing this, the Church of England has enabled parishes to be placed under a bishop with whom all in the parish will be in full communion.
So far; so good. But how are that bishop’s parishes linked with the parishes of other catholic bishops? First and foremost, through the bishop and the full communion that he shares with his fellow bishops. But the catholic bishops formed The Society to make those links more visible and more structural, to link what I call the “full resolution” parishes across the Church of England in a visible structure. Parishes are invited to affiliate to The Society and, so to speak, “fly the flag” of this family, this fellowship, this communion. They receive a porch card. It explains how we seek to grow in holiness, how we are committed to proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord, and what The Society does; and then it proclaims that “This parish is affiliated to The Society.”
If you affiliate to The Society, there is no extra charge for staying or becoming registered with Forward in Faith. So if you worship in a parish that is under one of our bishops and your church isn’t on the map, please speak to your priest or churchwardens. Passing the resolution is not enough: parishes do need to decide to affiliate, fill in the form, and send it in.
The Society is a structure of full communion, and in that sense it is what we call an “ecclesial structure”. It is like a church; but it is not a church in an exclusive sense. We are not saying that we’re alright, because we’re in full communion with each other, so we have no need of the wider Church of England: quite the contrary. The Society has been formed to support us in remaining in the Church of England with integrity. What would be the point of remaining in the Church of England and then having as little as possible to do with it? This involves a sort of “double belonging”. We belong with most intensity, most deeply, to those with whom we are in full communion in The Society. But we also belong to the wider fellowship of the deanery, the diocese, and the Church of England. We need to maintain – or re-build – relationships with the rest of the Church of England, both because it is in our own interest and because we have a great deal to offer to our church. We need to break the barriers down. We need to open the doors so that people who get the point can actually come in and join us. It is perfectly possible to do that while maintaining our integrity and our principles.
What are the structures of The Society? Most important is the Council of Bishops. Also important is the role of the Bishop’s Representative. In most dioceses the Society bishop has a representative on the ground, relating to the diocesan bishop and the diocesan structures, but also to the parishes and their clergy – and representing the clergy to their Society bishop.
“The Society”, it says on the porch card, “guarantees a ministry in the historic, apostolic succession.” Until last year, you could tell by looking who was a priest whose ministry we could receive, and who was not. But now we have male priests ordained by women bishops. We can’t receive their ministry; but how can you tell who ordained whom, for example, when you’re a churchwarden arranging cover in a vacancy? One of the reasons why the Bishops invite priests to register as Priests of The Society is to help answer that question. Deacons and ordinands can register as well. They sign a Declaration that commits them to what The Society stands for. Priests and deacons submit their letters of orders to prove they were ordained by a bishop whose orders we can recognize. The relevant Society bishop sends them a Welcome Letter, so they can prove that they are clergy of The Society; and we have begun to issue identity cards to priests.
Clergy who are not incumbents also have to submit their licence or permission to officiate. By issuing a Welcome Letter, and in due course a card, our bishops are saying that you can receive the ministry of these clergy. If they are not allowed to officiate in the Church of England, you cannot receive their ministry; so the Council of Bishops cannot commend it and they cannot be Priests or Deacons of The Society. They are still members of The Society, however, just as we all are: the laity aren’t registered either. The clergy are not members in any greater sense than laypeople are.
That leads me to a point that I need to underline as strongly as I can. The word “Society” can be a bit misleading. It is not a clerical society like the Society of the Holy Cross; nor is it a devotional society like the Society of King Charles the Martyr. It is not the sort of society that you join by paying a membership fee, which you expels you if you fail to pay up. The Second Vatican Council speaks of the Church as “a divine society”: the Society is a society in that sort of sense. Everyone who is gathered round a Society bishop in a church that is under his oversight, everyone who receives the sacraments from a priest who has made the Priest’s Declaration – all those people are members of The Society, without signing anything or paying anything.
In your parish church the members are all the baptized people who receive the sacraments there – not just those who are on the electoral roll, not only those who have a standing order or belong to an envelope scheme. You become a member by baptism, confirmation, and receiving communion, not by filling in a form or paying money. The same is true of The Society, because it is like a church. The Society is not a membership organization. We cannot have The Society reduced to a members’ club: it must be like a church, based not on forms and money but on the sacraments.
Now I come to Forward in Faith’s role, under four headings. The first three I will call “political” and mention only briefly. First: campaigning. This is no longer our main focus; but if any of the sacraments come under threat – baptism, the Eucharist, confirmation, and confession have all been under threat either in our church or in other Anglican churches – we will campaign to defend them. Second: supporting the Catholic Group in General Synod – financially, with advice, and in the synodical elections – as we did to great effect last year. Third: monitoring implementation of the House of Bishops’ Declaration, and supporting parishes in submitting grievances as necessary. We need our Forward in Faith identity as the flag under which this political work is done both nationally and locally.
But perhaps Forward in Faith’s most important role will be supporting The Society. We sought “an ecclesial structure which will continue the orders of bishop and priest as the Church has received them and which can guarantee a true sacramental life”; in the end, with our bishops, we created it ourselves. Now our Constitution gives us power to support The Society. Forward in Faith, is, among other things, the support structure for The Society. How does it work locally? Sometimes the Bishop’s Representative is also the Forward in Faith clerical chairman. In others that is another priest (though in every diocese the Bishop’s representative is an ex officio member of the branch committee). Where they are not the same person, that can work very well as a way of sharing the burden – as long as long as the two priests work together as closely as possible. Whether you brand local activities as Society activities or Forward in Faith activities depends on what they are. If it is liturgical or devotional, it is probably a Society event. If it is raising money, or making a complaint to the Independent Reviewer, it is Forward in Faith. Forward in Faith is a charity with bank accounts locally and nationally and can claim gift aid, and has a “political” role. The Society is not that sort of structure.
Forward in Faith has one other important role in relation to The Society. Like a church, The Society is led by bishops. It is not a democracy. Forward in Faith is a democratically-structured membership organization. The Council of Bishops need to consult representative clergy and laity from time to time; and they do that through the Forward in Faith Council. There is no need to duplicate Forward in Faith structures by creating parallel Society structures for consultation; but we do need to reinvigorate our branch structures, and that will be one of the priorities for next year.
Homily at Mass
The Bishop of Chichester
It has borne witness to Christian truth in is historic formularies, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
This is a statement I find myself making in public worship with a fair degree of regularity. Most people just look a bit blank at this point, thinking, “What are the Articles of Religion?” The Thirty-Nine Articles form a kind of summary of Christian faith as we have received it. They speak of God, the Bible, being sinful and being saved, the Church, Christian tradition, sacraments, and society. They can be found at the back of the Book of Common Prayer and are slightly easier to read than the Table of Kindred and Affinity that follows them, but not always as interesting.
Among the more strongly worded Articles is no. 22, of Purgatory. This includes a denunciation of devotion to the saints as belonging to “Romish doctrine” that is “repugnant to scripture”. Well, looking around, you might think that the arrangement of this splendid church, or indeed of many of our cathedrals today, isn’t exactly what the author of that Article was hoping to achieve when it was written. However, we should be more careful before making a hasty judgement. Some of you will know Blessed John Henry Newman’s astute observation on this Article, in which he points out that “far from condemning” devotion to the saints, Article 22 “does by anticipation approve” the necessary reforms of the Council of Trent, which declared in December 1563 that it strongly desired the utter extinction of abuses of holy observances and practice, and that all superstition in invocation of saints be “put away”.
Newman is making an important point here which is about more than simply Article 22 on purgatory. He is drawing attention to the never-ending task of reformation, which is the loving work of the Holy Spirit in drawing us back, constantly, to the decisive and demanding call to holiness, to the worship and service of our Creator, and to the threads of Christian living from which the garment of eternal life is woven. And it is in this spirit of seeking to recognise the converging patterns of reformation in the history of apostolic life that we experience as Anglicans and Roman Catholics, that I want to consider two ways to encounter and proclaim the Word of God, Jesus Christ, in whom we see the mercy and the glory of the Father.
The first way of encountering and proclaiming the Word of God is through the Bible. The Articles state that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation’; that ‘the Old Testament is not contrary to the New”; and that “no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.” This is a huge and breath-taking sweep of time and eternity, and we should retain the sense of awe that this vision holds before us. But in case we think that lets us off the hook of our present duty in the world today, post-Brexit, post-American election, post-Calais, and while the people of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan still suffer the bitter consequences of conflict, Article 7 concludes with the point about moral obedience and how we make decisions now, domestically and globally.
In 2010, in Westminster Hall, Pope Benedict addressed us as a nation. He outlined in generous terms the qualities of our national life that resonate with Catholic social teaching: freedom of speech and political affiliation, respect for the rule of law, the rights of the individual, and the equality of all citizens before the law. In sustaining these qualities, he also asked a question for which Article 7 provides the beginnings of an answer. His question was this: “Where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be made?”
As Christians, the Word of God in holy Scripture provides us with the contours of divine revelation that issue first in worship, but that incite us also to an ethical foundation of moral life that issues in justice, peace and human dignity for all people, irrespective of creed, race, gender, or sexual orientation. It was no accident that Moses, the law-giver, was often depicted on our seventeenth- and eighteenth-century altarpieces, alongside the Ten Commandments: the Anglicans of those days understood, as we should today, the conclusion that Pope Benedict drew in his speech to Parliament: “Religion is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contribution for the national conversation.”
As Christians in the Church of England, committed to living out the Catholic life – the fullness of Jesus Christ in us, for us, through us – we should be in serious dialogue with the message of Holy Scripture as it lays out the foundations of the moral points of reference for a good and healthy society. This is good news for all people; it is not reserved for Christians alone.
So, the books of Holy Scripture, “firmly, faithfully and without error” teach that truth which God has revealed through the Holy Spirit for our salvation. You might think that this is a line lifted from Article 7; in fact it’s from Dei Verbum, “The Word of God”, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. So we take our mandate for social engagement from this converging pattern of Christian life which Newman identified in a process of reform. And we also find here our second way of encountering and proclaiming the Word of God, for He speaks in the local idiom of human language with the same ease and facility that he communicates Himself in gifts of bread and wine.
Poking around in the library of Chichester Cathedral recently, I found a splendid copy of the 1593 Vulgate, the Latin Bible. On the title page there is an illustration of Pope Sixtus V handing the Bible to a beautiful young woman, who figuratively represents the Church. The text underneath reads Accipe et devora, “take and eat”. This is an allusion to Revelation 10, where an angel gives St John a sweet-tasting book to eat. This strange sense of eating a book should in fact be familiar to us. The Collect for the second Sunday of Advent calls us to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the holy Scriptures. And just as reading the Word of God gives us the mandate for apostolic engagement in shaping the moral life of the society in which we live, so the experience of feeding on the Word of God in the Eucharist gives us the courage, love and humility to live well and fully as subjects in a nation on earth, but to do so as citizens of a homeland in heaven.
I shall never forget the experience, in Walsingham, of seeing a young man recently released from a Young Offenders’ Centre kneeling next to a peer of the realm. They were equal in the sight of God, equal in their offering of the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, equal in dignity as they approached the altar for communion at the intersection of time and eternity.
“Draw near with faith.” These great words from the Book of Common Prayer are the instruction to you, the holy people of God, to take your proper part in the drama of worship. One of the things I always scrutinise at confirmations is the care with which candidates have been prepared for receiving Holy Communion. Remember that the drama of liturgical worship is also one of the great acts of our witness on earth to the reality of heaven, to the communion of saints and to our intimate encounter which Jesus, whom we love so much. Each of you, as a member of a congregation, has the privilege and responsibility to witness to that love in how you prepare for the moment of Holy Communion, in the joy and awe with which you approach the altar, knowing that angels salute and attend you, as they daringly lift the veil between heaven and earth. I want to encourage you to ensure that you are ever attentive, in a casual and inattentive culture, to the quality of your devotional practices and to the care with which you nurture them in the young and in new Christians.
“Draw near with faith.” This is your invitation to undertake with dignity what Blessed Paul VI spoke about so powerfully as “the devout and active participation” of the laity: not “strangers or silent spectators”, but actors in the redemptive drama of the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that ascends to the heavenly Father through our High Priest Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Draw near with faith. Receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he gave for you, and his blood, which he shed for you. And, I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Sir Philip Mawer
I am honoured to be invited to give the Keynote Address at the 2016 Forward in Faith National Assembly. As you will understand, an occupational hazard for ombudsmen and independent reviewers is that if they open their mouths on any subject, what sounds as a sweet note to some may sound discordant to others. So my address to you today, and more particularly my responses to any questions you may put to me after it, have inevitably to be circumscribed if I am to preserve my impartiality and therefore my ability to do my job.
However, I value the opportunity you have given me to say something about my approach to the role of Independent Reviewer. It is an opportunity which I particularly value because over ten years experience as a regulator, mainly of politicians as first the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and as then the Prime Minister’s Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests – you can judge for yourselves how much success I had there – has taught me the value of being open and transparent in setting out the way in which one tackles the job. I firmly believe in the importance of following a clear and consistent process; of basing oneself on the evidence; and of contributing as best one can to helping an institution – in the current case, the Church – to prevent problems from arising in the first place, rather than waiting until they escalate to the level of a complaint or grievance.
Of course, I have made clear to other groups in the Church that, against this background, I shall equally be happy to come and talk to them. And as my term of office progresses, I am keen to gather the fruits of learning about practice on the ground, about what works and what doesn’t, so that that information can be shared for the benefit of the whole Church.
What I have to say is largely not about procedures but about principles and approach. If it had been about procedures, this after-lunch session would indeed truly have proved to be the graveyard slot. Moreover, I have given ample guidance to everyone already, in a Note published at the end of last year, about how the Resolution of Disputes Procedure set up under the arrangements embodied in the House of Bishops Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests will work in practice. So, encouraged by Colin Podmore – whose former work at Church House, Westminster I of course know well and continue to value highly – I am going to offer you a more personal reflection on the first two years of my term of office.
What I will share with you is a little of something we all share, though each in our own unique way – our journey of faith. My journey is one that continues. With one early exception, my wife and I have always worshipped in the church of the parish in which we lived. That experience has taken us sometimes up and sometimes down the candle – but we have been enriched by it all. I have never had a Damascus Road experience, and sometimes envy – and sometimes don’t – those who have. Rather, I have absorbed my Christian faith and my love of the Church of England gradually through my eyes and ears: through church music, as a choirboy and ever since; through the resonant language of the Prayer Book (the 1928 version, in my case); through the beauty and stillness to be found in church buildings, great and small; and most of all through the faithful and devoted witness and companionship of so many priests and people whom I have encountered along the way.
I have always seen through a glass darkly, but have constantly returned to a belief that the best rule of life is that embodied in the two Great Commandments – to love God and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. As I see it, our task on earth is simply to try to leave it a better place than we found it upon entry. And I cannot think of a better maxim for any regulator or independent reviewer than the words of the prophet Micah: that what God requires of us is simply to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. Acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly – what better guidance could an Independent Reviewer have?
It will be clear from what I have said so far that I love the Church of England – its history and traditions; its contribution to national life; and its honest and open messiness as it struggles to model what it is to live in Christian communion in the modern world. I value its place and its contribution (and that of the wider Anglican Communion) within the Church Universal; and I care about its rich variety – the gifts which each of its many strands bring to it, to the wider Church, and to the proclamation of the Gospel. Through hard experience, I know that none of us has a monopoly on wisdom. It is only through prayer and God’s good grace that we can carry out any of the difficult tasks before us.
So how does all this translate into being the Independent Reviewer? Well, you will understand it is not a job that you seek. Ombudsmen are dogs that walk alone. Their enquiries and reports rarely satisfy everyone – indeed, because the matters brought to them involve the expression by Party A of a grievance of which Party B (and sometimes Parties C, D, and E) is the alleged cause, they are quite likely to end up satisfying no one. So spare an occasional thought for them – and perhaps an occasional prayer, too.
Why say “yes” to this particular role, then – apart from the fact that you have been asked to do it by not one but two Archbishops? Because it seems to me that, whatever your views on the theological and ecclesiological arguments about the role of women in the church’s ministry, what the House of Bishops with the endorsement of the General Synod has done in enunciating the Five Guiding Principles and establishing a framework of procedures to underpin them is a brave and worthy attempt to model a way for Christians to live with their differences. Doing what each of us can to ensure a successful outcome to the experiment is an obligation on us all. Why is it so important? Essentially, because if we allow it to fail we will grievously damage the mission and witness of the Church – the mission of God – in a world which more than ever needs to learn and re-learn how to know Him and His Son.
As for how it is going, I am delighted to say that, after what might be seen as two “test cases” in Year One, I have – so far at least – been entirely unemployed: a situation in which I rejoice. It may be that this is because parishes which find the ministry of women bishops and priests theologically difficult have been busy debating and passing the Resolution required of them under the House of Bishops Declaration before the two-year deadline for passing such resolutions was up. It could be that now that part of the process is over, the difficult part is about to begin: the making in each case of appropriate arrangements for the provision of episcopal ministry to the parish in question.
However, it may also be that bishops, dioceses, and parishes are simply getting on with the job and are successfully rising to the challenge of implementing arrangements within the framework established by the Declaration. Let us hope so. In closing, I simply want to say two things: one about me as Independent Reviewer; and one about you, as representatives of those within the Church of England who hold the traditional Catholic position.
As Independent Reviewer, I have been and will continue to be guided by the principles of openness and transparency about process (coupled with a proper degree of confidentiality about the conduct of any individual inquiries which may be in progress) to which I alluded at the start of my address. That is why I was in touch from the beginning of my appointment with a range of key groupings and individuals within the Church, including the Society of St Wilfrid & Saint Hilda; why I will continue to try to keep in touch with all of these groupings; why I invited the Archbishops to publish my first annual report; and why I published towards the end of last year the Notes on the operation of the Resolution of Disputes Procedure which I mentioned earlier. Should your PCC unfortunately find itself in a position in which it thinks it needs to invoke that Procedure, please read those Notes carefully – indeed they are worth a read, whatever the stage at which your parish stands in the process. All the documents I have referred to can be found on the web: www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/general-synod/about-general-synod/house-of-bishops/declaration-on-the-ministry-of-bishops-and-priests.aspx
More widely, all of us need to hold firmly in our minds the Five Guiding Principles and the three supporting concepts – of simplicity, reciprocity and mutuality – set out in the House of Bishops’ Declaration. They are what will guide me, and they are what should guide you. They are not a menu from which one can pick and choose according to what one believes will best advance one’s cause. Rather, as the House of Bishops has itself said they “need to be read one with the other and held together in tension, rather than being applied selectively”. So, for example, when you think about what “mutual flourishing” means in your context, ask yourself not only what it would look like for you but what it would look like for those who do not share your theological convictions on this particular issue, not least for women in ministry themselves. Strive for the Highest Common Factor rather than the Lowest Common Denominator in every situation. Of course doing that is not just an obligation on you, but on everyone else involved too – whatever their position on this issue.
The House of Bishops’ Declaration – with the principles it embodies and the disputes-resolution procedure that underpins it – offers the prospect of a secure and fulfilling place in the Church of England for all, whatever view they may take about women’s place in the Church’s ministry. It is our shared task to make sure that that is the outcome – a sure and fulfilling place for all. I hope that, encouraged by the progress we make in doing that, all groups, including the members of Forward in Faith, will be freed to celebrate the contribution each one makes to the mission and ministry of God in England. And I pray fervently that the Catholic Movement – with such a rich inheritance, not least in worship and in social action – will have the confidence to play its full part in that process.
The National Assembly took place at St Alban’s, Holborn, on 19 November 2016 Photos: Alan Martin