Each month we hope to bring you an article from the last twenty five years of Forward in Faith. This month Fr John Broadhurst writes a letter as Chairman in the first edition of New Directions
Students of English Christianity know that every hundred years or so there is an event which can be seen as a turning point. There can be no doubt that the period since November 1992 has been one of the most important and significant in the history of English religion. As with the Reformation, or the Catholic revival, historians will pore over the texts and the personalities of the period seeking to understand the real significance of what has happened. Over the last few years Reformation studies have taken a new turn and many of our pre-conceptions are being challenged. For example Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars is a far reaching analysis of the English Reformation, with all its undercurrents, suggesting that much of the received wisdom is little more than propaganda. Scholars are arguing about his conclusions.
If it is difficult for scholars to understand a well-documented period, how much more difficult is it for those caught up in the turmoil and tribulation of the period? Is it any wonder that we feel confused? Many of us perceive that a momentous change has taken place affecting both the Church of England’s self understanding and its historic claims. As we seek to comprehend what has happened we need to discern what is God’s will for us and how we may best serve him. That question has to be uppermost in our minds.
As I have been around the country I have found much confusion. Many of our friends have gone to the Roman Church, and others to Orthodoxy or the continuing Churches but the majority still struggle with the problem. In what sense is it possible to maintain that the Church of England retains its claim to be Catholic, and how do those who oppose the change live with it? These questions have not gone away, nor will they. Supporters of women’s ordination suggest it is the dawn of a new liberated phase in the history of the universal Church. Those who oppose it wonder if it is a hiccup in the history of the church or the end of Anglicanism as we have known it. Those who suggest that things are settling down are simply not listening to the grass roots. As the General Synod struggled with this issue over many years it produced several reports. At every stage opponents to this novelty have consistently stated that they could not live in close sacramental proximity with women priests, because they could not accept the sacramental doubt that their arrival would bring to the Church. An open process of reception inevitably means an end to sure and certain signs of the kingdom. Sacraments end up as questions rather than statements.
Before the vote we were stating that the ordination would bring about such an enormous impairment of communion that we could only be served by Alternative Episcopal Oversight. We needed, and we need bishops who are not signs and supporters of that doubt. That has been our consistent stance, and we have welcomed the appointment of the Provincial Episcopal Visitors, not as an end in itself, but as a step along the way. It is my own belief that we will end up with a Church of England which contains several jurisdictions with a federal relationship with each other. At present we live in a Church with various degrees of communion. The Ordination of Women Measure established this in law giving every Bishop, every Parish, and every Christian the right to choose to accept or reject those ordained under its provisions.
Forward in Faith called a National Assembly last year which was democratically elected by its members. This assembly overwhelmingly adopted the Communion Statement as the basis for its relationship with the majority in the Church of England and asked for the establishment of a third province as a matter of urgency. We are now in the process of appointing regional deans to give our organisation a more ecclesial structure. The Church of England is sadly in a sorry state, seemingly lurching from one crisis to another. Many hope and pray for a real Renewal. Who will lead it and where will the impetus come from? Renewal needs leaders of commitment and vision.
One of the first fruits of the Oxford Movement was the establishment of proper training for the clergy. The demise of most of those theological colleges which gave any priestly formation does not give hope for the future. Where will our future priests come from? Who will choose them? Who will train them and who will ordain them? We need an answer to those questions.
Forward in Faith is rapidly developing and evolving. As an organisation it is committed to the democratic principle. Its members have to own it. The first National Assembly is to be followed by a second in October this year to set the policy forward. As we continue to develop we will consult with our members and any decisions we take will be our decisions. As an old General Synod hand I have the temerity to suggest this is the exact opposite of the way the Synod functions. We are united in Faith and would not have the temerity to dabble with it, but we genuinely own our structures and have access to them and control over their future development. We have done much to put ourselves on a firm financial footing with the new membership policy and that is still under way.
For some years Catholics and Classical Evangelicals have complained at the lack of appointments from their ranks to the house of Bishops. We would all want to offer congratulations to David Hope on his appointment to York. I believe he got that job because he was the best person for it. However one swallow does not make a summer. We will need to look very carefully at the appointments in London, Winchester and Portsmouth. It still remains the truth that for the last 15 years no liberal diocesan has appointed an opponent of women priests as his suffragan.
This article was originally published in June 1995