National Assembly 2022
After a break for two and a half years caused by the pandemic, the Forward in Faith National Assembly was held on Saturday 28 May at the church of St Alban, Holborn. Given the discontinuity caused by the pandemic, the plethora of other events at this time of year and the cost-of-living pressures people face, the Assembly was pleasantly well attended and there was a joyful, Ascentiontide feeling to proceedings.
The day began with Mass at midday, and it was a delight to have as many as ten Society bishops, both serving and retired (or should I say semi-retired?), concelebrating the Mass of Our Lady of Walsingham to mark the Shrine’s centenary. The St Alban’s choir immediately provided the occasion with a sense of the uplifting through its wonderful rendition of Mozart’s Grosse-Credo Messe K257 and of Finzi’s striking anthem ‘God is gone up’.
Bishop Martin Warner preached a thought-provoking sermon which not only covered a lot of ground but also challenged us to think about art and beauty in a new way in the context of our church life together.
He began with a visit to the Roman Catholic Cathedral in the Bristol suburb of Clifton he made on a recent holiday, emphasising the starkness of that building, the space it provides for prayer and reflection, and the link in our minds it can provide to the Exile in Egypt through its austerity and tent-like structure. He went on to describe the remoteness of Walsingham and the role that plays in our life’s pilgrimage, before highlighting the transcendent beauty of the church of St Alban in which we were.
Bishop Martin left us to ponder some profounds words from St Basil on Our Lady being a ‘workshop’ of the practice of grace and tasked us with making our own churches just that – ‘workshops’ of salvation.
After a hearty lunch delegates returned to the church to undertake two formal items of business – the new constitutional arrangements were agreed and the accounts were received, both without any votes against. In terms of the former, the Chairman agreed that a working group should be established on the role of the branches within the context of new constitutional arrangements.
There were brief addresses from the Chairman and Director, thanking supporters of Forward in Faith for volunteering their time and providing financial support in what have been difficult times for all of us. The Chairman welcomed Stephen Parkinson and his wife Jo to the Assembly – Stephen is a former Director of Forward in Faith. Bishop Tony went on to praise the immense contribution of two departing trustees – Lindsay Dixon, Lay Vice Chairman, and Jonathan Prichard, Treasurer.
The Director informed delegates that the Forward in Faith office, but not the chaplaincy arrangements in the English Chapel and not the chaplain Fr Peter Hudson, would be moving from Gordon Square to St Andrew, Holborn in July of this year, benefitting from the co-location with the Bishop of Fulham’s office and guild church which the move will bring.
The keynote address was given by Fr David Houlding, parish priest of All Hallows, Gospel Oak and a leading figure in our movement’s efforts over the last 30 years to navigate a course which provides a Catholic life for us within the Church of England.
The address was both powerful and informative, as he chartered the ebbs and flows of the last 30 years, taking us through the heartbreak of the November 1992 vote, the response from SSC, the machinations of General Synod (including the Catholic Group), the Declaration under which we operate now and so much more. It was striking that some of our ordinands and younger clergy present had not even been born at the starting point of the address!
Fr Houlding concluded by imploring us to do two things, principally – one on a practical level and one on a higher plane. Our practical task is to make sure our Catholic societies – and the resources they hold – are working to build up The Society as best they can.
The second was to continue to be theological in our response to the ecclesiological challenges we face and to use that theological underpinning as a bedrock of our commitment to the Faith.
The business of the meeting ended with brief updates on Ladyewell House, the mission initiative, the vocations initiative, and the on-going work of refreshing New Directions.
In this centenary year of the Shrine, Fr Kevin Smith, the Priest Administrator at the Shrine, concluded the Assembly with a set of Marian prayers and the singing of the Salve Regina.
There are far too many people to thank by name for making the day such a success (they know who they are…) so I shall limit myself to mentioning Fr Christopher Smith, the parish priest of St Alban’s, for the use of his church and for all his support in the lead up to the day, and Louisa Thomas, the Forward in Faith Administrator, for organising the Assembly with such competence and good humour.
Next year’s gathering, the 2023 Annual General Meeting, will be open to all Forward in Faith members and so please look out for a ‘save the date’ message in an edition of New Directions later this year.
In the meantime, please pray for the work of Forward in Faith and of The Society and be assured of our prayers and support for all that you do in your parishes and elsewhere.