The shape and influence of Traditionalism since 1992


New Directions talks to young traditionalists born since, and a woman priest born just before, the momentous General Synod vote in November 1992 to seek their views on what it means to hold traditionalist Catholic views and what the future holds


William Allen is in his second year at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. He was born in December 1997.


Fr Thomas Cotterill is the Assistant Curate of St Bartholomew’s and St Paul’s, Brighton. He was born in September 1996.


Fr Michael Dixon is the Assistant Curate of St Wilfrid’s, Cantley. He was born in June 1996.


The Rev Gemma Fleury is the Assistant Curate of the Parish of South Elmsall and North Elmsall. She was born in October 1991 and married Jonathan in September 2020.


Fr Jonathan Fleury is Assistant Curate in the Priory Benefice, Yorkshire. He was born in June 1995.


How does it feel to be a traditionalist?


Michael Dixon: I am very happy to be a traditionalist Catholic in the Church of England. It is a great comfort to know that we hold the faith of millions of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world. 


Gemma Fleury: I am blessed to be married to a wonderful man and faithful Christian who is a traditionalist, and I am fortunate to have several friends who are traditionalists. Over the years I have been grateful for many in-depth conversations about our different understandings of ministry and holy orders, in addition to debates on other theological issues and on our shared commitment to orthodoxy and evangelism. I enjoy open and honest encounters with traditionalists as I understand us all to be endeavouring to be faithful to the ministry God has called us to, and our discernment of that will continue throughout our lives.


Jonathan Fleury: The answer to this question varies from time to time. Sometimes, the collegiality that traditionalists can enjoy i.e. through the catholic societies, events, other clergy etc. is very edifying and leaves me feeling very much part of a wider movement. At other times, it can feel extremely isolating when faithfulness to our heritage seems to be very low on the list of priorities for the wider church. I am sure many traditionalist clergy (and laity too) can relate to this.


Tom Cotterill: While there are times when I am baffled by some of what I hear or read from figures within the Church of England, I feel confident in my position as a traditionalist Catholic in a Church which professes herself ‘part of’ the one Church of Christ. Being confident in my own theological and ecclesial identity grounds all that I am and seek to do as a deacon of the Church of God (and never only of the Church of England).


William Allen: I think it’s a feeling of ‘halves’. In one respect, being a part of the traditionalist wing affords the freedom to express aspects of one’s vocational journey—the sacramental life and character, the ambition for Catholic unity—clearly marked out, well governed and ultimately willing to listen. But traditionalism like all categories and groups in any church connotes vulnerability too. Will traditionalism last? Are these arrangements enduring? Is the group being true to the needs and prayers of its members? All of these worries get mixed in with the feelings of freedom and solidarity.


Have you experienced opposition or confusion?


GF: Ironically, I have experienced more opposition from others to my being married to a traditionalist than I have on the account of my being a woman in holy orders. However, I have listened to and carefully considered the verbal opposition that I have received during my discernment to priesthood, as I have taken it to be both part of the process of discernment to ministry in the Church of England and of my or our being part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Therefore, I have endeavoured to understand and respect the points of view from both sides of the ecclesiological and theological debate, as the Church has to hold in tension the fact that, whilst it has a duty to discern and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, it also has the capacity to err (see Article XIX).


MD: Quite a bit of confusion (especially among non-religious members of my family!) but this has often paved the way for interesting conversations about faith and belief and why we believe what we do.

Within the Church of England, I am sad to say, I have experienced quite a bit of ‘soft’ opposition – i.e. ‘We don’t understand your position but our predecessors have agreed to tolerate your inconvenient position so we feel we must as a grudging act of Christian charity’.


JF: Naturally. I think there is a lot of confusion as to what traditionalists believe—I suspect because whilst agreeing on some theological issues, we do differ in others, for good or for ill. In my own experience I have found myself often misunderstood and misrepresented, because the ‘label’ is taken by some to have particular connotations, whatever they may be. For example, I recall on one placement I did while at theological college, the female curate assigned to this particular parish asked me at the end of my placement whether seeing her at the altar had changed my mind as to the ordination of women. I need not elaborate on her assumptions: suffice to say my reply was not well received!

Opposition has manifested itself in a variety of ways: laity ignorant of what I believe but telling me what they think, fellow ordinands (particularly those of a male, liberal persuasion) distancing themselves from me after they had learned the ‘terrible truth’. I have found it usually to be petty and unwilling to initiate or engage in theological discussion. Another dimension people seem to find confusing is how I can hold to the traditional teaching and practice of holy orders, and my wife be ordained at the same time. I would hope that we would be demonstrating a model of integrity to the wider church that shows how a difference of views can nonetheless work together in love, sharing a foundation of basic credal orthodoxy, ‘mutual flourishing’ in action.


TC: I think I would be a rare son of The Society if I said that I have never encountered hostility or confusion from some brothers and sisters in Christ. I have always sought gently but with conviction to explain my position. I especially remember one encounter with a brother who was venting to me some of the common gripes against the position we hold. He was completely unaware, until I managed to get a word in edgeways, that the Church to which he and I both belong has, thanks largely to the patient commitment of many more eminent figures than me, said that my position and his are ‘within the spectrum of teaching and tradition’ of our Church. With clarity and charity, and with lips as well as life, I hope to profess not just a view on one standalone issue but the essential underpinning to all that we believe, which is our membership of a living body united with its Head in which we have all that we need and seek.


WA: My journey towards the traditionalist group was a meditative one. Along that road, others have questioned the decision I eventually made. The heart of those disagreements stemmed from the poor channels of communication which seek to explain what traditionalism is and how it coheres to present-day Anglicanism. A focus on Christian catechesis and a willingness to leave behind politically or morally-charged conversation would go far to future-proof future debates on traditionalism – but that’s easier said than done.


What do you consider to be important about the traditionalist wing?


GF: I have a great respect for the commitment of traditionalists both to Church Tradition and Scripture, which in themselves are fundamental to the Anglican tradition we find ourselves in. It is and always has been important to safeguard the central doctrines of the Church; and there is perhaps a need to do so more now that personal experience and the notion of the self/one’s own identity is influencing theology in different ways. I moreover hope that the Church of England will continue to discern and actively question what it is to be ordained and what it is to minister in our context, as priesthood is an honourable but dreadful calling because it is one that demands an even greater adherence to God’s commandments and it is one that carries an even weightier judgment (i.e. James 3:1; Luke 12:48); and so, it is a position that should not be presumed or taken lightly by anyone.


JF: I think it is important that affirming our inheritance as catholic Christians is not reduced to being part of a single-issue group with conformity to a particular liturgical aesthetic. If we are claiming the title of catholic and all it entails as our heritage, then that involves every aspect of our lives and being: there can be no room for kowtowing to the spirit of the age, theological novelty, lifestyle choices, or anything else that would compromise on the integrity of the teaching of our Lord and his Apostles. Traditionalists have the opportunity to model a holistic pattern of Christian discipleship which shows just how life-giving and wholesome the riches of catholic tradition and the sacred scriptures in their authority can be.


MD: I believe we have a unique role to play in the Church of England. Our point of disagreement with the majority of the CofE (but not, of course, with global Christianity) is primarily to do with Holy Orders. In our defence of the traditional understanding of the Holy Orders we remind the Church of England of the significance of this Sacrament, which is a primary reason that the Church of England can be considered a Catholic Church. 


TC: What is most important to me as a traditionalist is the clear sense that I belong to a living, vibrant body (and I’m not only referring to the array of vestments sported by priests and dare I say a few brother deacons of The Society). I rejoice that at the heart of our movement lies the worship of God and the service of his people, culminating in as well as deriving from our encounter with the Lord present most wonderfully in the sacrament of the altar. It is in this eucharistic encounter, especially when one of our Fathers in God presides, that I myself feel most sustained, a sense only increased by the generous post-Mass refreshments that I think Society parishes are particularly adept at providing.


WA: It isn’t about women. Or men. Or, for that matter, any hot and fast debate on ethics, Christian and secular. Traditionalism is about revival, witness and the ambitious, exciting project of re-awakening the catholic heart of the Church. The most important facet of traditionalism is that it is looking at the Christian life which it calls ‘sacramental’, and making sure it is truly ringing in the Christ which is ‘all and all’ – and that means an attentiveness to all the traditions and ways which have distinguished Christian worship over the centuries.


Who has affirmed your vocation, and how?


MD: My biggest supporters in my vocation have been my parents who used to drive me to our closest Society parish at Worksop Priory every Sunday, and back and forth to theological college every term. 

Thanks also must go to Fr Grant Naylor who affirmed my vocation whilst I was at university in Sheffield and to Frs Tim Pike and Philip Kennedy who nurtured my vocation whilst I was a pastoral assistant in London. 


GF: My husband and I met at theological college and we support each other in every way possible, especially as we negotiate ministry in two busy parishes. Whilst we may differ on our understanding of women’s ministry, we share many similarities in our commitment to the Christian faith, to orthodoxy, to evangelism, to the identity of the Church of England, and more. Many of my other friends who are traditionalists have also supported me throughout my discernment and training; and, although they are not able to affirm my vocation as a priest, they have nevertheless encouraged me in serving Christ and can say that they are able to discern my calling to some form of ministry, even if it is not to holy orders.


JF: I feel that a distinction needs to be made between receiving affirmation to a particular vocation, and being affirmed in a general sense. ‘My vocation’ is not mine, nor will it ever be; it belongs to Christ. A vocation to holy orders does not change the reality that we are unworthy, sinful ministers, and our skills and gifts do not qualify us or make us any more worthy to be priests, or deacons, or indeed even bishops. That said, I found a variety of people — both those who are and aren’t traditionalists—supportive of my discernment, to whom I am very grateful, especially to the SSM of my sending parish, who provided space and a listening ear for my early attempts to articulate what I thought was going on. I am especially thankful for my wife, who continues to support me each day, though I am quite undeserving.

TC: I have been struck by how many people presupposed I was discerning a call to the priesthood, even folks who are not especially churchy. My family and friends have been and remain a tremendous support to me, helping me to grow into the vocation God has given me which is one for all of my being. I must pay tribute to Fr Elston under whom I served as a pastoral assistant in Camden as well as others, lay and ordained, who have guided and sustained me as I navigated the discernment process. Knowing I was (and hopefully still am being) prayed for and having inspiring priests around me have been, I think, the two most important aspects of my journey to ordination.


WA: It’s been a process and quite ‘osmotic’. It’s not a party political line and I’ve been privileged to make friends young and old who related to the broad culture of traditionalism which is all about protecting and encouraging traditions and charisms that make Christians who they are. So much affirmation came from the parish context, because that’s where you look ordinary and wonderful people in the eye and witness to Christ in them: their needs, their joys.


Was the discernment process difficult?


MD: The discernment process felt long and slow at the time but perhaps that’s how it should be. Theological disagreements with others became particularly pronounced but I remained convinced that Catholics have a place in the Church in which I was baptised and formed in the faith. 


GF: I first discerned a call to priesthood at the age of 14; however, having grown-up only knowing male priests in the church, I was unsure that I was able to do this as a female, and whether I needed to be much older for it. I have also always been quite conservative in my reading of Scripture, so I naturally wrestled (and still do) with references to church leadership and to God’s ordering of male and female. However, after 12 years of discernment, which included a consideration of the religious life, I finally entered the process in 2017. It was only then that I learnt about the issues and debates surrounding the ordination of women. Although I did not find any difficulty during the discernment process on account of my being a woman, the complexities of the debate nevertheless became integral to my continuing discernment which continues to this day. 


JF: I did not begin the discernment process as a traditionalist—whilst I was ‘on board’ to a greater extent, it took the first year of theological college to help me find a fully traditional view on holy orders. What made the process difficult after that was the opposition of other ordinands and clergy to my views, without seeking to engage in meaningful discussion about it.


TC: I would say that on the whole it was not difficult as much as lengthy. My year as a pastoral assistant was a deeply formative experience – one which I would heartily recommend for any young person sensing the call – and it was when I myself came to a settled view on my own theological position.


WA: I think the discernment process has to be rigorous, and shouldn’t be ‘fallen into’. I was given the opportunity to reflect long and hard on whether I felt that I belonged in the traditionalist wing. People with views entirely different from my own gave me that chance. So much of the discernment process feels governed by personalities which make or break it – which is indelibly human and so often unavoidable. I was privileged to speak with some truly wonderful people, lay and ordained, from whom I learned much about both traditionalism and its converse. Many remain good mentors and friends.

What does the future hold?


WA: As a second-year ordinand in Oxford—much studying, praying and careful discernment! And that means constantly re-evaluating my own faith and attitude towards the traditionalist wing. As a young candidate in training, it grieves me to encounter one-dimensional thinkers within and without ordained ministry. My prayer is that the sort of traditionalism I express is inviting, true to love of God, true to who he calls me to be in his church.


TC: I look forward each day to serving the good people of two parishes in Brighton where I am curate. God and Bishop willing, I shall be ordained Priest next Petertide. I especially look forward to joining priests for whom I have the utmost love and respect at celebrations where, together with all the flock, we may feed and be fed.


MD: I recently married my lovely wife Lydia with whom I share a draughty vicarage and an over-excitable kitten. I hope, God willing, to be ordained priest next Petertide by the soon-to-be Bishop of Beverley. I speak Russian and a little Greek and Turkish and am passionate about ecumenical relations with our Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters and am keen to develop my involvement in this further. We’ll see what God has in store. 


JF: I can’t know what the future will hold, but it is my hope and prayer that those who profess to be traditionalists will ‘hold fast the faithful word as taught, able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers’ (cf. Titus 1.9)!


GF: Jonathan and I will continue to support and encourage one another in our respective ministries; and we hope that we can be an example and encouragement to others that theological difference can be held in love and respect, most especially if our relationships are rooted and grounded in Christ. It is essential that we learn how to love those who are different or other to ourselves if we are to have any hope of learning what it is to love God. My prayer is that we will together – as the Church of England – continue to challenge and encourage one another, as fellow disciples in Christ, to grow in faithfulness, holiness, and charity; and I pray that we will, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, continue to discern what it is to be ‘in Christ’.