Friday, 16 January 2009


The question is often put to us as Anglican Catholics or traditionalists, or whatever the approved appellation of the moment is, ‘why did you remain as Anglicans after women were ordained to the priesthood?’
Very often the assumption seems to be that we stayed put (not exactly stayed put, in fact, either ecclesially or theologically, but never mind) because we were comfortable where we were, or essentially we were happy with an Anglican version of "Catholicism-without-the-Pope," or that we were loath to exchange stipends and houses and an established place in the community for a step into the unknown. These may have been considerations for some but I have yet to find anyone who openly admits to them.
There are, of course, many who are very concerned with the oaths they made concerning the sacramental and pastoral care of the parishioners they serve and are reluctant simply to leave them to the mercy of the liberal majority. There are also many Anglican clergy who have wives and families who somehow have to be cared for in terms of food, shelter and education; to be concerned about the welfare of those one loves alongside pursuing one’s own spiritual journey of faith cannot be a wholly unworthy preoccupation.
But I don’t think that for most clergy these were the main reasons for staying put. For most of us, from our earliest memories, our experience of faith has been intensely ecclesial: our experience of Christ is inseparable from the Church where that experience has been received. More than that, there is a profound sense that “the act of faith in Christ and the act of faith in the Church are not two acts of faith but one.” To speak of one’s relationship with the Lord apart from the Church makes no sense to us, even to those of us who have had what our evangelical brethren refer to as a “conversion experience.”
For the protestant evangelical whose fundamental relationship with Christ is perceived to be personal and to exist independently of the ecclesial context (and I know this a sweeping generalisation), “conversion,” in the sense of changing one’s religious affiliation, is a relatively straightforward matter; undoubtedly it may be traumatic in terms of existing human relationships but it does not impinge on the relationship with the divine. That’s not the case for those of us who have known instinctively all our lives that the Church is at the heart and core of our relationship with Christ, the head of the Body.
Add to that, those of us who were brought up in the late 1960s or 1970s were probably the last to have escaped modern “denominationalism” in the sense that, again, instinctively, we knew the truth of that famous statement by Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher when he said that as Anglicans we have no doctrine of our own, “we only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and these Creeds we hold without addition or diminution. We stand firm on that Rock.” Although we would not have been able to express it in these terms as children or even as young adults, we knew we were the Church of England (or Church in Wales) by historical accident rather than ourselves or our parents, or anyone else in our past, having been attracted by its distinctive beliefs or practices. We were the Church, nothing more, nothing less.
It is those of us who have come to describe ourselves as Anglican Catholics who are now being un-churched not only by the present crisis of authority but also by the related search for a distinctive Anglican identity brought about by what we might call either the triumph of denominationalism or the true reality of religious pluralism in the modern world.
After centuries of asserting that we were simply the Church of the nation, although of course that assertion itself was controversial and came about a result of defining ourselves over against Rome on the one hand and Puritanism on the other, Anglicans had to be seen to have a distinctive theological identity, or at least a theological method, of our own. The work of Stephen Sykes, and Paul Avis more recently, has not inspired a great deal of confidence in the success of that project, as Anglicanism’s much vaunted openness to modernity has predictably and inexorably slid into mere Erastianism, and the work of the Heilige Geist confused with that of the zeitgeist.
For those of us who truly believed in Anglicanism’s ecumenical vocation, who accepted and welcomed the primacy of Peter over the Church of Christ, and that our offering to the unity of the Church would involve the death of our own separate identity, this redefinition of Anglicanism has been a blow from which it seems impossible to recover.
The question of the identity of Anglicanism, put starkly to the 2008 Lambeth conference by Cardinal Kaspar and others, has, like the corpse of a murder victim, always been buried beneath the surface of the life of the Church of England since the time of Henry VIII, but it has been exhumed for all to see by recent synodical decisions over the ordination of women to the sacred ministry and the Porvoo Agreement amongst other pronouncements.
The Church of England (and the Church in Wales & the other western, liberal provinces of the Anglican Communion) seems to have come belatedly to a definite and irreversible conclusion as to where it belongs in terms of the Protestant / Catholic divide, and is quite far on in the process of finding a identity for itself which has been elusive, to say the least, since the 1530s. It now seems to many of us that Anglicanism has now become a liberal Protestant denomination among other liberal Protestant denominations, and is determined to remain so, and is also determined that those who stand in the way of this ecclesiological redefinition should be either neutralised or shown the door.
Understandably we are reluctant to leave the home which has formed us and where we have been taught and nurtured in the Catholic faith. Yet it is quite clear that our ecumenical hopes and dreams of the restoration of unity between Canterbury and Rome are finally over. Our home is our home no longer and we are no longer welcome within it, except perhaps as elderly, eccentric relatives who can have the small spare room so long as we don’t cause trouble and will be content in a few years’ time to die quietly of neglect.
So, do we stay (on the majority’s terms) or do we go, and, if we go, do we do so on an individual or on some kind of an ecclesial basis? Are these even options which realistically remain for us? How can catholic unity be best served? How do we hold together, even in the short term, with the pressures now upon us and, in Wales (now the 1996 code of practice has been revoked), without the sacramental and pastoral care of a bishop?
So many questions; as yet, so few answers.

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