Monday, 25 June 2012

An age of disarray and shifting allegiances

Signs already [here] of the predicted disarray in the wake of the recent Church of England statement on marriage. One awaits with dread the 'compromise solution' which will inevitably emerge in a body which now believes (in practice, at least) that doctrinal and moral truth are matters of horse-trading. It shouldn't have taken the gift of prophecy to anticipate that the marriage submission [here] would be too robust for many. 

A welcome acknowledgement by Pope Benedict of the former episcopal ministries within Anglicanism of Frs Barnes, Silk and Mercer, all named as monsignori [here
As it has been said, this honour isn't exactly  unknown in terms of high-profile Anglican converts in the past, Mgr R.H. Benson and Mgr Ronald Knox being notable examples, but these latest honours seem intended as a recognition not only of former individual Anglican ministries, but of an entire tradition, one which, if not exactly dead, is increasingly peripheral to the life of the Anglican Communion itself.

On that subject, a marginal existence is now all that can be hoped for by those Anglo-Catholics  who will remain Anglicans. In the Church in Wales particularly, as the deepening financial crisis - caused mainly by spiralling worshipping numbers - forces the Province to reduce drastically the number of stipendiary clergy, those remaining paid clergy, operating in ever larger 'ministry areas' will be forced into the uncongenial role of administrators and co-ordinators of lay ministries, even if the needed unpaid volunteers to run such a structure in their spare time - people who are already likely to be heavily involved in other respects in the life of local parishes - will be forthcoming. The commissioning of large numbers of lay eucharistic assistants ('ministers' is now the approved term - but more of that later) will reduce priests to mechanistic consecrators of the Blessed Sacrament, a development which will rapidly, I suspect, lead either to  yet more calls for lay celebration of the Eucharist, or a further downgrading of the formation of the ordained or both. My own guess is, despite current intentions, that the future will see, particularly in the countryside, a further diminution of eucharistic liturgies of any kind in favour of what has become known (notoriously)  as 'all-age family worship.' 

It may - just - be possible to maintain a "catholic' sacramental  presence under such circumstances, but again only for the space of a generation, until the present Anglo-Catholic 'recusants' (an anachronistic, even impertinent, description, but it seems to fit) retire or die. They will not be not be replaced. Then we will see the final triumph of the Reformation in Anglicanism, albeit in its most liberal protestant development.
If we put our minds to it, surely it is possible to come up with models of pastoral ministry which are both more faithful to the past and capable of addressing the needs of the present than the kind of future envisaged by the 'official church.' The difficulty remains that being faithful to the tradition is a less and less treasured objective in the faith community of which we are a small and declining part. Even so, informal or internal structures may be more enduring than anything designed by a revisionist establishment which, if we are correct in our theological analysis, is in any case doomed to failure. There is considerable mileage, I think, in looking to the 'remnant' theology of Fr Martin Thornton for our own inspiration for the future.
In the meantime, if modern 'Morebaths'* are to exist, we need a recognisable and active network of Anglo-Catholic clergy and laity  who can help and support each other practically and spiritually in the emerging situation. Perhaps the various Catholic Societies (if they are serious about continuing as Anglicans) could usefully perform this role, rather than endlessly re fight yesterday's lost battles at the expense of any future, even if temporary, existence - after all, this life is itself only a temporary experience. "In the long run," as J.M. Keynes said, ".......

I do take issue, however, with those in authority who now maintain that the lay people who are not now in some way involved in running parishes, those who 'merely' come to church to receive the Sacraments, should somehow all be shamed into becoming, again if you forgive the term, 'religious activists.' If Christians are to act as a leaven in the world, does everyone need to hold down an ecclesial 'job' of some kind merely to keep a failing system on the road? 
Being present at mass and receiving the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament on a Sunday and spending the rest of the week in employment and / or with one's family is a valid and valuable Christian vocation, too - perhaps the most valuable of all in a secularised, faith-averse culture where the 'professional' voices of the Church are less and less heeded. 
No one has to be 'dignified' with the title of one active lay 'ministry' or another to be fulfilling his or her baptismal vocation and faithfully following Christ, yet that is what we seem to have come to expect.
Of course, within establishment Anglican circles there has been over recent years a deliberate blurring of the boundaries between the lay and ordained state. We have now 'Directors of Ministry' in every diocese, yet the word 'priesthood' is hardly ever mentioned except deliberately to promote the (somewhat dubious - as it has become understood) concept of the 'priesthood of all believers' at the expense of the traditional Catholic (and, indeed Anglican) theology of the ministerial priesthood.

[*Thanks to a valued correspondent (now in full communion with Peter) for this analogy - referring, of course, to Eamon Duffy's research in his book, 'The Voices of Morebath,' on the experience of the Tudor priest, Sir Christopher Trychay, in his Devonshire parish throughout the changing fortunes of the English Reformation - he was not the prototype 'Vicar of Bray' but someone altogether more honourable]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments will not be published