Friday 30 January 2009


Well, you have to admit life is never dull; after a period of staring into the night of likely extinction, Anglican Catholics have been given just a glimmer of hope in the news (or more accurately, rumour) that Rome is considering a personal prelature for the Traditional Anglican Communion.
Perhaps great things are happening on the ecumenical scene just as we thought ecumenism as we knew it was at an end. God has a habit of doing things in his way, and not in the way we expect!
Certainly, the stage is being set for new developments in Catholic unity. The election of Metropolitan Kirill in Moscow could lead to substantial movement towards unity with the East, and we poor refugees from the Reformation should never forget that this is the more significant arena of ecumenism as far as Rome is concerned. The two “lungs” of the Church are Rome and Orthodoxy; our own situation is something of a side show when compared to the importance of ending the Great Schism which pre-dates our own western tragedy by almost five hundred years.
Yet we do have a Pope who knows and understands not only the Lutheran situation of his native Germany but, through his knowledge of and sympathy with the theology of Newman, the fortunes and vicissitudes of our own ecclesial body. Certainly, if we are reading the signs of the times correctly, the fragments of Western Catholicism are being gathered together so that nothing may be lost. The first step towards of the reconciliation of the SSPX which we saw last week gives us all hope that something larger and even possibly momentous is at foot; could this vision of unity include the “separated Catholics” now being so marginalised and abused within the Anglican Communion? Does the Holy Father have a larger vision than we could have hoped for?
It became clear during the Summer at Lambeth that the Anglican establishment was drinking at the last chance saloon of unity with Rome; it is equally clear that the liberal ascendency which controls the Church of England and the Church in Wales wants nothing to do with Rome, and will cling perversely both to their radical agenda and to their radical revisionism where it comes to Anglican self-identity. The ARCIC / IARCCUM show is over: there is nothing for us to cling to there, except perhaps to take the process to its rightful conclusion.
For Anglicans not in the TAC and bound up with the official structures of the Communion there would seem to be a few "ecclesial identity problems" to be overcome before movement towards unity can take place. This is where Forward in Faith and our own Priestly Society, SSC, could have a significant part to play. Can they assume the role of Moses and Aaron and go to the Anglican pharaohs and say “let my people go?” The response may well be the same as recorded in the book of Exodus, but a negotiated withdrawal in the service of a wider unity and an ending of decades of attrition should appeal to anyone who has the best interests of the Gospel at heart, at least those not blinded by the false illusions of ecclesiastical “power.”
Without raising our hopes too far at the moment – and I still think it is important that we don’t get carried away - I am hoping and praying for an imaginative, generous and truly pastoral gesture towards a wider catholic ecumenism from the Holy Father (something which has at least the potential to be very big indeed, and which would enable clergy to bring as many of our people with us as we can), but it has to be matched by an equal willingness to respond from Anglican Catholics. If an initiative does comes from Rome, we cannot seem to hesitate or to bargain; this could be the best opportunity for the return of a large number of Anglicans to Peter since the 16th Century. (The establishment will never be reconciled - I think Rome knows that now very well).
I hope and pray!

Wednesday 28 January 2009


An interesting sunset over Le Grand Village, our farmhouse in the Vendee, photographed after saying Night Prayer (double click to enlarge). What do you think it looks like?

"He will conceal you with his wings; you will not fear the terror of the night."
"For you he has commanded his angels to keep you in all your ways"

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.

Thursday 15 January 2009

"All my life, I have prayed to God that I should remain religiously orthodox, culturally conservative, politically liberal and economically pragmatic."

“When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers through my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my own. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of 'justification by faith alone,' although I will thank God that that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood doctrine was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways...these and all other gifts I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will, with Dysmas, look to Christ and Christ alone.”

Richard John Neuhaus (May 14, 1936 - January 8, 2009)

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Richard John Neuhaus: 1936–2009

"Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed."

The death was announced last week of Fr Richard John Neuhaus, the founder of “First Things,” and a highly influential figure both in the American Church and behind the scenes in U.S. political life. A former Lutheran minister of long-standing, a collaborator in the civil rights movement with Dr Martin Luther King & Ralph Abernathy, he converted to Rome and was ordained to the priesthood. His writings on the relationship of faith with public life & the place of religion in the public square have much to say to those of us who are concerned with the increasing secularisation of western society, even for those who do not necessarily share the detail of his “neocon” political stance.
His spiritual journey from protestantism to Rome is also significant for all those who are battling with the theological liberalism which is in the ascendant (and in the positions of authority) in so many ecclesial bodies which trace their separate existence to the 16th century:
“I was thirty years a Lutheran pastor, and after thirty years of asking myself why I was not a Roman Catholic I finally ran out of answers that were convincing either to me or to others”
The obituary from “ U.S.A. Today” can be found here;

Tuesday 13 January 2009

BBC Recording

BBC Radio Wales were here at St Arvans on the afternoon of the Sunday of the Epiphany (4th January) to record two programmes for their “Celebration” series. The first was broadcast last Sunday morning (The Baptism of the Lord) and the second will go out at 8 a.m. on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (February 22nd.)
Of course, the early morning format of 24 minutes doesn’t allow for anything liturgical (at least not anything we do liturgically) but takes the form of a short service of hymns, prayers and an address. The choir also sang a couple of Marian carols. One hopes it isn’t possible to tell how cold we all were!

Too fat to adopt?

A story has broken in the national (U.K.) press concerning a couple who have been rejected by their local authority as candidates to adopt a child. The husband is regarded as too fat, despite not having a sedentary lifestyle or being unwell. His wife, moreover, has a career as a nanny, and they are both teetotal non-smokers.
A spokeswoman for Leeds City Council said:
"The council's adoption service has a legal responsibility to ensure that its looked-after children are placed with adopters who are able to provide the best possible lifelong care. Part of this responsibility is advice for applicants on a range of suitability criteria, including any health or lifestyle issues which may impact on an applicant's long-term ability to adopt…”.

Without wishing to comment more on the specific case, which may well turn out to be more complicated thanit at first appears, this does raise quite a few interesting and potentially worrying questions for the future.
In the wake of the dispute over the Catholic adoption agencies, how long will it be before any strongly held religious views (either orthodox Roman Catholic or Evangelical) will be regarded as an impediment in terms of adopting and caring for children? I am not only referring to those who depart from our society’s current norms with regard to views on human sexuality, but a whole range of beliefs and practices which may well be regarded as unacceptable to the post-modern liberal elites who now run our society with, it has to be admitted, public opinion largely seeming to be on their side.
Of course, we are not at this point yet, but there is an emerging and dangerous trend which should worry anyone concerned with the preservation of traditional rights and freedoms, religious freedoms above all. It is of particular concern in a country with a rapidly changing culture increasingly at odds with its history, and which has no written constitution and no home-grown bill of rights to which one can appeal.
So what rights should minorities in society be deemed to have, whether they are considered obese, fanatically religious, or to hold any other views which prove unacceptable to the majority?

Of course, Anglicans shouldn’t worry over much about any of this; we are not considered to hold any beliefs strongly enough to be seen as threatening to anyone, and the modern Church of England seems hell bent on restoring the most abject form of Erastianism imaginable: “the Church of the nation has to believe what the nation believes.”
It's not a question of Establishment, but of assimilation to the culture. As Anglicans we are more and more formed by the culture surrounding us and less and less by the imperatives of the Gospel. Things are no better in the disestablished Church in Wales: we elect our own bishops & so we get what we deserve! I blame Henry VIII (for most things.)

Tuesday 6 January 2009

United, but not absorbed?

Fr Giles Pinnock at Onetimothyfour has some interesting things to say about the ultimate destination of Anglican Catholics in the shipwreck which is the Anglican Communion:

“…. the fear of being assimilated by something far greater than oneself is an underlying motif manifested throughout western society – and sometimes in quite unexpected places.
For instance, ‘Anglo-Catholics’ have understandably a definite fear of assimilation by the CofE. We like our Flying Bishops and the Act of Synod because it appears to allow us to preserve our liturgical and cultural diversity such that it is not simply assimilated into florid but vacuous High Church Anglicanism.
But ‘Anglo-Catholics’ also have what is to my mind a bizarre ambivalence about being assimilated by the collective that they crave and yet seem instinctively to fear – the Catholic Church.
Being Catholic – by which I mean here specifically a member of the Catholic Church – is, alongside being Orthodox if that is what you already are, to be as fully Christian that it is possible to be this side of trying on your Resurrection body, and yet many of us seem to want to find our own way, our own definition, our own version of being Catholic.
We want the benefits of the collective, without surrendering the liturgical and cultural diversity of the smaller group that we presently inhabit, in which individuals are readily identified and known – as eccentrics, characters and ‘outspoken’ bloggers. The smaller pond in which it is possible to be a bigger fish – and what is the smallest pond in which it is possible to be the biggest fish of all? It is the solipsistic ‘I’ pond that liberal protestantism trains all westerners – Christian and not – to swim in, so fundamental are its assumptions to modern western culture.
Some have said that one of the appealing things about Anglo-Catholics for the Catholic Church might be our liturgical and spiritual heritage – we could add that in, so it is said, in the manner of our dowry, or a peace-offering for having been absent from the Catholic Church for four-hundred years that shows we haven’t been wasting our time being complete protestants. But I am not so sure ...
True, many Catholics in the CofE are liturgically pretty skilled. But the oft-touted claim that all or most Roman liturgy and preaching in the British Isles is dreadful and somehow in need of Anglo-Catholic redemption is not true, which you discover if you go to Mass in Catholic churches with any regularity. There are some howlers, but I reckon the all-age ‘Godly play’ and self-consciously non-Eucharistic approach to worship of much of the CofE can at least match any of the less-polished Roman offerings for dreadfulness.
And in the rediscovery of the Extraordinary Use of the Roman Rite, and the (re-)training of at least some Catholic priests to celebrate it, some of the formality and grace of the older form will I would imagine osmose itself back into the celebration of the Ordinary Form, where it is at all lacking.
There is certainly a body of spiritual writing and hymnody of great value that comes out of certain threads running through the history of the CofE, but it is hardly a hidden gnosis that will be unveiled at the due time by its Anglo-Catholic custodians – it’s all published and there for the taking on the shelves of Amazon as well as real bookshops.
What Catholics of the CofE have to offer the Catholic Church is, I would suggest, ourselves – not as a rare and precious ecclesial delicacy it should consider itself fortunate to get its hands on, but as a body of men, women and children who seek to make a small contribution to the unity of the Church for which Christ prayed by stepping across the breach of the Reformation and back into the fold of Peter, a few small steps towards there again being one flock and one shepherd.
I see that less as absorption or assimilation, and more like reconciliation. And of itself, that doesn’t scare me at all.”

That is exactly the point. We can scarcely be surprised if Rome is (if reports are true) somewhat wary at the prospect of an influx of Anglican Catholics if we constantly offer ourselves as (literally) God's gift to the Catholic Church. Many of us were ordained to the priesthood in the mid '80s - for us the heady years after the Papal visit to England & Wales. The hopes and dreams of full & visible unity with Rome have all proved to have been illusory -at least in the sense that we imagined was possible. Those days will never return; if our yearning for unity meant anything, we should now be prepared (not only prepared, but eager) to make even a small contribution to the healing of the wounds of the fractured Body of Christ and to make the necessary step together. For many of us the cost will be great, but surely we have no choice but to pay it. As to "Anglican" identity, there is a valuable cultural and theological ethos which has largely formed us, but you are right: we don't possess it in the sense of a unique treasure which belongs to us and only us and can be offered as a gift to the Catholic Church. We can only come with nothing in our hands, asking for the gift of unity with the rock from which we were forcibly hewn in the 16th Century. There were no "Anglicans" before the Reformation, but there was a "English" Catholic ethos which did nothing to detract from unity with Rome. Perhaps we can make a small contribution to that in the 21st Century, and ask for the prayers of John Henry Newman in making it so.
We as Anglo-Catholics, Anglican Catholics or whatever, need urgently to begin / continue the debate on this. Will we accept any provision from General Synods or Governing Bodies (not that we have been offered anything at all in Wales) and completely abandon the search for full & visible unity with Rome, for the dubious privilege of remaining in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and within an ecclesial body where we clearly have no future?

Return of the native

Before Christmas we took possession once again of “our” tenth century standing stone which has been cleaned and re-joined by masons working for CADW (for any readers over the border, the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage.) The precise origins of the stone are unclear as the experts assure us it displays Celtic, Saxon and even Coptic influences in its iconography.
The reverse of the cross shows at its base a depiction of the empty tomb with either angels or sleeping soldiers on either side.
It was rediscovered, broken in two, in one of the nave walls during the 19th century restoration & enlargement of the Church building. I like to think (although this may be wishful thinking) that it may have been placed there to preserve it from further desecration in the Reformation period. It has been rejoined in such a way as not to disguise the original break, but it now stands in one piece at the back of the Lady Chapel, near the font. Perhaps, and again I’m probably being fanciful, this could be a parable for our own future as Anglican Catholics, reunited again to our Mother Church after centuries of division.
Above are some photographs of the stone (taken by Father Mark) in its temporary setting; some of the decoration is clearly visible.

Monday 5 January 2009

Weasel Words

This is the text of the Archbishop’s letter; the punctuation and style are inimitably his own.

"Dear Mrs Stephens,

Thank you for your letter. I thought that I had responded but in any case your letter arrived just as the pastoral letter sent by the Bench was distributed to all the parishes in the Province so I would have thought that was an answer.
I am afraid that you have misunderstood the nature of the undertaking given by the Bishops 12 years ago. We agreed that there was a continuing place for those against the ordination of women in the church. We did not agree to appoint in perpetuity a Bishop specifically to look after them. We did appoint a Provincial Assistant Bishop but we did not promise that this provision would be permanent. Pastoral care of all clergy and lay people are in the hands of the Diocesan Bishop, just as the pastoral care of all parishioners are in the hands of parish priests to whom the care of parishioners has been entrusted. The fact is that this was an unanimous decision of the whole Bench and the fact that it was depleted is, in fact, irrelevant. For such a provision to be made every single Diocesan Bishop needs to give his approval. At the time there were four Bishops on the Bench and we voted unanimously not to continue this provision. Even if two Bishops were in favour, we could not have such a person as a Provincial Assistant Bishop.
The matter has been discussed fully and the answer is that we will not be making another appointment.

Yours sincerely,

+ Barry Cambrensis"

In the bleak midwinter

Having ended our celebrations of the Epiphany here with a solemn mass and a BBC radio recording from a freezingly cold Parish Church (even with the heating on full blast), now is perhaps a good time to take stock of our situation. It is almost four months since we heard the news of the removal of provision for alternative episcopal oversight in the Church in Wales. If anything should warn our Catholic brethren in the Church of England against the acceptance of a Code of Practice, this should be it. We had a code of practice giving us a Provincial Assistant Bishop and they took the provision away from us overnight.
Many have been praying for a change of heart on the part of the Bishops, but correspondence we received from the Archbishop of Wales before Christmas makes that change of heart seem highly improbable, to say the least.
Essentially, there will be a change of heart “when hell freezes over."
There are many things one could say about the Archbishop’s letter, it’s probably best simply to repeat a comment made by a member of the P.C.C. – “So much for pastoral care!”
The question for Anglican Catholics in Wales is where does this leave us?
Is it all over?
Where do we go from here?