This Sunday is Rogation Sunday, and many parishes will be beating the bounds. For well over 1000 years, processions have made their way from the church to walk the boundaries of the parish. In what is basically an exercise in marking out territory, children bash the boundary with sticks and shout: “Mark, mark, mark.” For centuries, this has expressed the territorial integrity of the parish.
No wonder, then, that the Vicar of All Saints’, Fulham, the Revd Joe Hawes, was hopping mad at the leaflet popped through his parishioners’ doors last week. Bearing the C of E logo, it proclaimed “a new church for Fulham”. The back of the glossy flyer had a map showing half of his parish.
It was the first he had heard of this new church. He phoned the Area Dean, who also hadn’t heard that any service was starting. He phoned the Central Fulham Churches forum. It was completely in the dark, too. We are always being told that church-planting requires extensive consultation. This one was parachuted in under the cover of darkness.
As usual, the story is complicated. It seems that Fr Hawes’s neighbouring parish — St Etheldreda’s, a small Anglo-Catholic outfit — has made room for a church plant from the Co-Mission Initiative. This is a nominally Anglican organisation that has proved itself indifferent to parish and diocesan boundaries.
It is the same team that secretly flew over a bishop from the Church of England in South Africa to perform its own ordinations, because it refused to submit its candidates to the diocesan selection procedures (News, 11 November 2005). The imported bishop wasn’t even in communion with the C of E. It’s the same lot that goes in for lay presidency. And will they pay a parish share? It looks unlikely.
“I believe this initiative seriously undermines the Church of England’s ministry in this area,” said Fr Hawes. He is right to be concerned. Despite the fact that he runs a growing church, with more than 600 on the electoral roll, the Co-Mission Initiative wouldn’t regard him as a proper Christian. He is a liberal Catholic, and therefore fair game for poaching.
Across the ocean, the Primate of All Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, was doing the same thing, setting up a new Nigerian diocese in the United States. The Archbishop of Canterbury asked him not to, but that was water off a duck’s back. He went ahead. Anglicanism desperately needs to rediscover the beating of the bounds.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney. His most recent book is Christianity with Attitude (Canterbury Press, £9.99 (CT Bookshop £9); 978-1-85311-782-4).
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