Giles Fraser: A garment that will tear apart

29 October 2008

Have you heard the one about the Pope and Calvin meeting in Jeru­salem? No, it is not a joke. Well, on second thoughts, perhaps it is.

At the Forward in Faith National Assembly, the Revd Geoffrey Kirk gave an enthusiastic account of his time at the Global Anglican Future Confer­ence (GAFCON). It was “an extraordinary experience” and “a movement of the Spirit”.

Fr Kirk was of the opinion that one day the “broadband orthodoxy” of GAFCON would come to share his opposition to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate. He closed by suggesting that Forward in Faith should look to GAFCON for future safe haven. He was warmly applauded.

Shortly before that, Churchman, the magazine of the Church Society, was getting hot and bothered about the fact that, at GAFCON eucharists, the priest elevated the host. This practice, it says, contravenes Article XXV of the Thirty-Nine Articles: “The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about . . .”

Churchmen were out to stop this sort of wickedness from happening again. And we learn that, at the same time, the diocese of Sydney, whose Archbishop, Dr Peter Jensen, is at the helm of the good ship GAFCON, was preparing his diocese for lay presidency (News, 17 Oc­tober).

The Archbishop is content with a woman celebrating the eucharist because he does not think that the celebrant needs to be a priest at all. He just does not want women in leadership positions — that is a man’s job, apparently.

To think that GAFCON is a safe haven for traditionalist Anglo-Catholics is like believing in fairies. Whereas Forward in Faith sees Rome as the “rock from which we are hewn”, and that working towards unity with the See of Peter is essential to its very being, conservative Evan­gelicals still denounce Romanism as an ecclesiological sin at every turn.

Again, the Thirty-Nine Articles: “the Romish Doctrine” concerning icons and saints, for instance, is “repugnant to the Word of God”. Conservative Evangelicals stick by all this. They believe the Church to be only half reformed, and are itching to finish the job.

Leviticus 19.19 tells us not to wear a garment made of two types of material. Perhaps the problem is that once the garment is washed or distressed in some way, it will tear and begin to fall apart. I have never seen the sense in this passage from scripture until now.

Many traditional Catholics are feeling unloved by the C of E. I wish it were not so. But to believe that Ca­tholic sacramental theology is safe with GAFCON is a self-deception.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, in south London.

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