Forward in Faith is urged to hope

25 October 2013

GRAHAM HOWARD

Left to right: the Bishops of Fulham, Beverley, and Ebbsfleet at the event

Left to right: the Bishops of Fulham, Beverley, and Ebbsfleet at the event

THE National Assembly of Forward in Faith UK (FiF UK), meeting in St Alban's, Holborn, London, last Saturday, was urged to be hopeful about the future for traditionalists in the Church of England.

But it was also warned that they needed to keep asking the question that John Henry Newman had asked about the basis of the authority of the Church of England's priests.

The basis for hope, the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, the movement's chairman, told delegates, was "those words, those commitments, those promises" made in the working party's report on the women-bishops legislation in July.

Bishop Baker said that, in the past year, "in one key sense, everything has changed, and changed in a way which - extraordinary as it is to say so - can and must give us hope, hope that creates real opportunity for us under God, if only, under God, we can rise to the challenge."

Although it was easy to say "words, promises, empty promises perhaps", and FiF's Council would be "watching like hawks" to see them honoured, the unanimous report of the working party, representing the spectrum of views across the C of E, had agreed that "Catholics and Evangelicals who are unable, on the grounds of theological conviction, to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests remain within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition; that the Church of England will be committed to their flourishing within its life and structures - a very important phrase, that . . . - and that provision for them - for us - will be made without limit of time."

The Revd Paul Benfield, a member of the steering committee for the legislation, said that he could not say what had been decided, as the committee had agreed to maintain confidentiality, and had not put out an interim report. It would be "going public" the coming Friday. But he was prepared to say that there would be a long and complicated series of documents "on which none of you will be able to take a view quickly".

Several members spoke of the pain among traditionalists since last November at being blamed for the defeat of the draft legislation, which had, said Canon Simon Killwick, of the General Synod's Catholic Group, been "wholly predictable". At no stage in the legislative process had there been a sufficient majority in favour, and the Group and FiF had been "clear, open, and honest about our position".

Dr Lindsay Newcombe spoke of suffering, with other opponents of the draft Measure, the "widespread backlash" of anger and disappointment. "Please know that you are not alone," she said.

Delegates were urged to see this as part of Christ's cross: Christians had often inflicted pain on one another.

Speakers testified to a clearing of the air by the facilitated or mediated conversations in the Synod and outside it, and to encouraging signs. Canon Killwick said that the Bishop of Dover's amendment at the July Synod meeting, seeking a mandatory grievance process, was "hugely significant", as it had the potential for "robust arrangements". Borrowing Prebendary Sam Philpott's phrase, he said that to "get off the battlefield and on to the mission field" would be a "huge prize".

He was wary, however, of those who were counting on the General Synod elections in 2015 to change voting patterns in the House of Laity, "so that a Measure that makes very little provision would pass". But the 2010 elections had been keenly fought, and there was no evidence that the 2015 elections would garner a different result.

A motion proposed by Prebendary Philpott was carried unanimously. It reaffirmed "our aspiration to flourish within the structures of the Church of England and make our full contribution to its life and mission"; requested the General Synod and the House of Bishops "to ensure that we have continued access to a ministry which will make this possible"; and thanked those members of FiF who had "participated in the facilitated conversations and in the Steering Committee for the Women in the Episcopate legislation with a view to achieving this".

The new Director, Dr Colin Podmore, spoke about the measures taken during the year to get FiF's finances on to a firmer footing: it had been relying too much on legacy income, he warned them. The most painful of the measures taken had been the cessation of the newspaper Forward Plus. But now, with other Catholic societies, a new quarterly paper is to be produced, under the title Together, edited by the Revd Christopher Smith, Vicar of St Alban's, Holborn.

Death, illness, and the Ordinariate had played their part in the loss of 96 members over the past six months; but 79 new members had been recruited. A motion proposing the restructuring of the Council and executive committee was proposed by Prebendary David Houlding and carried after a short debate. This was followed by a presentation led by Dr Newcombe, on women in the Church, which including stories and testimonies from women of various ages and backgrounds.

The sermon at the Assembly mass was given by the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, who retires on 8 November. He warned against the danger of an insular C of E. "Time and again when I have come back to the Church of England from my ministry in Europe, I have been all too conscious of a constraining parochialism; and it has been a real sadness that the debates of the General Synod all too often do not show any real awareness of the big picture, of the vitality and the reality of the life of the great Churches of both East and West, with whom as Catholic Anglicans we claim - and rightly claim - to share so much in common."

The question that Newman had asked, "On what ground do you stand, O presbyter of the Church of England?", was one that rightly they had to continue asking. "Do we stand, as the Church of England has claimed to do, on the historic, apostolic ministry, or do we stand with the spirit of the age and the cultural currents of the day? The gospel is indeed to be proclaimed afresh in each generation, and that means addressing the questions of each generation, not adapting to current cultural norms: they have to be tested and tried by the gospel and by the faith of the Church Catholic."

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