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Interview: Colin Podmore director, Forward in Faith

03 May 2013

'Many people you expect to disagree with become less disagreeable when you spend time with them'

I run Forward in Faith, but also act as an adviser and co-ordinator for the Catholic bishops, the Catholic Group in General Synod, and the Catholic movement generally.

Forward in Faith has approaching 5000 national members. We need to convert those who belong to Forward in Faith parishes, as well as branch members and other supporters, into national members.

Our aim, at the moment, is to secure provision that will enable us to flourish as a positive presence within the Church of England.

The response to my appointment was overwhelmingly positive and generous. I received very warm messages from people who disagree with me. Only a few congratulated me through gritted teeth.

I had 25 years of wonderful experiences working at Church House, but I don't miss anything. I have a sense of having "done that". Though managing a large division taught me a great deal, I was glad to leave management behind.

I was doing graduate research at Oxford, on the role of the Moravian Church in the English Evangelical Revival in the mid-18th century. After I left university, I went to work in a German boarding school in a little village, both Moravian; so I became fascinated by the history of this tiny European Protestant Church and its influence on Methodism - John Wesley's heart becoming "strangely warmed" - and I knew that, because of that, it had played a quite disproportionate role in the English Church.

Towards the end of my three years' funding, I looked for a job, and a junior job in Church House came up. All my later roles flowed from that.

All organisations need administration. Church administrators help people to make decisions, and then record and implement them.

I'd like to be remembered for my modest contributions to church history and Anglican ecclesiology. Every time I attend an ordination, I am proud of my part in the genesis of our ordination services.

My beliefs are Anglican; so conversion to Roman Catholicism as an individual or in a group is not an option. Nor would it fulfil the vision of Christian unity. I am staying, and hope to be able to stay joyfully.

People on our side of the debate over women bishops are more committed to engaging with the rest of the Church of England. There are signs that some advocates of women bishops are ready to adopt a more inclusive approach, but sadly others seem even more determined to purify the Church (as they see it), and extinguish traditions with which they disagree.

Ordaining women as priests militates against the unity of Christ's Church. To change unilaterally something which, like the Nicene Creed, belongs to the whole Church is to act as if the Church of England were the whole, not merely a part. Men and women are equal but not interchangeable, and priesthood is an inherently male role.

If you believe that the role of the priest is to represent Christ, and in particular Christ at the altar, presiding at the eucharist, you have to ask if the fact that Christ was male in his incarnation was relevant, or whether he could have been incarnated as a woman. I think the fact is that it was relevant.

And a bishop is said to be a "father in God". Can women be fathers? This is a gendered role. There's a theology in scripture of Christ as bridegroom and the Church as bride - there's a whole world of thought lying behind that.

There have been all those changes in interpreting gender and family, and it is important to engage with that; but there is an irreducible core - a difference between father and mother, not just biologically speaking - however they have been interpreted and enacted over the years.

This strand is only one part of the argument, and not all Anglo-Catholics would be opposed in principle, but I have to be honest and say that I am.

My work in ecumenism has shown me that unity is fostered by personal engagement and relationships, conversation and fellowship. Reaching out to people tends to bring out the best in them. Many people you expect to dislike or disagree with become more likeable and less disagreeable when you spend time working with them.

A happy family upbringing, and close relationships within a large extended family, have provided a secure framework for my life.

I owe a great debt to my Methodist Sunday school, and the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs, and to my chaplain at Keble, Geoffrey Rowell.

Becoming an Anglican at 19, returning to Oxford for doctoral research at 25, and leaving Church House for Forward in Faith this year are among the big choices of my life. But, ultimately, most important decisions make themselves.

Becoming an Anglican was partly because of the appeal of Catholic Anglican worship, and partly because of the feeling that, in the Church of England, you're identifying with the Christian tradition in this country going back to the Dark Ages: in Cornwall, to the age of the saints - the sixth century. In Bodmin, where I grew up, Roman Catholicism was introduced in the 19th century. You're standing very deliberately in that succession rather than in a group who, at some stage, broke away from that mainstream.

As a separate Church, the Church of England is a post-Reformation body. But, then, so is the Roman Catholic Church. Before then, it was just "the Church". Our Church is incomplete because of its lack of communion with the rest of the Western Church, but I'd say that the Roman Catholic Church is also incomplete because of its lack of us.

There's not one body that has everything, to which the rest have to go back. That's why we strive for the unity of the Church - we long for greater completeness.

I don't remember having any childhood ambitions, but I felt called to work for the Church nationally as a layman long before that came about.

When I was young, I worked too hard and played too little. That's my biggest regret.

Geoffrey Rowell and Mary Tanner were both important influences.

Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Hermann Hesse, Barbara Pym, and Alan Bennett are some of my favourite authors.

Polzeath beach is a favourite place of mine. I am happiest on a beautiful coastline, on a beautiful day, in congenial company.

A Cornish male-voice choir singing a rousing Wesley hymn is hard to beat.

I love the Gospel and Epistles of John. Leviticus is not very inspiring.

I am most often angered by unfairness and untruthfulness.

I pray most for people I love, living and departed.

The fact that God is calling increasing numbers of gifted young men of traditional Catholic views to the priesthood gives me great hope for the future.

I'd like to get locked in a church for a few hours with Michael Ramsey. I once sat opposite him and Lady Ramsey on a train from Oxford to Birmingham, but we were too shy to talk to each other.

Dr Podmore was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
www.forwardinfaith.com

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