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Forward in Faith revisits Catholic vision of a ‘Church of the poor’

24 November 2017


Former slum church: the sanctuary during the concelebrated solemn eucharist at St Alban’s, Holborn, on Saturday morning

Former slum church: the sanctuary during the concelebrated solemn eucharist at St Alban’s, Holborn, on Saturday morning

SUPPORT for “our brothers and sisters” in the relatively high proportion of deprived parishes that fall within the traditional Anglo-Catholic constituency was a theme emphasised at Forward in Faith UK’s annual National Assembly in St Alban’s, Holborn, in London, last Saturday.

A statistical presentation was given during the afternoon session by Anne Gray, the projects officer for the Council of Bishops of the Society under the Patronage of St Wilfrid and St Hilda (which provides extended episcopal ministry for parishes that request it under a House of Bishops resolution).

Using figures from the Church of England’s Research and Statistics Department, Mrs Gray said that 84 per cent of the Society’s parishes were in the more deprived half of the Church of England’s parishes (according to the Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation). Forty-three per cent were among the most deprived ten per cent; and 23 of the parishes were among the most deprived one per cent.

In almost every diocese, the profile of the Society bishops’ resolution parishes was more deprived than the diocese as a whole.

The Society bishops’ responsibilties respectively were: Beverley, 105 parishes; Burnley, 19; Chichester, 14; Ebbsfleet, 94; Fulham, 60; Richborough, 97; and Wakefield, 31. The Assembly was shown a map that revealed how such parishes were often in geographical clusters.

“Ministry and mission to the poor and deprived in Anglo-Catholic parishes is as much a hallmark of their commitment today as it was in the past,” Mrs Gray said.

Her presentation followed a historical address from the Revd Ian McCormack, a church historian who teaches at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield.

Quoting from the 19th-century Tractarian leader E. B. Pusey and others, he suggested that the Tractarian outlook on poverty and deprivation had been distinct from that of the Christian Socialism that was later found in the Catholic movement. It laid much stronger emphasis on private charity, and the movement had included some notable benefactors of the poor, including Pusey himself.

Tractarian leaders “saw the outsourcing of personal obligations of charity and almsgiving to the state or any other agency as an inexcusable avoidance of one’s own duties and responsibilities”, and were caustic about the Poor Law and workhouses. They believed the parochial system and its incumbents to be responsible for administering almsgiving. “Much of the work the Tractarians and their successors did in the poorest parishes was not unique to them — but it was emphasised and prioritised within the movement to a unique extent.”

Fr McCormack, who is Vicar of the South Yorkshire ex-mining parish of Grimethorpe with Brierley (among the five per cent most deprived in England), said: “We are no longer threatened with riots for lighting the candles on our altars, or with suspension for preaching the Real Presence in the eucharist, as our Anglo-Catholic forebears were; but we are faced with a demand for 79.17 per cent of our income in parish share; with the need for a portfolio of policy documents so large that we’ve had to find new shelf space just to fit them all in, in a parochial setting where the reality is that some of the people I meet cannot read; and an ecclesiastical culture which sometimes seems to value numerical growth as the only possible gauge of success.”

In other business, the Assembly unanimously adopted a mission strategy, “Forming Missionary Disciples”, and heard a paper from the Revd Paul Benfield analysing Sir Philip Mawer’s report on the Sheffield affair (News, 22 September).

Fr Benfield welcomed the fact that the report upheld the propriety of the Rt Revd Philip North’s nomination, and refuted the suggestion that the possibility of a traditionalist bishop’s nomination had not been considered when the present settlement was drawn up.

Forward in Faith is marking its silver jubilee. Speakers noted that the expectation in some quarters in 1992 that the traditionalist constituency would soon be extinct had not been fulfilled. The Society’s bishops have ordained 50 priests in the past four years; but members were urged to be active in encouraging more men to consider the priesthood, and in promoting the religious life among men and women.

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