The Southwest Chapter of SSC (the Society of the Holy Cross) met in the parish of Heavitree, Exeter, yesterday. Fr Kit Dunkley, the Master of our English Province, asked me to give an address. It is rather long, so I shall divide it into two posts.
Living in the Interim
‘What is this that he says to us, a little while and you shall not see me, and again a little while and you shall see me? We cannot tell what he says’. Liturgically we are in that interim, the pause between resurrection and ascension, the little time. Truth to tell, though, as Christians we are always in an interim. ‘Here we have no abiding city’. ‘We are strangers and pilgrims’. ‘What we shall be has not yet been revealed, but when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’.
My generation ought to be prepared for this. I was born in an interim, the time between the two wars. Growing up, war-time too was a not-yet time; once the war is over it will all be different, we were told. Only it wasn’t. Rationing went on into the 1950’s, and still we waited.
Today there is another interim, a time until it all becomes clear. It is not just the Pope’s offer to Anglicans; we have been living an interim in the church for almost as long as I can remember. First there were the heady days when real talks began between Rome and Anglicanism, and it seemed we were making progress. Every new report seemed to say that we were agreed; ARCIC on eucharist, on ministry, on everything we had been arguing about for centuries. Of course there were spoilsports, bishops who would say that though Synods might concur they themselves would not. And all the time there seemed to be Protestantism renewing itself; Billy Graham had conducted his missions from the 50’s on, and there were increasing numbers of Anglican Priests who were really non-conformists but found this the best pond to fish in. But if only the leaders of the churches would get a move on, it would all work out.
What should have worried us, but seemed not to, was the whittling away of catholic teaching. When theological colleges began to close, we were assured it would all be even-handed. We might lose Ely, and Wells might have to merge with Salisbury, but they would still have a catholic ethos, and there was always Cuddesdon. Until one day we woke up to discover that the college on that site had amalgamated with the modernist Ripon Hall, and that none of the staff had themselves been at the old Cuddesdon, nor seemed to know anything about it. At a meal there one evening after what our Ordinands naughtily called the “inter-Faith Service” when people from Ripon Cuddesdon, Wycliffe and S Stephen’s House joined in a eucharist, one of the Cuddesdon men said to me, “Father, I believe you trained at an institution on this site”; he got it exactly; the Cuddesdon of my day had no connection with the Ripon Cuddesdon of his. Equally, Salisbury/Wells had no affinities with the Wells of yore.
The cull continued. Kelham was probably the greatest loss, for it was no ordinary college but a recruiting ground. It had been the one place where working class lads with little education might aspire to ordination, and be given a basic education which would fit them for theological training. Still, there was Mirfield so that was all right… Or was it? Or is it? And as financial pressure grew, so did the courses. The Bishop of London, one David Hope, formerly Principal of St Stephen’s House, decided that residential training was unjustifiable; and he began putting his London ordinands on a course based at Oak Hill, its Principal his former chaplain now known to some of you as Bishop of Truro. What a stellar career. Today, catholic theological education in the Church of England has all but gone, just a remnant of it still in St Stephen’s House, and that reduced to a handful of ordinands.
Then came the greatest threat of all to the catholic nature of our Church; the Ordination of Women, our 11.11. Nov ’92, St Martin’s Day. Some catholics decided that because General Synod had passed the legislation, it must be according to the will of God. Then they began to see that if this might be changed, there was nothing that could not alter in faith or doctrine or moral theology. Some of us began drawing lines. Well, I can put up with this because the church has made special provision for us; we can still be catholic, while belonging to a body which has little left of its former catholic ethos. Not a step further though, mark you. Here’s my line… which turned out to be a line in the sand. We ought to understand the folly of lines in the sand; we are in Wessex, and Canute was once our king. He proved once and for all that whatever we may do, the tide still comes in. Now I am giving you this very personal account of how we are where we are in the hope that we can learn from the past, and discern where we are heading. Some of what I have said may resonate for you; some of it will be quite irrelevant. The Elephant in the room which I’ve barely mentioned yet is that extraordinary offer by the Pope, Anglicanorum Coetibus. We could hardly meet as a Catholic Society of Priests for our first Synod since October 2009 and not take that into account. I hope, though, that we can begin the process of discerning our future and recognise that no solution, either deciding to hang on in the Church of England, or jumping at the Pope’s offer, will be a magic wand to take us out of our time of waiting, our interim.
During these past few months our Society’s prayer has become increasingly important for me. The partings of the ways which happened in the early 90’s were desperately unhappy for us all. It is understandable. The decision in the 1992 Synod was truly shocking. Those of us who were present had not believed it possible. Surely the Bishops would see it was wrong? The house of clergy had been swamped by elected women deacons and so was a lost cause, but the house of laity had done its arithmetic and they would not fail us. But they did, and the vote passed by a whisker. Priests tore off their clerical collars, supporters of women priests had a party in the square outside Church House. Many of us skulked off through a back door to avoid the celebrating crowds and the press. Yet in truth if it had not got through then, it would have passed ultimately, and perhaps even more bitterly.
Worse than the vote itself was the way some of our brethren chose to leave. Of course they were upset. Certainly they were angry. But what they did was extreme. We heard of church notice-boards being torn down or defaced by those priests, far worse we even heard that the Blessed Sacrament was removed and the Tabernacle left empty and open. Yet did we not pray then as we do now, “Keep the brothers of the SSC united in love and in faith?” That prayer, I suggest, is to be the measure of our behaviour and our bearing in the months and years ahead. There are going to be so many responses to the Apostolic Constitution.
For some, perhaps, the way is perfectly clear. If the Church of England went ahead with the consecration of women as bishops, then it would have chosen to be a protestant rather than a catholic body. That was spelled out in no uncertain terms by Cardinal Kasper. He said it to the House of Bishops of the Church of England who had invited him to address them. Some of our brethren have accepted that conclusion, and decided they must align themselves with the See of Rome. Still, though, these men are also in an interim. They wait, more or less patiently, on the outcome of talks between our PEVs and the Roman Authorities. The broad outlines of the Ordinariate are clear from the documents, but the details are far from clear. Who will be the Ordinary for England? That really matters. Will it be one of the present PEVs, or a former Anglican Bishop who has joined the Roman Catholic Church already, or a former Anglican who has been created a Bishop since his conversion? And what of married ordinands? The documents show there can be concessions made to admit them; but how long will these concessions continue, and how generous will they be? Is there any chance that this might be a way of easing Rome’s present insistence on a celibate priesthood? And what about buildings, churches and vicarages?
I think it is important for us today that we should try to look not at the details of the Ordinariate and how it might develop, but rather at the variety of ways in which we and our brethren might respond. My purpose in this is to try to safeguard our Society and ensure that it really wants what it prays for; ‘that the brethren of our Society might be united in love and in faith’. All I can say is conjecture; you must fill in the details of where you stand and why.
It is too easy to suppose that our own personal motives for any action are pure, while any others’ actions are necessarily less than properly motivated. We’ve thought already of those who left soon after the ’92 vote. But what of the others? Those who adapted to the change, those who decided they could accept women in the priesthood? We all hear things like “He changed his views in order to get a pointy hat”, and I have said such things myself – but this judgmental attitude is damaging – to us. Our Lord tells us we are not to judge, and we must not. None of us, I guess, had totally pure motives, and we must not attribute the worst motives to those we disagree with. There is One who judges, and we must leave it to Him. Certainly there are priests who have accepted women in the priesthood but are in all other respects (they would say in all respects) faithful catholics. Some of us here today may yet decide that is how it will be for us in future; if so, those of us who cannot adapt in this way must accept that what they do is done for honourable motives.
But you see already how hard it is to be even-handed; to stand aside from judgment, to try not to reveal ones own position. Our own decisions keep showing through.
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