First, I must apologise for this letter appearing late: I have delayed writing it until 9th November, the day after I announced my resignation from the See of Ebbsfleet, and the first anniversary of Anglicanorum cœtibus. Today is also the anniversary of Bishop John Richards’ death. When he became Bishop in 1994 many thought that he would be the one and only Bishop of Ebbsfleet. Who would have thought that he would have several successors – two so far? Bishop John was a fine man and I pray that he will rest in peace and share in the glory of the Resurrection.
My resignation takes effect on 31st December, but, for bishops who become a Roman Catholic, custom requires that we cease public ministry forthwith. I foresaw how difficult this would be and it was for that reason that I arranged Study Leave, which began a month ago and lasts until the end of the year. I am extremely grateful for the countless messages of goodwill I have received. My farewell service is at 12 noon on 27th November at St John’s, New Hinksey, Oxford. I hope that some of you can be there.
Until the resignation was announced, I was careful not to recommend to anyone, or to any parish, how they should react to Anglicanorum cœtibus, the Holy See’s response to our appeal to Rome for help. Writing recently to laity in Oxford Forward in Faith who had expressed an interest in remaining in the Church of England whatever happens, my office duly sent them details of the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda. Writing to those interested in the Ordinariate of England and Wales, I promised to hand on their details, with their permission, to the lay organisers. I hope something similarly even-handed happens in every diocese of the Church of England. As I have explained in the last three Pastoral Letters, this is a time for prayerful discernment. The Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, not at our beck and call, but changing and transforming us and our communities. The pioneering Ordinariate groups, when they come into being, will be ‘fresh expressions of church’, mostly new, missionary congregations, seeking to bring people to the fullness of the Catholic Faith and to advance the work of the Kingdom.
It has been hard – and it will continue to be hard – to leave many of you behind. The relationship of a bishop with his people is that of a father, and, of all the titles, ‘father’ is the one to cherish. To no longer be the father of the clergy, the people, and the parishes is a real bereavement. I love you and I miss you. Had the Ebbsfleet project succeeded, we would all have become a local church, not unlike an Ordinariate, but within the Church of England, and seeking unity corporately with the Holy See, a fulfilment of the ARCIC discussions these last forty years. That was our vision, and it was not to be. Those who see a future for Ebbsfleet need another bishop with a different vision.
Yet amidst the bereavement is also intense joy. The Ordinariate is not something that can be joined corporately. Like the Walsingham coach, we have to climb on board one by one. In the queue for the coach, and on the coach, the pilgrimage group are all together, with their pastor. A couple of dozen of these coaches will be on the road very soon in Southern England, and I shall be on one of them. Other coaches will join the pilgrimage later: some people are already making bookings. Those joining the pilgrimage – a ramshackle caravan of pilgrims stretching across the wastelands into the distance – are full of joy and hope. Their enthusiasm and faith are contagious. Though I have had chance to visit only four of the groups, lay leaders of other groups have been in touch. So too have the clergy who have been acting as chaplains of the groups, amidst their other responsibilities.
Never far from the back of my mind are the Farewell Discourses of Jesus in St John’s Gospel. After all, to follow Christ, even at our lowly level, means being prepared to walk on ahead, face the dangers and difficulties, and trust that those left behind will be cared for. There is no vainglory here. I am quite sure, faced with the Passion, I would have run away, like the other disciples. I too would have denied even knowing Jesus, and left it to the holy women to be constant and strong. But, looking through the Farewell Discourses, there is not only Jesus going ahead to prepare a place but also the promise of a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit (John 14). Jesus is the True Vine and, cut off from him, we can do nothing but wither and be thrown into the fire and burned (John 15). His new commandment is to love one another. There are two musical settings of these words by sixteenth century composers, Sheppard and Tallis, working in the heat of the reformation battle. They were Catholics but bravely setting texts for the new Reformation Church. ‘By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another’. The work of the Spirit is to guide us into all the truth (John 16:13) and to glorify the Father and the Son. Thus our sorrow will be turned into joy. We learn of the gift of Peace, which, amidst the tribulation of the world is found only in Christ. Finally Jesus prays for the gift of Unity (John 17). It is that gift of Unity, I believe, which is offered to us, and through us eventually to all separated Christians, in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Cœtibus. It is because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, abiding in his Church, that I believe I must accept it and invite others to come with me on the journey. The Church gathers round, and maintains its unity in communion with, the successor of Peter.
I disown and renounce nothing that I have done in Jesus’ name: God is faithful. But I am now laying aside my bishopric. Self-emptying (kenosis) is hard – harder than any of us can manage in our own strength – but it is basic to being a disciple, as the gospels constantly remind us. Everyone on the journey has to do some laying aside. But we pray, in Cowper’s words, echoing St John of the Cross: ‘The dearest idol I have known, Whate’er that idol be, Help me to tear it from Thy throne, And worship only Thee’.
It is a Parting of Friends. I was mindful of that on the feast of Blessed John Henry Newman, 9th October, when I went off to Littlemore to join in the Newman Mass there. This time we must do everything – better than we managed 150 years ago and 15 years ago – to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Let us leave aside our squabbles and let God work in our midst.
May God bless and keep you as you faithfully seek to serve him.
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