Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Manchester Report, a Personal Reflection.

'Our help is in the name of the Lord'

'Who has made heaven and earth'

As most of you know, I am training to be a Priest in the Church of England. When I originally talked to the Director of Ordinands and the Bishop, I said that I wanted to train non-residentially, an option which is suggested for those over 3o years of age. This was for a number of reasons, including my educational background but after discussion with the then Principal of my course, a two year individual pathway was decided upon and ratified by the University of Leeds and, more importantly, the Archbishop's Council. Now, the other reason that I wanted to do the course which I am on is that it is traditionally dominated by students who waver to the evangelical end of the Church and, indeed, by female ordinands. In this, it reflects that Church of England generally, if we are honest. I have been Catholic with a large C for all of my life and I am firmly convinced of the truth of the Faith which has been held by the Church for two thousand years. My PEV Bishop, quite understandably, was I felt slightly apprehensive about my choosing of this course, the Northern Ordination Course, as it has, as you will have gathered, almost no track record of turning out faithful Anglo Catholic Priests. This is understandable but I felt and still feel, that someone so immersed in the Catholic tradition as I am should be immersed for some time in other traditions of the Church, with people equally as fervent and convinced of their positions as I am.
I have encountered some fascinating and dynamic opinions as well as some which I am convinced are harmful as well but this is not the point. To turn the tables, how am I, a male Anglo Catholic ordinand with my convictions, held in the sights -and the friendship- of my classmates in Manchester, of whom there are nine, all of whom are female? The answer is, unless I am perpetually deluded, with the same respect as everyone else. There were and still are to an extent, a hundred questions a day 'what's purgatory' 'what is heaven like in your opinion' 'what is a maniple for' (I don't know!), but the wonder of it all is that we get along and work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect for I am aware that it is I who is the odd one out and sometimes I wonder what would happen if the tables were turned. But even this is misguided, I am not the 'odd one out', we are all, irrespective of gender or political or ecclesiological views (even the Fresh Expressions people who confuse me) ordinands in the same Church. Grasping this is often hard, for all of us I imagine.
Fine, you may be saying, but we know that you can argue your corner. But I hope not to do so, I hope that I show forth, as we used to say, with my life the truth which I hold so dear. Firmly held and well loved devotion will usually show and it does in all of us. It is difficult sometimes because it is suddenly uncomfortable saying 'women Bishops' this or 'women Priests' that, when such issues come up and I sometimes feel as though it is as socially unacceptable as saying, for example, 'the black Bishops issue', which is regrettable for in truth there is nothing but devotion in my views and my opinions on the ordination of women jar, utterly, with my socialist, liberal political views and my inclusive preaching of the Gospel. As I continually have to explain, I am but obedient to Christ's teachings and I would be glad if they were otherwise, but they are not and this is the way it is. That my fellow students still speak to me is, sometimes, surprising, that they hold me in a clearly valued place in the community is evidence of their faith and is a hope for the future of the Church, for none of us will employ double standards, but all of us are capable of friendship. It is a sadness to me that we will not all be ordained together. It is, as I have always said, my hope that we will work together fruitfully, for the glory of God and the furtherance of His Holy Name, in the future. As many of you are aware, I am not much of a one for concelebration anyway, and I do believe that the future lies in more co operation in Deanery and Diocesan level. The days of saying 'we cannot go there, theres a woman priest' or, members of Watch, 'we cannot speak to them , they are Forward in faith' are, I would hope, drawing to a close.
But the fly in the ointment for all of us, the barrier to this increased unity, is the impending consecration of women (there I go again) to the Episcopate. If we Anglo's are to survive, we need the Sacraments for they are our life and we need them in the way in which Christ administered them. If Saint Augustine teaches us anything, it is that we must be obedient and this, i believe, is all that we are. Obedient to the teachings of Christ as they have been given to us, without deviation or novelty. I hope that the general synod can echo my classmates and decide that this is something to be welcomed, whether it makes any impact or not, because it is held with love for Our Lord and faith in the Church.
I have great hopes and great faith in the Church of England, unlike many of my friends. I would not have begun training now, in this time, unless I did. Quite how we will be nurtured I do not know, but a third province will need an awful lot of money which we are not famous for having and I wonder how many Churches would survive a percentage of their congregation leaving over re-affiliation. The concern will have to be faced as to which group within those who will join us in the new cathedrals will rise to dominance. We may exchange our hard won freedom for an uneasy sacramental alliance with people who, again, do not share our views. Reform anyone?We must also share the same platform as our friends in all of the Church and make our voices heard, and ultimately, we must expand or die and I do not know how a third province would allow for that expansion, for that living tradition to show forth. We are alive, we are not a caricature of gin and old lace, although we have learnt to self-parody in an attempt to have our views heard.
For myself, I look for greater collegiality and I look for a wider outlook for all of us. I hope for an end to bitterness and the stylistic bickering which sometimes threatens to eat away at our wing of the Church. In the end, though, I will be obedient to He who called me here, obedient to his calling and obedient to His word. I am grateful that the Bishop of Manchester and his group echo the microcosm of my course, in understanding and commitment to each other, I only hope the synod will follow suit. I also hope that we Anglo Catholics will rediscover our Socialist roots and begin taking the Gospel to the poor, the dispossesed, the subjugated and violated once more, as we did in the beginning. There is talk of a third province, but there is the reality of a fourth world opening up in our own country, almost invisible, of salad packers, cockle pickers, night cleaners and a whole tribe of people allowing us to live our day to day lives and debate in comfort while they exist alongside us, invisible and downtrodden. The Church needs to encounter these people where they are and offer them our firmly held convictions of love, equality and the redemptive power of Christ. This is to follow Him and this is why I am doing what I am doing, I hope that there are others like me. You may not!