I have chosen to illustrate this post with a picture of the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Chrism Mass this year, for no better reason that he is a good man and the most able Archbishop we have had for twenty years. I also wonder for how much longer we will be seeing him as Archbishop, I hope he stays, but I would not blame him if he goes after this years Lambeth Conference and Synod.
Anyhow, what is he doing in the square window? Blessing the oil of Chrism. An oil, alas, which is not used by all of his Diocese, because of the divisions drawn within the Church over the ordination of women. Now, it would be simple to say that if the Women Priests Measure had not been passed by Synod then the split would never have happened, but the root of the cause is that those of us of traditional integrity within the Church would eventually be in a state of discontent if governed by a Synod which believes that it can overturn tradition, Catholicity and the teachings of Christ and the Apostles through a vote, strenuously campaigned for and against in ways which did not always seem to be of God. Nevertheless, we have women Priests and we are to have women Bishops, I suspect and are we the worse for these innovations? Are we better off or worse off with PEV Bishop oversight for those of us attached to the Catholic creeds? I have written before on the subject of mission within a third province and the difficulties which that would entail and the problems inherent in trying to keep a Parish Community together in Churches moving provinces and becoming less a visible part of the Church of England and I am still concerned about those two issues. But there is more.
I also worry that we look fairly bad at times. The rhetoric imposed upon us by our stance is not the sound or the syntax of Christ. We seem to be 'against' women by our faithfulness, which is, of course, not the case. We are for Christ and faithfulness, for the eternal souls of all people and that is the nub of the argument, that I believe that to follow Christ means to obey His word and to follow His commandments and I do not believe that an elected committee has the authority to change those teachings or to re evaluate them for a new generation. This is the beginning of a removal of the Church from the rock of Peter, the foundation of Christ (and I am not so naive as to confuse the rock of Peter with the Roman Catholic Church alone, despite the rhetoric from the Roman Church which has confused the two for generations). The Orthodox Church has an equal claim on this as do other Churches who share the root of Christ and this is what concerns me about the way we are going both as a Church and as a traditional wing of that Church, that we are separating ourselves from that root, that direct teaching of Christ. And that makes me very, very uneasy, that people may create a new church, away from the source of Grace.
I fear also for the Roman Catholic Church in this and, conscious that I am speaking outside my self imposed remit, the events of last Sunday at Cardiff Catholic Cathedral worry me greatly, particularly the un Christian fall out which seems to be happening. As you may know, the Latin Mass Society (confusingly named, for it supports only the older 'tridentine' Latin Mass, rather than the 'new' Mass in Latin) had arranged a High Mass at Cardiff Cathedral late last year, for this Sunday just gone. The Pope has recently liberalised the Old Mass and asked his Bishops (traditionally, in many places, opposed to the Old Mass) to help him support it's re introduction. Anyhow, it was cancelled the Friday before the day of the Mass because the Latin Mass Society felt that, in all conscience, they could not accommodate the female alter server imposed on them by the Dean of the Cathedral. Off they went leaving the Cathedral to say the usual Sunday Mass. The LMS also (I was going to say picketed, but I shall refrain!) stationed people outside the Cathedral on Sunday to explain what had happened. Whether this affected peoples decision whether to attend Mass or not, I do not know.
So, with an allowance of the Old Mass from the authority of the Pope, leader of that Communion, a Diocesan Bishop still allows something which he knows would cancel the Mass to go ahead. Also, the LMS are left looking like antiquated bigots for walking out. Where do we stand? What to say? Well, I would say that this is a lesson to us, in the Anglican Church, of how the best laid plans can be twisted. Of course, I am perfectly happy with female altar servers, all the people of God have equal access to His holy Altar, but here is a group within the Church, like Forward in Faith, which arranges it's own confirmations and whose Priests are generally from orders which only use the Old Mass, being treated in such a way that they cannot use their own Cathedral. I have also heard that some traditional Priests in the Roman Church will not recognise the orders of Permanent Deacons and I have heard mumblings about 'valid' and 'invalid' ordinations, dependent upon the rite that one is ordained in, amongst mainstream Roman clergy. So what is the future of this group? Will the next Pope smile upon them or will the next Pope 'clarify' the situation to their detriment? What parallels do we see in this dark mirror of ourselves?
How can a traditional group survive in the modern world and retain integrity, show forth care for God's people and interact with it's fellow clergy, whether in the group of not? We need to continue working with clergy in neighbouring Parishes, of our integrity or not, for the love of God and the continuation of His Church. That some members of other groups in the Church refuse to talk to us and campaign against us must not be a deterrent. I have met some of them and they preach a personal Gospel, we must preach the Universal Gospel of Christ, in it's fullness, for there lies our strength and our hope. Tough times are coming, for all of us, we must pray for the unity of the Church and that, one day, all God's people may be one, with one oil of Chrism and one vision, looking through clear skies to Christ. That we may be shoved into a corner for wanting to follow this intention of Christ is unfortunate, but there are lessons to be learnt from looking at others in similar positions, through the dark looking glass of division in the Church of God.
I have great faith in the Anglican Church all over the world to be faithful to Christ and His teachings. For all our faults, we are a caring and faithful people, showing devotion and love in ways which many of us do not recognise in each other, but we must maintain some collegiality, despite our many differences, lest we, like the Latin Mass Society, literally fall at the altar rail.