Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Pickled Cabbages.

And so it begins. But let's start with cabbage, because we know where we are with cabbage. Solid, dependable stuff, but I like it Sauerkrauted, picked and be-wined. I buy it in tins, empty the tin into a pan, add white wine, fennel seed and juniper berries, a chicken stock cube and give it a good simmer. Adding chopped german sausage at the end produces a vegetable which is a long way from the steamed savoy you might have on Sunday with your lunch, but cabbage it still is, just a different taste, texture, colour and look. The Parable of the Cabbage holds true for Churches in this country, we see those around us, as they see us, with different ecclesiologies, but still part of the same Church of England, for better or for worse. There is an acceptance that in this climate we have at least some sense of shared mission, at least this is the narrative I hear time and time again. We can look at Chichester for an example of a Diocese with strained, but acceptable relations. The Lord Bishop does not ordain women to the Priesthood, he had two suffragen Bishops, Lewes and Horsham who did not either. Horsham has left the Diocese to administrate the shrine of Walsingham, so is discounted for the time being. Lewes is a Conservative Evangelical, opposed to the ordination of Women, but of a radically differing ecclesiology to the Lord Bishop. A retired Bishop over the boundary ordains those women who wish to serve in Chichester and some sort of parity is observed. Much like cabbages, the same group is in evidence, even if there is a vast difference in taste and character. Chichester is an extreme example, indeed there are Dioceses where it is difficult as a Priest of traditional ecclesiology to get ahead - or even in - as well.

This strained relationship is continually about to crack at the joints though. We see the American situation, with the Episcopal Church, GAFCON and their variants at loggerheads in the courts and from the pulpits and, to be honest, I despair somewhat, knowing that we will be in the same boat soon, whether we like it or not. Again, I stress as I have done before that we would be very foolish to import the American situation into the UK, as we have no tradition of 'continuing' Churches ever attracting much in the way of a congregation, and at this point in time it would be ecclesiastical suicide. However, come it has. On June 17th to the 19th our brothers and sisters in FiFNA are having a meeting at which it will probably be decided that there will be a split in FiFNA between those, like St Clement's Philadelphia, who are happy with the Episcopal oversight offered by TEC and those who are not, who will join the new Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) which will join the many, many denominations in that country.

Soon after that meeting, there is another one, this time in the UK. At this meeting will be Rt Revd's Michael Nazir-Ali, Wallace Benn (Bishop of Lewes), John Broadhurst (FiF Chairman), Keith Ackerman (Chairman of FiFNA) and Archbishop Peter Jensen (secretary of GAFCON/FOCA). This is about seven weeks away, a week after my ordination and I have to admit to feeling very, very concerned about it. As one of our readers said, there are some very strange bed fellows in that list, from the man who banned the Chasuble in his Archdiocese to the man who would not say Mass without one - this admittedly minor point has deeper roots in ecclesiology. Will this meeting signal the beginning of the split in FiF in the UK? Our opponents certainly hope so, I am informed that there is rejoicing in the halls of many places as people see us falling into opposing camps before the next synod.

Let us, once more, return to the cabbage. Cabbages, as we have discovered, come in many guises, but all sharing an essential family resemblance. We in FiF UK, I do not see, have a family resemblance with the Archbishop of Sydney. We are concerned with the Catholic Faith, branch theory, the faith delivered to the Saints presented in a way which - it has been proved, do not forget this - is accepted and loved by people of these isles. I do not feel called to be a Priest in FOCA, I cannot accept the Jerusalem declaration and my vocation comes from this Church, through which almighty God worked and works to this day, witnessed by our growing Churches. I have no interest in off shore morality havens and I do not want to go from being a minority in the Church of England to a minority in FOCA, for we know what will happen eventually. The end will come, we are poised to leap out of the frying pan into the fire and I, for one, do not intend jumping unless there is absolutely no choice.

So what will happen? FOCA/GAFCON is being launched in a few weeks and there is much interest in our quarter in this development. I pray that we will not be faced with a stark choice, for if we are, then we have, truly, begun to put the noose around our necks. We cannot grow without the Church of England - or the root of our Faith. We will be sidelined and ignored in our own country, abandoning the CofE to its own fate and abandoning ourselves to obscurity and collapse, left by the wayside in a global evangelical revival which we just do not fit into. We have something worth preserving, indeed of vital need in this country of ours, which is coming to rely upon us so much. PEV Bishops are the best thing that has ever happened to us, homegrown men who are known to be devoted to the Church, imported off shore Episcopal care is not going to work in the same way. And as I said, I cannot sign the Jerusalem Declaration. I am a Catholic and I think you might just be as well.