Well, “hurrah” for the establishment of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman. The happy birds ‘Te Deum’ sing! The Women’s Guild offers its sincere congratulations to the first priests of the Ordinariate: Father Andrew Burnham and Father John Broadhurst, and to the new ordinary, Father Keith Newton. Our prayers are also offered for those involved in setting everything up and for all those preparing to enter the Ordinariate this spring in the ‘first wave’ (eagerly clutching their yellow and white surfboards). There is much to come: sacrifice, uncertainty, trepidation; yet also, of course, a profound sense of joy and excitement.
In the midst of all this change, it is important to remember that between those now preparing to enter into the full communion of the See of Peter and those remaining in the Church of England (either in the short or long term) there needs to be meaningful and generous-spirited discussion, and mutual support. On one level, decisions such as whether or not to seek to join another denomination are reliant on a spiritual exploration of the Lord’s will for us. They involve prayer and the humble entreaty of the Lord to make His will known. Yet they also involve intellectual consideration, both of the history of our position - its development over the centuries and recent decades - and the realities of the present situation.
It is in this context of intellectual enquiry and exchange that rhetoric becomes most important and also, potentially, most problematic. Misunderstandings and mistakes abound – indeed they are propagated by people who, dare I say it, really ought to know better. They are frustrating because they are rehearsed over and over again and rarely challenged, at least with any real success. I offer three examples. Firstly, the ‘Church of my Baptism’ line. The Church of my Baptism is not the local church I attended when I was baptised. It is not the Church of England. It is the Universal Church: The Body of Christ. Secondly, the use of the terms ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’. There is more than a tendency to regard the Ordinariate as a last-ditch option when all others in the Church of England have been exhausted. To have argued consistently for full visible unity, but to view the Ordinariate as ‘Plan B’ seems, forgive me, more than a little perverse. Indeed, I wonder what ‘Plan A’ might be… In any case, the use of these terms is confusing and unhelpful. Thirdly ‘seeing the Synodical process through’. I’d wager that most people peddling this line aren’t convinced that it’s an effective way of governing a church anyway. Waiting for Synod to act in order to ‘keep people safe’ seems very odd. Maybe it’s just me.
One of the things I find most frustrating about the structure of the General Synod, is that debates are rarely that – they involve a variety of people simply ‘having their opinion’ at each other, rather than engaging in genuine debate and discussion. As I have written previously on this blog, whatever one concludes about the legitimacy of a democratically elected Synod as a means of deciding the doctrine of the church, something as significant as the salvation of our souls seems too precious, too fundamental to be decided by ‘debate’ which is unworthy of the name. Similarly, when we discuss and debate the value of ‘staying’ or ‘going’ as it is increasingly viewed, the debate, the intellectual exchange and understanding appears frequently to be lost. It is not simply a shame – it is an outrage.
This division of Anglo-Catholics/Anglo-Papalists/High Church Anglicans and the like into ‘stayers’ and ‘goers’ at the present time is, of course, understandable. Yet it also seems to be dissolving at times into a competition to decide who’s ‘worse off’. For those immediately joining the Ordinariate there is uncertainty as a whole host of questions are as yet to be answered: ‘Where will clergy of the Ordinariate live? Where will they minister? Who will pay their stipend? Where will laity worship?’ For those staying behind there are similar questions: ‘Will Synod find an adequate means with which to respect the wishes of ‘traditionalist Anglicans’ who, for various reasons, do not wish to enter into communion with the Holy See?’ To suggest that either side is enjoying ‘calmer waters’ is to miss the point. Indeed, it is foolish and wrong for either side to convince themselves that they have it worse, or that the grass is necessarily greener on the other side. We must all recognise that, whichever path we choose in the coming weeks and in the future, our prayers for our Christian brothers and sisters are required of us. At the ordination of Fathers Andrew, Keith and John to the diaconate last Thursday, the preacher, Father Tony Philpot said of Blessed John Henry Newman that the ‘demands of the Gospel had become irresistible to him’. If we call ourselves Christians, then this much we must know, and we can do nothing else, than to be obedient to Christ’s call to prayer .
Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help, that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy Holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting Life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.