Fudging but not lukewarm

Proving that it is not only the Anglo-Papalists who are interested in the Ordinariate Andrew Norman shares his own enthusiasm

In Catholic-convert Muriel Spark’s novel of 1965, The Mandelbaum Gate, set in Palestine, that troubling phrase of Revelation 3.15 drifts around: ‘I know of thy doings, and find thee neither cold nor hot... Being what thou art, lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, thou wilt make me vomit thee out of my mouth.’ Events in the story amusingly and ironically unfold, as in our more prosaic lives truth is revealed by twists and turns.

The phrase from Revelation had, no doubt, a particular personal resonance for Muriel Spark – and it reminds me of what an uncompromising parish priest used to warn me of as a teenager, and so it haunts me too.

Am I lukewarm as a liberal catholic? I came to the parish here in Guildford seventeen years back at a time when I was able to help found the local FiF group. But eventually my heart and mind moved on the matter of women’s ordination, a process not unrelated to bringing up two daughters, and working with female colleagues in the deanery.

Supporting both sides

So it was I then found myself a member both of Forward in Faith and Affirming Catholicism, believing in the inclusion of women in ordained ministry, yet still no less in the necessity of full visible re-incorporation in the Western Catholic Church as the sine qua non of Anglicanism. Unusual perhaps, but I did not feel it was contradictory, rather that women priests were necessary for the Catholic Church to be truly catholic, i.e. to more visibly embody Christ’s holistic assuming of our humanity in the Incarnation.

There are indeed many in the Church of England who now share that positive gut response to female priests, and who long ago accepted them as a standard feature of parish life. Yet there still remains an unquantifiably large body of us who are extremely uneasy about a female episcopate, and it will be a tragedy if we – and the members of General Synod – fail to recognise this until it is too late. We are those who know all too well that, putting it simply, including women in the episcopate will effectively cut us off from our parent Church, and perhaps for all time.

My gut acceptance of women’s ministry remains. I had been reassuring myself that for catholic-minded Anglicans to support the pioneering of the full inclusion of women in ministry was to perform a necessary service for the wider Catholic Church, as some good Roman Catholics at all levels would warmly concur.

Yet the catholic intuition is that the way tradition develops has to be totally consistent with its sources, and so also with its ends. Pace Kasper, there is not a protestant way for the Church to be more catholic. Was not that the lesson of the Reformation?  

So where does that leave me now? I shall certainly continue, in principle, to welcome the ministry of women priests. But in practice I have to be focussed on being a member of a presbyterate whose bishop at least could be recognised as a bishop of the Western Catholic Church. Realistically this will lead me into some form of ecclesial structure which is not open to women priests. And there I would expect to be obedient, in all simplicity, while inwardly, quietly and patiently honouring my personal convictions about the way tradition eventually must develop.

Feeling the pain

I feel for my female priestly colleagues, especially those who share a catholic theological outlook. It is hard for women who are as sincerely committed to the priestly life as any of us. How can I as a male priest tell them about the readiness for sacrifice which must always be at the heart of our priestly lives? Yet it must be so. And where then is the place for any talk about glass ceilings?

Looking for a door to be opened, the truth is that a Personal Ordinariate now suggests all that many of us have ever dreamed of. Dare we admit this? This year’s Regional Chrism Mass had, unless I was imagining it, a new underlying quality of joyfulness. OK, as we well know, not all of us will be ready to take this step. For we look to our families, at our parishes, as indeed over the whole community of Anglicanism in which our priestly vocations were once nurtured and to which we have given ourselves. In all this there are many good reasons to hold steady. Not least for some of us will be an anxiety about throwing in our lot with a part of the Church which is inevitably dominated by a conservative attitude. Still, to be unequivocally reconciled with the Western Catholic Church, while institutionally affirming all that is good in our Anglican Patrimony, this is our common goal. What else could ‘catholic’ possibly mean?

The months and the years ahead will no doubt see the outworkings of this wonderful project. Before it takes substance let’s start talking right now about the genuinely ecumenical direction any Ordinariate should have. Let’s begin dreaming of the way it could help to generate new steam for the whole ecumenical movement. Let us envisage that ultimately it will enable all catholic Anglicans to be gathered up into a renewal of the Oxford Movement, which would have amazed even the most prescient of its founding fathers.

So let us take John Henry Newman as our patron in this great enterprise. May his writings, his example, and his prayers inspire us to take the steps each one of us can take, at the pace the Holy Spirit of God provides for us – and thereby avoid lukewarmness!

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