The New Directions Interview
The Bishop of Ebbsfleet
The first in a series of interviews; this month with
The Right Revd Jonathan
Baker, Bishop of Ebbsfleet
ND New Directions:
Now that the dioceses have voted on the Measure and considered the following
motions, how do you see the outcome?
Bishop of Ebbsfleet:
I think the results of the votes in the dioceses can be read in a number of
ways and of course Watch is reading them in one way. I think, however,
thatís not the only way to read them. They will, of course, say that in 42
dioceses out of 44 the Measure was passed, and that is the plain fact.
However, I think 11 dioceses have passed a Following Motion of one sort or
another calling for much more adequate and generous arrangements. Two dioceses
defeated the legislation, amongst them the diocese of London which, as we are
often reminded, is not only the largest diocese in the Church of England but
one of the very few that grows from year to year. So weíve seen about a
quarter of the votes and a quarter of the dioceses record a vote that the
present Measure is unsatisfactory. I think that that gives the Archbishops and
the House of Bishops enough to work with, to go on saying weíve not got this
right yet, and there is a better way and that the voting in the dioceses does
justify more work being done on the legislation.
Almost impossible Ė over the whole sweep, I think.
Early Music Ė anything by Victoria;
Modern music Ė anything by Britten.
Favourite piece of music?
Classical: Victoria Requiem.
Popular: I canít answer this unless I know that my children are not going
to read what I say because whatever I say theyíll think it embarrassing, Beth
Rowley is a lovely female singer and Lily Allen has a wonderful voice but her
lyrics are far too rude for me to commend.
So how do you see the Synodical process developing to July or possibly November
Bishop: Clearly February is going to be crucial.
My understanding is that there are going to be at least two, probably three
debates on the issue in February; one a debate on the report of the progress
of the legislation through the Diocesan Synods, secondly a debate on the Code
of Practice, which of course we havenít seen yet and we await to see how
useful it is, although we know that fundamentally a Code of Practice on its
own will not do. But then thirdly, it looks very likely that there will be a
debate on the Following Motion that was passed in the diocese of Manchester,
which was cast particularly as a Diocesan Synod motion calling for better
provision and my understanding is that it is very likely that the Business
Committee will put that on the agenda for February. It will be very
interesting to see if that gains significant support. If it does, then that
will be very persuasive in putting pressure on the House of Bishops to improve
I have to say Shakespeare, if thatís not too dull!
If I had to pick only one, simply because there is so much in them Ė I
think Iím going to cheat and say either Bleak House or Little Dorrit.
Do you see the issue coming to the July Synod for the final vote, or might it be
pushed on to November?
- Bishop: I donít have any privileged information
about that. July has always been the target date and I would have thought that
if the Measure can be amended without need to refer back to the dioceses, then
July would still be final approval. But Iím sure the November dates are being
held in reserve in case the process is delayed.
How have you found your absence from General Synod, where you were such a
powerfully articulate voice, how has that affected your contribution to the
debate do you think? Would you not rather be there to see the final scenes
Bishop: I would in many ways... I intend to be
in the Gallery, I shall be cheering silently and praying hard and willing on
members of the Catholic Group. Iwas on General Synod for eleven years
and itís rather like Stockholm Syndrome, you do get attracted by your captor
and however much we might resist the pull of the Synodical system as the
Church of England has devised it, there is something about the fray and the
heat of the battle which is quite compelling. So I will miss the opportunity
to speak in the final crucial debate but there are many excellent speakers,
lay and ordained, male and female, in the Catholic Group and Iím sure the
arguments will be put very well and it will be for the Synod to turn deaf ears
if they are not persuaded by the case that we put.
ND: How have you
found your relations with dioceses and bishops since youíve been consecrated?
I have to say that most
bishops have been very welcoming, very charming with one or two exceptions. I
think there is a great personal warmth and respect for our position but itís
not always translated into an understanding of what we need in terms of the
legislation and the provision to flourish. I think there is a bit more of a
problem slightly further down, petitioning parishes are sometimes seen as
anomalies, difficulties, problems to be resolved but I think where parishes
are doing well, are delivering in terms of local engagement and mission, that
there is a great willingness in most cases for right to be done by them, and
where my parishes are perhaps struggling then I think itís understandable that
hard questions are asked of them, but in that we are really in no different a
position from the rest of the Church of England. I think my early relations
with bishops and dioceses suggest that we have our destinies in our own hands;
if we can grow our parishes and prove that we are irreplaceable in the local
context, we will be supported.
ND: In the past few
months you have become a bishop, you have remained as Principal of Pusey House
in Oxford, you have been appointed Chairman of Forward in Faith, and also
General Secretary of the Society of the Maintenance of the Faith. How have you,
over the past six or seven months, been able to balance and manage those
individually rather demanding roles?
Well, itís marvellous
having so much to do! Being bishop is the number one priority and I made it
very clear when I became Chairman of Forward in Faith that the first call on
my time and my energy was to all those who look to the Bishop of Ebbsfleet,
whether they are members of Forward in Faith or not. All the PEVs are
ex-officio members of the Council of Forward in Faith so I would be attending
all the Council meetings anyway, whether or not I am chairman. Iíve long been
a very committed member of Forward in Faith. I believe very strongly in the
part it has to play so Iím very glad to have a significant role to play, ably
supported by a very committed and helpful Executive, and the commitment of
Stephen Parkinson particularly as the paid Director is invaluable. Pusey House
remains hugely important to me. Itís marvellous to be able to return there as
my base when Iím not somewhere else, to have the support of my colleagues and
the lively community at Pusey House and to be able to pray in the Chapel and
to offer the Mass there when Iím not on duty elsewhere. I think itís a very
fruitful interaction between Pusey House based there at the heart of our
origins in the Oxford Movement and the Catholic constituency in the parishes.
I think the clergy who look to me like to be able to think of Pusey House as
their home and I think in turn members of the core community at the House like
feeling that they belong to an institution which has this wider role. So that
continues to be a very fruitful point of interaction. As for the Society for
the Maintenance of the Faith, itís also very dear to me. Iíve been involved
with it for many years, and, again, I have the support of excellent colleagues
on the Council, and I think that work can continue without any difficulty. Of
course, Iím not alone amongst bishops in holding office in one or more of the
Catholic societies. I might think of the Bishop of Pontefract who is chairman
of the ACS and Bishop Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley, who is on the
Council of the Church Union, Bishop Martin Warner, of course, who is Master of
the Guardians at Walsingham, Bishop Norman Banks has taken on the Presidency
of the Guild of All Souls Ė I think we share out these portfolios and itís an
important way of maintaining close links between the bishops on the one hand
and the Catholic societies on the other.
What programme is unmissable on television?
What programme is unmissable on radio?
- Iím Sorry I Havenít a Clue.
ND: You did not
join those who responded to the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus
by joining the Personal Ordinariate. This was a surprise to some. How did
you come to your decision?
Bishop: Iíve always made very clear my support for
the Ordinariate and my good wishes and blessings go with those who have taken
that route. It is a pioneering route and I think we all wait to see how it
will develop in the medium term and what its lasting and distinctive
contribution to the life of the Catholic Church will be. I think in the end
one can only speak slightly piously in terms of vocation, and I feel called to
do at the moment what I am doing at the moment. I continue to believe in the
witness of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England and, as Iíve said
publicly now on a number of occasions, however hopeless the ecumenical task
looks at present, it makes it no less important, and it is again a matter of
vocation that one persists in bearing witness to that calling to Christian
unity within the Church of England, but I think that we are all confronted day
by day by the choices and the difficulties of where we are now, and Iím very
glad the Ordinariate is there, and I wish it every success.
Who is your favourite historical character?
Who is your least favourite historical character?
ND: There has been
some very sharp division between those who remain in the Church of England, at
least some of them for the time being, and those who went to the Ordinariate and
some very unhelpful and rather unpleasant things have been said. What are the
relations between the Ordinariate and those who remain at present as you see it
and your personal relations, if any, with the members of the Ordinariate?
Bishop: There has been a regrettable drawing of
boundaries, perhaps on both sides. Some people who have remained have seen
those who have gone as deserting the cause; some of those who have gone now
speak in a rather harsher language about Anglicans and Anglo-Catholics than
perhaps we have heard for some years. I think what encourages me is that there
are many members of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in England and
Wales but also I think in Rome, who continue to value the witness that we make
to the wider Catholic faith by maintaining our position in the Church of
England. I hope that we can all unite around a sense that we can all stand for
revealed religion, for the doctrinal, and ethical, and moral truths of the
faith and that maintaining that common cause in the face of a liberal and
secular society is what really matters rather than going back to a position of
casting one another out in terms of who is in the true faith and who is not
and, in the words of Thomas More, Ďwe will all merrily meet in heavení.
ND: You touched on
it slightly in your answer there but how do you now see relations between what
you might call loosely the Anglo-Catholics who remain in the Church of England
and the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches?
Bishop: I think that the particular position of
Anglo-Catholics is understood by Roman Catholics who are knowledgeable about
the history of English Christianity and who know the particular context from
which we emerge in England, or perhaps I should say in the British Isles, and
I think, again, thoughtful Roman Catholics understand that we have a
contribution to make to the presence and to the presentation of Orthodox
Christianity Ė one Roman Catholic said to me that a strong Anglo-Catholic
presence helps the Roman Catholic Church in England by reminding people itís
not only Roman Catholics who believe in the sacramental life and the
intercession of the saints and the moral and ethical principles on which we
stand, itís also shared by a significant number of Anglicans. So I hope that
there will continue to be that mutual respect and that travelling together.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Who is your favourite actor?
ND: At the Assembly
of Forward in Faith you said that after an initial scepticism about the Society
of St Wilfrid and St Hilda you were now a Ďconvertí. Can you tell us how that
I have been persuaded that if itís given a fair wind, and, of course, it must
be given a fair wind by the rest of the Church of England and thatís one of
the questions to which we donít yet know the answer, that the Society with its
bishops acting collegially could provide the sort of sacramental and
structured life that we have always said that we need. Itís very early days,
there are many questions as yet unanswered, there is a lot of work to do but I
think there is an interesting and potentially fruitful idea emerging here. I
did not have a Damascus road moment, but I come on reflection to think that
yes, this deserves serious consideration and my support.
What is the last film you saw?
- It is called The Help which is a film about the experience of Negro
housemaids in the southern United States in the 1950s and 60s before the Civil
What was the last live music you heard?
What is your favourite food?
Roast belly of pork.
- A recital of operatic arias at St Johnís Smith Square in memory of my
deceased former English teacher and opera critic J. B. Steane.
ND: If you were to
be asked to prophesy, where do you see yourself and Forward in Faith and
AngloCatholics generally by the end of the year 2012?
I hope that we will have assurances of bishops with authority, bishops who are
able to lead as Fathers in God, and that that will lead to a renewal in
confidence and a renewal in vocations and we will be looking to a substantial
rebuilding and renewal of the Catholic witness in our Church, which is
something that I think we need not just for the sake of the Church but for the
sake of English Christianity. That would be the best outcome and the one for
which at the moment we are all continuing to fight.
Who is your favourite actress?
Helen Mirren and
If not doing what you are doing now, then what?
What is your favourite drink?
What annoys you most?
People who wonít shut up!
- Early in the
evening, Bombay Sapphire and tonic; over dinner a good Burgundy.
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