ROBBIE LOW THE INTERVIEW

The Rev. John Broadhurst

A passing familiarity with the history of the catholic movement in the Church of England is sufficient to know that it has depended almost entirely for its energy, promotion, survival and revival upon "uncapped" players. Bishops, even benevolent ones, have had very little to do with it on the whole. This is just one of many paradoxes in a constituency which has a very high doctrine of episcopacy.

In the last 150 years the battle for catholic orthodoxy in the Church of England has usually been led by ordinary parish priests, committed to their pastoral and sacramental tasks, prepared to stand for the gospel against the blandishments of fashion or favour.

The current crises or "challenges" within Anglicanism, and indeed within the whole Oikumene, have produced a familiar pattern of responses. The leadership of Forward in Faith emerged, not like the old Tory party leadership or the Crown Appointment procedures from a consultation of grandees, but from the "poor bloody infantry" who had footslogged their way round the constituency, never shirking the fight, and with the respect of their peers for long and honourable parish track records.

If orthodoxy survives in any form in the Church of England no small debt will be owed to John Broadhurst, the Chairman of Forward in Faith.

In a room over Faith House Bookshop, in the first days of Lent, we sat down by an endless cauldron of coffee and a bowl of fruit left over from a previous meeting's lunch.

Where did you begin?

We are an old Hendon family. My great grand father had a farm there. While most other people went to London, we waited for London to come to us".

And School?

"My primary school was in Golders Green. There were two Christian children in the "A" stream. The other lad was Greek Orthodox".

Were your family committed Christians?

"My mother was a lapsed Roman Catholic and my father, an analytical scientist, a lapsed Anglican agnostic. I was brought up Roman Catholic and confirmed at 10. Then I stopped going altogether - it just didn't mean very much to me at that stage".

And Senior School?

"Owens - a public school in Islington which was removed from the Headmasters Conference list two terms after I joined. Just a coincidence, I think. David Shepherd was curate in the parish and used to give talks to the C.U."

Favourite subjects?

"History, English - I hated science and maths which disappointed and amazed my father. And I loved geography".

College?

"No. I left school at 16 to work in the press. I wanted to be a journalist but started doing advertising for Newnes the publisher".

What about the faith?

"Strange really. Within a year of starting work I knew I had a vocation to the priesthood and had to start night school A Levels to get into King's London".

Was there a moment, a place?

"Yes. I'd started helping with Scouts at Christ Church, Hendon. Small church, during an interregnum. I went to a sung mass there and suddenly I was very conscious of God's presence. I knew he existed. A week later, in the same place, I met my wife, Judy and I knew I existed. I knew immediately she was the one".

Did she know?

"Not immediately, she was the organist's girlfriend at the time! Eventually I brainwashed her! I tease my wife that she is my main concession to Anglicanism".

(One close friend described the Broadhursts as "a notoriously happy marriage" and his enthusiasm and affection for his family is quite tangible. They have four children Jane, an accountant and Mark, an insurance executive, Sarah who is the first to make them grandparents, all in their 20s. Benedict, 16, is the throwback to Grandad, 11 "A" GSCEs and Science "A" Levels coming up).

How long before you could get married?

"Seven years. I had to get through Kings, which I enjoyed though there were times when I found the academic environment very immature and a childish world. Then I would wander off at lunch to have a beer with my old workmates".

Did you find the theology difficult?

"A doddle. I've always been able to do the minimum amount of work needed to succeed. Lazy but efficient".

(Anyone who has witnessed Broadhursts herculean labours for the church over the last twenty or thirty years will quarrel with this self deprecating assessment. Only a deeply fulfilled home life, supportive parish team, and the constitution of an ox could have seen him through the workload).

Then a curacy?

"No. Then a year at Warminster to finish off. Wives being a distraction, had to live 10 miles away! Every night, after Compline I cycled to Trowbridge and then back for Mattins at 7.00 a.m. Quite ridiculous theological college policy".

Who influenced you in the faith?

"Two very mature Christian men at Christ Church, Hendon. Douglas Baron, the choirmaster and Ted Pratt. Ted had trained for the priesthood but suddenly found himself having to bring up four children on his own. They were an inspiration and encouragement".

Who was your training incumbent?

"James Laing at St. Michael-at-Bowes, 1966. (All these years on Broadhurst is Team Rector of the living that includes this Parish).

He's a good man, still busy in retirement, in three villages in Bedfordshire. His training philosophy was "I'll give you enough rope to hang yourself and when you do I'll come and cut you down". It's a good philosophy - though he didn't always cut me down".

(Broadhurst has had 14 curates himself and enjoys the dynamics of a training parish with several churches. "a single curate either works or it doesn't - a team allows them to gang up on the boss occasionally". He clearly enjoys this rough and tumble as extended family life and, a rare talent, is big enough to take it).

When did you first stand for Synod? What were the issues?

"1969. As an independent. The Anglican-Methodist scheme was on the stocks. I was a very strong supporter but the more they clarified it the more against I became".

Have you always been a political animal?

"Yes. English people always say it's not polite to discuss religion, politics or sex. My mother said they were the only things worth discussing so we did. When we were in the midst of the women priest controversy she was very upset and said "It's all my fault. I always taught you to stand up for what you believe in"

(It is ironic to discover that in secular politics Broadhurst, the scourge of theological liberalism has been a member of the Liberal party since 1958. There is, of course, a vast chasm between the full blooded ideals of Gladstonian Liberalism and the anaemic reductionism of ecclesiastics who have hijacked a noble title.)

"In 1972 the catholic mafia asked me to be their candidate for proctor as I was considered "sound". The catholic group were the only ones who had a sense of fun or human society and it was through synod that I became a political catholic. Women priests didn't even merit a mention on election sheets then - it was all unity schemes and liturgy".

(Broadhurst won, defeating Michael Saward, and has remained, ever since, one of the handful or unswerving orthodox spokesmen in the Synod.)

In 1970 you went to Wembley Park as priest in charge, then vicar, for fifteen years?

"The 2 churches had been Anglo-Catholic but my predecessor was "unsympathetic". By the time we came the congregation was 16 (four of them the Broadhursts). Bishop Ellison had told the previous man to "bring it down". He did - to its knees".

(One of Broadhurst's great beefs with the Church of England is the monotony with which bishops undermine twenty years hard work, in a parish by appointing "wreckers".)

"How many priests have a great look of sadness when you ask them about their previous parish? What sort of institution does that?"

What kind of parish was it?

"Multi racial. Big houses not occupied by Christians. Tremendous turnover of population. People came only if you went out and got them. Hard work and a tough training parish".

And your present parish?

"Wood Green is the largest population in London, 38,000, 3 parishes, 4 churches, 2 church schools and about 40 confirmation candidates a year, half of them adults. I've had good support from my staff. We've a great belief in the visiting priest and that always shows in the congregation".

(Broadhurst's staff have done Trojan work as he has stumped the dioceses, encouraging, binding together the people, fighting at national level for their ecclesiastical future and creating the situation for alternative episcopal oversight).

For many people you have had a huge "episcopal" role in recent years.....

(Broadhurst cuts me off, he doesn't like the implication)

"I believe in the parish system. But, if you want a job done - ask a busy person. Most of the "activists" don't have a serious job. All Forward in Faith national leaders run good parishes".

How was Forward in Faith founded?

"Here, in the Douglas Room, after the vote. Leaders of all opposed groups met to form an umbrella organization. A council was appointed and met a week later to appoint a Chairman. We were determined to be accountable to our members and moved to full democratic participation within eighteen months. I've always hated the presumption that people in power can speak for you without democratic consent. Politics is about consensus - you can't deliver on your ideals without consent. Anyone who pastors a parish knows that".

How flourishing is Forward in Faith?

"Mailing list of c. 30,000, magazine subscribers c. 8,000 (which with 12,000 via CEN makes us the biggest national church magazine and growing). The reality is that for every notified member there are scores of sympathizers. The liberals have never had a majority on the ground - only an engineered one in the machinery of government.

Most of the huge mailbag we get is from people who are not on our list. It reveals support for our position and rock bottom morale in clergy who have not openly committed themselves".

Has the Act of Synod delivered?

"The Act of Synod answered the wrong question. The question was "What do my brethren need to live?" Instead it said "How can we quieten these awkward traditionalists?

In 1991 I wrote the alternative oversight document. This sought a real freedom not a carefully devised ghetto. The Act sought to meet a charge of "tainted hands", which was never our position".

Was this a cynical manoeuvre?

"Anyone who thinks the bishops were not concerned misreads the situation. The trouble is so few of them could understand the depth and basis of orthodoxy's opposition".

You're on Synod again. You've always been involved, steering, standing committees etc., representative on Anglican Consultative Council. How do you carry on when so many have turned from it in disgust?

"I've always enjoyed making it work. It's frustrating because you're always reacting to someone else's agenda".

But personalities. For example - how do you relate to people like the Archbishop?

"I like George personally. He has always been kind to me. I don't think he understands where I am. If I told you the name of the bishop I most like having a pint with you'd be shocked".

(He tells me. I am. I have suggested to the bishop mentioned that for a small consideration I will safeguard his impeccable liberal credentials by omitting his name from this article).

"Of course it's also true that some bishops have been totally inimical to traditionalist survival and that is more difficult".

Why haven't you gone to Rome?

"I've come to firmly believe in unity with Rome and had great hopes for ARCIC. Many of my friends have gone. Many of London's best priests have gone. The Roman Catholic hierarchy has been generous in offering a personal solution to distressed Anglicans but it isn't just my problem. Any solution of our ecclesiastical relations with each other must have a commonalty and an ecumenical dimension. There is a world wide realignment going on and recent histories of the Reformation "The Stripping of the Altars" and "The Partner and the Hind" ask very searching questions about the nature of Anglicanism".

The national press gave coverage to Forward in Faith's talks with other christians worldwide.

"Yes we have talked with Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans. We are determined to find our ecumenical way forward for orthodox christians".

What are the next priorities for Forward in Faith?

"Without doubt 1. Church planting in places where orthodoxy has been excluded by abuse of appointments so that people have a church to go to. 2. Ministering to those people in the wilderness or cut off by what has happened".

How have you coped with the last three and a half years?

"I'm very tired but it has been a profound spiritual experience. Driven back on God, depending utterly on His Word, renewing and deepening prayer life and seeing the Tradition (the life of the Holy Spirit in church) come to the fore, with new intensity, in adversity".

(At this point Geoffrey Kirk bounces into the room and the interview begins to unwind. But here is one of the joys of the catholic movement. Two inner city parish priests forming a remarkable and wholly unlikely team. The night school A level father of four with pipe-bulged pockets and tobacco darkened voice and the rapier wit and penetrating analysis of the great protégé of Austin Farrer.

Someone once remarked that Kirk plays "Tigger to Broadhurst's "Eeyore". On a public platform it may occasionally seem like that. Watch them work together and the ideas and work just comes in a rush and it is huge fun. You can't help asking yourself what would have happened if they'd been Bishop and Dean somewhere. Actually I did ask Broadhurst if he'd been "passed over". He laughed and said: "The only answer to that sort of question is a dignified silence". The irony is that, apart from George Austin, he probably knows more than anyone about who has got what and why in recent years and where the bodies are buried and the Establishment has a pretty full cemetery just now.

Robbie Low is Vicar of St Peter's, Bushey Heath, in the diocese of St. Alban's

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