COMMUNION IN A BROKEN CHURCH

Stephen Parkinson explains why he will be on his knees in St Paul's Cathedral

THE ANNOUNCEMENT of the appointment of Fr John Broadhurst, Team Rector of Wood Green and National Chairman of Forward in Faith, as the next Bishop of Fulham has again brought to the fore the debate on the Forward in Faith Statement on Communion and Code of Practice. Those of us who cannot in conscience accept the ordination of women to the priesthood are, by now, well used to the caricatures which the proponents of the innovation like to use when talking about (or to) us. We are, we are told regularly, simply sexist or misogynist; well, in response I usually refer (with the trepidation which all husbands should feel in the late twentieth century) such critics to my wife and daughter. They will confirm (I hope!) that I am neither sexist nor misogynist - and, anyway, if that is what I am, what then are they, if they share my views? More recently, of course, we have been assured that we are miserable buggers and the meanest-minded sods imaginable; well, as the proverb has it, sticks and stones . . . .

But any resurrection of the Communion debate means that, yet again, I find myself defending my views against some of those with whom, generally speaking, I ought to be in agreement. For when John Broadhurst, on 25th September 1996, kneels in S. Paul's Cathedral before the successor of Augustine, in the person of Dr. George Carey, after the latter has prayed Send down the Holy Spirit upon your servant John for the office and work of a bishop in your Church, in order to receive Holy Communion from the hands of the Archbishop, then I for one will remain on my knees or in my seat - because that is what our Code of Practice advises me to do and I believe that its advice is correct. Thus far, these friends have used one or more of four reasons to support their contention that I am mistaken or misguided in my intentions and, if I may, Id like to share with you my reactions to their strictures.

First, I have been told that the Eucharist is not an appropriate time or place at which to make "a protest. One could hardly agree more. When I leave Faith House in Westminster each evening to walk to Victoria to catch my train home, I sometimes walk too slowly. About two-thirds of the way along Victoria Street, I realise that I will miss my train. Others who have shared this particular experience at that time of day will know exactly what one tends to do in order to pass the time responsibly. For in J F Bentleys magnificent Westminster Cathedral at 5.30 pm each evening there is a Solemn Mass. I sit quietly at the back (like a good Anglican!) and listen to glorious music, an intelligent sermon and all the rest, until I sink to my knees for the Eucharistic Prayer. And when the time comes for the distribution of Holy Communion, of course I remain on my knees. A protest? Hardly! For I am forced to articulate the fact that, notwithstanding the Communion I share with my Catholic sisters and brothers through our common Baptism, I am not in full communion with the Catholic Church. And it hurts. And it will hurt just as much on 25th September, when I am forced to articulate the fact that, through no action of mine, the communion between me and the Archbishop of Canterbury is also impaired.

Second, I have been accused of espousing a doctrine of tainted hands. Let it be said, here and now, loud and clear, that such a notion is not, and never has been, a tenet of Forward in Faith. (If you really want to know, it was invented by the former Archbishop of York, presumably in an attempt to assist his scientific mind in understanding our position.) And when (or, rather, if) on 25th September the Archbishop raises the Host during the Eucharistic Prayer so that the people may see the Body of Christ, I will adore the Blessed Sacrament, confident of course that that is what it is. But - and it will hurt - I will not in conscience be able receive, for our communion is impaired - and through no action of mine. The pain, of course, will not be mine alone; I know that the Archbishop is pained when Anglicans decline to receive the Blessed Sacrament at his hands. But, however great his pain, mine will surely be the greater; for it will be me - not him - who leaves the Cathedral having not been nourished by the Bread of Heaven. If Forward in Faith did adhere to the doctrine of tainted hands, then I for one could neither work for,

nor support, it - for that notion is, surely, both unacceptable and unreasonable.

Third, I have been accused of disloyalty. Loyal members of the Church of England, 1 am told, would happily receive the sacrament from the Primate of All England. My response, sotto voce I think, is simply that the Church of England ordains women to the priesthood and that loyal members ought surely to accept that fact! To disloyalty then, I plead guilty, for I - like you, I hope - have a higher loyalty - to Catholic and Gospel truth. And such disloyalty is, of necessity, painful - but it comes about through no action of yours or mine but through the actions of those who have knowingly turned their backs on the truth we have received.

Lastly, I am told that I must receive Holy Communion that day in order to support Fr Broadhurst. Well, yes, of course I will want to support him, both on that day and throughout his new ministry. But I have to admit that I find myself at a loss to understand how my declining to heed the advice contained in the Statement on Communion and Code of Practice agreed by Forward in Faith might in any sense be said to characterise support for the Chairman of that body! So it is that I shall support him by my presence in the Cathedral and by my prayers that day for that is what he will need more than anything and I hope that I shall see you there undertaking the same task, however painful it might prove to be. For the pain which we might feel will have come about through no action of ours. Presence and Prayer - I feel confident that Fr Broadhurst would ask no more of me.

I spoke above about the curious sensation of having to defend my views against those with whom I should be in agreement. This constituency can ill afford to fall into the trap of division - for that way surely lies schism. The Code of Practice attached to our Statement on Communion was overwhelmingly received by our democratically structured National Assembly in 1994 and commanded by it to all members of Forward in Faith for study and guidance. I have studied it - prayerfully I hope - and, on 25th September, I will be guided by it.

Stephen Parkinson is National Director of Forward in Faith.

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