UPDATE REFORM

ADIOS HAWKWELL BIENVENUTO KUALA LUMPUR

THERE ARE NONE so prone to mislead as those who race a deadline. The Church of England Newspaper, in a lather over the story of Tony Higton’s letter of resignation from Reform, and unable to trace Philip Hacking for access to the agreed statement which Philip had ready, came up with the headline ‘REFORM LEFT REELING AS HIGTON QUITS’.

Reeling as in dancing, or reeling as in staggering? Neither. Just the realisation that the end of a particular line had been reached. ABWON, with Tony as solo pilot, continues in its own orbit, while Reform, always conciliar and collective in its decisions, sadly accepts his departure. Networking is a Higton word and, no doubt about it, both Reform and ABWON will campaign on the same fronts in battles for biblical faith and evangelical witness in the Church of England.

Will Reform change as a result of this latest twist? It has clearly taken note of Tony Higton’s allegation of extremism, of failure to include women, o rushing down the road to schism. Yet it has other input to enable it to keep a balanced view.

At a recent diocesan staff meeting in a part of the country not noted for orthodoxy in faith and practice, it was stated that the only organisation the bishops feared - seriously - was Reform. Surprise, Surprise, money was mentioned, with the fact that more and more laity in the big evangelical parishes are likely to take matters into their own hands. They are leaning harder on 'soft' clergy, notably some thinking of their honorary canonries, preferments, and retirements, who thus far have held the line and ensured that the quota has been paid.

Following Reform’s launch of leadership training for the laity in several dioceses, with a view to an alternative to reader’s accreditation, an alternative post-ordination training programme is being launched in Southwark after the leader of the diocesan course announced that he didn’t believe in God. This likewise, is set to be a nation-wide initiative, available in dioceses where post-ordination training has gone to the dogs.

Further afield, there is stirring too.

A meeting of church leaders from the provinces of the south – that is the global south, as in Latin America, Asia, Africa – in Kuala Lumpur issued a resolute statement on human sexuality. It rebuffed the Episcopal Church in the States, and the heterodox bishops of the UK, for their departure from the agelong teaching of the Bible and the Church catholic.

Reform has always held that it would be by internationalising the issues of theological and practical heresy that the huge majority of world Anglicans in the south - the fruit of missionary endeavour through gospel preaching - would rise up to the rescue of the ailing north. There is no way now next year’s Lambeth Conference can push a liberal agenda and hope to get it through.

Alarm bells have sounded from far away. The cavalry is saddling-up.

All of this, therefore puts the departure of Tony Higton in wider perspective. He will be missed, but not lamented. Reform’s leaders, nearly all of them still struggling in the political kindergarten, are maturing fast while the constituency is, if anything, asking for more radical action than has yet been contemplated.

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