JANUARY 1999

COMMENT

 

Last month in Southwark Cathedral was a marvellous day for our people, for Bishop Michael Houghton and his family and for Bishop Andy Radford and his family and supporters. Good will within and between the two integrities was shown forth in the very cordial relations between the two men and in the considerable response of appreciation to Archbishop George Carey himself.

It was then, all the more regrettable, that the day will be remembered for the subsequent outburst of the Provost, Colin Slee, attacking people for not receiving communion. Why a man does or does not receive communion is not a proper area of speculation for the Provost, or anyone else for that matter.

Some friends and supporters of both men were not confirmed Christians and would not expect to receive. A good many catholics certainly would have gone to an early celebration of communion in their parishes to offer a special intention for the men to be consecrated.

A number may have been unshriven sinners or not in love and charity with their neighbours, having matters unresolved, and therefore in no position to communicate.

There will also be those who, in conscience, cannot communicate at such events. It is no good Provost Slee and his fellow enthusiasts for the liberal agenda complaining about this state of affairs. The reality of 'impaired communion' is not the creation of the orthodox believers. It is the consequence of years of active lobby politics bullying an undemocratic synod into making a decision, for which it had no authority, contrary to the teaching and practice of the universal church. Interestingly the very phrase 'impaired communion' is a creation of the liberal apologists and accepted as a reality in the discussions at Lambeth 1998.

The other phrase which dogs this debate is 'tainted hands'. It is constantly asserted that orthodox will not have anything to do with bishops who ordain women or who act as alternates because they have somehow defiled themselves and invalidated the sacraments they celebrate.

Let us be quite clear. 'Taint' is not an orthodox doctrine. Nowhere in orthodox writings or teaching has this appeared as a justification for orthodox witness. The phrase 'tainted hands' was, in fact, coined by a liberal bishop and has never been an orthodox view.

The historic sacraments of episcopal and presbyteral ordainers and alternates are valid and no orthodox questions this (Article 26).

The reason that many follow the Communion Document of Forward in Faith and do not receive communion in these circumstances is not because a three line whip is sent out from Faith House (as if it could be!) but because it is the honourable, honest and logical course to take.

Those who ordain women to the priesthood or act as their alternates do so on the basis of asserting provincial autonomy over the example of Christ and the teaching of the universal church. In doing so they disorder the three-fold ministry and bring doubt and division into the sacramental life of the church.

Those of us who cannot accept the apostolic priesthood of women will not receive at communion celebrated by women. Those who ordain them or act as alternates are necessarily in collegial solidarity with women priests. It would be completely hypocritical and exhibiting the worst kind of sexual prejudice and woolly theological thinking to receive from the bishop who ordained the woman and not the woman herself.

Those of us who respectfully remain in our pews or who go up to receive a blessing are the last people to use the Holy Communion as a political gesture or as a way of personally insulting the celebrant. We do so because, in a time of doctrinal flux and ministerial disorder during the period of reception, it is the only way we can behave with integrity and witness to the truth.

 

The Churchwardens Measure (see New Directions passim) has, we are pleased to note, run into difficulties with the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. The spokespersons for this autocratic and unjust proposal were, rightly, given a hard time by Members of Parliament and the Revd Stephen Trott. The establishment defence, led by Bishop Cundy (Peterborough), Hardy (Lincoln) and Forster (Chester) made much of their good intentions, the proposed code of practice (monitored by themselves) and the utter reasonableness that could be expected from chaps like themselves.

In order to assess the reliability of such episcopal promises made to Parliament when the bench want to persuade our elected representatives of the virtues of divisive, rapacious and persecutory legislation may we make a suggestion?

The Ecclesiastical Committee should set up a review of the working of the Pastoral Measure and of the Act of Synod where very similar promises were made. And what better place to begin such a review than in the dioceses of Peterborough, Lincoln and Chester?

 

As the nation prepares for the new Millennium this paper welcomes as its columnist the Revd Canon April Heavisides, the Archbishop's Chaplain to the Millennium Experience.

Ms Heavisides submitted her copy before the dramatic events of the resignation of the minister for the Dome, Mr Peter Mandelson, and the attack on the dome as 'hubris' by the Archbishop of York. We look forward to her comments on those two significant events 'from the horse's mouth'.

Our own hope is that it is not too late for the Church of England to make some dramatic and imaginative contribution to the nation's celebration - a vast exhibition, perhaps, telling the story of nearly two millennia of Christianity in these Islands from tentative beginnings in Roman times to its rich multi-cultural complexity in our own day.

It will be said that straitened circumstances make expenditure on the required scale an impossibility for the Church of England. We believe that that is not the case.

As Ms Heavisides herself points out, were a three year moratorium to be declared on the expenses of bishops (as detailed in recent confidential documents), adequate funding would easily have been secured.

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