COMMENT, JULY 1999

 

The death of Cardinal Basil Hume has left a gap in the ranks of the church militant which will be difficult to fill. People of all faiths, and none, knew that when Hume spoke you heard the authentic voice of the Christian gospel. It was never abrasive but it never compromised either, never seeking an easy accommodation with fashionable secular values - or lack of them.

Hume was a man of profound prayer and an authentic pastor - a man in whom the love of God was tangible and through whom the light of Christ shone. He belonged to far more than his own community and, by his person, did much to neutralise the prejudice against Catholics which has remained too long a festering wound of the Reformation.

In the wake of profound upheaval in the Roman Communion and while forces of reaction and revolution threatened the unity of the western church, Hume managed, not only to hold the English church together, but make substantial headway in restoring it to a central role in the life of the nation.

The crisis of Anglicanism in, and post 1992, saw Hume at his pastoral best and many Anglican priests and laity will be forever grateful for the tremendous care he took of them, whether they converted or not, when their own bishops behaved more like persecutors than pastors.

Hume inadvertently let slip then the famous phrase that it might be the beginning of “?the conversion of England”. It was impolitic and had to be withdrawn but there is little doubt that he meant it and saw himself, not the Anglican archbishop, as the successor of Augustine. There is little doubt that had Hume’s generosity and vision been more widely applied the Church of England would have lost considerably more priests.

Those who were privileged to witness how the humble monk from Ampleforth cared for people, in triumph or crisis or just the ordinary, would undoubtedly echo the words of the great Dean of St. Albans, Peter Moore. When Hume went to preach at the Abbey Church, to which a weekly mass had been restored for the first time since the Reformation, Moore leant over to a junior colleague and remarked,

“You are about to hear the real thing”.

In his dying too, Hume set us an example. Trusting in the promises of Jesus he looked forward to “coming home”. Over the last few weeks Cardinal Hume has been much in our prayers and we may be confident that, with the rest of the land he served before God, we will remain in his.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The composition of the committee of enquiry into the bishops' expenses has come in for some criticism. It may be argued that, along with other similar ecclesiastical internal enquiries, it lacks the necessary objectivity.

Given the sudden rush of interest by the Inland Revenue into how the ordinary parish priest justifies his c. £2,000 per annum expenses (fully documented, agreed and published) perhaps it might be useful to have a member of that helpful organisation on the enquiry. That would enable us, and the revenue to ensure that episcopal expenses, apart from any other considerations, conformed to the 1988 Tax Act which demands that “expenses” are for costs “wholly, necessarily and exclusively”? incurred in the pursuit of duty. This would be of considerable comfort to the declining northern diocese whose bishop is obliged to spend between £3000-£4000 per week maintaining his invaluable ministry.

That a cultural revolution has taken place no one who telephones Church House or Number One, Millbank can doubt. 'The Church of England', responds the crisp receptionist. And when you have overcome your astonishment at the audacity of anyone - even the indefatigable Dr Beaver - who is prepared to speak for that extraordinary institution in its entirety, she will connect you to the person you wish to consult - or not, as the case may be.

Are we alone, we wonder, in viewing with alarm the way in which the name of the whole is being used for one of its parts, and so affecting the self-consciousness, and ultimately the ecclesiology, of English Anglicans? 'The diocese', once a merely geographical term conjuring up visions of leafy acres and village churches, has now come to mean a coterie of paid officials and extra-parochial ministers. 'The Church of England' - once a concept so mystical that it had a presence even in far away Australia - now means a bureaucracy at the end of a telephone.

It was clear, long before the Church Commissioners' crisis of July 1992, that the ramshackle institutions of governance on which the CofE had relied hitherto needed a radical rethink. Dr Carey acted with alacrity and decision. Through the Turnbull Commission he set about reordering his 'Church in the Market Place', and we are now beginning to taste the results.

If the two documents recently released to members of the General Synod are anything to go by, the new regime will to be long on rhetoric and hortation.

The snappily titled 'Steps in the Creation of a Vision Statement for the Church of England as the Archbishops' Council begins its work: A Reflection by the Bishops of the Church of England GS Misc 563', is a sore trial to the patience of its readers. Couched in a language which unites all the worst features of corporate-speak, ecu-speak and theobabble, it seldom strays from the obvious except to embrace the dubious.

 

The new Bishop of Leicester justified the introduction of a responsorium calling on God as 'Our Father and our Mother' - or perhaps 'Our father and our mother'? - by saying that it was part of a rite used by another Province of the Anglican Communion.

He will not be surprised to learn that we at New Directions are no longer disposed to accept such usage as proof of respectability. Accordingly we draw the bishop's attention to another Anglican Communion rite: the baptismal rite currently employed by the embattled but doughty Deaness of Dundee.

The lady in question has scruples about the naming of the deity which require her to avoid masculine names. She does not therefore baptise 'In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' (cf. Matt 28:19; BCP 'Publick Baptism of Infants'; and all orthodox rites previous and subsequent), but in the name of 'God, Christ and the Holy Spirit'.

We hereby ask the new bishop: Does the use of that rite in Dundee authorise it in Leicester? Would he regard such language as a harmless extension of the 'inclusive' responsory used at his enthronement, or as an illegitimate extension of an otherwise benign principle? And indeed, since generations of Christians have seen the issue as a matter of (eternal) life and death, does he suppose that a child baptised with such a formula was in fact baptised at all?

We are aware that an article in New Directions might be too narrow a compass for a bishop to address so weighty a topic: but we look for his appearance on the subject in more learned tomes.