COMMENT MAY 2000

 

It is natural, following from the Singapore consecrations in January and the meeting of Primates in Oporto in March, that serious questions are being asked about the future viability of the Anglican Communion. Can it survive in any recognisable form? And should it?

These questions are addressed in different ways and from different perspectives by four of our contributors. The Archbishop of Wales (a new boy in the primatial club) is optimistic [Our Differences need not Destroy Us, pp 8-10]. Quite understandably he is not prepared to write off as irrelevant the firm he has just joined.

From the American perspective David Mills [Letter from America, p 23] takes a view altogether less positive. He sees the American Church (both its revisionists and its traditionalists) as constitutionally incapable of playing a team game. The voice of the Communion, he believes, has no weight in the US. We should not live in the expectation that American Anglicanism is going to change.

Fr Robarts's Open Letter to the Bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia [pp. 24-25] paints a sombre picture of the tolerance and coherence of that troubled Church, riven as it is by the issues of women priests and bishops and lay celebration. Robarts pleads for an understanding of the traditionalist position from a Primate who seems to many to combine liberalism and totalitarianism in equal proportions.

Geoffrey Kirk [Quadriphobia, p 21] details the manner in which the post-modernist indifferentism and inclusivism of the ECUSA is destroying the traditional bases of Anglicanism.

The questions remain: Will the Communion survive? And should it?

The answer to both questions is a qualified 'Yes'.

The Communion will survive because, quite simply (until individual Churches begin, as inevitably they will, unilateral negotiations with Rome or Orthodoxy) there is no alternative to it. Being part of the 'seventy-million strong world-wide Communion' gives kudos and confidence to small churches struggling with ambient secularism.

The Communion ought to survive quite simply because it is now the Christian world's most dramatic exercise in ecumenism. There is nothing which separates Anglicans from non-Anglicans more than separates Anglicans from each other. If ecumenism is ever to bear serious fruit (and the first hundred years cannot lay claim to many successes) it will probably do so on the doctrinal bases being hammered out in these unseemly internal squabbles. That is precisely why they are worth the effort.

 

This edition of New Directions also majors on two other issues: funerals and finance. In a way which will become apparent to the reader, they are related. The financial crisis of the Church of England (not yet publicly acknowledged, but exponentially developing) is a crisis of pensions and fees. No one, we believe, in the last twenty years has been sufficiently honest about either.

The failure to do the serious actuarial work which would put the pensions of the clergy of the Church of England on a sound fiscal basis is nothing short of a scandal. And the anxiety which is building up in some quarters that income will not adequately fund both active and retired clergy is fuelled by well-placed guilt.

Fees (and, with the decline in the popularity of matrimony, increasingly funeral fees) have for some time supplied a larger proportion of clerical stipends than could ever be deduced from a cursory inspection of diocesan accounts. The Bishop of Portsmouth [see Leslie Chadd, Funerealities, pp 12-13] is right to be concerned. And yet [see Robbie Low, Funerealities pp. 17-19] the service which the Church of England offers to the recently bereaved often leaves a great deal to be desired.

Is there, we ask, a simple connection between the failure of the Established Church to preach the Gospel of sin forgiven and life everlasting (which is all too apparent in the crematoria of the land) and a financial crisis which is now so acute that it is seen to justify the mean-mindedness which Leslie Chadd's piece describes?

 

The impending appointment to the see of Chichester is building up into a battle royal. News from the Vacancy-in See Committee (under the unenviable chair-personship of Archdeacon Nicholas Reade) is of a power struggle of epic proportions. It is right that it should be so.

The present management of the Church of England has staked its corporate reputation on an appeal to fairness, in particular on the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod's assurances that senior appointments will continue to be open to opponents of the ordination of women.

After the Exeter debacle that reputation is in tatters. It is not too much to say that everything hangs on Chichester, where a clear majority on the relevant committee has asked for a Bishop opposed. Fairness demands to be done (and seen to be done); not merely mouthed.

Those with any memory at all, however, will recall that fairness and generosity has not always been the position of the episcopal advocates of the priesting of women.

In July 1988 the Bishop of Bristol wrote a piece for The Sunday Times entitled 'Women Priests - Whatever the price', and the then bishop of Durham went on record in the same year with the claim that women should be ordained 'as soon as possible and at practically any cost'.

Dr Carey (then Bishop of Bath and Wells) told opponents on the BBC Points West programme that in his view they had no choice but to leave:

"...if they are going to come out in opposition once that legislation becomes law', he said, 'then I don't think they have any choice because we must, in a democratic Church, be willing to work with men and women together...I think the logic of their position must mean that when it becomes law they will be placed in an impossible position'.

The views of these individual bishops was codified in a declaration by the whole House.

'Once a province has expressed its mind in favour of the ordination of women to the priesthood and proceeded to so ordain women it would be anomalous to appoint a bishop who was actively opposed to the mind of the province, and in particular opposed to the common mind of the college of bishops. A common mind on the understanding of the ministry, the bond of communion, is essential within the college of bishops if the unity of the ministry and thus of the Church is to be maintained.' [The Ordination of Women to the Priesthood: First Report of the House of Bishops, para 40 (vii)]

The question raised by the Chichester appointment (as Sir Patrick Cormack and others recently made plain to the Archbishop of Canterbury) is whether the present mind of the college of bishops has wholly superseded its previous mind.

Only a clear sign - an acted parable - will now suffice, in the face of Archdeacon Rose's motion at the forthcoming General Synod.

Last month we published an article entitled 'Whine, Women and Wrong' which dealt robustly with the recent report by Dr Thorne of Bristol University on the maltreatment of women clergy by their colleagues and others.

Sadly (and accidentally) the attribution of the article was excised at the printers, with the result that Fr Robbie Low (for it was he) was accused by irate proponents of women's ordination of a cowardly anonymity.

We are happy to set the record straight.

Fr Low is pleased to accept full and total responsibility for the piece. All brickbats or offers of immediate preferment resulting from it should be addressed directly to him.

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