COMMENT
December 2000

 

There lies before the Church of England a prospect unknown in living Synodical memory: a General Synod without liturgy.

As parishes, this Advent, adopt (or not) the slickly produced volumes of Common Worship, Catholics in the Church of England need to express a debt of profound gratitude to those (particularly from our own constituency) who have laboured so long on a project which sometimes seemed endless and fruitless.

There is legitimate regret that the seemingly eternal debates on the language of the Psalms and the proper translation of 'ek' have come to an end. For while they proceeded the Synod could do nothing more destructive. Like the Dutch boy with his fingers in the dyke, the liturgists were holding back the tidal wave of novelty which has already overwhelmed the Episcopal Church, and is on its inexorable way here.

The respite is over. Consider the acres of Synodical time - extending like the Russian steppes into the far distance - which the demise of liturgical business has made available. Here are the sunny uplands where private member's motions on human sexuality may thrive; the broad prairies where the seeds of doctrinal revisionism can be sown and will prosper

Synods have to justify their existence. They cost money (far more than the average punter in the pew supposes) and they feel they have to deliver the goods. But fidelity to the unchanging gospel can be delivered in far less than the time Synodically available; and the church's faithful response to the ethical crises of a faithless world will always be better delivered by those who live the life of prayer in the relevant circumstances and communities.

The Synod, aware that the great issues of the day are in fact debated and decided in another place, will no doubt get back to the serious business of tinkering with the Church. And since the new doctrine of Provincial Autonomy has recently established its omnicompetence, the sky's the limit.

 

When the Church Commissioners lost a third of our assets some years ago an internal, and far from public, inquiry took place. The upshot was - no blame, no sackings of course: an excuse for more centralisation.

The Turnbull "reforms", dramatic raising of parish quotas and the ring fencing of the Commissioners remaining assets to meet remaining pension obligations and bishops expenses were imposed. In addition to huge increases in quotas, parishes were also to become responsible for future pension provision.

The inquiry revealed that no actuarial assessment had been made, in years gone by, to enable the Church to know the full extent of its likely pension commitments.

It was assumed by most observers and commentators and by the good folk of the parishes that all future estimates would be made on a sound actuarial basis and that the provision of pensions would be safeguarded by the ring fencing of remaining assets for this purpose.

The few who, like this magazine, questioned the soundness of this judgment and the evidence on which it was based, were caricatured as cynics and Jeremiahs.

Now, sadly, for all of us, the truth is out. At November's General Synod meeting Mr Shaun Farrell, Financial Secretary to the Archbishop's Council, announced that, in order to meet its current pension obligations to those ordained before 1997, not only was the remaining income inadequate but it could only be made right by the sale of half of the churches assets over the period of its obligation (60 years ).

Was there outrage in the Synod? A call for an emergency debate? Banner headlines in the press?

No.

Most of the old hands are simply unshockable any more and a good number head for the tea room or go shopping during tedious financial reports. The new members presumably couldn't quite believe what they were hearing. Either way the notice of financial mortality was accorded the bemused and mild interest normally reserved for the weather forecast.

Now that we are getting some more of the truth, the questions arise.

Is there any more truth to come? What, if anything, can the supposedly democratically accountable synod do about it? Why has it taken so long for this information to come out and why were the parishes persistently given a very different picture?

 

Once a province has expressed its mind in favour of the ordination of women to the priesthood and proceeded to 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.'

So said the House of Bishops of the Church of England in 1989.

By 1993, with the Act of Synod, the House was in altogether another frame of mind, maintaining that there should be no discrimination of any sort in the appointment of those opposed to women's ordination.

In the event, as might be expected, the Church of England has, pursued a via media between these two extreme and irreconcilable opinions. No bishop in favour of women's ordination has, since 1992, appointed a suffragan opposed; and no diocesan opposed has been appointed who was not consecrated before 1992. Not extirpation, but built-in obsolescence has been the chosen course.

It is in this context that we must place the recent appointment of John Hind as Bishop of Chichester.

Three resounding cheers for the appointment of a godly, learned and orthodox bishop to a diocese which had asked for one! But readers will be aware of the poignancy of the fact that Hind is a home-grown product: first consecrated as suffragan to the see he now holds.

Only when a man of outstanding quality opposed to women's ordination (Richard Chartres?) is appointed to a diocese which has not asked for but deserves one (Canterbury?), will it be possible to give three cheers to the system as well as the man.

 

This edition of New Directions directs readers' attention to events in Australia [Oz As It Is, David Robarts, page 4; and Letter from Australia, David Chislett, page 24] and America [Letter from America, Francis Gardom, page 23].

We do so as a matter of principle. Pace the vicious and un-catholic doctrine of Provincial Autonomy, what happens in other parts of the Anglican Family of Churches affects and concerns us here - not least because innovations are infinitely exportable in a world of mass communications.

The 'it couldn't happen here school' of clerical ostriches have had their day. Serial monogamy, gay 'marriages' and lay celebration in any part of the Communion immeasurably strengthen the arm of pressure groups for the same novelties in the Church of England Forward in Faith, North America and Forward in Faith, Australia are now in the frontline of battles which will assuredly come our way. We should pray for them daily.