ADDRESS TO THE FREE SYNOD
OF THE CHURCH OF SWEDEN
by The Rev Francis Gardom
18 September 1992
First I would like top say how grateful I am to have the opportunity of coming to Sweden for the very first time and to be allowed to address the Free Synod of the Church of Sweden.
Cost of Conscience is the group of Anglican priests who came together several years ago in order to resist the apparently irresistible tide of opinion that was in favour of ordaining women as priests.
Shortly after we began, it was one of your number, Dr Holmberg came to England to give a series of talks in Chester Diocese about the Free Synod.
I remember it well because our fortunes were at a pretty low ebb at that time. We just didn't know what to do for the best. I had just been to the United States to find out all that I could about the Continuing Church Movement there, and what I saw and heard convinced me that such a thing wouldn't work in England - at least not for a very long time.
Although I was deeply impressed by what I saw and heard in America, they had so many problems that it seemed almost better as Hamlet would say to...
...bear those evils that we have Than fly to others that we know not of.
But Dr Holmberg told us about the Free Synod. And for most of us it was an eye-opener. For here was a church, catholic, apostolic and reformed like the Church of England, who had gone through the experience that was threatening us and yet which had survived more than thirty years - forty years now - and yet there was still a sizable body within it who believe, as we do, that the concept of women priests was entirely mistaken. Not only had those holding this view survived; they comprised no less than 40% of informed opinion in the Church of Sweden.
I want to say how deeply we in England are in your debt, and I have been asked by the Committee of Cost of Conscience (from whose residential conference in Oxford I have just come) to express our gratitude. In particular I bring greetings from George Austin, Archdeacon of York and Tom Patten priest of the Continuing Church of Ireland.
For it was due in no small measure to your encouraging example that we persevered, and now we stand facing the November General Synod of the Church of England, confidently believing that the vote to ordain women as priests will not get its required majority of two-thirds.
Of course we cannot be certain and there are no grounds for complacency. Carelessness may yet result in all being lost. We English sometimes have an unhappy knack of "snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory". But the very fact that we have just spent two days together with the other opponents of Women's Ordination planning what we shall do after the vote in the expectation that the Measure will be defeated is surely a sign in itself of our optimism.
And that is the most important thing I have learnt from what we have gone through - never to lose heart. Scripture, both Old and New Testaments tells over and over again the stories of those "faithful remnants" who by God's grace carried on the fight in the face of error an apostasy. Such people suffered defeats and disappointments; they were looked down upon with contempt as people whose cause was hopeless; but in the end the victory was won.
Our first victory was getting some 250 priests together in Keble College Oxford. Then we 1
got nearer 300 the next year into York Minster. By this time we had gathered a database of some 3,500 priests all of whom were opposed for whatever reason to the ordination of women as priests.
Then came the great breakthrough when over 1100 priests came together in Church House Westminster. That was followed by a similar number who came to four regional conferences held in Manchester, Southwark, Bristol and York.
Finally this year a gathering of no less than 8,000 met at Wembley Arena in North London for our Festival of Faith which included 800 priests and 50 bishops from all over the world. A far cry indeed from where we had begun. And now we stand on the brink of achieving what we originally set out to do - defeat the legislation. Even if we fail then we shall continue to apply ourselves to remaining faithful to Christ's people who have been entrusted to our care and to the ministerial priesthood to which we were ordained. If we succeed, by however small a margin, and most people on both sides believe that will be the case, we shall turn our attention to the other mistaken ideas which are so fashionable in the Church of England (and elsewhere).
But whichever way the vote goes we shall never forget the debt we owe to the Free Synod. For it was the fact that you had, in the words of the psalm, been tried like silver is tried and brought through fire and water which led us to see that there might be another way for us than the American one which had run into such obvious trouble.
So let me assure you that your labours in the Lord have not been in vain. I understand how difficult it must have been for you, but I am able perhaps to offer you in my turn some encouragement.
Whichever way the vote goes in November I can promise you that steps will be taken world-wide to conserve and strengthen the ties which bind those who, like you and me believe that our faith is a revealed faith, given us by God "at various times and in different ways" has in these latter times been revealed to us perfectly and finally in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
In the end there can be only one true faith. The idea that God is somehow a function of our understanding of him and that he is therefore changing by the minute is frankly absurd, certainly unscriptural. And yet it is what "enlightened" man wants to believe - or thinks that he does.
If the Synod of the Church of England or the Swedish National Government believes that it can somehow alter God's ideas to correspond with their ideas of what he should be like, either in the name of equality, or justice or for any other reason then they are just mistaken. No vote, by however great a majority is going to alter the fact that the sacred ministry was instituted by our Lord and sustained by the guidance of the Holy Spirit for a particular purpose and to a particular pattern.
People will, I think, look back on the final 40 years of the 20th century with amazement, rather in the same way that we wonder how our ancestors could have been quite as narrow-minded as they look to us.
But broad-mindedness can be just as misguided and ludicrous, as narrow-mindedness. It's like two cars, one with ferociously efficient brakes and the other with no brakes at all. Given the choice I think I would prefer driving the first of these. One can learn to get used to it and at least one can stop if there is danger ahead. But better still would be a car in which the brakes functioned smoothly and efficiently. Brakes, like self-discipline and obedience, work best when one doesn't have to think too much about them!
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