ARTICLE in FOUNDATIONS
Cost of Conscience (CoC) is a traditionalist think tank and ginger group. Founded several years before Forward in Faith was created as an umbrella group for orthodox Anglicans, it is a clerical organisation whose original task was simply to ascertain the depths of opposition to the growing disorder centred on the movement to ordain women as priests. Since its initial task, it has supported Forward in Faith with a series of researches, educational material and teaching programmes on everything from central doctrine to moral and social issues. Its quiet and dedicated work, usually masterminded by the self-effacing and tireless Fr. Francis Gardom, has been out of all proportion to its resources. There are no staff ,just the energies of a small band of full time parish priests.
With the prospect of a new liberal Archbishop of Canterbury and the near certainty of women bishops in the not too distant future, there is a huge pastoral task to be undertaken. Is the Church any longer capable of being won back for Catholic faith and order? If it isn't , is there a settlement that will allow the liberals to go one way and the orthodox to go another and put an end to the civil war which currently disfigures the Church and inhibits the gospel? If neither of these are possible, what do orthodox clergy, in good conscience, advise their people? Can the Anglican Church any longer be a home for orthodox believers?
In order to begin to answer these questions Cost of Conscience has just undertaken a massive survey of the ' mind of Anglicans' in the U.K. It commissioned Christian Research , the leading British expert in the field of Church research and statistics, to undertake the task with complete independence and employing the largest and most representative samples from their comprehensive database. The poll was conducted exactly according to the proportions of churchmanship, male/female, large/small parish, urban/suburban/rural etc etc. The results were fascinating. Prepare not to be too surprised.
Previously lobby group surveys on women bishops declared over 80 % in favour! Christian Research came up with 51 % clergy in favour, 25 % implacably opposed and a further 24 % accepting that, while other people can have women bishops, they should not go in Provinces that did not and would not. Scarcely a ringing endorsement from those who must work under them. It demonstrates that, after 10 years, opposition has not diminished. It also underlines that there is a section of Anglican clergy whose apparent tolerance of other people's error makes a nonsense of Catholic order. NIMBY( not in my back yard) is scarcely the response of a priest who knows himself to be part of the Universal Church. The new Archbishop, whoever he may be, has to put any plans for women bishops in this context. He will be aided in his caution by a certain knowledge that the bench of bishops, so enthusiastic for creating division and havoc in the parishes with their feminist innovations, are in no hurry to have a sister on the episcopal bench!
Another fascinating answer was on the question of clergy confidence. 94 % were confident in their ministry. This sounds like high morale. However only 84 % are confident in their ministry in the Church of England and only 81 % could assure us that they expected to remain Anglicans. 5 % were very clear that they would not. If those figures translated accurately then the Church would see another departure of a minimum of 500 priests i.e. the same scale as followed the 1992 vote.
This may not be too distressing for the cash strapped authorities. As Diocesan budgets run into deepening crises they are all looking to lose stipendiary clergy and replace them with non-stipendiary ministers and women clergy whose husbands have good jobs or pensions. These measures and the sale of Church property would enable the diocesan establishments to operate undiminished and in considerable comfort well into the foreseeable future. In pastoral terms however the parishes will suffer and another tranche of the most committed believers would depart.
And talking of belief....... the survey offered a series of options from definite belief through a lack of comprehension and doubt to disbelief. Assuming, in the clergy, that only those who believe and understood what the doctrine was teaching could hope to preach and teach it to their people, there were some interesting insights into the current state of play.
' God the Father ' got a confident 82 % while Jesus as the only way to salvation came bottom of the table with a measly 51 % affirmation. Not much better was the Virgin birth which rated a mere 56 %. Here the statistics noted a real fault line. While 58 % of male clergy were convinced of the Virgin birth only 33 % of women clergy believed it. The women, however, did better than the liberal clergy who could only muster 23 % for this foundation stone of the Incarnation. Liberals support soared up to an astonishing 33 % for the resurrection!
What is increasingly clear on both doctrinal and moral issues is that catholics and evangelicals, whose support for all the credal statements polled was substantial and uniformly high, have less and less in common with the liberals who run the Church. A statistician would argue, I suspect, there are clear signs here of two different churches here ( at least). An impartial observer might wonder what believers have got in common with people who do not appear to believe much but are simply attracted by the status of power, its secular priorities and an opportunity to parasite on institution whose raison d'etre they do not share.
What will happen next ? Iím not a prophet but I offer this thought. An Eastern Orthodox friend once said to me, 'The trouble with Anglicans is that too many of them are in communion with their buildings'. As each year it becomes increasingly apparent that we are not truly in communion with each other, a major, and perhaps overdue, realignment in Western Christendom now seems inevitable.
Fr. Robbie Low Vicar, St. Peterís, Bushey Heath. 1020 words