Saturday, February 11, 2012

An open letter to Anglo-Catholics in the CofE

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

the proceedings of the recent General Synod have been doing the rounds of the media and no doubt you’ve been watching closely for what the future holds for you. While there is a lot of speculation and many, many commentaries and comments flying around the blogosphere, the whole matter of the presence of women in the episcopate is coming to a head this summer and, unless the vote fails in July, which seems unlikely, any hope of the sacramental validity in the CofE that Anglo-Catholicism needs will be lost. If you cannot hold to women being bishops then, in the future, you simply will not know whether a priest is truly ordained or a bishop validly consecrated if there is one female bishop in their history. What will you then do?

I would very much like to encourage you that there is hope, and a great deal of it, but it requires hard work. I was very much in the same boat as you. I was a member of the CofE for a long time and a Reader too for the best part of a decade. With all these changes and alterations to the doctrine of the CofE, I struggled to remain. I tried to be loyal even when successive alterations to the Mass, the reduction in parishes with Resolutions A,B,C, and the liberal agenda forced itself upon me and upon the local church. I am fully aware of the creeping bitterness, the headaches involved in trying to square the circle in order to continue to serve the church of my birth.

I remember how hard it was to lead Mattins and Evensong from the BCP yet being unable to go to Mass because the priest had effectively made up the liturgy. Yet despite being so unhappy, I was determined to keep going, to keep my head down and trust in God to make things better. My prayers were fervent and I clung to whatever crumb of traditional worship I could find, searching for the sincerity of what has now become regarded as “the Old Religion” again.

For me, there was a way back, and when I was forced to resign my license and leave the CofE just under a year ago, through the Grace of God, I found the Anglican Catholic Church. This was not an instant decision. I had first encountered the ACC back in 2007 but it took time (four years!) for me to think things over and work out whether this was the right thing to do. I could have found a FiF parish which is a similar distance to the parishes I go to now. I could have gone to Rome or taken up the Ordinariate, but it was not right for me to do so on the strength of my conviction of how valid Anglicanism is. So when I was made to go, I knew that my position was quite untenable in the CofE. There was no way I could reconcile my Anglo-Catholic understanding with a body committed to jettisoning Anglo-Catholicism. The ACC was a clear choice for me because it did exactly what it said and so I eventually joined.

I have not looked back. It is true; I have had to sacrifice much that I loved – the glorious buildings, the music, organs and choirs in the great Anglican tradition, the sense of establishment as a valued part of the fabric of the British constitution. However, these have been steadily eroded in the CofE any way, and so you will have experienced this too. I was fortunate to have been given a good span of time to think about my decision. How much time do you have? Just how will your Society of St Hilda and St Wilfred protect you, especially in this age of litigation and squabbles over jurisdiction? If that's the route you choose, then I pray for your success, but what will it really achieve? Will it be allowed to continue by an establishment which you know is hostile to you?

What has been preserved in the ACC is certainly the true heart of Anglicanism. What the ACC possesses is the sincerity of the Anglo-Catholic ways. The first thing I felt when I started attending was that it was what the CofE used to be. The liturgy, the sincerity, the discipline, the standards, indeed, the very ethos that I knew as a boy, all were present again – the ACC truly deserves its epithet as a Continuing Anglican Church.

Many of you will tut and shake your head and wonder what on earth I'm doing with "them". You see "them" as being disloyal to the CofE or as not being a "proper" church. There seems to be an underlying distaste and dismissal when "their" name is mentioned or "their" presence felt. I would like to suggest to you that you would do well just to listen to what "they" are trying to say and to do. They – we – are trying to do precisely what you want: to continue worshipping the One True God, Father Son and Holy Ghost according to the Anglican practice which we received from the Great Church through the lens of the Anglican tradition.

Of course, you’re loyal Anglicans. Anglo-Catholics always have been loyal to the Anglican Church. How can we be disloyal if we seek to preserve it? Our opponents just don't understand that. So, isn’t better to say “we wish you well, but we can’t walk together” to those who want women ordained as bishops, and thus demand your loyalty to something that you know isn’t Anglican, than to compromise your own integrity in going along with something you know in your heart of hearts is wrong. Believe me, I tried to do that and it hurt more than I can possibly say.

It hurt because I was trying to be in communion and not in communion at the same time. The Benedictine way has always spoken of being clear what one means and what Rule one follows. Those who are not prepared to follow the Rule are declared excommunicate, i.e. they are outside because they have placed themselves outside the rule. There is always a way back - indeed, it is very difficult to be thrown out of a Benedictine Monastery - but that way back always involves accepting the Rule: one never returns on one's own terms.

It is impossible to be simultaneously inside and outside of a room. One cannot say, "well, I'm inside this corner of the room, but not that corner" when one is still in the same room as that other corner. This was the mistake that I was making because this is not how being in communion works!

Communion means sharing the same way of life, the same rules and the same understandings and breathing the common air with all in the room and Holy Communion means holding to the same understanding of Our Lord Jesus Christ's religion as everyone in the room, breathing the same Holy Spirit who doesn't contradict Himself despite what the liberal element may say. Either one follows the rule of one's church and remains in it or one rejects the rule of one's church and thereby leaves it. Standing under the lintel of the door just blocks the way for people to enter and to leave. Indeed my own thinking blocked my own growth in the faith and it was only when I was made to leave that I could see things more clearly.

You will have to decide on what grounds you regard a church as being “proper”. If this is a purely numerical decision, then at which point in Church History did it become proper? When it consisted of just twelve? Can the CofE be “proper” when it ordains women – an action which you do not believe is what God wants? Of course, you could opt for the Ordinariate, but you’re Anglo-Catholic, not Roman Catholic, and you value your Anglicanism as much as we do. We also have a great deal of love and affection for the Roman Church, and pray for her good as well as the good of the Pope whom we regard as our patriarch, but not as our monarch. However, that being said, the Roman Church does not regard the Anglican Church as being proper; those who don’t regard the ACC as being proper do so for exactly the same wrong reason. Our prayers are the same as yours; our sacraments are identical; our Bishops are validly consecrated and you may check our lineage if you wish – we comply with the Doctrine of the Undivided Church.

Admittedly, we are tiny in the U.K. We’re larger in the United States, but everything is bigger over there. Of course, we’d like to be larger, to have enough money to buy our own church buildings, to form our own choirs, and to support our priests financially. At the moment this is a bit of a struggle, but we manage and we manage well. Indeed, we benefit from the lack of encumbrances of trying to maintain a Grade I listed building and their associated “Save the Church Roof” campaigns and the interminable wranglings of the CofE between political factions. Our small size makes it easy for us to know each other and to appreciate the value of the individuals within our parishes.

We’d very much like you seriously to consider joining us. We fully understand that would involve sacrifice on your part, the loss of buildings and that sense of presence as part of the Establishment. If you are a clergyman, we know that the sacrifice is greater since we cannot pay for our priests until we are bigger – much bigger. However we have made those sacrifices and it is worth it even on this little scale!

If you join us, you would be here to work with us, to shoulder the burden of building something of great value and to ensure that the Faith in Christ to which we cling. Further, unlike in the CofE, your efforts to build the Church would be valued, your devotion, learning and integrity would find a worthy place here and we would be able to present to a sinful World the face of Immanuel.

If you’re interested and wish to know more, our website is here.

Whatever way you choose, please be assured that you will always have my love and my prayers in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

God bless you all.


Warwickensis said...

The Venerable Raymond Thompson, Archdeacon of the Diocese of the U.K. asked me to publish the following.

Warwickensis said...

Dear Jonathan

Thank you so much for posting this at this time. Might I add to yours my own words of encouragement to those who are seeking surety in their Christian journey? The Church of England was the place where I grew up and discovered the Faith. As a Sunday School pupil, then teacher; as a chorister and then server and sacristan; as a Reader whose very active preaching and pastoral ministry lasted over 30 years, I had always been exposed to the notion that the differences within the C of E were its strength. As the 80s marched relentlessly towards the destruction of all that was orthodox it became increasingly clear that these differences were not just about style, but about Doctrine and the very nature of the Faith itself. The differences were, in fact, mighty cracks with a thin covering of veneer which was insufficiently strong to prevent collapse. When the General Synod decided in 1992 that it had the authority to overturn by a majority vote the Tradition and teaching of 2000 years of Church history the writing was on the wall for me and for any who held the conviction that the Established Church in this land was the truly Catholic (but reformed) church in England. I could no longer say the Creed beside people whose stated belief in “the Holy Catholic Church” meant something entirely different from mine. My views were no different from what they had always been, so who had moved the parameters? It wasn’t me. Many churches now get round having to declare any orthodox belief at all by using some other declaration which doesn’t involve committing themselves to the theology that was clarified at Nicaea. I attempted, like so many others, to pull up the drawbridge and pretend the new C of E couldn’t penetrate the world of Forward in Faith, but that worthy intention was to prove to be the lost cause that those who left in the aftermath of 1992 had predicted. As the 90s wore on and more and more ground was lost to those most illiberal of all Christians, the “liberals”, I knew that I could not with any degree of honesty remain where there were so many grey areas and questions which simply did not have answers. Sacramental assurance was of too much importance to me, and how could I stay in a Church where this could not be guaranteed? How far should one have to research to check the pedigree of who was purporting to celebrate valid sacraments? The only option was to turn away with great sadness and enter a wilderness – for that is exactly what it felt like. A bereavement even. I felt too strongly that, before jettisoning it, Anglicanism had been truly a part of the Catholic Church and that to join the Church of Rome would have been to cast doubt, at the very least, on any sacramental acts I had ever received. I had heard of the ACC and decided that I should find out more about it, and other jurisdictions too, whilst waiting to see where the Holy Spirit would lead me. This was in 1999, and I can honestly say that after being received into the ACC shortly afterwards I have never regretted that decision for one moment. Of course it was heartbreaking to leave behind the buildings, the sense of “home” and the friends that I had come to love so much. But integrity and assurance are so much more important when your soul is in peril.

Warwickensis said...

I now have the joy of ministering in a Church where there is no internal division over Orders or the interpretation of doctrine; and where we are all of one mind on the sacraments and on our duty to offer to God worship which is worthy of him. Sure we have many, many detractors. There are those who consider that we are no more than a Society for the Preservation of the Maniple! But if you look seriously at our website, consider reading our own Archbishop Haverland’s book “Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice” (obtainable from our shop) and come and meet us, you will see we are not deluded cranks but are actually folk of great integrity and great intelligence! If the Ordinariate is for you, then God bless you. But we can indeed offer you a spiritual home that recognises your orthodox Anglicanism for what it always has been and, yes, “continues” it.

Raymond Thompson

bishopmead said...

Thank you for this Jonathan. Of course St Alban's in Salford has just launched a roof appeal ... so we do have those too from time to time :-)