Friday, March 10, 2017

People look North: mutual flourishing and focus for unity

Is it my business to comment on goings-on in a church that I'm not a member of? Most of the time, the answer is no. The internal wranglings of another ecclesial body are not my concern. As I said earlier, the Church of England has the distinction of being the Established Church in this country, second, I am trying to set up a Mission in the troubled Diocese of Sheffield, and third, my history, both personal and ecclesial, is bound up by the ties of Time to the CofE: I cannot ignore her.

Of course, what I have to do is to make sure that I do not attack her, or crow over any misfortunes that she should suffer. I do have a pastoral concern for her members, and I do not want them to suffer. Yet, the current problem that she is facing is essentially of her own legislative doing, in trying to hold together the impossible. I tried to be part of that, myself, when I was in the CofE. I hated what I saw as the lunatic changes to liturgy and service that I encountered both at University, and in my time in my home CofE parish. Yet, I loved the people, the warmth of being with those with whom I had grown up, and there are those whom I love who are still there. I loved the opportunities to sing some wonderful music indigenous to the Church of England which actually spurred my faith on. You must believe me that I truly bear the CofE not one bit of malice, and I could only ever return to her if she returned to Orthodoxy.

But I cannot return to her. She has burnt the bridge and I am content to have found the Anglican Catholic Church which keeps me part of the the Orthodox and Catholic Church. As far as I am concerned, the Anglican Catholic Church is the Church of England, because she is Orthodox and further because she has not changed the Faith. The CofE cannot be orthodox, and whether she can come back to being orthodox is not clear cut.

The latest news is that Bishop Philip North has declined the bishopric of Sheffield following many protests about his ability to be a focus for unity - an integral part of episcopal ministry. His supporters have used the CofE's five principles, especially that of "mutual flourishing" to affirm his appointment.

Neither of these things can happen in the CofE.

First of all, no bishop in the CofE can be the focus for sacramental unity since 1992. Those that ordain women as priests cannot have sacramental oversight of those who cannot receive women as priests. A woman bishop cannot be the focus for sacramental unity, because those who do not believe that she is a bishop cannot receive her ministry. And now, a traditionalist cannot be a bishop because they cannot be a focus of unity for those who believe that to refuse the priesthood of women are discriminating against women. There is now no bishop in the CofE who can truly be considered to be a focus of unity in his Diocese.

Of course, there is a solution: make two non-geographical Dioceses, one North, one South, and make two of the Bishops of the Society Diocesan Bishops with the view of looking after those parishes and priests who cannot accept the ordination of women. The problem there is that this goes against the traditional model of the Diocese. There are many ancient canons still in force which a non-geographical Diocese would breach. Yet it is a solution and a canon is law and not doctrine: laws can be changed when the need to change them arises; doctrines cannot. Geography is a canonical problem; the ordination of women is a doctrinal problem. It is a way forward for the CofE.

Of course, there will then be problems of a "church within a church" as these Traditionalist Churches would essentially lift right out of the CofE. It could be a schism in the making, but would it be a schism in the church, from the church or a return to the Church?

The second problem is that of "mutual flourishing". It's ambiguous. Is it the flourishing of individuals or of a theology? Are opponents of women priests going to be allowed to flourish as individuals, or are they going to be allowed to promote their theology. Supporters of women priests will say that it must be a flourishing of individuals because they believe that their opponents' theology is discrimination and should be stamped out. They will say that individual women priests cannot flourish under a bishop who does not recognise that they are priests. Yet, if a traditionalist cannot be a bishop because he is a traditionalist, then his flourishing as an individual is compromised, and he is discriminated against because he is seen as a "discriminator".

For the CofE, there simply cannot be mutual flourishing, nor can there be any bishops who are a true focus for full sacramental unity unless they start allowing for a peaceable separation. Perhaps priests should be in Dioceses with a bishop of the same sex who only ordains priests of that sex. Yet that is nonetheless separation and another form of apartheid. The ghosts of 1992 are really beginning to haunt the establishment.

There is one other option, and it is a brave and challenging option. All people in the CofE who oppose the ordination of women on Catholic principles are very welcome to join the ACC! We're here to be a fully orthodox and catholic Church of England and we welcome all those of a similar mindset. We're not big, but if more people join, we can get bigger and thus continue the work of God in this country rather than trying to legislate the unlegislatable.

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