Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 12 February 2021

Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans

 A friend sent me the link to an article in this week’s edition of The Spectator written jointly by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York entitled A Defence of the Church of England which can be read at https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/a-defence

My reaction to the article, which I initially sent to my friend and which I have somewhat expanded here may be of interest to readers.

To my formerly Anglican eye it reads like so many other episcopally sponsored reports and statements, General Synod speeches and reports that I have seen for the last fifty years. This is not the stuff of John Jewel, let alone Richard Hooker. The fact that their Graces have written it, and for The Spectator, shows they are on the defensive in the wake of adverse comment in recents weeks and days in what might be expected to be the more sympathetic and conservstive part of the media. The perceived failure of the established Church to respond adequately to the pandemic has highlighted deep seated fissures.

Too many parishes have been grouped in rural areas, loosening the sense of parish identity and loyalty, too many have been amalgamated in urban ones, weakening the sense of local community. In my home region three dioceses have been cobbled together into an unwealdy union, which I cannot ever see attracting any sense of group identity or adhesion. The damage has been done. 

There has been too much, far too much,  pandering to vocal special interest groups - most notably, of course, the ordination of women, too much, far too much, management speak, too much, far too much petty bureaucracy and its consequent impersonal remoteness, and too much, far too much, ecclesiastical politics encouraged by the structure of Synodical givernment. 

Church money has been spent not wisely, nor too well up and down the country - often in small ways, but ones that erode confidence. I saw some of this as a member of a PCC, of the Deanery and Diocesan Synods. The fashionable concept of accountability was too often absent.

As a Churchwarden I saw the unselfish loyalty of clergy and laity to a particular parish and to a shared vision of fidelity to a tradition and a place - leaving that was painful as I found. I also saw a diocesan system that was largely indifferent to that real sense of identity in its pursuit of some policy that paid little regard to the faithful and more to finance.

The Archbishops enthuse about vocations increasing, but I recall people with seemingly perfectly valid ones being frustrated for what seemed to be no more than that their face did not fit the particular diocesan model - which, of course, might change with the next Bishop, but then it might not...

All this against a changing, shifting National spiritual and social demographic, and a failure to speak against fashionable or uncomfortable trends by the episcopal and theological leadership. This is a Church which follows, it does not lead. I recall a cousin of no real religious convictions being shocked by Archbishop Habgood of York saying that the Chuch waited to see where people were going and then followed them ... I am tempted to wonder if that included into unbelief.

In the particular circumstances we find ourselves in with coronavirus the Catholic Church has, I believe, coped much better by embracing quietly and effectively new media technology such as streaming Mass than the Church of England policy of just closing up in so many cases, and actually forbidding their clergy to go into their churches. Anglican clergy who appear to venerate the NHS and the latest government directives above the Almighty and ministry may, just possibly, dare I suggest, have lost the plot. I know of one friend for whom the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrating Holy Communion in his kitchen on Easter Day was the last straw - as a result he was received as a Catholic at the end of December.

The coronavirus has merely highlighted long continuing trends in Anglican life. As someone pointed out to me by quoting from a book on the decline of the Church of England there is the belief that a great religious revival - suggested, of course, by all the numbers coming forward for ordination, as cited by their Graces in the article, is just around the corner - one last heave, this or that set of changes will bring it about - that idea had been around since the early 1960s at least at the beginning of Michael Ramsey’s tenure of the See of Canterbury. It is always a case of jam tomorrow...

That all being said, the structures of the Church of England are enmeshed in our constitutional life as a realm, in our local community life ( such as it is ) and in our personal and folk memory. It has been like that for over 450 years. Its future should concern not only Anglicans, but other Christians and all attuned to the cohesion of our society.

Maybe someone should write something about Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans ...

1 comment:

Matthew Reynolds said...

Well as a convert myself I would like to second this motion as one might have said at the Oxford Union. It has been of enormous comfort being able to albeit virtually attend the Traditional Latin Mass on an almost daily basis. Am very thankful to the Society of St Pius X ( SSPX for short) for their livestream from Australia which means that you get owing to time difference the Mass of the following day the evening beforehand & from St Michael's school Chapel just outside Newbury. Their livestream from Ireland which I follow on Sunday morning is very professional. Not only does one get an elegant classically efficient style of celebration, beautiful Church & Vestments & stunningly good sermons but you get the prayers & readings on the side of the screen and an Act of Spiritual Communion on screen too.

As regards the CofE turning the NHS into a false idol I recall the great Fr de Malleray of the FSSP in Warrington pointing that surely a healthcare system was there to protect us & not the other way round. Plus as the NHS routinely kills unborn babies on an industrial scale that is pretty disturbing too. As Fr de Malleray tells us it is the IHS to whom we should be devoted as God should be more important to us than a socialist healthcare provider. When the Churches were shut people were kept away from Our Eucharistic Lord & yet if the NHS was really looking after us during a pandemic why did cancer care grind to a halt & yet abortion clinics kept going ?

And to conclude Fr de Malleray pointed out that simply saying Mass in front of a camera daily & clapping for the NHS might be enough for secular opinion - Our Lord judging clerical Souls may take a different tack. It was excellent going to Confession & Communion twice in the Pandemic last year at St William of York in Reading. And to know that both FSSP & SSPX whatever their differences were doing their best to minister to the faithful.