Social media was buzzing yesterday with news that the new Anglican Bishop of London, who replaces the colourful and charismatic Richard Chartres, is Sarah Mullally; notably the first woman to hold this ancient see.
The Church of England is ever political so the news was predictably greeted with cheers and groans… depending on one’s beliefs regarding the suitability of women to holy orders. This led to the unsavoury sight of her first words being reconciliatory ones to those with whom she is in disagreement. That was a shame, I felt, primarily because she deserves better. Both sides in this dispute need to recognise that airing dirty laundry in public is not winning souls for Christ. It was no way to introduce anyone as bishop to a watching nation.
Yet appeasement was necessary because this was a manifestly political appointment. Bishop Mullally is able and compassionate, I warm to her, yet the third most important see in the Church of England should demand more than ‘being nice’ or ‘being a good manager’ in terms of ecclesial credentials! One might have expected a proven biblical scholar or one skilled at running a diocese. What we witness, instead, is a late vocation to the church whose residentiary training was in nursing not theology. Does this not speak volumes? And does it make it a triumph for women’s ministry if she is being promoted not on merit but gender?
Maybe this fact is what convinced her to begin her Anglican episcopal ministry with a call to appeasement? If so I believe it was misguided; because when assurances to mutual flourishing have to be given with the opening breath it rings hollow. Let us not forget the last traditionalist candidate chosen for a diocese was hounded out within weeks by the intolerance of the supporters of women’s ordination! The time when nice words alone might heal these deep wounds is long past I fear.
Hence behind establishment smiles of late one senses fear of further fracture. The Anglican communion can no longer hold the Lambeth conference due to irreconcilable differences. And at home, eons after the vote to ordain women, Anglicanism still struggles to move on; relationships have broken down. The C of E is not in communion with itself anymore. So the new bishop’s task will not be easy. A house divided cannot stand. And the pressing task for all Anglican prelates, male or female, is to end this dispute. Holding together people of opposing beliefs is good in theory but it is not proving remotely possible in practice.
Might it be time for opponents to admit defeat and move on? We in the Ordinariate could help by welcoming them into an authentic Catholic community. After all there is only so long you can rumble along against the grain with impossible division before it hampers evangelistic capability. Even principled stands begin to look myopic and curmudgeonly after time and from the outside it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand what the remaining Anglo-Catholics think an achievable end game is for them?
Bottom line? If you worship in a synodical church embrace the consequences of losing synodical votes. Those votes have not been easy on traditionalist Anglicans, and many sympathise, but the implications cannot be dodged forever. The situation will only get worse for traditionalists moving forwards given that the modernist project is well underway and shows no sign of abating. So again what are they remaining for exactly given that all credible Catholic claim is long gone?
It really is time to accept then that the Anglican ‘via media’ was abandoned in pursuit of liberal modernism. Hence it isn’t only the admission of women to holy orders (a matter of faith) which challenges Anglo-Catholic claims. It is also the position on numerous moral issues which have changed beyond recognition. Consider the acceptance of divorce and re-marriage without recourse to annulment, contraception, abortion and homosexual marriage (pensions are now paid to the civil partners of clergy).
The historic Anglo-Catholic claim, to be a part of some mythical authentic Catholic body, is made farcical. Only the most stubborn could pretend that is even remotely true in 2017. Whatever it may be, however right or wrong its thinking, the modern Church of England just is no longer home for those who hunger for historic Christianity as understood by the Universal Catholic world and the church in all ages. So make your choice….Remain and accept what synod delivers and embrace a liberal protestant and congregational reality. Or find a Catholic home where conventional belief can thrive.
The Catholic church was my choice. You can enter via a diocesan route, if you can cope with cultural change and less English spirituality, or, if you love the Anglican patrimony, via the Ordinariate. Both doors open into the one united home of course. But any hope for an orthodox future within the C of E is gone. So I say with compassion… Come in Anglo-Catholics; your time is up! It is time to make a decision about where it is you are heading.