Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod
04 June 2011
Diocesan Synod Presidential Address - 4 June 2011
This year a new and not altogether easy to understand phrase has entered our lexicon –Anglican Patrimony. Patrimony means ’inheritance from a father’, so what is being referred to here are those things that Anglicans leaving our communion to become Roman Catholics within the Ordinariate may be able to take with them. However, I wonder whether this phrase, coined for those who are leaving, may actually be of great help to the rest of us, who are decidedly for staying, who continue to believe that the Church of England is not just some historical accident, but the church of this land – catholic and reformed – loved by God, and with a special purpose and a unique opportunity to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the people, communities and culture of England.
But, first, let me take this opportunity to express my sadness that seven priests of this diocese and about 200 hundred lay people have left us for the Ordinariate. I want, publically, to offer them our blessing and good wishes; and to thank them for the contribution they made to Gods church in this diocese.
We meet today mindful that part of the reason for their departing was disagreement with some developments within Anglicanism – indeed some aspects of what has become the Anglican patrimony – our distinctive Anglican way of doing things; and we are also mindful that one such distinctive issue is being discussed at this Synod, and that many of us are very anxious about how this debate goes.
For some of us today’s debate will feel again like a judgment on the ordained ministry of women in a church which is still not able to fully embrace the decisions it has already made. For others, who hold with integrity a different view about who is able to represent Christ within the priesthood of the ordained ministry, and even the authority of the Church of England to make these sorts of decisions at all, this could be a time when they themselves consider whether they still have a home within the Church of England. So what exactly is the Anglican patrimony; and how might it help us today and in the days to come as we seek to do what we believe to be right and hold ourselves together as one church?
Let us start in characteristic Anglican style, with liturgy. Lex orandi lex credendi – we know what we believe by what we pray. In this respect, we are not a confessional church; we hold to the ancient creeds that we have received, we look to scripture as the yardstick for doctrine, but these are given to us through our worship which then shapes and defines our believing. Therefore, at the heart of Anglican patrimony are two things that we are particularly remembering and celebrating this year and next – the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. And of course what is striking about these, more than anything else, is that they are in English, a language ‘understanded of the people’.
For the Roman Catholic Church this is probably where Anglican patrimony begins and ends. Their liturgy will undoubtedly be enriched by Coverdale’s psalms, Cranmer’s collects and Tyndale’s winsome scriptural translations. Though I guess these three will raise an eyebrow in heaven when their words are said in the Roman Catholic Church. Nor do I expect their names to be remembered in the calendar, since the remembrance of our saints will be one bit of Anglican liturgy that is left behind.
But we remember them, and with them Essex men like Lancelot Andrewes and many others, who in later years built upon their work; and we remember them differently: not just the beauty of their prose; not just that their words of prayer and praise have become ours, but because the Church of England, over time, became something unique and precious within the whole bloody history of religious turmoil in the Reformation period. You see, it is too easy a view of history to say that the Church of England came into being with Henry VIII and his need for a divorce. This is to forget what happened with his children; and to ignore the genius of the Elizabethan Settlement, witnessed most carefully in the gracious restraint of the Prayer Book of 1559.
What the Church of England became was a place where different views were not only tolerated, but allowed to flourish within the one church. In the last 200 years this has become more and more pronounced. To some it can seem like anything goes, but to those of us who love the Church of England and have our home within it, it is something glorious. Within, one church, and from one liturgical root grows the rich and astonishing diversity of St Luke’s Canning Town, St Peter’s Harold Wood, Legacy XS and St James’ Colchester.
And I want you to know that I have so enjoyed my first six months as your bishop. I have been so moved as I have travelled round the diocese and worshipped in so many different churches in so many different places and in so many different ways. My heart breaks at the thought that we might lose any of it.
But there are other things in the Anglican patrimony which are also precious.
First there is governance. Unlike many other churches, we are episcopally led but synodically governed. And within that Synod the voice of the laity is of equal importance to the clergy. And another bit of Anglican patrimony? Well, women priests themselves. One of the many sadnesses of our present situation is this: because some of our brothers and sisters have found this development in our church so hard, and because we rightly don’t wish to harm or offend anyone, we have been unable to celebrate properly the huge and significant contribution women have brought to the priesthood. I want the diocese to know, and I want my sister priests to know, that I esteem you for your faithfulness, and it is my belief and experience that women and men serving together as priests in God’s church better represents the Christ who in his incarnation took to himself the whole of humanity. This is consonant with scripture, a legitimate development within our doctrinal understanding of the sacramental character of priesthood, and a sign of the new humanity that Christ brings to all of us.
No, the crucial question for us is this: how shall we live with our disagreement. This is a question we have faced before, and unlike other churches we don’t wish to solve it by schism. I want those who conscientiously disagree with what the Church of England has already done, and with what she proposes to do, to know that you are as much as part of our church as anyone else; that you have an honoured place in it, and that I will go the second mile in trying to ensure that there is a way for us to live together, for even if we completely agree with what is being proposed, we must also acknowledge that this is a new thing, that other Christians in other churches disagree with us, and that we must take account of those who see it differently. The question is how? And it is that, I expect, that will form a large part of today’s debate, particularly if we get onto the following motion. For now, I will only say this: let us make sure we frame today’s debate in a way that is Anglican, and in a way that is charitable.
As this debate has progressed, so far two things have been consistently rejected. First, the idea that we could have women bishops with a single clause measure that simply meant it had to be accepted without any provision for those who disagree. That has been rejected. Secondly, the idea that provision should involve transferred authority, that is one bishop giving away jurisdiction to another. That has also been rejected. It is not a way of living with disagreement and risks creating a church within a church.
What is before us is a measure which will include a legally binding code of practice, allowing something similar to the current PEVs to develop in the church so that those who disagree with what is happening may receive pastoral care and sacramental oversight delegated to a bishop within their tradition. I know only too well that for some this is not enough, but it would be wrong to suggest that nothing is being offered at all. It presents an Anglican way forward, and it is what we must decide on today.
I believe in the Anglican patrimony. I believe women priests are a precious part of it. I believe it is right that we have women bishops as well. I believe it is right that something like a code of practice enables us to live together with our disagreement, honouring those who in conscience take a different view.
But before the debate begins properly, let me finish by mentioning something even more important than this. Whatever the outcome of today’s debate and of the debate in General Synod next year, we will almost certainly be left without complete agreement, though make no mistake about it, complete agreement and consensus is what I am praying for. Therefore the question for each of us as we go home today is this: what shall I do with my disagreement? How we answer this question is of fundamental spiritual significance, because it demands of us two things: great love of our neighbour, a Christ like love that is willing to go the second mile; and also great trust. Do I trust that those with whom I disagree are still my brothers and sisters in Christ who in faithfully reading the same scriptures as me and inhabiting the same Anglican patrimony, have reached, in conscience, different conclusions? If I can see Christ in them and honour the decisions our synods come to, then there will be hope not just for the Church of England, but for the world. For our world is more divided and fearful and confused than ever; and it might be that in our day God is calling us to show, by the way we handle our disagreements, the love of Christ who is, says the letter to the Ephesians, “Our peace”. In his flesh he is breaking down the barriers between us (Ephesians 2. 14). May this be so today: for our church and for our world.
Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell
Bishop of Chelmsford