Sunday, 11 July 2010

Anglican contrasts

This weekend has seen the vote in the Church of England Synod that may prove decisive for many in that church's Catholic wing. Narrowly, a compromise provision that would have allowed some sort of place for those opposed to the ordination of women as bishops was defeated.

Within the last ten days I have, by accident of circumstances and not by any deliberate intention, encountered directly the contrast between the liberal and the Catholic aspects of the Church of England. That both encounters took place at locations within a mile of each other just makes the contrast more poignant.

The first encounter was at an Anglican celebration of baptism, confirmation and holy communion. I had been invited by a neighbour who was being confirmed. In his homily, the celebrant (Rt Rev Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough) spoke strongly, and with a conviction that would have done a Roman Catholic priest proud, about the real presence of Jesus in the eucharistic species. His prompt was the occasions when he saw notices in Church of England parishes during the swine flu scare that "the wine would not be given". After the words of consecration, it is no longer bread and wine, but the body and blood of Jesus Christ! My exclamation marks here are an attempt to reflect the emphasis communicated by the celebrant's body language as he emphasized this point. And then emphasized it again.

The second encounter was part of a session on care for patients of different faiths in a hospital context. At one point an Anglican priest was talking about the distinction between Sunni and Shia traditions in Islam, and the hostility that exists between them. This he could not understand; but he drew a comparison to the persecutions that existed between different Christian denominations at the time of the Reformation. For him it was a nonsense that Christians should have killed each other over the question of whether or not it was the body and blood of Christ or just bread and wine. One might want to agree that killing each other over questions of doctrine is now, with the benefit of hindsight, a matter of some regret. But the suggestion implied here that the question of belief or not in the real presence of Jesus Christ as the Eucharist doesn't matter ... that is doctrinal indifferentism of the highest order. For those on the Roman Catholic side who died rather than renounce their faith in the doctrine of the Eucharist and in the unity of the Church, the difference really did matter.

The challenge being posed by the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England is not unrelated to this question about the real presence; the same challenge was posed by the ordination of women as priests, though that challenge could be averted for traditionalists in some degree by the provision of alternative episcopal oversight for those Anglican parishes that did not accept the ministry of women priests. Both questions have their roots in how priesthood, and therefore the Church, is understood.

Whether the events at the General Synod bring nearer the creation of an Ordinariate under the provisions of Anglicanorum Coetibus has yet to be seen. They do perhaps call on us to renew the commitment of prayer on behalf of those who now have to discern their way forward in this situation.

PS. A wake up call can be found here.

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