Be Faithful - Fr Reg Stretton, East Midlands FiF Regional Dean
This was the title for the meeting of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) in the Central Hall, Westminster on Monday 6th July 2009, a follow up conference to GAFCON. These are my thoughts; they do not have any official status; others who were there may have entirely different interpretations. In spite of the media slant before the event, it was not an “anti-gay” event. It could be described as a day of two halves.
The morning was quite encouraging for those looking for a way to remain Anglican, whether as Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic. Bishop John Hind spoke first and delivered a balanced speech that dealt with real issues. He dealt with the ways in which Anglicanism has become increasingly heterodox by drift and salami slicing of doctrine. Fairly frequent reference was made to Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics as partners in FCA.
Bishop Keith Ackerman SSC was a keynote speaker who stressed that we are entrusted with the Gospel and must find a way to work together. In the USA the traditionalists have gone from a tolerated minority to a persecuted minority. The burden of proof is now on those who want to maintain the faith. If you dissent and speak against the institution then you are deposed, with litigation being used to pull people into line.
Baroness Cox, of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, made a very moving presentation on the plight of Christians in the Southern Sudan. This put into perspective our easy use of “persecution” for being on the losing side in Synod or in liberal Dioceses. Perhaps we should be doing more to help these Christians on the front line. The lack of aid makes them ask “Doesn’t the Church want us anymore?”
The Bishop of Fulham interviewed Archbishop Robert Duncan of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
Also in the morning, we had a video-interview from Dr. Packer (a leading Evangelical) who spoke of upholding the 39 Articles as a Confessional Statement (I do not think they are) and a very dubious reading of the history of the English Reformation – the Church in England withdrew from Roman jurisdiction under the wise counsel of Archbishop Cranmer. We also had Archbishop Peter Jensen who focused on sex and gender, relegating the ordination of women to a side issue. He did not mention lay presidency, a topic which he supports.
During the course of the afternoon it became clear that Evangelicals see Catholic issues as second order, and are more concerned with penal substitution as the only theory of the Atonement. At times the views expressed were barely Anglican, more like those of Baptists.
The afternoon was all about Evangelical witness of “good practice” and bad Evangelical experience of Episcopal oversight. Anglo-Catholics were sidelined. There was the Evangelical ordinand who did not know what Confirmation is – this admission being greeted, not with a sharp intake of breath, but with knowing laughter. There were stories of resistance to Gospel ministry, church plants across parish boundaries; buildings bought or leased and the incumbent of the Anglican parish sidelined. This may be alright, for there are many parishes where the teaching is heterodox at best. But you do not have to set up your own show rather than try to work with the existing parish. Or should we go and do likewise? All the examples of Church growth were Evangelical. The PEVs were not involved. If they had been asked they could and would have provided many examples of good practice and growth.
The final session was on what is needed for Alternative Episcopal Oversight. Here, there was no reference to the experience of Extended Episcopal Oversight under the PEVs. This was a missed opportunity if part of the day’s objective was to get Anglo-Catholics into FCA or to get the Evangelicals on board by passing Resolutions AB and C.
I came away thinking that as Anglo-Catholics we have fought to live the Catholic Faith since the Reformation. Why do we have to overlook our history and go back to the event which in many ways stands against our beliefs? We may make a short term political alliance to gain an edge in Synod, but I see no long term future for us in this arrangement. This seemed to be the consensus listening to other Anglo-Catholics over coffee and in the corridors. At best we have a work in progress.
What is the Ecumenical vision for this alliance? It was far from clear to me. There was certainly not any Roman Catholic or Orthodox dimension. Bishop Edwin Barnes commented: “After all this I cannot see how there can be a common cause between Catholics and Evangelicals. We are looking to going home to the Universal Church, in Communion with the Holy Father and half Christendom. They seem to want to perpetuate a sixteenth century accident”. For them honouring the presence of Christ in the Eucharist (rather than pouring the wine back in the bottle) looked like a fourth order issue, if an issue at all.
I believe that we have a place in the Church of England and we should remain as long as needs be, as witnesses to the Catholic Faith. When this becomes impossible, not through any fault of ours, as Anglo-Catholics now are facing difficulties in Wales, then we will have to find a new home.
Fr Reg Stretton