Those who have read the recent post on Fr. Philip’s North lead story in the May 2013 issue of New Directions may well have wondered what the specific gifts are which in Philip North’s view the Anglo-Catholics have to offer to the Church of England.
Cleverly Fr. North had already given the answer to this question in the previous month’s lead story. Here is a summary of the article and some quotations:
“What is the point in having us now? What does our tradition have to offer the wider Church?”
1. “We witness to (the) true identity (of the Church of England) as part of the Universal Catholic Church.” Fr. North wonders whether this argument has perhaps already been lost, saying that many view the C of E as “free, independent, Protestant”. Should this be the case, he believes that “then we have no excuse for staying in the Church of England”.
Linked with this guardianship of the true ecclesial identity of Anglicanism is “a passion for the unity of Christ’s Church“. Again the signs are not good. Relations with the Roman Catholic Church are at a low, suspicion of Rome is rife. And ecumenism with the other Protestant denominations is in the doldrums. Indeed “the whole movement towards Christian unity is in crisis” and Fr. North considers this a scandal. Anglo-Catholics have the vocation to “keep alive relationships with the Roman Catholic Church” and – in constant conversation with their own Church of England – to try to “create the conditions required for ecumenical discussion”. Again he says: “If we think the argument is lost once and for all, our self-justification is lost.”
2. The second gift is to offer the wider Church a “sacramental world view“. The Mass is not one worship option among many but “the primary way in which God invites us to worship him“. It is the duty of Anglo-Catholics “to remind people of the primacy of the sacramental life” and of the role of the Mass to make effective the saving work of Christ in the present, to proclaim the Kingdom, to feed and commission God’s people and to sanctify all creation.
And without the priest there is no sacrament, so Anglo-Catholics offer “a proper view of Christian priesthood”. In the C of E priesthood is often viewed as a waste of young people’s lives, a squandering of their educational opportunities, even “synonymous with child abuse”. Priests are seen by many as an expensive luxury and as “part of a hierarchical cabal holding back the gifts and talents of the laity”. Priests are “a problem that needs solving”.
Philip North believes that people are, however, willing to listen when told about the “correct context” of priesthood in a sacramental view of the world, and he tells a story of a talk he gave at Holy Trinity, Brompton, by which the listeners were “fascinated and moved”. Fr. North concludes that Anglo-Catholics “are the ones who can lead (the) debate” about “a proper and balanced vision of priesthood“.
3. The third gift concerns “the proper ordering of public worship“. Fr. North finds much public worship is ”inept, unimaginative, banal and pointless”. Few, he believes, “understand the books”. Anglo-Catholics., on the other hand, “know how to offer worship which is both dignified and numinous and yet human enough to meet needs and engage people”, “to show confidence in the Mass”, “to order spaces and beautiful buildings and plan dignified ceremonial”. He also underlines the “enormously imaginative and broad” use of music and the “first-rate preachers who can put across sharp, challenging and relevant messages without banging on all day”.
4. The fourth gift is the “long tradition … of ministering in areas of poverty and social deprivation“. “We don’t bus in the middle classes” Fr. North writes, “but rather we serve local people”, including vulnerable adults, ethnic minority groups, those with mental health problems, the neglected and sidelined and the broken. ”Our movement has a long and proud history of locating itself where human need is greatest”.
He is of the opinion that the wider Church “is forgetting how to pay anything more than lip-service to the bias to the poor”, and that Anglo-Catholics “have a great deal to offer the evangelical world in this respect”. Many evangelical churches are accused of being “a white, professional, middle-class, graduate movement” and are “desperately longing for ways to offer service to poorer communities and for a theological underpinning to such work”.
He sees examples of “the middle classes seeking to improve the lives of the poor by imposing upon them their own lifestyles and values” and believes that this would be “unthinkable” within the Catholic movement, because Anglo-Catholics “instinctively see things from the point of view of local people”, “the incarnational approach to community development is in our bloodstream”.
5. And the fifth gift he identifies is a “disciplined, devotional life”, and he specifically names two aspects of the (Anglo-)Catholic spiritual life: the Sacrament of Confession and the “proper place of Mary within the Christian life“.
(to be completed)