Both the Convdcations of Canterbury and York were unanimous last week in welcoming the Agreed Statement on Ministry and Ordination drawn up a year ago by the Anglican/Roman -Catholic International Commission.
Taken in conjunction with the warm welcome given to this statement by an overwhelming majority of the National Conference of Priests last month, and making the entirely reasonable assumption that all three assemblies are broadly speaking' representative, this means that the Agreed Statement has the backing of the vast majority of the clergy of both Churches in England.
The debate in the Convocation of Canterbury underlined the breakthrough in Anglican/Roman Catholic relations marked both by this statement and the preceding Agreed Statement on the Eucharist.
But the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Rev Graham Leonard, reminded his audience, quoting Bishop Alan Clark, Auxiliary of Northampton and Roman Catholic co-chairman of the International Commission, they were "the first word of doctrinal reconciliation, not the last."
Nevertheless, it was a "remarkable development," bolstered by an "unbelievable convergence" in the liturgical practice of the two Churches, said the Ven Bernard Pawley, Archdeacon of Canterbury and formerly the representative in Rome of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, in which capacity he was an observer at Vatican II.
"It is little short of a miracle that in so short a time we should have come so far," said the Archdeacon, who added later: "Without a doubt it represents the hand of God on the Church in our generation."
The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Robert Runcie, stressed the need for small groups of Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy to meet at the local level
to discuss the two statements something which, with the backing of Bishop Christopher Butler, Auxiliary of Westminster, was happening in his archdiocese, starting with a group of six from each Church and going on to more local groups of priests. Anglicans were being asked to take theology seriously rather than being tempted to concentrate on practical, technical and diplomatic issues such as the validity of Anglican orders and the possibility of intercommunion.
A reminder of the wider ecumenical context came from Professor J. R. Porter of Exeter: "It does not necessarily follow that other Churches with whom we are happily going to be engaged in conversations for unity are necessarily able to accept or subscribe to these statements" — and to support his argument he quoted a Methodist writing in the "Clergy Review."
He was referring to the first meeting, being held today, of the unity commission which links all the major Christian Churches in England and which has resulted from last year's talks about talks about the prospect of organic Christian unity.
But the extent of the ecumenical breakthrough was perhaps most strongly underlined by the Rev E. de T. W. Longford from the diocese of Ely. The clergy of his diocese had for some years been holding golf tournaments against their Roman Catholic brethren of the Diocese of Northampton.
These days not only did the Anglican clergy sometimes win, but the Catholic clergy were now discussing the ministry and the Eucharist in between shots instead of confining their conversation to the weather and the state of the bunkers.
"This even applies to the Irish," he added. Perhaps someone should invite him to Maynooth.