Page 5, 22nd September 1995

22nd September 1995
Page 5
Page 5, 22nd September 1995 — Should we change the priesthood?

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Locations: Oxford


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Should we change the priesthood?


mt, published last week. Its ver design is strange and ssibly mystic. It is headed shops' Conference of England d Wales. Its title is sonorous The Sign We Give"); it scribes itself as a "report an the Working Party on illaborative Ministry". On back is a quotation from shop Crispian Hollis of Insmouth saying that he lieges "it contains the seeds a revolution in the way in tich we live and work in the lurch today".

The Church is a divine elm; it is also human, and any century tends to irror, sometimes all too thfully, the human aberraIns of any particular age. to Conference of Bishops England and Wales is the Ilective voice of our Fathers God.

It is also a bureaucracy, awning committees and irking parties which themIves interact with other mmittees and working rties, all of them the while ir such is their nature) issug forth reports and other perwork, often with no very ∎ vious purpose.

Is that how it is? Perhaps I

letting my personal expellee of the last 20 years of iglicanism the AnglicanT1 of the General Synod, th its in-built secularism d wall-to-wall committee lture cloud my judgement. rhaps Catholic Committees

not like that; perhaps the cuments which in the end emerge from their deliberations have about them the qualities of true apostolicity.

Is it so? Let it be so: my convert's heart is more than willing to be convinced.

Well perhaps, very often, it is so; but not, I have to say, in the case of "The Sign We Give", a document which has about it all the signs of rampant General-Synoditis. Nor is this merely a matter of general style and atmosphere: the document's overt tendency is the Anglicanisation of the Catholic parish.

I am not making this up. Here it is, in black and white; the working party sees its task as being essentially the same task as that of its Anglican equivalent: "we became aware" reads the introduction, "that in parallel with our working party, the Church of England had established a working party with a similar task... we were grateful for the insights we gained into Anglican experience and practice... perhaps the next working party on collaborative ministry should be ecumenical from the very beginning".

Well, why not? The reasons why not are absolutely clear, once you look at the real theological differences -between the Catholic and Anglican notions of what the parish actually is, on the ground.

Catholic parish life is essentially sacramental, Anglican parish life is not. Leave aside the question of whether we are talking about sacraments as Catholics understand the

term. For Catholics, the Mass is at the centre: every Catholic church has, or ought to have its daily Mass.

The Anglican Eucharist does not even have to be the main service on a Sunday unless the vicar and the Parochial Church Council decide that it will be. For centuries, many Anglican parishes celebrated the Holy Communion Service once a quarter: some still do.

"Collaborative ministry" is, in part at least, a response to the clergy shortage. So Anglicans have a rather different perspective: "collaborative ministry" can proceed perfectly happily without ordained ministers.

Anglicans that is most Anglicans (Anglo-Catholics were always an unrepresentative minority) do not believe that their ministers are priests in the same way that we believe that our ministers are priests.

There is no avoiding this inconvenient fact. When you find an Anglican minister who believes he is a Catholic priest it is because he has convinced himself, not only that the Catholic Church is wrong about his orders, but that the Anglican Church is wrong as well. I am far from sneering at this view I held it myself, for many years. But it is not normal Anglicanism.

What does this have to do with the question of collaborative ministry? Quite a lot: you get the structures that reflect your theology. If we start having joint committees on ministry with the Anglicans, we will end up with an Anglicanised pastoral theology.

This is a had idea. Take the question of "consulting the laity". Normal Anglicanism is essentially centred on personal spirituality and private judgement, whatever Anglican formularies may say. Thus, the C of E has devised quasi-democratic structures in which every private opinion may frequently and at length be heard and canvassed.

Every Anglican assembly whether the General Synod, the Diocesan Synod, the Deanery Synods, or the Parochial Church councils is a heterogeneous collection of individuals, often organised in warring groups.

Their decisions are reached by a majority of those present and voting: these bodies are essentially divisive.

They spawn Parish politics, often of a deeply unhealthy kind; they are a source of anxiety to the clergy, whose ministry they frequently undermine.

Even at their best, with their endless sub-committees, they are generators of a vast extra workload for the clergy, who instead of doing pastoral work have to spend their time listening to the busybodies in their parish interminably sounding forth.

Now, there is increasing pressure from documents like this to install the same committee culture at the heart of Catholic parishes. Of course, that is not the expressed intention. But consider this, for instance, under the heading "structures and decision taking": "There is a parish pastoral council or parish forum, which gradually form, a vision and learns to make parish decisions. A truly collaborative council or forum takes some years to build up, and needs formation in new skills such as making decisions by consensus. From time to time, the council or forum involves the whole parish in renewing its vision or priorities. It also tries to devolve as much responsibility as possible to groups and individuals".

What, you may ask, is wrong with that? Well, nothing, in itself; it is inspirational and uplifting in tone, and entirely lacking in specific detail.

But it could be, and I suspect, frequently will be if parishes go in for this kind of thing seriously, a general description of a parish run by an in-group of middle-aged, middle-class • enthusiasts (charity forbids me to use the term "busybodies" in such a context), irritating to many other parishioners, and all too often an unneeded burden to their parish priest.

Perhaps I am showing my ex-Anglican prejudices. Perhaps it is actually possible to realise such a glowing vision.

But I have a ghastly feeling that I would hate it if I saw it. I have a particular parish in mind: my own parish in Oxford.

It used (before my time) to be a model of collaborative ministry as described in this document.Unfortunately, it was half empty. Now that collaborative ministry, 1960sstyle, has been dismantled, the Church is packed to the doors with an ethnically diverse congregation of young and old, rich and poor; extra regular Masses have had to be scheduled and more are contemplated; the clergy spend much of their time instructing converts; the laity do not feel excluded by an inner circle of lay enthusiastics.

Authority resides with the clergy, who nevertheless are solicitous to learn (though not through "structures") the mind of their people. The parish is flourishing, a model of what Catholic renewal ought to be. Its spirituality is centred on the Mass and the confessional.

..The whole operation would be thoroughly disapproved of by the authors of "The Sign We Give" (indeed 1 happen to know that by one of them at least it emphatically is).

I rest my case.

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