Study leave is a dislocating experience, literally. My location has been disrupted and at the moment I’m in New York, learning from friends and colleagues in the Episcopal Church and at the same time praying for my Diocese and for our Church of England as usual.
And I really regret that I won’t be at Synod this week, among other things to vote for “Mission and Ministry in Covenant” and to support the journey laid out in that paper.
Here is a non-Episcopal church, the Methodist Church, that is prepared to consider taking into itself the Episcopal order, facing the “bold step” laid down for it by the final report of the Joint Implementation Commission: “The challenge of the Covenant – Uniting in Mission and Holiness”. The Methodist Church may choose not to do so, but they are prepared to consider it, and they are considering it, seriously and publicly and wisely. And here are we in our turn facing the “bold step” laid down for us, which we so lightheartedly affirmed when we affirmed the first recommendation of that report in Synod in 2014 – “reconciling, with integrity, the existing presbyteral and diaconal ministries of our two churches, which would lead to the interchangeability of ministries”.
The proposals now before Synod indicate a direction of travel, final decision on which will come later. The direction seemed very good to me and still does. The main reason for this is that I believe myself to be what you might call a Michael Ramsey Anglican, in this case one who stands with Ramsey in what he said in his first book, “The Gospel and the Catholic Church” (1935) as well as in his struggle for Anglican/Methodist reconciliation in his own day.
And all I want to do as I pray for Synod members is to quote a few passages from Ramsey’s book, together with the fourth of the affirmations of the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral as affirmed by the Lambeth Conference in 1888.
“The doctrine of the Church, and its order, ministry, and sacraments will in these pages be expounded not primarily in terms of an institution founded by Christ, but in terms of Christ’s death and resurrection of which the one Body, with its life and its order, is the expression.”
“It will be asked, for instance, what truth about the Gospel of God does the Episcopate, by its place in the one Body, declare? And what truth about the Gospel is obscured if the Episcopate is lacking or is perverted?”
“Thus the Church is pointing beyond theology, beyond reunion-schemes, beyond philanthropies, to the death of the Messiah.”
“The peril, in short, is for the devout Churchman to turn his religion into a “glory to me,” “glory to this movement,” “glory to the Church” religion instead of a “glory to God” religion.”
“Developments [in church order] thus took place, but they were all tested. The tests of a true development are whether it bears witness to the Gospel, whether it expresses the general consciousness of the Christians, and whether it serves the organic unity of the Body in all its parts.”
“The Catholicism, therefore, that sprang from the Gospel of God is a faith wherein the visible and ordered Church fills an important place. But this Church is understood less as an institution founded upon the rules laid down by Christ and the Apostles than as an organism that grew inevitably through Christ’s death and resurrection. The Church, therefore, is defined not in terms of itself, but in terms of Christ, whose Gospel created it and whose life is its indwelling life.”
“For the Bishop does not have a greatness of [his/her] own, [s/he] is the organ of the one Body who represents to the Christians their dependence within the Body, and to the local Church its dependence within the historic family, whose worship is one act.”
“[The Episcopate] speaks of the incompleteness of every section of a divided Church, whether of those who possess the Episcopate or of those who do not. And those who possess it will tremble and never boast, for none can say that it is “theirs.” It proclaims that there is one family of God before and behind them all, and that all die daily in the Body of Him who died and rose.”
And most famously:
“For while the Anglican church is vindicated by its place in history, with a strikingly balanced witness to Gospel and Church and sound learning, its greater vindication lies in its pointing through its own history to something of which it is a fragment. Its credentials are its incompleteness, with the tension and the travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy, it baffles neatness and logic. For it is sent not to commend itself as “the best type of Christianity,” but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died.”
Finally from the Lambeth Quadrilateral as affirmed in 1888:
“The following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards Home Reunion…
(4) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.”
In the landscape lit by these ideas I would vote for the direction of travel laid out in “Mission and Ministry in Covenant”. I greatly hope that Synod will do the same.