A Way Forward for the Church?

By Clutterbuck, Ivan | Contemporary Review, December 1994 | Go to article overview

A Way Forward for the Church?


Clutterbuck, Ivan, Contemporary Review


THE Church of England has long been considered a comfortable billet, especially for its clergy. Once ordained, a priest is guaranteed a job for life, if he behaves himself. The pay may not be good but there are fringe benefits and in recent years a good pension has awaited the elderly. The parson's freehold has protected even the most incompetent. Now, suddenly, the words 'unemployment' and 'redundancy' are appearing and many priests find themselves the victims not of a recession but of their own consciences. The ordination of women has brought to a head a conflict between church parties which has been simmering for generations. At present the situation is too confused to make a prediction about the future of the established Church. However, it is possible to cross the Atlantic and see what has happened to the Anglican Church in both Canada and the United States, where women were ordained eighteen years ago and a number of clergy and laity found themselves unchurched.

I have recently returned from several weeks in Canada, working with the traditional Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC). I was well tutored in what was happening in both Anglican and Roman Catholic circles. Whereas in England the Roman option has been attractive to some who could not accept the General Synod's decision to ordain women, this has not been so in Canada and the States, chiefly because the Roman Catholic Church is becoming more liberal than the Anglican Church of Canada and is fostering a feminist theology which is infiltrating other Christian bodies. Why become a Roman Catholic and face the same problems was a question I heard among the traditionalists? It soon became apparent that more was involved than the making of women priests.

Since the full story began to unfold during my stay, I need to say more about my visit. I arrived in Ottawa toward the end of March of this year, just before Holy Week. I was met by Robert Mercer, CR (a member of the Community of the Resurrection or a Mirfield Father) who is the Bishop of the ACCC and was driven through the snow and ice to his modest flat where I stayed for a week. We made several excursions into the frozen city and I preached in the small Cathedral of the Annunciation which had been bought from the West Indian congregation of the Church of God a few years earlier. Before, the continuing Anglicans had worshipped wherever they could find a roof.

An historical note on this cathedral by a member of the congregation, Stan Horrall, also gave the full background to the continuing and traditional Anglican Church. The opening sentences set the wider scene of the religious situation. 'During the 1960s, secular society in North America began to undergo rapid changes. There was an explosion of ideas. The established nature of institutions and traditional values and beliefs were attacked from many sides. Behind the demand for change were many groups -- the Civil Rights movement, the feminists, supporters of the new morality, the hippy generation and drug culture among others'. The writer continues by saying that this spirit of the times had a fundamental effect on the faith of the Christian Church. If the traditional beliefs of organised religion were contrary to the new ideas, they would have to change. Authority, it was argued, was no longer derived from God but from man who was his own master. Many of the leading Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada and Episcopal Church of the United States of America supported these liberal ideas. The writer might have added that many Roman Catholic Bishops and priests did also. Roman Catholic nuns were active in developing a feminist theology which threatened the very Biblical image of God.

Matters came to a head in the United States when the Episcopal Church decided to ordain women. A meeting of those opposed to the ordination of women was held in September 1977 at St. Louis, Missouri. This was attended by 350 priests and 1,400 laity from the United States and Canada.

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