women discover an empty tomb

Sometimes social media can produce posts which prompt serious throught rather than a hurling of arguments past each other. One of my favourites, flying under the name “laudable practice” recently posted a High Church reflection on why he supported the ordination of women in the Anglican Church. In turn, this prompted the following interesting and incisive comment from a Catholic whom I do not follow, but probably ought to:

it astonishes me as an RC how a priest who celebrates Mass ad orientem with Missa de Angelis, etc, can hold such liberal political/social views. Just doesn’t happen here. Progressive views + serious liturgy seem to fit together better in Anglicanism than they do in the RC Chuch. I understand + respect your points but (speaking again from an RC perspective) when I look at supporters of female ordination, it’s hard not to see it as a Trojan Horse for demythologising, desacralising liberalism – flat, dull + stale.

Quite apart from the welcome tone of the dialogue, the other things which struck me was how it managed to combine this with a very firm exchange of views which remained courteous; would that such could become the norm!

The Anglican Church has spent longer addressing this issue seriously than any global Church. During the 1990s, as it became increasingly clear that things were going to move in favour of the ordination of women, some Anglicans, like myself, came, many of us reluctantly, to the view that in moving away from the common tradition of Christianity, it was deviating so decisively from ecumenical dialogue that it was leaving us behind. A few, like me, remained because, well because we did. In my case it was because I could not see the case being made could be justified by the historical and doctrinal record. The arguments used seem excessively secular in nature. Of course, I found myself saying to the wind, no one would want to argue that women cannot hold any job they like, but being a priest is not a “job” it is being in the person of Christ at the Eucharist, and a woman cannot be in that person.

Reading and rereading my history, and following Newman’s scheme for the discerning of the development of doctrine, I could not in good conscience, accept what my Church had done; but I loved it, and I could not leave it. It was only when I felt it had left me, and then only when, like Newman studying the Arian controversy, I discerned in the mirror that I was not orthodox in adopting the new Anglican position, that I moved.

What I can say is that politics played no part in it. I regard myself as conservative, and in the past I have worked for two Conservative MPs whose views and character I greatly respect, as Election Agent – successfully. I had no problem as an Anglican in being Conservative or that with a small “c”. In the Catholic Church, not so much so, as it seemed to me that political sympathies were to the left of my own. I paid it no mind, but it kept paying me mind in so far as the importation of American culture wars into the UK context did seem to predicate a binary divide in which those on the left were “Vatican II” sort of Catholics, and those not on the left were traditionalists. It seemed, and still seems to me, artificial in an English context; I am not qualified to speak of the Irish or Scottish ones.

But it is undoutedly true in the English Anglican context, that there are connections between High Church Anglicanism and social concern. It comes in part from the notable and the noble role played (and still played) by Anglican clergy in the poorer parts of London and elsewhere. This led some of them to embrace the economic nostrums of socialism, even if only in as far as they remained critical of capitalism. It seemed to many of them, as it seems to me, entirely natural that a Christian should be sceptical of political/economic systems, and my main disagreement with them in my own time was that I thought they were insufficiently critical of left-wing nostrums and over-critical of capitalism, neglecting the defects of the former and over-selling the defects of the latter.

What did strike me was Fr Richard’s comment that: “Many perhaps most of the women priests I know are deeply faithful to Tradition. And yes, I thought, that needed saying. I essayed a rare comment of my own:

Interesting as the arguments in the piece are, it is the work of women priests in the Anglican communion which is the most convincing sign of the work of the Spirit. I know, and accept, all the doctrine of my own Church, but the witness of the women is there for all to see.

This is not to enter into the argument in my own Church, whose views I accept absolutely, but it was, and is, to invite myself and others to reflect on what the experience of women priests within Anglicanism has brought to that Church and to move us away from the not uncommon view in my Church that advocacy of women’s ordination is a “Trojan Horse for demythologising, desacralising liberalism – flat, dull + stale.” The existence of women priests who are far from demytholgising or desacralising the faith, might escape the culture warriors, and the women concerned might throw up their hands in horror or shrug their shoulders. They don’t need validating by a man, and this, I hasten to add, is not that. It is a simple recognition of their ministry and the gifts they bring.

I’ll finish with a few recommendations which, if followed, may bless you as I have been blessed. For those who pray the Rosary, I cannot speak too highly of the Rev Cally Hammond’s series which can be found here. For a fascinating account of “Holiness and Desire” I’d recommend the Rev Jessica Martin’s book, here. Everything I have read by the Rev Angela Tilby has been a blessing, including her most recent piece onJ.I. Packer. One of the blessings of social media is that there are many examples there of women clergy who simply and effectively witness to their vocation.

What, you might ask, do I make of it? I take a delight in the blessings, and in the wonderful way that real life makes a mess of our desire to put things in boxes.