A small group of priests, female and male, members of the Society of Catholic Priests, recently visited Lambeth Palace. I was part of the group. We had been invited to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury who tries to meet, and to listen to, people of different groups within the Anglican church.
Notes of our meeting were taken, my comments here are simply a few personal reflections.
As members of SCP we discussed our concern that the central role of the sacraments in church life and ministry was in danger of being undervalued in the current Church of England. The Archbishop agreed and told us how through his years of ministry he had come to value the sacraments more and more. He encouraged SCP to speak out more in this area.
Connected with this we spoke of the role of priestly ministry in the church, and how many training courses and curacies while training people well for ministry were rather lacking in teaching on the particular role and nature of distinctive ministries, for example, priesthood. On this point the Archbishop strongly agreed and expressed his hope that more thorough teaching of the specific nature of priesthood would grow in the church, in training and in parishes.
We pointed out that those of an inclusive Catholic tradition such as SCP members, and members of the Company of Servers, were a significant part of the Anglican church, especially in the UK, but often are rather marginalised. It is frequently assumed that the only Catholic voice in the church is that of traditionalists who, sadly, oppose the ordination of women. Here again the Archbishop encouraged us to speak out, and challenge, to ensure our contribution was heard and honoured. He was aware of growing churches of an SCP tradition and invited SCP members to seek funding through ‘Strategic Development Funding (SDF),’ and through dioceses, to help them grow and develop their work. ‘Reform and Renewal’ he argued was for the whole church, and shouldn’t be seen as solely an evangelical initiative.
Of course it is an Archbishop’s job to encourage and support clergy, from whatever tradition they come. However, I came away a little puzzled at an incongruity. I was struck at how the Justin Welby who is said to be too managerial in style, and to have a clearly evangelical approach, came across in this particular meeting as sympathetic and understanding of an inclusive Catholic position, and clearly wanted it to flourish. I couldn’t help but feel that the impression of the Archbishop I receive from some clergy and from the church press did not quite match the sensitive and sympathetic person I met at that meeting at Lambeth.