I lived through this whole thing with the TAC and the illusion we entertained that we were going to get an instant fix from Pope Benedict XVI and suddenly become “respectable”. It was a big wave to ride on in late 2009 to about mid-2011, and I was being invited to conferences and radio broadcasts here in France to talk about the TAC and our quest for corporate reunion with Rome. Something happened, but not as Archbishop Hepworth expected. The Ordinariates are still going, but no one other than themselves knows what is going on. There is nothing to report.
Some will suggest to Continuing Anglicans that we should turn to the Orthodox. Why should they be interested? It is like the virgins who were out of oil in their lamps asking the virgins with oil to share it with them. Through not being prepared, those without the oil (or rather those who had to leave their preparedness station to go and buy some) were turned away from the gate. The Orthodox kept their traditions. Roman Catholics and Anglicans squandered theirs. You squander your money and you have to earn it back yourself. Why should anyone else care?
Others still suggest knocking on the door of the PNCC. Who are they? They are simply the descendants of a Polish Roman Catholic community that got a raw deal from the local Roman Catholic bishop in the 1890’s, and they split off and eventually joined up with the Union of Utrecht (and since broke away over women’s ordinations). However unjustly they were treated, they were schismatics. The difference is that they had quite a lot of money, like the Society of St Pius X today, and could afford to build churches and employ their priests full-time. Many years ago, they embarked on a programme of liturgical reforms similar to those in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960’s and 70’s. Is that what we want?
The big question is whether we believe in ourselves. Faced with any of those “big” churches, we have invalid orders, we are not a “true” church, and we have only to close up shop and crawl under our carpets. Do we believe in ourselves, or are we so insecure that we need “their” recognition and respectability?
I think this is a good starting point to examine ourselves and think what we are all about. We don’t believe in papal infallibility and “totalitarian” ecclesiology, we value our liturgy and our own community life, we believe in our priesthood. We are western and are unconcerned with Eastern Orthodox theology except for purposes of comparative study. We are not dissident nineteenth-century Catholics but dissidents from the sixteenth-century and have followed another historical experience. We are Anglicans like French Catholics critical of excessive papal power are Gallicans. To some, Anglicanism means the English Reformation and the prevailing Calvinism from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, to others, it means the local Catholic Church of our ethnic culture.
No other Church can accommodate our specificities without surrendering their own identity to an extent. Why should they? Roman Catholicism has always found eastern rite uniatism an acute embarrassment in its relations with the Orthodox. We can manage on our own as we have been doing for years. I see the effort to “herd cats” (work for Continuing Anglican unity) in the same way. It is a question of why – to become a big status, “official” and “respectable” Church, or to settle disputes quietly and humbly, developing friendships and greater empathy. The most important thing to remember is that we are all formed by our history and experience, and we are not going to give up our own identity or resources to take in “shipwrecked” people from a broken-down community or negotiate with a Church stronger than ourselves.
The big problem is knowing whether churches have credibility without being committed to this “horse trading” process. The more time that passes, the less I care and the more I see nearly all our contemporaries alienated from Christianity. If we don’t believe in ourselves, the best thing is to give up and “get a life”.
Hankering for being what we left (Church of England, ECUSA, Rome, etc.) is a temptation. Insecure men go and get themselves consecrated bishops and then start trying to negotiate their way back in with Rome. It doesn’t work. The elephant in the room is “perpetual canonical irregularity” even if they can produce evidence of the ordination being sacramentally valid. Such “wannabes” usually start to imitate what they desire, and lose all credibility.
We can just be ourselves. We each have our place, and nearly all of us will be forgotten within a couple of generations of our deaths. What is it all for? That is the question we have to ask ourselves. In the end, it is just living the Christian life and giving ourselves the sacramental means to do so. If God calls any of us to anything extraordinary, most of us are “ready for any good work”. Otherwise we stay in our place and know our limitations.
We are here to sow. Others after us will reap the harvest. Is that not just?