Fr Stephen's message, October 2019

Dear Friends,

One of the joys of being an Anglican, I often think, is that we are allowed to be Christian magpies. Claiming, as we do, to occupy the middle way (the via media) between the Protestant Churches of the Reformation and the Roman (Latin) Catholic church, we have over the centuries absorbed into ourselves the insights of these varying traditions as well as the wisdom of  some of their leaders.  We are told that we are both “Catholic and Reformed”. This assumes that the two terms are generally considered to be mutually exclusive. They’re not!  The whole Catholic Church is constantly being refreshed and reformed and the Reformed Churches, despite their separation from Rome, hold onto many Catholic articles of faith. The Holy Bible as we have received it remains one of the most important documents of the undivided Catholic Church, for example.

We live in a time when the mainline European Protestant churches and the churches of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England, are in serious decline and are wrought with division over so many different issues.  There is no clear voice of leadership that the majority are willing to listen to.  At the same time, the Roman Catholic church in Europe is also experiencing decline as the pressures and temptations of permissive secularism continue to erode Christian values.  One thing Rome retains, however, is clear, structured pastoral leadership from the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.  All the same discussions that other Christians have occur within the Roman Catholic Church - you only have to glance at Vatican publications to see that - but it’s done within a clear structure of pastoral care and teaching.  Because of this, during the Papacy of Pope St John Paul II the Pope ceased to be a Christian leader for Roman Catholics alone, but, after centuries of division in western Christianity, he became a pastoral voice that spoke for justice whom we all listened too, even if not all Protestants and Anglicans could  always agree with him.  Although beset by issues that have arisen because of the style and manner of his leadership, Pope Francis continues to be a Pope who Christians the world over, from all traditions listen to.  Our own Archbishop of Canterbury has a good relationship with him and often quotes from his sermons and books.  For this reason, it is rather good that as Anglicans we have been magpies for centuries.  We’re used to drawing insights from different perspectives and in recent decades it’s become easier to “borrow” from the Pope or other Roman Catholic teachers.  It is especially important at the moment when we have such a paucity of leadership within our own Communion and within the mainline Protestant Churches.

Pope Francis has asked all Roman Catholics to keep October 2019 as an “Extraordinary Mission Month.”  The plan is to “reinvigorate” the “responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel with new enthusiasm” and to create “missionary parishes.”  In itself, this is nothing new:  this call has to be heard in every generation.  What is different to what we hear all too often in the Church of England at the moment, where there is an abundance of slogans, gimmicks and corporate business strategizing, is the Pope’s unapologetic desire for us to return to the basics of our faith in order to become enthusiastic missionaries.

The Holy Father has specified four ways to prepare for and to live the Extraordinary Month of Mission. First, the Pope is inviting the faithful to seek a personal encounter with Our Lord through the Eucharist, the Word of God and through communal and personal prayer. He then recommends an examination of the testimony of the missionary saints, the martyrs and the confessors of the faith.  A third dimension is the practice of “missionary charity”, the commitment of the faithful to support the missionary activity of the Church, and a fourth is biblical, catechetical, spiritual and theological missionary formation of Catholics. (Catholic Herald 26 September 2019)

To be “reformed” today in this Parish and Benefice, we would do well to return to these basic “catholic” principles - renew our personal encounter with Jesus, study and be encouraged by the lives of the saints, study the Bible and theology and participate in the “outpouring of love” (missionary charity) that will develop as a natural consequence of the other three if they are entered into fully.  No extra money is required.  No complicated “growth strategies” need to be written.  In this parish we are blessed with a strong Eucharistic tradition: if you can, come to Mass more often - we celebrate on five days a week.  Fr Jay has also started a weekly Study Group where all sorts of questions can be examined.  Buy (or read online for free) books that tell the stories of our Saints.  Pray at home, daily, as well as with others in Church.  Above all, be prepared to love others and creation in a new way.  We live in a troubled world.  We believe that Jesus Christ offers the answer to humanity’s dilemmas - “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”.  I invite you all to join me in the renewed quest to be missionary people:  but not just for October!   In reality, we won’t really be “borrowing” anything from one Church or another.  We will be living-out what is ours already as children of God.  As Christians we will live the catholic faith as we are reformed on a daily basis.  

Fr Stephen


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