Introducing guest blogger The Rt Rev Dr Jim Bracket, Anglican Bishop of Cheddar, Honorary Master of Latimer Sixth Form College, Nuneaton and Warden of the Chamberpot to HM King Charles III.
As an Anglican bishop in the Catholic tradition, I’ve been asked to contribute a few lines expressing my hopes and prayers for the further progress of our ecumenical hopes.
Not long ago it was my privilege to go on an ecumenical pilgrimage with some members of the Diocese of Cheddar. We were joined by our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters who were accompanied by my counterpart—Vincent Brennan, the Bishop of Chalke. “Chalk and Cheese” they like to call us!
In preparation for our pilgrimage, Bishop Brennan thought we might like to study together I Did It My Way— the new book by Pope Francis’ favorite author, the English journalist Edward Ebony. Mr Ebony has written a well received biography of Pope Francis intriguingly titled, Francis—The New Luther. I must say, I very much enjoyed Mr Ebony’s book. He really did capture the spirit of the present pontiff.
As an Anglican in the Catholic tradition I very much admire the Argentinian pope. What a Reformer! What a breath of fresh air! I can honestly say he speaks for me. The Roman Catholics I have come to know and love understand my present position. I am a Catholic…just not a Roman Catholic. Indeed many of my people jokingly say that I am, in fact, “more Catholic than the Catholics”! I try to gently convince my people who are of a more “low church” persuasion not to be alarmed by my predilection for “smells and bells”. I find these outward traditions help to root my own faith more deeply in the Catholic tradition we all share. I am also very fond of the writings of Thomas Merton.
While I do admit to being a Catholic (albeit in the Church of England) I could never take the step to become a Roman Catholic. I am English and the Church of England is so quintessentially English! I simply would not feel at home in the Roman church. Not only is it so very Italian and Irish in its culture, but, as I said to Lord Balloon in the House of Lords last week, “The Roman Church, it seems to me, has always been too interested in political power.”
No, it is the dear old C of E for me. Some time ago, after the latest round of Anglicans tootling off to swim the Tiber, I floated the idea of converting to the Roman church with my good friend the Bishop of Chalke. Bishop Brennan smiled in that charming Irish way he has and said kindly, “Don’t be daft Jim. You’re doin’ the good Lord’s work right where ye are. No need to convert. Indeed, the whole point of ecumenism is inclusion and diversity. We’re learnin’ to accompany you—to meet you where you are and accept you as you are. After all, isn’t that what the good Lord intended when he said, “Broad is the way”?
I couldn’t help but agree with my friend. In fact, the Broad Church tradition has always been part of the Church of England, so it was lovely to hear Bishop Brennan affirm this part of our tradition. If I am “more Catholic than the Catholics” it’s almost as if Bishop Brennan is “more Anglican than the Anglicans!”
I hope in the weeks to come I may be able to share a few more of my musings on church matters here with our Roman Catholic friends. When it is all said and done, I think we can all agree that we must put aside our historic differences and find those things we agree on rather than the troublesome things that some would use to divide us.
Foremost among these points of division must be the divisive dogmas that some Romans still insist on. For my part, I’ve moved beyond dogmatic definitions that are hundreds of years old. Both of our churches find themselves in the twenty first century, not the first.
Part of the progress that is called for must also be a review of the role of the papacy. While we all love Pope Francis, and certainly respected his predecessors, we’re ready to look beyond the dated understandings of papal authority and see the “Holy Father” as a focus of unity not a source of division.
His “infallible” authority must surely be balanced and checked by the synodal process. I was delighted to learn from Bishop Brennan that the Roman Catholic Church has also begun to embrace the idea of the synod. This, I believe, is where we in the Church of England will be able to contribute something to the conversation. Over the last fifty years we have used the synodal process to move things forward in an exciting way.
Through the synodal process we have been able to listen more closely to the urgings of the Holy Spirit—a Spirit that is always calling us to a new way of being church. To use the language of the Roman Catholic Catechism, “Christ has shared a measure of his infallibility with the church.”Surely that infallibility is expressed as the faithful—in all our varied traditions— listen to one another in the synodal process?
Next week I hope to share some further thoughts on this process from my suffragan bishop, the Right Reverend Penelope Fieldstone.
Rev Dr Bracket serves on the Church of England’s Board for Global Inclusion, and is the author of Can’t We All Just Get Along? – Fresh Perspectives on Ecumenism. He is married to the psychologist and goat breeder Georgina Samsonite.