In Anglican orthodoxy, “compromise” is often a dirty word. Particularly in more conservative circles, being “uncompromising” is associated with a muscular faith as opposed to that of the “unsound”, those who have “gone a bit liberal”, who are no longer “one of us” and so on.
This is all a little odd when accepting that we each both comprise and are compromised is inherent in accepting our fallenness. The best will in the world allied to limitless mortification of the flesh will not, this side of eternity, produce a Christian who worships “aright”. To the contrary, it might be thought that having “the wisdom to compromise well” is as good a description of Christian maturity as any.
Many find the prophet Daniel fascinating in his willingness to compromise (name/identity), contemplate compromise (food/serving Babylon), not compromise (idols) and insist of more than simple obedience (open prayer) as he lived out a life in exile.
It is that type of “spirit of compromise” this blog will look at what this might mean for Anglicans in the UK, as we look ahead to an increasingly messy situation.
Daniel resolved in his heart in advance what it was he would and would not do. In other words he was honest with himself about what he was doing and what was, and was not, acceptable. That is surely a good discipline - not to fall into compromise but to take reasoned decisions, justified by the exigencies of the situation, but always aware that doing so is somewhere between sub-optimal and a necessary evil.
What might this mean for those who deliberately decide to make the compromise to stay in the Church of England, even if it changes its stance on matters of human sexuality? Or, for those remaining in the Church in Wales or Scottish Episcopal Church? And what compromises might those who choose to leave need to be aware of?
If we stay...
Let’s begin with those who remain. After all, some will feel they have no alternative but to do that. Most justified of all, perhaps, will be those who serve the more impoverished parts of the country and do so without the support of wealthier churches. Others will feel the need to compromise for other, perhaps lesser, but nonetheless important, motives.
That local clergy share the cure of souls with a heterodox, if not heretical, bishop who is chief pastor, principal minister and father in God of all in the parish.
That local clergy will be licensed for ministry by, owe an oath of canonical obedience to, and are therefore under the discipline of, such a man or woman.
That the appointment of a future vicar will require the agreement of said bishop.
Many will also have to accept:
Being remunerated/housed by a Church which has departed the faith.
Being part of a Team Ministry or Joint Benefice with heterodox, if not heretical, clergy.
Serving in a church where the clergy, PCC and majority of the congregation are not in agreement about issues of human sexuality or how best to respond.
Impeccable observation of secondary matters (robes, returns etc) to remove as many avenues of unwanted criticism (and discipline) as possible.
Those who, after careful thought, believe their conscience allows them to stay, will also need to think about how to continue the long-term mission of the church, while mitigating the impact of the compromises that have been made. Here are just a few ideas of what that might look like:
Protecting the flock from heterodox teaching:
Clergy cannot prevent the diocesan bishop visiting and ministering but nothing need be done beyond the essential canonical requirements - the normal congregation does not have to be present, no one present has to commune/participate and hospitality/welcome can be withheld.
While the vicar and PCC must serve the best interests of the charity of which they are trustees, all “parish share” is voluntary and a view may be taken that a much reduced amount or nothing at all should be paid given that (a) in the past it was given on the basis that there would be an honoured and permanent place for orthodox churches without limit of time - which promise has been breached and/or there is a need to save money for the future, given the uncertainty created by the bishops.
Of course, no one has to give the parish church anything - some may feel their money is best kept under their own control, pending greater clarity of the future for the Church of England. Sensible lay people, not on the PCC, can encourage each other accordingly. Alternatively, they may find other uses for it - like employing unlicensed ministers to assist in the growth of gospel work, perhaps through the new CIO.
Likewise, if capital investment is needed, lay people might decide to lend the new set of Bibles/prayer books/white goods/chairs to the church but retain ownership of them to be reclaimed at their discretion.
Ongoing and future ministry:
A new entity (Community Interest Company or Charity), unconnected to the parish, could be founded by some lay people dedicated to ongoing gospel work in the area.
The church might help establish a new 'mission congregation', in the parish, which operates outside the parish building but enjoys the ministry of the parish clergy and the support of the laity. In the short term, this congregation might enable the parish to reach a different demographic and develop the gifts of those involved. In the longer term, this congregation might even form the nucleus of a new church, if the position in the Church of England finally becomes entirely untenable.
If we go...
But what about those whose conscience means they need to leave? What compromises might they need to be aware of?
A new denomination
Well, it is worth remembering that no denomination, or ecclesial structure, is perfect. Some, may be more explicit in the demands they make of clergy and congregations Those who leave will need to do so with their eyes open, aware of the change demanded and be willing to adjust accordingly.
The financial realities of leaving, may require a change to ministry patterns. Clergy may have to commute in order to find suitable housing, some clergy may choose to be bi-vocational, working a few days a week in a secular role, other clergy families may rely on a husband, or wife, working more hours than they have in the past.
One of the benefits of the Anglican parish system is the need to look outwards; being the first port of call for a christening, funeral or wedding; links to the local schools and other community groups; or an ex-officio position for the vicar on local boards and charities. Those who leave, will need to ensure they don't become a 'holy huddle' - serving the congregation but losing sight of the needs of the community.
Daniel resolved in his heart in advance what it was he would and would not do. What about you?
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