AN OPEN LETTER
TO THE LOUGHBOROUGH CONFERENCE
March 29 – April 1, 1978
The international conference on Anglo-Catholic renewal, attended by more than a thousand, was sponsored by the Church Union, and held on the campus of the University of Loughborough. This week marks its 39th anniversary. My parish at that time – the great Anglo-Catholic “shrine” of St Mark, Swindon (pictured above)– addressed the following Open Letter to the Conference, every member of which received a copy at registration. I publish it here now as a piece of history, poignant for many of us who were valiantly engaged in the dwindling days of the struggle against heterodoxy that began with John Keble’s Assize Sermon (1833) and who still had then just a tiny glimmer of hope remaining for our witness.
This letter does not come from any society or pressure-group within the [Anglo] Catholic Movement, but from a Parish. It is a large urban Parish, the primary strength of which is not eclectic but is drawn from the geographical base of its parish boundaries, and from families which grew up within that area. It is a Parish with a proud tradition: for more than a hundred years it has given eloquent witness to a sound, devout and definite Catholic faith and practice, it has been blessed by the devoted teaching and pastoral care of a succession of exceptional priests and [religious] sisters; it has a strong tradition of concern for the Church’s mission, both at home and overseas; it has fostered a very large number of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. In the words of Sir John Betjeman, St Mark’s “is for me the greatest church in England. For not carved stones nor screens and beautiful altars, nor lofty arcades, nor gilded canopies, but the priests who minister and the people who worship make a church great”. Nevertheless, it is not a unique Parish. Throughout the country there are many others that could make the same claim; and it is here, if anywhere, that the Catholic Movement is grounded and must grow.
Sir John Betjeman also wrote that: “If ever I feel England is pagan, if ever I feel the poor old C. of E. is tottering to its grave, I revisit St Mark’s, Swindon. That corrects the impression at once.” But these words, and those quoted above, were written some thirty years ago; and we recognise that, while our traditions and concerns today are clearly in continuity with the past, we are living (prosperously enough for the moment) on legacies which are dwindling, and with a wavering sense of direction. Our faithful, priests and people, are hopeful, but depressed and confused, Anglican Catholics who want to serve God and his Church, and are feeling unled and lost.
Thus, our serious concern is for Catholic Renewal.
Catholic renewal is the condition for the renewal of our mission, so that all men may come to acknowledge the Kingship of Christ, within the fellowship of the Church.
Catholic renewal is the essential foundation for the unity of the Church.
It is because of our urgent concern for that renewal that we have made a real effort to ensure that this Parish is well-represented at the Loughborough Conference, both by priests and laity, and that we have prepared and presented this open letter.
While the initiative which has led to the calling of the Loughborough Conference has our heartfelt support, we still have misgivings; and these have grown in the last few weeks. We fear that those who prefer criticism to constructive action will absent themselves. We very much fear that the conference will simply become a platform for rival pressure-groups; for while such factionalism may be inevitable at the end of a period where teaching and leadership have been confused and energy dissipated, it remains one of the most fundamental weaknesses of the Catholic Movement – adding to our confusion, rendering our mission to the world impotent, our parochial life ridiculous, and endangering our souls. In immediate terms, it could also mean that the conference may both appear and be disproportionately concerned with matters that are of secondary importance, or that matters of primary importance will be discussed in isolated and unworthy contexts.
A fear of a different kind is that, because force of circumstance has driven the Catholic Movement up a cul-de-sac of negatives in the post-war years, there will be a reluctance to face up to the contentious issues which press upon us today. While we have no wish to see Catholic Renewal defending “our purity with the obsolete muskets of vanished campaigns” (Professor Owen Chadwick), yet we believe that the contemporary aberrations which threaten the Church must be clearly identified for what they are.
Having said that, it is also important to affirm that we have high hopes of the Loughborough Conference.
We hope that the conference will produce a ringing affirmation that the truths of the Catholic Faith are truths still; that Catholicism constitutes the whole faith for the whole man and for the whole of mankind: that these truths are contained, in completeness and surety, within Anglicanism which has its own unique contribution to make to the recovery of Catholic unity. Not to proclaim this to those in the Church of England who fail to realise its glorious fullness would be to evade our responsibility to the truth. Not to proclaim it to the rest of the world would be to fail in our responsibility to mission.
We urgently hope that the Loughborough Conference will give rise to a new militant dynamic for Catholic holiness within the Church of England. At the 1927 Anglo-Catholic Congress, the Bishop of Nassau said: “You may be quite sure that, just as legislation must always register the public opinion of its day, when the demand for the lifting of restrictions which may fence our liberty of (Eucharistic) Adoration comes from 10,000 men who are monthly penitents and weekly communicants there will be no force in the Church to withstand it.” He was right: and insofar as those liberties were – at least partially – won, they were won through prayer and holiness. We can and must win other victories for the Faith by the same methods; no other methods have any validity for us.
We hope that there will be a clear restatement and affirmation of our theology of the Church. We are not afraid of the epithet ‘High Church’ if it means, as it should, that we have a high doctrine of the Church, as the means of grace and the hope of glory. “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible organisation through which he communicates truth and grace to all men. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community, the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches, are not to be thought of as two realities. On the contrary, they form one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element. For this reason, the Church is compared, not without significance, to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature, inseparably united to him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a somewhat similar way, does the social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.” (The Dogmatic Constitution on The Church, of the Second Vatican Council.) We are concerned that, while the Catholic Movement has a high doctrine of the sacraments, it is still not fully asserting the Church itself as the primary Sacrament. The Church in each place must go beyond liturgy and embrace a visible oneness in fellowship and concern. In particular, this means a careful appraisal of our understanding of the “royal priesthood” of all members of the Church, and of the nature of the individual sacraments in relationship to the whole Body. In this Parish we are seeking to build a life of worship, focused in the Mass, which does not only reflect the vertical relationship of each soul to God, but also the horizontal intimate family love between the members of the Body. We are working on a baptism and marriage policy which tries to locate these sacraments as very unsentimental – that are there, not for a dispensation of general good-will, but as signs of membership and love within the Body. We no longer baptise children whose parents are not active members of the Church – and we would like to be free of the duty to administer the sacrament of Christian marriage to couples who cannot locate the love they have for each other within the love which Christ has for them and for his Church. We are convinced that this is the right direction for us to take; but we need support, teaching and leadership if we are not to be isolated and merely congregational in our approach.
We can all speak easily of the Mystical Body, though we find it hard to deal with this in incarnational terms; yet we know that it is vital that we do so. We must not be afraid of triumphalism – not as an expression of pride and exclusiveness, but as a proclamation of hope to the world. The lack of such an affirmative theology – incorporating an understanding of the full ministry of the laity, an active sense of love between the members of the Church, and a recognition of the episcopate and the priesthood as the central family bond – not only weakens our missionary zeal, but also makes it impossible for us to examine the vexed questions (intercommunion, ecumenism, the ordination of women) which beset us. To discuss any of these issues without a real understanding of the nature of the Church is both dangerous and valueless. We also believe that such a renewed theology (in the spirit of Vatican II) will illuminate our thinking about liturgy, worship and spirituality.
We hope that there will emerge from Loughborough a renewed sense of corporate social concern (like that which characterised the Catholic Movement so illustriously in the past) as a basis for sound social teaching in the spirit of Populorum Progressio, Pacem in Terris and Mater et Magistra. The weighty matters of love, justice and mercy must again be at the heart of our discipleship.
We hope for a renewal of concern for the quality of priestly formation and life.
We hope to see the recovery of the ecumenical initiative by Catholics within the Church of England, especially in regard to our relations with Rome.
We hope to see the development of a specifically Catholic concern for the discovery of contemporary structures for commitment and discipleship.
We hope for the re-establishment of that sense of purpose, that zeal for mission, that profound evangelical concern which was the hallmark of the Catholic Movement earlier in this century and which was the basis of its success.
We hope and pray that a ministry of leadership for the Catholic Movement will emerge from this conference.
In the light of what we have written, which we realise is far from modest optimism for a four-day conference, we would want to urge and plead for the following, together with any catholic and concrete proposals which may emerge from the conference:
* A real commitment on the part of all of us to the unity of the Catholic movement, and an ending to ‘Congregationalism’ in our approach.
* The enrollment of sympathetic theologians to the service of the Movement. In particular, we would like to see Catholic Renewal commissioning a series of ‘standard’ books (which, for a number of years, could serve as reliable points of reference for our teaching) on Christian Doctrine, the Nature of the Church, Scripture, Ethics, Liturgy, etc.
* The careful dissemination of factual information about liturgical revision (for example, what is and what is not permitted by new rubrics and regulations.
* Wholehearted support for the Church Union – which may be open to criticism, but which remains the only Church Union we have got – and which would have to be invented if it did not already exist. Criticism of the Church Union would be more constructive if it came from within, rather than from people who withdraw first. With this, we plead for the urgent renewal of the Church Union itself, and for better lay-representation within its governing bodies.
* The establishment of a ‘fighting fund’ for the Church Union, coupled with an urgent appeal to Catholic parishes to support it generously.
* Encouragement to the Church Literature Association to improve its publications and to expand its work, especially in the field of quality catechitical material. (We are frankly appalled at what is – and, worse, is not, available in this field; and it seriously weakens our work in the parishes not to be able to have sound and attractive material obtainable from other than evangelical or Roman sources.)
* A positive – even if questioning – approach to the Charismatic Movement.
* The promotion of “inspirational” Catholic events around the country on a regional basis, with the particular hope of capturing the imagination and enthusiasm of the young.
* The establishment of a real will on the part of all the Catholic societies to cooperate in every way and to pool their resources as far as may be possible.
Perhaps surprisingly, we are realists. We recognise, of course, that the brief Loughborough Conference cannot hope to achieve all these things immediately. But we trust and pray that it will set in motion a process of renewal in the Catholic Movement, for the service of God and his holy Church, along these lines. If it does so, or if it only shows a real openness and willingness to try to do so, it will put new heart and spirit into us and, we are sure, into the clergy and people of every Catholic parish – where, in the end, the Movement is primarily located and where its work must be done.
We pray for the Loughborough Conference and all the initiatives which may emerge from it; we commend the Catholic Movement and all its members into the hands of the Holy Spirit; and we wait in joyful hope for the day when the Church in her fullness may be joined eternally with her loving Spouse, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Parish of St Mark, Swindon New Town — March, 1978
This open letter was signed by the parish priest, Father Allan Hawkins and his three assistant priests, by the lay pastoral assistant, and by six leading lay members of the Parish.