Being a bishop of a diocese or particular church is a hefty responsibility, and the one who occupies the Apostle’s shoes takes a lot of stick. It is certainly a thankless job, like being the captain of a ship. It is easier to be a member of the crew or an officer, having only a limited degree of responsibility. As a priest, I can always answer that I belong to the clergy of an institutional church body and am in communion with my Bishop. As for my Bishop, he is in communion with the Archbishop Metropolitan and college of bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church – Original Province. All that is perfectly legitimate as far as I am concerned. The Church as a human institution is divided and fragmented in history, but is indivisible in sacramental terms. The same thing happens in institutional churches as in politics and business: dominant men without moral conscience or empathy lord it over others and create a situation in which groups of clergy and laity can take the bullying no more and move to another church body or give up church Christianity altogether. The bullies don’t care. They just turn round and tell the world that their victims are the culprits. Communion repairs itself, because it is divine. The Sacrament of the celestial Jerusalem, reflected in its earthly icon, transcends human sin, jealousy and hypocrisy.
My Bishop has written a piece on Facebook. No doubt, the bullies in the Church of England establishment and others will say that he is winging. Now if he had joined the wait-wait-never-never queue for the Ordinariate before Benedict XVI abdicated (the conservative apologetics are now made more difficult with the baroque finery having been put away again). Benedict XVI’s legislation has even been unkindly nicknamed by one blogger Anglicanorum Coitusinterruptus! Alternatively, on the other hand, if he had remained a tithing layman in the Church of England… Either way, the bullies have no concern for our happiness or spiritual life. We are here to be exploited, or to cease existing if we are not useful.
Here is what Bishop Damien wrote:
Sometimes I think I should move to the other side of a Mulberry Bush because I seem to be forever going around one!
Recently it has been alleged, and not, sadly, for the first time, that certain local Churches have an unofficial ‘boycott’ of our Church Shop in Canterbury because of it’s links with my Anglican Catholic Church – Diocese of the United Kingdom. I also have reports of the clergy of other churches telling my clergy, with ‘authority’, of what they think the ACC is supposed to think about everything from homosexuality to the ordination of women. Of how we aren’t real Catholics, or we aren’t real Anglicans, or we aren’t really a Church, and even (presumably because of something in this list) we aren’t therefore really Christians.
Some years ago I contacted an organisation called ‘Churches Together in Kent’ to inform them of my presence and the work of our Parishes and Missions in Canterbury, Dartford, Lydd and Rochester. This was partly to avoid misinformation. The polite response I received was that we were not recognised as a Church because we were not ‘gazetted’ at Lambeth Palace – and therefore we were not an organisation that CTK could work with nor recognise!!! After an exchange of communication it seemed I was getting nowhere. A year or two after moving into our new Church building in Canterbury I received a nice letter from the Local Churches together in Canterbury inviting me to some ecumenical event to consider a shared vision for the Christian Churches in the City. I responded positively but, copying in the previous correspondence, said that before I committed myself and my congregation I wanted to know that we would be accorded the same level of respect as the clergy and members of other Churches. I received no response. I didn’t attend the event. Twice more this has happened over the years since then and twice I have responded with the same information and request. I have still had no response. It has been suggested that I go anyway and show everyone that I am not an ogre and that the ACC are not leprous! But to be honest I am both too busy and no longer interested in such ecumenical efforts.
I have heard snide and nasty comments made about my clergy and people and have from time to time had some interesting things said about me, over the years. Most of this has come from within the clergy and membership of other Churches. The only comments, if indeed we are moved to comment, we make about the clergy, laity or policy of other Churches is when we genuinely believe that they are in error and/or have departed from Apostolic Faith and Practice. We do not refer, for a closer-to-home-than-I-like-to-think example, to how, ahem, “obese their bishop” may be!
Now I am not sharing this because I want sympathy for me or my Church – for I also know that there are many Christians out there of all shapes and sizes who I count as friends to me and the ACC, without necessarily believing all that the ACC does, or indeed agree with that we hold fast to. Among my Facebook friends this is also so and it includes non Christian’s as well as Christian’s from all manner of Churches and folk with whom I don’t necessarily see eye to eye on everything outside the Church either.
No, I am not looking for sympathy, because I also know that all those in my small diocese are very lucky and very blessed, because although we seem to attract undue attention from some uncharitable folk, we are not paying for the Faith that we hold with our homes, jobs, education, or lives in the way that so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are around the world. Our sympathy, all of it and magnified an hundredfold, should be reserved for them.
The Facebook message attracted many comments of support, from myself included. With my north-country origins, my reaction was to see the “establishment” churches in business and cartel terms. We are to them as a small grocery shop would be next to a large supermarket. The latter can afford to sell its products at lower prices and undercut the small retail business. It is usually very difficult to park cars in town centres, and so the business goes to the titans. We are a Church, but an ecclesial body of recent foundation, as a schism from the Anglican Communion on account of innovations we find unacceptable. If the Church is a mere human institution, a branch of the State, having law and order on its side, then we are wrong, wrongdoers and delinquents. Conscience and spiritual freedom have no place. The Church is a mere moral police force to enforce politically correct agendas as they change over the years and decades. If the Church is something more, then it is not a business cartel or a political organisation, but a spiritual community governed by other principles including conscience, freedom and empathy.
It is interesting to note that there are some Church of England clergy who deeply sympathise with us, because they are not of the spirit of the cartel, but are true to their vocation of pastoral care, empathy and spiritual concern.
In a further message, our Bishop thanks us for our support:
I am very grateful to all the lovely and supportive comments in response to my previous post. I posted primarily because I wanted those members of my Diocese who visit me on Facebook to know that the silliness and nastiness that from time to time they encounter was recognised and is an experience others have had. My fb friends you have exceeded my hopes for the post’s value through your comments and I thank you. If it brings encourage and comfort to anyone experiencing similar problems then I thank God. 🙂 — feeling humble.
Even if we are in good conscience, with the freedom of God’s children, the hammer-blows of criticism and reproach weigh heavily – and they can have a deeply demoralising effect. I live outside England. The Roman Catholics don’t care about my existence (I am not making people believe I am them) and the Anglican churches in Paris seem to be even less concerned. I live amongst people who mostly believe that the Church is a load of rubbish and are just getting on with life, being honest, decent and often spiritually-motivated folk. Institutional churchianity has done enough harm. All we can do now is find new ways of fostering the spirit of Christ, through our own kindness and empathy – so that people ask the question of why we are different from the bullies and winners-take-all of this world.
My Bishop can be assured of my prayers, living in a country where Christianity is all but dead and forgotten, amidst the mouldering churches. Surely, there are churches that attract people, especially charismatic-evangelicals, traditionalists, fundamentalists and political conservatives. That doesn’t mean that we should all join them. Our way is often lonely, but Christ did not promise us anything else. We know the way is rough and that we will be done down for being signs of contradiction.
Bishop Damien Mead has proven himself as a pastor with a particular degree of empathy and care for his flock and the many unfortunates of our society. As a priest, I am proud to have him as spiritual father and my Bishop. I ask my readers to pray for him, and for us in his Diocese, that the Lord may continue to give us all strength and resilience in difficulties and discouragements.