Following the Sacred Synods held in Leeds and London last week, the Missionary Society of Saint Wilfred and Saint Hilda was launched “for bishops, clergy, religious and laity in order to provide a place within the Church of England where catholics can worship and minister with integrity without accepting innovations that further distance the Church of England from the greater churches of the East and West.”
According to the website www.sswsh.com “the unveiling of The Missionary Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda reflects a determination not to accept a Code of Practice as currently suggested by the General Synod but to work for and create a more realistic approach which allows the integrity of those who cannot accept this innovation to be preserved, to flourish and grow within the Church of England. This development represents a constructive initiative on the part of those who cannot accept the innovations proposed in legislation and who are hurt and frustrated by the General Synod’s inability to provide for their theological position.
The Society has been named after two English saints with a passion for the unity of the church and is expected to attract thousands of members. It was quite clear during the gatherings that many wish to remain loyal to the comprehensive nature (within the confines) of the Church of England despite the legislation and are unlikely to join the Ordinariate at least in the foreseeable future.
…further details about the Society and its life will emerge in the comings months. In the meantime a group has been asked to do some theological reflection about the identity of the Society, its common life and the way it might have the potential for ecumenical dialogue directed towards the goal of full visible communion with the rest of the Church catholic, both Eastern and Western.”
The launch of the Society generated ‘mixed reviews’ on the Anglo-catholic blogosphere. Those who have already indicated their desire and intention to join the Ordinariate have been openly critical, whereas others continue to speculate as to what form and shape ‘sswsh’ will eventually take and what hope it may provide for salvaging an ecclesiastical solution from the ashes of the current Women Bishop’s legislation.
So, what are we to make of this? Well, aside from ignoring our subtle petitions to name the new initiative ‘The Society of Saint Gilbert and Saint Hybald’ (surely an opportunity lost?) I find myself looking to the so-called ‘Big (ecclesiastical) Society’ with cautious optimism. Firstly, I do think that drawing together the various strands of the catholic movement within the C of E is something that is both necessary and long over-due. Secondly, free from the overt politicisation and ‘one-issue politics’ that has accompanied Forward in Faith, I think that the Society stands a better chance of persuading the General Synod that a Code of Practice will, ultimately, harm the overall mission of the Church by cutting off the life-blood of the catholic movement and watching it wither and die. Certainly, there are no guarantees that the Society will carry any greater weight with the GS but a Society united in prayer, mission and celebration of the Sacraments as they have received them, is surely a positive move. Finally, although the Society is obviously a gamble (it could still all end in tears) it is also a rather shrewd and clever move in that it begins to form a potential ecclesiastical structure around the ideal and the hope of some kind of ‘catholic future’ within the Church of England (or if needs be ‘beyond’ it).
As we wait for news of the shape of the Society and see how it has been received by the wider Church press, we can do no more than pray and perhaps dare to dream that something of the future may still rest in our own hands?
To join the Missionary Society of Saint Wilfred and Saint Hilda fill in the on-line form at www.sswsh.com