Fr Hunwicke has an interesting post (well all of his are interesting but not all are intelligible to the likes of me with my second rate girls’ grammar school education). He is talking about the presence of Christ through the Anglican Church in its role as the church of the establishment. He argues that being the church of the establishment allows the clergy of the C of E to be embedded in a level of community involvement that just isn’t really possible to Protestant ministers or Catholic priests. A sort of Heineken ministry, reaching the parts others cannot reach.
I have some sympathy with this view. Below is my take on the same subject, a tribute to the lady vicars of the C of E. It is mixture of several characters I have known so do not try to pin my representation down to a particular parish or individual.
She is devout and prayerful. Attending theological college surrounded by men training for the Anglican clergy who did not go to prayers in the chapel and made a big play of being “above such things”. She was ignored at college and developed a considerable fighting spirit as a result.
Now she is in a rural parish. An Anglican friend told me it is always a rural parish because “they can’t cope with the inner city parishes”. She knows everybody, including those of no faith and the Papists hunkered down in the cowshed. She cares for the people, is well known and well loved. She makes sure the medieval churches in her benefice are places of prayer and are used frequently. Everyone is welcome, no matter how rudimentary their faith. She speaks movingly at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and she blesses the local hunt. She cares for the sick and the elderly and makes sure nobody is forgotten in prayer by the wider community. She is very proud of the top quality olive oil she bought on holiday in the Med and that she uses for anointing of the sick. She has witnessed the healing grace that her ministry has provided.
She is inspired by Mary who she sees as the model of her priesthood. She has a concept of priesthood that is incomprehensible within a hermeneutic of continuity. She dislikes/distrusts bishops and dislikes wearing a dog collar (too masculine) but certainly never says this in public. However, she is never without her cassock and is respectful of her office. She has views on obedience I cannot share, but serves her community with sincerity and zeal.
In other words, she probably has a legitimate Christian witness and is part of the furniture of the rural community in the way that sadly a Catholic priest is not. I love her to bits, I do not see her as a threat. It is not her fault that the Anglican hierarchy encouraged her to think she could become a priest, and that their idea of priesthood has become so far removed from what it should be.
I’m just wondering if there isn’t some role for good and holy women within our communities who visibly do God’s work, but Catholic and without the olive oil? I do wonder if some would be happy to ditch the sacramental aspects of their ministry and join us if they could keep the rest of their role within the community....