On Tuesday night, November 20, the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle and the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle held their annual Service of Reconciliation at All Saints Church, New Lambton. The focus of the annual service is the restoration and growth of relationships between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Communions.
Though the actual gathering was small, the strength of the voices united in song to the God we all worship, was a sign of hope in the midst of the 'winter' Bishop Brian Farran spoke of in his homily. The community sang of its longing for light, heard readings from inspiring documents and recalled a powerful story of an encounter between Pope Paul IV and Archbishop Ramsey.
Another highlight of the Service already alluded to was Bishop Brian's homily. It is provided here for your personal reflection, in the hope that it stirs us all to a hope that sustains us in our longing for the post winter ecumenical spring.
Sr Louise Gannon rsj
A homily preached by Bishop Brian Farran at the Reconciliation Service for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle in All Saints Church New Lambton, November 2012.
Many of us present tonight who are committed to ecumenism have lived through some of the most exciting movements that have graced the lives of our two Communions. I think that from the late 1950s there were three particular movements that generated creativity and enthusiasm within the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion of Churches.
These were distinct movements of grace. We reacted with delight and with the sense that the Church was on the cusp of a movement towards a greater unity that had been desired for a very long time.
It was as if we were entering a new Spring-time in the life of the Christian Church.
Now it feels as if we have again entered winter. Colder institutional winds swirl around efforts towards ecumenism.
The Pope’s creation of the Ordinariate of our Lady of the Southern Cross to receive disaffected Anglicans from the Anglican Church of Australia is not symptomatic of the warm Spring-time that characterized earlier relationships in the reigns of John XXIII and Paul VI.
There has not been a mass exodus of Anglicans. The disaffected over the ordination of women as priests had formed a schismatic church years ago and established the Traditional Anglican Church, the TAC.
On June 15th 2012, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI established the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross to allow those of the Anglican tradition to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church while retaining much of their heritage. The Ordinariate will be a one generation phenomenon that might now cause the Vatican the kind of problems that once irritated the Anglican Church of Australia. But our two Churches face greater issues than those who vacillate about the possibility of ordaining women as priests and bishops.
Those great movements that emerged so hopefully in the late 1950s - the liturgical, ecumenical and biblical scholarship movements - suggested a convergence that sadly has not been as realized as was first suggested by them. Yet their fruits are with us still, and are full of fertile seeds.
I do not despair that there might be a second permutation of these fecund movements.
However, at this time these movements, cross-fertilizing as they have been, are not as prominent in the life of our Churches as we might wish. Indeed, they are rather obscured by the issues of moral failure that besmirch both our Churches.
This is a time for lament in the Scriptural tradition within our churches. For lament leads us out of total despair into the hope that God will work even within the present distress to further God’s redemptive and healing purposes.
This period of our history as churches is a chastening period.
This is a period that insists that we scrutinize our internal cultures to detect what has allowed the moral failures to accumulate to the level that they have accumulated and with the dreadful harm that has been perpetrated. This chastening time is not just for the churches; it is for the whole of Australian society, including indigenous culture.
However, our concern tonight is with our mutual relationships as two communions who seek to deepen our potential unity whilst honestly facing the issues that still divide us. We need to be realistic about our situation so that our desires and our decisions attend to our real and not our imagined circumstances.
We must discard the triumphalism that has infected our churches and let go of its associated and supportive pomp. We are summoned to be a humble church.
And of course such a summons is implicit in the New Testament understanding of the person of Christ, especially in that powerful explication of self-emptying in chapter 2 of the Letter to the Philippians.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
Indeed, the New Testament scholar Tom Wright has concluded 'the real theological emphasis of the [Philippians] hymn…is not simply a new view of Jesus. It is a new understanding of God.'
A scholar who has written extensively to mine this conclusion is Michael Gorman. In his third book on this subject he has suggested that faith is more than trust; it is faithfulness expressed in love; it is co-crucifixion.
This examination of the cruciform God does sheet home to the Church that it must participate in the Cross and that the Church’s mode of being in the world has to imitate that of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a demand for humility.
And we must recall that the etymology of the English word 'humility' is the Latin word for earth 'humus'.
So we might develop a more grounded view of ourselves as the Church is we were to consider ourselves as God’s compost. As I said, we are to live as a chastened church now, and this earthy self-understanding might just be what we need.
It is both amazing and sobering that a Biblical scholar is proposing the concept of a cruciform God. The Church has heard that text from Philippians for centuries and seemingly studiously avoided its radical identity consequences. Now it has been brought to our attention we are face-to-face with the text’s requirements.
So, how might we together as those who value one another, who share much ecclesially and who seek even closer ties, how might we together imitate the kenotic Christ and live devotedly for the Cruciform God?
First and foremost, as churches we are called to attend to the Will of God as disclosed through the ministry and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not to expend our energy on protecting ourselves but on expending ourselves in God’s service.
There is a massive difference between self-protection and self-expenditure. That very early Christian hymn that Saint Paul quotes in Philippians makes the point of Christ’s total obedience which we are called to imitate, 'became obedient to the point of death'.
Second, we must recognize that we need each other. We are not rival religious chains, akin to KFC and McDonalds! Being the Church is a corporate venture, as Saint Paul so systematically and cogently teaches in his letters.
Rome is not the eye that dispenses with the rest of the body and Canterbury is not the ear that dismisses the eye. We need each other in order to be whole. Saint Paul’s rhetorical parody about the parts of the body makes unity an absolute sine qua non for us.
Our Lord Jesus showed that he needed others, especially in that most testing time in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was seeking to discern God’s will for him, terrifying as that had began to become for him.
Third, we are to be aware of cultural seepage into our cherished traditions. Our traditions and even our theologies are tainted with cultural accretions that we need to recognize and hold light.
Because we come from different historical contexts it might not be so easy for us to identify the cultural accretions that we hold dear and yet which are non-essential to our faithfully being the Church.
This is the very moment when we need loving companions who bear with us as we slowly realize the accretions that we have accommodated and yet which we might have to jettison in order to be increasingly present as the Church in this day.
Fourth and with most difficulty, we have to learn and experience the cost of the Cross; we have to experience co-crucifixion. Crucifixion is a pattern as much as an historical event. Co-crucifixion can basically mean that we bear with one another, with the burden that we may have become to each other.
Rather than score against each other or distance ourselves from one another in order to appear to the general public more acceptable than the other, we recognize that if we are serious about unity then we have to remain associated with each other as we presently are.
Hopefully, we can do this together; supportively together.
The Tri-Diocesan Covenant captured the imaginations of an enormous number of Christians both here and throughout the world. Its signing was widely reported and celebrated. The Covenant was signed in a warmer ecclesial and societal climate.
Now as I indicated earlier these climates have turned to a winter. It will be necessary to withstand the chill anticipating that this period is not an ice-age in ecumenism but is un-forecast and likely to pass over. The longer term outlook resonates with the prospects of the Tri-Diocesan Covenant.
We must ground the dimensions of the Covenant in local initiatives that assist us to be chastened humble Churches aware that our calling is to unity.
Even where we are not yet 'in communion' we recognise that we are not 'out of communion', but already experience a considerable degree of communion grounded in a common baptism and shared faith.
This is the key affirmation of the Tri-Diocesan Covenant that we continue to live out in hope and trust.
Bishop Brian Farran
 See Philippians 2:5-7.
 N.T. Wright. 1993. The Climax of the Covenant. Minneapolis: Fortress, p.84.
 From The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998. 1999. Harrisburg: Morehouse Published, p229.