This conference sought a greater common understanding of Anglican Patrimony in evangelical and catholic fullness.
The conference discussed the following areas of importance for those of Anglican heritage today:
See also the Speakers' Presentations page for downloadable speeches from the conference.
An interview with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali by Prudence Dailey (Chairman of the Prayer Book Society)
Prudence Dailey: I’m here with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali to talk about the forthcoming conference entitled ‘The Gospel and the Catholic Church’, which is taking place on 25th and 26th April this year (2018) at St Stephen’s House in Oxford. Bishop Michael, this conference was your brainchild, along with Bishop John Hind: what was the thinking behind it?
+Michael Nazir-Ali: Well the idea was triggered by the anniversary of Michael Ramsey’s ‘The Gospel and the Catholic Church’, and that’s the title of the conference; but also by the sudden death of John Webster, the evangelical Anglican theologian. I particularly have been influenced by an article he wrote, which is now in his book called Word and Church, in which he said that the way in which the Church is organised and the way in which the Church worships is not just incidental to the Gospel, it actually springs out of the nature of the Good News of Jesus Christ itself. This is also the kind of thing that Michael Ramsey was saying in his book, and I thought to myself here are two great traditions in Anglicanism coming together to say the same thing. Now, we are living in a fast-changing situation and the thinking that Bishop John and I were doing at the time was how could we make a similar statement today. That was the background, really.
PD: The general theme of the conference is ‘Anglican Patrimony today’. We assume that people know what is meant by the phrase ‘Anglican patrimony’, but for the benefit of someone who might not understand that terminology, can you just explain a little more about what that means?
MNA: Yes, it’s got two sides to it. One is that Anglicans have always claimed not to believe anything that the whole Church has not believed, so there is a common patrimony that we claim with other Christians; but it is also true that we have believed these common things in a particular and distinctive way. Now some of these things are very attractive to people today, so quite a lot of evangelicals in the United States, for instance, are turning to Anglicanism because of its heritage of liturgical worship, for instance, or the way in which the Church is ordered. Anglican patrimony also includes our approach to the Bible: we believe that the Bible has final authority, but that has led to a very careful study of the Bible, to what lies behind it, what is in it, and how the Bible should be related to our life today. We have had a particular pastoral approach, which is not limited to what was needed for the confessional, but was much more related to the ordinary living of parishioners and how the parish priest lived with them. Moral theology: again, there is a distinctive approach. Our music, and hymnody—there are so many aspects to Anglican patrimony which we feel are important not just for Anglicans, but to offer to the wider Church.
PD: Whilst the majority of the speakers at the conference will be coming from within the Church of England, there are also going to be a number from beyond the Church of England, including some from the Free Church of England and also from the Roman Catholic church. Can you explain more about why you feel it’s important that Anglican patrimony isn’t just confined to the structures of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, particularly at this time?
MNA: Yes, and there is of course a growing number of people who call themselves Anglican in some way or other, but who are not members of the Church of England or indeed of the Anglican Communion. Many of them are very assiduous in maintaining and promoting, for example, the Anglican liturgical tradition of the Book of Common Prayer. We can’t deny them this claim that they make. They’re very often close to us in many of the things that they believe, and some of them as you said will be present at the conference. The Free Church of England itself has maintained the Prayer Book with some changes, and that will no doubt be mentioned and discussed at the conference: the nature of those changes, why are they necessary and are they still necessary? But the word ‘patrimony’ has also been used in the Roman Catholic Church when speaking of Anglicans: so Pope Paul VI at the canonisation of the English Martyrs said, famously, that when the Roman Catholic Church is able to embrace her ever-beloved sister, the Anglican Communion, nothing of legitimate Anglican patrimony and prestige would be lost. I think that’s a very significant statement. In the establishing of the Ordinariate, Pope Benedict has also used the term ‘patrimony’, so it is a term that is currently in use.
PD: Thinking about the Church of England, do you think there are ways in which the Church of England herself has sold short this particular significant heritage?
MNA: There are many people, I think, in the Church of England who are looking constantly to cultural change and to respond to that cultural change. Now that is not always a negative thing, but it does sometimes mean a neglect of what has been valuable in the past, and my view has been that you can’t really deal with the present and the future unless you understand, respect and value your past. This can be seen in dumbing down liturgy, for instance, and not taking seriously the incredible liturgical riches that we have; but it’s also seen in not valuing other things that we have in common with other Christians. For instance, the Preface to the Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer says that the provisions made in the ordinal are so that the Church of England may continue the ministry of the undivided Church. That is the intention. If you then unilaterally begin to change the nature of that ministry, then how are you maintaining the patrimony? Those are the sorts of questions that will be asked and need to be asked at the conference.
PD: Do you think there’s an extent to which very often it’s not that people have rejected these things, but very often they just don’t know about them, because the thread hasn’t been passed on, and do you think that the conference might have a role in helping to redress that?
MNA: Yes, I think some of it is ignorance. People don’t know the reasons, for instance, for Anglican liturgical provision. Worship in the vernacular, which now all the churches accept, was something very new, and it is a theological commitment by the Church of England and by Anglicans more generally that people should worship in a tongue that is understood by the people, and read the Bible in it. How are you going to produce a liturgy for today, if you don’t know what happened in the past?
PD: Thinking about the conference itself, can you say something about some of the topics that will be covered, and the speakers who’ve agreed to come and speak?
MNA: We’re going to ask first of all what are the ‘title deeds’ of Anglicanism—that is to say evangelical, Catholic, ecumenical—and in what ways they are being threatened (because they are being threatened), and what is the best way of upholding them by Anglicans, within the Anglican Communion and beyond. But we don’t want just to navel-gaze and to look at ourselves, so we have quite a lot of time on what contributions Anglicans have made ecumenically and what contribution they can make; but in this they have to be credible partners. One of the things our ecumenical partners often ask us is ‘What is it that you believe’? We need to give a clear answer to that, just as we can ask them the same question, of course. Then there will be time given to worship, to the Anglican liturgical tradition—not just using it for worship but actually reflecting on it, from our own point of view but also how others see it, and that will be quite important.
PD: That aspect of the worship is going to be reflected in the use of worship during the conference as well?
MNA: I’m hoping so, and that it will show the resilience and the flexibility of the Prayer Book tradition in how it can be used today.
PD: Who are you hoping will attend the conference? Who is the intended audience for this event?
MNA: I hope young people will come—students, ordinands; we have circulated information to the theological colleges and courses. I’m hoping clergy will come, of course; but also those lay people who are asking questions about the direction of our Church. We hope that if they come they will see the roots from which Anglicanism has grown. It will give them confidence in the tradition, and it will give them confidence in the way in which the tradition can be used today to respond to what is happening around us, rather than just capitulating to it.
PD: What are you hoping will be the future? Where is this leading? What are the hoped-for outcomes of this conference?
MNA: You can’t prescribe in advance, of course, what may happen: it depends what people say, what responses there are to what they have said, and who comes. But this is a splendid opportunity for us to reaffirm the ‘title deeds’, as I said, of Anglicanism, and to say to other Christians (and indeed to anyone else who’s listening) that Anglicanism has something valuable to give to the world and to the Church provided it does not capitulate to modern fashion.
PD: Thank you very much indeed for that, Bishop Michael.