Really? We’re the problem?
You can’t make this up. For years, our friends in the Church of England have regularly scoffed at us here in the Episcopal Church in the USA. I know, not everyone has done this, but plenty of people have done so. It is, after all, the English pastime: being right. And who could blame some smirks now and then, what with clown masses and zydeco masses. (For the record, I happened to appreciate the experimental value of the masses in question.)
Now, friends, it’s time for the shoe to go on the other foot. Word comes from England that Blackburn Cathedral has set up two-track communion whenever a woman (gasp!) is presiding at the Holy Table. On those occasions, God-fearing (or, more accurately, woman-fearing) men can receive consecrated bread that is “untainted” by female hands.
I am not making this up. Ruth Gledhill writes,
Even Forward in Faith, the Church’s traditionalist lobby group, described the arrangement as unusual. Its spokesman Stephen Parkinson said: “I’ve never come across this before. It is pretty extraordinary. I can’t understand why the women priests put up with it.”
Dr Penfold and the Dean are on holiday and not available for comment. But the cathedral’s canon, Andrew Hindley, defended the arrangement. He said: “It was agreed by all the clergy and cathedral chapter that this was the best way to handle what we call a mixed economy.”
What you call a “mixed economy” I might call heresy. Donatism, to be exact. Here’s the thing: the Cathedral has accepted that women can validly preside at Holy Communion, as evidenced by the fact that they have such priests on their rota. If they did not receive women’s orders as valid, then there should be no women presiding. I’m not saying that to recognize only male priests is heresy; plenty of orthodox Christians hold that view. But once you’ve scheduled a presider, then Consecrated Bread is Consecrated Bread is Consecrated Bread.
Let’s take this to its extreme. I am a progressive person with strong vegetarian tendencies. Should I only receive Holy Communion from someone who has not sinned, in my view, by eating red meat? Of course not! This would be ridiculous. How is this different? Is it a question of the validity of women’s orders? No, remember? They’re on the Cathedral’s schedule. And then that same Cathedral creates a separate provision for people who are “uncomfortable” receiving Holy Communion consecrated by a woman. The logic simply does not hold. The Cathedral is teaching, by its practice, that sacraments are valid only sometimes, depending on the presider and the recipient.
So next time someone sneers at ECUSA for this or that, remind them that we are certainly not the exclusive purveyors of bits of bad teaching and poor taste in the Anglican Communion. I give thanks for our whole Church — for the moments we get it right, and for those moments we are reminded of the frailty and error of the humanity which constitutes the church. I do not give thanks when some people pretend they have it all figured out, when they clearly don’t. Sorry, Church of England, you’ve got this one wrong.
Oh, by the way, someone should tell the Dean of Blackburn that this practice is also forbidden in the 39 Articles (see number 28), which I believe are still held as authoritative in the Church of England. But, hey, look at the bright side! This whole incident has provided some excellent fodder for what will no doubt be a brilliant sermon by Susan Russell tomorrow in Pasadena.