Forward in Faith's 2019 National Assembly

Posted on the 20th Nov 2019

The church of St Alban the Martyr, London, was filled to capacity on Saturday 16 November for Forward in Faith’s National Assembly.


Addressing the Assembly, the Rt Revd Robert Byrne (Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, and Roman Catholic Co-Chairman of English ARC) underlined the importance of Forward in Faith for the growing together of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, in view of Forward in Faith’s mission ‘to witness in the Church of England to its apostolic faith based on the Creeds and the Fathers and to promote and maintain catholic teaching and practice within it’.


Bishop Byrne’s speech was interrupted with applause when he reminded the Assembly of the Archbishop of Westminster’s statement that any priest would rather die than in any way break the Seal of the Confessional. ‘The Roman Catholic Church will never change its stance on that’, he promised: ‘We can help you by giving that witness.’ The Church of England in turn could help the Roman Catholic Church, he suggested, by maintaining the Seal in its canon law (which forms part of English law).


Reporting from the See of Beverley, Fr Graham Hollowood highlighted the meetings, over more than twenty years, between the Forward in Faith and Women’s Chapters in the Diocese of Manchester. Fr Paul Kennedy spoke of the joys and challenges of ministry in the catholic parishes of the Diocese of Durham. He also praised the Bread for the World conference – a celebration of eucharistic life held in August by the Bishops of Beverley, Burnley and Wakefield. Both priests emphasized the importance of catholics engaging in the life and structures of their dioceses.


Fr Edward Martin and Fr Paul Noble reported on events in the life of the See of Richborough. A total of over 1,000 laypeople had attended regional celebrations in Leicester, Rochester and St Albans Cathedrals. In 2018 the Bishop of Richborough had visited each of the then eight catholic resolution benefices in the Diocese of Lincoln (there are now nine), conducting seven confirmations. By the end of 2019 he would have celebrated 44 confirmations this year (whereas in some dioceses three or four bishops conduct only 15-18 confirmations in total).


The Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, explained that his See covers 50 parishes in the Diocese of London (just under 12.5% of the Diocese’s parishes) and 14 in the Diocese of Southwark. In the Diocese of Southwark he operated ‘like a Provincial Episcopal Visitor’, whereas the ‘London Plan’ (‘a flagship template for operating the Five Guiding Principles’) gave him ‘more hefty jurisdiction’ over his London parishes. His Chaplain, Fr James Wilkinson, reported that the Fulham Vocations Group currently includes ten candidates in training, two in process of discernment with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, three in discernment with Fr Richard Bastable (the Fulham Vocations Adviser), and a further three just coming into the system – together with the six deacons whom Bishop Jonathan hopes to ordain to the priesthood in 2020. Bishop Jonathan’s Mission Adviser, Fr Philip Barnes, reported on the Fulham Lay Congress, four teaching days on Christian discipleship, and a day focusing on practical tools for mission.


Other business included reports by the Officers of Forward in Faith (the Bishop of Wakefield, Dr Lindsay Newcombe and Mr Jonathan Prichard) and the Chairman of the Catholic Group in General Synod (Fr Paul Benfield), and presentations by the Communications Officers of The Society (Fr Robert Hart) and the Church Union (Fr Adam Edwards).


The Assembly said farewell to Dr Colin Podmore, who is to retire in February after seven years as Director of Forward in Faith. The Rt Revd Tony Robinson (Bishop of Wakefield), Chairman of Forward in Faith, paid tribute to the part that Dr Podmore had played in establishing The Society and to his work as Secretary to its Council of Bishops: ‘Colin has given confidence to our movement that there will still be a place for us within the Church of England... He has deployed his great powers of organization to ensure that effective new support structures for traditionalist clergy and parishes have been put firmly in place.' At the same time, he had continued to show 'a commitment that is not just confined to our constituency but really does extend to the welfare of the whole of the Church of England.’


Responding, Dr Podmore stressed that the work of taking Forward in Faith into a new era had been ‘a team effort, involving staff colleagues, trustees, Council members, bishops and a few key individuals beyond those circles as well’. He expressed his thanks to Forward in Faith’s members and called on them to ‘guard the unity of our movement’. Much of the work in respect of structures and politics had been done, he added: ‘What is essential now is that we use the opportunities we have won, and been given, in order to bring people to Christ, and build up Christ’s Church in our parishes.’


Texts, photographs and audio files from the Assembly are being published here.



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