LAST week, as a sort of cabaret turn, I was asked to talk to the assembled clergy of two Anglican Rural Deaneries. There were about 25 largely middleaged men and, from what I learnt from them, I intend outrageously to generalise.
First, they were as civilised and as Christian a group as a pilgrim could find anywhere. When the meeting was over I left elated, feeling that the world was not at all a bad place to be in and that there was a powerful lot to be said for England and its ways.
We met in a rectory which could not have been anything else. It was hidden in a thicket, high, dank and dark on a grassy bank. It was of bright red brick and gothic. Its rooms were taller than they were long.
The garden, led by laurel bushes, seemed to be laying siege to the house and it dripped in a pointed and insistent manner. For roe it came close to being the ideal sort of house. They found it too large, and did not like the image it projected.
They were very professional men in black suits and deep clerical collars. (There was one deaconess in a soutane and pec
(oral cross.) They seemed more oppressed by economics than their Catholic brethren.
Their wives tended to go out to work and to earn larger salaries than they. The house was notably under-furnished, though as neat and as clean as only the prospect of the simultaneous visits of two Rural Deaneries can effect.
I do not know how far the ecumenical movement has really got, but its eirenical byproducts were marvellously evident. They displayed none of the traditional resentment of Rome, but they had lost their insular awe of it. They had been amazed by the Roman Church's ability to adapt and reform itself a capacity they had not anticipated.
They were in favour of the union of the Churches but they were at a loss to suggest what they could do to hasten or ease the process. They had had difficulty in explaining to their people the last joint Statement on Authority. Some of the national newspapers had in headlines seemed to suggest that the Anglicans were ready to accept the supreme authority of the Pope, whereas their experts had only accepted his primacy of honour and spiritual leadership. They would dearly like to have the validity of their Orders formally recognised by Rome. Less ostentatiously perhaps, they have changed as profound
ly as we have. Their Church is less socially orientated, more sacramental. They do not see themselves as village leaders and the guardians of the accepted ways of society but as sacrificing priests. Their civility towards the Catholic Chui.ch and their fraternal trust in it are one of the changes in our time. All this may be blindingly obvious, but it is even more important to make quite sure that one knows one's friends than one's enemies.
They are not in a despairing mood, or in a mood to compromise their principles, or submit to any sudden new discipline. But they have displaced their disdain and inherited fear of Rome with a civilised love.
If I had been a reporter who had been educated in a different manner or who had been made to be quite indifferent to religion, I would have wondered what on earth kept us apart.
The dripping of the laurel hushes, the pointing Of the windows, the edible redness of the outside walls, were all cheerful things to me. I am not even trying to be theological.
Like many Catholics before me, I was once again startled and delighted by the urbanity and goodness of the Church that the English made for themsleves. And don't believe a word you read in the papers it is alive and loving.