An Anglican appraisal by DR. MERVYN STOCKWOOD, Bishop of Southwark
A FEW DAYS BEFORE the Pope had expressed his readiness to revise the Vatican decision with regard to the workerpriest experiment in France, 1, in common with other Anglican bishops, received a document from a responsible industrial chaplain suggesting that the episcopate should discourage worker-priests in England! Fortunately an Anglican bishop is, in this particular matter, the master in his own household, so I have consigned the document to the waste-paper basket.
Whatever may have been the reasons for the original fears of the Roman hierarchy, I suspect they were different from ours. The Church of England is, alas, the Church of the middle classes. It is significant that in our recent electiohs to the House of Laity of the Church Assembly, four Conservative members of Parliament have been returned. Not one on the Labour side.
Do not misunderstand me. I rejoice that devoted Tories from Westminster are prepared to give time and effort to our affairs, but I wish the ethos of our Church was different. When shall we attract the Socialists and the trade unionists? It is time we took a leaf out of your book.
Of course this determines our attitude towards worker-priests. There is something not quite nice about them. After all, a clergyman is a member of the professional classes, and it is not for him to deal with the menial tasks of the factory. In fact I remember the principal of my theological college -B. K. Cunningham. of blessed memory — telling us that it was his aim to provide a Christian gentleman in Holy Orders for every parish.
This may have worked 40 years ago; it is woefully inadequate today. By all means let us have good priests in our parishes gentlemen or not — but let us face the fact. that most of our countrymen are untouched by the parochial set-up.
OUR TASK IS TO GO WHERE people are and "to sit where they sit". That is why, by means of the Southwark Ordination Course, I hope to provide men who will incarnate their priesthood at all levels of society. We are still in the early stages, but I have already ordained bank clerks, solicitors, schoolmasters, businessmen, a transport manager and a welfare officer.
In fact, the most thrilling moment was when a baker drove up to my cathedral in his van to be raised to the priesthood. He baked the bread, then together we broke It At once the critics come back at me, "But why a priest? Why not a layman?" Of course I believe in the priesthood of all believers in fact I think we may understand this rather better than you. But, like you, I think the spokes must fit into a hub. Otherwise the wheel won't go round.
In a given situation — factory, office or housing block — the Christians need somebody who personifies the given-ness of the priesthood of Christ and incarnates the authority of the Church. But. I am told, he will soil his hands; he will become involved in industrial disputes; he will have to make up his mind and take sides.
And why not? Is there anything in Scripture to suggest that a minister of the Gospel is privileged to sit on the fence, to stand on the touchline, to cheer and hand out lemons but not to be involved in the game?
There is a place for chaplains, and the South London Industrial Mission, for which I am responsible, provides them. The chaplain, usually a parish priest, visits the factory, the office or the dockyard and does invaluable pastoral work. But no matter how gifted he may be, he remains "a clergyman", somebody from outside, who is insulated from the strains and stresses of competitive living.
And it is assumed that in "a show-down" he will be on the side of "authority" or, at best, a neutral. But why? Our Lord accepted life as He found it. He neither sought nor had privileges. He was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, and He revealed the nature and purpose of God in the situations that confronted Him.
That is why — in addition to the parish parsons and the chaplains — I want men to go in on the ground floor and work out what it means to be a priest in the harsh environment of industry and commerce, and within this context to establish the Church and to break bread.
IT IS NOT FOR ME, who has never been faced with this situation, to work out the implications. My job is to listen, watch and advise. The men meet regularly with a leader appointed for the purpose, and from time to time I see them at Bishop's House. As the months go by the pattern will become clearer. Of course, I am aware of the dangers and pitfalls and I realise the need of a strict discipline, but I am prepared to take risks and for the Spirit to lead.
As I see it, these priests need to concern themselves with the following matters:
1 They must find out what it means to he a Christian worker in the twentieth century. This is so much more difficult than most of us think. How does a man cope with industrial tensions? How can he be honest? How can he fulfil himself as a human being when so many jobs are anonymous and soul-destroying?
I sometimes think it would do the Bench of Bishops, myself included, a power of good if we had to spend six months on a road with a pneumatic drill. Dare I say that such an exercise, if adopted by your Church, might have affected the atmosphere and urgency of the Vatican Council? After all, our apostolic predecessor, St. Paul, hammered out his theology while he was engaged as a tent maker.
2 -They must discover a spirituality that is appropriate for our contemporaries. I take off my hat—and my mitre—to your Church, for the courageous leadership you are giving in these matters. You are miles in advance of us.
Heaven knows, you are not tied and hound to Cranmer's prayer book and the dreary idiosyncrasies of the sixteenth century. Even so, your spirituality does not come within a thousand miles of the needs of the docker, the bus driver, the air pilot, the bar-keeper, the lavatory attendant. You are as priest-ridden as we are.
I don't know precisely what your drill is, but our diet remains Matins and Evensong. And we think we have done the trick when we persuade our laity—which we rarely do—to come to "our" services.
Let's stop talking nonsense and find out what it means for a group of Christians engaged on the docks to worship. I, who love my Cranmerian cadences, cannot; my workerpriests might.
They must discover the implications of church membership. To me, when I was a parish priest, it meant doing something to keep the show, "my" show, going—servers, choir, the altar guild, the parochial council, the mothers' union. Admirable causes, but all of them connected with "my" church building. I doubt whether any of them effected, still less affected, the community in which "my" church was set.
When shall we convince Christians that it is more important to take an intelligent interest in a trade union meeting than to hang around at a parochial bun-fight? When shall we show that it may be our liturgical function to serve as a shop-steward rather than to serve at the altar? When shall we prove that membership of the Borough Council is as likely to determine the future of England as membership of the Society of Mary?
And, dare I say it, that a pilgrimage to the Ministry of Housing to protest about slums is as pious as a pilgrimage to the holy house of Walsingham?
4 —They must discover what it means to be a Christ-filled man. I make no apologies for the term. No matter what our denominational affiliations may be, what ultimately matters is our obedience to the gracious sovereignty of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Paul said of the Master "Whose I am and Whom I serve". Call it "conversion", call it "discipleship", call it "the life of sanctification", call it what you will, the fact remains that the only thing that matters is a life aglow and consumed with the love of God.
I think I know what this means in traditional terms—a Francis of Assisi, a Cori d'Ars, a Pope John, a John Wesley, a William Temple—but now we must work it out in terms of Tom the toolmaker, Dick the docker and Harry the hairdresser.