Book review of The Mission and Ministry of the Church in England: History, Challenge and Prospect. Michael Nazir Ali. T and T Clark £18.99:
If anyone is curious as to why Monsignor Michael Nazir Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, has become a member of the Ordinariate, his magisterial work on the growth of the church in England ( not the Church OF England) contains a number of clues.
His 132 page text, in 11 short and pithy chapters, with a further 25 pages of bibliography, footnotes and biblical references, is a survey of the engagement of the gospel with culture, both in England over the centuries and from mission experience in other parts of the world. He draws on personal knowledge, from his own Moslem background in Pakistan, and from his visits ( many as CMS General Secretary) to Latin America, West and East Africa, South East Asia.
The pages are full of nuggets such as: Evangelicals were “ freed from making their own salvation the focus of their piety so they could turn their attention to the salvation of others.” To reflect on the ‘flaws’ in previous generations of Christians, seeing them as children of their times “should alert us to our own rootedness in our own times and cultures, and if there is a need, to transcend them in the cause of the gospel.” While some might be frustrated with the need to care for buildings,“ buildings have to do with identity, community, and sense of security in pressurized situations”..”it is most important for Christian communities to have a physical presence which can reflect a spiritual presence.”
The parish structure of the Church of England includes both embassy and hospitality in witness and care for the whole community, not just gathering the faithful and hoping that others will be attracted to join them. “An emphasis on a commitment to the wider community…has given the tradition some credibility in local communities and allowed it to develop its moral witness in a wider context.” Community social involvement is important for the church of the parish in a range of social activities, “we should aim to provide added value through Christians participating in them to the extent they are able”. The Anglican Church in Korea offered various social facilities. ‘Gradually, the people began to ask,”Why are you doing all these things for us?” When the answer was given “Because we are Christians,” they also asked “Why don’t you worship with us then?”’.
He reminds his readers of their freedom to do this when behind the Iron Curtain the Church is permitted no activity outside church buildings and not allowed to serve the wider community.
Such freedom is to be alert to culture: ”we must resist and challenge hedonism, consumerism, the deification of ‘nature’, the fragmentation of the family, the lack of intergenerational communication, or reductionist attitudes toward the human person…the local church and its pastors need to be aware of those developments…which make for human flourishing, and those which jeopardize it.” The testimony of those from the Global South diaspora in England of costly witness, of expressing the faith in hostile contexts, of humble service ( is needed) if the West is to be evangelized and discipled.”
So why the Ordinariate? “It allows those of Anglican heritage, who are seeking full communion with the See of Rome, to retain what is of value in their patrimony, and indeed bring its riches to the wider Catholic Church…..and because of a perceived lack of decision-making processes in the Anglican Communion…and the need for an adequate teaching authority which can..declare the faith of the Church.” This is in contrast to the “doctrine” of the radical autonomy of each church in the present day Communion.
In short, Monsignor Michael finds much of value in the Church in England for England and the Global Church which is at risk of being lost. The Ordinariate for him is a way to retain and pass it on.