Chemin Neuf at Lambeth Palace: a "profound" step on the road to Christian unity
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has formally welcomed and commissioned four members of Chemin Neuf, the international ecumenical community, at Lambeth Palace. The members of the community, who took up residence in the Palace last month, consist of a married Anglican couple, Ione and Alan Morley-Fletcher; a Lutheran training for ministry, Oliver Matri; and a Roman Catholic consecrated sister, Ula Michlowicz. They share in the daily round of prayer that underpins the Archbishop's ministry, and further the ecumenical and international dimensions of his work.
A special inaugural service was presided over by the Archbishop, and guests included Fr Laurent Fabre, founder and Superior General of the Chemin Neuf community; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Revd Peter Smith; the Archbishop’s Representative to the Holy See, Archbishop David Moxon; and the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, Dr Martin Lind.
That's all nicely ecumenical, reflecting something of the essence of Anglicanism's vocation to be catholic and reformed. It also reflects Archbishop Justin's essential Christian spirituality: it is perhaps no coincidence that his enthronement at Canterbury on 21st March 2013 coincided with the Church's commemoration of His Grace's martyrdom in 1556, and also the feast day of St Benedict of Monte Cassino, a significant figure for both Canterbury Cathedral and Archbishop Justin himself, who is an oblate of the Order of Benedict.
Benedict's monasticism helped to shape Rome's Semper Eadem; His Grace's witness challenged the Church to semper reformanda. But it would be a mistake to deny Benedict's historic capacity for reform, or, indeed, His Grace's reverence for the Church Fathers and his respect for the catholic traditions of the Faith. If the names of Benedict and Cranmer echo in Justin's mind, and if their spirits course through his devotional arteries, then we can expect Anglican discipleship and ministry to be nudged toward Benedict’s Rule, but not at the expense of His Grace's renewal.
It has been observed that Archbishop Justin has a Roman Catholic spiritual director - Nicolas Buttet, who founded the Eucharistein community in Switzerland. The Archbishop has also been on spiritual retreats in France with Chemin Neuf, which was founded by a Jesuit who had experienced charismatic renewal. The focus is on spiritual discipline: the spiritual objective is Christian unity. He probably experiences more peace and harmony among them than he ever finds at Synod.
And let's be honest, prayer is a bit of a slog. It can also be a tedious, lonely, fruitless pursuit, so His Grace is of the view that the more of it going on at Lambeth Palace, the better. The first of three priority areas for Archbishop Justin’s ministry over the coming years is the renewal of prayer and the religious life within the Church. The Archbishop observes: “There has never been a renewal of the Church in Western Europe without a renewal of prayer and the life of religious communities. If we want to see things changed, it starts with prayer. I am deeply moved that in God’s grace Chemin Neuf agreed to this radical and exciting new step of coming to live as a community of prayer, hospitality and learning at Lambeth Palace. We pray that this step of obedience will bear fruit among us, and for the church.”
Fr Laurent Fabre said: “480 years it has been, and we are rejoicing over this new step. But the one who is rejoicing most is the Father himself, because 480 years of waiting is long even for God. This is a first step of something new.”
With respect to Fr Laurent Fabre, this just is a tad overplayed. God has not been waiting since 1534 for rapprochement: Jesus was praying "that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21) a few thousand years ago.
Sister Ula Michlowicz said: “Being part of this great ecumenical adventure is for me, as a Catholic Sister, a huge privilege. So the gratefulness comes first. I feel fully welcomed, despite the very serious Palace's interiors there is such friendly atmosphere here! I love praying in the crypt. It is like being part of an underground prayer stream overflowing into Lambeth Palace, to the city of London, to all these places we're praying for, such the river of life.
“To be together around the altar during the daily Community Eucharist is a deep experience of both: communion and suffering of separation. I just remain with Jesus washing our feet, of all of us. It gives me strength.”
That is communion in the Lordship of Christ; separation because Lambeth Palace uses Common Worship for the Eucharist and Sister Ula does not partake of the Anglican bread and wine but walks to Westminster Cathedral to receive the Real thing.
John Bingham notes in The Telegraph that this venture "is the first move of its kind since the Reformation", but His (former) Grace doesn't quite agree with His (present) Grace that it constitutes a “profound” step on the road to eventual unity between the churches. The Reformation may have been a tragedy for Church unity, but it wasn't just a simple misunderstanding. The hurdles that remain are apparently insuperable: the Anglican Eucharist welcomes Roman Catholics; Rome's Mass remains closed to Anglicans. There are also certain thornier issues - "errors" - like Trent, gospel soteriology and the Petrine ministry itself. Not to mention women priests, women bishops, and the (most likely) development of a same-sex blessing/marriage liturgy. From the temporal perspective at least, these would appear to constitute profound steps toward disunity - both between and within the churches.