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.


New Director of Forward in Faith

Posted on the 28th Oct 2019

Forward in Faith is delighted to announce the appointment of Tom Middleton as Director. He will succeed Dr Colin Podmore, who is to retire in February after seven years in office.


As the Greater London Authority’s Assistant Director of Finance and Governance, Tom Middleton currently leads a team of 35 people at London’s City Hall, where he has worked for the last 18 years. He was previously on the staff of the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office. He holds a degree in theology from Durham University and a postgraduate diploma in public finance and leadership from Warwick University, and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Administration (CIPFA).


Tom worships at St Silas, Kentish Town. He is Treasurer of the Society of Mary and has recently been appointed as Clerk to the Trustees of the Cleaver Ordination Candidates Fund.


The Chairman of Forward in Faith, Bishop Tony Robinson, commented: ‘I am delighted that Tom Middleton has agreed to be our next Director. He comes to us after a distinguished career working in finance and governance. He will bring a wide range of skills which will help us develop even further over the coming years. I look forward to the next chapter in Forward in Faith’s task of strengthening the place of The Society within the Church of England.’


Tom Middleton said, ‘I am greatly honoured to be taking up this role. I look forward to meeting as many of my fellow members of Forward in Faith as I can and to working with the trustees, Council members and branch officers. I shall do my utmost to continue the sterling work of Forward in Faith and its current Director in promoting the Catholic faith as we have received it in the Church of England.’


Defending the Seal of the Confessional

Posted on the 4th Jul 2019

Forward in Faith thanks Pope Francis for his recent re-affirmation of the absolute inviolability of the Seal of the Confessional. Pope Francis said:

'Reconciliation itself is a benefit that the wisdom of the Church has always safeguarded with all her moral and legal might, with the sacramental seal. Although it is not always understood by the modern mentality, it is indispensable for the sanctity of the sacrament and for the freedom of conscience of the penitent, who must be certain, at any time, that the sacramental conversation will remain within the secrecy of the confessional, between one’s conscience that opens to grace, and God, with the necessary mediation of the priest. The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has jurisdiction over it, nor can lay any claim to it.'


We welcome  the ‘Note on the importance of the internal forum and the inviolability of the Sacramental Seal’, approved by Pope Francis and published this week, which says that any political or legislative pressure to override this sacramental seal would be ‘a violation of religious freedom’.


The sacrament of Reconciliation can only be the safe space that it must be – not least for the victims and survivors of abuse – if all who avail themselves of it can be confident that what is disclosed in sacramental confession will never be revealed by the priest (thought they remain entirely free to disclose it themselves if and when they feel ready to do so).


Forward in Faith remains committed to defending the Seal. We also support better training for priests for this important ministry of the Church. 


The Anglican-Methodist Proposals

Posted on the 2nd Jul 2019

Forward in Faith welcomes the statement by Anglican Catholic Future about the latest Anglican-Methodist report.


In our own February 2018 statement, we noted questions about whether the proposals would lead to unity, and whether the office of ‘President-bishop’ (to be held for one year only) could be recognized as a ‘local adaption’ of the historic episcopate of the catholic Church. We are grateful to note some progress with regard to the question of unity, but our question as to whether what is proposed is in fact episcopacy remains.


Our third and greatest concern was about the proposal to set aside the requirement that those who minister as priests in the Church of England should have been episcopally ordained to the office of priest. In response to this concern, which was shared by others, the General Synod asked the Faith and Order Commission to ‘explore and elucidate further the relationship between episcopal ordination and eucharistic presidency’. That the Commission has not attempted to offer such an elucidation is a deep disappointment.


The requirement of episcopal ordination was fundamental to the 1662 settlement, which is in turn fundamental to Anglican identity. The Preface to the 1662 Ordinal makes clear that this requirement is a matter of doctrine. If this doctrine is set aside for a ‘temporary’ period that could last for sixty or seventy years, as is proposed, it will effectively have been abandoned. If a central tenet of Anglican doctrine can be abandoned in this way, what other tenets of Anglican doctrine might follow?


We recognize that the proposals are still developing, and the prospect of further work is held out. Such developing scenarios do not offer a sufficiently firm basis for the drafting of legislation. As the experience of the first Women Bishops Measure showed, if at the beginning of the legislative process on deeply divisive and controversial matters there is not an agreed outcome that enjoys a stable consensus of support, it is highly unlikely that the legislative process will deliver a solution. For the General Synod to vote for legislation to be drawn up, as the motion to be moved on Sunday proposes, would be premature and irresponsible.


Since 1662 the Church of England has always been careful to adopt a charitable and eirenic approach to other churches. She has been reluctant to unchurch them by condemning their orders, and has often affirmed the authenticity and fruitfulness of their ministries within their own context. At the same time, the Church of England has upheld the integrity of her own doctrine by admitting of no exception to the requirement of episcopal ordination for eucharistic presidency and priestly ministry. Proposals that sacrifice doctrinal integrity to ecumenical expediency are unlikely to prove wholesome, fruitful or – in the end – unifying.


Wakefield Cathedral

Posted on the 13th Jun 2019

Forward in Faith notes the Dean of Wakefield’s decision to comply with the ruling of the Independent Reviewer, Sir William Fittall, in his report on Wakefield Cathedral by making available to the complainant a service rota with information about the identity of those who will be celebrating the Eucharist in the Cathedral.


This is a welcome first step towards making Wakefield Cathedral once again a truly inclusive church in which traditional catholics are made welcome and encouraged to flourish. We hope for even greater generosity in future.



The Rt Revd Tony Robinson




Dr Lindsay Newcombe

Lay Vice-Chairman



The Revd Ian McCormack

Clerical Vice-Chairman





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