Sunday, December 23, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

Archbishop cuts up clerical collar on TV

Follow the title link here to see the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, cut up his clerical collar on BBC television during a live interview in protest at Zimbabwe's President Mugabe's continuing stranglehold on his country's people. What we want to know is: does he carry a pair of scissors with him at all times?
Seriously though, all power to Sentamu for bringing this outrageous situation into focus.

US diocese splits from Episcopal church over gay issue

The US Diocese of San Joaquin, California has decided to split from the Episcopal Church over the issue of homosexuality.It will become a diocese in the Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur de America.This has been reported across the globe. Yet it is worth keeping this in perspective. This diocese has a mere 8,800 members. That's not quite three times bigger than my deanery, which is just one of 29 deaneries in our Diocese of Oxford, England. And I don't imagine all the members of the Diocese of San Joaquin will feel the same way either. These are small numbers of deeply conservative communities.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Archbishop sends Diwali greetings to Hindu community

Archbishop's Diwali greetings to the Hindu community exemplify the true Anglican spirit of positive respect and a desire to seek common purpose with other religious communities.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Revd Canon Chris Bard

I have learned belatedly today of the death of The Reverend Canon Chris Bard last month. The Church Times website has an obituary here.. I came into contact with Chris several times as a clergy colleague in the Diocese of Chelmsford. He was combining being priest-in-charge of Epping Upland and Diocesan Communications Officer when I started work combining priest-in-charge of Hatfield Broad Oak with Bush End and Industrial Chaplain to Harlow. Only a few years older than me, Chris was the kind of priest who gave me hope for the Church of England and encouraged me to believe it was worth sticking with. He was an outright supporter of women's ordination. He had none of the hedging and evasion that characterised so many priests who professed to be in favour but wouldn't commit until the Pope did - in other words, had their heads in the sand and didn't really care that much about it. He was forward -looking and engaged with contemporary issues; as his early adoption of computer use demonstrated. Although I did not know Chis well as a personal friend his commitments and concerns inspired me in the early years of my ministry.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Church Mission Society

I am reading the October Mission Update from the Church Mission Society (CMS). These are very useful short bulletins giving stories of the way God is transforming lives in the poorest parts of the world through projects assisted by the churches working in partnership. October's edition contains a story about how a group of blind and visually impaired students at a Rwanda secondary school have found new confidence and a sense of belonging through being introduced to "goalball" - a sport that uses a heavy rubber ball with bells inside so blind people can hear it. If there are difficulties for visually inpaired people in the UK in finding fulfilling opportunities for employment and leisure, which there are, how much more are the difficulties for those living in desparately poor economies like Rwanda. CMS is involved in many needy situations like this on the ground. By sending mission partners from churches in one part of the world to churches in another,it enables skills, contacts, money and prayer to be shared between the different parts of Christ's body so strengthening the churches' mission to the poor in the name of Jesus.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Has preference for commitment over numbers been a mistake?

Writing in yesterday's Guardian David Self (Face to Faith column)argues that the increased irrelevancy of the Church of England in modern British society has been greatly assisted by the Church's preference for commitment over numbers. He cites the rise of the parish communion service at the expense of matins as the main evidence of this preference. It has made the Church of England into a club for the committed faithful worshipper rather than a church of the nation inclusive enough to allow those with questions and doubts to continue worshipping with some integrity.

Self raises some interesting issues, but I can't help feeling here is another example of special pleading from a lover of the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible. The argument is familiar to all parish priests because they hear it so often from nostalgic older worshippers: the church used to be full on a Sunday, and a respected influence in the community - we used to have Matins and Evensong every Sunday, ergo, the abandonment of these servces is the cause of the decline in numbers and influence.

But the facts on the ground don't support this. Most parishes that had a flourishing matins service introduced the weekly Sunday eucharist service as an alternative, at a less convenient time, such as 9.30am, whilst the main service of Matins classically was at 11am. These eucharist services then steadily grew in numbers attending as parishioners chose them in preference to matins. Families began to take part, bringing their children, and so creche and junior church activities began to be provided alongside. In previous practice children had been neither seen nor heard at church services like matins unless they were in the choir and that was restricted to boys only. Children were expected to attend Sunday School which took place in ancillary buildings, often during the afternoon.

Contrary then to Self's argument, the change from matins to parish communion was a move towards greater inclusivity, responding to the clear preferences of the diminishing sector of the public inclined to attend church. Wider societal changes, especially around the place of children in families have been a major factor in the move to parish communion. Without the parish communion movement church attendance would be even more restricted in numbers and public appeal than it is now; and the influence of the Church in society even more limited. Parish churches which have resisted, or been unable to introduce parish communion services, have seen drastic reductions in church atendance over the latter part of the last century. And, despite the rise of car use, lovers of matins have not bothered to travel to parish churches which have continued to offer this form of worship.

Self also cites the rise of the evangelical wing with its commitment to biblical preaching and personal conversion as another example of this preference for commitment over numbers. And yet evangelical churches generally have attracted much greater numbers than the traditional churches have done and they have made increasing numbers a primary goal of their activities. Many churchgoers now attending churches in the catholic or liberal wings of the Church acquired their faith in evangelical churches when younger. ( And in the United States evangelical churches have been integral to public life in the sense that politicians have known that they would not garner enough votes to win elections without the support of this churchgoing constituent of the electorate.)

Where I think Self's argument does pose a challenge to the Church which is worth hearing is in respect of our response to contemporary society. The Church tends to blame itself for its decline in numbers and influence and Self is no different. His claim is that the liturgical changes and the rise of evangelicalism were self-conscious decisions which were a mistake contributing to the Church's demise. Others, like Michael Hampson, for example blame the hierarchy for not giving the laity enough real power.

But I don't believe the Church's demise is chiefly the consequence of any conscious decisions or trends within the Church; nor any particularly culpable failure to act. Like the crab who stays put in slowly warming water the Church's fate has been sealed too slowly for it to realise the full severity of what was happening. The Church of England has rather been overtaken and outflanked by other powerful actors in society. Chief among these is the State, and its adopted twin, large business corporations. The sacred canopy of Christian faith has been blotted out by the new horizons of material security and comfort the modern State and business have been able to provide for Western European populations in particular. The ability of modern societies, through these key institutions, to provide populations with order, meaning, purpose, and security in their lives, quite apart from any need for recourse to spiritual power has sidelined the Church. There is more to this than alternative entertainment on Sundays. It is about the dislodgement of any significant authority or role for the transcendent in modern living. Like the inner city children who never see the Milky Way because of light pollution, the modern consumer-citizen rarely has any opportunity to be confronted by the reality of the divine.

What's interesting to me about Self's comments is that they raise the question: How should the Church respond to its contemporary situation?

Self has identified a tendency for the Church to become more inward-looking and for there to be greater dissonance between its voice and the voice of the majority on a number of matters including, notably, sexual ethics. Although I disagree that this was a deliberate turn to prefer commitment over numbers it was perhaps an almost unpremeditated effort to sustain the life and functioning of the Church. It was a response to its environment which makes sense at any particular moment in time. And this response was to focus energies on meeting the needs of the more committed - after all to keep seeing the stars through the haze of modern consumerism you need a level of distance and commitment.

But natural and understandable as it was, this response by the Church needs re-assessment. Perhaps the whole "mission-shaped church"/"fresh expressions" movement is part of that re-assessment. The small but growing resurgence of interest in the role of faith in the workplace may be another sign of a changing approach. But it is not a new approach ultimately; it will be a rediscovery of the classic Anglican spirit, such as found in Richard Hooker, the 16th century philosopher of the fledgling Church of England: listening to,learning from, and engaging with the world at large.

There is not a choice between commitment and numbers. I doubt under the present conditions of society in Western Europe that we shall see a massive return to church in a short time. But Self's comments make me think; there is a choice between a continued slide into intellectual marginalisation and dissonance which awaits a Church obsessed with small matters and its own survival; and a Church which has the courage to turn its resources towards engaging with the big questions of our time and with people where they are.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tutu pleads with Primates

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has issued an emotional call for the Anglican Primates to agree to disagree on the subject of homosexuality and accept one another in love.

“Our Lord is weeping to see our Communion tearing itself apart on the issue of human sexuality, when the world for which he died is ravaged by poverty, disease, war and corruption. We are one of God’s agents to deal with these scourges. God has no one but us. Please, I beg you all in our Lord’s name, agree to disagree, argue, debate; disagree, but do all this as members of one family. Accept one another as God accepts us, however we are, in Christ. “Wipe the tears from our Lord’s eyes; put the smile back on God’s face. I beg you all on bended knee.”

In a reader poll on the Church Times website currently 88% agree the Primates should heed Tutu's call.

Anglican churchgoers in England in any case are sensible charitably minded people who do not allow doctrinaire and anachronistic interpretations of Scripture to obscure the obvious demands of charity and good-will towards fellow-creatures. Just as the majority accept the ordination of women to the pristhood as the right and good thing to do in our day, so more and more accept that it is foolish and uncharitable to stigmatize people in faithful homosexual partnerships; and even more foolish to allow difference of opinion on this question to break the bonds of affection between Anglicans worldwide.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Prayers to commemorate Princess Diana

The Archbishop of Canterbury has produced two prayers for use in churches on the tenth anniversary of the death of Princess Diana.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Synod yes to Covenant

General Synod's vote to give the green light to the Anglican Communion Covenant is a double if predictable blow against both compassion and freedom. Key gospel values are being sacrificed for the sake of ecclesiastical politics. The conservative bishops are not content simply to disagree with their more liberal colleagues over human sexuality: they want to make it a test of anglican orthodoxy. But liberals cannot and should not accept this. What is at stake is whether Anglicans are prepared to let our spirit of openness to truth in reason and experience be quenched by a basically fundamentalist approach. It is deeply tragic that more bishops are not prepared to stand up against the conservatives. And most tragic of all is Rowan William's belief that he must lead by seeking resolution of these differences in this way rather than leading the Communion to greater engagement with the issues; tragic because of recent Archbishops he is the most well equipped intellectually and spiritually to make the case for diversity within unity.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Voice of sense

Kathy Galloway from Iona Community writes sensibly and compassionately on the Christians and homosexuality issue in The Times.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Truly evangelical

The link in the title is to a piece by Elaine Storkey, (posted on the blog about her evangelical faith. Storkey is a leading evangelical Anglican scholar and was on the staff of Wycliffe Hall theological college, now in the grip of conservatives. If this understanding of Christian discipleship were what the term "evangelical" referred to then I'd be happy to call myself an evangelical. As it is I eschew those categories really. I am not "an evangelical" and I am not "a liberal" or "a catholic". But I believe that to be authentically and faithfully Christian I need to be evangelical, to be liberal, and to be catholic.

Wycliffe Hall controversy

A formerly respected Anglican evangelical theological college has been captured by conservative extremists. Wycliffe Hall in Oxford now has a principal, Richard Turnbull, who believes that 95% of the British popoulation is going to hell and a vice-principal who won't allow women to teach men in church. As Giles Fraser wrote in the Guardian:

"Of course, what should really happen is that the bishops of the Church of England stop using colleges like this to train its priests. Places such as Wycliffe are turning Anglicanism into a cult. But it's a symptom of how bad things are in the C of E, and how frightened its bishops have become of the financial muscle of conservative evangelicals, that they won't find the gumption to cut Wycliffe adrift."

I agree. The Church of England has let conservative theology drive its agenda for too long. An approach to the Bible and the faith which is basically fundamentalist and anti-intellectual has gone unchallenged. The Church of England is becoming a cult - retreating from the findings of modern science and cultural development and hiding behind a wall of false certainty based on a default literalism about the Bible and faith. Most sermons I hear outside my own parish are implicitly fundamentalist. It's as if the explosion in human knowledge of the last two centuries, including all we know about the origins and history of Christianity, never happened.

Christians who care about this need to work harder to persuade and inpire others that there are ways of being faithful to Christ which can constructively value and engage with modern culture.

Richard Turnbull's reply

A letter from leaders of the student body at Wycliffe

Friday, June 01, 2007

The gadget of my life

My Palm Treo 600 is the gadget of my life. It is my combined diary,
notebook, addressbook, bible, phone, emailer, mp3 and video player, pocket
camera and instant messenger. And because it can access the internet it is
an encyclopedia, dictionary. newspaper, and train timetable. Google is
always to hand. Using instant messaging, I can communicate with my son
whilst he sits at his desk at work, or with my daughters whilst they study.
I read my favourites blogs whilst sitting on trains or waiting for late
appointments to arrive. I use it to access the online prayers and bible
readings for the Church of England morning and evening prayers.Or if really
needed I can check my work emails away from the desk. Using a nifty
cassette that slots into my car's tape player I connect the Treo to the
in-car stereo. With a 1GB SD card inserted I can drive from the south to
the north of England without hearing the same track twice! It also converts
the phone into a hands-free car phone so I can take calls whilst driving.
Everything is backed up on the desktop PC and my crucial diary is backed up
on a Yahoo! online calendar so even if both Treo and desktop fell apart at
the same time I can still find out where I am meant to be!
Needless to say this post is written on and posted from the Treo whilst
listening to some favourite music tracks playing in the background.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Slavery, Sexuality and the Inclusive Community

Richard Burridge, Dean of King's College London has delivered the Eric Symes Abbott Memorial Lecture 2007 on the biblical roots of the church as an inclusive community. This demonstrates further that there are senior evangelicals who want to dialogue on the subject of homosexuality in the church and want to engage in that dialogue with lesbian and gay members of the Church.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Archbishop of Canterbury on current situations in Anglican Communion

Rowan Williams gave a press conference on his arrival in Canada at the beginning of this week about issues facing the Anglican Communion and his own role within it. Here are some extracts from it.

Archbishop of Canterbury on The Bible

Rowan Williams has given a speech in Canada describing the need for the Church to listen properly to the Bible. In his characteristically dialectical way he criticises both ultra-conservative and liberal readings of the Bible as being inadequate. Link here to the summary page where there is also a link to the full text.

Monday, April 02, 2007

How cheesy is this?

Found this quote on a blog I chanced across via - its just about the cheesiest thing I've seen for ages:

"If God had a wallet, your picture would be in it."

Maybe we could start a - "cheesiest spiritual quote of Holy Week" contest!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Anniversary of abolition of Slave Trade

Today churches across Britain are remembering the anniversary of the passing of the act of Parliament which abolished the slave trade.The Archbishops of Canterbury and York reflected on this when they visited the slave pits of Zanzibar recently. See their reflections on YouTube here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ben Okafor to appear on BBC1

Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Ben’s music and early life were shaped by his experiences as a boy soldier in the Biafran army during the country’s civil war, The pain and destruction he witnessed during that period soon began to influence the lyrics he wrote, his songs reflecting a heart felt plea for justice, truth and love.

An ongoing involvement in peace and justice initiatives followed with Ben currently involved with the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Amnesty International and others.

BEN OKAFOR will be appearing on BBC1's "Heaven and Earth Show" this weekend.

Broadcasting from 10.00am to 11.00am on Sunday morning (March 25th), the programme will be looking at the issue of slavery and trafficking as we reach the 200th anniversary of the passing of the Slave Trade Bill by the UK government which made the slave trade illegal.

As we unfortunately know, the modern day slave trade is still very active. Rob Taylor, Ben's manager informed us that "Ben will be giving a long interview and will be performng a song live in the studio from his latest album Acoustic Close-Up"

So, tune in or set your recorders!

You can visit the programme's website

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The truth isn't sexy

New campaign on the issue of sex trafficking is launched to co-incide with the 200th anniversary of the British abolition of slavery.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Charles Taylor awarded Templeton Prize

I have been quoting from Charles Taylor in sermons since the early nineties. I was delighted to hear he has received this award.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why do conservatives face both ways?

It interests me to hear that the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England wants its adoption agency to be exempted, on the grounds of conscience, from the provisions of the Equality Act which would disallow discrimination against homosexuals in the provision of goods and services. They are protesting against the application of the Act to the adoption agency run by their church. They say today that the agency will close because in all conscience it cannot accept the placement of children with homosexual couples as this is contrary to the tenets of its faith. I have a lot of sympathy for the Roman Catholic case here - not because I think homosexual couples should be discriminated against, nor do I think that they are unsuitable to adopt children; but because I believe that faith-based conscience should be respected and diversity of belief and practice in these matters tolerated. (It would be a different matter if the Roman Catholic church controlled all adoption agencies but there is a wide range of other agencies available to homosexual couples.)

But what interests me is the character of the conservative religious mindset in this issue. The Roman Catholic hierarchy and conservative Anglicans may not be the same groups of people but they have a similarly conservative and negative view of homosexuality in practice. But whilst the Roman Catholic hierarchy seeks exemption from secular equality law on the basis of conscience; there is no such "exemption" apparently granted by conservative Anglicans to the United States Episcopal Church which in all conscience wants to offer full equality of membership to homosexuals in its church community. Conservatives thus face two ways - exemption from laws for themselves on matters of conscience but no exemption on matters of conscience for those with whom they disagree. Didn't Jesus once say "Do unto others as you would have then do unto you" ?

The blood never dried

"The Blood Never Dried" is a book by John Newsinger, subtitled, "A People's History of the British Empire" (Bookmarks Publications 2006). The title comes from a quote of Ernest Jones, Chartist and socialist, about the British Empire in 1851: "On its colonies the sun never sets, but the blood never dries". It describes the violence of the British Empire and how that was met by freedom struggles, from the slaves' revolt in Jamaica to the war for independence in Kenya. It makes for salutary reading if you think that the British Empire has been a kinder force in the world than the United States for example. For me it uncovered episodes in history which I had never even heard about before and also explained situations I was aware of already but only very hazily understood. I haven't seen much analysis of the current crisis in the Anglican Communion which relates it to the legacy of the British Empire and its relations to the US empire but this book would certainly be useful background for thinking about our situation in that way.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

New C of E campaign for Lent

Church of England news reports that:
The season of Lent – a period of penitence in preparation for Easter - has been given an extra twist this year with a multi-media campaign backed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu.
Love Life Live Lent gives inspiration for simple things that people can do to spread a little generosity and happiness in their community, and particularly aims to bring Lent alive for people who might not go to church. In a bold move, the campaign is being delivered through two colourful booklets, an interactive website, and a text message service.
From today, mobile phone owners can text the word ‘Lent’ to 64343 to begin receiving daily suggestions for actions from Monday 19th February through to Easter Monday, at a price of 10 pence a day. Actions include:
Give up your place to someone in a traffic jam or a queue
Have a TV-free day and do something you have meant to do for ages
Take part in an environmental clean up
Watch the news and pray about what you see
Leave a £1 coin in the shopping trolley or where someone will find it.
The actions may seem small, but can add up to something bigger when lots of people get involved, say the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their joint introduction: “It’s all too easy to feel we are powerless to make a difference. But the truth is, with God’s help we can change the world a little bit each day. Each of us can be the change we want to see in the world… Together we can build better and more generous communities. Together we can lighten the load on our planet. We show God’s love when we do these things,” they say.
Everyone can join in Love Life Live Lent by visiting, which will feature each day’s actions, games, resources, and an opportunity to share experiences with other people who have tried out the suggestions through a forum area. A special area of the website, supported by a separate booklet with activities focused on school life, have been designed for under 15s to join in.
Love Life Live Lent started life in the Diocese of Birmingham in 2006, inspired by a local pilgrimage. The booklet was such a hit that the original print run for the booklets had to be increased repeatedly, and 70,000 copies of the booklets were distributed through churches, schools and community centres.
The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, believes the campaign shows a different side to Lent: “Doing something positive or generous can be as transforming as giving something up. It helps us to reflect on how we normally behave, and how we can make changes to our lifestyles that reflect God’s love more fully.”
Church leaders hope that ‘Living Lent’ this year could be the beginning of a journey of faith, and the campaign’s dedicated website offers a range of resources and links to help explore Christianity and the Bible.
Love Life Live Lent is available as a full-colour booklet for just £1 (ISBN 0978 07151 41113, childrens’ version 0978 07151 41144) or buy 10 for £8 (0978 07151 41120, childrens’ version 0978 07151 41151), or a value pack of 50 for £35 (0978 07151 41137, childrens’ version 0978 07151 41168) from Christian bookshops including Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN, tel. 020 7799 4064, email, or on the web (mail order available)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Media atheists and fundamentalism

Giles Frazer, Vicar of Putney and columnist for the Church Times, wrote for The Guardian last Monday an article entitled "Atheists: the bigots' friends: most Christians back gay rights, to claim otherwise only boosts the fundamentalists". His argument, as I read it, is that many vocal anti-religion pundits are actually boosting extreme conservative versions of Christianity by representing it as the majority and authentic voice of the Christian church. By doing this fundamentalist Christianity is given the oxygen of publicity and made to appear as if it expresses the beliefs of the majority of present-day Christians; when in fact it does not. This was exemplified recently by the media coverage of protests at Parliament over the debate on gay rights legislation. Giles argues that both media coverage of the protests of conservative Christian voices opposing the anti-discriminatory legislation and critical reaction to it by secular voices were not careful enough to distinguish between the position of conservatives and that of mainstreanm Christian churches. The impression is given that all Christians and churches disapprove of the legislation. In fact there is broad support for the Act from the Church of England; and it is well established that the majority of Christians in Britain do not think that homosexuality is a sin.
The comments on Giles' piece are worth reading partly because they illustrate the intensity of antipathy to religious belief that exists in some people. But there are other points well-made. The headline of the article gives the mistaken impression that Giles is stereotyping all atheists as promoters of a false perspective on Christianity - so committing the error of which he is accusing his antagonists of committing. In fact the article itself speaks about a particular gouping of athesits - namely media ones - those whom we all know have grabbed the attention of editors,producers and publishers by their vociferous denunciation of all things religious. But at least a slightly overstated headline stimulates the analysis further. One comment asks why Giles and other liberal Christians who support the legislation were not at the anti-fundamentalist protest. Perhaps there were some liberal Christians in support, who knows; but they were not apparently in evidence as such.
Is it possible that liberal Christians might make common cause on some of these issues with some secular atheists? And are there not situations already where that happens - such as in the world development and peace movements? But this is not easy when vocal antagonistic atheists persist in misrepresenting all Christians' beliefs and motives. Is there a need now for peace negotiatons between liberal Christians and militant atheists?