Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jonathan Bailey

I was sad when I read yesterday in the Church Times that Jonathan Bailey has died. He was only 69 years old. Jonathan was latterly Bishop of Derby. I worked with him when he was Archdeacon of Southend in the Diocese of Chelmsford and I was Industrial Chaplain for Harlow from 1989 until 1997; though Jonathan was appointed to a suffragan bishopric in another diocese before I left Essex. One of his roles as Archdeacon was to lead the team of Industrial Missioners, or Chaplains, in Essex, known collectively as ECCIC- Essex Churches' Council for Industry and Commerce. It was an ecumenical team, though Anglicans predominated; and the Roman Catholic contribution was more often in moral, and some financial, support rather than in the shape of personnel. Jonathan's skill, and warmth, as a team leader of a diverse team gave me a role model whom I could watch and learn from important lessons about leadership and team motivation. The monthly ECCIC meetings led by Jonathan were the most fruitful and stimulating meetings of clergy working together on a common purpose that I have ever been involved with in my ministry to date. Jonathan's death undoubtedly deprives the "Church in earth" of a wise and compassionate counsellor and teacher; but hopefully I, and others who sat at his feet, will practice and propogate those good things which we learned from him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Archbishop urges EU to build a greener economy now

I am delighted to learn today that the Archbishop of Canterbury has joined with the heads of the Church of Sweden and the Protestant Church in Germany and written a letter to Sarkozy, as President of the Council of the European Union, ahead of the EU summit tomorrow urging him to ensure that climate action is not sidelined because of the current economic crisis. The full text of the letter can be read on the title link above from the Archbishop's website. Here are some quotes from the press release.
Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop Anders Wejryd and Bishop Huber express their concern that some governments are looking to increase their allowance of carbon credits that can be bought from developing countries, rather than looking at how to decrease carbon output from within the EU. Instead, the Church leaders call for governments in the EU to take a more holistic approach to economic growth:

"The challenge of resuscitating economic growth cannot be treated in isolation from the challenges of promoting sustainable development. The choice is not between economic growth and environmental protection. .... Our economic and environmental fortunes are inextricably linked. Working sustainably for the global common good and respecting the integrity of God's creation are not alternatives – they are one and the same. To think and act otherwise is neither 'common' nor 'good'."

The Church leaders also advocate the EU taking the opportunity of the economic downturn to build up a new, greener, economy:

"The current financial crisis and economic recession represent less a threat and more an historic opportunity to bring about tomorrow's low carbon economy today. We are encouraged that US President-elect Barack Obama has responded to this challenge by pledging to invest $75 billion to create 5 million new 'green collar' jobs by 2020 as part of a wider package of measures on climate change. Although this pledge has yet to be realised, Europe's leaders must not retreat from taking similar action."

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is one of the festivals of Mary in the churches of both the East and the West - in honour of her conception. Christians remember the starting point of Mary's earthly existence; those first cells that became the human person of the mother of Jesus; and so today the Church is celebrating the very stirrings of God's plan to restore the world.

Without Mary there is no Jesus. This is true not only at the biological level but also at the spiritual - it is Mary's graciousness which the Church also celebrates; in response to God's grace, Mary consented.

But the biology is vital.St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury around 1100,quoted in Celebrating the Saints: Daily Spiritual Readings from the Calendar of the Church of England compiled by Robert Atwell, reflects in an ecological way about how Mary's role as the mother of the incarnation of God restores all creation - "sky, stars, earth, rivers, day and night and all things that are meant to serve us and be for our good" - the whole of nature rejoices to see God choosing to partner with them - though the biological process of conception and birth - in order to restore his creation.
"God himself, who made all things, remade himself from Mary. In this way he remade all that he had made. He who was able to make all things out of nothing,when they had been defaced would not remake them without Mary's help".

As well the astonishing boldness of the assertions which Anselm made about the salvific significance of Mary - which Protestant Chistians find difficult to acccept - what interests me today is the quite natural way in which Anselm incorporated a creation-focussed perspective into his reflections on Mary's role.
Here is a glimpse of the intellectual and spiritual matrix which lies behind the fantastic images of animals and birds to be found carved and painted on the walls of so many of cathedrals and churches of Europe, founded or rebuilt, around the time of Anselm.

Most of us would let a comparatively minor festival of the Church pass by without even a thought for its ecological significance. But if we took Anselm's approach and focussed on the creation message, wouldn't this transform our spirituality and liturgy; putting our contemporary ecological imperative right at the heart of the way we live and proclaim Christian faith?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

May God bless you with...

I was struck by this prayer offered by the Presiding Bishop of the (US)Episcopal Church at the recent service in New York on the occasion of the UN Extraordinary meeting to review urgently progress on the millennium Development Goals:

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger,
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness,
To believe that you can make a difference in this world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done.


Source: Anglican Communion News Service

Monday, July 21, 2008

Evolution and Christianity

The recent mailing to parishes from the Diocese of Oxford contained information about the Evolution Sunday movement. I'd not heard of this before. It originated in the USA and is one way of demonstrating that Christianity and science can co-exist peacefully. There is an informative website here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Women bishops vote a triumph for common sense and justice

The vote in General Synod to allow women to be ordained bishops is a triumph of common sense and the true spirit of Anglicanism. The Guardian editorial piece makes the point well, that eventually the will of the majority to do what is right cannot always be thwarted by the minority, however sincere its beliefs.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Three cheers for Will Hutton

Will Hutton offers an eloquent defence of the liberal Anglican tradition and why it's important to sustain it. He must be one of the few journalists who are defending and appreciating Rowan Williams at the moment.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Scotland is another country

They do things differently in Scotland. Here is the Bishop of Edinburgh's address to his Diocesan Synod on the conflict engrossing the Anglican Communion. It goes deeper. Who in England has ever heard a bishop inviting his Synod to consider the difference between God's ontological transcendence and God's epistemological transcendence? The Church of England paddles in the shallows too often. Afraid of being accused of intellectualism. But the deep issues and paradoxes of human existence are presented more subtly in provincial theatres any night of the week than they are in most English Diocesan Synod meetings sadly.

Church and gay question

May the Church gives its blessing to homosexual partnerships and remain true to the will of God? Still be faithful in its witness to the love of God as shown in Jesus and revealed in the Bible?

As a minimum it seems to me this is an open question. That is, even if you are reluctant to give a definitive “yes” in answer, then neither can you give a definitive “no”. The reasons for this I explain below.

If it is an open question, then isn’t the only proper response of all Christians who take seriously the ethic of love for neighbour, especially bishops and church leaders, compassion and respect between those with differing answers? For me this means learning from and listening to others; accepting, not condemning, those who in good faith and conscience want to go ahead and affirm homosexual relationships; as well as those who, also in good faith, genuinely believe this can never be an option for a faithful Church.

This much might be agreed by all Christians who have not allowed their party-line allegiances to cloud their spiritual discernment. But can it be shown that this is an open question?

I have several reasons why I think it is.

Firstly, “facts on the ground”. Clearly there are many Christians, homosexual and not, who already believe that homosexual partnerships may be good and right in the sight of God. But these may be false teachers. The New Testament itself warns against those who will lead the Church astray with spurious beliefs. But the errors the New Testament speaks of are central points of faith such as the adequacy of God’s grace in Christ. We are also taught that by their fruits you shall know them. Where there are Christian men and women who are faithful members of the Church and who clearly reveal in their lives the fruits of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and differ from Christian brothers and sisters in no other way than that they answer “yes” to our question then how can they be regarded as false teachers?

Secondly, our greater knowledge of the human condition. The findings of various branches of science and the personal experiences of many people suggests very strongly that homosexuality is a given feature of human life.

Thirdly, the development of understanding of the biblical texts. Whilst it may be clear that there is very little in the biblical tradition to support a positive assessment of homosexual partnerships, and much to endorse the traditional Christian antipathy, it is not clear that the biblical material should be determinative of a developed Christian ethic for the 21st century.

Fourthly, the development of positive aspects of sexual ethics in public life. Many religiously motivated critics of homosexual partnership consider it to be part of a wider decline in sexual mores in Western society. But this ignores the evidence for many positive changes in relation to more traditional cultures. Modern intolerance of rape, of domestic violence, of child abuse and of forced marriages shows that the so-called decadence of Western societies actually displays many strongly moral developments in recent decades.

Therefore in my view there is no case for condemnation on religious grounds of those who believe sincerely that homosexual partnerships may be a faithful Christian expression of human love and companionship

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Church of England bishops concerned over the quality of the clergy

This item in the Daily Telegraph decribes the content of a report from the Church of England House of Bishops expressing concern over the quality of the Church of England clergy. On the one hand, there is concern over the abilities of new entrants to work in a professional and competent way with teams of skilled lay volunteers and colleagues; and on the other, that too many experienced older clergy have lost their enthusiasm for the role.

These are valid concerns and there are some welcome suggestions of a strategy for how things might be improved going forward. At the same time, it needs to be recognised that the stresses upon parish clergy in the Church of England go wider and deeper than pay, pensions and housing; though these are important. Oversight and support from the wider church structures are patchy at best, because resources are over-stretched; the cultural and social standing of Christian clergy has been significantly diminished in the last quarter century; and the sheer quantity of demands upon clergy to introduce and manage change have outstripped the resources available to them to achieve these tasks effectively. Just one example - the introduction of IT has challenged older clergy who have had to find ways from their own resources of catching up in practical and administrative matters. The list of issues and challenges parish clergy have needed to cope with in recent years , largely relying on their own time and initiative, is very long indeed. Older clergy who happen to have lower levels of physical and psychological resilience will have found it very difficult to make up their skills deficits given the general lack of support.
Mention these points to diocesan training depratments and quite often some officers will complain that clergy are offered training and consultancy but don't take it up. However, this misses the point. De-motivated or over-strectched clergy are not just going to pick up the phone and book themselves on training courses as soon as the latest mailing arrives from the diocesan office. More likely than not they won't see the notice in time to do anything about it anyway, because it wil have been buried in their inbox , possibly unopened, for a week or few.
In his strident book about the Church of England, Last Rites: The End of the Church of England, Michael Hampson is bitter, understandably given the church's attitude towards his sexuality I guess; but nonetheless telling points are made. One that sticks in my mind is his insight that in the Church of England the congregations are irrelevant and the parish clergy are almost irrelevant in terms of power. All the power comes down hierarchically from the Crown and is almost totally vested in the bishops.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Scripture Reason and Tradition Puppet Show

Here's a fun video to explain why Scripture alone is not enough, even if necessary, for us to hear what God is saying to us now. Thanks to Father Sam Rose for this Read his blog here

Monday, February 18, 2008

Archbishop Rowan furore

Poking fun at vicars has a long history in English culture,even before Jane Austen introduced us to Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice! And the figure of the turbulent priest is even older, since Henry II called to be rid of this “turbulent priest”, Thomas a Becket, with deadly results. So there is plenty of material for media editors to mine if they want to target a hapless senior cleric.

Clearly there are some people who are very hostile towards Archbishop Rowan Williams and they are not reluctant to take any opportunity to undermine him. The number within the Church of England of those who wish to see him resign is tiny, and the media coverage they receive is totally disproportionate. Outside the church though it seems there is a significant number who want to make him look irrelevant. Is this part of the general hostility there is to religion amongst some leading voices of our society? Is it a fearful ambivalence of attitude about the power of faith to provide a strong moral vision. I don't believe there is a conspiracy but I don't forget the power of “groupthink” to influence attitudes.

Politicians, both local and national,more and more look to faith groups like local churches to help build sustainable and cohesive communities, as the welfare state continues its long withdrawal. But meaningful partnership involves mutual respect for each other's views.

Politicians and other leading voices who care about more than their own families' fortunes, and there are still some who do, need to ensure that the Archbishop is offered at least the respect for his ideas due to him as the leader of the largest and most deeply embedded voluntary organisation in the country.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Church of England's true colours

This week's edition of the left-leaning current affairs magazine New Statesman has an article about homosexuality and the Church of England; marking the departure of Richard Kirker from the leadership of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM). There is criticism of liberals in the Church for not standing alongside homosexuals and leaving the field open for conservatives to set the agenda with devastating results for gay clergy. The article claims Kirker is leaving disillusioned and yet also quotes him as knowing that it would be more than a lifetime's work to bring about change on this issue. Kirker is also quoted as offering the positive view that it has been necessary to reveal the true colours of the conservatives on this issue if this issue is to be genuinely resolved.