Will you help me draft a letter to (Arch)bishop Justin Welby? I would like Lay Anglicana to summarise for him the laity’s worms’-eye-view of the Church of England. I had hoped there might be a magic moment between the time he steps down from being Bishop of Durham and the time he assumes the responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury. But that is not to be:
…the Confirmation of Election, will take place on 4th February 2013 at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Dean of Canterbury will report to a commission of senior diocesan bishops chaired by the Archbishop of York that Bishop Justin has been elected according to statute, and the Archbishop of York, on behalf of his fellow bishops and the wider Church, will confer on him the ‘spiritualities’ of the diocese of Canterbury. At this point, he becomes the Archbishop of Canterbury – until then he remains Bishop of Durham. On 21st March, after paying Homage to Her Majesty in his new role, his public ministry will inaugurated in a colourful ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral…
Nevertheless, although his last few days in office as +Dunelm are no doubt busy, it seems likely that he may be reflecting on the task ahead. It is perhaps one of those moments in the movement of celestial spheres when worms may indeed address future Archbishops of Canterbury and cats may look at kings. After the enthronement, it will be a different matter.
So what should we say to him? I offer some random suggestions, which I hope you will comment on and add to. At this stage, we needn’t worry about the elegance of our prose, I think – that can come later.
- The vote on women bishops vividly demonstrated the un-representative nature of the laity in the House of Laity: we hope steps can be taken to rectify this.
- The attitude towards, and treatment of, the laity by the clergy in the Church of England still reflects the 1662 preface to the ordination of clergy: ‘it is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been…Bishops, Priests and Deacons‘. No account is taken of the Enlightenment, as does the 1979 prayer book of The Episcopal Church, whose catechism relates:‘The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons…The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.’ We seek a similar ‘priesthood of all believers’ in the Church of England.
- The Bishop of Winchester addressed Andover Deanery churchgoers in November, saying: ‘The Church of England is an episcopal church. It is not presbyterian, nor is it congregational, it is episcopalian‘. While we do not dispute the facts of this statement, we suggest that it may be in the interests of our Church to borrow from the Presbyterian, Congregational, and even Methodist models to adopt nationwide the existing system of Lay Elders, for example, in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. There are similar schemes scattered round the other dioceses, but nothing at a national level.
- We believe that this needs to be addressed over the next decade in order to compensate for the increasing amalgamation of parishes to form mega-benefices under overall clerical supervision. Without clergy to take regular services in each parish church, their place needs to be taken by lay people during intervening weeks if the congregations are not simply to wither away.
- Many of those willing and able to fill the role of ‘lay elders’ are those approaching retirement and the newly retired. It is not realistic to expect them to train and qualify as Licensed Lay Ministers – their long service as practising Christians should be regarded as sufficient (assuming their candidacy is backed by the PCC and incumbent).
- We realise that there are very many pressing demands competing for your attention: the elevation of women to the episcopate and a greater inclusivity of LGBT in Church are but two of these. However, the greater use of the laity in ministry is, we hope, likely to prove easier to implement.
We should end by saying that Lay Anglicana has, of course, no official position in the Church. The website, which aims to draw together lay and clerical contributors alike to discuss the Anglican Communion, was set up in Autumn 2010. It currently has about 10,000 hits a month, and several regular and occasional contributors to the blog. We know of no other online organisation which represents views on the relationship between Anglican laity and the clergy in this way.