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Reflection on Archbishop Justin’s Enthronement Sermon

Archbishop Justin preached movingly on the courage and confidence we are going to need in order to move forward: ‘Out of our own traditions and into the waves‘. I offer some additional thoughts about walking on water.

Queen Victoria and the Empress Eugenie together attended the opera. After the national anthems had been played, the French empress took her seat, having first looked behind her to ensure that the chair was in place. The Empress of India, on the other hand, needed no such backward glance, subconsciously knowing there must be a seat ready: there always had been, and there always would be.

St Peter sets off, as confidently as Queen Victoria, to walk across the water towards Jesus. All goes well for the first few steps until his conscious mind remembers the law of gravity and he notices that there is a strong wind blowing: he loses his ‘blessed assurance’ and begins to sink.

All the gospels tell the story of Jesus walking on the water after the miracle of the loaves of fishes, but it is only in Matthew that we have the story about Peter. For Matthew, Peter’s problem was not only that he took his eyes off Jesus, but that he wanted proof of the presence of Christ, and so left the boat in the first place. The message is not “If he had enough faith, he could have walked on the water,” just as the message to us is not “If we had enough faith, we could overcome all our problems in spectacular ways.” This interpretation is wrong in that it identifies faith with spectacular exceptions to the warp and woof of our ordinary days, days that are all subject to the laws of physics and biology. This is wrong because when our fantasies of overcoming this web are shattered by the realities of accident, disease, aging, and circumstance and we begin to sink, this view encourages us to feel guilt because of our “lack of faith.” Faith is not being able to walk on the water − only God can do that − but daring to believe, in the face of all the evidence, that God is with us in the boat, made real in the community of faith as it makes its way through the storm, battered by the waves.
Eugene Boring Matthew, The New Interpreters’ Bible

The word nave comes from the Latin word navis meaning a boat or ship – God is on board with us.
Peter should have believed Jesus and stayed in the boat. I know we love the walking on water bit, the brave heroic action. And there are times when our faith means taking these kind of risks, and relying on God to make all the difference. But there are more times when faith requires the risk of taking Jesus at his word. Trusting him. In fair weather, storms, calm waters and the choppy seas where our lives feel in danger.
Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes

St Peter should have remembered Nicely-Nicely Johnson’s testimony at the Salvation Army meeting:

As I laughed at those passengers to heaven
A great big wave came and washed me over board!
And as I sank and I hollered “someone save me!”
That’s the moment I woke up, thank the Lord.
And I said to myself, sit down,
sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat!
Said to myself sit down, sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat
Sit down, sit down, sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat!
Nicely-Nicely Johnson’s testimony in ‘Guys and Dolls’, 1950

The sea itself in biblical thought denotes the forces of chaos, held at bay in the creative act of God, but always threatening … Whereas the modern mind thinks of defying the law of gravity, the biblical mind thinks of the one who overcomes the power of chaos…From the Epic of Gilgamesh onward, it was a commonplace of ancient thought that no human being could perform this feat, reserved for deity. In biblical thought, only God walks on the sea. Precisely in the midst of this symmetrically constructed story, Jesus does what only God can do, and speaks with the voice of God, “I am.”
Eugene Boring Matthew, The New Interpreters’ Bible

What is the secret of serene confidence in the existence of the Almighty? As Immanuel Kant almost said in ‘The Critique of Pure Reason’, there are two ways of knowing anything: working it out by pure logic, and knowing something intuitively. For now, I suggest we take it on trust and see where the Holy Spirit and our new Archbishop of Canterbury may lead us.

Lift up our souls, O Lord,
Above the weary round of harassing thoughts,
to your eternal presence.
Lift up our minds
to the pure, bright, serene
atmosphere of your presence,
that we may breathe freely,
and rest there in your love.
From there, surrounded by your peace,
may we return to do or to bear
whatever shall best please you,
O blessed Lord.
Edward Pusey (1800-1882)

D H Lawrence wrote in 1928:

‘The moon perhaps has shrunk a little. One has been forced to learn about orbits, eclipses, relative distances, craters and so on. The crescent at evening still startles the soul with its delicate flashing, but the mind works automatically and says ‘Ah, she is in her first quarter…the earth’s shadow is over her’. And willy-nilly the intrusion of the mental processes dims the brilliance, the magic of the first perception. It is the same with all things. The sheer delight of a child’s perception is based on wonder; and, deny it as we may, knowledge and wonder counteract one another. You cannot help feeling wonder in an ant busily tugging at a straw. Even the real scientist works in a sense of wonder.
Now, hymns live and glisten in the depths of man’s consciousness in undimmed wonder because they have not been subjected to any criticism or analysis…so that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is just as good to me now as when I was a child. I am eternally grateful for the wonder with which all religious teaching filled my childhood. ‘O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’, we sang. I don’t know what this is exactly. But if you don’t think about it – and why should you?- it has a magic. In me, it still produces a sense of splendour. When I was about 7, a teacher tried to harrow us about the crucifixion. She kept saying ‘aren’t you sorry for Jesus?’ and most of the children wept. I never did care about the crucifixion, yet the wonder of it penetrated very deep in me.’
Hymns in a Man’s Life.

To have a simple faith is not necessarily the mark of a simple person: it may be the product of years of thought and prayer. The 18th century Quakers who emigrated to the Americas hoped to build a new life in a new world. They would face many challenges, but they rejoiced in God and in his presence as they often sang in the Appalachian mountains:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

The illustration is by Alessandro Allori via Wikimedia

Peace-keeping In The Church of England

Do you recognise the following passage?


  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,


It is of course the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations. It may be more familiar to me than it is to you because I read International Relations at university over forty years ago. I have always rather wondered why, as I cannot claim to have used the degree at all since then (though I suppose it was useful as a means of ‘training the brain’).

Lambeth Palace

In the last few weeks, the language of the Charter (and other UN founding documents) seems to be permeating the statements emerging from Lambeth Palace. As Archbishop Justin said last week on his blog:

The journey of transforming conflict is a long and hard one (by the way that is how I understand reconciliation in the church: not agreement, but conflict transformed from being destructive). It is also always a necessary one – and essential if our preaching of the good news of Jesus is to have any credibility. It does not mean compromise – that was clear in what we heard at Coventry – but it does mean allowing the Spirit of God to warm our hearts towards those whom we too easily classify as to be hated.

I just give this as an example – there are many others.  Two people who specialise in the resolution of conflict are among the first of his public appointments.  And we remember his interview with Giles Fraser when he talked about perception being the means of squaring the circle.


Peaceful Co-existence

The Soviet Union promulgated a system of ‘peaceful co-existence‘ between the capitalist and the communist worlds. This was a good deal less than brotherly love, but it was also a means of avoiding direct conflict. (As we know, the USSR did not feel prevented from indulging in indirect conflict, as in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Cuba and so on).

The Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be proposing a system of ‘live and let live’, which is slightly warmer than ‘peaceful co-existence’ and holds out the hope of supping together at the Eucharist.

No doubt we will hear a more detailed plan in due course – in the meanwhile, it is to be hoped that someone at ‘head office’ is looking through the theoretical and practical experience of the United Nations in its peace-keeping role. Does the Church of England have anything to learn here?

Since 1948, the UN has helped end conflicts and foster reconciliation by conducting successful peacekeeping operations in dozens of countries, including Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique, Namibia, Tajikistan, and Timor-Leste. UN peacekeeping has also made a real difference in other places with recently completed or on-going operations such as Sierra Leone, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Timor-Leste, Liberia, Haiti and Kosovo. By providing basic security guarantees and responding to crises, these UN operations have supported political transitions and helped buttress fragile new state institutions. They have helped countries to close the chapter of conflict and open a path to normal development, even if major peacebuilding challenges remain.  In other instances, however, UN peacekeeping – and the response by the international community as a whole – have been challenged and found wanting, for instance in Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. These setbacks provided important lessons for the international community when deciding how and when to deploy and support UN peacekeeping as a tool to restore and maintain international peace and security.

Each UN peacekeeping force has its own acronym – UNFICYP, (United Nations Forces In Cyprus), UNRWA, etc. Perhaps we could have a UNFICOE  (United Nations Forces In the Church of England)? Or perhaps, Cantuar would prefer to do his own thing. We could have COEFICOE. Of course you could ask a splendid chap like the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to head the force. Then you would have KOFICOEFICOE.  Rolls trippingly off the tongue, doesn’t it?

The Revd Jo Bailey Wells: A New Chaplain To A New Cantuar


On 28 February  Archbishop Justin Welby announced the appointment of the Reverend Dr Jo Bailey Wells as his new Chaplain, based at Lambeth Palace. Her primary focus will be for the spiritual life at Lambeth Palace and for supporting the Archbishop’s pastoral and liturgical ministry.

She was one of the keynote speakers at the Faith In Conflict conference held a few days earlier:

Jo is currently consultant to Continuing Indaba at the Anglican Communion Office in London. Until recently she was Director of the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, responsible for training some of the brightest and best young priests for Anglican and Episcopal church leadership across America. During her seven years there, the House developed a unique reputation for working across the fractured ecclesial divides in the wake of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson. Jo is also theological consultant to the Archbishop of Sudan, supporting the work of over a dozen theological colleges and bible schools in South Sudan and Sudan, and teaching there regularly herself. In the work of nurturing future leaders – whether in the USA or in the Sudans – Jo has worked to grow in individuals an ambitious vision to stretch them beyond their personal, political or tribal concerns.Jo’s academic interests focus on the Old Testament, seeking to enable its literature and theology to be enjoyed more fully within the church. Handling diversity and managing conflict turn out to be hot issues in ancient as well as modern times – and Jo looks forward to exploring such connections, challenges and opportunities at this conference.

Jo has taught and spoken widely on four continents, and published two books — God’s Holy People (2000) and a commentary on Isaiah (2006) — as well as various articles. Previous appointments include Dean of Clare College, Cambridge as well as lecturer in Old Testament at Ridley Hall, Cambridge.

Wikipedia says:

 Ridley Hall teaching tends towards an evangelical theology. It is one of four Church of England theological colleges (the others being St John’s College, Nottingham, Trinity College, Bristol and Cranmer Hall in Durham) which self-identify as “Open Evangelical“.

The terse prose of Crockford’s describes her career as follows:

WELLS, Jo Bailey. b 1965. CCC Cam BA87 MA90 Minnesota Univ MA90 St Jo Coll Dur BA92 PhD97. Cranmer Hall Dur. d 95 p 96. Chapl Clare Coll Cam 95-98; Dean 98-01; Perm to Offic Nor 99-04; Tutor Ridley Hall Cam 01-05; Dir Angl Studies Duke Div Sch N Carolina USA 05-12. [Address] St Martin’s Place, London

In a way, the two most interesting facts in this summary are that she was born in 1965 and ordained deacon in 1995, at the age of thirty. In other words, she is part of the first generation of women priests who were able to become priests in the normal course of events, just as a man would, the enabling measure having been passed in 1992. However, judging from the difficulties experienced by the Revd Maggi Dawn, it seems likely that she would nevertheless have faced prejudice in some quarters.

As in the case of the posts about bishops, I have compiled this from published sources, as you can see. However, I have also talked to someone who knew her well in Cambridge where he tells me she was much liked and regarded as ‘a good thing’. He also told me something which must be generally known, but I have not seen mentioned in the coverage so far. She is married to The Revd Dr Sam Wells, who also spoke at the Faith in Conflict conference and is described as:

Sam is Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields and Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at King’s College, London. St Martin’s is a unique parish called to a three-dimensional congregational, commercial, and charitable vocation in the heart of London; it is equally well known for its work with the homeless, its role in the arts, its café, and its social advocacy, respectively. Sam studied at Oxford, Edinburgh, and Durham. His Ph.D. was entitled How the Church Performs Jesus’ Story. He was ordained in 1991 and has served parishes in Newcastle, Cambridge, and Norwich…Sam was for seven years Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, North Carolina. During this time he was closely involved in the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, which seeks reconciliation between victims, perpetrators and wider society, particularly in relation to violent crimes. The book Living Without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence, which Sam wrote with Marcia A. Owen, arose out of this ministry. Sam has also written sixteen other books, including studies of ethics as improvisation, how worship shapes character, and more popular works such as Power and Passion and What Anglicans Believe. His work often focuses on bringing people of different social locations into deeply enriching face-to-face relationships in the context of fear and faith. He is currently writing a book on good and less good ways of engaging with poverty.

It is of course never easy to work out what someone who comes from an ‘Open Evangelical’ background believes on the LGBT front. However, it is interesting  to note that Jo Bailey Wells’ husband’s church has this to say on its website: We are listed as a ‘welcoming and open’ congregation by Changing Attitude, meaning we are open and fully accepting to all, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or background.

Mr and Mrs Wells may not share this inclusive approach – many couples have widely differing opinions on all sorts of things. But, let us hope it is a straw in the wind…

And maybe someone out there can tell us?

It is worth reading reaction at The Episcopal Cafe to this appointment. Several people who know her are strongly in favour of the appointment. Others feel that her reaction to the appointment of gay bishops in The Episcopal Church may indicate a prejudice on her part. My ‘leap in the dark hunch’ is that Jo Bailey Wells is an exceptionally clever woman, with a proven gift for conflict resolution. Her reactions may be intellectual rather than emotive: they are certainly likely to be nuanced. If she can help the Church of England – and Anglican Communion – to see the issue in a more nuanced way, that in itself would be an outcome devoutly to be wished.


A New Moses And A New Exodus?


When Christians think about travelling for God, we usually think in terms of individual pilgrimage. Maggi Dawn’s ‘The Accidental Pilgrim‘ describes it in terms of the labyrinth on the book jacket: we travel without being certain that we will ever reach the centre, but different travellers on the same road, and the same travellers at different times, will all find something different. And it is possible to make this journey of discovery, to ‘travel for God’, without leaving one’s room. Pilgrimage is an individual journey, whether or not it is taken in the company of others, like Chaucer’s. And it is also, surely, a voluntary journey: or can you think of anyone going on a pilgrimage because they have been told to do so by another human being?


The second book of the Old Testament, on the other hand, tells how the Israelites, led by Moses, left a life of slavery in Egypt to journey together through the wilderness to Mount Sinai, where Yahweh promised them the land of Canaan in return for their faithfulness. There is a sense in which this was a mass pilgrimage, but the exodus (literally ‘going out’) was not a matter of individual prompting by God, but of the whole community together making this arduous journey for the sake of the hive as a whole, not for the sake of the individual bees that went to make up the hive.

Although the clip from ‘The Ten Commandments‘ above is rather toe-curling to us, it does illustrate very well both the scale of the undertaking and the sense of joint effort and belonging.


While individual pilgrimages do not need authority figures, it is inconceivable that the Israelites would ever have got out of Egypt in exodus without a strong and charismatic leader. Indeed a version of Exodus, written in Old English (Anglo-Saxon) brings a traditional “heroic style” to its biblical subject-matter, with pervasive military imagery and Moses as a general. And Moses must have had the qualities of both a political leader and a military leader. But ultimately it was through his ability to communicate the word of God, and lead the people in God’s name that validated him as a leader: seeing that the people were uncontrollable, Moses went to the entry of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me.” (Exodus 32.36)

A New Moses and a New Exodus?

On Monday February 4th, Bishop Justin Welby began work as our new Archbishop of Canterbury. He has expressed dismay at the internal disputes which have threatened to cripple the Church of England in recent years. I would add that the wrangling over the Anglican Covenant nearly did that to the Anglican Communion as a whole. Occasionally abstruse points of theology, combined with an inward-looking emphasis on procedural policy, have at times meant that we have become a Body of Christ determined, rather than spreading the good news of the gospel, to spend our time fussing like an aging valetudinarian over the workings of our own Body.

We need to look outwards and onwards. We need even to remember the Israelites and consider the good of the hive as well as the good of the bee. We need to stop obsessing about gender, remember why we exist as a Church and what it means to be Christian. Bishop Justin said recently to Ruth Gledhill ‘I know I will disappoint a lot of people in this job. The thing about the Church is that we are so human…I’m just a very ordinary Christian‘.

This reminds me strongly, and encouragingly, of Prince Caspian:

“Welcome, Prince,’ said Aslan. ‘Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?’

I – I don’t think I do, Sir,’ said Caspian…

Good,’ said Aslan. ‘If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”

― C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia

I am sure Moses felt just the same as Prince Caspian…

Action-Centred Leadership

Those of you who attended management courses in the 1980s will remember ‘Action-Centred Leadership‘. Those of you who did not may, however, remember those Army recruiting advertisements that used to appear in the Sunday newspapers where you were invited to manoeuvre an imaginary barrel over a stream with the help of a couple of sticks and a few men. If you arrived at what was called ‘the Directing Staff Solution’, you were reckoned to be officer material.

Time may prove me wrong but, from the glint in (Arch)bishop Justin’s eye, I think the Church of England may be in for a spot of Action-Centred Leadership.

Mr Bean or Moses

Bishop Justin has been teasingly compared to Mr Bean. I suggest that a more telling comparison may be with Clark Kent. As you will remember, Mr Kent’s alter ego is exactly what the Church may need. I do hope there is a handy telephone kiosk at Lambeth Palace.

This piece is based on a post for Digidisciple, ‘Travelling for God’ of 5 February 2013.

Letter to Bishop Justin on the Laity in the Church of England

I have just sent the following message to Bishop Justin Welby:


Dear Bishop Justin,

I am taking advantage of the few days remaining, before you assume your archiepiscopal role, to send you some thoughts on the place of the laity. I do so with some trepidation, but in the hope that you will accept these ideas as offered with all due diffidence. I have been encouraged to write by your own background as a lay leader at Holy Trinity Brompton, and the fact that you have made several references to consultation with lay as well as clerical leaders. I write as an individual, but also as the editor of the Lay Anglicana website, and have sought  and drawn on the comments of our members.

I have genuinely written in humility, but it would read tediously like the utterances of Uriah Heep were I to reiterate this in every sentence so I hope you will forgive the occasional trenchancy.

1)     Church of England Hierarchy

a)     Although Cranmer’s prayer book has been continually updated as the prescribed liturgy of the Church of England, many attitudes of the priesthood to the laity (and vice versa) still stem from those of the sixteenth century: in particular there is a lingering sense that priests are the educated, Brahminical class and the laity are either landowning squires, shopkeepers or serfs – all perfectly useful in their way  but not worthy of admission to the chancel, except by formal invitation to the communion rail.

b)    This is reflected in the 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‘ (essentially unchanged in Canon C1).

c)     As one of our members put it, the laity are ‘done to’ by their clergy: in other words, ministry is perceived as strictly a one-way process, with only the incumbent authorised to minister.

d)    The catechism of the 1795 (1979) prayer book of The Episcopal Church has: ‘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.’

e)     We seek a similar ‘priesthood of all believers’ practised in the Church of England.


2)     Church of England Polity

a)     Are our bishops still ‘princes of the church’ and, if so, should our episcopate model itself on an absolute monarchy (by divine right), Magna Carta or some other point in English political history? The Church seems not yet to have fully accepted the 1689 Bill of Rights, with its introduction of election to parliament, since the electoral base of deanery synods is so very narrow.

b)    Two anecdotes: the previous Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, visited our parish church and said to the churchwarden, ‘welcome to St Peter’s!’, to which the churchwarden replied, ‘well, I am sitting in my pew’. If the church does indeed belong to the bishop (undoubtedly the legal position), it is curious, is it not (and unique) that it is the churchwarden and other lay parishioners who bear sole financial responsibility for its upkeep?

c)     Secondly, the current +Winton, Tim Dakin, 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‘.  Again, the legality of this statement is unquestionable, but we hope and trust that Bishop Tim will avoid the risk of delivering diocesan governance, like the ten commandments, from on high.

d)    The vote on women bishops vividly demonstrated the un-representative nature of the laity in the House of Laity (probably because of the narrowness of the electoral base). The move to unseat the Chair seems, from the outside looking in, a curiously oblique attempt to solve this problem.


3)     Ideas For The Future

a)     To coin a phrase, ‘we’re all in this together’. Instead of emphasising the chancel steps, we need to bring together the clergy and laity (whether Marys, Marthas or a mixture of the two).

b)    I ask you to consider making greater use of the laity to lead services of the word. This might involve borrowing some ideas from the Presbyterians and Congregationalists, but it should be possible to adapt these to our episcopal model.

i)      Most of the existing schemes, from Licensed Lay Ministers to the less stringent system in Ely Diocese, require lengthy formal training .

ii)    Yet there are existing provisions for churchwardens to take services with no training at all in leading worship.

iii)  Could one not extrapolate from this to adopt nationwide, for example, the system of  Lay Elders in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich or the Lay Worship Leaders in Andover Deanery, Winchester Diocese (of which I was one)?

iv)  By definition, many of those willing and able to fill the role of ‘lay elders’ are retired or approaching retirement. 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).

v)    The matter is urgent in order to compensate for the increasing amalgamation of parishes to form mega-benefices. 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.

vi)  The alternative, proposed for example by Michael Turnbull and Donald McFadyen in ‘The state of the Church and the Church of the State’ (eg pp149-153) of a minster model where congregations move from church to church each Sunday is, I suggest, difficult to introduce because the general concept of neighbourhood is not so broad.    It may be worth noting here the ‘ten cell’ system used in Marxist regimes: ten residences formed one unit, the largest group in which it was thought people would feel a strong sense of belonging.

c)     It is not my suggestion that the Church should attempt to dragoon into leading worship those who prefer to sit in the back pew and take a passive role. Undue stress on ‘lay leadership’ could risk a failure to celebrate the unsung sacraments such as tea-and-coffee after church, an important community glue for many. There is surely room for both.

d)    It has been suggested that voting for General Synod should move to a system of  “One Member: One Vote” by Paul Bagshaw. If it were possible to introduce this, the vote by the House of Laity would be more likely to reflect the overall views of ‘the people in the pews’.

I close by sending you the good wishes and prayers of the contributors to, and members of, Lay Anglicana.

The illustration is a Petition by Eli Whitney to the Selectmen of Westborough, Massachusetts, showing a sample of his penmanship. Westborough native Whitney went on to be a highly successful inventor. Date 1785-1791  Source Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database via Wikimedia

Decisions, Decisions, For The Next Cantuar

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.

Reconsidering Thomas Becket: Wendy Dackson

Reconsidering Thomas Becket

We have just passed the church’s annual commemoration of Archbishop Thomas Becket, murdered (and often said to be ‘martyred’) in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. Many hold Becket as a brave and holy man who died for his principles in the course of standing up to a tyrannical monarch in the form of Henry II. There are some indisputable facts here—Henry was at best a bit of a head-case, and Thomas died as a result of his conflict with the king. Henry made dubious claims concerning his authority over the English church, invoking ‘ancestral customs’ to support his right to make key ecclesiastical appointments (without which power we might never have heard of Becket), and to benefit materially from the productivity of lands owned by the church. And whether Thomas had been an excellent, or execrable, archbishop, it is certainly tragic that his brains got knocked out on the floor of his cathedral. It is doubtful whether Henry II ever truly uttered the words, ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ Although it is nearly certain that four of his knights, in an attempt to curry royal favour, proceeded to Canterbury with no good intentions towards Becket, it was probably not a direct royal order that resulted in one of history’s most famous ecclesiastical murders.

John Guy, in his new biography, Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, brings much of the Becket saga to life, and does much to balance the hagiography that surrounds the existing literature concerning the Archbishop. For that much, I am thankful. However, it does not erase my main concern from a social/public theology standpoint: the commemoration and veneration of Thomas Becket is not an unqualified good for the church today.

Had Thomas Becket not been a high-profile murder victim, we would not give him a second thought today. He would be one of many undistinguished ecclesiastical figures. Guy’s biography points out that Becket had almost no theological training prior to a sort of crash course of directed self-study undertaken after his appointment to Canterbury, nor was he more than conventionally pious for his time prior to his elevation. He felt no distinct calling to a holy life, and Guy (along with earlier analysts of the ‘Becket event’, David Knowles and William Urry) that Becket’s eventual acceptance of the archiepiscopate was more a career move than a vocation (he was reluctantly in deacon’s orders prior to being made Archbishop, and even that was more a job requirement than a sacred longing). He left us no substantial work of theology, as had his predecessor Anselm, no devotional exercises or liturgical contributions. While he did nothing to merit a death as messy as the one he encountered, from a theological standpoint, Becket did nothing much that was noteworthy.
So, what is left of Becket’s life that is worthy of theological reflection? Certainly, it is his resistance of a secular ruler in favour of the rights and privileges of the church that lies at the heart of our admiration. It is undeniable that it took a great deal of courage (even, as Guy says, to the point where it ‘smacks of arrogance’) for Thomas to tell Henry that he did not have to answer to the king for actions carried out in the performance of his archiepiscopal functions. That Becket showed courage in travelling out of Britain to appeal to the Pope concerning his disputes with the king is also beyond dispute. One gives to Caesar what rightly belongs to Caesar, and to God (through his earthly Vicar) what belongs to God.

The big question for social or public theology today, and what gives me almost all of my unease concerning the Becket phenomenon, is where the dividing line between the spiritual and the secular lies. In 12th century England, for commoners not in holy orders, it was fairly clear—just about all of life was in the secular sphere (even if their feudal lord was an abbot or bishop, most of their business was of a secular nature). For royalty and church dignitaries, the lines were significantly fuzzy. Henry could claim, because of his ‘ancestral customs’ concerning his authority over the church, that most if not all church activity was subject to secular law. Thomas claimed the opposite—if one were a priest, monk, bishop or abbot, all of one’s activities were subject to canon law. And this became, if not the major, the most important issue for deciding whether continued commemoration of the Becket phenomenon is good for the church today.

As Guy points out, the crux was how to deal with criminous clerks (priests, deacons, and others in minor orders, such as subdeacons and acolytes) who were convicted of a serious crime against the king’s peace, such as murder, robbery, larceny, or rape, for which, if the offender were a layman and not a clerk, the punishment would be death or mutilation. According to Henry, the royal judges had complained that more than a hundred homicides by those who claimed exemption from trial in the secular courts had gone unpunished on account of their holy orders. Church courts did not inflict capital or corporal punishments “lest in man the image of God should be deformed,” preferring instead to impose unfrocking, imprisonment in a bishop’s prison, confinement to a monastery, penances, or pilgrimages, either alone or in various combinations.

Guy points out that such exemption (known as ‘benefit of clergy’) was a relative novelty. It was not stricken from English law until 1827, and I believe that this is at least in part a residual effect of honouring Becket’s having died for his ‘principles’. Guy also says that church courts were not always a ‘soft option’, but the only case which he cites in which a harsher penalty was imposed than might have been given in a secular court was one in which Henry took a special interest, and where Becket presided. Furthermore, it was often the case that a cleric’s ‘first offense’ was completely unpunished in the ecclesiastical courts. Thus, it is hardly convincing that the church, left to its own devices, was a particularly strict disciplinarian when it came to clerical misconduct.

The question this raises from a public theology standpoint is whether this is (in the words of retired Canon Theologian of Manchester, John Atherton) ‘for the good of the city’, as opposed to merely protecting the status (financial and social) of the institutional church. By contemporary standards, it is evident that this ‘principle’ for which Thomas was willing to defy the king is unacceptable. We can hardly ignore the scandals in the Roman Catholic Church by which priests accused of serious sexual misconduct have been moved from parish to parish—and even to different dioceses—because they were not to be tried under secular law, but were only subjected to ecclesiastical discipline. Not only has this harmed many innocent individuals (and Guy even tells of instances when Becket himself covered up the precise crimes for which we now criticize the church for disciplining ‘in house’, so to speak), but the clergy misconduct and the lack of transparency surrounding it have harmed the credibility of the church more generally.

Becket, of course, had no control over how the story of his life would be handled after his murder, how he would be honoured, and how the principles on which he staked his survival would play out. We do, and to commemorate Becket without questioning the less-savoury consequences is not in keeping with good contemporary public theology. After what I have said, I am sure that people wonder whether I have anything good to say about the Becket phenomenon in terms of public theology. The answer is yes, and it may seem surprising on two counts—first, that I say it at all. But secondly, the actual moment, and principal actor, that I find redemptive may raise an eyebrow or two. The public penance of Henry II for his role in the affair is perhaps the most positive social outcome in the saga. Guy says that Henry could not beat the cult-like following Becket’s memory was gaining, so he had no political choice but to join it. That may be, as Eliot said in ‘Murder in the Cathedral’, yet one more instance of doing ‘the right thing for the wrong reason.’ This instance used the church to give a public forum to call the secular ruler to account—a liturgical ritual in which the king could be seen by the people to have been in the wrong (at least in his actions and their consequences, if not fully in the underlying motivations). This is far less messy than open revolution, as liturgy and ritual are, in one sense, a way of acting out some of our most intense (and sometimes, most intensely dark) human desires and impulses, but in a limited, controlled setting. Some eight and a bit centuries later, the recently retired Archbishop Rowan Williams claimed this role for the church, most notably in the aftermath London 2011 riots. The actions were not excused, but they were put into a context where they could be publicly and safely dealt with. This is contemporary public theology at its best.

I do not think that Thomas Becket was wrong to stand up for his principles—but I do think we have much to answer for if we only admire him for that, and do not examine the principles for which he was willing to die, and make some contemporary judgment as to whether this is something we should continue to hold dear. All theological advances stem from asking two questions. The first is ‘What is enduring about the text or issue under discussion?’ The second is its shadow, ‘What is now problematic about this?’ The Becket phenomenon is a particularly dramatic case of having failed to ask this latter question.

The illustration is a frieze depicting the murder of Thomas Becket in Antwerpener Schnitzaltar in der Kirche St. Marien zu Waase (St Mary’s Church Antwerp) photographed in August 2009 by Karl-Heinz Meurer (–Charlie1965nrw) via Wikimedia

The Welby Chronicles – Part the Fourth

Lay Anglicana Claims World Scoop

The following story appears on page 11 of today’s Jewish Chronicle and is to be syndicated to other papers worldwide.

Ostrich feathers in Bishop’s family
The Jewish Chronicle
23 Nov 2012

THE NEXT Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at last knows the identity of his Jewish paternal relations, hitherto shrouded in mystery. It has emerged that his grandfather Bernard was one of four brothers named Weiler, who came to London from…read more…

This is the text I submitted (more or less the same, but I had deliberately left vague what kind of crash it was, as it might have been ‘the feather crash’ of 1914. Otherwise no complaints about the sub-editor’s tweaks- who knew it should be ‘chief rabbi’ and not ‘Chief Rabbi’?)

“The next Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at last knows the identity of his Jewish paternal relations, hitherto shrouded in mystery. It has been discovered that his grandfather Bernard was one of four Weiler brothers who came to London from Germany in the 1880s and became prosperous ostrich feather merchants. Bernard changed his name to Welby at the outbreak of the first world war, presumably because of anti-German sentiment, but his brothers continued to be known as Weiler.

Bishop Justin is not himself Jewish since his mother was a Gentile, but his father, Gavin, paternal grandparents and their known antecedents  were all part of a nexus of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie moving between London, New York and South Africa, dealing in ostrich feathers and diamonds. The son of the eldest Weiler brother, Siegfried,  married the grand-daughter of Anton Dunkelsbühler, who once employed Ernest Oppenheimer.   Anton’s daughter Fanny married Ernest Josephthal, son of the founder of the New York banking dynasty.

Bernard Weiler/Welby is said to have lost his money in ‘the crash’ and died in 1930. Although aged only nineteen, his son Gavin was put on a boat with £5 in his pocket and sent off to New York to restore the family fortunes. The fact that he did so reasonably successfully suggests that he may have had help on arrival from his Jewish cousins. For the next twenty years he worked in import/export, largely in liquor.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the (first among equals) head of the Anglican Communion, numbering 85 million, as well as Primate of the Church of England. It is hoped that this newly discovered background will help revivify the Anglican Jewish Commission; at the very least it will give him a talking-point next time he meets the Chief Rabbi.”


The rather charming cartoon which illustrates this is, as you can see, by James Whitworth, and remains the copyright of the Jewish Chronicle. Please do not copy without their permission.

I would like to point out that I did not take a fee for this article.

Thought for the Second Sunday before Advent: Revolutionary Change

There is only so much you can do with Elastoplast or duct tape and pretending that if things are unpleasant or unwelcome they don’t exist. I make no apologies for using an image from the Tarot to illustrate today’s readings, particularly the gospel, but if this offends you please read no further.

In two days time, General Synod will vote on whether to recognise the 21st century by admitting women to the episcopate. And next spring a new Archbishop of Canterbury will be enthroned. Make no mistake, both these events will change the Church of England. It is my hope and my opinion that both changes will be for the better, but so far we have seen only the velvet glove of Bishop Justin Welby – if you ask those who have negotiated with him, either over oil or in the middle of the African bush, I imagine they would assure you that the iron hand is definitely there underneath.

Wikipedia describes the meaning of the card as follows:

A variety of explanations for the images depicted on the card have been attempted. For example, it may be a reference to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, where God destroys a tower built by mankind to reach Heaven. Alternatively, the Harrowing of Hell was a frequent subject in late medieval liturgical drama, and Hell could be depicted as a great gate knocked asunder by Jesus Christ, with accompanying pyrotechnics.

In this manuscript picture of the Harrowing of Hell, Jesus forces open the fiery tower gate of Hell to free the virtuous dead from Limbo. The enactment of this scene in liturgical drama may be one source of the image of the Tower.

To some, it symbolizes failure, ruin and catastrophe. Many differing meanings are attributed to the card:

  • To others, the Tower represents the paradigms constructed by the ego, the sum total of all schema that the mind constructs to understand the universe. The Tower is struck by lightning when reality does not conform to expectation..Life is self-correcting. Either [people] must make changes in their own lives, or the changes will be made for them.
  • [Are we]  holding on to false ideas or pretences; a new approach to thinking about the problem is needed. [We are]advised to think outside the box… It may be time… to re-examine belief structures, ideologies, and paradigms … The card may also point toward seeking education or higher knowledge.
  • Others believe that the Tower represents dualism, and the smashing of dualism into its component parts, in preparation for renewal that does not come from reified, entrenched concepts. The Ivory Tower as a parallel image comes to mind, with all its good parts and its bad parts.


This all sounds like very good advice from my pew in the Church – how does it seem from where you are sitting?

Two hymns:

And thou wilt bring the young green corn, the young green corn for ever singing…

And Laurence Housman’s

Father eternal, Ruler of creation,
Spirit of life, which moved ere form was made;
Through the thick darkness covering every nation,
Light to man’s blindness, O be Thou our aid:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.


Races and peoples, lo! we stand divided,
And sharing not our griefs, no joy can share;
By wars and tumults love is mocked, derided,
His conquering cross no kingdom wills to bear:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.


Envious of heart, blind eyed, with tongues confounded,
Nation by nation still goes unforgiven;
In wrath and fear, by jealousies surrounded,
Building proud towers which shall not reach to heaven:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.
How shall we love Thee, holy, hidden Being,
If we love not the world which Thou hast made?
O give us brother love for better seeing
Thy world made flesh, and in a manger laid:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

The Chronicles of the Welbys (part the third)

You are perhaps wondering why I illustrate today’s chapter with a picture of the Queen of Spain wearing a head-dress of ostrich plumes in 1820? Well, there is a perfectly sensible answer, but you will have to wait until further down the page to find out.

Today we are launching into the story of Bernard Welby, and I had hoped to bring you my hypothesis, of which I had grown rather fond, that he was the descendant of Katherine Welby, daughter of the Rt Revd Thomas Earle Welby, in turn the son of Sir William Earle Welby, the second baronet. In St Helena she had married Saul Solomon, an Anglican Jew who was the nephew of the great liberal political reformer in South Africa. Their descendants live on as the Welby-Solomons today. However, in the course of gathering further material to adduce in support of this lovely romance, I stumbled instead on the truth. And the truth, in its own way, is just as strange and romantic as my hypothesis.

Bernard Welby, formerly Weiler, 1867-1930

Bernard Welby was born in about 1867 in Germany. He was one of four brothers who came to London: Siegfried Hermann (1857-1935), Max (1865-1927), Bernard (1867-1930), & Ernest (1870-). All four became ostrich feather merchants. It seems  that Siegfried came first and established the business, and was then joined by Max and Bernard, who arrived together in 1886 (the year that Siegfried was naturalised British). To begin with, they both lived with their brother at 21 Warwick Road, North Paddington. They were not exactly struggling, the 1891 census shows that they had two live-in servants.  On 4 July 1893, Bernard and Max became naturalised British citizens.

In 1898, Bernard is on a ship bound for Cape Town, presumably in search of ostrich feathers. He is not in the 1901 census, so it may be he spent some time furthering the business of Weiler Bros in general while he was there. By 1909, Ernest leaves the family firm. This is also the year that Bernard marries Edith James, in the first quarter of 1909. They have two children, Peggy Kathleen in late 1909, followed by ‘Bernard G’ (ie Gavin) in 1910. Edith was born in about 1886 in Finsbury Park, and although her name sounds rather Anglo-Saxon, Bernard describes them both as ‘Hebrew’ on a ship’s passenger list.

On 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany and on 25 September, 1914 (in what is surely a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc)  the following notice appeared in THE London Gazette:

I, BERNARD WELBY, heretofore called or known by the name of “Bernard Weiler,” of “Ivycot,” Maxwell-road, Northwood, in the county of Middlesex, and of 16 and 17, Devonshire square, Bishopsgate, E.C., Ostrich Feather Merchant, Hereby give public notice that I have renounced and abandoned the use of my surname of “Weiler,” and in lieu thereof have assumed and adopted the surname of “Welby,” and such change is formally declared and evidenced by a. deed poll under my hand and seal dated the 22nd day of September, 1914, and enrolled in the Central Office of the Supreme Court of Judicature on the 23rd day of September, 1914.­ Dated the 23rd day of September, 1914. BERNARD WELBY.

Interlude for assessment

This seems a good moment to pause for breath and assess.  We have already found all the clues to the strands that had been suggested: Jewish, German, South African and the change of name to Welby. The only niggle that remains for me is whether the family came here, as suggested, to escape anti-Semitism. The period when the Weilers came to Britain was a relatively benign one for Jews in Germany itself, although pogroms began in Russia in 1881. Also, it must be admitted that anti-Semitism was generally prevalent in Britain at that stage – think of Fagin, Melmotte and the novels of John Buchan, whose villains are often Jewish.

This is an area which needs exploring in more depth than I can at present, but I found the following passage interesting, although it shows a conflicted attitude on the part of the Germans:

Anti-Semitism gained ground in Germany during the 19th century. Anti-Semitic libels were published everywhere, and the economic crisis of the early 19th century was blamed on the Jews. Thousands of Jews fled to Germany from the pogroms in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century – thus keeping up the level of German xenophobia. In a climate of economic crisis in Germany towards the end of the 19th century, Jewish bankers were blamed. The Jews were seen as evil and exploiting capitalists, and several anti-Semitic parties were founded. University teachers and other learned people also pleaded for anti-Semitism. In connection with the growth of modern nationalism and the motto of ‘one state, one nation’, the German author and philosopher Paul de Lagarde wrote, “I have long been convinced that Jewry constitutes the cancer in all of our life; as Jews, they are strangers in any European state and as such they are nothing but spreaders of decay.” Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory of the “superman” – Übermensch – as a race biologically and intellectually better shaped than others, was misused by anti-Semites, and later by the Nazis. Some Germans felt like a part of this race of superior human beings at the end of the 19th century.  “Scientific” race theories also surfaced as a new current in Europe and Germany in the 19th century. The Aryan myth came to play an important and terrible role during the Nazi era – including the idea of a special Germanic spirit and race that was superior to all else. In spite of the anti-Semitism, Jews were awarded legal equality in Prussia in 1859, and later in the rest of Germany. This, however, did not significantly alter the popularity of anti-Semitism.


Another area which you may like to explore further is the whole business of ostrich feathers and the luxury trade therein. Here I recommend a fascinating book by Sarah Stein called ‘Plumes, Ostrich Feathers, Jews and a Lost World of Global Commerce‘ – how’s that for a title. You can download it on Kindle as I did, quite reasonably.
Stein explains: ‘Nearly 1 million pounds of ostrich feathers, valued at £2.6 million, were exported from the Cape in 1912…over a 20 year period the value of Cape ostrich feathers had tripled’. She does not mention Weiler Bros, so they were presumably only minor players, but can you imagine what £2.6 million in 1912 would be in today’s money? It is hardly surprising that even minor players were doing so well for themselves. The market, however, was highly volatile. Stein goes on to explain: “some had lost their wealth once or twice over, particularly between 1886 and 1896, when shifts in fashion caused the value of ostrich feathers to plunge by 75 %…the mercurial feather market would ensure that in a few years time ostrich feathers would be nearly worthless, and many buyers would be deeply in debt.”
But to return to Bernard’s domestic life. In 1911, he was living comfortably at Ivycot, Maxwell Road, Northwood with his wife, two children and three live-in servants in a house of 8 rooms (bedrooms and reception rooms) . By 1913 he had moved to 54 Platts Lane, Hampstead, still a leafy street of solid villas.
However, (Arch)bishop Justin remembers his father Gavin telling him that Bernard lost all his money in ‘the crash’. The normal presumption would be that this the general crash of 1929.  But, given Bernard’s source of income this seems more likely to have been ‘the feather crash’ which, according to Stein, began in the late winter of 1914. In 1921 and 1926, Bernard put some pictures up for sale at Sotheby’s followed, five years later, by some  Oriental objets d’art.














There is not a great deal left to tell. Bernard and Edith moved to Torquay, where they lived at Dunalister, Torwood Gardens until Bernard’s death, on 5 February 1930, at the Trinity Nursing Home, Torquay. The cause of death was coronary thrombosis. Edith returned to London to live after Bernard’s death. And Gavin, father of our future Archbishop of Canterbury, set off to America to restore the family fortunes, which he successfully did.

The illustration is a portrait of Maria Josepha of Saxony, Queen of Spain (1803-1829) by Francesco Lacoma y Fontanet, downloaded from Wikimedia.

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