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‘That Was The Church That Was’: Review by Richard Ashby


For those not old enough to remember, ‘That Was the Week That Was’  was a satirical television programme of the 1960s, starring David Frost, Millicent Martin, Bernard Levin and Willie Rushton who used their considerable talent and insight to comprehensively demolish the pretensions of the ‘establishment’ as part of the satire boom which also produced the still surviving magazine ‘Private Eye’. As such it was part of the movement which destroyed ‘deference’, one of the elements which has changed the Church of England over the past half century and more as identified by the authors of this entertaining book and which has contributed to its current existential crisis, where lack of direction, different visions of the future, ham-fisted leadership and illusory expectations combine both to alienate the Church from the people and offer most people nothing which will sustain them outside the material world in which most live these days.


Andrew Brown is a distinguished journalist, well known for his writings in both the Guardian and the Spectator, not the most likely of bedfellows. His press column in the Church Times is where I turn first when I get my weekly copy. Linda Woodhead joined the staff of a theological college and was so appalled by what she saw that, in order to understand what was happening, she retrained as a sociologist of religion and now spends a lot of time telling the Church things it doesn’t want to hear and getting scarce thanks for it.


One of the temptations when reading a book of joint authorship is to try and discern who has written what. Here it’s quite difficult. What unites the book is a rather racy style which may well emanate from the journalist in Andrew Brown. The exposure of the outrageous, hypocritical and mendacious behaviour of church people, both lay and ordained, alongside the cool statistical and sociological analysis makes for an entertaining romp while at the same time painting a picture of a Church in deep and probably terminal crisis. Indeed it’s really necessary to read this book twice, in order to separate out the two elements and in order to appreciate the depth to which the Church has sunk.


The book has much in common with ‘A Church at War’ by Stephen Bates, published in 2004, covering much of the same ground, in particular the disastrous Lambeth Conference of 1998. Conservative evangelicals, amply funded and prepared for by US money and manpower simply out gunned and out manoeuvred the more liberal and inclusive Anglicanism of previous generations when, with their African and third world allies, largely bankrolled by US dollars, they pushed through the notorious resolution Lambeth 1.10, which, along with ‘Issues’ has become the touchstone of ‘orthodoxy’ amongst too many Anglican leaders across the worldwide Communion. The farcical scene of the Revd Richard Kirker being exorcised of his homosexuality by an African Bishop only underlined the sense that this had been a coordinated and authorised lynching of gay people within the church.


It’s a pity though that the book seems to stop not much after the installation and the first year or so of Justin Welby’s episcopate. There is nothing about the Church’s reaction to civil partnerships or same sex marriage and the quadruple lock it engineered in parliament to save it from the embarrassment of having to itself prohibit same sex marriage. There is nothing about the disastrous ‘Valentine’s Day Statement’ or indeed the cack-handed reactions of Bishops to the fact of same sex marriage amongst the clergy and their indifference to the laity who wish for the Church’s blessing on their own marriages.


Surrounding this is much anecdote and informed gossip, which makes the book such a romp. (I would love to know what led to the first printing having to be pulped because of the threat of libel action. Just who is it who didn’t want their words or actions disclosed?) The hypocrisy of too many church people, the don’t ask don’t tell culture which gradually became an authorised intrusion into the private lives of honourable men and women, and the compromised and temporising behaviour of too many closeted gay men (and they are almost all men) both clerical and lay was and is a betrayal of all that Anglicanism and especially the Church of England is supposed to stand for.


Two Archbishops particularly get it in the neck. George Carey, chosen by Mrs Thatcher because she liked the alternative even less, presided and connived at Lambeth 1998. Having already decreed that there would never be another bishop like David Jenkins, he presided over an ineffectual so called ‘Decade of Evangelism’ which sent clergy scurrying around for good ideas to get more bums on seats and had no effect whatsoever. Rowan Williams, a good man, perhaps the most spiritual Archbishop the Church has produced for at least two generations and more, chose to put unity before truth, betrayed his friend and his principles. Having failed to prevent exactly the division he feared he retired with relief from the fray, leaving behind an even more fractured, unhappy and divided church; the sacrifice of his friends being to no avail in the end after all.


Alongside this is perhaps the more interesting though more difficult discussion of what went wrong. Church attendance has been declining for the past century and more and no one seems to know what to do about it. Linda Woodhead identifies four linked causes, all basically related to the changes in the society in which the Church is supposed to witness.


Firstly is the decline of deference or paternalism; the idea that there is someone above you who deserves your respect and to whom you instinctively defer. In a society where the individual is king and everyone’s views are equal to everyone else’s, authority figures lose their place. This can be seen in politics and other areas of civic life as well as in the Church. Moreover, against the moralising trend of much of the Church, western peoples have made up their own minds on the issues of the day such as divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, same sex relationships and abortion and the strictures of clerics have had little effect. Linda Woodhead seems to ascribe this decline to societal changes in the 1970s and the onset of Thatcherism and the politics of self-interest. I think it goes back much further, to at least the First World War and the bloody sacrifice of the working class soldiery by their political and military masters. Such attitudes also flourished after the trauma of World War 2 was abating; teenagers, teddy boys and then the satire movement all helped. Who can forget the scornful laughter when the judge asked the jury at the Lady Chatterley trial whether this was a book which their wives and servants should read? Or indeed Alan Bennett’s sermon in Beyond the Fringe, text ‘Now Esau was an hairy man but Jacob was a smooth man’ and the immortal line ‘Life is like a tin of sardines, you are always looking for the key’. This was rather too near the bone to be dismissed lightly.


Secondly, the Church has become increasingly cut off from wider society. The parson is no longer the ‘person’. The more the belief of the religious becomes separated from the society in which it finds itself the more such belief and practice is alien to the majority. Over the years much of the church has become more strident in what it demands in the way of belief. This is particularly evident in churches following the conservative evangelical line and amongst some traditional Anglo Catholics too. Holy Trinity Brompton with its enormously popular (though debatably effective in the longer term) Alpha franchise is an example where commitment and the direct debit might appeal to certain elements amongst the white middle classes and students, but which many find alienating precisely because of its requirement to sign up to its own creeds.


The third element which Linda identifies is ‘theology’ which she defines as ‘how you explain what you are doing, both to yourself and to others’. She doesn’t go into much detail, preferring to say that this is the least important of the three elements she identifies. But I think that this is crucial and I wonder why Linda relegates it to the also ran. My personal view is that it is impossible to be a conventional Christian in the 21st century and that agnosticism is the only honest approach. There is a dichotomy there which should be acknowledged. Scripture and the prayer book contain some lovely language and I believe that Choral Evensong is one of the highest art forms yet devised. But I have to ask what does it mean? Do we honestly believe what the words of the Creed mean? (I always think that it better to sing the Creed as the words take one naturally over the more difficult bits) What is salvation? Indeed what is ‘sin’ apart from a fairly obvious attempt at social control inherent in the Judeo/Christian heritage? In an age lacking deference how can God be the big man in the sky, usually angry and always judgemental? How on earth does anyone of any sensibility believe that the death of Christ on the cross is designed to avert God’s anger from us? ‘Cosmic child abuse’ said Steve Chalke, who instantly became a persona non grata amongst his fellow evangelicals. I almost fell out with a friend on Facebook recently who, attending Evensong for the first time in years, queried why the violent words of a certain psalm set for the day could be used. My attempts to explain history and context failed. Now my friend is the same age as me and has been through the same sort of educational process, but he honestly ‘doesn’t get it’, and indeed why should he?


Fourthly and perhaps as importantly as all the others, is the loss of women. Women have kept the church going, they always have. Away from the high politics of the men it was always the women who kept the show on the road, not only keeping the place clean, organising fetes and sales of work but also in working for the church as missionaries, church workers, teachers, in health care, with children and the vulnerable. They also prayed.


Two things happened. Firstly the welfare state, for which the church had argued and largely supported, removed many of these roles from church affiliation and were secularised. (The same happened with religious orders too of course.) Alongside this, as more and more women entered the workplace so the time and opportunity they might have had for extensive voluntary work became more limited.


Secondly was the battle over women priests and then bishops. The polarization this brought within the Church is difficult to underestimate. While polling showed that there were large majorities within the laity for the ordination of women, for years the activists in synod blocked any movement. While women came to participate fully in social and civic life; so the Church often cruelly and cynically kept them marginalised. The denigration of women was sometimes extreme. I remember being in a disreputable gay bar near London Bridge Station twenty years ago listening to leather clad gay clergy describe their ordained fellow women clergy with contempt and hatred. The result is that the church has lost the next generation of women. Those who remain have failed to bring their daughters and grand-daughters with them. The consequences are extremely serious.


Alongside this is the clericalisation of the Church and the exclusion of the laity from any sort of meaningful participation in the governance of the church by the undemocratic and unrepresentative structures of the Synod. We now have a caste of Bishops lacking vision and indeed theology, whose main aim seems to be to keep the lid on the boiling pot. They cannot act either prophetically or in any progressive way, fearful of leadership because of their fear of the strident opposition of the small minority, and who thus fail to do what they know to be right.


What is to be done? The authors describe some of the attempts made over the years, all to no avail. Carey’s ‘Decade of Evangelism’ along with what they describe as his ‘voodoo’ management changes seems only to be replicated in our current decade by the arch-managerialist Justin Welby. There is no evidence at all that importing discredited management techniques from the oil industry coupled with the development plans which every congregation and diocese is clearly under pressure to devise and implement, will have any effect whatever. The inevitable failure will only further the alienation of the faithful. Furthermore there is no evidence that plans to massively increase the number of the ordained will have anything like the effect desired either, whatever that is.


The majority of the English now have no religion. This doesn’t mean that concepts of spirituality have disappeared. The authors make the very good point that practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and Tai Chi are now part of everyday life. Numbers studying religion in schools have rocketed. It is organised religion to which so many are hostile and it is organised religion, as shown in our own Church of England which has lost the English people. Those who would do something about it seem to be planning to turn the Church into a sort of well managed HTB sect. In doing so they will kill it off forever.



That Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People. Andrew Brown and Linda Woodhead. Bloomsbury 2016

“The Church of England still seemed an essential part of Englishness, and even of the British state, when Mrs Thatcher was elected in 1979. The decades which followed saw a seismic shift in the foundations of the C of E, leading to the loss of more than half its members and much of its influence. In England today religion has become a toxic brand, and Anglicanism something done by other people. How did this happen? Is there any way back?”



I am indebted to Richard Ashby for this review. He was formerly Head of Libraries and Archives in Bath and North East Somerset. He now lives outside Chichester and is active in the Cathedral there. He is a lifelong member of the Church of England but has spent much of that life clinging on by his fingertips.



Separate Beds And Separate Tables For The Anglican Communion?


Copyright: sutsaiy via Shutterstock. Image ID: 309126473

If asked to describe through an image what it has hitherto meant to be a member of the Anglican Communion, most of us would pick, I think, not the compass rose used by the ACO (from the four corners of the earth) but a version of The Last Supper, at which all of its members are welcome to sit together at The Lord’s Table.

Yesterday, the still new-ish Archbishop of Canterbury proposed a revolution, as he invited the 37 primates to a ‘gathering’ in Canterbury from 11-16 January, 1916. No decennial summer outing, this, but a gathering scheduled between Epiphany and Candlemas, when daylight is at its shortest, and the ground may be under snow. The pathetic fallacy is not always fallacious (hence its ubiquitous use in literature), and the timing is surely a theatrical device designed to set a sombre mood of ‘bleak mid-winter’.

In brief, Archbishop Justin is suggesting that we cease to fall over backwards to hold on to the Anglican Communion as a force seeking to hold everything revolving around the centre (which, had the Anglican Covenant been passed, would have acted as the reference point). Instead, we could aim to be a force seeking to spread out into the world, according to broadly agreed principles (based on the understanding of the Bible by each Church in the Communion). {The Archbishop does not describe it thus, this is my interpretation}.



The immediate press and public reaction is well summarised on Thinking Anglicans. The meeting is to be an opportunity for a “review of the structures of the Anglican Communion.” In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the invitation was “not a surprise,” and nor was Welby’s stated desire to review the structures of the communion. “He’s been quite open about that from early on.”

 The Guardian ran an article under the headline, “Archbishop of Canterbury urges breakup of divided Anglican Communion,” to which Lambeth Palace responded by tweeting “Just to clarify, the Archbishop of Canterbury is NOT planning to break up the Anglican Communion.” The headline has since been changed. The Guardian reported that the archbishop would propose that the worldwide grouping be reorganized “as a group of churches that are all linked to Canterbury but no longer necessarily to each other.” It quoted an unnamed Lambeth Palace source as saying the proposal would allow Welby to maintain relations with both liberal and conservative churches in the Communion, which have been deeply divided over the issue of human sexuality.


Lay Anglicana Interpretation

Bearing in mind that I am writing only 24 hours after the news broke, and reserve the right to change my mind later…

  • This is almost entirely good news for the liberal catholic churches in the Communion.
  • All those Churches who self-identify as Anglican will be invited to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, should they so wish, but would still be able to call themselves Anglican if they did not so wish; the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury would derive solely from his occupation of the post and buildings which were the first so to call themselves, and the bilateral relations between the Church of England and each other Anglican Church would be fluid and determined solely by the two parties.
  • The Anglican Communion would no longer be recognisable as we currently know it: not only are separate bedrooms and beds being talked of by the archbishop’s spokesman, but separate tables would logically follow, and some would eat in the dining room, some in the kitchen, some off their knees in the drawing room, and some on the verandah – as in my illustration.
  • This loose federation  would allow like-minded Anglicans across the world to form loose alliances – not necessarily de jure, but de facto.
  • The Church of England would finally be enabled to consider issues like the admittance of LGBT people to the priesthood and episcopate, and same sex marriages, without feeling constrained by the views of GAFCON etc.
  • Members of The Episcopal Church have expressed disquiet over the invitation of ACNA to at least part of the 2016 conference. As the Anglican Communion is presently constituted, this is indeed odd: only TEC officially represents Anglicans from the US. For the sake of consistency, it is to be hoped that Archbishop Justin has also invited AMiE, which represents a similar threat to the hegemony of the Church of England. But, if the looser, federated, Anglican Communion is accepted, any number of groups might spring up which describe themselves as Anglican – it would not matter to the rest because we would not be obliged to agree detailed doctrine with each other. Breakaway groups would be allowed to form ad infinitum.
  • The loose federation envisaged by Archbishop Justin is not a new idea – so far as I can see it represents a return to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886/8 which includes”The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.” This consummation, devoutly to be wished, has long been called for by Lay Anglicana, most recently in November 2013.



What could possibly go wrong?

I leave it to you, dear readers, to fill in this section. The archbishop’s spokesman is said to regard a successful outcome as by no means guaranteed. Luckily, the Archbishop of Canterbury spends much of his day in prayer.




To Their Credit – How Churches Are Helping The UK’s Poorest: by Nicole Holgate


 First, A Brief History of the Church Housing Trust

Prebendary Wilson Carlile founded the Church Army in 1882 and Church Army Housing in 1924, thereby starting a great tradition which continues to this day through the combined forces of Church Housing Trust and Riverside ECHG (formerly English Churches Housing Group).

The Church Army soon became the largest lay society in the Church of England and Wilson Carlile himself was centrally involved in its social work for the homeless, often spending nights on the Thames Embankment in winter in order to care for those sleeping rough. Because of this work, many found the courage to try life in a hostel from where they could move on to better lives.

Church Army Housing transferred its hostels to Church Housing Association in 1977 and in 1984 Church Housing Trust was founded to raise charitable funds to support the hostels and the trust became a registered charity in 1991. In the same year Church Housing Association merged with Baptist Housing Association and United Reformed Church Housing Association to become English Churches Housing Group, and Church Housing Trust remained an independent charity raising funds for their work with the homeless. More recently ECHG became part of the Riverside Group and continues to be one of the leading providers of supported housing for homeless people.

Mission Statement

Church Housing Trust takes positive action to provide better facilities, opportunities and futures for homeless people whilst promoting a wider national understanding of the difficulties faced by those in housing need. It raises funds nationally for the establishment, equipping, organising, furnishing and maintenance of housing, hostel and other accommodation. Church Housing Trust reaches the elderly, students, single people, families and the physically and mentally ill who are unable by reason of poverty, sickness, age or youth to make adequate provision for themselves.

Nicole Holgate:”To Their Credit – How Churches Are Helping The UK’s Poorest”

The Church’s commitment to helping the most vulnerable members of society has never been more evident than over the past few years, as the need for food banks, the use of payday loans, and the increase of homelessness and rough sleeping have seen council and government-funded services stretched to their limits.


Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has become a fierce advocate for the creation of a fairer financial system, encouraging churches and individual Christians to add their voices or actions. This came after the news that one million UK households took out payday and doorstep loans with APRs of up to 6,000% every month because they had no access to bank loans.


Archbishop Welby’s criticism of Wonga and other payday lenders helped fuel a campaign to rein in the sector. Now that the Financial Conduct Authority has imposed limits on payday loans, the archbishop has turned his attention to mainstream banks and their role in society. Most recently, accusing the financial services industry of ignoring poor communities, he called on banks to put people before profit.


He added that banks should make sure all sections of society have access to bank accounts and free cash machines which, following the clampdown on payday lending, would give lower-income families much-needed access to financial services .  Between 1989 and 2012, 7,500 banks and building society branches were closed , two-thirds of these in deprived areas.


The Church of England now runs the  website ‘To your credit’, which advises individuals and churches how to get the most out of their banking, including the management of debts and ongoing bill costs. The Church Urban Fund has also launched a series of ‘poverty briefings’ to ensure that each diocese has the information available to form a tailored action plan to help those in the most financial trouble.


Last summer, inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on responsible lending, songwriter and music producer Charles Bailey approached the Church of England with the idea for a rap. The song, called ‘We need a union on the streets’ , tells the stories of young people who get into debt because of payday loans with high interest rates and aims to highlight credit unions as a better way to borrow.

While benefit cuts and stalled wages continue to have an adverse effect on those on the bottom rung of society, the Church has come forward as a spokesman on their behalf.  This puts the Church in the firing line of Members of Parliament and the media, who have all been quick to react, not always positively, and this seems likely to increase rather than decrease in the near future. However, some good ground has also been made, even if it may take a while before the wider community finally gets the point.


Nicole Holgate, Communications Officer


Church Housing Trust


Wikichurch: The Next Big Thing?


It is possible that the Church of England is about to invent Wikichurch.

It seems highly unlikely that it is intending to do so but, as we know from the law of unintended consequences, the original drafters of a programme do not necessarily long retain their control of its development.

What makes this extraordinary proposition a possibility? Well, having kept the aspirations of the laity successfully repressed for a couple of millennia, the Church is now so desperate about its prospects for survival that it seems to have concluded that only the laity can save the day.

I happen to agree, but then I would, wouldn’t I?


What would Wikichurch amount to? Well, here is Wikipedia’s definition of wiki:

A wiki  is an application… which allows collaborative modification, extension, or deletion of its content and structure…While a wiki is a type of content management system, it differs from a blog or most other such systems in that the content is created without any defined owner or leader, and wikis have little implicit structure, allowing structure to emerge according to the needs of the users… Wikis can serve many different purposes both public and private, including knowledge management, notetaking, community websites and intranetsWard Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki software, WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as “the simplest online database that could possibly work”. “Wiki“… is a Hawaiian word meaning “quick”.

My evidence for this sweeping statement? Well, I am gradually ploughing through the vast mountain of paper that has been produced for the General Synod which begins on Monday. ‘Re-imagining Ministry’ is one of the aims of the quinquennium (see GS Misc 1025 and 1054 for starters). And Archbishop Justin began his archiepiscopate by declaring: we live in a time of revolutions.

On almost every page of the papers for this General Synod is a reference to placing greater reliance on the contribution of lay people, and GS 1979, for example, talks of ‘an aspiration to see numbers of volunteer lay ministers of different kinds grow by 48% (to over 17,500)’ (para 45). The numbers of paid lay ministers would grow by 69% to over 2,000.

Let us round this up to 20,000 lay ministers operating in the Church of England. Wow! I can see alarmists heading for the hills, but sometimes it is worth taking a risk. And the risk is what exactly? Lay ministers can be presumed all to be followers of Christ. Whether or not they have any financial reward, they are sticking their head over the parapet and risking criticism by their peers (congregations, fellow lay ministers and clergy) if they get it wrong. Some may be more gifted than others, but it must be a working presumption that they are well-intentioned.

What do you say? About time we made full use of the whole Body of Christ? Or doomed to failure?

“Between the probable and proved there yawns
A gap. Afraid to jump, we stand absurd,
Then see behind us sink the ground and, worse,
Our very standpoint crumbling. Desperate dawns
Our only hope: to leap into the Word
That opens up the shuttered universe.”
Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

Let us pray…

The ABC And The ABC Of The Anglican Communion

Rockefeller Centre NYC Atlas

Rockefeller Centre NYC Atlas

The Vortex

 Anyone who saw the Archbishop of Canterbury carry a wooden cross through the streets of Dover on Good Friday can be in little doubt that he feels genuine anguish at the agony the Anglican Communion perceives itself to be in, apparently incapable of resolution. On the one hand are the GAFCON countries, as convinced of the moral rectitude of their own position as any Pharisee; on the other are the rest of us, who find Galatians a better guide to Christianity than Leviticus.

On 4 April, somewhat unfortunately juxtaposed with his visit to The Episcopal Church, Archbishop Justin took part in a phone-in on LBC:

A subsequent report in the Daily Telegraph said:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested he is powerless to provide blessings for gay marriages because to do so would split the global Anglican Church.  In an interview with The Telegraph, the Most Rev Justin Welby says that the Church had probably caused “great harm” to homosexuals in the past — but there was not always a “huge amount” that could be done now to rectify the situation. Although indicating that he was sympathetic to calls for the Church to publicly honour gay relationships, the Archbishop says that it is “impossible” for some followers in Africa to support homosexuality. In the interview, the leader of the Anglican Church, which has 77 million followers globally, speaks movingly of the persecution faced by Christians in parts of the world. He indicates that the Church must not take a step that would cut off these groups, most of them in the third world, however much this angers parts of society in Britain…“I do believe passionately that unity is something we have to maintain,” the Archbishop said privately soon afterwards. “I may be wrong, but I also believe that to take a step that means that people who desperately need our help — and who we can help — can’t take it, feel in their own culture that it is impossible to be helped by us, is something that we can’t easily do.”
Interview in the Telegraph, 18 Apr 2014

Possibilities for Reconciliation

Church leaders, when faced with an intractable situation, are given to dumping the whole problem on God, and asking Him to to sort things out. Sometimes, though, one senses that God’s response is to decline to accept, and kindly but firmly return the problem to us. One reason may be that he wants us to come up with a third possibility, to think again. For one thing:

“If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family – anything you like – at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.”
C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Send for a child of five

Imagine that you are faced with a set of impenetrably difficult assembly instructions from IKEA. What do you do? Well, for Groucho Marx the solution was:

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five. 

A child of five might suggest the following:

The Anglican Communion is not a Church, it is a loose association of Christian churches which were set up by the Church of England in British colonies around the world two or three hundred years ago and which have since developed through the work of the Holy Spirit and according to the characteristics of the country in which they were implanted. Rather as the Queen has the courtesy title of ‘Head of the Commonwealth’, the Archbishop of Canterbury of the day is primus inter pares of all Anglican bishops. He is not the ‘head of the Anglican Church’, for there is no such thing.

What’s the problem? Each province is entitled, and has always been entitled, to interpret Christianity in the way that seems right in their own circumstances.

Er, that’s it.

Peaceful co-existence or mutually assured destruction

The Churches of the Anglican Communion are essentially faced with this choice. Either we try and follow Krushchev’s policy introduced in 1956 at the 20th Congress of the CPSU or those of us on the sidelines, powerless to halt our leaders from taking us into the vortex through their intransigence, are in little doubt that the alternative is mutually assured destruction. And all for the want of a child of five.

Send Not To Know For Whom The Bell Tolls


Protestors demonstrate against Nigeria's anti-gay law.‘A far-off country of which we know little’, was the shameful excuse of Chamberlain as to why Britain should not go to war with Germany over the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But we are no longer islands, entire of ourselves (if we ever were) thanks to modern mass communications.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock without access to the internet  for the last week you will know that Nigeria has just passed a law which:

outlaws “gay clubs, societies and organizations, their sustenance, processions and meetings,” or anyone who helps them, imposing jail time of up to 10 years for offenders.

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria, but the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act… means ...anyone married to someone of the same sex can get up to 14 years. The law was met with condemnation from the United States, Britain and Canada, with US Secretary of State John Kerry saying it “dangerously restricts freedom” of expression and association of all Nigerians. And UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said: “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.”

And what crime is it that is being targeted? What canon of jurisprudence is offended?  As A E Housman wrote bitterly (but, as he thought, satirically):

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they're taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.


In the face of this offence against natural justice, Christians will ask what the Anglican Church in Nigeria has to say. After all, even if you accept that homosexual physicality is a sin (which most of us don’t), Christ was happy to sup with all. The depressing answer is:

Aloysius Agbo, the Anglican Bishop of Nsukka said Tuesday, “Every Christian in Nigeria is happy about the development … especially when he did that contrary to the pressure from the western world.” Being gay is “unnatural, unwise and ungodly,” he said. “If our forefathers have done that [same-sex marriage], many of us would not have been born.” On Monday, the Presbyterian Prelate Emele Mba Uka also praised the new law. “Homosexuality as one of the greatest human deviant behaviours has been with man from earliest times. Man has fought it for a long time but it refuses to die,” he said. Uka equated gay sex with “incest, rape and adultery” and said that such a “perverse sexual lifestyles attract God’s punishment” which is “hell.”


And what has the Anglican Communion to say on the subject, in particular the Archbishops of Canterbury and York? Nothing. Nothing at all. Pin-drop silence.

Now, Nigerian Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ. So it behoves us to allow for their interpretation of Christianity to differ from ours. BUT the Nigerians apparently do not play by the same rules, they feel perfectly self-righteous in creating a civil law to make it illegal to, as it were, have red hair, and despise those who disagree with this interpretation of the words of Our Lord.

1,101 people have signed a petition asking our Church leaders to give a lead, and make it clear that this legislation does not conform with Christianity. There has been no statement from Cantuar or Ebor. It is possible that we are running into the same problems that Cantuar had over the Anglican Covenant (in which there was a strong undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ attitudes). A liberal, ‘bien-pensant’ Westerner finds it very difficult to take issue with someone who is black: it is a problem of inverted racism.  And in the case of Archbishop Justin, this is doubly hard because he has spent so much time in Nigeria, and his experiences when captured led, in part, to his work in reconciliation. He is in a genuinely difficult position.

But ++Justin has asked members of the Church of England to undertake a concerted programme of ‘conscious evangelism’. Sorry, but I doubt that I am alone in lacking enthusiasm for this task at a time when our Church refuses to stand up for our Christian beliefs.



Savi Hensman has written a clear-headed and incisive piece for Ekklesia about the situation which I urge you to read. She says:

In this context, some overseas religious leaders may fear that anything they say may be twisted to try to show that local defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are following a western agenda, hence making matters worse. However silence allows untruths to take hold, including the notion that God is on the side of those who hurt and vilify those made in the Divine image.

Truth is of vital importance in the New Testament (e.g. John 8). No human can be confident that he or she knows the whole truth. But sharing what one knows or believes to be true on important matters, and listening to others’ responses in order to adjust or build on this, can help to create a world where destructive forms of untruth are exposed.

Church leaders could perhaps point out that human rights are by no means a purely western concept – indeed the United Nations and international human rights organisations criticise European and North American as well as other governments when they act in cruel and unjust ways. In this interconnected world, not challenging injustice in another country may result in bolstering the power and prestige of those mistreating others. This is not about ‘the West’ standing in judgement but Christians everywhere being ready to come to the aid of the needy and oppressed.

How did Niemoller’s poem go again?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Photograph courtesy of LGBTQ Nation

Archbishop Justin in Guatemala – first report by Leonardo Ricardo

Aug 12, 2013

PART TWO — GUATEMALA – JUSTIN WELBY, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY: ¨Scripture, Reason and Tradition or we will destroy the Church¨

¨We work with what we have at hand¨  
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury said the following things yesterday at the Cathedral of Santiago in Guatemala City, Central America  (at least this is what I understood him to say during his sermon which was given in English and perfectly translated into Spanish – Leonardo/Len):

*  We must physically take action to love our enemies.  We must reach out to our enemies and interact with them.  We must ¨buy their bread¨ which will start a relationship so we can talk to one another to build a normal/everyday-like relationship.  (He used an example of two different groups in Africa who had been murdering each other for years and the priests were biter and tired full of anger/hate).  We must open the doors of resentments (justified resentments or not) and let them fade away.  We must offer kindness and love even in the face of desperation and terror….

Please follow this link to read the rest of the post.

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

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
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