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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.



Training For Leadership In The Church Of England


Courtesy Upland Path Management:

Unless you have spent the last fortnight on a Pacific atoll, you will know that the Church has had what it no doubt believes to be A Bright Idea about how to improve the management skills of the next generation of Bishops and Deans. If you have not already done so, I urge you to read Psephizo’s blog post on the subject, which summarises the comments that have been made, as well as offering his own useful insight.

I had not thought to add my pennyworth. However, something that is glaringly obvious to me does not seem to have been mentioned, viz It Won’t Work!

Assuming you do not object to the idea of training bishops and deans as managers (which of course many do, but that is not the point of this post), there are three important characteristics of managers which the report does not address:

1. Managers are individuals, with individual strengths and weaknesses, and individual training needs.

2. Managers need practical training/coaching/equipping at the moment of need, not theoretically in advance.

2. Managers are part of a team – not every team member needs the same skills.


Identifying Future Leaders

Come off it! This is not a new idea – it has always been done, sometimes from the comfort of the Athenaeum, sometimes apparently in the gents at Church House. This is the way of the world, and the Green Report is not going to change that.

Equipping The Chosen For The Task

What is needed is helping those who have been chosen for leadership through these tried and tested methods to carry out their new role. Remember the Peter Principle?  The Church of England is about to conduct an experiment costing £2 million pounds which most of us expect simply to provide further evidence in support of this principle:

The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in his or her current role rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”

Not to mention ‘those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it’.

Reflect On Your Own Experience

For example, supposing you were not born wired up to a computer monitor, do you remember when you first realised this was a skill you needed to master if you were to remain effective in the workplace? I hope you did not go on ‘a computer course’, which taught everything from Ada Lovelace and Babbage up to COBOL. If so, I doubt whether you took much in. People learn best when they are being taught how to solve a particular problem they have encountered at a particular moment.

How To Train A Church Leader

Do not, I beg of you, on bended arthritic knee in case that helps, offer training to high fliers on the way up. Wait until they have arrived in post. Then offer tailor-made ‘equipping’ to help with situations as they arise (or even better, as they are identified on the horizon). For instance, we are all agreed that the future Bishop Libby Lane is going to face difficulties, simply because she is the first woman in this role and all eyes will be on her. I hope that she will make contact with one of the other female bishops in the Anglican Communion and ‘buddy up’ – this is likely to be the most effective form of support. I also hope she will be offered training support as and when she needs it – probably a short course of a week at a time, say, at one of the management colleges on specific issues faced by all managers.

Archbishop Justin Welby-The Road to Canterbury: Andrew Atherstone

ABCJ 001

Women Bishops

Welby found himself called upon [as Bishop of Durham] to bring reconciliation between hostile factions over the consecration of women as bishops. After years of acrimonious debate and numerous official reports, this development seemed increasingly certain.

As a result, some traditionalists within Durham diocese felt unable to remain within the Anglican family. Most of the congregation at St James the Great in Darlington decided to join the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established by Pope Benedict XVI to welcome former Anglicans into full communion with Rome while retaining some of their Anglican heritage. The first wave of departures, during Holy Week 2011, saw 10,000 lay people and 60 clergy from across England enter the Ordinariate. The Darlington group were part of the second wave at Lent 2012, led by their parish priest, Ian Grieves, who felt pushed out of Anglicanism by ‘this politically correct Church and liberal agenda which grinds on and on.’  Welby was ‘deeply sad’ at the congregation’s decision but was determined that this parting of friends would be without acrimony. He had known Grieves for 20 years since undertaking a training placement at St James while a student at Cranmer Hall, one of his early encounters with the catholic tradition, and praised his former supervisor as a ‘quite exceptional priest…a teacher of great gifts.’ In a poignant public act of friendship, Welby preached at the congregation’s final mass in February 2012, on the eve of their departure, announcing that ‘This is not a time for apologies. It is a time for repentance…Our repentance is for being part of a church which is in such a state. What do we do now? Bless, not curse.’

Welby’s personal commitment to the consecration of women bishops was not in doubt. In a pastoral letter to his diocese in July 2012 he made it clear that he held these views

as a result of careful studies of the scriptures, and examination of the tradition and ways in which the Church globally has grown into new forms of ministry over the two thousand years of its existence. They are not views gained simply from a pragmatic following of society around us, but are ones held in all conscience and with deep commitment.

At the same time he was ‘passionately committed’ to a theological understanding of the church as a redeemed fellowship, not a self-selecting group.

To put it in crude terms, because God has brought us together we are stuck with each other and we had better learn to do it the way God wants us to. That means in practice that we need to learn diversity without enmity, to love not only those with whom we agree but especially those with whom we do not agree.

Therefore he strongly supported the need for those in conscience theologically opposed to the ordination of women to be ensured a ‘proper place’ in the Church of England, though he acknowledged that it was ‘a difficult square to make into a circle’. In conversation with Giles Fraser, he spoke of ‘a circle with sharp bits on it’. The bishop told his diocesan synod that he personally would ‘spare no effort’ in seeking to find a way for the Church of England to demonstrate, not only in words, that it valued everyone. Behind the scenes he worked actively to bring together the most vocal participants in the debate by creating a safe space for ‘mutual listening’. The aim was ‘reconciliation’ which meant not unanimity or even broad agreement, ‘but the transformation of destructive conflict into constructive conflict’…

(p141) He urged support for the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure , as finally proposed, believing it to be ‘as good as we can get’. But he lamented the manner in which Anglicans had debated the issue with a ‘fire-fight of words, articles, letters and emails’, drawing parallels with the sectarian violence he had often witnessed in Africa and the Middle East. Followers of Christ, he proclaimed, should behave differently, as ‘reconciled reconcilers’ and a witness to the world. Returning to one of his favourite mottoes, Welby exhorted the Church of England to prove its commitment to ‘diversity in amity, not diversity in enmity’:

The Church is, above all, those who are drawn into being a new people by the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit. We are reconciled to God and to one another, not by our choice but by his. That is at the heart of our testimony to the gospel.

…This Anglican inclusivity was ‘a foundation stone for our mission in this country and the world more widely.

We cannot get trapped into believing that this is a zero-sum decision, where one person’s gain must be another’s loss. That is not a theology of grace.

Instead of going to war against one another over such issues, the bishop urged that Christians must

carry peace and grace as a treasure for the world. We must be those who live a better way; who carry that treasure visibly and distribute it lavishly.

This book is not the last word on the present Archbishop of Canterbury, nor does it purport to be. It is, however, an excellent preliminary biography written without knowing how the last chapters will be written. Much of the material has already appeared in the press, but Andrew Atherstone has collated well the information available publicly and he has also mined the parish magazines of Southam, where Justin Welby was parish priest. I value particularly the insight that these give into the essence of Archbishop Justin.

I thoroughly recommend this overview of a man who will play a decisive, perhaps historic, role in our beloved Church at a turning point in its history.
(I do feel somewhat like Spike Milligan – wot, no mention of my part in ++Justin’s meteoric rise? ;>) I can certainly claim to be the one to have discovered the link between him and the present Welby baronet, the nephew of Justin’s maternal great-uncle’s wife, and I think I was the first to publish on his Weiler antecedents, just beating the Telegraph to it in the Jewish Chronicle. Ah well, sic transit and all that…)

This extract begins on page 138.

Archbishop Justin Welby

The Road to Canterbury

Andrew Atherstone

published by Darton, Longman and Todd

978 0 232 52994 4
Paperback |160 pp |178 x 110 mm


Rowan Williams retired as Archbishop of Canterbury on 31 December 2012, and the Crown Nominations Commission elected the Rt Revd Justin Welby as his successor, enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral in March 2013.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has an international profile and influence. In this short, lively and informative book, Andrew Atherstone, explores Welby’s life from his formative years, education, and eleven year career in the oil industry to his ministry, as well as his theology and world view, beginning with a concise examination of his writings and how they inform his thinking.

Andrew Atherstone is tutor in History and Doctrine, and Latimer research fellow, at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and has published Andrew4widely on a number of Anglican personalities such as Charles Golightly (Oxford’s Protestant Spy, Paternoster, 2007), and George Carey.

‘Like The Wideness Of The Sea’ by Maggi Dawn

I looked forward to reading this book as I knew that the author of ‘The Accidental Pilgrim‘ would have written more than a moaning diatribe against the treatment of women in the Church of England. And indeed it is so –   Maggi Dawn’s prose is a sheer delight for anyone with an ear for language, and I can well understand why liturgy and new liturgical forms are a major part of her ministry. She draws you in with the (unconscious?*) Celtic spirituality of her first paragraph:

The beach is like a liminal space between daily life and the mystery of the deep; the ebb and flow of the tide measureing time in a powerful, dignified way. Like the repeating pattern of the Daily Offices, it seems the same and yet is never exactly the same as the day before; although it is changing constantly, those changes are almost imperceptible to the human eye…Here, then, I find a picture of God that is at once constant yet not static, dependably predictable while my own life unfolds year by year. Summer or winter, the water’s edge is a cathedral in the open spaces, a place…where I can think clearly and catch the whispers of God’s voice.

The book is divided into a brief history of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and the recent attempts to consecrate women bishops; some thoughts on the spirituality of waiting (“I wanted to explore the idea that we are mistakenly urging each other to wait for God while the possibility hangs in the air that God is waiting for us“); and lastly, an account of her own unfolding vocation.

Woven throughout the book are the threads of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and Faber’s hymn ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy‘ (see below), with metaphorical insights into the life of the Church which lift this book way above mere political polemic:

Waiting for a moment when the Church will move forward with one mind is, like the Mariner’s ship, an idea removed from reality; the truth is that as long as we wait for complete unity on one issue, we will remain immobilised and parched on the silent sea. We need, rather, to allow ourselves to look for some signs of life, even if they initially seem threatening, to lead us out of paralysis.

A dream deferred and the ‘process of reception
In a curious incidence of synchronicity, Maggi Dawn suggests the Church draw inspiration from the wisdom of Gamaliel to: move forward…[by] allowing for a provisional decision to be moved and acted upon (p.18).  Meanwhile on 8 February the Church of England announced that eight senior women clergy would be allowed observer status in the House of Bishops. This sounds very much like an attempt to emulate Gamaliel. So either Maggi or her publishers had a quiet word with the powers that be at Church House or the Church is on occasion capable of swift action when it sees the need. Either way, we must hope that this step leads to a concrete outcome.

Her personal story
For reasons of space, I won’t explore here (which the book does) the call to ministry. Instead, we must look at some of the pain that was inflicted on her by the institutional church. There are numerous examples, starting with the leaflet pushed under her  door in the first week of theological college: ‘A woman’s place is not at the altar but in the kitchen. Put on an apron, get back to where you belong’. This was 1993. She gives many examples of similar difficulties. You might be forgiven for thinking she must be exaggerating, but sadly I have only to point you to the 207 comments of the (favourable) review of this book on Archbishop Cranmer’s blog to show that nastiness of that kind is alive and well, twenty years later.

Reader, I wept. Much of what she said resonated only too clearly with me, although I did not even seek ordained ministry. I wondered why she used the word ‘disenable’, which my dictionary says is ‘very rare’, rather than ‘disabled.’ But she is right. The Church first of all enabled women’s ministry and then in some quarters has set about disabling those whom it previously enabled.  I hope and pray that the chink of light offered by the admittance of “the eight” may grow and illumine the hearts of us all.

Meanwhile, ‘Like the Wideness of the Sea’ also offers us hope and remains a delight to read, you could not wish for a more stimulating companion on the voyage.

* I think it perfectly likely that this echo is entirely conscious and deliberate, but I shall never know. Her book on pilgrimage is full of such teasing invitations to take diversionary paths and the reader is unable to decide whether the author is nudging us or not…

An Observation on Bishops’ Mitres

Apropos of nothing in particular, I was musing the other day, as you do, about the extraordinary lengths that bishops’ mitres go to these days. Or perhaps one should say, the extraordinary heights that they reach. Have you noticed? I do wonder how they keep them on in a high wind – is there some internal arrangement of rubber bands and combs that attach them to the head? This would work for a woman bishop, but except for our recent Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops I can think of do not have noticeably thick heads of hair. Perhaps they use superglue?

It was not always thus. In earlier days, a mitre was an altogether more modest form of headgear, only slightly loftier than a biretta. And of course Archbishops of Canterbury tend to build up  a wardrobe of mitres, so I could also find images of slightly smaller ones. I have only seen our new Archbishop of Canterbury in one mitre so far, and that is on the modest side.

But by way of comparison and contrast, may I offer you some random Archbishops of Canterbury from an earlier era? Of course, I realise there were exceptions so I include a leaning tower of Pisa of a mitre to save you the trouble of finding the exception. But I would be interested if anyone thinks I have got this wrong – maybe it is all in my fevered imagination?

Of course, if one were as unkind as one is impertinent, one might propose a new theory –  to rival Newton and Einstein? –

The height of an Anglican bishop’s mitre is in inverse proportion to the power that he actually wields.

Open Letter To The Bishop Of Birmingham: Chris Fewings

Dear Bishop David

I am writing this as an open letter from a half-faithful irregular worshipper delighted by the hospitality of various parishes in your diocese which welcome me as a fringe member. It will be published on the web. I would like to publish your reply but will only do so with your express written permission. However, I will let people know whether I receive a substantive reply.

I would like to thank you for your openness in calling a public meeting in Birmingham Cathedral just after the Synod vote on the gender of bishops. It was good to hear individual clergy and laity freely expressing their views and feelings.

In my view the ‘official’ Church of England (represented by Tim Stevens and anonymous press statements from Church House) is making a fool of itself on the subject of gay relationships, willing to sacrifice the innocence of gay couples who simply wish to celebrate their love openly and unequivocally before God and their community. (I welcome Tim Stevens’ strong statement on homophobia to the House of Lords, but in the current context it will not be heard.)

And yet these official pronouncements do not represent the range of opinions among Anglican clergy, laity and even bishops in this country. They are not even consistent with the known views of Rowan Williams. They show a woeful ignorance or ignoring of the history of marriage. The Bishops of Buckingham, Salisbury and Grantham have made their alternative views known, although to my knowledge among serving bishops only Alan Wilson has spoken out repeatedly, and Nicholas Holtam is the only serving diocesan to have raised his head above the parapet in recent years. Richard Harries assures us that others in the House of Bishops dissent but dare not speak their minds. What is stopping them?

In the past some de facto marriages (such as that between Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten) could flourish privately in a culture of secrecy. It may be that some gay bishops and others still see such secrecy as a protection against homophobia. In a society whose culture and legal framework has changed hugely since the bishops (and I) were growing up, to most people now secrecy seems like an undermining of loving commitment and an endorsement of homophobia. My impression is of a powerful lobby determined to create the public perception that the Church of England regards same-sex unions (however committed and long-term) to be at best second-rate or suitable only for non-Christians – and generally they are succeeding, as most non-Anglicans probably now assume this is how we all think.

I would like to hear every bishop tell his own story. How does each of you interpret scripture? Have your views of human sexuality changed over the last few decades, a period of intense study and re-evaluation of sex and gender issues in the fields of psychology, biblical studies, and cultural history? Could some bishops (of whatever orientation) tell us how they were called to celibacy in the service of Christ? How do they experience love and joy and pain in that context? Surely such stories would be a witness to love.

It seems to me that the silence of individual bishops promotes a simple message to those outside the churches: Christians oppose gay relationships. The nuances of stances within and between churches are lost. And opportunites to nurture life-long loving relationships (including those of many couples who are very active members of the Church of England) are missed. To be a locus of unity in the Anglican tradition surely implies acknowledging the diversity within that unity.

If silence is the best policy, are you free to explain why?

Wishing every joy of the last week of Epiphany as the light bursts into our world once again

Chris Fewings

The illustration is a statue of Bishop Charles Gore, the first Bishop of Birmingham, uploaded to Wikimedia by  oxyman

Men in Pink: The Church of England’s Gay Bishop Decision: Taylor Carey



One of the joys of the holidays is to wake up mid-way through the Today programme rather than at its opening six bleeps; the headline summary luxuriously accompanied by maternally-provided coffee and the gradual rediscovery of whatever book I fell asleep reading the night before.  Yesterday’s news that the church had lifted the moratorium on gay bishops thus proved the most effective alarm clock I’ve experienced in quite some time.

On 20th December 2012, the House of Bishops (the Episcopal portion of Synod responsible for church teaching) heard an interim report from a group set up in 2011 to consider ‘the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality’. The panel, chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, continues to consider a wide range of issues concerning civil partnerships, in the wake of a moratorium imposed on the elevation of homosexual clerics to the episcopate after conservatives threatened schism in 2011. One of its key reference points is the pastoral statement which the House of Bishops promulgated in 2005 in response to the Civil Partnership Act. The document decreed that, whilst homosexual clergy were free to enter into civil partnerships, the church’s teaching remained that ‘sexual relationships outside marriage, whether heterosexual or between people of the same sex, are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings’.  Therefore homosexual priests, denied the institution of marriage, were expected to remain celibate. Quite how this applied to bishops was left unspoken and unclear, not least due to a perception that the issue would be fatally weakening for an already fractured church.

The 2011 freeze on gay bishops effectively promulgated the already implicit doctrinal stance that civil partnerships – or even homosexuality more generally – were incompatible with episcopacy. The December announcement effectively marks a rejection of this tacitly accepted position in confirming that

‘the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate’.

In other words, the House of Bishops appear to have aligned themselves with the view that civil partnerships need not be a bar to the episcopate for homosexual clergy who wish to live a companioned life and enjoy a legally recognised relationship, albeit on the condition of continued celibacy. The standards imposed on priests across the church can now be applied to and expected of those who lead them. As the Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, stated:

‘The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate. The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline’.

Of course ‘the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics’ is, for homosexuals, far from clear. After considerable debate during the 1970s and 1980s, the House of Bishops produced Issues in Sexuality in 1991, which broadly affirmed the moral legitimacy of the homosexual orientation, whilst concomitantly opposing sexual intimacy outside of a heterosexual marital arrangement (see a useful discussion document here). But the dominance of anti-inclusive voices in the wake of the publication of Issues in Sexuality was made shockingly visible in 2003, when the Rev Dr Jeffrey John, besieged by a tirade conservative evangelical opposition, was forced to withdraw his candidacy for the bishopric of Reading. John, although living with a partner, remained faithful to the standards decreed in 1991; a fact that was well known in 2003. Yet the prospect of gay bishops quickly invoked ‘culture wars’ in the Church of England, fuelled by a language of mistrust which found an echo in the response of conservative evangelical groupings to yesterday’s announcement.

The mainstream media were quick to pick up on a narrative of injustice, inequality and exclusion. Giles Fraser’s valiant charge against the grotesque Lynette Burrows on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday PM (exchange begins at 18 minutes) made for amusing but also frustrating listening. The former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral is, in my opinion, correct to bemoan the church’s stance on homosexuality as a travesty – and to acknowledge that there is very little by way of sound theological argument against homosexual bishops – yet I can’t help but feel that we are seeking a scandal where there isn’t one. The House of Bishops hasn’t promulgated any further inequalities; it has actually lifted at least one – the exclusion of gay men from the episcopate.  I stand very much dissatisfied with the inequalities which remain – the exclusion of women, the continuing inequality between the enforced celibacy of homosexual clergy and the freedom of sexual expression of heterosexual clergy – but these have not been uniquely generated by the decision taken by the House of Bishops in December.  Indeed, yesterday’s announcement marks a cautious step in the right direction.

So where does that leave us? In the short term, pending further clarification from the House of Bishops, who are due to vote on the final report delivered by Sir Joseph Pilling later this year. But if the message emerging from yesterday marks a genuine change of direction, then prospects are looking up for a Rt Rev Dr Jeffrey John sometime soon. And, as we say a fond farewell to perhaps the most iconic and inspirational gay cleric the Anglican Communion has ever had, in the form of Gene Robinson, that might just constitute a ray of light appearing on the horizon.

The situation seems ripe for yet another reproduction of one of my favourite hymns by Donald MacLeod:

‘Courage, brother! Do not stumble,

though your path be dark as night;

there’s a star to guide the humble:

trust in God and do the right.

let the road be rough and dreary,

and its end far out of sight;

foot it bravely; strong or weary:

trust in God and do the right.’


The illustration is by Toby Melville courtesy of  Reuters, via The Guardian article by Riazat Butt on 29 July 2008

Church of England Bishops: Nigel Stock

Time for another bishop, I think.

Working group on new legislative proposals on women bishops announced 19 December 2012

The group includes members of all three houses of the General Synod – Bishops, Clergy and Laity – and a senior member of clergy who is no longer on the Synod. The members are: The Rt Rev Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich (chair)

The Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry,The Rt Rev James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester,The Rt Rev Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester,The Very Rev Vivienne Faull, Dean of York,The Ven Christine Hardman,The Rev Dr Rosemarie Mallett, Dr Philip Giddings, Dr Paula Gooder, Mrs Margaret Swinson

The group’s task (see PR 160.12 ) is to assist the House when it meets in February and again in May to come to a decision on the new package of proposals which it intends to bring to the Synod in July. The group has been tasked to arrange facilitated discussions in February with a wide range of people of a variety of views. It is expected to have two initial meetings in January.


Bishop Nigel’s Wikipedia entry is so short it can be quoted in full:

William Nigel Stock (born 29 January 1950) is the current Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich; a post he has held since 2007. Stock was educated at St Cuthbert’s SocietyDurham University and studied for ordination at Ripon College Cuddesdon. From 1976 to 1979, he was a curate at St Peter’s Stockton in the Diocese of Durham. From 1979 to 1984, he was priest-in-charge of St Peter’s in Taraka in the Diocese of Aipo RongoPapua New Guinea. From 1985 to 1991, he was vicar of St Mark’s Shiremoor in the Diocese of Newcastle; moving to become Team Rector of North Shields from 1991 to 1998. He was also Rural Dean of Tynemouth from 1992 to 1998 and an honorary canon of Newcastle Cathedral from 1997 to 1998. He was a canon residentiary of Durham Cathedral from 1998 to 2000 and also Chaplain of Grey College, Durham in 1999 and 2000. He became Bishop of Stockport in the Diocese of Chester in 2000.  Stock has been a Commissary for the Archbishop of Papua New Guinea since 1986. He entered the House of Lords as a Lord Spiritual in March 2011.


The Crockford’s entry is of course even shorter:

+STOCK, The Rt Revd William Nigel. b 50. St Cuth Soc Dur BA72. Ripon Coll Cuddesdon. d 76 p 77 c 00. C Stockton St Pet Dur 76-79; Papua New Guinea 79-84; V Shiremoor Newc 85-91; TR N Shields 91-98; RD Tynemouth 92-98; Hon Can Newc Cathl 97-98; Can Res Dur Cathl 98-00; Chapl Grey Coll Dur 99-00; Suff Bp Stockport Ches 00-07; Bp St E from 07




I have found no books published by Bishop Nigel, but he has an easy and engaging manner in this short clip about the Church’s outreach in his diocese:


And here he is in more reflective mood in his Christmas message:

Christmas is for all from St Eds & Ips on Vimeo.



Although Bishop Nigel voted in favour of the Anglican Covenant in November 2011, it was rejected by his diocese. In general this has tended to indicate a relaxed model of episcopal oversight. At the General Synod meeting on 20 November 2012,  Bishop Nigel and all synod members from his diocese voted in favour of the motion “That the Measure entitled “Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure” be finally approved.”


Leap in the dark assessment

I think and hope I can detect a twinkle in the eye of Bishop Nigel. I also detect – and I hope this is not just wishful thinking – the same smile of reason that I saw in Bishop John Inge (see last paragraph if you are interested).

If he is to succeed in the enormously difficult task which lies ahead, we must pray that my hopes are not ill-founded.


“Genuine question to my Anglo-Catholic friends”: Erika Baker

Genuine question to my Anglo-Catholic friends here:

I’m still mulling over the implications of provisions for Anglo-Catholics when women become bishops. And I understand that you are seeking to keep the Church of England together and that this will only be possible with fairly tight provisions that ensure you are not affected by any sacramental actions any woman bishop exercises.

So would this church unity you are seeking include any genuine recognition of each other’s actions?

For example would a new member in your parish have to be re-confirmed if he had been confirmed by a woman bishop? Or by a male bishop who has participated in the ordination of women?

Would the parish system as it stands still be valid and possible?
Would people have to indicate whether they are CoE or CoE/AC?
What level of unity would we actually have?

Or would we be two churches as remote from each other as the CoE and the Roman Catholics, who just happen to share a name?
What would all of this look like in practice?

  • Peter Bolton I think you have highlighted a very real question. Increasingly I am coming to believe that it is impossible to have a church which both does and does not have women bishops. I do not think that for long we could claim to be in the same church.
  • Erika Baker Peter, that is my worry too. I would regret that very much but I am struggling to see how it could really work in practice
  • Rosina Elston Cetainly not. Affirming Catholicism is inclusive. Our priest is a member of SSC which seems to be totally exclusive of women priests. Is that correct?
  • Peter Bolton But, Erika, some of us Conservative Anglo-Catholics are a bit fed up folk assuming that we are all like FinF.
    5 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1
  • John Thompson-Vear There’re all separate groups, sharing some distinctions, but your local AC place might have no truck w FinF, eg.
  • Richard Haggis It’s very hard to believe that any of it matters much.
  • Erika Baker Peter, I can fully understand that. But you’re in the same boat that we are. In order to make this work we have to include those we find most remote from ourselves. And the question is whether that is possible. We could not have legislation and provisions that include you but not FiF – on what basis would we make those choices? Either inclusion is possible or it isn’t.
    5 hours ago · Like · 1
  • John Thompson-Vear Confirmation issues are theological castles on the sky because they derive from the separation from baptism, which should be restored, even for infants.
    5 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1
  • Rosina Elston So how do you define yourselves? You are certainly not mainstream Church of England; otherwise you would be under the dsicipline of the church and accept the decision to ordain women as priests.
  • Peter Bolton Mainstream Church of England? I would say mainstream is what the Church of England has been since Augustine landed on these shores – that is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
  • Peter Bolton That is how Anglo-Catholics have always defined themselves and so we see the modern CofE departing from the mainstream.
  • Peter Bolton I am mainstream, the rest of you are just a bit odd!
    5 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Richard Haggis One lot of Pharisees drifting off from another!
  • Peter Bolton Why “Pharisees”, Richard?
  • Erika Baker That may well be true, Peter. But the point remains that you are not what is now becoming mainstream within the CoE. And for those of us who are it would be helpful to understand the difference between your views to those of FiF, for example. Having said that, I know FiF members who don’t seem to be far removed from you at all. Every grouping has raving lunatics amongst their members
  • John Thompson-Vear Post-Reformation settlement in these 2 provinces permits & encourages difference in unity – I don’t understand why such clear distinction & line-drawing is being required in this case?
  • Peter Bolton I think my problem with FinF is to do with behaviour not substance.
  • Richard Haggis I think I’m turning into a Quaker, I can’t see anything of the teaching of Jesus in all this
  • Peter Bolton I’m still not sure Pharisee was a good word.
  • Richard Haggis They weren’t bad people, nothing like as bad as painted in the Gospels, but consumed by rules
  • Erika Baker John, we don’t require any line drawing at all, those of you who need to have a certain level of isolation from women bishops do. And all I am trying to do is understand the extent of those lines and how they will impact on a daily basis.
    5 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton John, the difference here is that we can no longer recognise ministries – something which a divided CofE has always managed before. The Bishop WAS the Bishop – even if you hated him! – but in future there will be those who do not recognise the Bishop as Bishop. That, frankly is impossible.
  • Peter Bolton For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
  • Erika Baker Well, thank God that it is God’s grace and not our righteousness that opens up the kingdom of heaven
    5 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton Just one point of clarification on your original question, Erika: Nobody really holds the “tainted hands” theory. It has NEVER been something that any member of FinF or any other Anglo-Catholic has actually believed so, a validly ordained (male) bishop is able to validly Confirm, Ordain and Consecrate etc. He IS a valid Bishop the question is not whether his Sacraments are valid but whether we are in full Communion with him.
  • Erika Baker Peter, now that I understand that fully I struggle with the whole concept even more. How can we be part of the same church and not in full Communion with each other? What does church unity mean, if it does not mean that?
    5 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton I totally agree. I think that is why it has been impossible to draw up legislation that will work for all.
  • Erika Baker How can I meaningfully be in full Communion with the Methodists and the Baptists and the Lutheran Protestants yet not with priests and bishops in my own church?
    5 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Erika Baker It’s not so much the legislation I’m worried about right now but the underlying theology. What does church unity mean if it does not mean being in full Communion with each other?
    5 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton I would not claim to be in anything like full Communion with the above!
  • Peter Bolton I agree completely. We have two very different visions of what it is to be “Church”. Honestly and very sadly, we have to say that we are not the same.
  • Erika Baker And yet, Peter, I was born, baptised and confirmed a Lutheran Protestant and no-one has ever suggested that I must “convert” to being an Anglican. Even Reader ministry would have been open to me without any formal steps that bring me into full Communion with the CoE.
  • Peter Bolton I think the CofE is in full Communion with (some?) Lutheran Churches. I’m vague on that one!
  • John Thompson-Vear I have to go now, but I maintain that living together well in times ahead would be a lot easier than many think for all – & I point out that I have offered insight here without necessarily presuming to venture my own position! Best wishes, J
    4 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1
  • Erika Baker But you, a CoE priest, are not, because they have women priests and bishops
  • Erika Baker Thanks for stopping by, John!
  • Rosina Elston I remember my parents’ shock when they moved to Chichester from Leicester when they heard a ‘traditional’ exclusive Anglo-catholic incumbent declare that he didn’t think that Salvation Army or Quakers are Christians! You cannot have Church Unity with people like that unless you conform to their view of the church. Such exclusive people should recognise where their spiritual home lies. A lay personwouldhave joined the RC Church long ago. I cannot understand why the clergy have been given special favours on this.
  • Erika Baker Rosina, apart from the bizarre PEV scheme there have not been any special favours until now. These people are as much CoE as you or I. And the church we just about still have has accomplished the miracle of containing us all
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton So, Erika, we talk of broken or incomplete Communion.
  • Erika Baker Yes, but within the same church!
  • Richard Haggis If you don’t turn up at the altar, you’re not in communion, there is no communion without communion
  • Peter Bolton Catholic Theology is happy to talk about a Communion existing between all the Baptised whose unity is in Christ.
  • Erika Baker But Rome won’t even give me Holy Communion
  • Peter Bolton (Quakers and the Sally Bash do not have Baptism but even with them I would acknowledge a communion in faith.)
  • Richard Haggis I just take it, and don’t tell ’em
  • Peter Bolton No, in Catholic Theology Holy Communion is an expression of an already existing fullness of Communion. Same is true in Orthodox Theology too. Again that used to be the way most Anglican Theologians would have seen it in the past.
  • Erika Baker Peter, I think that some of this confusion is down to the fact that we use the same term to mean a large variety of different things. Unity and Communion being the worst offenders in this particular conversation
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton Richard – don’t you think you are lying by doing so?
  • Richard Haggis Nope, their rules bore me
  • Peter Bolton But you are claiming a union which does not exist. You are claiming that you are the same as they are when you are not.
  • Rosina Elston It has not contained it at all. I do not go to my local church because our priest will never invite a woman to celebrate the Eucharist. He came in without saying this openly. I am very sore about this deceit and the complaints from exclusive people about being excluded! Exclusive is as exclusive does. Don’t complain when you find you are not accepted by those whom you exclude. A black slave might have to serve water to her master, but that did not prevent her from spitting into it beforehand. We are all human; gender dscrimination has become an instrument of oppression.
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Shelley Huston Whose meal is it anyhow? Funny how we try to narrow somebody else’s guest list.
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Richard Haggis I have never given communion to anyone assuming that they were the same as me!
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Erika Baker Peter, I take it too and many Catholic priests have given it to me knowing I am not Catholic. We are indeed claiming that we are the same as them. They just don’t know it. God does
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Richard Haggis But I do tend to assume they have a good reason for wanting to share, and that’s good enough for me
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Rosina Elston Is it ‘sharing’ if only a certain kind of person can carve the joint?
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Richard Haggis I wouldn’t insist on carving at someone else’s table
  • Peter Bolton What a strange analogy we have going on here!
  • Peter Bolton Fine, for the Protestant Tendency Eucharist is about sharing. For the Catholic Tendency it is Sacrifice. Please don’t ask me why some Catholic Priests have no knowledge of their own theology!
  • Erika Baker I think the Catholic priests I am referring to are very sound on their theology. They just do not believe that it excludes me
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton Sorry, that should read “Catholic Theology”. They may well have their own theology – and that’s the point!
  • Elizabeth Wickens ‘No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine’ (John 15:4). In a recent sermon at my church it was said that this whole problem has arisen because of the compromise agreed to when the first women were ordained priests. God’s values cannot be compromised, as Christ teaches us. If the dissenting minority were to submit graciously to the majority vote, we wouldn’t need to agonise about this matter. The ABC was far too soft allowing himself to be bullied over the Jeffrey John affair, though admittedly in that case the opposition weren’t in such a minority as in this recent case.
  • Peter Bolton I do just what to come back on the “guest list” point that Rosina made: Indeed, everyone is welcome.
  • Erika Baker Leaving their own troubles with their own church aside fora moment, I am not bound by their theology. It doesn’t matter what they think they’re celebrating, the Sacrament is valid even if the Minister is in error:-) And so I feel perfectly free to take Communion in Catholic churches. Because it’s between me and God. And only He decides whether the sacrament is valid or not.
    4 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Peter Bolton This is not about validity but Communion.
  • Erika Baker I can leave the Communion decision to God t oo
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton Then why are we spening so much time on the question here?
  • Erika Baker For my part, I am in Communion with every Christian on the planet. If they do not wish to be in Communion with me, that is up to them. It does not change the fact that they are part of the same body of Christ
    4 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Erika Baker Because the WB question is the same. You may not be in Communion with WBs but they are in Communion with you.
  • Erika Baker We do not exclude anyone. That is the point
  • Erika Baker The isolation required is isolation you need from us. It is not isolation we need from you
  • Peter Bolton It is not a matter of “wishing” it. Of course Catholics and Orthodox long for Communion with other Christians and most especially with each other but it just ISN’T a reality. We are in the world of reality here not wishes.
  • Richard Haggis You’re not even in anything as real as Narnia!
  • Erika Baker The reality is unknowable and lies with God. The reality we have on earth are the different theologies of the different churches. And they are, ultimately, nothing but faith. You believe that we are not in Communion, we simply believe that we are. And in this limbo we will be stuck until we no longer see through the glass darkly
    4 hours ago · Like · 3
  • Peter Bolton I’m not sure that your last but one point is entirely true, Erika. If the numbers had been reversed (as a few decades ago they were) those in favour of women priests were the ones wanting to move away from the mainstream. Communion is not something you take – it is something you have. It is those moving away from the fulness of our Communion who are isolating us.
  • Richard Haggis How can communion be “full” when people look at it, and really don’t much want to join it?
  • Erika Baker That depends on your definition of full Communion. For inclusive people, Communion is never restricted to particular groups of people whatever their number.
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Erika Baker And that you can restrict who you are in Communion with is as much an act of faith as my thinking that we are all together, like it or not
  • Peter Bolton And, Erika, I would say that that is an entirely novel way of doing ecclesiology.
  • Erika Baker It’s not about ecclesiology. It’s not about church admin, if you like. It’s the reality of my faith. That I will take with me in whatever part of the Christian community I should find myself. I fully accept that the human church adminy part of it needs boundaries.
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Erika Baker But for me, they will always ever be human boundaries set by people for other people or for themselves. Before God there are no boundaries of that kind
    4 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Peter Bolton The Theology of belonging IS ecclesiology in my book.
  • Richard Haggis John the Baptist never belonged, and he’s a saint, with TWO feast days
  • Erika Baker But we don’t get to decide who belongs, God does. And as we can’t know his thoughts with 100% certainty, all our theology is tentative.
    4 hours ago · Like · 3
  • Peter Bolton But have we just once more come up against Protestantism: Faith is what is inside ME V Catholicism: Faith is what the Church has!
  • Richard Haggis Empty pews and a history of covering child abuse?
  • Peter Bolton I think John the Baptist belonged to Israel -to the Children of Abraham.
  • Erika Baker We are all part of the body of Christ. We are all one church. And all our faith together, the right bits, the wrong bits and the muddled bits make up the faith of the church
    4 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Richard Haggis That’s a pretty wide definition of belonging then, not needing to be disciples of Christ at all, I can go along with that
  • Peter Bolton Whatever you bind on earth….
  • Richard Haggis Don’t, I’m still hoping the senna will work …
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Erika Baker Once the faith of the church included that witches were evil and did not belong. Once it included that blacks were not equal to whites. Now it still includes in some churches that gay people are intrinsically ordered to an objective evil. That doesn’t mean it’s true. It means it’s what current thinking is. Some churches have discerend that women can be priests, others have not yet. They might never. None of that is evidence of any objective truth
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton Whenever did the Church teach that blacks were not equal to whites?
  • Erika Baker Peter, I am bound. You might not know it. The Pope might not know it. It doesn’t change the fact.
  • Erika Baker Did you never come across some of the great sermons in support of slavery?
  • Erika Baker I must dig those links out, they make fascinating reading
  • Richard Haggis It was the law in Christian countries throughout the slavery period – and into Apartheid in recent times!
    4 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton Ultimately, the difference between us Erika, is your belief in progress and my belief in a once and for all revelation.
  • Erika Baker I think even Roman Catholic history indicates that they change their theology, if only very very slowly. We believe in continued revelation not in some kind of purely secular progress. And even those of us who believe in a once and for all revelation often believe that we are still in the process of interpreting that and that while God doesn’t change, our insights about him do.
    4 hours ago · Edited · Like · 1
  • Richard Haggis Matthew Parker believed in the doctrine of “things indifferent, adiaphora”, where we disagree is how much we lump under that umbrella
  • Elizabeth Harper Sadly Peter the Church did at one stage teach that blacks were not equal to whites – its most recent form being the aprtheid church policy in Sth Africa. The reasoning (based on flawed logic in my opinion) was that Gen 9:25-27 stated that Hamites i.e. black people were cursed and to be slaves. We now believe that this interpretation is a complete misunderstanding of the passage. But that is the problem with revelation it needs interpreting by flawed human beings and so we can never be sure that our interpretation is God’s understanding of the revelation. Our own sinfulness (individual and corporate for the church can sin and get things wrong too) means we must always accept we might be wrong – all of us on all sides.
    4 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Erika Baker Elizabeth, welcome!!!!
  • Peter Bolton Perhaps by “The Church” we mean different things.
  • Richard Haggis Don’t we just mean what we want it to mean? “Of course The Church didn’t denigrate black people” (when it did), “Of course The Church accepts women bishops” (when it doesn’t, yet)
  • Erika Baker You’ve lost me now, Peter. In what respect are we meaning different things by “the church” here?
  • Peter Bolton Not sure what you are getting at, Richard. Of course we all come to our own judgements of what truth is but I still have to be convinced that the Church officially taught that blacks are inferior to whites – whatever some nasty individuals may have thought. A sermon by me does not, thank God, constitute the Church’s teaching..
  • Peter Bolton Again, I believe in a “given-ness” which other contributors seem to deny.
  • Erika Baker I’ll dig around, Peter, and maybe Elizabeth Harper can come back with some evidence.
    In the meantime, though, you picked one of several examples I gave for change in the church. That alone, even if I should have got it wrong, does not change the principle that all churches have mechanisms for discernment and that this discernment develops over time.
    3 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton Just one question to be asked of theologoumena: is this what the church has believed at all times and in all places? If the answer is no then it is a heresy 🙂:-)
  • Peter Bolton And with that I must away to the Hospital for a long wait and a short appointment 🙂:-) Do carry on without me and enjoy!
    3 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Erika Baker It does discover that it continues to believe the same it has believed before but that it recognises that this belief can be widened to include more people than it had previously thought. A bit like St Paul realising that gentiles could be included. It did not change anything about Christianity, it just made it apparent that the scope was wider than had been believed.
    3 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Peter Bolton SO! Who makes that judgement? A local Synod or the Universal Church?
  • Erika Baker Back to where were a week or so ago! The CoE together with numerous churches around the world believes that it can make that discernment (women priests, I take it is what you are referring to now) for itself. Just like it can have a group looking into revising its view of Civil Partnerships without having to wait for Rome to discover that gay people are not objectively disordered.
  • Erika Baker It’s all a widening of the circle, all keeping the core completely intact but realising that the revelation has more scope than initially believed
  • Erika Baker Which is, going back to my earlier point, why we can be in Communion with those who have smaller cirlces but t they cannot be in Communion with us.
  • June Butler As I see it from outside the Church of England, (and perhaps it’s none of my business, and I shouldn’t speak out) the vote was a slap in the face not just to women priests, but to all women, not acknowledging them as fully human. Think about the petti…See More
    2 hours ago · Edited · Like · 2
  • Elizabeth Harper The “racist” reading of Genesis 9 given above was official Catholic and Protestant teaching of the meaning of that verse back in the 16th and 17th century. The problem with “what the church has always and everywhere believed” is that there is almost no…See More
    2 hours ago · Like · 3
  • Erika Baker Yes, June, the Universal Church argument only ever seems to be something that people who move away from Rome and the Orthodox church have to worry about, never something that those churches should be concerned about. But since I don’t believe in the Universal Church as an administrative body anyway I cannot get too worked up about this argument.
    2 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Elizabeth Harper Similarly Church History evidence suggests women were in leadership in the early Church and it was only in the 3rd or 4th century that women were excluded, for a variety of reasons, so that women leadership is also not an everywhere and at all times pa…See More
    2 hours ago · Edited · Like · 1
  • Richard Haggis If we shout loud enough, and stamp hard enough, we can make what we agree with true at all times and in all places. (Gospel of Saint Alice in Wonderland.)
    2 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Erika Baker Elizabeth, I agree about leadership and women but that’s an argument against the evangelical headship view not against the Anglo-Catholic view that women cannot be priests.
  • Erika Baker And I accept that the “administrative body” was tongue in cheek
  • Elizabeth Harper Erika, I’m not so sure that this is an argument only for evangelicals. Those early women leaders, presided at Eucharist and had the same function and status (ontology) of the men, and were put in place by the apostles in succession, ergo they were prie…See More
    2 hours ago · Edited · Like · 1
  • Erika Baker Elizabeth, is there actual evidence for this? Because if there is, I don’t understand how the view that this did not happen or that female priests are not possible can be so widespread and rigid.
  • Richard Haggis Karen-Jo Torjesen “When Women Were Priests” I found pretty convincing, and I’ve seen “Theodora, Episcopa” in the mosaic in Rome, that’s not made up.
  • Elizabeth Harper The problem is that there is not nearly as much evidence of anything in the early church as we would like and selective readings and promotion of certain aspects of church history means that we are only rediscovering things by fresh examinations of the…See More
  • Peter Bolton This thread has ranged a bit too far for me to catch up except that I would like to note Richard’s masterful display of his knowledge of English literature.
  • Peter Bolton As predicted the wait was long and the appointment short. I now have a headache.
  • Elizabeth Harper Every sympathy Peter, it is very frustrating
  • Peter Bolton All agree that women had leadership roles of some sort in the early church – I would suggest that any evidence that they were ever seen as priests is extraordinarily shaky. But the telling evidence is that if ever it did happen it did come to an end universally.
  • Erika Baker Peter, there were only 12 comments since you left! 
    Sorry about the headache. That’s not good at all
  • Erika Baker It calls for an early glass of Merlot
  • Peter Bolton Just one more annoying question: If Christianity changes so much as the sceptics say, how can we talk about Christianity at all. Where is this core which holds together?
  • Erika Baker It doesn’t change much at all, that’s my point. It just expands. The core is always the same. Including gentiles didn’t change Christianity, Christ was still the core that held it together. Allowing black people into leadership positions didn’t change …See More
  • Peter Bolton I guess my question was aimed more at Elizabeth and Richard. I think your argument has great force, Erika. My difficulty with what you say is whether local churches can act alone. But I don’t want to repeat myself.
  • Erika Baker Elizabeth HarperRichard Haggis seems you are needed 🙂:-)
  • Elizabeth Harper Well I enjoyed being called a sceptic 🙂:). I agree in part with Erika, some of what is going on is expansion but I do think things change as well. But then my view is that this is what the revelation through Bible and Tradition shows. I read the Bible a…See More
    22 minutes ago · Edited · Like · 3
  • Erika Baker While they’re getting ready… my difficulty with your argument, Peter, is that the Universal church has not done anything together for centuries and is now so widespread and far apart that it is virtually unthinkable that it could ever again be an ent…See More
  • Peter Bolton Erika, ARCIC and similar dialogues have produced remarkable convergence – not least between Orthodoxy and Rome. (Even if the Russian Patriarchy is a little out of step at the moment).
  • Peter Bolton I do hope Elizabeth doesn’t read the Bible and drive at the same time. It’s no route map.
  • Elizabeth Harper Neither Peter is the Church a very good route map 🙂:-)
  • Erika Baker But, Peter, the Universal church must include all those churches who have since made their own discernment and moved away from Rome and the Orthodox church. It has to be more than the conservative spectrum. That Rome and the Orthodox might agree is all very nice but you cannot speak of a discernment of the Universal Church until every Christian church in the world signs up to it too.
  • Peter Bolton OK the above helps Elizabeth. I think I can go with most of that. I would perhaps want to say a bit more about revelation but we are not millions of miles apart.
  • Rosina Elston I’ve been away sorting out bedding/food for my hens. Lots of mud and relief from all this, but thank you for carrying on. We seem to have got down to fundamentals like the nature of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, and validating ‘truth’. I can’t see…See More
  • Erika Baker Now THERE’s something to celebrate! My most favourite evangelical friend and my newest and highly respected Anglo-Catholic friend are not very far apart! If we can do this…
  • Elizabeth Harper As to whether the Local Church can go alone. I would say look at the Prophets. They were often on the outside of the “Church” i.e. Temple and they were introducing revolutionary theology (God might be on the side of the Babylonians and not the Temple w…See More
    5 minutes ago · Edited · Like · 2
  • Peter Bolton “But, Peter…..”. Trouble is, Erika, as Ratzinger said of the cofE that it s not a Church in the proper sense but only a Ecclesial Community, I tend to think the same of churches which have given up episcopacy.
  • Erika Baker Peter, but if you go back to the last time your Universal Church made a discernment, you have to say that while those who have since split away may have erred but they may not have and they are still part of that group of Christians that have to agree …See More
  • Rosina Elston Why do you need all these definitions? Life doesn’t have definitions. When we think we have grasped a truth, something comes along to scupper that idea – this is the way of scientific/knowledge progression. Do you still believe the earth is the centre of the universe? If not, why not? because a Pope admitted it or because of the Maths?
    8 minutes ago · Like · 1
  • Elizabeth Harper The Church of the East has an episcopacy with claims as good as Catholicism and Orthodoxy to apostolic origin. What defines Church vs ecclesial community?
  • Erika Baker Rosina, quite. And when experience and psychology tell me that being gay is a perfectly normal minority variant of human sexuality that is no more or less healthy than being straight, why should I accept the authority of someone who insists that it is …See More
  • Peter Bolton If my memory serves me right, Ratzinger argues that valid sacraments are what characterises a Church.#
  • Rosina Elston And what of the Arian Church? I suppose that was written off so long ago, it’s supposed not to count, but Arian Christians were very influential in the east. We’re back to translations again – one half spoke Latin, and one Greek. We got the Roman concept of definitions and legal claptrap.
  • Erika Baker But if Ratzinger represents only one part of the Universal Church, why should his definition have automatic primacy over that of the Church of the East?
    And didn’t Elizabeth say earlier that they do have apostolic succession?
  • Peter Bolton I am not sure about Arians – I honestly did not know that there were any – but I am sure that non-Chalcedon Churches count.
  • Peter Bolton I am sure that most Eastern Chritians would agree. Certainly the Orthodox do. (Even the Russian Patriarch).
  • Rosina Elston He is only the Pope. Why should listen to him? He excommunicated a wonderful priest then had to re-communicate him. Isn’t that human fallibility? Why should we in England care what a Latin speaking Bavarian calls the turuth just because he is head of a foreign power? That is the English attitude to the Roman Church which has been around for a very long time.

Church of England Bishops: Stephen Conway

I thought we might resume the deep peace of our catalogue raisonné of bishops, after last week’s hurly burly of the female episcopate and synodical discussions thereof.


And there’s no one quite as reasonable as The Right Reverend Stephen David Conway (born 22 December 1957) currently  Bishop of Ely, and previously the Bishop of Ramsbury. Laconically described by Crockford’s:

+CONWAY, The Rt Revd Stephen David. b 57. Keble Coll Ox BA80 MA84 CertEd81 Selw Coll Cam BA85. Westcott Ho Cam 83. d 86 p 87 c 06. C Heworth St Mary Dur 86-89; C Bishopwearmouth St Mich w St Hilda 89-90; Dir of Ords and Hon C Dur St Marg 90-94; P-in-c Cockerton 94-96; V 96-98; Bp’s Sen Chapl and Communications Officer 98-02; Adn Dur and Can Res Dur Cathl 02-06; Area Bp Ramsbury Sarum 06-10; Bp Ely from 10.

What follows is taken from Wikipedia:

Conway was educated at Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School, Keble College, Oxford and Selwyn College, Cambridge. After a period of study at Westcott House, he was ordained in 1987. His ecclesiastical career began with a curacy at Heworth, Tyne and Wear after which he was Director of Ordinands for the Diocese of Durham and then Priest in Charge (and subsequently Vicar) of Cockerton. From here he became Senior Chaplain to the Bishop of DurhamMichael Turnbull, and subsequently Archdeacon of Durham.

On 2 May 2006, his nomination as Bishop of Ramsbury was announced and he was consecrated on 22 June 2006.  On 31 August 2010, it was announced that he would be the next Bishop of Ely. He was elected by the College of Canons at Ely on 18 October 2010, and the election was confirmed by the provincial court on 6 December 2010, at which point he legally became the Bishop of Ely. His installation and enthronement was held in Ely Cathedral on 5 March 2011.

However, all the indications are that Bishop Stephen enjoys a joke and I think he would be the first to appreciate the reading of this article, which places all the emphases on the wrong syllables and brought tears of mirth to my eyes, and I hope yours. In the manner of Bal-ham, gateway to the south,  the diocese is here pronounced Eli…


But let’s be serious for a moment. Bishop Stephen has obviously thought deeply about ordination in particular and helping people, both lay and ordained, to deepen their personal spirituality in general. Edward Green reproduces a 5-minute talk by him here.


Bishop Stephen acted as editor of an Affirming Catholicism conference, which led to the publication of Living the Eucharist in June 2001.


The diocesan website says:

His understanding of church doctrine and liturgical practice were formed principally within the Anglican catholic tradition, but this has been enriched by the positive experience of other traditions throughout his ministry, such as the charismatic movement. As a child, he attended a Methodist Sunday School. He is firmly committed to being a bishop for the whole Church, regardless of tradition…He has chaired a mission fund which gives grants to support Fresh Expressions, new forms of Church for today’s fast changing world…You can read Bishop Stephen’s full biography here.

Bishop Stephen voted in favour of women bishops at General Synod this month.


Leap in the dark assessment

I think I’ve found the bishop of my dreams. Now to move to Ely…





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