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Anglicanism and Technology: “For things to remain the same, everything must change” – Iain Little

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I fear for Anglicanism, or at least the liberal, discerning version that we practice in our rainy corner of Northern Europe. Above all I fear for its relevance. More Britons play chess each week than go to church.

Though a Scots-Irish descendent of the Manse on both sides of my family, I’ve come to love Anglicanism’s delicious variety, its broad and colourful sweep from feisty Evangelism to fusty Anglo- Catholicism. But, to the outsider, the Church, once a power in the land, is tearing itself apart, lost in ancestral quarrels and incomprehensible points of principle that defy both legal reality and easy explanation. Above all, and most tragically, its charms and relevance are lost on its most important demographic, the young. More young people can name Lady Gaga’s hairdresser than name the Archbishop of Canterbury. And fewer than one million in the UK are now what my parents would have called “proper, practising Anglicans”. Yet the Church of England still claims a heroic role for itself on our national stage despite being, as in T S Eliot’s poem “The Hippopotamus”, “wrapt in the old miasmal mist”. Relevant to a 15 year old? Hardly. If our three teenage children are anything to go by, this generation’s grasp of theology is as thin as a communion wafer and every bit as nutritious. (How shocked I was when not one younger member of our church knew who Moses and Elijah were, let alone their symbolic roles –the law and the prophets- in Our Lord’s Transfiguration).

Linda Woodhead and Andrew Brown’s critique of the Church (“That Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People”) and the latest bums-on-seats statistics make for depressing reading for a modern Anglican. Isn’t it all now hopeless? How does Anglicanism triumph in the market place for ideas and more importantly, become relevant to its younger followers? What are the new bottles into which the old wine must now be poured?

Maybe human ingenuity brings us some good news, some “gospel”. New technology means that it’s far from hopeless.
Modern social media technology has a vital role to play in the “reincarnation” (sic) of the Church. This starts with Lambeth Palace further recognizing the vital role technology has played in the past: Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press, better social mobility via canals and railways, television etc.
But with a change in technology comes a change in behaviour. Has Mankind itself changed? Maybe not, but Mankind’s behaviour has.
More than two billion people are now online. This number will soon double. The average person has 24 apps on their smart phone, but uses only 8. That’s the trouble with technology: winner takes all. So what do modern social media offer Anglicans and –the critical question- how can a religion “app” get into the top 8? The answers to both questions are the same.

First, one must offer community, a New Community. St Paul and others criss-crossed the Mediterranean and founded the communities, the networks, from which Christianity sprang. A modern social media community has significant advantages over one from the Middle East of the first century. It’s not limited by weather forecasts in Cyprus, ship technology in the Aegean or even censorship. And it can instantly cross time zones and include demographics, from young to old. Imagine being on a train journey and joining a live prayer group composed of Anglicans in Abuja, Adelaide, Atlanta and Acton. Or, before you sleep, how about plugging in to a discussion group practising the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola?

Second, one must offer “Bible”. “Scholarship” to the few, yes, but “Bible” to the many. And social media can break new ground here. It can transcend linguistic barriers via software packages that compare and interpret meaning. It can take ancient tongues and convert them into modern expressions. Software now exists to analyse unstructured data and use natural language processing to understand grammar and context. This is perfect for textual comparison and Bible study. This aspect –Bible- must be at the heart of the New Community (obiter dicta, can anyone tell me why most Anglican churches don’t even offer you a Bible when you enter the church? Totally dotty. And why not hand out a fun iPad instead of a noisy piece of paper for crinkling behind my ear? Just asking.)

Third, one must offer help. Help to find a church. Help to pray. Help to buy presents for others. Help to send Christmas cards. Help to discuss life’s Big Questions. Help to find a place to baptise a baby. Help to find a Christian “Au Pair”. Help to get married. Help to find like-minded people when you move. Help with depression. Help with catering. Help with finding schools. Help with booking pilgrimages. The list is as long as the human longing for help. Social media, in some of these areas, can be more helpful than a church.

Fourth, one must offer fun. Make someone smile and you win their heart. Lighten someone’s day and they’ll pay attention to what you have to say. Amongst UK politicians, Boris Johnson understands this better than anyone. Social media can make people smile; comedy, jokes, videos, games, fun occasions. To look at our 3 kids coming out of church, I don’t think they always had “fun” on their faces or joy in their hearts.

New technology can ally new experience to old ideas; we’re forming “Ananas” to do just that. “Ananas”, “Pineapple” in English, is one of the most frequently recurring words in all languages, nearly 30, from Hebrew and Arabic to Icelandic and Esperanto. It’s a verbal image of what we want to achieve, a cradle to grave app for all ages and all shades of belief, customized to the user, non-judgmental…..in other words, very Anglican. Ideas to make religion relevant are sprouting like fruit in due season. We now need partners to help us grow our pineapple. They can speak any language they like as long as they share our mission and our sense of fun. Young and old can now find both reverence and relevance.


 

 

  1. Iain Little, Chairman of Ananas (Chairman) / email address iain@ananas.org.uk and +41 79 359 2720
  2. Bio.  “Iain Little studied Russian at Cambridge and became a banker and investment manager, living first in Japan and Asia and, for the last 16 years, Zurich.  His day job for 36 years has been looking after other peoples’ money.  His current night jobs include helping people better connect with their religion, “Ananas”, and a venture growing furniture directly from trees which he hopes will revolutionize the way people all over the world connect with their environment.  He has a wife and 3 university age children.”.

 

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

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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?”

 


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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.

 

 

The Reasonable Society: by Sir Robin Day

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Like most of my fellow compatriots, the last fortnight has felt so tumultuous that the very basis of our communal lives seems threatened. This blog deals with the Church of England, so at first glance you might argue politics is an area we should steer clear of. But Church and State are not separated in this country, in fact they are intertwined in a perpetual dance in which the survival of each depends on the ability to accommodate the views of the other.

Our General Synod is now in purdah as they engage in ‘Shared Conversations’, trying to find a modus vivendi. Please pray for them, and the Church.

Many years ago, I copied out by hand the 577 words which follow, words to live by. Please take the time to read them, and think how we can hold on to these values in the face of the multiple tsunamis which beset us.


 

 

 

I have only one life to live and only one country I wish to live it in. In this country, we do not live in a valueless moral vacuum, like astronauts floating weightless in a a lunar spacecraft. We are entrusted with a set of values through which our reasoning is tempered with humanity, moderated by fairness, based on truth, imbued with the Christian ethic, applied with commonsense, and upheld by law. If there is a gulf of hypocrisy between the professing and the practice of these values, that does not mean that we should abandon them.

Our society…whatever its present troubles, is by nature and tradition reasonable in the way it lives and governs itself. That way is by peaceful reform rather than violent revolution. For all that we have to be ashamed of or anxious about now, we have only to look at what enormous social and economic progress we have made in these islands during the last hundred years, without bloodshed, under the much-abused parliamentary system which is the cornerstone of the Reasonable Society.

In the Reasonable Society, there can be no place for absolutes, no place for theories which must be rigidly adhered to, no place for dogmas which must be defended to the death…there should be no principle which is too important to be reconsidered for the sake of others, no interest which cannot make some sacrifice for the common good.

The idea of the Reasonable Society is deeply rooted in our temper and tradition. That temper and tradition has much in common with our climate…and also perhaps with the quality of light and colour which goes with that climate. To a visitor from a country where the climate is fierce, where the sun and sky are harsh and brilliant, the English light is gentle and the colours have a certain softness – the qualities of light and colour captured with such magical effect by the genius of our greatest painter, Turner, in his landscapes.

The Reasonable Society, and the institutions which have grown with it, has flowered in the temperate climate of our mental habits. Equanimity is preferred to hysteria. Experience is a wiser guide than doctrine. Absolutes are alien to us. We know that absolute equality would extinguish liberty; that absolute liberty would demolish order. We shrink from extreme measures. We harden ourselves to take them if we must, though sometimes we are almost too late. Humour, both coarse and subtle, is part of our very being. Humour is our sense of proportion our sense of proportion is the essence of our reasonableness.

The Reasonable Society is not, as may be thought, merely a convenient idea to play about with  in argument. It is fundamentally indispensable to the practical working of the British system of democracy. This is because we have no written constitution, no fundamental law to be applied, no judicial review by a supreme court, no basic rights engraved in marble. It is arguable that we should move towards such a constitution…but for the time being, and the foreseeable future, our constitution is expressed in six unwritten words: ‘The Queen in Parliament is supreme’. Such a constitution has only worked, and can only work, with the accompaniment of the conventions, traditions, customs, compromises, voluntary restraints and the national sense of fair play, all of which go to make up the Reasonable Society.


 

Chapter 6 of ‘Day by Day’ by Sir Robin Day, William Kimber & Co, 1975.

Sir Robin Day defined the modern political interview. He died, aged 76, in 2000. You can read his obituary from the Daily Telegraph here.

Messy Conversations Between God, Church And People – by Andrew Bennison

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The success of a conversation is ultimately determined, I think, not by the answers we receive but by the questions we choose to ask. In the realm of dating, for instance, it is obvious that a romantic relationship cannot be built on small talk alone: since love requires knowledge, sooner or later we’re going to have to ask the questions that enable us to really know the other person. To communicate what is most important to us, we rely on being asked the right questions – or inviting those questions ourselves.

I sometimes wonder whether the Church’s problem in engaging with secular society is that it answers the wrong questions. There are two questions which contemporary culture commonly asks of religion in the public sphere: ‘Is it true?’ and ‘How should we behave?. These questions derive from the way that ‘religion’ is conceived in contemporary discourse: as a set of ideas about God, which influences our moral decision-making. ‘Religion’, in other words, is simply a tool that enables the autonomous individual to make choices and attain satisfaction. Religious Education in schools, for instance, commonly focuses on intellectual arguments for and against God’s existence, and on moral decision-making: religious faith is thus presented as an intellectual and moral framework, to be adopted in the manner of consumer choice – like putting on glasses.

Christianity will always struggle in a conversation which begins with these questions, because the New Testament shows relatively little interest in them. The contemporary conception of religious faith is very far from the message of Jesus in the Gospels, who invited his followers not to ‘bolt on’ a set of intellectual or ethical attitudes, but to something much deeper: a journey of loss and dispossession through which a new and radical life is discovered – ‘those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it’ (Matt. 10.39). St Paul likewise conceptualised the Christian life as an experience of deep transformation, through which we relate to ourselves in radical new ways – ‘it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me’ (Gal. 2.20).

So, what question should the Church be inviting instead? My suggestion is the following: ‘What does religious faith feel like?’ If Christians are those who, in the words of Rowan Williams, ‘have tasted the reality of new life’[1], then this question should yield fascinating and fruitful responses. Indeed, it is the question that I most enjoy answering, since I find the Christian life to be an experience of living more deeply: faith does not draw me principally to words and ideas about God, but to a fresh apprehension of the rich and varied texture of life. Because it frees me from fear, it allows me to face open-handedly the mysterious, complex and difficult feelings that life involves – shame, pride, sexual desire, grief, anxiety and anger: all these become much more interesting and easy to talk about! Indeed, perceptive theologians have noted that lived experience is where God-talk has most purchase: Luke Timothy Johnson insists for instance that ‘the human body is the pre-eminent arena for God’s revelation in the world’.[2] According to this understanding, words about God in Scripture exist not as abstract ideas to be grasped, but as resources for comprehending more fully the reality of our lives. Beginning the conversation with the question of what faith feels like thus allows us to place the question of ‘truth’ in a proper context: the ‘truth’ of religious claims lie not in their intellectual coherence but in their capacity to account for and reimagine human lived experience in all its depth and complexity. Doctrine that has no purchase on lived reality cannot be said to be ‘true’.

So, confronted by the deep missionary challenges of our time, I wish the Church would start talking more frankly about what faith actually feels like. But isn’t this a risky conversation? Asking about God’s reality in human lives begins a messy process: life – not least the life of faith – is complex and bewildering, and so the answers we receive will not always sound comfortable, orthodox or systematic. But herein lies an opportunity: beginning this messy conversation invites us to become more fully the Church – it invites churches to become inclusive and fearless communities where there are no ‘wrong’ answers; places where our confidence in the Gospel allows us to welcome, without judgement or anxiety, the witness of all those people whose lives God has touched.

And so perhaps inviting the right questions isn’t the only important thing; perhaps we also need to give honest answers. Maybe then we’ll be having a proper conversation.

Separate Beds And Separate Tables For The Anglican Communion?

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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}.

 

Reaction

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.

 

 

 

The Church and Discipleship – a Problem of Expectations? – Andrew Bennison

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Valentina Razumova via Shutterstock Image ID: 132844280

 

The soft bigotry of low expectations’. It’s a phrase oft-quoted in education circles: the idea that poorer pupils are disadvantaged by the well-meaning, but ultimately pernicious, attitudes of their teachers, who assume that certain students are unable to achieve highly – assumptions which then become self-fulfilling. Thankfully, considerable attention and resources have been committed in recent years to tackling this ‘soft bigotry’ in education, and there is evidence that these efforts are beginning to pay off: raising our expectations does result in real positive change.

What relevance does this have to the Church? Well, to put it bluntly: could it be that a similar problem of low expectations inhibits the mission of the Church of England? In our parishes and congregations, do we actually expect people to be transformed ‘from one degree of glory to another’? If this isn’t visibly happening, are we concerned about it? More fundamentally, do we actually believe in the transformative power of the gospel we seek to proclaim?

Reading accounts of the early Church and patristic writings, one cannot help but be struck by the dedication and perseverance displayed by the early Christians: through their wholehearted commitment to prayer, worship and community life, their lives attested to the demanding, countercultural nature of Christian discipleship. The Church grew as people encountered the mystery of God in Christ and orientated their lives around it, pursuing what St Paul described as ‘the renewing of your minds’. In contrast, much Anglican parish life today seems to ‘be conformed to this world’: lacklustre worship, a dearth of prayer and spirituality, and overstretched clergy contribute to a culture of low expectations, in which widespread theological illiteracy amongst the laity is tolerated. Recently I read through the ‘Grow Stage’ of the Church of England’s flagship Pilgrim resources, which seeks to help Christians ‘continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship’. As the material encouraged me to reflect on and establish a ‘pattern of worship and daily prayer’, it struck me that I almost never discuss my spiritual growth and discipleship at church: a culture of etiquette and small talk ensures that we – the laity – are rarely challenged to discuss the depth and development of our faith. A forceful speech made by the Archbishop of Canterbury last week surprised me in its willingness to confront this culture of mediocrity: his uncompromising assertion that ‘the quality of our Christian lives matters very seriously to God’ took aim at the ‘cultural Christianity’ which implicitly views the laity as consumers to be satisfied, rather than ‘living stones’ to be built into ‘a spiritual house, a holy priesthood’. Low expectations are not clearly confined to one wing or tradition of the Church.

To state this critique plainly is not, of course, to invite blame and recrimination – particularly as I am aware of my own complicity in this culture of low expectations. I should also be wary of exaggeration: there are many examples of church communities who are committed to deepening the holiness and discipleship of the whole people of God. The Revd Dr Ian Mobsby has written at length about how ‘new monastic’ communities, for instance, are enabling ‘the empowering of the people of God, the laity, to be the Church, moving away from passivity and “church going” to participation and “church being”’.[1] Moreover, we are rightly suspicious of an overbearing clericalism which seeks to impose a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of discipleship, based on crude understandings of theology and spirituality; many Anglicans would push back firmly against such a model, emphasising instead the need for humility and freedom in discipleship, open to the promptings of the Spirit. Nonetheless, it is appropriate and necessary for clergy and lay leaders to provide resources, guidance and teaching to support ordinary Christians in their spiritual journeys. Often, this will involve explicit guidance in the practice of contemplative prayer – described by Rowan Williams as ‘the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit’.[2] Seeking to live as a Christian in today’s sceptical postmodern climate can be a difficult and bewildering task; providing spiritual guidance and direction is thus vital to the priestly role of guiding God’s people ‘through [the world’s] confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever’.[3] To affirm that Christian faith is ultimately a mystery does not mean abdicating responsibility for helping the faithful to plumb the depths of this mystery in prayer and wonder, and in doing so to grow into the likeness of Christ.

The Church of England is currently facing an existential crisis. Disagreements abound over whether the Church should be prioritising spiritual or numerical growth. The answer, of course, is that these priorities can’t be separated: the Church becomes attractive not through its hyperactive apologetics, or through the frantic multiplying of worship styles and ‘fresh expressions’ to meet consumer demand. Rather, the Church becomes attractive when it models a new way of living: when a gathered community of disciples worship God in faith, hope, and love, bearing witness to the image of God in Christ through their very being and living. ‘You are the light of the world’, said Jesus. Perhaps it’s time to raise our expectations.

 

[1] Ian Mobsby, God Unknown: The Trinity in contemporary spirituality and mission (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012), p. 65.
[2] Rowan Williams, ‘Archbishop’s Address to the Synod of Rome’, 10 October 2012, available here.
[3] Extract from the Church of England Ordinal for priests, available here.

“More TV Vicar?” by The Revd Bryony Taylor

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The advantage of waiting until this week to talk about Bryony’s new book is that we have had a chance to see how it has been reviewed generally, and I am happy to tell you that it has both won critical acclaim and is also the book everyone is discussing at the water-cooler. Quite a feat!

First of all, Bryony tells us some of the background to ‘More TV Vicar?’ and how she came to write it.

When Dawn French was asked by Richard Curtis to play the Vicar of Dibley, she wasn’t altogether sure at first, she revealed on Desert Island Discs: ‘”I thought, ‘How on earth do you play a central character who’s so blooming good?’ I thought ‘Where are the flaws? Where is the monster in this woman?’ That’s what I understand comedy to be.” Dawn French initially assumed that you can’t be funny and good at the same time. She discovered that this wasn’t true when she visited the (real) Revd Joy Carroll’s house with Richard Curtis (who wrote the sitcom) and saw that she had a mug that said ‘Lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself’– seeing this gave him permission to write a character that had quirks and flaws as well as happening to be a member of the Anglican clergy.

When we hear the word Christian, or vicar, or priest, a number of images come to mind – not all positive. The likelihood of these images having been informed by what you have watched on television over the years is extremely high. That is what I explore in my book ‘More TV Vicar?’ What do the various portrayals of Christians and clergy over the years on British TV say about what our society thinks of believers? And what do our responses (if we’re Christians) to these characters say about us? Many of the characters are part of the comedy heritage of our country. Why are vicar characters used so much in comedy, and when does the satire move closer to mockery or offense? I wanted to explore these issues by looking closely at each character in turn and analysing what is going on under the surface of such well-loved figures as Revd Geraldine Granger, Father Ted and even the Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells (from Blackadder).

The book is a fun romp through a range of characters that fall into the categories of the ‘good, the bad and the quirky’ and asks the question, ultimately, what would Jesus watch?

 

What I find fascinating about Bryony’s MTV is the mirror it holds up to the Church as a whole, particularly the Church of England as the established church, and the relationship between Church and people. And the extent to which these mirrors are accurate, perhaps more so than we would like, and the extent to which they distort.

The reader embarks on what appears to be a catalogue of vicars on television, set in their context. Grouping the programmes into the good, the bad and the quirky, we begin with the good. What one might call the Robert Browning view of the universe: God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world. The church forms part of an Arcadian idyll, with notional – but not serious – flaws, like the revolting cakes cooked by the village spinster in The Vicar of Dibley. The scriptwriters seem cheerfully confused about the difference between the parish council and the PCC, with the Revd Geraldine Grainger being an ex officio member of the former. But this is not a serious objection, since the viewers are well aware that we are in an alternative universe.  G K Chesterton appears, at first sight, to have set his Father Brown down in the same Hovis setting but, this being G K Chesterton, there is some serious theology and philosophy. And then we complete this tour of the horizon with the bad and the quirky.

But this is not a book about television at all… I’m on to you, Bryony. This is a very clever book, which uses the water cooler (formerly village well) concept to gather people around to discuss what they saw last night on the telly. And then, hardly perceptibly at all at first, but gradually more insistently, we get analysis of the role of the Church in the 21st century: its evolution, urban vs rural ministry, disparate congregations and the people of God, stresses and strains on the clergy, as well as on the structures (both physical and metaphorical) of the Church; and some thoughts on its future. Suddenly, we are in much more serious territory, but have been led here through familiar pastures: by the end we are considering the various aspects of ecclesiology quite seriously enough for the Anglican Journal. Very neat, in fact a virtuoso piece of writing.


More TV Vicar?
Christians on the Telly: The Good, the Bad and the Quirky

Bryony Taylor
978 0 232 53170 1
Paperback |16
Darton, Longman and Todd

Disability And Jesus: The Organisation

disability and jesus

I became friends on Facebook a while ago with the Revd Katie Tupling, as a fellow Christian active on social media. And then we linked on twitter, where she describes herself as “daughter, sister, wife, mother, priest, loved by Jesus… views all my own.” After a while, it dawned on me from some of the things she said that Katie is disabled, but it hasn’t prevented her from becoming ordained so that she can share God’s love with the rest of us.  The Revd Katie does, all the time, but she only has to be in order to inspire us. Not that I think she would care for this small tribute, as you can see from the following:


Dave Lucas, a colleague of hers from Disability and Jesus, explains how the organisation came to be formed and what they are currently doing:

About eighteen months ago now a conversation  took place on Facebook between a group of us disabled Christians bemoaning the lack of good quality Christian literature on the subject of the Church and disability, literature that was up to date with the Equality Act, with the latest thinking of disability scholars and that was culturally relevant to church in the UK, with so much of what was available coming from the US.

After a series of these conversations we began to realise that we were morphing into a sort of team, spread across the whole of the north of England. So we picked Harrogate as a kind of centre point and in May 2014 we had our first meeting.

It immediately became clear that writing a book on its own was not going to be enough; yes, we needed written material but we thought such material would be far better being delivered by disabled people themselves, people like us. We now have a core team of four people: three Anglican clergy and one disability professional, Katie, Bill, Laura and Dave.

Katie, who has cerebral palsy, is a vicar in Dore. Bill and Laura are team vicars in Billingham: Bill has suffered with depression and anxiety and Laura with fibromyalgia and ME. Dave is an access auditor and he is blind, a guide-dog owner and diabetic.

So since May last year the team have given advice to several churches,written several articles and a couple of guides, delivered talks and workshops and built up a big following on Twitter and Facebook.

In an effort to become better known and to make ourselves more available to the C of E nationally, we have taken a leap of faith and booked ourselves a stand this July’s meeting of General Synod in York.

We need to raise around £1000 pounds to purchase an exhibition stand and to meet printing costs to produce copies of the guides we have written.

To that end we have set up both a Paypal and a Just Giving account both of which can be accessed via our website at www.disabilityandjesus.org.uk.

If you need more info you can email: info@disabilityandjesus.org.uk

Or you can call Dave on 07703 347107

Please take a look at our site to find out more about us and if you feel you’d like to donate please do.

Every Blessing

Dave Lucas

 

The Decline Of The Church And The Strangeness Of God: by Andrew Bennison

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I find that few things are more humbling, as a teacher, than being forced to go ‘back to basics’: you’re trying to explain an idea or concept and – despite your best efforts – the looks of confusion and incomprehension remain. You realise at this moment that it is pointless to continue re-wording, revising or clarifying your explanation – the weaknesses in understanding are much more foundational, and you need to return to the fundamental premise or first principle of your topic, without which nothing further makes sense. The lesson plan is ditched and you need to think on your feet. In my experience the ensuing process is often unexpectedly fruitful for the teacher: returning to the starting point of your knowledge can prompt you to see the whole topic in a new light. This might involve re-discovering what originally fascinated or perplexed you, and being startled that what has over time become dull and prosaic now strikes you afresh as radically strange, complex and exciting. In short, the experience can lead to something of an epiphany.

 

Of course, this experience is not confined to classroom teaching. Last Sunday (Pentecost) I was taken by surprise when a curious member of my family, who is not a church-goer, asked me a simple question: ‘What is the Holy Spirit?’. My reply, which sought to sketch out a Trinitarian theology in layman’s terms, produced only confusion and incomprehension. I soon realised that this was the wrong question to be answering; for a meaningful conversation to develop I would need to go ‘back to basics’, and start with the question ‘What is a Christian?’ And so I did. I set aside some time to write an answer to this question for an imagined interlocutor who knows none of the stories or vocabulary of the Christian faith – indeed, for whom the word ‘faith’ itself produces little recognition. The experience was extraordinary. In my writing I discovered afresh the outlandish ‘strangeness’ of Christian faith when explained systematically. It felt simultaneously familiar and radically unfamiliar. Indeed, it sounded so odd that I felt embarrassed at the prospect of sharing it with friends and family. And yet I still believed it with my whole heart.

 

For me, the true epiphany was the thought which followed on from this: could it be that the crucial task of the Church in our time is to rediscover the ‘strangeness’ of Christianity? The Church of England is currently facing up to a profound existential crisis, prompted by the sustained – and possibly terminal – decline of church-going in recent decades. The ‘Reform and Renewal’ programme currently proposed to meet this crisis is couched in the calm, dispassionate language of institutional decision-making, but I cannot help but suspect that a dominant motivation is fear. Indeed, as someone contemplating a lifetime of ministry in the Church, I am myself conscious of the fear which the prospect of decline instinctively provokes: am I setting myself up, I wonder, for an unstable career in a dying, demoralised institution, forever on the back foot as churches and congregation disappear around me and the Church progressively loses its influence in the public sphere?

 

Confronted afresh by the ‘strangeness’ of Christianity, however, I begin to see the prospect of ‘decline’ in a new light. As I consider the ongoing wrestling with mystery which characterises my life of Christian faith, I am sceptical that a majority of those in historic Christendom have ever orientated their lives in faithful response to the call of Jesus Christ. The Christian life is hard – it is, after all, the way of the cross – and the testimony of history would seem to indicate that ‘Christian’ has been for many Western people down the ages (perhaps even for many churchgoers) more a marker of identity than a description of their lived inner reality. Could it be therefore that the collapse of Christendom provides the opportunity for the revival of the strange, distinctive witness of the Church? Could it be that, shorn of its cultural dominance, architectural presence and political influence, the Church of England is freed to refocus on what truly matters most: hospitality, fellowship, prayer and worship? I was struck by the Revd Sam Wells’ sermon observation at St Martin-in-the-Fields on the Fourth Sunday of Easter that ‘the critical mass of the sorted and normal no longer assumes church is part of what it means to be sorted and normal’. When our Christian identity loses its comforting sense of security for us, I wonder whether we will find a renewed security in fellowship with God and one another, embracing our new-found freedom to live as salt and light in the world?

 

Of course, I do not want the Church to decline numerically. I desire to see more and more people finding the peace and healing that comes through knowing God in Jesus Christ. But if, as seems likely, the Church does continue to decline, our hope in Christ – the one who reminds us always not to be afraid – can be undiminished. We will still gather to break bread with glad and generous hearts, rejoicing afresh in the strangeness of God, whose loving reality is both mysteriously immanent and radically unknown. And perhaps we will then pray with renewed confidence: ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people, and kindle in us the fire of your love’.


s200_andrew.bennison Andrew Bennison was at Trinity College Oxford and now teaches history. He blogs at Musings on Mystery and describes himself thus: “History teacher, Christian, identical twin, London-dweller and countryside-lover (among other things). This blog is my attempt to share my experience of the mystery of God, and to create a space for generous conversations.”

 

Conservative Evangelicalism, Gender, and the Episcopate: by the Revd Liam Beadle

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I am writing in the week of a general election. Without wishing to predict the future, it is likely that the following week will be taken up with conversations between possible coalition partners. It is helpful to think of evangelical Anglicanism as a coalition. Bishop Graham Kings has identified three ‘parties’: conservative, open, and charismatic. While there is some overlap between them, as in a coalition government, relationships between the three are not always easy, and this is one of the reasons for the appointment of Rod Thomas as Bishop of Maidstone. Our prayer is that a conservative evangelical voice on the bench will enable the evangelical coalition to flourish.

But what is a conservative evangelical anyway? Any outline is bound to be personal and impressionistic, but to get our bearings there are a number of historical influences, contemporary concerns, and external markers. It is these which distinguish conservative evangelicalism from the evangelicalism of Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha course which nurtured the Archbishop of Canterbury and from the evangelicalism of senior figures such as Bishop Graham Kings, associated with the Fulcrum movement. An obvious historical influence is John Calvin, the misrepresented second-generation reformer. Calvin’s sharp legal mind and knowledge of the Scriptures and the Fathers make him a sublime theologian, whose Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the great books of the world. While many of Calvin’s followers have been regarded as dour, his theology emphasises joyful confidence in the sovereignty of God, giving rise to a deep assurance of salvation in those who read the Scriptures through the lenses he provides.

Another obvious historical influence, this time from within the Church of England, is J. C. Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool. Ryle’s writing is pithy and accessible, while giving a beautifully clear defence of the Reformed nature of true Anglicanism. A primary contemporary concern of conservative evangelicals is expository preaching. The ministry of Dick Lucas at St Helen’s Bishopsgate and the establishment of the Proclamation Trust have done much to make conservative evangelical Anglican preaching one of the secret glories of the Church of England. The conservative evangelical conviction is that the preached word is the voice of God. There is an excitement about conservative evangelical gatherings not because of high-octane music or perpetual innovation, but because of the expectation that God will address his people through his word.

As far as external markers are concerned, historically the position of the officiant at the Lord’s Supper at the north-side of the holy table was the obvious one, and grants to parishes from evangelical trusts were often contingent on it. It can still be found, but a more reliable external mark is that while open and charismatic evangelicals are happy to adapt Common Worship Order One, conservative evangelicals prefer to use Order Two, most often in contemporary language. In a conservative evangelical parish church you are unlikely to find candles, but you will always find Bibles in the pews – very often the English Standard Version. It is a very distinct group of Anglicans.I am enormously grateful to them: I came to a living faith through their ministry, and they taught me to preach.

I am not convinced by the current conservative evangelical opposition to the consecration of women bishops, but I do claim to understand it, and hope to represent it fairly. It should be obvious that for conservative evangelicals the supreme authority is not the wisdom of the world or even the tradition of the Church, but the Bible. They have Article XX on their side: ‘…it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.’ Conservative evangelicals believe that for women to exercise a ministry of headship in the church (that is, as an incumbent or bishop) would be contrary to Scripture. The classic texts have been discussed elsewhere, but for reference I Timothy ii.11 ff. is read alongside I Corinthians xiv.34 and an appeal to the order of creation and the nature of the marital relationship, giving especial weight to Ephesians v.22-24 and 32. Conservative evangelicals are adamant that women are equal to men and that this understanding of Scripture honours women, enabling them to play a vital part in the life of the local Church.

It is the local Church which is primary for conservative evangelicals. Again, they will appeal to the Articles, specifically to Article XIX: ‘The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.’ But if this is the case, why do bishops matter at all?First, and most importantly, conservative evangelical Anglicans believe that the seeds of episcopal ministry are to be found in Scripture. The New Testament refers both to elders and overseers, that is, to presbyters and bishops. While in the first century it seems these rôles were combined, in time they were separated. The Book of Common Prayer refers to ‘the Ordering of Priests’ but to ‘the Consecration of Bishops’: that is, presbyters are consecrated (or ‘set apart’) for ministry as a Bishop. Bishops thus have a distinctive purpose within (not apart from) the presbyterate.

Secondly, conservative evangelical Anglicans believe that episcopal ministry benefits the Church. To them, the accusation of congregationalism is not particularly offensive, but nor is it entirely accurate. While to be apostolic is to submit to the apostles’ teaching in Scripture, there is an ‘apostolicity’ about episcopal ministry. St Paul did not set apart committees for ministry and mission. He set apart men. That is why it is important for conservative evangelicals to have bishops to whom they can relate with confidence. While personally wary of an ecclesiology in which congregations may choose their bishop for a particular doctrinal stance, clearly conservative evangelicals have specific needs which arise from a specific hermeneutical understanding of gender and ministry.

It is to be hoped that an honoured place for conservative evangelicals in the Church’s ministry will enable all evangelicals to unite in mission, that the people of England may hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and come to a living faith in him.


liam phot webLiam Beadle is the Vicar of Honley in the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. He grew up in Newcastle and read Theology at Oxford before training for ordained ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham.

He likes second-hand bookshops and gin.

His chief desire is to preach God’s word to the end that God’s chosen people will worship God in the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

I am extremely grateful to the Revd Liam Beadle for agreeing without knowing much about me or the website to write this piece for us in an attempt to explain the viewpoint of Conservative Evangelicals. Until now, I have had some difficulty in grasping why, for example, they insist on male headship but I now understand much better how and why it is so central in their ecclesiology.

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