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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 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.

‘Developing Discipleship’ paper for General Synod February 2015

GS 1977

The following is an abbreviated version (for copyright reasons) of the full paper.

What does it mean to be a disciple?

[passage omitted]

20. Lay and ordained together share a common discipleship… Together as the Church we are the Body of Christ, a community of missionary disciples… the foundation of every Christian’s vocation to work and service.
21. Nurturing this sense of discipleship across the Church is therefore vital as the Church of England seeks to serve the common good through the life and service of every member. Nurturing discipleship is the very essence of promoting spiritual and numerical growth. Nurturing discipleship lies at the heart of re-imagining both lay and ordained ministry.

Discipleship in the tradition

22. As we look back through the history of the Church, it is possible to identify periods of significant reflection on the central importance of discipleship in the life of the Church.
23. These periods of reflection are almost all in times of significant change…These resources from the past form deep wells of inspiration and reflection for the Church today as we reflect in our own times of change and transition …
24. The monastic movement was a renewed call to discipleship…
25. The Reformation …

29. The Methodist covenant prayer, now incorporated into Common Worship, expresses powerfully the sense of dynamic, fruitful discipleship focussed in a life offered to God in response to God’s grace:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
30. The Church in the twenty-first century faces different challenges from the early monastics in the fourth century, the Franciscans in the twelfth, the Reformers and Puritans in the sixteenth and seventeenth or the early Methodists in the eighteenth. As the Church of England in 2015 we face the challenge of calling one another afresh to follow Christ in the face of a global, secularised, materialistic culture, often experienced as a desert for the soul. We need to draw on the deep wisdom of the past but also to apply ourselves afresh to an authentic and Anglican understanding of discipleship for the 21st Century.

Reflection on discipleship in the contemporary Church of England

31. How effective is the Church of England at the present time in nurturing and sustaining this call to discipleship?
32. In May 2013 the Archbishops’ Council commissioned a review of current provision across the dioceses in forming and sustaining disciples.
33. The survey found many good things. Some excellent work is being done and some fine theological leadership is being given by individuals. However, the survey also identified some significant obstacles to further growth and development. According to the survey, lay development and discipleship are not clearly articulated as strategic priorities in most dioceses. It was widely perceived that the biggest obstacle in lay development is the clericalised culture of church and ministry.
34. The Church of England has not devoted a great deal of time and energy to reflection on the discipleship the whole people of God in recent times.
35. In the whole 20th Century there were just three national reports on this issue.14 The best and most contemporary of these remains the 1985 report, All are Called: Towards a Theology of the Laity. The stress throughout the document is on developing vocation and discipleship not in the Church alone but in the world: in families, workplaces and neighbourhoods. All Are Called appeals for fresh and deeper theological reflection on what it means to be a lay disciple; a more visible affirmation of lay discipleship and vocation in the world, in liturgy and worship; and greater investment in equipping God’s people for their vocation in life and in the world in parishes, dioceses and the National Church Institutions.
36. As part of the preparation for the 2015 Synod debate, Jeremy Worthen, (Secretary for Ecumenical Relations and Theology) undertook a piece of research on sources we might use in developing a contemporary Anglican theology of discipleship (including liturgical sources and common ecumenical statements).
37. Jeremy’s conclusion is that “there is no well-developed authoritative source for the theology of discipleship to which the contemporary Church of England can readily look to inform its teaching here”. This does not mean, of course, that there has been no writing on this subject by Anglicans and others. There are some excellent and recent studies, particularly at a popular level. However the thinking they represent has not been fully absorbed into the lifeblood and culture of our Church and our understanding discipleship and ministry.
38. The lack of a coherent and concisely stated common understanding of discipleship has a number of consequences for the life of parishes, of dioceses and of the Church of England as a whole.
Our vision for the Church and for discipleship is not as clear as it could be. Many churches and dioceses include the goal of making disciples in their vision statements. But what does this mean beyond conversion to Christian faith? Where do we find a compelling vision for lay discipleship in the world?
 Our understanding of service becomes restricted to the life of the Church. A full theology of discipleship, of course, embraces the world and the kingdom of God in the whole of creation as the horizon and the sphere of Christian service and mission. There are many kinds of callings for Christians: the majority are concerned with living out the Christian faith through daily life and work, in the family and the wider community. Without this deep and wide understanding of discipleship, our understanding of ministry and mission becomes too narrowly focussed on the Church.
 Our theological understanding of ministry becomes lopsided. An immense amount of reflection has been invested over the last 25 years on ordained ministry; there has been some reflection on licensed lay ministry but very little on the service offered by the majority of Christians for the majority of time through their discipleship. If we are not careful, the language of discipleship contracts to cover only those who have a recognised ministry.
 Finally, and most seriously, the witness and mission of the whole Church is impoverished as Christians are neither encouraged nor sustained in the living out of their Christian faith in daily life. The 1945 Report, Towards the Conversion of England recognised the vital role which lay disciples could play in witness and evangelism. The 2014 Report, From Anecdote to Evidence, connects the growth of the Church clearly to lay participation and leadership and being intentional in nurturing discipleship. Yet this vision has yet to be fully realised.
39. We have a clear vision as the Church of England to contribute to the common good of our society, to seek spiritual and numerical growth and to re-imagine ministry. If we are to fulfil this vision, then we need as a church to pay greater and deeper attention to the discipleship of the whole people of God in the next quinquennium of our life together.
40. We should not be surprised or discouraged that we need to do further work in this vital area nor should we blame others or ourselves for the present situation. Rather we should recognise that the changing times in which we live call for a changing and evolving understanding of discipleship within the life of the Church. Over the past generation, the Church of England has sought to set the mission of God at the heart of our common life: we are seeking to become a mission-shaped Church. One of the next, and critical, steps in that journey is a deeper and stronger call to missionary discipleship and for the Church to see itself and to become a community of missionary disciples.

What should we then do?

41. Further reflection on discipleship is needed, but where is it to take place and how will it impact the life and the deep culture of the Church of England?
42. There are many things which can be done by individuals and within local churches to strengthen and develop our common understanding of discipleship. This General Synod paper might helpfully be studied by PCC’s and small groups as a way of beginning that conversation.
43. This paper outlines three ways of moving forward in dioceses and nationally. Others may emerge from the General Synod debate.

Ten Marks of Developing Disciples

……..

Published by the General Synod of the Church of England
Copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2015 £3

……………………………

 

You can read the whole document on a PDF, which is linked to the Church of England website here.

In Churches Too?: Peter Grant

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Peter Grant is Co-Director of Restored.

Peter previously worked as International Director of Tearfund. Before that he was Director for the UK’s Department for International Development, where he had responsibility for the UK’s multilateral development partnerships, (including the World Bank, EU and UN).

Peter grew up in Birmingham and trained as an economist.   His first job was as an economic adviser for the Government of Malawi, living in Lilongwe, where he met his wife Stella. They have two children and live in Streatham, South London.  Peter then worked as a consultant and as a marketing manager for British Telecom before joining DFID in 1990.  Peter’s 15 years with DFID included three and a half years living with his family in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Peter joined Tearfund in 2005 with overall responsibility for Tearfund’s partner programmes and disaster management work worldwide.

Peter’s life was turned around at the World AIDS conference in Mexico in August 2008 where he first woke up to the extent and severity of Violence Against Women worldwide.  He longs to see the church, and particularly Christian men, speaking out to changes attitudes and prevent violence against women

Peter recently joined Streatham Hill Baptist Church and is perennially trying to keep fit and learn French. He is the author of “Poor No More” (Monarch, 2008)

He kindly agreed to blog for Lay Anglicana about the current campaign, against abuse of the powerless in churches.

 


One in four women in the UK, and one in three worldwide, will be affected by domestic or sexual abuse during their lifetime.   Sadly, the church is not exempt.

“In churches too” is a new campaign from Restored, the international Christian alliance working to end violence against women. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness about domestic abuse and that it happens in churches too. It dispels some of the myths surrounding abuse and explores how we can take positive action to bring abuse to an end.

As part of its campaign Restored has launched a powerful video which gives a child’s view of domestic abuse.  You can see it here.

Over the course of the year Restored will be releasing four more film shorts, each highlighting a different area of domestic abuse, its impact and our response.

Domestic abuse goes to the heart of relationships, distorting all that is good. Over 750,000 children in the UK are growing up each year in households where violence is taking place. It is vital that women and men in the church stand up together to address this issue.  The heart of the gospel is about love and the laying down of power.  As we model what this looks like, and take this issue seriously, then the church can offer hope, both to its own members and to the wider community.

Restored is often asked about the evidence that domestic abuse is happening in churches too. Almost every time we speak at a church event we have one or more women disclosing abuse to us.  It has opened my eyes to what is a huge and hidden issue in our midst.   Some women who experience abuse receive positive, helpful responses from their church, others clearly do not.

Is there a risk that the theology, words or actions of your church could be taken to justify or exonerate abuse?  Every church can take steps to show that it is taking abuse seriously by making information available, building contacts with local services helping women affected, putting posters in the loos and featuring the issue ion its teaching and training.

Restored wants to conduct a baseline survey of domestic abuse in the church in the UK but has so far not found the finances to do so. We would love to hear from anyone interested in helping with this. In the meantime here are the statistics we do know about relating to domestic abuse happening in churches too:

  • 1 in 4 female respondents to a Methodist Church Survey in 2002 reported experiencing abuse
  • 53% of perpetrators of the above abuse where husbands or male partners
  • 10% of people responding to a 2012 Evangelical Alliance (EA) survey reported experiencing physical abuse
  • 7% of respondents of the EA survey admitted perpetrating physical abuse

What can we do to change those statistics?

Restored is on twitter as @Rest0red. Please do find us and follow us. The hashtag we are using for the campaign is #InchurchesToo. It would be great if we could get this hashtag trending and raise awareness of the campaign.

 


The image (chosen by the Lay Anglicana editor) is copyright: Balqis Amran via Shutterstock

Are Non-Church-going Anglicans the Key to the Church’s Future?


 

Professor Linda Woodhead is from the department of politics, philosophy and religion at Lancaster University. Last week’s Church Times contains an article by her beginning:

THE Church of England’s mission strategies and investment of energy assume that churches and churchgoers are its main resources. But a significant new survey offers a broader answer. It suggests that non-churchgoing Anglicans may be much more important to the Church and its future than the dismissive word “nominals” implies.

This has been the subject of a lively debate on Facebook, which raises several interesting threads for future debate. I have therefore taken the unusual step of reproducing the conversation here, chiefly for archival purposes. However, if anything strikes a chord, please feel free to re-start the comments 🙂


Linda Woodhead: “To me at least, [The Church of England] seems to have abandoned its sense of itself as a lay Church governed by monarch and Parliament, and responsible to the people, and has become both more clerical and more congregationally based. This is bound up with a dismissal of “nominal” Anglicans.
One consequence is that it is hard for lay people, particularly non-churchgoers, to be taken seriously. Despite their prominence at all levels of society, they are not encouraged to think of themselves as real Anglicans. They do not become spokespeople for their Church, or play an active part in its governance.”

Updated Saturday evening Yesterday’s Church Times has an article by Linda Woodhead about a survey that “suggests that non-churchgoing Anglicans may be much more important to the Church and its future than the dismissive word “nominals” implies.” The article is…

  • You, Bex Lewis and 10 others like this.
  • Robin Ward That is a very tendentious reading of the Church of England’s self-understanding indeed.
  • Edward Martin Perhaps we now need to differentiate between ‘Anglicans’ and ‘Anglican Christians’?
  • Alan Wilson For me it does raise questions of “who is a member?” that have long historical pedigree. Simply saying “The baptised” may well be thought too open (however theologically correct) but then saying “Weekly churchgoers” or “Electoral Roll Members” has to be too narrow, doesn’t it? And, finally, what is the relationship of the (largely clerical) “Management” to the plebs sancta dei? What should it be?
  • Steve Walters It appears that for most churches (the hierarchy at least) it’s members vary depending on what is involved. Most of the time church members are those who come to services regularly, up until there is some cash to be made, such as weddings or funerals and then having once had a cousin who sang in the choir is enough. This sweeping generalisation doesn’t apply to a good number of the clergy, but it does to those concerned with church finances
  • Robin Ward But this is all actually completely to do with internal political rows between different sorts of enthusiasts – jittery liberals shocked by the inability of the synodical process to deliver their objectives, calling in aid a Baldwinesque myth of Anglican England. The rampant Erastianism about Parliamentary sovereignty since the women bishops vote has been truly astounding, would Linda Woodhead have wanted it when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister?
  • Alan Wilson It could be, indeed, Robin. But beyond the narrow politics I do wonder about what is going on in the outfield — the plebs sancta dei zone? All I think prof Woodhead is trying to do is describe the constituency of the C of E; which is broader than its activists on all sides, surely.
  • Tony Eccleston Seen from Andalucía, just before setting off for the annual meeting of a C of E chaplaincy which is both wholly dependent on its own fund-raising and the employer of its priests, the definitions of Anglican and member seem relatively straightforward. Perhaps we carry our historical baggage more lightly.
  • Jonathan Jennings I always used to say that the Church of England doesn’t have a concept of membership; the basic answers to the question ‘who are the C of E’s members?’ are theologically, ‘the baptised’, and legally, ‘anyone who wants to be, whether the clergy or congregation like it or not.’ Establishment’s real function is not at the level of Bishops in Parliament or the role of the Crown, but in the legal underpinning of the wedging open the door of the parish church. When people come in, they have as much right to be there as anyone and that’s sometimes a necessary corrective to a sense of ownership. The only way of truly disestablishing the England would be to extinguish the current legal rights of residentially-qualified parishioners.
  • Alan Wilson I agree, Jonathan. It’s one of the reasons a narrow response by the Church to Marriage legislation is so dangerous, in a way that some of my colleagues just don’t understand.
  • Matthew Caminer Your mention of plebs, +Alan, makes me reflect again on the otherwise brilliant Oxford Diocese leaflet on parish share. It did leave me with a strong sense of an implicit money-based expectation that the CofE of the future will be ‘managed’ by a compact group of ‘professional’ clergy supported by a much larger group of ‘amateur’ self-supporting priests and lay ministers…. which increasingly smacks of ‘officers and other ranks’, before you even start thinking of the people in the pews. And I have to say that many of the structures and attitudes, training, funding, pastoral care etc from theological college stage through into ministerial life, seem to support that perspective. At times it has a rather nasty feeling of ‘proper priests’ and ‘plebs’
  • Alan Wilson Thanks, Matthew for articulating something that rather worries me, not only about our diocese but the whole Church of England. When, for example, will we have a Ministry Division that is as concerned with the 98% (perhaps) of the Church’s ministry delivered by unordained people as it is about the 2% (perhaps) delivered by clergy?
  • Matthew Caminer Indeed. I am reminded of a Scottish Episcopal Church years ago which went to the Bishop of Edinburgh (good old +Richard!) during a vacancy and said “we have decided we don’t need a stipendiary priest after all, because we have everything, internally and externally, under control. All we need is someone to be a shepherd and lead services.” So enlightened, but so rare…
  • Pete Ward I think Linda has a point. Deep in the Anglican Church is the sense that it is in someway there for everyone in a parish. The fact that a large number of these people don’t attend but still see themselves as Anglican is a challenge to ‘intensive’ forms of Church – what I call solid Church. The real issue is how should the CoE ‘minister’ beyond its gatherings. We have some clues with chaplaincy and relationships to schools and other community bodies but what else. How can we see a more Liquid Church emerge? ‘Getting them in’ seems myopic or at least one dimensional – whatever the church tradition it emerges from. Rather we need to ask what is the Holy Spirit already doing beyond our buildings and our gatherings in people’s lives and how should we be catching up with this? Linked to this I think the idea that we might also invite financial support across a wider group is very interesting. In other words a more ‘centrifugal’ rather than centripetal movement might if well conceived offer a ways of support.
  • Alan Wilson Thanks, Pete. I strongly agree. I think Cole Moreton‘s “God is no longer an Englishman” indicates that there are very rich places for ministry for “village holy people.” And I know a few good examples of Churches who asked “Where’s the Fire?” and discovered energy in surprising places in communities they serve and have kindled new life in doing this.
  • Anthony Clavier Michael Ramsey, who championed the “Parish Communion” movement, prophesied that the abandonment of Matins would drive from the church, those who wished to participate as Anglicans but were not totally committed to its teachings.
  • Alan Wilson A few years ago I helped with a pre-retirement group of clergy in the Durham diocese who were reviewing their careers — fascinating able interesting people, but many reflected on one of two career patterns in which they had basically done the same job four times over (1) High — get rid of 11.00 high Mass and replace with Parish Communion (2) Low get rid of Mattins and replace with Family Service and/or Parish Communion. The PC movement was so right theologically, but humanly fortified the tendency Linda identifies powerfully.
  • Ernie Feasey We have a couple of Matins and Evensong services per month in our parishes, which get a different congregation than the HC, Sung Eucharist or Family Services. The preferred format is BCP Traditional language. We’ve also run some compline services, which are also well attended. It seems to be that we need to get the mix right to reach those who are not comfortable with modern or Common Worship services. We also make other opportunities to meet people where they are and there was a very succesfull carol service in a village pub last Christmas. It needs more imagination and wider interaction iwht people at our School and in the other community events – and not all people want to be involved every week, some are comfortable with occasional or even seasonal attendance. It’s still their Parish Church and they identify with it, just can’t or won’t commit to regular attendance.
  • Richard Haggis It’s sweetly navel-gazing of clergy to think that the solution to problems is to fiddle with liturgy. It’s like bishops thinking that problems can be solved by clever forms of words. It’s what they’re good at, but, alas, useful only in very particular (or even peculiar) and limited circumstances.
  • Alan Wilson Thanks for broadening the subject out, Richard. I think people are turned onto or off from their local Church far more by the kind of community it is than the details of the liturgy on offer there. The “management” did go through many years in the past of defining everyone by their liturgical preferences, but this was only a small part of what was going on.
  • Bradley Upham I have to agree with Richard Haggis on this one. It is the (often) constant tinkering and fiddling with liturgy (this includes music) that is a turn-off than most would care to think. Anglicans have an special affection for the ascetic, whether they realize it or not, and to change it can be quite disturbing. Parishes that have changed this, might have a rebirth, but it comes usually after a long period of decline, only after the parish attending population has turned over.
  • Matthew Caminer I’m all for trying things that will engage and retain the congregations of the future, but if Messy Church and all the other forms of Fresh Expressions give a feeling of exclusion and disenfranchisement for those who worship in ‘old’ ways with sincerity and stabillity over time, then it is not universally successful… a case of both and rather than either or?
  • Richard Haggis It always amuses me when a parson welcomes “especially the newcomers”, and I look at the oldcomers, and think “poor buggers, they’ve been paying for this show for years, and no one even notices them, in the quest for novelty – even in people”.
  • Matthew Caminer As regards the original proposition of this thread, the growth of massive benefices with fewer clergy to serve them should in theory be a heaven-sent opportunity to engage the laity more, rather than less, in leadership. The fact is, though, that many congregations have something approaching a child to parent dependency on the clergy, and for them nothing less than a priest will do. In other words, it is not just about what the establishment does top down, but also about bottom up expectations
  • Richard Haggis That’s true, Matthew, but it also suits the clergy very well to infantilise the laity, in exchange for being idolised, and then burning out because there’s no one confident enough to delegate to! It would have to be said that precisely none of this is healthy.
  • Alan Wilson back in 2005 Donald Spaeth published a really interesting Cambridge thesis studying the Archdeaconry of Wiltshire and asking when people stopped going to Church en masse. The answer was that successive waves of clergy enforcing their latest notion of how to be a proper Church came along after 1660 — Evangelical, Arminian, Calvinist, Tractarian, the lot. Each time this happened some people went with the new thing and slightly more peeled off leaving a rump in the middle. The result was continuous salami slicing over 300 years. The biggest slice of all came off when residence was enforced in 1805, and clergy started enforcing gentlemanly behaviour on their parishioners. It’s a salutary lesson. http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item1115706/The%20Church%20in%20an%20Age%20of%20Danger/?site_locale=en_GB

    www.cambridge.org

    This book explores popular support for the Church of England during a critical period, from the Stuart Restoration to the mid-eighteenth century, when Churchmen perceived themselves to be under attack from all sides. In many provincial parishes, the clergy also found themselves in dispute with their…
  • Steve Walters It’s wonderful to look at new ways of making worship acceptable, and accessible, however it’s the Church’s role in wider society that needs looking at, increasing the relevance to people’s lives. So often the busiest churches have outreach work, even if its the Priest popping into the local pub for a pint or a coke, and chatting about the football. Our role so often isolates us, we have the largest (and often most run down inside) houses in the area, up a long drive separating us from our parishioners. Not many vicarages, or manses, or presbytery are on the 12th floor of a block of flats. We need to live and take part in our communities for the Church if whatever denomination to thrive
  • Clare Amos If I am ruthlessly honest I suspect that the importance given to the Anglican Communion in recent years has not been helpful in this respect. I love the Communion – and indeed working for the Communion office, but it is fairly apparent that in many Provinces of the Communion the delicate balance between the episcopal and the synodical governance of the church that (ideally at least) is part of the tradition of English church life does not really exist – instead the bishops are far more powerful. I think that has affected in turn the dynamics in England as well. (It is of course interesting that it is a church where the synodical element is very powerful – TEC – which is out of favour with many other Anglican Provinces)
  • Katherine J. Kaye At the risk of sounding even MORE heretical, the change in the liturgy which decommissioned Morning Prayer and put the eurcharist as front-center-and-the-whole-point of a Sunday service also marginalised non-communicants and made the whole process into a club of insiders. It isn’t sharing in communion that really makes us brothers and sisters, it is baptism, faith, and grace. My poor noncommunicant husband is Outsidered every time he goes to church. It’s excluding and far too “priesty”.
  • Keeley Cavendish Very true, Linda. The C of E is governed at local, regional and national level by cliques of unwelcoming people, with inexplicably high opinions of themselves. Quite often, anyone who finds that they do not share the left-of-centre, PC views of many within the church hierarchy, finds him/herself excluded quite ruthlessly.
  • Alan Wilson Clare, thanks for describing something I’ve noticed to be the case in various overseas settings. The good news is that when people actually encounter others in different churches the result is usually joy. The bad communion news is a lot of the office politics and manipulation at another level. My thought, Katherine is I’ve met Episcopal Church theologians who put great stress on Baptism as the basis for the Church, and working out the implications…
  • Pippa Soundy Is Anglicanism too self-conscious? Preaching on the lectionary this morning, if struck me that the hallmarks of Jesus people are their love for each other and their reception of the gift of the Spirit. Having belonged to some very different kinds of churches where these hallmarks were present, I tend to think of everything else as secondary.
  • Alan Wilson Thanks, Pippa. Is that how we rebuild the ruins from the streets up?
  • Pippa Soundy Hope so – very much!
  • Robert Dimmick Just come back from the AGM of our Local Ecumenical Partnership. One member complaining because he’d noticed we hadn’t complied 100% with the Church Representation Rules and also pointing out that we were probably not compliant with the canon on LEPs. Others complaining that they had been asked to sign forms for the Anglican Electoral Roll which we are treating as a common membership roll – they don’t want even to say that they are “also a member of the Church of England”, they just want to be Christians worshipping in the Christian church which serves this area (at least for non-RCs). Some of us wanting to say, damn the rules, let’s just act like a church of people who love God and each other and who want to work together for the Kingdom. A frustrating situation.
  • T.J. Tracey Jones Love God, Build the church, Reach out to the lost… Simples!
  • June Butler From my view across the pond outside the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s dual role as Primate of all England and primus inter pares of the Anglican Communion seems to constrain the governance and policies of the Church of England. The more I look at the position of the ABC, the more difficult it appears to have one person exercise leadership in the two roles.
  • Chris Fewings A few thoughts from a peripheral church member in the Church of England, possibly off-topic and ill-informed:

    1) How much longer can the model of Victorian churches (and other frowsty barns), with 20% of the pews filled for an hour or two a week, served by an increasingly thinly stretched ‘professional’ clergy survive? Twenty years?

    2) As a ritualist (baptised in the Brethren as a teenager), I can envisage many groups of future anglicans meeting in small spaces, perhaps in homes, to celebrate a eucharist which may be highly elaborate, with proper regard to holy orders. But this is antithetical (or at best parallel) to the parish church as a sign of the other (a sacrament in itself) in the community.

    3) A few churches have become or been built as flexible multipurpose buildings for worship *and* community use. This often seems to require massive capital investment, and one or more rare local visionaries. But I sometimes look at a church and think ‘Chancel: worship. Aisles: offices to let. Nave: dances, music, markets, after-school clubs, adult education classes; occasional services with large congregations’. Can some of that be achieved in some places without ambitious building projects?

    4) Is parish communion about dispensing sacerdotally controlled sacraments or about the life-giving mystery of the body of christ meeting, raising its voice, recognising the holy, sharing, eating, becoming? I rarely ‘take communion’ but I regard the handshake of peace as a sacrament. I regard the words of scripture and the liturgy as sacramental too, but to have at the centre of our weekly liturgy a service without the sensuality of taste and swallowing the fruit of the earth and work of human hands in a re-membering of the central paradox of the Christian story? It would be like going to the theatre to listen to a radio play.

    5) St Paul was the apostle to the gentiles in a rather extraordinary way: he insisted on bringing their sacrilegious uncircumcised ways into the Jewish church.

    Do we need an apostle to the secular, the agnostic, the atheist – one who will embrace their godlessness as a hymn to the unknowable in whom we live and move and have our being, and hammer out theology on the hoof?

    6) So many dead lie round. The church probably has a better grasp on death (and on failure) than the secular culture; can we hold the dead, and the memory of the dead, for the wider community?
  • June Butler Katherine, I agree that the move away from regular services of Morning Prayer was perhaps a mistake. A service in which everyone who walks in the church door can participate fully seems a lovely thing now that it’s mostly disappeared.
  • Chris Fewings It’s not true that someone who walks in off the streets can fully participate in matins or evensong. Will the whole atmosphere put them off? Will they want to say the responses? If they say them will they feel their heart is in them? Will they want to sing? All these apply to someone who’s never been to church, or only goes occasionally, or went as a child or a long time ago, and comes back and finds things have changed, or they have changed.
  • June Butler As fully as they care to participate, Chris. If a person wishes to sit quietly, that’s fine, too. The point is that no one is excluded from any part of the service.
  • T.J. Tracey Jones In 1 Cor 1 Paul challenges the people’s thinking of themselves as following this leader or that one etc.. At the end of the day, are we putting Jesus at the centre of our worship or are we following this leader or that one?
    Each one (bishop, priest, pastor, whatever) would be mortifies if they thought people were following and trusting them when really they are trying to point the way to Jesus.
    What kind of man was Jesus? Traditionalist, radical, progressive, conservative? …. ALL of them! No one can say that the church should only be one type of thing… They automatically alienate the other 3/4 of the church.
    We need to put Jesus at the centre… Above all other gods… Lord of lords… King of kings…
    Thanx Malcolm Duncan great sermon this am.
  • Jonathan Jennings I think it’s amazing that we constantly analyse the ways in which church attendance has changed as though everything else hasn’t. It is not the church’s failure that it doesn’t command the support it used to command a hundred years ago. I once read a partly constructed thesis somewhere which sought to chart the decline of evensong by doing statistical analysis of attendance in the 1960s. it confirmed quite neatly the anecdotal stories about the Forsyte Saga’s effect on mainstream churchgoing. We haven’t properly factored in the effect of changes in daily life, including the necessity of both partners holding down jobs in order to sustain a family, and the consequent growth in the importance of Sunday trading and expansion in Sunday as a social and shopping space, none of which was true even twenty years ago. Congregations who constantly feel guilty that they’re not as large or busy as they were a generation ago should relax and remember that exactly the same is true of trade unions and political parties.
  • Phil Hemsley To be honest, I haven’t read all the comments above, but since my friend Pippa commented I saw the headline, and being controversial I’ll offer http://philhemsley.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/irrelevant-church/

    philhemsley.wordpress.com

    The church in recent decades has not been successful in the UK. The results show…See more
  • Alan Wilson Thank you very much, Phil. The underwear story brings home the point very well. I often find that when Jesus’ teaching and character, and its concrete content is named, interest follows. When, on the other hand people attempt the Supernatural / doesn’t actually do stuff paradox, or posit a God zone apart from another, secular zone, privileging one over the other, people are genuinely foxed as to what is going on. Really grateful for your help on this.
  • Erika Baker If only 5% of people attend church we can be fairly sure that most of the 95% have no idea at all what goes on inside one. They have no idea what the liturgy might be, what kind of hymns people sing or don’t sing, what they say about God or Jesus. They know as much about what goes inside their local church as I know about what goes on inside the local mosque – the things you see on television, the self portrayals of the organisation in the news and in some of its more PR savvy members.
  • Alan Wilson +Dominic Walker used to send curates in training into a betting shop to experience what church felt like to outsiders…
  • Matthew Caminer When people prioritise numbers above all else, I am reminded of the person who pointed out that during the Stalinist times, the church in Russia was kept going by (harmless?) old ladies in black, and not too many of them. I rather suspect that the numbers in churches these days are probably a far fairer reflection of ‘believing’ people than in the days when there was a social cachet to going to church, nothing to do with needing to believe anything! Jane Austen: “How would you have liked making sermons, Mr Wyckham?” had no connection with whether he had a faith: just something that second sons did. So BAPS wouldn’t have been much use!

    On which score, and thinking back to earlier parts of this thread, I am left wondering whether the move towards ever-larger benefices led by stipendiaries, supported by much larger numbers of SSMs and LLMs was the result of a strategic vision or simply a pragmatic response to financial necessity. I would like to imagine the former, but I suspect the latter.
  • Katherine J. Kaye I don’t think there’s any doubt that the move away from stipes towards SSM/LLMs was financial and coincided with women moving into the priesthood and congregations changing with demography.
  • Matthew Caminer Yes, Katherine… the statistics support that…. 67% (and increasing) of females offering for ordination are SSMs, as opposed to only 25% (and static) of men. Not suggesting reasons or causality, but those are published CofE statistics.
  • Katherine J. Kaye In the history of women’s paid work in essentially middle-class occupations (excluding the vast numbers of working lower-class women in factories, mining, and agriculture) every time women are recruited in any number into an employment category, wages, and prestige as defined by ‘traditionally male’ norms, go down. This has been true in science (where it was a growth field for women and middle-class men, because ‘gentlemen’ did Classics and thence went into law and politics, up to WW1, then becamse male-only, and since circa 1980 has had more integration with women and correspondingly lower pay rates, especially in academia); in medicine (excluding surgery); in both the Bar and in legal practice generally; and in management and the boardroom, where even in major companies, women on the board are *still* paid less than their male counterparts. Women are universally STILL regarded as a source of cheap labour and men are STILL regarded as somehow more worthy of more money. My more-irate reaction phase tells me that men just down tools andrefuse to work unless their egos are massaged by sufficient recognition, but I compeletly acknowledge that this is a quondam and biased reaction!
  • Richard Haggis A largely non-stipendiary clergy is going to be quite a boot up the arse for bishops and laity alike, as they start to hear the word “no” expressed to their faces in the terms it’s been phrased only in the bathroom mirror until now. It could all be rather fun – people HATE it when they HAVE to co-operate.
  • Matthew Caminer Seriously, however much the church may claim that it is not seeking a ‘one size fits all’ solution, the fact is that that is an almost inevitable consequence of an IME regime that is based on streamlined delivery, a lot of box-ticking, and little to nurture individual gifts and callings, let alone educate or change expectations of host congregations. Hence endless advertisements in CT for “energetic” applicants – meaning presumably people prepared to work 70+ hour weeks, and prepared to sacrifice their personal and spiritual integrity to accept demands that are simply not a good fit for who they are? All such a long way from the Ordinal… “Priests are people who pray”…. In all that they do, do, do, where is the space for the rich contribution of, say, contemplatives… people with busy day to day occupations…. people with families…. ? Maybe dioceses, IME Officers and Training Incumbants could do more, but congregations must equally share responsibility to support and preserve the physical, mental and spiritual health of clergy AND their families.
    Ever-growing benefices should in theory present the wonderful opportunity for a rich mix of Ordained and non-Ordained ministry, and, within the Ordained, a rich mix of spirituality, time-commitment, involvement and so on… so room for anything from workaholic Marthas to “contemplative-in-the-world” Marys. I suspect, though, that the latter are seen largely as misfits and oddballs, when they should arguably be treasured most of all.

Reconsidering Thomas Becket: Wendy Dackson

Reconsidering Thomas Becket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Could Lay Celebration Renew The Church of England?”

The Revd John Richardson blogs as ‘The Ugley Vicar’ (a self-deprecating pun in which he takes a very Anglican delight: he is the Vicar of Ugley in Essex). On 12 April he wrote a post under this title which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce below. I think it important because it is the best explanation I have seen of why Anglicans in general, and the Church of England in particular, might come to adopt lay presidency.

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The State of the Church

One of the things that literally causes me sleepless hours is the present state of the Church of England.  It is not just the doctrinal and moral issues currently being raked over as we consider, for example, the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury. It is also the lack of evangelistic impact the Church of England has on the country and the lack of effective energy amongst many of its members. Somehow, despite its best efforts — and some of them are considerable — the Church as a whole fails to impress or enthuse.

Lay Presidency

I must have been musing on this the other morning when my thoughts turned yet again to the topic of lay celebration — the practice of allowing ordinary laypeople to preside at that activity we know variously as Holy Communion, the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. When I say ‘yet again’, I do mean that this is something I have thought about often. Indeed, I first gave it conscious consideration back in the 1970s, soon after I became a Christian. Despite growing up in a strongly Anglo-Catholic tradition, it seemed obvious, subsequent to my conversion, that any Christian group ought to be able to commemorate the Last Supper, regardless of whether an ‘ordained’ or authorized person were present.

‘Only priests can do this’

The same thought persisted throughout my college years at St John’s, Nottingham. When David Sheppard, then the Bishop of Woolwich, took part in the only college debate we had on the subject, I was simply struck by how much his arguments seemed to depend on special pleading, not common sense and Scripture.
The same was true when I read and reviewed Eucharistic Presidency: A Theological Statement by the House of Bishops of the General Synod, published in 1997. On the one hand, the Bishops seemed unwilling to commit to a ‘Romanesque’ theology of priesthood. On the other hand, they wanted to make sure that only priests could celebrate the eucharist.
The result was an appeal to the notion of ‘overall pastoral oversight’ supposedly possessed by the incumbent, but of course not possessed by curates or visiting clergy called in when the incumbent is unavailable. Hence we were back to the (desired) conclusion: ‘Only priests can do this,’ but lacking the old justification, ‘Because they are priests,’ and relying instead on a new, functional, justification which in the end is either too narrow or (potentially) too broad.
It has always seemed to me that the best argument for ‘priests, and priests only’ is the Roman (and Anglo) Catholic one: that priests are different in kind and can do different stuff. Once, however, you accept the notion of the ‘priesthood of all believers’, then rationalizations of the ‘priests only’ rule begin to look just like that.
And this is why it matters.  If you truly regard the Christian community generally as a ‘priestly kingdom’, you ought to act accordingly. If you don’t act like it, then you either don’t believe it, or you do believe it but are prepared to act in disobedience to it.

Harnessing the energies of our laity

Arguably this also has some bearing on why it is so difficult to harness the energies of our laity. Whilst they consider themselves ‘disenfranchised’, why should they take responsibility?  And if they are capable of taking this responsibility, why do we reserve the sacramental role to the clergy? Certainly the view of at least some of the early Reformers was consistent with this attitude. Martin Luther, in particular, had a ‘theology of the word’ which meant that anyone, including women, could act in a ‘priestly’ manner:
To baptize is incomparably greater than to consecrate bread and wine, for it is the greatest office in the church — the proclamation of the Word of God. So when women baptize, they exercise the function of priesthood legitimately, and do it not as a private act, but as a part of the public ministry of the church which belongs only to the priesthood. (‘Concerning the Ministry’, LW 40:23)
Rather less-widely known is Thomas Cranmer’s view that in the absence of bishops, anyone, including the laity, could authorize some of their number to act as priests.
Now of course the Puritans, of whom I am generally a fan, opposed lay baptism, and therefore presumably may have struggled with lay celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But I may be wrong — and in any case I cannot understand their reticence on the baptism issue. I have long been of the opinion that the Reformation generally fell short when it came to reforming the Church’s ministry. In my heart of hearts, I am persuaded that in this regard the Church is indeed still ‘but halfly reformed’.

What holds me back

First, I am concerned for Anglican Catholics. I do not agree with their arguments, but I understand them and recognize their internal consistency and their long history. So whilst I would like to see change, I would want to discuss it and clarify the reasons for this with others who take a different view, just as one ought to in a congregational setting.
Secondly, we have all seen what happens when groups and individuals, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for a spiritual novelty, go off the rails.  It is simply not the case that ‘clergy-led, bad; lay-led, good’. On the contrary, lay-led is often subject to abuse and domineering personalities. That there is some control over this in the episcopal system has long seemed to me one of the key arguments in its favour. Purist ‘congregationalism’ is, I think, a bad thing, and before taking steps in the direction I am suggesting, is one of the things that should also be discussed.

The need to empower the whole people of God

Yet it does seem to me that we need to break the spiritual-monopolistic tendency of Anglican clericalism and to empower the whole people of God. I have said before that I believe the current Anglican model of ministry is essentially ‘aristocratic’. We are a community divided into an elite and the rest, and no one can cross from the ‘wrong side’ of the tracks without being admitted by the gatekeepers, who are virtually all themselves members of that elite. But the chief qualification for exercising your ‘elitism’ is simply that you are of the elite — I am a ‘priest’ and you are not, and there’s an end to it. The answer, however, is not democracy! In a religious democracy — at least in the sense I am using the word — every ‘Jack’ or ‘Jill’ is as good as his or her master or mistress. Here there is no submission to leaders, as advocated in Hebrews 13:17. Instead, ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’, and to disagree with or contradict the erstwhile leadership as much as they feel inclined.
Actually, of course, such disagreement goes on all the time in the Church of England. But thanks to our aristocratic system, the ‘mob’ of the laity can never actually seize the Bastille of sacramental privilege. It is rather like the old Victorian rhyme about the colonial wars:
“Whatever happens, we have got
the Maxim gun — and they have not.’
But there is a third way, which is ‘meritocracy’ — which it seems to me is already exemplified in Judaism, and indeed Islam. In Judaism, the path to the rabbinate is through study. Thus whilst being an intellectual does not make you a rabbi, to be a rabbi requires learning. And one thing is sure: no one could expect to become a rabbi who did not have a substantial grasp of the Hebrew language. Certainly you could not expect to be a rabbi (or an imam, come to that) without being able to read and engage with the sacred texts of your community. Yet how many Anglican clergy have a grasp of the original languages?
Now I am not saying that you have to be able to read Greek or Hebrew in order to be able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper — far from it. But at the moment the privileged few who can do this may have little or no ability in areas that other religions would consider fundamental, whilst those who could, through personal effort, acquire such skills, are potentially excluded by the elitist system from ever exercising the role of ‘leader’ conceived in Hebrews.

The system is surely in need of renewal

Whatever our views, the system is surely in need of renewal. Full-time, full-time trained, clergy are in increasingly short supply. The return of the ‘mass priest’, able to recite the service but skilled in little else, looms — either that or we must accept the practice of sacramental reservation even whilst our formularies deny the principle.  We live in radically challenging times. Should we not be considering radically alternative answers?
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The illustration was chosen by me: it depicts the  “Fractio Panis” fresco in the Capella Greca of the Roman catacomb of St. Priscilla

Who Is The Church Of England For?

 Selecting the next Archbishop of Canterbury

I suggest that the Crown Nominations Commission, responsible for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury, ask the candidates this question  (Who is the Church of England for?) before proceeding any further with the interview. As well as their answers, the reactions of the candidates may reveal more than they intend. What is your answer? I doubt if it would cause a lay person any problem, but if you ask many clergy this question, they will pause (lost in thought) for a while before responding that the Church exists to serve God.

 

Classic Pyramidal Structure

An expert on organisational development would take this answer and come up with a proposed structure very like the papacy: a tier of management with God at the top, his vicar on earth (the Pope) next, then the cardinals, bishops and clergy. At the bottom are the lay Catholics in an amorphous mass. The laity, of course, are here represented by the pawns – their function is to support the clergy (and the buildings) and bear their weight.  The structure exists, it would seem, in order to support the Pope and his entourage, who in turn serve God.

 

The Protestant Management Revolution (The Reformation)

The sixteenth century Protestant movement of northern Europe,  arguably including the Church of England, came about in part because some could no longer accept a human authority figure as the voice of God on earth.

Plenty of Church of England bishops, however, agree with the former Bishop of Durham, Professor N T Wright, that:

A new Archbishop must be allowed to lead. ..Who, after all, is running the Church of England? We have Lambeth Palace, the House of Bishops, General Synod, the Archbishops’ Council, the Anglican Communion Office, and (don’t get me started) the Church Commissioners. How does it all work? In an episcopal church, the bishops should be the leaders. Rowan hasn’t bothered much about structures, but with six hands grabbing at the steering wheel someone now needs to take charge.

 

A Structure to Serve the ‘People of God’?

I propose a different model, where the Church of England in particular, and the Anglican Communion in general, exist to serve the people of this planet in general, and its adherents in particular. This is based on the ideal put forward by Lord Baden-Powell in the Scouting movement.

The Scoutmaster is the base of a pyramid of shared responsibility and service to the apex of the pyramid; the Scouts. This responsibility (and the attendant authority) flows upward to serve the goal of advancing the aim of scouting.

• Scouts and the youth of the world are the only reason the world Scouting movement exists – and they sit on top of the organization. They are ultimately the most important people in Scouting.

• The volunteers in each National Scout Organization have the greatest influence over the quality of the Scouting programme in their country. These volunteers are responsible for the “care and feeding” of their Scouts and the growth of the Movement.

• The regional volunteers and professional staff are there to provide training, inspiration, and resources that the National Scout Organizations (NSO) need to be effective and successful in their mission.

• And the World Scout Committee, at the bottom of the organization chart, is responsible to provide the resources, vision and global coordination of Scouting around the world, so that the regional leadership and the NSOs can be successful.

I think the job description of the World Scout Committee as being responsible for resources and vision is a good description of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. As the Anglican Communion is not a Church, however, it is not appropriate for him to attempt global co-ordination.

 

The lectionary for today includes Mark 10.42-45:

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercised authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve”

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The explanation of the Scouting pyramid is by the Chairman of the World Scout Committee at their 39th World Conference in Brazil in 2011.

I am indebted to Charlie Farns-Barns, a member of the Lay Anglicana Forum and subscriber to this blog, for telling me about the pyramid model

The Tipping Point?

 

Many of those in the pews share my perception (until now) of the Church of England as a monolith not unlike Kafka’s castle:

The narrator, K, arrives in a village governed by a mysterious bureaucracy that resides in a nearby castle.  An official named Klamm tells K he will inform the Council Chairman of K’s arrival. This Council Chairman then tells K. that, through a mix up in communication between the castle and the village, his presence was requested by mistake, but offers K instead the position of caretaker. Meanwhile, K, unfamiliar with the customs, bureaucracy and processes of the village, continues to attempt to reach Klamm, which the villagers regard as strongly taboo. The villagers hold the officials and the castle in the highest regard, justifying their actions even though they appear not to know what the officials do.  Assumptions and justifications concerning the officials and their dealings are set out in lengthy monologues by the villagers. Everyone has their own explanation for the actions of any particular official, but these are all founded on assumptions and gossip. Actions by the officials are often impenetrable and contradictory, but the villagers continue to praise the officials who, in their eyes, can do no wrong. The castle is the ultimate bureaucracy with copious amounts of paperwork that the bureaucracy maintains is “flawless”. This flawlessness is, of course, an illusion; it was a flaw in the paperwork that erroneously brought K to the village… The castle’s occupants appear to be all adult men…

In the case of the Church, it is the chancel steps which divide ‘castle’ and ‘village’. The castle-dwellers, with all the advantages of possessing the hill-top known to combatants of old, let loose well-aimed arrows at those in favour of women bishops, the autistic,  members of the LGBT community and others in unproductive marriages (presumably including the childless).

 

But this may all be about to change? Like a butterfly beating its wings in the Amazonian jungle,  scattered and puny efforts by  hundreds and thousands of individuals seeking a rainbow Church, in which all of God’s creation is welcomed into a loving, inclusive Body of  Christ may, just may, be about to bear fruit. As we look back in years to come, I think Bishop Nick Holtam’s interview will stand out as the moment that the tide finally turned. Also important, however, in the same week (just before General Synod) was  a group of clergy in the Diocese of London signing a letter calling for the Church of England to reverse its ban on civil partnership ceremonies being held in churches.

 

I won’t quote Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem ‘say not the struggle naught availeth‘ yet again (though it may tempt you to follow the link if I tell you the lines are spoken by Paul Scofield with ‘Nimrod’ in the background). Instead, I offer a short extract from the lyrical description of the end of winter and the reign of the White Witch  in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’:

Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller…soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs…then the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away altogether. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down on to the forest floor and overhead you could see a blue sky between the tree-tops. Soon there were more wonderful things happening…he noticed a dozen crocuses growing round the foot of an old tree – gold and purple and white. Then came a sound even more delicious than the sound of the water. Close beside the path they were following a bird suddenly chirped from the branch of a tree…’This is no thaw’, said the dwarf, suddenly stopping. This is Spring. What are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you! This is Aslan‘s doing.’

 

If we are to have a Spring in the Anglican Church, it will not be like the October Revolution of 1917: I foresee no storming of Lambeth Palace, its residents may be relieved to hear. The nature of the revolution (and, if it comes, it will be a revolution, not a mere revolt) is more akin to the wisdom of the Eastern book, the I Ching: The overlapping hexagrams 39 and 55 read:

“An obstruction that lasts only for a time is useful for self-development. That is the value of adversity…the obstruction is overcome not by pressing forward into danger, nor by idly keeping still, but by retreating, yielding…water on the top of a mountain cannot flow down in accordance with its nature, because rocks hinder it. It must stand still. This causes it to increase, and the inner accumulation finally becomes so great that it overflows the barriers. The way of overcoming obstacles lies in turning inward and raising one’s own being to a higher level.”

 

I pay tribute to my fellow-campaigners, who have almost universally had the spiritual strength not to storm the barricades, but to retreat and yield until the water should reach a higher level. But has that moment finally come? Is it premature to dream of singing in unison Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy‘ (which needs liberating from its EU national anthem status to an expression of heavenly ecstasy as intended)? Will Hyde Park be big enough to contain us all for a big sing, do you think?

For The Want Of A Nail?

The – admittedly melodramatic – headline is designed to draw your attention to a problem which seems to be creeping up on us in the Church of England almost un-noticed. (Perhaps there is a Situation Room somewhere in the depths of Lambeth Palace discussing it, but if so, it is a well-kept secret). It may also apply elsewhere in the Anglican Communion? The consequences are readily foreseeable, relentless and reminiscent of a classical tragedy – or pantomime, depending on your viewpoint – the onlooker longs to shout out: ‘look behind you!’

Dramatic decline in clergy numbers
The number of full-time stipendiary priests in the Church of England has declined from over 14,000 in 1959 to 11,076 in 1990, 9,412 in 2000 and 8,346 in 2008. The addition of part-time, self-supporting ministers brings the 2009 figure to 11,691, but (despite strenuous efforts by the Church) the age of ordinands is still steadily rising and now the bishops who have crossed the Tiber are thought likely to take about 50 priests with them. Even were the numbers of applicants to increase in the future, the financial situation means that this steady decline is unlikely to be reversed. These figures are replicated around the world and in most Christian denominations.

Traditionally, in rural areas each church could boast its own ‘Vicar of this Parish’. However,  with every change of incumbent, parishes are now obliged to amalgamate to become benefices; and benefices are remorselessly combined and re-combined to unite up to 10 or even 12 former parishes. Full-time posts become part-time, or held by ‘house-for-duty’ priests. In many places, the incumbent is assisted by self-supporting and retired ministers, but it is a matter of luck whether there happen to be any such in any particular parish. The Revd Mark Bailey wrote to the ‘Church Times’ on 30 July 2010, correctly identifying the problem (too few clergy attempting to cover too many parish churches, which he says is leading to severe mental stress among the clergy) but his solution – ‘draw the line somewhere’- seems hardly a solution on its own.

The Decline in Services of the Word
Fifty years ago, the usual Sunday service was Morning Prayer (Matins), with Holy Communion at an early service (since one was supposed to be fasting) or on high days and holidays. One’s obligation as an Anglican was to take communion three times a year: at Christmas, Easter and one other day. In some places, the shortage of priests now means that the priest-in-charge is obliged to scurry from parish to parish in his or her benefice every Sunday in order to comply with Canon law that there shall be a communion service every Sunday in every parish church. This valiant attempt is unsustainable in a mega-benefice. In the ‘Church Times’ of 30 November 2007  is a letter from Kathleen Kinder headlined by the editors ‘Common Worship and the alienation of the liturgy from the people.

Liturgy to most people today means first and foremost the eucharist, but also any service that can be led only by a priest. I share Canon Wilkinson’s concern at the growing domination of the clergy in the worship area. In recent years, worship practice has greatly enhanced the status of Anglican clergy, while at the same time it has diminished that of Readers, lay leaders, and members of the congregation. It is a tragedy that the services of the word which have contributed so richly to the character of Anglican worship throughout the centuries no longer command the support and recognition they deserve. The Church is the poorer as a result.

The Cost of Doing Nothing
When an irresistible force meets an immoveable object, in the immortal words of Sammy Davis Jr, ‘something’s gotta give’:


C S Lewis expressed it well in ‘That Hideous Strength’:

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

If there are not enough priests to take weekly services in each parish church, churches will remain empty in the intervening weeks.
Despite episcopal injunctions to drive to the benefice church chosen for a eucharist service each Sunday, people will mostly not travel to services outside their own parish.
If there are only monthly services in each church, the size of congregations will therefore reduce.
If there are only small congregations once a month, income will fall and there will be pressure to close the churches.
If the churches close, people will have to travel miles to go to services and will not be able to be baptised, married or buried in their local churches, which may have been turned into tea-rooms or left to become ivy-covered ruins.
A central part of the fabric of our national life could simply wither away. And all for the want of a nail?

What is to be done?
What is to be done? Well, in my view there are solutions closer at hand than you may think and I will suggest some in my next blog. But meanwhile, am I seriously over-stating the size of the problem? Is ‘masterly inactivity’, so beloved of generations of Sir Humphrey Applebys, the best proposition?

Notes: 
1. The illustration is ‘Dead Empty Church’ by David Coleman, courtesy 12 Baskets.
2. The statistics up to 2008 were taken from a previous Church of England website page which is no longer there. The 2009 statistics are from the current website page – on hyperlink.
3. This blog is based on an article by me in ‘Conference and Common Room’ Vol 48 #2, Summer 2011 called ‘Send not to know for whom the bell tolls’; grateful thanks to Alex Sharratt of John Catt Educational Ltd for copyright permission.

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