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“Of The Making Of Many Miscs…



there is no end, and much study is a weariness of flesh,” as Ecclesiastes might have said had he been writing in 2015. Are you sitting comfortably? Refreshing beverage to hand? Very well, then, I shall begin.

The Church has prepared (at least) 39 GS Misc papers for the three-day General Synod which begins on Tuesday. Restricting our interest (for the sake of our collective sanity) to those documents which refer to the laity and lay ministry, they derive from the quinquennial review of November 2010:

GENERAL SYNOD (November 2010)
1. ‘Three main themes have emerged with absolute clarity. We are called –
i) To take forward the spiritual and numerical growth of the Church of England including the growth of its capacity to serve the whole community of this country;
ii) To re-shape or reimagine the Church’s ministry for the century coming, so as to make sure that there is a growing and sustainable Christian witness in every local community; and
iii) To focus our resources where there is both greatest need and greatest opportunity.’
2. Those words from the Presidential Address to the new Synod in Novermber 2010 shaped the report which the Archbishops’ Council and House of Bishops brought to the Synod for debate in February – Challenges for the New Quinquennium (GS 1815). The report was well-received in a take note debate, but a number of speakers asked: ‘now what?’

Extract from the agenda for February 2015 highlighting the relevant documents


Tuesday 10 February

GS 1977 – Discipleship

GS 1978 – Resourcing the Future Task Group Report

GS 1979 – Resourcing Ministerial Education Task Group Report

GS 1980 – Simplification Task Group Report

Thursday 12 February

GS 1985 – Mission and Growth in Rural Multi-Parish Benefices and GS Misc 1092 – Released for Mission [item 16]


As discussed on the previous blog post, Wikichurch: The Next Big Thing? (and its 23 comments)

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

The huge increase envisaged in the number of lay ministers (to 20,000) is likely to change the character of the Church and power structure within it considerably. At the very least, it would be unwise to assume that such a body of people would simply form a docile lumpenproletariat. . Similarly, if the people in the pews are to be asked to dig ever deeper into their pockets, it would be wise to recall that he who pays the piper often expects to call the tune.


And yet, in the interview on R4 this morning with Bishop Steven Croft and Professor Linda Woodhead, only Professor Woodhead mentioned the laity. Given that none of the GS Misc papers I have seen goes into any detail at all as to what sort of lay ministers these are to be,  how on earth we are to increase their number to 20,000, and what responsibility they will be given, it is hard not to form the impression that the laity are the last rabbit to be pulled out of the hat in a would-be conjuring trick by a desperate Church of England hierarchy. Although Professor Woodhead did not use this metaphor, she did point out the oddness that more research had not been done into an analysis of the problems and potential solutions before coming out with these papers announcing decisions which have already been made in principle.
A number of people are still asking ‘now what?’

Wikichurch: The Next Big Thing?


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray…

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

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


Dear Bishop Justin,

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

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

1)     Church of England Hierarchy

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

b)    This is reflected in the preface to the ordination of clergy: ‘it is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been…Bishops, Priests and Deacons‘ (essentially unchanged in Canon C1).

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

d)    The catechism of the 1795 (1979) prayer book of The Episcopal Church has: ‘The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons…The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.’

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


2)     Church of England Polity

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

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

c)     Secondly, the current +Winton, Tim Dakin, addressed Andover Deanery churchgoers in November, saying: ‘The Church of England is an episcopal church. It is not presbyterian, nor is it congregational, it is episcopalian‘.  Again, the legality of this statement is unquestionable, but we hope and trust that Bishop Tim will avoid the risk of delivering diocesan governance, like the ten commandments, from on high.

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


3)     Ideas For The Future

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

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

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

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

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

iv)  By definition, many of those willing and able to fill the role of ‘lay elders’ are retired or approaching retirement. It is not realistic to expect them to train and qualify as Licensed Lay Ministers – their long service as practising Christians should be regarded as sufficient (assuming their candidacy is backed by the PCC and incumbent).

v)    The matter is urgent in order to compensate for the increasing amalgamation of parishes to form mega-benefices. Without clergy to take regular services in each parish church, their place needs to be taken by lay people during intervening weeks if the congregations are not simply to wither away.

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

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

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

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

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

The Lay Mutiny?


The Caine Mutiny (1954) – Case of the missing strawberries

Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg uncovers the dastardly plot of the missing strawberries, in Edward Demytryk ‘s film of Herman Wouk‘s 1951 novel. If you have no personal experience of mutiny, this is a good place to start. Or, if you prefer an 18th century example, you are just in time to catch the screening on Channel 5 at 2.50 this afternoon of Mutiny on the Bounty. What do the two stories have in common? Unreasonable behaviour by the captain provokes rebellion by the crew, who depose the captain and take over the running of the ship.

Goings-on in the House of Laity

There are strange goings-on in the House of Laity, which even the Church of  England website fails to make boring. In case you have been preoccupied with other matters in the last month or so (like Christmas) and have failed to notice what is happening, I offer you a summary of what has been published.

There is to be a meeting of the House of Laity on 18 January with the sole purpose of discussing the motion  ‘That this House have no confidence in Dr Philip Giddings as Chair of this House’

My reason for asking members of the House to debate this motion is that I do not have confidence in our Chair since:


  • His speech against the measure followed directly after Justin Welby’s and therefore I believe directly undermined what the Archbishop elect had said


  • Since it was against it did not support the views of the House of Bishops as a whole


  • Speaking as the Chair of our House his speech was instrumental in convincing some of the undecided members of the House to vote against


  • I believe the speech was therefore a significant contributor to the reputational damage the Church of England is already suffering at the hands of the press, which is also manifest in the comments of the Prime Minister, the emerging reports of withdrawal of financial support, the angry reaction of church members and the disbelief and ridicule expressed by many of our secular friends, all of which I believe will damage the mission of our church


  • The failure of the Measure is already giving momentum to the idea that the only likely solution now is a single clause Measure, which would result in a worse outcome for the minority groups than was on offer on Tuesday


I have always been one of the first to say that individuals must vote according to their consciences; however leaders have other responsibilities and accountabilities. I feel that if I am to support the leader of a group of which I am a member then that leader must show wise and good judgement and I do not believe that this has happened.

Canon Stephen Barney Leicester 325

Well, this sounds pretty much like mutiny to me – what do you think?

And who is the brave Canon Stephen Barney?


First of all, if you are wondering as was I  how a Canon is proposing a motion in the House of Laity, the simple explanation is that he must be a Lay Canon (Crockford’s has no record of him as a member of the clergy).  This is kindly confirmed by He is also a Reader.


Reactions in Cyberspace

As you might imagine, the motion has attracted strong opposition in the blogosphere from the usual quarters: TitusOneNine, Peter Ould, Cranmer and Anglican Mainstream, which re-posts Cranmer’s piece.  You may like to read the reactions to these events on Thinking Anglicans. Thinking Anglicans also summarised the position yesterday, 11 January.


The equally brave Gavin Oldham

Gavin Oldham, a self-described fellow Conservative Evangelical member of the House of Laity from Oxford diocese, writes:

On 18 January the House will be debating a ‘No Confidence’ motion in its Chair, a motion which has arisen directly from the General Synod debate on women bishops in November. I have given my support to the motion being debated, and it is my intention to support the motion on the day unless by the grace of God there is clear evidence of change.

I owe it to my friends in the House who voted against the women bishops’ legislation to explain why I have given my support, and how my views have changed since that day in November. Let me first explain that I have been a member of the General Synod since 1995 representing Oxford diocese: as does Philip Giddings, who I have been fortunate to regard as a friend over these last 17 years. I am also a member of EGGS, as he is and, although I have been a consistent supporter of women bishops, I regard myself very much as an Evangelical, albeit one who places a high importance on the place of reason alongside scripture and tradition.

This is not in any respect a personal issue.

Over the past years my position on women bishops has been to support the maximum provision for those who have found it difficult to accept the change, consistent with the solution being convergent for the Church as opposed to divergent. I explained this position in July 2012 at the meeting of the House which took place before General Synod. I have never been prepared to contemplate a solution which could evolve into a schism.

However my position has hardened considerably since the November debate, as I have come to realise that it is the destructive ideology of male headship which lies at the root of our problems.

Our deadlock over women bishops has, of course, resulted from a combination of Anglo-Catholic and conservative Evangelical opposition. The Anglo-Catholics naturally look to Rome for a lead, and while Rome might prefer to see a clear resolution of the matter within the Church of England, it is not about to give that lead.

However it is the concept of male headship, espoused by many of my Evangelical friends as theology, which presents the major problem: as was clear from speech after speech during our debate. For while valid questions may have been asked about the representative quality of the House of Laity in the General Synod, the Church should – and does – acknowledge the vibrancy and growth of Evangelical churches which have so much to offer. This vibrancy is not dependent on the adoption of male headship ideology by conservative Evangelicals, but on the working of the Holy Spirit through people of faith.

I have come to realise since the November debate that male headship is to be seen alongside a number of similar major historical issues where prejudice and discrimination have been justified by selected biblical references. These include slavery, national socialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Male headship has its roots in the same soil of prejudice and discrimination. It is another elitist creed which, in my view, has no place in the Church of England, nor indeed in the Christian faith.

It may be helpful to consider these selected biblical references through the filter of the two great commandments from which hang all the law and the prophets. For example, how can a man who is a male headship advocate claim to ‘love his neighbour as himself’ if he is not prepared to accept that she can carry the same roles within the church? Obviously it can’t be ‘as himself’, or perhaps he is denying that women are his neighbours by virtue of their gender? I don’t think Jesus was making that distinction.

The Bishop of Liverpool spoke clearly in the debate setting out how he had come to understand St. Paul’s teaching, and why it should not be used as a prop for male headship ideology. The bishops are the seat of theology within the Church, and I do feel that conservative Evangelicals should listen carefully to, and be prepared to accept, what they say.

The ideology of male headship has come to have assumed the status of doctrine, but even doctrine is shown as capable of change from a biblical perspective. St Peter was clearly of the doctrinal view that the Gospel was meant only for the Jews, and yet his vision at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10) made clear that he must change. And thank God that he did, because otherwise we would not have the opportunity to receive Christ’s salvation today.

So I have come to realise that male headship ideology must be confronted and not appeased, just in the same way that St. Peter confronted his erstwhile interpretation that the Christian faith was reserved for the Jews. Male headship is simply the latest in a long line of elitist creeds, and it is time to consign it to history, as with the others.

Finally, let me say again that the 18 January debate is not personal: it is about the integrity of the House of Laity. Nobody will be more delighted than me to see Philip being prepared to encourage Evangelicals to pursue their zeal for Christ unencumbered with elitist ideology.

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? 🙂

There is an interesting further assessment of the ‘mood of the House’ by John Townsend on his blog here. (Hat tip to Thinking Anglicans for pointing me in his direction).

The question now must be: “Does Philip Giddings have our confidence to do that job?”

Speaking to members of the House of Laity, there is a strong feeling that, rightly or wrongly, we are ‘standing in the way’ and that it is our responsibility to do something about it. There is no doubt that the strength of reaction in the dioceses against our vote in November has been powerful. We will not be able to fix everything on Friday, or indeed very much at all, but from what I have heard members are very keen to take the first steps towards making amends.


Decisions, Decisions, For The Next Cantuar

Will you help me draft a letter to (Arch)bishop Justin Welby? I would like Lay Anglicana to summarise for him the laity’s worms’-eye-view of the Church of England. I had hoped there might be a magic moment between the time he steps down from being Bishop of Durham and the time he assumes the responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury. But that is not to be:

…the Confirmation of Election, will take place on 4th February 2013 at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Dean of Canterbury will report to a commission of senior diocesan bishops chaired by the Archbishop of York that Bishop Justin has been elected according to statute, and the Archbishop of York, on behalf of his fellow bishops and the wider Church, will confer on him the ‘spiritualities’ of the diocese of Canterbury. At this point, he becomes the Archbishop of Canterbury – until then he remains Bishop of Durham. On 21st March, after paying Homage to Her Majesty in his new role, his public ministry will inaugurated in a colourful ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral…

Nevertheless, although his last few days in office as +Dunelm are no doubt busy, it seems likely that he may be reflecting on the task ahead. It is perhaps one of those moments in the movement of celestial spheres  when worms may indeed address future Archbishops of Canterbury and cats may look at kings. After the enthronement, it will be a different matter.

So what should we say to him? I offer some random suggestions, which I hope you will comment on and add to. At this stage, we needn’t worry about the elegance of our prose, I think – that can come later.

  • The vote on women bishops vividly demonstrated the un-representative nature of the laity in the House of Laity: we hope steps can be taken to rectify this.
  • The attitude towards, and treatment of, the laity by the clergy in the Church of England still reflects the 1662 preface to the ordination of clergy: ‘it is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been…Bishops, Priests and Deacons‘. No account is taken of the Enlightenment, as does the 1979 prayer book of The Episcopal Church, whose catechism relates:‘The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons…The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.’ We seek a similar ‘priesthood of all believers’ in the Church of England.
  • The Bishop of Winchester addressed Andover Deanery churchgoers in November, saying: ‘The Church of England is an episcopal church. It is not presbyterian, nor is it congregational, it is episcopalian‘. While we do not dispute the facts of this statement, we suggest that it may be in the interests of our Church to borrow from the Presbyterian, Congregational, and even Methodist models to adopt nationwide the existing system of Lay Elders, for example, in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. There are similar schemes scattered round the other dioceses, but nothing at a national level.
  • We believe that this needs to be addressed over the next decade in order to compensate for the increasing amalgamation of parishes to form mega-benefices under overall clerical supervision. Without clergy to take regular services in each parish church,  their place needs to be taken by lay people during intervening weeks  if the congregations are not simply to wither away.
  • Many of those willing and able to fill the role of ‘lay elders’ are those approaching retirement and the newly retired. It is not realistic to expect them to train and qualify as Licensed Lay Ministers – their long service as practising Christians should be regarded as sufficient (assuming their candidacy is backed by the PCC and incumbent).
  • We realise that there are very many pressing demands competing for your attention: the elevation of women to the episcopate and a greater inclusivity of LGBT in Church are but two of these. However, the greater use of the laity in ministry is, we hope, likely to prove easier to implement.

We should end by saying that Lay Anglicana has, of course, no official position in the Church. The website, which aims to draw together lay and clerical contributors alike to discuss the Anglican Communion, was set up in Autumn 2010. It currently has about 10,000 hits a month, and several regular and occasional contributors to the blog. We know of no other online organisation which represents views on the relationship between Anglican laity and the clergy  in this way.

A Red Letter Day? CofE Admits ‘Ministry of the Laity’

I am sure you will have seen the statement by the Archbishops’ Council issued today. I am reblogging it here, not because of its main import, but because of the interesting (revolutionary?) third sentence. This is the first time I have ever seen the Church of England talk about the ministry of  lay people (of whatever sex). This may be an accident (but surely not?).  Whether this is a straw in the wind, a sign of what the Revd Rosemary Lain-Priestley referred to as the tipping-point, we shall be able to decide in years to come. She was of course referring to the ministry of ordained women, but the Church cannot possibly consider revaluing what I will now unashamedly call the ministry of the laity until the ministry of women priests has been revalued. Onward and upwards, brothers and sisters in Christ, the sunlit uplands may at last be beckoning!

Statement on the Conclusion of the Meeting of the Archbishops’ Council November 2012

28 November 2012

“The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England met on November 27-28th to consider a wide ranging agenda. A substantial amount of time was given over to the discussion of the recent vote by General Synod on Women in the Episcopate.

“As part of their reflections, many council members commented on the deep degree of sadness and shock that they had felt as a result of the vote and also of the need to affirm all women serving the church – both lay and ordained – in their ministries.

“In its discussions the Council decided that a process to admit women to the episcopate needed to be restarted at the next meeting of the General Synod in July 2013. There was agreement that the Church of England had to resolve this matter through its own processes as a matter of urgency. The Council therefore recommended that the House of Bishops, during its meeting in a fortnight’s time, put in place a clear process for discussions in the New Year with a view to bringing legislative proposals before the Synod in July.”



The Archbishops Council is a body of 19 members which acts as the standing committee of the General Synod and has a number of other responsibilities as a trustee body.

The members of the council include the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the chairs of the House of Clergy and the Chairs of the House of Laity. Full membership of the groups is available here:

The illustration is by Dmitrijs Dmitrijevs and is via Shutterstock

“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.


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?
The illustration was chosen by me: it depicts the  “Fractio Panis” fresco in the Capella Greca of the Roman catacomb of St. Priscilla

New Poster Girl for Wakefield Cathedral Restoration

Have you, like me, been meaning to get around to signing the petition on the imposition of VAT on building work on listed buildings, particularly churches?

In the 2012 budget, the Chancellor proposed removing the zero rating of VAT on alterations to listed buildings. This will add up to 20% extra cost on every listed building that wants to upgrade, and so will threaten the future of our nation’s heritage.

For Wakefield Cathedral at an early stage of work in a restoration project of national significance, it is a disaster. It imposes a cost we cannot meet and work will have to end.

This is a small-minded change from a Big Society Government and must be stopped. Please join us to help preserve our heritage and sign this petition now.

Wait no longer – you would have to have a heart of stone to resist Wakefield Cathedral’s secret weapon in this campaign – and you don’t have hearts of stone, do you?  Although admittedly not the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Pamela Greener, wife of the Dean of Wakefield, has the advantage (a) of being real flesh and blood and (b) an unstoppable force in full attack on the usually immoveable object of Her Majesty’s Treasury. On this occasion, my money is on the unstoppable force.

She has combined with two other, probably equally formidable, women to form ‘Greener Gals’:

Working with your church
GREENER GALS are helping to raise funds for the development project at Wakefield Cathedral. One way we are doing this is by putting on concerts in churches around the diocese. We ask you to provide a venue and an audience – and perhaps puddings for the interval or wine and cheese. We print posters, tickets, and programmes, and come and perform (bringing with us all the necessary keyboards, amplification, etc.)
And we agree in advance how we are going to split the takings. It’s worked well as a formula so far – it’s a really good way for parishes to support the Cathedral and raise funds for their own good causes. And people have a great evening out. If this idea might work in your church, please get in touch.

PAMELA GREENER was born and brought up in Cornwall, and started playing the piano by ear at the age of two. She read music at Oxford, where she had a brief encounter with the organ, winning a bet by playing Widor’s Toccata. A career in accountancy and tax followed, but she has always loved playing the flute and piano, and writing light music. She is delighted to have teamed up with Carole and Sue to form GREENER GALS.

At a GREENER GALS concert, there will always be a piano solo of some kind, and some of Pamela’s own compositions and songs. Recent favourites include her take on the present political situation (The Ballad of the British Bulldog) and the more intimate song written for her husband on Valentine’s Day (Wind in the Pillows).

You have to feel sorry for George Osborne – he doesn’t stand a chance!

Save our heritage: say no to VAT on work on listed buildings


As the lady says, she doesn’t give up easily. Here is a second part to this ditty, uploaded on 24 April:

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I have never met, not had any contact with, Pamela Greener. The Church of England tweeted in a very understated way this afternoon:

CofE YouTube song calls on Government to bring back #zero rate introduction of VAT on alterations to listed buildings 

Intrigued by the Church of England promoting a ‘YouTube song’ I followed the link, and was enchanted by what I found. I hope you will be too.


Leading Intercessions: Coming ‘Further Up And Further In’

For most of the congregation, a service of Christian worship can be as passive an experience as you wish: no one will stop you if you want to sit at the back of the nave and watch the elements of the service unfold as if at the theatre. Most of us have felt at one time or another that this is all we want or are able to contribute. However, the hope is that you will eventually want to play a more active part. Some people are willing to do anything that does not involve ‘performing’ in public and, as we have explored in previous posts, may be coaxed into, say, reading the lesson. But others may be ready to come further up and further in by, for example, leading intercessions.


One reason for the widespread reluctance to lead intercessions may be the lack of training generally available – with its concomitant risk of falling flat on one’s face. Anecdotes abound – in my own case, I was asked by the ‘Revd Laissez Faire’  to lead the prayers of the people at Matins. When I asked for advice, he told me to ‘ask Deirdre’, an old hand with whom I would be alternating. She told me to cut down on the prayers for the royal family – for example, unless Mrs ‘Loyally Royal’  happened to be in church that morning, I need only offer the prayer for the Queen, which I could bring to a halt about half way through at walk in thy way. There was no need to go on to pray that Her Majesty might be endued with heavenly gifts, health, wealth, strength or everlasting joy and felicity. Though I thought this injunction overly Cromwellian, I did as I was told. A few days later  the Revd Laissez Faire rang me in I thought somewhat unholy glee to say that there had been a complaint about ‘my’ prayers at the PCC meeting for being too hidebound: in future I should model myself on the forms of intercessions used at the other (non-BCP) services. Though he made it sound so, I knew that it was not really my fault: a change of intercessor had simply made people realise that they wanted to move on.

I tried the Church of England website. Even today, though it contains some topical prayers which may be usefully incorporated, it takes a protracted treasure hunt to find any help for the stage before that: what should we pray about, how long for and any prescribed order.The following is offered under Notes:

Intercessions: These should normally be broadly based, expressing a concern for the whole of God’s world and the ministry of the whole Church. Nevertheless, where occasion demands, they may be focused on more particular and local needs. Where another service follows immediately, they may be brief.

Feeling as if I had sought for bread and been offered only stones, I set off for the cathedral bookshop where I found half a dozen books which seemed to deal with the subject.  I read them in mounting despair: although they did offer some general help which was useful, most of the ideas offered seemed outlandish in the context of a small rural parish church with an extremely conservative congregation.  There is a self-help website set up in March 2011 by Hilary Murray, who says: ‘When trying to write some intercessions for a local church service, I was astounded by the lack of help and inspiration found on the internet. I decided that something had to be done’.

Actually, it turns out that there is, after all, balm in Gilead, but it took me many years and the fortuitous purchase of ‘New Patterns for Worship‘ to find it. The patterns followed by four different sorts of churches are described: St Ann’s, St Bartholomew’s, St Christopher’s and (immediately recognisable!) St Dodo’s:

At St Dodo’s, the person leading the intercessions says ‘Let us pray’, but hasn’t found the right text, so we hear the pages of ‘New Patterns for Worship’ turning during the ensuing silence. He begins the responsive intercession for Creation, which unfortunately fits neither the readings nor the mood of the congregation. He forgets to rehearse the response at the start and so has to stop at the first break and say ‘When I say … you should say …’ in a voice which implies that the congregation should have known this all along. He keeps switching between addressing God and addressing the congregation throughout the prayers: ‘We really ought to pray for Ann (‘Who is she?’ half the congregation wonder) especially today because …’ – and more of his views of the circumstances of members of the community follow.

This post is by way of an introduction: next time I will offer some practical advice distilled from an increasingly large library and ten years of experience. This is certainly above the pay grade of a humble lay worship leader and with any luck will attract flak from all sides. We can then try and move to a form of advice acceptable to the Church in general (thesis, antithesis, synthesis anyone?) Of course, it would be even more welcome if you short-circuited this process by offering your advice right now, which we can then incorporate…



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The illustration is ‘Link for All’ in the metaphor series by Slavoljub Pantelic, via Shutterstock

Archbishop Rowan’s Thoughts on Lay Ministry

The title to this post is a sort of music-hall joke. The answer to the question: ‘what are ++Rowan’s thoughts on lay ministry?’ is
‘but ++Rowan doesn’t have any thoughts on lay ministry, does he? Does he?’ Boom-boom.

You must judge for yourselves. You can read the whole text of his address to Synod of 9 July 2011 here.

The following extracts give a flavour of the speech (but please read it in its entirety before coming to any conclusions).

“Effective ministerial presence is essential if people are to be in touch with the faithfulness of God through the Church.  It is more than just the presence of the worshipping community, vital as that is: this community has to have its presence focused and personalised in a way that makes it accessible.  And that is a central aspect of the role of the ordained, both directly (as the identifiable face of the worshipping community) and indirectly, as the catalyst that prompts worshippers into service by the repetition of the news of the gospel… We are never likely to return to the mythological past beloved of some critics when every small parish had its resident full-time pastor.  But – to pick up ideas and experiments that are being explored at the moment – sometimes what matters is having a person (literally a ‘parson’) in each small community who is genuinely recognisable as the focus of the Church’s presence, ordained or not; so that the ordained minister is there as friend and support for a number of such ‘presences’, and trained to recognise their giftings.  But this is not just a matter of encouraging people to ‘do jobs’ for the Church.  It is also about the way an ordained person can keep alive and impart to others ways of giving thanks, drawing together the prayer and aspiration of a community.  So how far do we currently think about an ordained minister as someone who can as a real priority communicate what the worship of the Church really is and help others to animate it? The ordained minister as co-ordinator, as liturgist and trainer in liturgy, as well as teacher and inspirer in the more usual ways, the ordained person as celebrant of the community in a very full sense, and one who helps others learn how to celebrate in the name of the Church – this is surely one dimension of where we are being led today…”

The speech is 3447 words long. The archbishop uses the word ordained 14 times; ministry 4 times; ministerial twice; and lay and laity not at all. He makes two oblique references to the contribution of lay people to worship: he talks about ‘effective ministry (ordained or otherwise)‘ and this curious idea of identifying people of God, exceptionally holy and well-behaved people presumably, in each parish who are to serve as what the archbishop calls ‘presences‘ and I think I would call ‘teacher’s pets’.

Archbishop Rowan is a gifted orator, and it is clear from the twitter reactions to his speech that it was well-received overall. For the bishops and clergy present, I can see that ‘heart spoke unto heart’.  But what about his listeners from the House of Laity? What about other lay people, looking on? What about the LGBT community, as David Goss reminded us on twitter?

I see nothing here for any of us except a desert and waste land.

Luckily, my experience of God is more or less the opposite of what ++Rowan appears to have in mind as the ‘correct’ way for lay people to experience Him, and that is solely as demonstrated by the ordained. Kindly meant, no doubt, but if, after 60 years of Christian worship, I had to rely on the priesthood  to explain to me what was meant by Christianity, it wouldn’t say much for their effectiveness over a lifetime, now would it?

One priest who has shown, and continues to show me the way is the Revd Lesley Fellows. Here is an extract from a recent post of hers:

The church sometimes draws me towards God and sometimes away from God. Sometimes I wonder whether there is more darkness than light in the church. However, I find myself connected to God through the Eucharist and even if it is that one sacrament alone that the church offers as light, that still leaves me committed to the church for my spiritual refreshment, however infuriated I sometimes get.

Thank-you, Lesley. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

1. The photograph of Archbishop Rowan is via wikimedia under CCL. The photographer was ‘Brian.jpg’
2. My assertion that the Archbishop has no views on lay ministry, or at least no affirming ones, is based on previous searches of the speeches on his website and the fact that there is no mention of my tier of ministry on the main Church of England website, and scant reference to Licensed Lay Ministers. I would be very pleased to be proved wrong on this inference.

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