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Category - "Rt Revd Michael Turnbull":

‘The state of the Church and the Church of the State’




‘Re-imagining the Church of England for our world today’

This book deserves to be the key book for the Church of England in this generation, as ‘Faith in the City‘ and ‘Honest to God‘ were in theirs. There is so much that I would like to quote to you from the book, but I urge you to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest your own copy!

Michael Turnbull and Donald McFadyen have a vision of a New Jerusalem in which, as they conclude:

…there is much within England which renders it capable of becoming a society, even a Big Society, where people can flourish. We believe that this will only happen if the Church of England has the confidence in its own vocation to continue to play the role of proclaiming the Jesus imperatives from within the mesh of the nation’s institutions. We hope that in turn we will regain confidence in our national identity, a confidence without jingoism but with a realistic assessment of our place with the global community and a strong desire to see people thrive within their local community. That community will be where learning, morality, art, politics and economics come together to be the harmonious symphony, marked by joy and peace, the signs of the coming Kingdom of God.


How are we to get there from here? Well the authors are under no illusion that the road is anything other than uphill, to the very end. They begin by analysing the current influences and stresses  on our ‘turbulent’ church, which is ‘deeply embedded in the psyche and culture of the English people’. They offer an analytical history of the Church, clearing up on the way the odd popular misconception, such as that Christianity did not arrive on these shores until 597 with Augustine (it did) and that the presence of bishops in the House of Lords was part of the Elizabethan Settlement (it wasn’t). There are useful explanations of Hooker and Anglo-Catholicism, for example.


It is a cleverly constructed book. The essential message is that the character of the Church of England reflects the character, history, language, monarchy and government of the English people, and that these (and other quintessentially English) institutions reflect the Church of England. The relationship is a symbiotic one which goes back through history, before the Reformation, to the dawn of Christianity itself. The various strands have become tightly interwoven over two millennia into a mesh, and a petit point mesh at that. This basic motif runs throughout the book, rather as in a symphony, as the authors explore ‘the state of the Church and the Church of the State’.


The authors talk of Church and nation being ‘enmeshed’ and discuss at one point how the relationship might be unravelled, as one might unravel a knitted garment. Doing this, however,  is quite an easy proposition and, unless you are very clumsy, you will  end up with the same number of pieces of wool used to knit the garment in the first place.  Trying to unravel the relationship between Church and State in England (particularly with the added complication that England is not a state, simply part of the United Kingdom) would be more akin to taking apart a piece of needlepoint, in which the canvas and the thread can no longer be distinguished.  And the whole has become greater than the sum of its parts.



The book continues with a look at the future. They discuss whether lessons should be learnt from models of management, and draw some interesting parallels with Apple Inc and Steve Jobs.

History matters…history and vision are closely linked…the church itself is not primary…what matters is the Kingdom for whose coming it works…structure matters…vision matters.


Only one omission strikes me as odd in this book – and that is the Anglican Covenant. At the beginning, the authors say that the Church of England

accepts responsibility for the wider Anglican Communion but safeguards its autonomy within that. So long as England, as part of Britain under the Crown, remains a sovereign state, it will have a unique role in the spectrum of Christian witness.

Unfortunately, the Church may have safeguarded its autonomy within the Communion in the past, but if General Synod acquiesces ,the Church is about to give away its ‘unique role in the spectrum of Christian witness’.  It seems fitting to offer the last word, as quoted by the authors (p.103), to Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, who has just become a patron of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, in an open letter to Archbishop Rowan Williams:

As the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish withdraw into their search for national identities, please tell the English, whoever they are, to cherish this ecclesiastical symbol of a rainbow nation.





Michael Turnbull, former Bishop of Rochester and of Durham, was chairman of the Archbishops’ Commission on the Structures of the Church of England which produced Working as One Body (the Turnbull Report).  Donald McFadyen, a Church of England priest, is the first Director of Church Study and Practice at Ridley Hall Theological College, Cambridge.

The photograph of the Rt Revd Michael Turnbull is courtesy of Swan Hellenic, and the photograph of the Revd Donald McFadyen is from a Daily Mail article about his church.

This is what the publishers, Darton, Longman and Todd, say about the book:

Does the Church of England have anything to say in our ‘Big Society’? What is the real England and what do we want it to be? In this provocative book, two leading clergymen share their vision for a new society, and a radical reshaping of the Church of England. Despite the rise of secularism, the Church still has an important role in discussions on the ethics of technological and scientific developments, gender issues and sexual ethics, education, Establishment and economics. The tents on the steps of St Paul’s show that the Church is still a vital player in the political life of the country. Michael Turnbull and Donald McFadyen claim that the Church of England can become the nation’s heartbeat once again, but significant changes to its vision and organisation are needed. In looking at the position that the church once held, and what its role might be in the future, they explain to a new generation the potential of the Church of England in English society, and show that, in revitalising its purpose, it can create a godly ‘Big Society’ where people can flourish as part of a global and local community.

Price: £14.99 ISBN: 9780232528817 Pages: 208; Publication date 6 February 2012

The photograph of the needlepoint Austrian evening bag is by ‘Petit Point Kovacec’

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