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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?

13 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

Bravo! Bravo!

I was just about to get my helmet and flak jacket to storm the barricades, but it seems that some gentler, less ‘Wary’ types than me have managed to undermine the foundations.

Tried hard to follow Synod today, but without a lot of success. The voice link wouldn’t work on my laptop and the tweets were a bit disjointed to say the least.

But, I hope, as you do, that a corner has been turned and that just in the next few days, we might just get a tiny glimpse of heaven interfacing with earth and we have a foundational moment with a vote in favour of women bishops.

I’m praying for that outcome.

Just reminds me off:


by: Ralph Waldo Emerson

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others,
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you UK Viewer.
I am torn between longing to rejoice and the fear that it may all be too soon. But, and of course I don’t know whether it is my imagination, the wind does seem suddenly to have shifted direction. As Churchill said (at the Battle of Britain?) ‘It is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.’Actually, I am hoping we are nearer the beginning of the end than that would suggest!

Thank-you also very much for the Emerson, which is truly memorable.

06 February 2012 22:00
06 February 2012 21:48
Anne Peat said...

Praying so much that today the general synod accepts the overwhelming voice of the dioceses and passes the legislation on women bishops unamended and with no call to the House of Bishops to put anything else but code of practice in place.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Anne. I am praying with you! Even at the diocesan synod vote in Canterbury, it seems about one third of those present (clergy and laity) voted against the Covenant, which is very brave of them in the circumstances. Oremus, oremus!

07 February 2012 10:41
07 February 2012 08:44
Nancy Wallace said...

Your quotes are so apt. The ‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ extract has made me smile in hope today. The water and obstacles image from I Ching is so wise. By the way there has been at least 1 attempt to liberate ‘Ode to Joy’ from its EU national anthem status. Do you know Michael Baughan’s hymn based on Psalm 98, “Sing to god new songs of worship…”?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Nancy. I must admit that my attempts so far to persuade our village congregation to burst into an ecstatic rendition of Michael Baughan’s hymn (447 in Hymns Old and New)have not been very successful! I think the problem is partly the organist (who I hope doesn’t read this!) and is better at more solid German offerings such as ‘All our hope on God is founded’ and ‘All people that on earth do dwell’. Both of these are actually meant to be joyful but come out positively dirge-like.
The other problem is to do with the words. The metre works fine, and it looks like a good 19th century hymn (!) until you realise that there is no rhyme (I know, very old-fashioned of me). Also, just as opera works better if you do not understand the words (Mimi, your tiny hand is frozen! is not nearly as affecting as ‘che gelido la tua mano’ or whatever the Italian is), I think I would prefer to try my cod version of German. All together now: ‘Alle menschen verden bruder…’!

07 February 2012 11:15
07 February 2012 09:48
Charley Farns-Barns said...

Isn’t that, ummm, a line from the Horst Wessel Song? Can’t quite see the relevance. Regards, Charley F-B.

Lay Anglicana said...

Poor old Beethoven – you are comparing Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’ (see with the Horst Wessel? Surely not!

Horst Wessel (see

The flag is high! The ranks are firmly closed!
The SA march with quiet, steady step.
Comrades shot by the Redfront and reactionaries
March in spirit within our ranks.
Clear the streets for the brown battalions,
Clear the streets for the stormtrooper!
Millions are inspired when they see the swastika,
The day of freedom and of bread dawns!
For the last time, the call to arms is sounded!
For the fight, we all stand prepared!
Soon Hitler’s banners will fly over all streets.
Our time of bondage is nearly over!
The flag is high! The ranks are firmly closed!
The SA march with quiet, steady step.
Comrades shot by the Redfront and reactionaries
March in spirit within our ranks.

Actually, I think the best attempt to turn Beethoven and the Ode to Joy into a hymn dates from 1907 and is ‘Joyful, joyful we adore thee’ (see youtube version at

07 February 2012 21:11
07 February 2012 18:21
UKViewer said...

I see that today was only discussing the Draft Code of Practice. From the tone of the tweets that I’ve managed to read, there appears to be some concern about how it will work.

@womenbishops tweet seemed quite appropriate to the debate

“Forcing women bishops to have specified male counterparts is like saying women can drive – but only accompanied by a man. Patronising”.

Lay Anglicana said...

Oh dear, yes, patronising and from some other planet than the rest of us!

07 February 2012 21:15
07 February 2012 19:14
Susan Snook said...

Laura, I gather that the women bishops resolution achieved a success in Synod – unamended to allow outside bishops to nurture their flock without their approval. This seems like a good thing. But I am unclear about the process from here. For us puzzled Americans, would you explain what the next steps are for this measure? There was some talk about a veiled comment by +Rowan that the House of Bishops could still change it. Can they do that? Parliament seemed to have issued a demand of sorts – do they have a say? Does it have to come back to Synod for another vote?

Incidentally, I described the amendment to my husband – the one that would have required a woman bishop to accept the authority of another bishop to oversee congregations that didn’t accept her authority. He said the solution to that was easy: next time such an amendment is proposed, simply propose an amendment to the amendment. The new amendment would state that ANY congregation that is not happy with its bishop for ANY reason would the right to choose a bishop of their liking. Completely undermining the authority of ALL bishops, of course, which might not be a bad thing! I think it’s brilliant and I hope you will store it away in your toolbox!


Lay Anglicana said...

First of all, your husband sounds like a very sensible man. How would he like to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury? I would certainly vote for him. Oh yes, that’s right, I don’t have a vote!

I listened to the proceedings of General Synod and by the end of the day was exhausted and depressed. Judging from Twitter, so were most of those present. Imagine our surprise, then, when reading the press accounts, to discover that our side won! Of course, we haven’t won outright, and all we have won is a vote about the subject for the next debate at the next General Synod, in York in the summer. It is all excessively complicated: probably the best summary is by Torey Lightcap in ‘The Lead’

You remember I said that we were trying to get Parliament to take an interest in a subject which had not been referred to them by the Church (the Anglican Covenant)? You were amused that the Church could itself choose what to refer to Parliament and what not to! The women bishops topic was the subject of Parliamentary involvement of a sort – see my contribution to The Episcopal Cafe here.

Susan Snook said...

Thank you for, umm, clarifying. This is indeed a complicated process! I think I’ll go back to figuring out the Athanasian Creed.

Your offer to my husband to become the next ABC was met with sustained snickering and an extremely firm rejection. Oh, well!

11 February 2012 23:45
11 February 2012 18:08
11 February 2012 16:12

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