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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.

9 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

Dear Arch Bishop Designate, Justin,

We, the members of the Church of England, welcome your appointment as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. You bring to the role some essential worldly skills, but also and abundance of the necessary mental, physical and spiritual gifts which will stand you and the Church in very good stead for the future.

As loyal Anglicans, we want to see the Church thrive, to reach out to our communities and people in a manner which is pastoral, topical and which removes the idea that Bishops, Clergy and the laity of the Church of England are out of touch and removed from the rest of the world.

More than anything else, your gifts as a communicator will be needed in these roles. In the past, communications has been mishandled, inept and on occasion, have caused huge offence and confusion. Just last week, the communique on the lifting of the bar on Clergy in Civil Partnerships was poorly handled, poorly presented and issued as a bald statement, without any supporting briefing or documentation.

The Church needs to have a credible, professional presence in all media, but more importantly to its members, who receive such pronouncements, without notice, often without prior consultation leaving us to feel disenfranchised by an elite within Church House and the HoB, who claim to speak the mind of the church, without any evidence to support it.

The church, with some notable exceptions has been slow to react to the governments increasingly repressive regime of cuts which have unfairly penalised the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Seemingly to create a whole new social class of ‘workshy’ feckless and the anti-social and particularly the young. This has gone virtually unchallenged by the church, which wrings it’s hands in anquish, but stands by without any vigorous opposition. The church can’t ignore what is happening here, as well as the wider issues of poverty and homelessness in our communities here and wider afield. While we are not politicians, surely we should be loudly commenting on the unfairness and treatment of many who are suffering unduly through no fault of theirs.

Another issue that needs to be addressed urgently is that of Governance. The Synodical process is flawed, evidenced by the fiasco that was the Proposed legislation for Women in the Episcopate. It should have been foreseen and not just put to General Synod on a wish and a prayer.

Another issue is that of empowerment of the Laity. In many places the laity are ‘done to’ by their Clergy, who assume that they hold the power and treat their incumbency as a personal fiefdom. The Church has been preaching the ‘Ministry of all of the Baptised’ but fails to enact it in any meaningful way. It’s a working mess, with no commons strands across the whole church and with may opportunities for ministry for those awaiting an answer to a call to serve, going ignored or having unrealistic hurdles, particularly of demanding training being placed in their paths as a deterrent, not an attraction.

You will note that I have refrained from addressing other issues, which Dr Williams described as second order such as gender and human sexuality. They are not issues we can ignore, but need to be pursued in the context of priorities of our wider responsibility to all of our people.

The Church is called to be a servant church. It should be t be a shining light and witness to a vibrant, living Gospel of Jesus Christ. It should seek to be Sacramental example to the whole world. You are now called to lead us in this.

Yours faithfully

XXXXXX Loyal Anglicans.

07 January 2013 22:23
Wendy Dackson said...

It occurs to me that there are four historically abiding concerns, and three defining questions, from a social theology standpoint, that the (Arch)bishop should attend to. The historic concerns are:

1. The church’s duty of appropriate care for place.
2. The role of the church in assuring restitutive justice.
3. The role of the church in insisting on accountability by secular leadership on behalf of all people.
4. The church’s vested interest in good government.

The three defining questions the church has to answer in thinking about society:

A. What do we believe God intends for society?
B. What are the benefits of the Christian religion, mediated by the institutional church, for the secular society?
C. What is the place of the church in terms of influencing a culture that cannot be assumed to share its ideals?

Perhaps we need to enclose a copy of my recent article in Anglican Theological Review 🙂

08 January 2013 03:17
James Mac said...

@UKViewer: after

Another issue is that of empowerment of the Laity. In many places the laity are ‘done to’ by their Clergy, who assume that they hold the power and treat their incumbency as a personal fiefdom.

you might add

Even the Church’s liturgy encourages this view – you would, I hope, be shocked at how many people feel that the Common Worship rubric The Giving of Communion demeans the laity into some sort of inferior body.

08 January 2013 09:05
Lay Anglicana said...

Here are some of the many comments on Facebook:

David Ore Laura: setting aside the current two great marks of shame- self-inflicted i might add, two suggestions come to mind:
11 hours ago

David Ore 1) a series of church-wide open forums, discernments of people’s sense of the Church the Holy Spirit is calling us to be. Professionally facilitated discussions (i.e. not the usualy episcopally controlled forum). These could take place both locally and…See More
11 hours ago

David Ore A third, church-wide possible discernment could be on the ‘values and transformative practices’ we sense/believe the Church of the future is being called to embody. #1 on my list transparency.
11 hours ago

Wendy Dackson David, the kind of forums you’re describing are just a larger version of work I did for the diocese of Derby. I’m up for leading them!
10 hours ago

Chris Fewings Some random thoughts:
– even an Athenian assembly of CoE laity could probably not come up with one single proposition they all share (=> important not to overstate support for any one thing)
– CoE perhaps more accepting than other churches of people who just want to sit in the pew – let’s exercise care re a culture which assumes everyone must have an active role.
– I didn’t get your point about the Enlightment (which I always suspect of infecting Christianity with Rationalism). But it may be that the clergy as a whole haven’t quite taken on board universal formal education – they used to preach to congregations where the majority had never read a book.
– A focus 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 (perhaps a diocesan training course and special vestments for the kitchen would attract more men to this ministry).

08 January 2013 13:12
Lay Anglicana said...

I have just realised that we need to add a rider to the first sentence to the effect that we support Paul Bagshaw’s idea of ‘one member one vote’

08 January 2013 13:14
Lay Anglicana said...

@Chris Fewings
I’m sorry the reference to the Enlightenment was a bit murky – the original US prayer book was 1789, hence my description. I remember vividly seeing a reference to the four orders of ministry, but in the way of things, cannot now find it. I need to retrace my steps to make this bit of the letter more convincing – well-spotted!

08 January 2013 13:21
Chris Fewings said...

Interestingly, @His_Grace has proposed that ‘churchgoers’ should vote for their bishops and archbishops, though he would prefer to exclude ‘Guardian-reading goats’:

Wendy Dackson said...

In the Episcopal Church, we do (sort-of) vote for bishops, through our diocesan convention. Often, it is a ‘special convention’ specifically for the business of electing a bishop and not for the usual annual business. All clergy, and elected lay representatives of each parish, vote on a final slate of (usually) no more than four candidates. There is usually an extended period of time in which candidates of the search process visit the diocese and are available for ‘walk-arounds’ and Q&A with all comers. Then, people feed back their thoughts to their elected representatives, who then (usually) base their vote on what they have heard from the members of their parish.

10 January 2013 18:24
08 January 2013 13:24
Mike Nash said...

Dear Laura,
You wish “to summarise for him [i.e. ABC] the laity’s worms’-eye-view of the CofE”, and the thread that runs through your own suggestions is naturally that of the strains produced by parish amalgamations and the resistance by clerics to lay involvement in clerical duties.

Firstly may I recommend you resist the temptation to harp on gender issues, either LGBT of that of women bishops, very important though these issues are. I believe these problems will be resolved anyway and that our best path AT THE MOMENT is to go for a requirement from the Archbishop for laity involvement. A more singular and focused missive will, I suspect, have more impact. For if we had such things as Lay Worship Leaders (or whatever else they’re called where you are) I cannot see how such horrors as the denial of bishoprics to women or the continued resistance to LGBTs could last. I’m sure that a greater laity involvement would not put up with it. It might be, of course, that very conservative evangelicals, etc might only allow laity who are “clones” of themselves to be commissioned, but in general I believe in overall good sense of the majority of current clerics (esp the females) and of our fellow Christians in the pews to make such delays local and short. I’m reminded of a lady cleric (I’ve forgotten her name!) on a recent “Sunday” program on Radio 4 who said that the CofE often considered itself to be the nation’s conscience, but now that is reversed and the nation is the conscience of the CofE. (And further to this matter Richard Holloway pointed out that the Quakers never let scripture get in the way of doing the right thing!)

Behind this is the thought that the Holy Spirit doesn’t restrict itself to the clerics. And as we’re the Established Church (whether you like it or not) so by definition the voices all Englishmen and women are to be listened to, and although the lunatics are not all locked up yet, one can see that the thread of decency that runs through them (us). In this case it’s their (our) amazement at the CofE’s treatment of women and LGBTs. It cannot last and a greater laity involvement will stop this sort of nonsense.

Regarding direct laity involvement, by which I assume you mean them presiding at some services, the administration of the reserved communion, etc (all after appropriate selection of personnel and the right degree of training) it seems to me we forget that EVERYWHERE some laity can already do this. I refer to churchwardens who are already empowered to preside at some services (and of whom no training is asked!) In two benefices next to mine such things already happen – and the sky has neither fallen in nor the world ended. Indeed, when I asked a cleric how she managed to have a service every Sunday in all five of her churches she said those immortal words “Well, I can’t do it all on my own!”

And that is the nub of it. Here in my patch there’s been four parishes in one benefice for about forty years and for the last three we’ve only had a single part-time priest – and we’ve been told that in a few years that we will increase to become a benefice of some ten parishes. Nothing unusual in that, but without lay involvement we’ll become just congregations trying to look after ourselves with no power to reach beyond to those who don’t already attend. But it’ll be worse because I fear we’ll fail even at that. The area we need to cover is so much bigger, for example as hospitals consolidate to maintain expertise they’ve become more distant and clerics don’t have the time to visit distant sick parishioners (our hospitals are between 15 and forty miles away depending on your troubles). And don’t forget the distance at which some of our nursing homes are for our very elderly parishioners.

So to me it’s blindingly obvious that for plain practical reasons selected laity MUST take on such tasks and be empowered to lead prayers and administer reserved communion. Anything less will cut off anyone in a home or a hospital, and in local terms, anyone unable to attend church. But even at church one’s lucky to get a single service per month, indeed, one parish church near here has had only one service in 2012 (apart from a wedding and a burial) and that was only a carol service – nothing at Easter! The laity must assist here too.

Finally I recommend you resist calls for the laity to vote for bishops, etc if only for practical reasons. Who would be eligible, all parishioners? Why not, for the CofE is the national Established Church. No worries, they’re all on the civil electoral roll and so it will only be as big an undertaking as a local general election with its attendant costs and legal organisation(!) Perhaps you’ll restrict the vote to those on the electoral rolls – but would you guarantee they’re in good enough shape to stand up to scrutiny? I think not. No, this isn’t a practical way to go.

The best of luck, Charlie Farns-Barns.

09 January 2013 21:43

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