Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Category - "Church of England":

“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…

‘Developing Discipleship’ paper for General Synod February 2015

GS 1977

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

What does it mean to be a disciple?

[passage omitted]

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

Discipleship in the tradition

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

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

Reflection on discipleship in the contemporary Church of England

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

What should we then do?

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

Ten Marks of Developing Disciples


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



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

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, Nascetur Pro Te, Israel!


The Incarnation of Christ: Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522), also known as Piero di Lorenzo


Holy and incarnate one,
at whose unexpected touch
the ordinary world
is charged with God:

we pray for those
whose hardship is overwhelming, who cannot find you;
who live in poverty, anxiety, and hunger;
whose lives are fearful or lonely;
who are exploited, exhausted or ill.

For the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

We pray for those
whose ambition is overwhelming, who do not want to find you;
whose lives are choked with overwork or consumption;
who have chosen an unreal path;
who have hardened their hearts.

For the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

We pray for those who have begun to find you, and are overwhelmed;
for whom the risk of healing is too painful;
who are afraid of your embrace,
and fear your energetic power to reconstitute the world.

For the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

John 1.14

From ‘All Desires Known’, by Janet Morley, p. 80



Training For Leadership In The Church Of England


Courtesy Upland Path Management:

Unless you have spent the last fortnight on a Pacific atoll, you will know that the Church has had what it no doubt believes to be A Bright Idea about how to improve the management skills of the next generation of Bishops and Deans. If you have not already done so, I urge you to read Psephizo’s blog post on the subject, which summarises the comments that have been made, as well as offering his own useful insight.

I had not thought to add my pennyworth. However, something that is glaringly obvious to me does not seem to have been mentioned, viz It Won’t Work!

Assuming you do not object to the idea of training bishops and deans as managers (which of course many do, but that is not the point of this post), there are three important characteristics of managers which the report does not address:

1. Managers are individuals, with individual strengths and weaknesses, and individual training needs.

2. Managers need practical training/coaching/equipping at the moment of need, not theoretically in advance.

2. Managers are part of a team – not every team member needs the same skills.


Identifying Future Leaders

Come off it! This is not a new idea – it has always been done, sometimes from the comfort of the Athenaeum, sometimes apparently in the gents at Church House. This is the way of the world, and the Green Report is not going to change that.

Equipping The Chosen For The Task

What is needed is helping those who have been chosen for leadership through these tried and tested methods to carry out their new role. Remember the Peter Principle?  The Church of England is about to conduct an experiment costing £2 million pounds which most of us expect simply to provide further evidence in support of this principle:

The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in his or her current role rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”

Not to mention ‘those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it’.

Reflect On Your Own Experience

For example, supposing you were not born wired up to a computer monitor, do you remember when you first realised this was a skill you needed to master if you were to remain effective in the workplace? I hope you did not go on ‘a computer course’, which taught everything from Ada Lovelace and Babbage up to COBOL. If so, I doubt whether you took much in. People learn best when they are being taught how to solve a particular problem they have encountered at a particular moment.

How To Train A Church Leader

Do not, I beg of you, on bended arthritic knee in case that helps, offer training to high fliers on the way up. Wait until they have arrived in post. Then offer tailor-made ‘equipping’ to help with situations as they arise (or even better, as they are identified on the horizon). For instance, we are all agreed that the future Bishop Libby Lane is going to face difficulties, simply because she is the first woman in this role and all eyes will be on her. I hope that she will make contact with one of the other female bishops in the Anglican Communion and ‘buddy up’ – this is likely to be the most effective form of support. I also hope she will be offered training support as and when she needs it – probably a short course of a week at a time, say, at one of the management colleges on specific issues faced by all managers.

Not Nones, Not De-Churched, Just Dones


John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation—often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best.

For the church, this phenomenon sets up a growing danger. The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.

Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”

The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.

This is an extract from an important and fascinating blog post called ‘The Rise of the ‘Done With Church’ Population’ by Thom Schultz on You can read the whole post here.

Thom Schultz’s post is of interest in connection with the thoughts published on Lay Anglicana by me, but more particularly in the comments on Fuzzy Church, Anyone?

‘Fuzzy Church’, Anyone?


The Great Commission

The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. –C. S. Lewis

We Have A Gospel To Proclaim

dog jumping up


In our more enthusiastic moments, all convinced Christians feel an urge to shout from the roof tops ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good!’ – we have discovered a secret of living that makes an enormous difference for the better in our own lives, and we naturally want to share it with everyone.

Head and Heart

But even if they share your ebullient nature, the people on the receiving end of all this exuberant enthusiasm  were almost certainly thinking about something else when you made your pitch, since you probably did so at a time and place to suit you rather than them.


Hard Sell or Soft Sell?

Some priests put up hoardings saying ‘All Are Welcome’  (as if the presumed default position of the Church were the reverse), with unknown degrees of success. Other priests refuse to ‘sell’ the Church at all:

It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love. Billy Graham

(Of course, this is a little disingenuous on the part of Billy Graham, who was the greatest evangelist of recent times). At the other extreme,  people  ring doorbells of complete strangers, or walk up to them in shopping centres, asking whether they know Jesus. If the success rate of these confrontational approaches were high, we would  have heard about it by now. American advertising agencies have examined the two approaches.

‘Spiritual But Not Religious’

Dr Wendy Dackson has analysed this amorphous group of people,  first here on Lay Anglicana and then on her own Past Christian:  surely these are the people we should concentrate on reaching if we hope to extend the existing Christian community? How do we do this? Well, sticking up a sign saying ‘All Are Welcome’ must rate as ‘could do better’.

The shortest distance between two points is rarely a straight line.

Robert Twigger writes:

It could be a spiral, a slow spiral around one point and then a loop into the other. Or a zig zagging path … The more I observed my own …setbacks… and successes, the more I saw there was NO correlation between directness of route and success, or rather, there was: a negative correlation. The direct approach was the more likely either to fail or take twice as long… Straight lines are not to be found in nature. Look at the cracked mud of a field recently in the sun…Water is curved as it lies in a glass- surface tension. Trees branch, even very straight trees waver at the top.

Fresh Expressions

Fresh Expressions

seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing and resourcing new ways of being church. We work with Christians from a broad range of denominations and traditions and the movement has resulted in thousands of new congregations being formed alongside more traditional churches.

There is already a course called ‘Puzzling Questions’ which encourages those attending to discuss the four last things and so on, but the directing staff solution is a Christian one. The Fuzzy Church concept does have a common point of departure with Fresh Expressions – see  ‘Interest in spirituality is widespread’-  but takes it a step further.


The Proposition

Fuzzy Church would be an outreach of each participating community (parish/benefice). It would host a series of discussions (in the village hall or pub, preferably not the church?) on the meaning of life aka ‘puzzling questions’. (It would probably NOT be overtly called ‘Fuzzy Church’, but something more anodyne, perhaps ‘Puzzling Questions 2.0’?). The USP of Fuzzy Church is that these would be completely open-ended discussions, ie they would not seek to impose a directing staff solution or Christian answer to the question, but enter discussions with the rest of the audience with no preconceptions. Again, this is not completely original:

Mission Statement of St Stephen, Walbrook (after ‘Proclaim, celebrate and promote the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone in the City’)

Provide, without prejudice or expectation, a safe and welcoming place where people of all religious faiths or none can find spiritual inspiration, guidance, encouragement and support.


Why ‘Fuzzy’?

You’ve heard of fuzzy logic – its predecessor, Boolean logic, saw everything as either true or false, one thing or the other. Fuzzy logic allows for gradations of truth. For example, if you begin eating an apple, it begins as an apple and by the time you have finised eating, it has become an apple core. At what point in between did it cease to be an ‘apple’ and become an ‘apple core’?. Calvin College Engineering Department have put forward an explanation of fuzzy logic which even I can understand.

Machines that use fuzzy logic take the ‘truth’, fuzzify it in order to talk to the machine, and then de-fuzzify at the end.

 Why Fuzzy Church?

  • If atheist churches are increasingly popular, we would be tapping into the zeitgeist.
  • The idea costs nothing – at least nothing financial. It simply needs us to engage with people on the basis of  where they are and what they need. It would be a slower way of making Christians, but possibly one with more lasting foundations. It would be  fly-fishing (think Isaak Walton) rather than simply casting our nets and hoping for the best.
  • The discussions could be combined with a  liturgy in church, perhaps on the fifth Sunday of the month (ie four times a year) using prayers, songs and readings like those selected by the Templeton Foundation in ‘Worldwide Worship‘ .
  • The discussion groups could be based on existing house groups and/or those temporary groups which form for Lent and Advent study. Between Lent and Advent, (some of) the same people would engage with the agnostic but spiritual amongst the community who were willing so to engage.
  • There seems no need to hide the fact that it is a Church initiative – we are seeking to inform ourselves about the way others think, to debate our reasons for holding the beliefs that we  do,  and to seek after the truth.

 Is there any mileage in this, do you think?








Westminster Faith Debates, Unity and Diversity: by Erika Baker





A purely subjective account


I had been really looking forward to the Westminster Faith Debate “Diversity – what kind of unity is appropriate nationally and internationally, how can diversity become a strength?”, the penultimate one in this year’s series organised by Professor Linda Woodhead from Lancaster University.


The format of the debates is a 5 minute talk by each of the panellists followed by a brief moderated discussion between them, which is really more a question and answer format than a genuine conversation between the speakers. There is then a period for contributions from the floor and slightly longer contributions from the designated provocateurs.


I won’t summarise all the contributions here, they can shortly be listened to here, and Colin Coward published a very good summary of them here  .


Laura has asked me for a “smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd” contribution… well, the first thing to say is that there was indeed a full crowd, plenty of spontaneous applause (as well as the customary “end of speech” version) and that there were many interesting questions raised by various people in the audience.


The first speaker was Bishop Trevor Mwamba from Botswana, now Assistant Bishop in Chelmsford. I must confess, I had not heard of Bishop Trevor before and my initial suspicion was “an African bishop, well, we can guess where this is going”. I was delighted when Bishop Trevor spoke warmly about embracing diversity, and I also felt hugely ashamed of my completely unfounded original prejudice. SUCH a dangerous thing, suspicion and prejudice, and although I try so hard to be genuinely open to everyone, I still catch myself out every now and then.


It made me think that much of our debates around women bishops and about lgbt inclusion is characterised by mutual suspicion.


That perception was reinforced when the discussion was opened up to the floor and the first question was for a show of hands about whether the audience believed that the vote on women bishops had been a success and that it would provide stability and unity in difference. The vast majority voted “yes”, but I sensed with great hesitation, and if we had known that there would be a third option “we don’t know yet”, many of us would probably have voted for that. Talking to people afterwards, it was clear that traditionalists weren’t sure that the promises given to them would be kept indefinitely, whereas the women were still shocked by the complete lack of joy and celebration in General Synod after the final vote in favour and felt that there was still a very long way to go before the church truly celebrated women’s ministry.


One of the key comments for me came from Miranda Threlfall-Holmes who said that when she had first been one of those who came up with the idea of “mutual flourishing” it had been intended to be not a legalistic but a relational concept whereby we are each committed to the flourishing of the other. Since then, the term had morphed to mean “my right” to “my own flourishing”.

It is not clear to me why we can’t have both, why a focus on someone else’s flourishing is seen as threatening my own rights and place. And for me our inability to say not “either/or” but “both” will remain one of the great mysteries of our church debates. But if we could do what Miranda proposes, if we could focus on relationships and on the flourishing of the other, we would be a good deal further on than we are.


The actual debate was incredibly polite and measured, to the point that Simon Sarmiento criticised the panellists for being too nice to each other.


Someone from the floor commented that people tend to be nice when they meet face to face but that they can be quite vicious online.


Yes…. but no. It’s not the tone of the debate that’s the problem but its content. Anger and insults are as counterproductive as this appalling ice cold, dismissive politeness that so often characterises our conversations. Last night’s debate was perfectly polite but also, at some level, perfectly bland. I suspect it’s partly the format of the moderated panel discussion that does not allow a robust debate to develop. All anyone can do is to disagree politely and there is no mechanism and no time for teasing out the root of disagreement and of engaging with that passionately.


For me, coming from the lgbt sector, there is the added frustration of this huge imbalance of power, because my views about my own life still count for nothing in the church. We are still not formally included in the next round of discussions, which feels like yet again others talking passionately about us behind closed doors, reserving the right to make decisions on our behalf.

Having heard David Porter speak, I do believe that if anyone can make a go of guiding the conversations in the church, it is him. He has a sense of urgency and an appreciation of the difficulties on all sides. And yet, suspicion remains my overriding emotion.


This was encapsulated perfectly by a passionate contribution from the floor from a woman who had the courage to make the debate personal and who started by saying that God clearly had a sense of humour, making her female, gay and evangelical! She asked about the reality of lgtb suffering in the church and at the hand of church. And while there was passionate applause for her and some very heart-felt comments from the panellists, especially from Alan Wilson and Miranda, Andrew Symes from Anglican Mainstream acknowledged that Christian demands weren’t always easy for people and that one had to have compassion, but that one nevertheless had to draw lines…and we were back in the “head space”, the territory of supposedly purely theological and rational debate about us, where people take ownership of their ideas but no responsibility for the impact these ideas have on real people’s lives. And we just have to sit back and trust these people to decide our future in the church… not easy!


Fascinating also how we all hear each other’s contributions in our own way, reinforcing our own thoughts.

Miranda spoke very clearly about the problems presented by the bible, about how the historical texts get many things wrong, about the various theologies and the diversity within its many books.

Andrew, in his final summing up, commented that one of the things he had heard that evening was that people had problems with the bible. He stressed that he didn’t have any, his church didn’t have any.

And it was clear that had heard what Miranda had said as a liberal admission of confusion rather than complexity, and of not taking the bible seriously.

We have this inability to truly hear what the other is saying and we only ever seem to reinforce our own stereotype of their views.


How can one break through this?

For a possible approach we could turn to the women bishops debate and the almost hopeless situation after the first vote was lost in General Synod. There seemed no way out, everything had been said, people were talking at each other rather than with each other, there was a sense of fatigue, and one could almost believe that it would be impossible to break the deadlock.

Yesterday, David Porter talked about that moment and about the facilitated conversations that followed.

At the start of the subsequent facilitated conversations he asked everyone to take half an hour to think about how the debate so far had impacted on them.

And everyone replied that it had damaged their souls.

With that common experience, that shared admission at the heart of the issue, it became possible to find a new way forward.

Of course, women were eventually an official part of the debate about women bishops in the House of Bishops as well as in the House of Clergy and the House of Laity, whereas lgbt people are still not properly represented in the official process. It matters, because until you can hear everyone’s voices you cannot reach a stable solution. And it matters, because while we are not included, we remain on the outside, firmly and increasingly suspicious.


But we are where we are and this is the point from which we must move forward.

So maybe it’s time to do the same in the lgbt debate. It’s time for all of us accept not only our own hurt but that we are all damaged by this discussion, and that we must find a way forward. For our sakes, for the sake of those who oppose us and for the sake of the whole church. And if official church won’t include us in its conversations, we have to continue to shout loudly from the sidelines.


The diversity is already there. We don’t need to talk about whether we can have it or not. We need to recognise it honestly and find an honest and open way of living with it.

How could that be possible? Maybe we have discussed the morality of same sex relationships to death. We won’t agree and it’s time to shift the focus. It’s time to recognise that all sides in this debate hold their views with sincerity, integrity and great faith. If we could learn to respect each other and to recognise each other’s integrity, we could follow Alan Wilson’s practical and thoroughly scriptural proposal and recognise that Romans 14 requires us to live with diversity and that it provides a blueprint for how this is possible.


Can we do that?

Yesterday’s debate didn’t offer an answer, but it did offer some small measure of hope.


 Note by editor:

-Thank-you Erika – you have brilliantly filled the gap that I was feeling. Like many people, I have been avidly listening to the podcasts and reading the Facebook discussions arising from the debates in this series. What I was really missing was the camaraderie, the human exchanges and this piece really transports me and our readers to the debating chamber

-Attempting to find a copyright-free illustration to this post, I have taken a snapshot of the blog page on the Westminster Faith Debates website, which I think and hope does not transgress copyright law. But if anyone objects, I will of course remove it.



Back to Basics on Rural Ministry?

Ezekiel 37.1-14

We are probably all agreed that the parish model of ministry in rural areas is showing signs of mettle fatigue.  The recent Westminster Faith Debates chaired by Professor Linda Woodhead on the future of the parish system reinforce this view. If you have not already heard the introductory speeches and later comments from the audience, you can listen here:

My head is spinning from the many analyses of the problem, and the many possible solutions – some of which are mutually exclusive.

I propose that we start again – theoretically, not of course literally – from the beginning.


What is the point of the Church?

As individual Christians, we are enjoined (a) to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, our souls and our minds and (b) to love our neighbours as ourselves.  Churches provide places where we can do so collectively, worshipping God and attempting to love our neighbours. The word parish (paroichia) is said by Professor Woodhead to mean neighbourhood.*

The Church of England duly divided the land into parishes and provided parish churches, of which there are now about 16,000. What might be called the George Herbert model was the norm for several hundred years, which coincided with the height of the Church’s influence, popularity and hence wealth.

We were not unique in our perception that this was the way to organise collective worship and for religious institutions  to thrive.


Jewish law

Observant Jews are required to live within walking distance of their synagogue. (And Islam requires its adherents to live within earshot of the call to prayer from a mosque). The idea behind this (apart from sabbath observance) is community – if you attend synagogue with a group of people who all live in your neighbourhood, you are likely also to send your children to the same schools, shop in the same shops and so on. Jews are also required to live in a place with at least ten adult Jewish men before whom the Kaddish prayer can be recited at the time of a burial, in other words they must not allow themselves to be so scattered in diaspora as not to live in community.

Maybe Judaism has a point? Who understands better how to keep together a religious and a social community in the face of fissiparous pressures? For after all, isn’t that what we are talking about – keeping together a group of people who worship together and serve the community together.


Is the Church there to serve the people or the people there to serve the Church?

If you substitute ‘God’ for ‘Church’, it may be reasonable to say that the people are there to serve God, God is not there to serve the people. But somehow, perhaps partly because the priest was an authority figure in his parish, probably one of the few who could read and write, the Church of England seems to have come to believe, whether or not they admitted it, that the people exist in order to serve the Church. Occasionally, with no apparent sense of irony, brocaded bishops will assume postures of humility and servanthood, but these are symbolic, not real. Many of us have encountered bishops who clearly believe that parishes and parishioners are there to serve the diocese, not the reverse. This is an excellent way to begin the process of losing churchgoers.

You may like to see my previous blog post, ‘Who is the Church of England for?


The False Oasis of the Minster Model

In  ‘The State of the Church and the Church of the State’, (pp 151-153), Bishop Michael Turnbull and the Revd Donald McFadyen describe the model thus:

…a group of priests, some stipendiary and some self-supporting, and lay people serving one unit which has a number of local churches, where regular worship is maintained but a central set of administrative and teaching facilities catering for different age groups and particular needs…each…would be given the opportunity to develop their own specialist ministry for the benefit of the whole locality…it is the most practical and coherent way of discharging the Church’s mission of pastoral care and evangelism to the nation. The rites of birth, marriage and death…in one of the churches in the ‘parish‘, perhaps with particularly attractive features, could be designated as ‘the wedding church’.

This does seem to give the game away – instead of being able to be baptised, married and buried in one’s own parish church, you would have to go to the Minster or other designated church for anything other than a normal weekly service. There is talk of pastoral work being centrally organised.


Involvement by the Laity

I suggest that mega-benefices can work, provided that resident non-stipendiary clergy and lay worship leaders provide a solid background of services in every church every week (but not necessarily communion services). The benefice priest would be peripatetic, but at a less frenetic pace, taking services in each church from time to time, preaching at other services and generally offering  spiritual leadership and galvanising energies for mission.


Because of extraordinary circumstances, I have been a parishioner during no less than four inter-regnums during the last 15 years. In each case, church life carried on perfectly smoothly as normal, using the non-stipendiary resident clergy and lay worship leaders. BUT we were heartily relieved on each occasion to welcome the priest when he was finally appointed. Mostly, we had missed someone to set the tone, a sense of overall direction, and an energy.


I think that if we are truly prepared to work on the basis that together we all make up the Body of Christ, each with our talents and uses, then together we can work for the Kingdom, while allowing for (and capitalising on) a strong sense of local identity.

*Though if you Google ‘paroichia’ you will find a bewildering variety of meanings, including the statement that at one stage it was interchangeable with the word for diocese.

Can You Be An Anarchist Christian?


What does it mean to be a Christian? After sixty-five years of trying to be one, I thought I had got the general idea. In particular, I thought I had got what it meant to be a member of the Church of England. I had thought that the point of Anglicanism is that you don’t need to be a theologian to be one. For those who think like me, Jesus offered an executive summary:

And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12.29-31 KJV

For all these years, I had taken it as read that the Church of England encompasses such a wide spectrum of theology and ecclesiology that, whereas all would presumably go along with this ‘rule’, any further detailed prescription would result in schism. After all, we have always teased priests that buttons could be left undone on cassocks to indicate which of the Thirty Nine Articles caused them problems. And it is apparently even possible to be an atheist priest, though I am not advocating this.

And then the diocese in which I happen to live decides to impose a few rules on the rest of us.

Strategic Priorities

Under God, delighting in His grace and rooted in the Diocesan rule of life, we will be a Diocese in which:

  1. We grow authentic disciples, going out as individuals passionately, confidently and courageously sharing their faith, and coming together as creative church communities of prayer and worship that live out Kingdom values.
  2. We re-imagine the Church intentionally connecting and engaging with our local communities in culturally relevant ways. We will rejoice in the richness of the “mixed economy” of all ministry and proactively promote vibrant parochial and breathtaking pioneering ministries amongst ‘missing’ generations, eg children, young people, under 35s.
  3. We are agents of social transformation using our influence as a Diocese to transform public and personal life. We will demonstrate loving faith at work in local communities and across the globe bringing healing, restoration and reconciliation, eg through education, social enterprise, health care, spiritual care teams.
  4. We belong together in Christ, practicing sacrificial living and good stewardship of all that God has entrusted to us. We will combine radical generosity, care and capacity building with a clear focus on directing finance into the mission of Jesus. Sharing and multiplying local good practice, using people, buildings and other resources wisely, we will seek to boldly prune, plant and invest in building for the Kingdom.

All right, it is the spelling and style of the above which offends me as much as anything else. If someone targets advertising at you which is illiterate, do you not simply dismiss it?

But the chilling part of this document – apart from the fact that it has a whole page to itself on the diocesan website – is the expression ‘Diocesan rule of life’. What on earth is this? Not in my name, at least. I gather it is based on the Benedictine Rule, a splendid document. However, I am not a Benedictine. Nor do I aspire to be one. And if I did, it would be my own business, emphatically not that of the diocese. I might choose to be a Franciscan, Ignatian, Augustinian, Thomistic…., by what right does the diocese I happen to live in aspire to dictate the characteristics of my spirituality?

I find it disconcerting, to say the least, that my bishop and I have completely different understandings of what it means to be a member of the Church of England. But a shepherd’s crook is meant to guide the sheep, not to be a set of handcuffs supplemented by a prod. I am pretty sure that the bishop cannot impose his rule of life on me, not in this sceptred isle, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

So I reassert my life as a pew-sitting Anglican in the parish of my choice, free to classify myself as a liberal catholic if I choose.

And then my friend, and occasional sparring partner, Peter Ould, puts a teasing message on his Facebook page:


Steps to break through a liberal’s theological nonsense.

1) Ask the question “Do you want to live a life that is surrendered to the will of God for you?”
2) Ask the question “Do you think it’s unfair that God would permit you to have a sexual desire you shouldn’t act out on?”
3) Repeat asking questions 1 and 2 until the penny clicks.


I try this for several days. The penny does not click. I think my problem is that Peter assumes that if you are a Christian you will have to answer his first question in the affirmative. Whereas my answer is more like ‘sometimes, yes, sometimes no’.

But for me, this is the wrong question about the nature of my relationship with God. Perhaps because I am a cradle Anglican, even my confirmation was an affirmation of everything that had gone before and a hope for things to come rather than any road to Tarsus.  I know there are ten commandments and thirty-nine articles and many other suggestions for our lives, but I do not wake up in the morning filled with a desire to learn and obey all the rules. It is rather like good manners and etiquette. If you understand that good manners is consideration of other people, you do not need the rules of etiquette, they flow from the understanding of the general principle.

For me, Christianity is like that. It matters not whether you know or care about the finer points of theology – so long as you love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might, and your neighbour as yourself, all else flows from this. Or, as Jesus put it, ‘On this hang all the law and the prophets’  (Matthew 22.40).

There are many hymns which make the same point. What about ‘Immortal love’?

Immortal love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never ebbing sea!

Our outward lips confess the name
All other names above;
Love only knoweth whence it came,
And comprehendeth love.

Blow, winds of God, awake and blow
The mists of earth away:
Shine out, O Light divine, and show
How wide and far we stray…

But warm, sweet, tender, even yet,
A present help is He;
And faith still has its Olivet,
And love its Galilee.

The healing of His seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain;
We touch Him in life’s throng and press,
And we are whole again.

Through Him the first fond prayers are said
Our lips of childhood frame,
The last low whispers of our dead
Are burdened with His Name.

O Lord and Master of us all,
Whate’er our name or sign,
We own Thy sway, we hear Thy call,
We test our lives by Thine.

The letter fails, the systems fall,
And every symbol wanes;
The Spirit over brooding all,
Eternal Love remains.

We rely on donations to keep this website running.