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The Two Integrities: Andrew Phair


These notes, or reflections, come with a massive health warning. I am not a member of Synod; I don’t follow this argument closely in the press and I am quite sure I have got my wires crossed on many issues. But the nature of this web site speaks of securing the views of lay people from the pews of Anglican churches. Well, that sums me up. A very ordinary person sitting in a pew, mystified by what I recently saw at the altar; and the subsequent processes I then went through to make sense of it and to achieve some sort of peace within myself. I feel I can now cope with the behaviour of the traditionalists such that it does not rankle so much and disturb my prayerful approach to the Sacraments.

The Two Integrities

In 1992 an accord was made concerning the ordination of women that those traditionalists who could not accept the decision could remain in the Anglican Church,  would still be valued and would have their own Bishops.

Like many, I applauded the decision to ordain women and could not even conceive of anyone objecting to the change. How naive I was! After that, women became a quite normal presence at the altar. It was one of those moments that sort of passes, an important watershed moment, but nevertheless a passing one. I did not notice the silent, quiet unrest among the traditionalists. I never noticed their refusal to accept consecrated bread and wine from a woman Celebrant. But, when I did notice it (only a few weeks ago) I was incensed. All the usual objections were made (to my wife): how dare they; society has moved on; Jesus welcomed women as much as men; their behaviour is an example of all that is wrong with religion (but not with believing); what about equality between the sexes and so on. I railed against the issue; raised it at a PCC meeting; tweeted on the subject (and got back some helpful, reassuring responses); searched the web and quietly fumed.

With nothing to lose, I tackled one of the said traditional priests and he patiently walked me through the issues and the arguments as he saw it. It was a Damascene moment for me. It certainly reminded me of the merits of listening to all sides of an argument before fulminating in my armchair. Whilst acknowledging his position, I also have to firmly state I am still wholly of a mind that women priests bring many benefits to ministry and I welcome them as Bishops (in other words as equal to men in every regard) within the Anglican church.

But my kindly traditionalist priest-friend helped me to see the importance of being obedient to God’s truth, wherever that might take one. He spoke of it not being about majority votes in Synod or elsewhere but about searching for truth and integrity. In respect to ‘voting’ he argued this cannot apply to all aspects of faith: would I vote for a fascist party even if the majority of people were doing so but which I knew to be wrong? In responding to the inner voice (the Holy Spirit?) we may well be prompted to take an opposing position to the majority. It is clear that the Holy Spirit has guided peoples’ faith journeys down many different expressions from Quakers, to Methodists, to Baptists, to evangelical house churches and so on.  None of us can dogmatically say their church is exclusively the right way. I was clearly demonstrating appalling inflexibility of mind and personal arrogance.

If promises were made in 1992 and since then about protecting and honouring the position of the traditionalist, then why are they now being broken or dismantled? Why are the traditionalists being discriminated against? Are they being squeezed out? I hope not. The Anglican Church is, if nothing else, an amalgam of masses of different forms of expression and none of us has the right to shoehorn everyone into one model, however attractive that sometimes might feel.  I would still want to argue my corner that there is nothing flawed with women priests presiding at the Eucharist; there is nothing lesser about the elements I receive which have been consecrated by a woman and -most importantly- I welcome the ministry they bring.

But my earlier seething has subsided and it served as a reminder of the need to hear all sides of an argument before getting on my high horse. It is clear that outside the UK the Anglican Church may well be more in tune with the traditional approaches, in particular in the African church. What right have I to impose my one-sided beliefs on those who choose to adopt a quite contrary position? The worldwide Church has changed dramatically over 2000 years but the traditionalists argue the male priesthood has been around since the time of Christ. All these issues made me stop and think a little more than a mere knee-jerk response that characterized my behaviour at first.  I would like to think this example has reminded me of the need to show greater tolerance than hitherto.

Will the liberals and evangelicals similarly show greater accommodation to the needs of the traditionalists?


Andrew phairI am becoming increasingly brave at pestering people who express interesting views on twitter to write for Lay Anglicana, and I must thank Andrew Phair for having good-humouredly (and promptly!) succumbed to my blandishments. Andrew sums himself for his twitter profile – @Andrew_Phair – as “Interests in healthcare, politics, literature and justice. Professed Christian often poor exponent. England” (Editor)

The illustration was chosen by me, partly because of the androgynous appearance of the priest.

 Note by editor on ‘The Two Integrities

As a reminder for anyone who has come late to the debate of what ‘the two integrities’ means,  the then Archdeacon of Richmond, the Ven Janet Henderson, summed it up in 2012 – no longer available on her blog, it survives on Kiwianglo’s website:

…For 18 years the Church of England has been trying out an approach that says, in effect, ‘both groups are right’. A lot of us thought we were doing this in the patient expectation that one or other group would eventually become less sustainable. How else are decisions made and people able to move forward? You pray, you argue the rationale, you try things out, you put it to the vote. In the Church of England, we seem now to be saying that however small the number of people who want to be protected from women priests becomes, we will continue to order the life of the church for their benefit and at the expense of all who want to see women in leadership.

Well, I can see that to pass legislation that is completely unacceptable to those who do not want women priests and bishops is a very hard decision to take (and not, at this point, one that is open to Synod) but let’s look at the cost of continuing with this ‘two integrities’ approach

It seriously endangers the coherence of episcopacy in the Church of England. The bishops will be trying to move in two directions at once over a good number of issues to do with gender and the ordering of the church.
It will cause arguments in parishes where there is a divergence of view about women’s ministry, particularly as the ‘supply’ (to use the bishops’ word) of clergy gets smaller.
It makes for a national church that treats women as second class, something parts of the church have to be protected from. How proud of that can we be?
It means that language about ‘taint’ and ‘the unsuitability of women having authority’ will continue to be a norm of church life. (As Desmond Tutu so famously pointed out, what you say about people in fact shapes the possibilities of your behaviour towards them.)
It endorses the notion of different churches within the Church of England needing different types of theological leadership – will other grounds for being able to petition for a different bishop begin to emerge? This leads to chaos!

My Spiritual Journey: Melanie Newbould


I think I can begin by saying that I was always aware that there was a world outside of me to which I felt connected. I suspect that this is true for many, perhaps, most children. I think I found it difficult talk to others about this feeling and I felt it made me different to my parents and my older sister.

I grew up in West Yorkshire. I went to a Church of England infants school initially that closed when I was seven, so I had then to go to the local County Primary School. However, for my first two years of formal schooling I got bible studies every day- so I did get to know all the major events in the Old and New Testaments fairly early in life. At my next two totally secular schools there was the statutory religious teaching, but I never pursued anything more than this. In secondary school, my education was largely in science and maths – the recommended course by the teachers who informed us that we were more likely to end up in gainful employment that way.

We were not a religious family at all. My mother and sister had both been nominally C of E and had both been confirmed at an early stage but neither had taken things any further and were not Church goers. In fact my sister became a passionate atheist as an adult, arguing that she could not see how a good God would allow suffering as one saw everyday on the news. My father was nominally Methodist, but he was totally uninterested in religion and had never attended as an adult. I therefore grew up without any religious leanings. I was baptised as an infant, though – so I was nominally a Christian.

I did have interests outside my school studies. Mostly music and literature. In my first encounter with Wuthering Heights I found much of what I had instinctively felt about the universe – that somehow my existence was not entirely contained within me – but I was connected in some way with the whole of reality. Wuthering Heights expresses this feeling very well, as do some of Emily‘s other writings. My next encounter with great art was with Richard Wagner. When I was about 12 or 13, I heard the final scene from Tristan and Isolde, variously called the Liebestod (Lovedeath)  or transfiguration. It was on a record of the soprano voice that my sister gave me. Isolde sings of her longing to be lost in the world breath. When I heard this- when I had my first encounter with the mind of Richard Wagner, I realised that I would never be the same again. This is usual I think for those that adore the great man. Again, I felt I had found that art expressed what I felt about what it was to be human in this life.

I had friends at secondary school in my group, some of whom shared my love of Wagner and some of whom did not. Some of them were Christian and some of them seemed to be finding something in Jesus that was similar to what I found listening to opera and other music. At that stage, Christianity did not seem to strike any sort of chord with me. I did not become a church-goer. I decided that confirmation was not for me, at least at that stage. But I never entirely ruled out confirmation one day. The thought even crossed my mind that I might someday wish to join some denomination other than the C of E. I knew I could never ever be an atheist- I was just not born that way!

So I went on to University to study medicine in London. I had friends there who were Christian. Indeed, this was the first time I met any Catholics. They all went to different schools, so we never met them. They seemed jollier than Anglicans. They liked dancing and traditional music. However, I did not see any connection between Jesus and the feelings that I had about my place in the Universe. I never really thought about it that much.

I continued to think about Richard Wagner though! I finally went to see my first Ring opera at Covent Garden. I saw Dame Gwyneth Jones ride into the fire- well I can’t actually remember how she did it. I ‘m pretty sure they didn’t risk a real horse in that production. There’s only very rarely a real horse.

I spent the next years, becoming qualified, learning medicine and getting to a point where I was employable and employed (takes a long time in medicine). Nothing really changed – I liked Wagner still! I learned more medicine. But I did not really make any steps in my “spiritual journey”, or whatever it’s called.

I didn’t meet anyone I wanted to marry for quite a few years – I suppose it sometimes happens like that. Anyway, I finally did. He was Catholic – an ex-Benedictine Monk. He had not been born into a Catholic family. His parents had converted from the C of E when he was twelve and they had made him convert with them, much to his disgust at the time. Though they were not at all wealthy – they ran a fruit and flower shop in Northampton – they sent him to a large Catholic public school run by the Benedictines, making sacrifices for themselves so that their son could get what they considered a good education. He went from there to Cambridge and following that he joined the monastery. Now he feels that a major reason why he did this was to avoid national service, still compulsory at this time. He never felt that the monastery was quite the correct place for him and chose never to be a Priest. But he stayed there for a number of years, working as a House Master and English teacher, before finally leaving. He then set up a college for boys who found it difficult to pass exams and did this for a number of years. Though he did not feel he had a vocation to Monastic living, he remained a believing Catholic. Eventually, he met me and Wagner was important common ground for us.

We were married on 3rd July 1993 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Lampeter. At this point it never occurred to me that I could also become Catholic. So we stayed the way we were for 19 years. Me a sort of non-specific believer in something and my husband a Catholic. I did sometimes go to mass with him, but never thought of joining myself.

For us, our marriage is an exciting journey. We go to as much Shakespeare as we could and this was a discovery for me; I honestly had not realised what a major genius he was – how well he understood humans. We have also seen as much Wagner as we can afford including several complete Rings, several Tristans and several Parsifals. Now this last opera was important in the next phase of my spiritual journey. It was one of the works of art that made me understand the link between Christianity and my feelings of belonging to a wider universe. The point of Parsifal is that suffering is part of the human condition and that empathy with suffering is what being a human is about. Wagner himself made the point that the Christian God is one of us, suffering. From this I started to think that the point of Christianity was that it makes it clear that humans are part of everything else that exists, because God was born as one of us. I found this a difficult but exciting idea. I continued to think about this for a few more years,

In 2004 my husband and I decided to become vegan. We had acquired several cats and a dog and we became aware how devoted animals are to us. From this time we felt that exploitation of animals was something we wanted to avoid wherever possible. Becoming vegan has been the most fantastic adventure for us Like many others who take this decision we suddenly found that food tastes much better and that there are many more things to eat than there ever were before! We really love it. It also is a practical way of living life as though life is sacred and important- to try to avoid hurting others.

Also around this time my husband and I read Joyce‘s Ulysses together. Now this was also a work that helped me decide what I felt about Christianity. Christian symbols are part of its fabric, though it is, famously, the tale of everyday life in 1904 in Dublin. So, to me it illustrated how Christianity is deeply embedded within my life, as well as that of Leopold, Molly and Stephen.

So all of this encounter with art helped me to think more about Christianity and to think that, perhaps, I should consider joining my husband. I did think for several more years, though. Because I had encountered the Bible at school, I had thought of it as something you are taught about by a teacher, like a text book. I had never really thought about it as a work of history/literature. The Gospels are obviously very exciting works when you think about it- telling this astonishing story about a group of provincial men who were not learned scholars or politically powerful and never really went much to the big cities. But this group were to have a major influence on the events of the next two thousands years. Of course none of this is original thought, but it is just that it took me many years to realise it. The central figure of the Gospels, whether you think he is connected in some way to God or not is clearly someone who is charismatic and who possesses an astonishing intellect. So finally, I came to realise why my Christian school friends of forty or so years ago had been so excited by Jesus and I realised gradually that I also found him exciting, mysterious and wonderful. I suppose, like many other people, I found this happening to me without any effort on my part.

So I decided that I should formally join a Christian Church in early 2012. My decision to join the Catholic Church was much influenced by my husband. For practical reasons, it makes sense to both go to the same church! However, it is not just for this reason; I am attracted by Catholicism – though I am aware that many aspects of it are not unique and many in the C of E hold very similar views, regarding themselves as Catholic.

I love the notion of the sacraments. To me God is not outside the Universe but within every particle of it. God was born as a human, so humans are part of God. All life is an encounter with God. I love the Catholic conception of marriage – as a sacrament between the two individuals who express this continually as they live. I love the idea of the Eucharist- an encounter with God- which is to say an encounter with the whole of everything, an encounter outside time. Or so it seems to me- though I’m not a theologian and obviously the Eucharist is not the easiest! I love the idea that we are part of a community, that is continuous from the first century AD (though of I know that other churches would also feel this).

So that is how I came to be confirmed, received into the Catholic Church and received the Eucharist for the first time on 30th March 2013 in the Easter Vigil, which is such a wonderfully joyful celebration. So myself and my husband are now Catholics together!

In the YouTube extract,  Waltraud Meier closes a performance of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde with Isolde’s transfiguration (though more commonly referred to as Liebestod – Love-Death).

The image is Illustration by Willy Pogany (1912) from the book, “Walk Me Through My Dreams” (A Picture book of Verses) by Joe Lindsay via Wikimedia

Maundy Thursday: Incarnation and Eucharist – Evelyn Underhill


For the fully Christian life is a Eucharistic life: that is, a natural life conformed to the pattern of Jesus, given in its wholeness to God, laid on His altar as a sacrifice of love, and consecrated, transformed by His inpouring life, to be used to give life and food to other souls. It will be, according to its measure and special call, adoring, declaratory, intercessory and redemptive: but always a vehicle of the Supernatural. The creative spirit of God is a redemptive and cherishing love; and it is as friends and fellow workers with the Spirit, tools of the Divine redemptive action that Christians are required to live. ‘You are the Body of Christ’, said Saint Augustine to his communicants. That is to say, in you and through you the method and work of the Incarnation must go forward. You are meant to incarnate in your lives the theme of your adoration. You are to be taken, consecrated, broken and made means of grace; vehicles of the Eternal Charity.

Thus every Christian communicant volunteers for translation into the supernatural order, and is self-offered for the supernatural purposes of God. The Liturgy leads us out towards Eternity, by way of the acts in which men express their need of God and relation to God. It commits every worshipper to the adventure of holiness, and has no meaning apart from this. In it the Church shows forth again and again her great objective; the hallowing of the whole created order and the restoration of all things in Christ. The Liturgy recapitulates all the essentials in this life of sanctification — to repent, to pray, to listen, to learn; and then to offer upon the altar of God, to intercede, to be transformed to the purposes of God, to be fed and maintained by the very life of God.

And though it is the voice of the Church, none the less in it is to be recognized the voice of each separate soul, and the care of the Praying Church for each separate soul. ‘Holy Things for the Holy!’, cries the celebrant in the earliest liturgies, as he lifts up the consecrated gifts. Not ‘Good Things for the Good’; but supernatural things for those imperfect creatures who have been baptized into the Supernatural, translated to another order — those looking towards God the Perfect and beginning to conceive of life as a response to God the Perfect; but unable without the ‘rich bread of Christ’ to actualize the state to which they are called.

Evelyn Underhill

The Mystery of Sacrifice

The illustration is Eucharist at Ely by: Julienne Jones via Seed Resources

“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

Gladstone’s Library: A Writer’s and Reader’s Dream


Feeling frazzled? Overworked? Caught up in the daily round? In need of a break? In need of space in which to write, read, reflect or simply to be?

Look no further, but book yourself into Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden in North Wales. You may live some distance away (I drove four hours to get there) but, in Michelin terms, it is a vaut le voyage destination in its own right. It is set out like Napoleon’s library at Malmaison, which is a brilliant idea in a large room as it successfully divides it into a series of mini-Malmaison personal libraries for each reader.


There you will find a peculiarly English, nay Anglican, setting in which to do any or all of the above. Some come on a modified retreat, with solitude in their ‘cells’, daily Eucharist in the chapel, and  interspersed with communal meals at which heart speaks unto heart. A gentle nudge in this direction is provided by the deliberate absence of television in any of the bedrooms. Others come to finish their thesis or novel, knowing that someone else will cook and clean for them and supply good food at regular intervals. Others still are simply in search of a base from which to explore the surrounding countryside, interspersed with lively and intelligent conversation at the beginning and end of the day. St. Deiniol’s (its original name) is part club, part Oxbridge college, part cloistered monastery whose constituent parts form the large house and library of a host who asks nothing more of you than to behave as a civilised guest –  and settle the extraordinarily reasonable bill at the end of your stay. (Adding whatever you can afford as a donation seems the least one can offer in addition).

I call it ‘Anglican’ because guests understand that they are expected to obey the ‘golden rule’ of treating others as they themselves would be treated – and they do. The social contract works because both sides understand what is expected of them. An illustration: I needed help with my suitcase and the lovely intern, finishing her PhD on neo-Victorian literature while helping behind the reception desk for a few months, cheerfully and kindly carried it for me.

The tone is set by the Warden of fourteen years, the Revd Peter Francis, who tweaks the injunction at the end of the Eucharist to  “And what does the Lord require of us?  Just this: To act justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.” The use of the word ‘kindness’ rather than ‘mercy’ (the more usual translation of Micah 6.8) I found very moving, and indicative of the ethos of the whole place.

I was on my own and had thought I might feel lonely, although I was deliberately seeking a period of solitude and quiet away from the telephone and demands of social media. I need not have worried. When I wanted companionship and conversation, there was always someone to talk to, and when I wanted solitude no one thought it strange or unsociable (How many hosts can you say that of?!) I met a very wide range of people, including visiting Canadians and Americans, who all agreed that Gladstone’s Library is a unique haven which deserves to be treasured (as it is) and used to the full (as it needs to be if it is to thrive).

Thank-you, Peter, your visiting chaplain (Methodist, lest I have given the impression it is exclusively Anglican!) and all the staff for a stay that was both recuperative and invigorating. I can’t wait to come back!



Note: I stayed at Gladstone’s Library for four days, with a two-day course in the middle on ‘The Future(s) of Anglicanism’. This was a fascinating, and I think historically important, session, and I will be blogging about it in the next few weeks.


The illustrations are taken from the website, with the kind permission of the Revd Peter Francis.



‘The Best Is The Enemy Of The Good’

In the first part of this ‘essay’, For the Want of a Nail, we looked at the worst possible scenario for the Church of England if nothing were to be done. It is time to look instead at our glass as if it were half full, rather than half empty.

Training the laity to lead worship
As many dioceses, but by no means all, have seen, the answer lies readily at hand but requires a break with tradition and a leap of diocesan imagination. In several places the Church is making efforts to train a new tier of lay people to a level at which they can be asked to lead some services of the word, without the full 3-year training required to become a licensed lay minister (formerly called ‘lay reader’).

The spur is necessity (there is a shortage of licensed lay ministers as well as clergy). However, support for this initiative varies from diocese to diocese, within each diocese and also presumably with the spinning of the weather vane on the cathedral roof. Under the headline ‘With fewer clergy, can lay people get trained to run the church?’,  the Exeter diocesan website included until very recently the splendid statement:

“Lay people are the body of Christ on earth, and what they do is Christ’s ministry to the world. The role of professional clergy now is to support and enable lay people to be the church more deeply, more fully.”

This page has now been removed. Winchester diocese has had ‘lay worship leaders’ in Andover deanery since April 2005, but still declines to mention their existence on the lay ministry website page on the grounds that they were only ‘commissioned’ by the bishop, not ‘licensed’.

The central role of the Lord’s Supper
The central difficulty is that, as Edward Green so compellingly describes on his blog,  ‘Future Shape of Church,’ the  Eucharist is of primordial importance:

‘The Prayerbook had the intention of Holy Communion being the main Sunday service and Matins being a daily office. If a Priest was unavailable on Sunday morning the form used was Ante-Communion – the service of the word from Holy Communion. If we are serious about drawing new people into sacramental faith then this needs to be readopted. Lay Family services should follow the shape of Common Worship Holy Communion up to the Peace.’

Well, is the best the enemy of the good?
I am grateful to Edward for saying that he supports the idea of the ministry of the laity but I am uneasy about his proposal above for lay worship leaders to take services of ‘ante-communion’ on the Sundays when a priest is unavailable.

I apologise for the vulgarity, but this sounds to me like coitus interruptus. I can see the necessity for it when a priest is expected, but does not turn up. But, like all the liturgy, the service of Holy Communion has a beginning, middle and end. To ask the congregation, perhaps on three weeks out of four, to make their way towards the oasis, only to be forbidden to drink is, in my estimation, not likely to draw ‘new people into sacramental faith’.

In this case, it was Voltaire who said it first and best, in La Bégueule: ‘le mieux est l’ennemi du bien’. We know and will always recognise what the best looks like: weekly services of communion taken in every church in the land by a priest.

But if, as we have seen, ‘the best’ can no longer be a weekly reality, we have to ensure that ‘the good’ is as good as we can make it.

I suggest that worship by, with and from the laity can have its own strengths: it makes the congregation feel part of the worship as spiritual equals with their fellow worshippers in a way that is not possible when it is priest-led. If  lay worship leaders involve as many of the congregation as possible in a less formal, non-sacramental service, this in itself can surely lead to the spiritual growth of both led and leader?

If churchgoers are encouraged to see a role for themselves as leaders of worship, the downward spiral of ‘For the want of a nail’ can be re-written as a virtuous circle:

If there are not enough priests to take weekly communion services in each parish church, lay worship leaders can take services of the word in the intervening weeks.
These may include Matins and Evensong, but also modern versions of these, as priests and laity offer differing but complementary services.
Congregations, and hence church income, will be maintained and should be re-vitalised by the variety of worship on offer.
Churches will consolidate their historic role at the centre of each community as congregations play a greater part in services.
And a central part of the fabric of our national life will be strengthened to continue.

1. The illustration is ‘The Institution of the Eucharist’ by Fra Angelico c. 1450 under creative commons licence via wiki gallery.
2. The next blog in this series will examine how to turn a motley congregation into leaders of worship.

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