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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.

Are Non-Church-going Anglicans the Key to the Church’s Future?


Professor Linda Woodhead is from the department of politics, philosophy and religion at Lancaster University. Last week’s Church Times contains an article by her beginning:

THE Church of England’s mission strategies and investment of energy assume that churches and churchgoers are its main resources. But a significant new survey offers a broader answer. It suggests that non-churchgoing Anglicans may be much more important to the Church and its future than the dismissive word “nominals” implies.

This has been the subject of a lively debate on Facebook, which raises several interesting threads for future debate. I have therefore taken the unusual step of reproducing the conversation here, chiefly for archival purposes. However, if anything strikes a chord, please feel free to re-start the comments 🙂

Linda Woodhead: “To me at least, [The Church of England] seems to have abandoned its sense of itself as a lay Church governed by monarch and Parliament, and responsible to the people, and has become both more clerical and more congregationally based. This is bound up with a dismissal of “nominal” Anglicans.
One consequence is that it is hard for lay people, particularly non-churchgoers, to be taken seriously. Despite their prominence at all levels of society, they are not encouraged to think of themselves as real Anglicans. They do not become spokespeople for their Church, or play an active part in its governance.”

Updated Saturday evening Yesterday’s Church Times has an article by Linda Woodhead about a survey that “suggests that non-churchgoing Anglicans may be much more important to the Church and its future than the dismissive word “nominals” implies.” The article is…

  • You, Bex Lewis and 10 others like this.
  • Robin Ward That is a very tendentious reading of the Church of England’s self-understanding indeed.
  • Edward Martin Perhaps we now need to differentiate between ‘Anglicans’ and ‘Anglican Christians’?
  • Alan Wilson For me it does raise questions of “who is a member?” that have long historical pedigree. Simply saying “The baptised” may well be thought too open (however theologically correct) but then saying “Weekly churchgoers” or “Electoral Roll Members” has to be too narrow, doesn’t it? And, finally, what is the relationship of the (largely clerical) “Management” to the plebs sancta dei? What should it be?
  • Steve Walters It appears that for most churches (the hierarchy at least) it’s members vary depending on what is involved. Most of the time church members are those who come to services regularly, up until there is some cash to be made, such as weddings or funerals and then having once had a cousin who sang in the choir is enough. This sweeping generalisation doesn’t apply to a good number of the clergy, but it does to those concerned with church finances
  • Robin Ward But this is all actually completely to do with internal political rows between different sorts of enthusiasts – jittery liberals shocked by the inability of the synodical process to deliver their objectives, calling in aid a Baldwinesque myth of Anglican England. The rampant Erastianism about Parliamentary sovereignty since the women bishops vote has been truly astounding, would Linda Woodhead have wanted it when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister?
  • Alan Wilson It could be, indeed, Robin. But beyond the narrow politics I do wonder about what is going on in the outfield — the plebs sancta dei zone? All I think prof Woodhead is trying to do is describe the constituency of the C of E; which is broader than its activists on all sides, surely.
  • Tony Eccleston Seen from Andalucía, just before setting off for the annual meeting of a C of E chaplaincy which is both wholly dependent on its own fund-raising and the employer of its priests, the definitions of Anglican and member seem relatively straightforward. Perhaps we carry our historical baggage more lightly.
  • Jonathan Jennings I always used to say that the Church of England doesn’t have a concept of membership; the basic answers to the question ‘who are the C of E’s members?’ are theologically, ‘the baptised’, and legally, ‘anyone who wants to be, whether the clergy or congregation like it or not.’ Establishment’s real function is not at the level of Bishops in Parliament or the role of the Crown, but in the legal underpinning of the wedging open the door of the parish church. When people come in, they have as much right to be there as anyone and that’s sometimes a necessary corrective to a sense of ownership. The only way of truly disestablishing the England would be to extinguish the current legal rights of residentially-qualified parishioners.
  • Alan Wilson I agree, Jonathan. It’s one of the reasons a narrow response by the Church to Marriage legislation is so dangerous, in a way that some of my colleagues just don’t understand.
  • Matthew Caminer Your mention of plebs, +Alan, makes me reflect again on the otherwise brilliant Oxford Diocese leaflet on parish share. It did leave me with a strong sense of an implicit money-based expectation that the CofE of the future will be ‘managed’ by a compact group of ‘professional’ clergy supported by a much larger group of ‘amateur’ self-supporting priests and lay ministers…. which increasingly smacks of ‘officers and other ranks’, before you even start thinking of the people in the pews. And I have to say that many of the structures and attitudes, training, funding, pastoral care etc from theological college stage through into ministerial life, seem to support that perspective. At times it has a rather nasty feeling of ‘proper priests’ and ‘plebs’
  • Alan Wilson Thanks, Matthew for articulating something that rather worries me, not only about our diocese but the whole Church of England. When, for example, will we have a Ministry Division that is as concerned with the 98% (perhaps) of the Church’s ministry delivered by unordained people as it is about the 2% (perhaps) delivered by clergy?
  • Matthew Caminer Indeed. I am reminded of a Scottish Episcopal Church years ago which went to the Bishop of Edinburgh (good old +Richard!) during a vacancy and said “we have decided we don’t need a stipendiary priest after all, because we have everything, internally and externally, under control. All we need is someone to be a shepherd and lead services.” So enlightened, but so rare…
  • Pete Ward I think Linda has a point. Deep in the Anglican Church is the sense that it is in someway there for everyone in a parish. The fact that a large number of these people don’t attend but still see themselves as Anglican is a challenge to ‘intensive’ forms of Church – what I call solid Church. The real issue is how should the CoE ‘minister’ beyond its gatherings. We have some clues with chaplaincy and relationships to schools and other community bodies but what else. How can we see a more Liquid Church emerge? ‘Getting them in’ seems myopic or at least one dimensional – whatever the church tradition it emerges from. Rather we need to ask what is the Holy Spirit already doing beyond our buildings and our gatherings in people’s lives and how should we be catching up with this? Linked to this I think the idea that we might also invite financial support across a wider group is very interesting. In other words a more ‘centrifugal’ rather than centripetal movement might if well conceived offer a ways of support.
  • Alan Wilson Thanks, Pete. I strongly agree. I think Cole Moreton‘s “God is no longer an Englishman” indicates that there are very rich places for ministry for “village holy people.” And I know a few good examples of Churches who asked “Where’s the Fire?” and discovered energy in surprising places in communities they serve and have kindled new life in doing this.
  • Anthony Clavier Michael Ramsey, who championed the “Parish Communion” movement, prophesied that the abandonment of Matins would drive from the church, those who wished to participate as Anglicans but were not totally committed to its teachings.
  • Alan Wilson A few years ago I helped with a pre-retirement group of clergy in the Durham diocese who were reviewing their careers — fascinating able interesting people, but many reflected on one of two career patterns in which they had basically done the same job four times over (1) High — get rid of 11.00 high Mass and replace with Parish Communion (2) Low get rid of Mattins and replace with Family Service and/or Parish Communion. The PC movement was so right theologically, but humanly fortified the tendency Linda identifies powerfully.
  • Ernie Feasey We have a couple of Matins and Evensong services per month in our parishes, which get a different congregation than the HC, Sung Eucharist or Family Services. The preferred format is BCP Traditional language. We’ve also run some compline services, which are also well attended. It seems to be that we need to get the mix right to reach those who are not comfortable with modern or Common Worship services. We also make other opportunities to meet people where they are and there was a very succesfull carol service in a village pub last Christmas. It needs more imagination and wider interaction iwht people at our School and in the other community events – and not all people want to be involved every week, some are comfortable with occasional or even seasonal attendance. It’s still their Parish Church and they identify with it, just can’t or won’t commit to regular attendance.
  • Richard Haggis It’s sweetly navel-gazing of clergy to think that the solution to problems is to fiddle with liturgy. It’s like bishops thinking that problems can be solved by clever forms of words. It’s what they’re good at, but, alas, useful only in very particular (or even peculiar) and limited circumstances.
  • Alan Wilson Thanks for broadening the subject out, Richard. I think people are turned onto or off from their local Church far more by the kind of community it is than the details of the liturgy on offer there. The “management” did go through many years in the past of defining everyone by their liturgical preferences, but this was only a small part of what was going on.
  • Bradley Upham I have to agree with Richard Haggis on this one. It is the (often) constant tinkering and fiddling with liturgy (this includes music) that is a turn-off than most would care to think. Anglicans have an special affection for the ascetic, whether they realize it or not, and to change it can be quite disturbing. Parishes that have changed this, might have a rebirth, but it comes usually after a long period of decline, only after the parish attending population has turned over.
  • Matthew Caminer I’m all for trying things that will engage and retain the congregations of the future, but if Messy Church and all the other forms of Fresh Expressions give a feeling of exclusion and disenfranchisement for those who worship in ‘old’ ways with sincerity and stabillity over time, then it is not universally successful… a case of both and rather than either or?
  • Richard Haggis It always amuses me when a parson welcomes “especially the newcomers”, and I look at the oldcomers, and think “poor buggers, they’ve been paying for this show for years, and no one even notices them, in the quest for novelty – even in people”.
  • Matthew Caminer As regards the original proposition of this thread, the growth of massive benefices with fewer clergy to serve them should in theory be a heaven-sent opportunity to engage the laity more, rather than less, in leadership. The fact is, though, that many congregations have something approaching a child to parent dependency on the clergy, and for them nothing less than a priest will do. In other words, it is not just about what the establishment does top down, but also about bottom up expectations
  • Richard Haggis That’s true, Matthew, but it also suits the clergy very well to infantilise the laity, in exchange for being idolised, and then burning out because there’s no one confident enough to delegate to! It would have to be said that precisely none of this is healthy.
  • Alan Wilson back in 2005 Donald Spaeth published a really interesting Cambridge thesis studying the Archdeaconry of Wiltshire and asking when people stopped going to Church en masse. The answer was that successive waves of clergy enforcing their latest notion of how to be a proper Church came along after 1660 — Evangelical, Arminian, Calvinist, Tractarian, the lot. Each time this happened some people went with the new thing and slightly more peeled off leaving a rump in the middle. The result was continuous salami slicing over 300 years. The biggest slice of all came off when residence was enforced in 1805, and clergy started enforcing gentlemanly behaviour on their parishioners. It’s a salutary lesson.

    This book explores popular support for the Church of England during a critical period, from the Stuart Restoration to the mid-eighteenth century, when Churchmen perceived themselves to be under attack from all sides. In many provincial parishes, the clergy also found themselves in dispute with their…
  • Steve Walters It’s wonderful to look at new ways of making worship acceptable, and accessible, however it’s the Church’s role in wider society that needs looking at, increasing the relevance to people’s lives. So often the busiest churches have outreach work, even if its the Priest popping into the local pub for a pint or a coke, and chatting about the football. Our role so often isolates us, we have the largest (and often most run down inside) houses in the area, up a long drive separating us from our parishioners. Not many vicarages, or manses, or presbytery are on the 12th floor of a block of flats. We need to live and take part in our communities for the Church if whatever denomination to thrive
  • Clare Amos If I am ruthlessly honest I suspect that the importance given to the Anglican Communion in recent years has not been helpful in this respect. I love the Communion – and indeed working for the Communion office, but it is fairly apparent that in many Provinces of the Communion the delicate balance between the episcopal and the synodical governance of the church that (ideally at least) is part of the tradition of English church life does not really exist – instead the bishops are far more powerful. I think that has affected in turn the dynamics in England as well. (It is of course interesting that it is a church where the synodical element is very powerful – TEC – which is out of favour with many other Anglican Provinces)
  • Katherine J. Kaye At the risk of sounding even MORE heretical, the change in the liturgy which decommissioned Morning Prayer and put the eurcharist as front-center-and-the-whole-point of a Sunday service also marginalised non-communicants and made the whole process into a club of insiders. It isn’t sharing in communion that really makes us brothers and sisters, it is baptism, faith, and grace. My poor noncommunicant husband is Outsidered every time he goes to church. It’s excluding and far too “priesty”.
  • Keeley Cavendish Very true, Linda. The C of E is governed at local, regional and national level by cliques of unwelcoming people, with inexplicably high opinions of themselves. Quite often, anyone who finds that they do not share the left-of-centre, PC views of many within the church hierarchy, finds him/herself excluded quite ruthlessly.
  • Alan Wilson Clare, thanks for describing something I’ve noticed to be the case in various overseas settings. The good news is that when people actually encounter others in different churches the result is usually joy. The bad communion news is a lot of the office politics and manipulation at another level. My thought, Katherine is I’ve met Episcopal Church theologians who put great stress on Baptism as the basis for the Church, and working out the implications…
  • Pippa Soundy Is Anglicanism too self-conscious? Preaching on the lectionary this morning, if struck me that the hallmarks of Jesus people are their love for each other and their reception of the gift of the Spirit. Having belonged to some very different kinds of churches where these hallmarks were present, I tend to think of everything else as secondary.
  • Alan Wilson Thanks, Pippa. Is that how we rebuild the ruins from the streets up?
  • Pippa Soundy Hope so – very much!
  • Robert Dimmick Just come back from the AGM of our Local Ecumenical Partnership. One member complaining because he’d noticed we hadn’t complied 100% with the Church Representation Rules and also pointing out that we were probably not compliant with the canon on LEPs. Others complaining that they had been asked to sign forms for the Anglican Electoral Roll which we are treating as a common membership roll – they don’t want even to say that they are “also a member of the Church of England”, they just want to be Christians worshipping in the Christian church which serves this area (at least for non-RCs). Some of us wanting to say, damn the rules, let’s just act like a church of people who love God and each other and who want to work together for the Kingdom. A frustrating situation.
  • T.J. Tracey Jones Love God, Build the church, Reach out to the lost… Simples!
  • June Butler From my view across the pond outside the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s dual role as Primate of all England and primus inter pares of the Anglican Communion seems to constrain the governance and policies of the Church of England. The more I look at the position of the ABC, the more difficult it appears to have one person exercise leadership in the two roles.
  • Chris Fewings A few thoughts from a peripheral church member in the Church of England, possibly off-topic and ill-informed:

    1) How much longer can the model of Victorian churches (and other frowsty barns), with 20% of the pews filled for an hour or two a week, served by an increasingly thinly stretched ‘professional’ clergy survive? Twenty years?

    2) As a ritualist (baptised in the Brethren as a teenager), I can envisage many groups of future anglicans meeting in small spaces, perhaps in homes, to celebrate a eucharist which may be highly elaborate, with proper regard to holy orders. But this is antithetical (or at best parallel) to the parish church as a sign of the other (a sacrament in itself) in the community.

    3) A few churches have become or been built as flexible multipurpose buildings for worship *and* community use. This often seems to require massive capital investment, and one or more rare local visionaries. But I sometimes look at a church and think ‘Chancel: worship. Aisles: offices to let. Nave: dances, music, markets, after-school clubs, adult education classes; occasional services with large congregations’. Can some of that be achieved in some places without ambitious building projects?

    4) Is parish communion about dispensing sacerdotally controlled sacraments or about the life-giving mystery of the body of christ meeting, raising its voice, recognising the holy, sharing, eating, becoming? I rarely ‘take communion’ but I regard the handshake of peace as a sacrament. I regard the words of scripture and the liturgy as sacramental too, but to have at the centre of our weekly liturgy a service without the sensuality of taste and swallowing the fruit of the earth and work of human hands in a re-membering of the central paradox of the Christian story? It would be like going to the theatre to listen to a radio play.

    5) St Paul was the apostle to the gentiles in a rather extraordinary way: he insisted on bringing their sacrilegious uncircumcised ways into the Jewish church.

    Do we need an apostle to the secular, the agnostic, the atheist – one who will embrace their godlessness as a hymn to the unknowable in whom we live and move and have our being, and hammer out theology on the hoof?

    6) So many dead lie round. The church probably has a better grasp on death (and on failure) than the secular culture; can we hold the dead, and the memory of the dead, for the wider community?
  • June Butler Katherine, I agree that the move away from regular services of Morning Prayer was perhaps a mistake. A service in which everyone who walks in the church door can participate fully seems a lovely thing now that it’s mostly disappeared.
  • Chris Fewings It’s not true that someone who walks in off the streets can fully participate in matins or evensong. Will the whole atmosphere put them off? Will they want to say the responses? If they say them will they feel their heart is in them? Will they want to sing? All these apply to someone who’s never been to church, or only goes occasionally, or went as a child or a long time ago, and comes back and finds things have changed, or they have changed.
  • June Butler As fully as they care to participate, Chris. If a person wishes to sit quietly, that’s fine, too. The point is that no one is excluded from any part of the service.
  • T.J. Tracey Jones In 1 Cor 1 Paul challenges the people’s thinking of themselves as following this leader or that one etc.. At the end of the day, are we putting Jesus at the centre of our worship or are we following this leader or that one?
    Each one (bishop, priest, pastor, whatever) would be mortifies if they thought people were following and trusting them when really they are trying to point the way to Jesus.
    What kind of man was Jesus? Traditionalist, radical, progressive, conservative? …. ALL of them! No one can say that the church should only be one type of thing… They automatically alienate the other 3/4 of the church.
    We need to put Jesus at the centre… Above all other gods… Lord of lords… King of kings…
    Thanx Malcolm Duncan great sermon this am.
  • Jonathan Jennings I think it’s amazing that we constantly analyse the ways in which church attendance has changed as though everything else hasn’t. It is not the church’s failure that it doesn’t command the support it used to command a hundred years ago. I once read a partly constructed thesis somewhere which sought to chart the decline of evensong by doing statistical analysis of attendance in the 1960s. it confirmed quite neatly the anecdotal stories about the Forsyte Saga’s effect on mainstream churchgoing. We haven’t properly factored in the effect of changes in daily life, including the necessity of both partners holding down jobs in order to sustain a family, and the consequent growth in the importance of Sunday trading and expansion in Sunday as a social and shopping space, none of which was true even twenty years ago. Congregations who constantly feel guilty that they’re not as large or busy as they were a generation ago should relax and remember that exactly the same is true of trade unions and political parties.
  • Phil Hemsley To be honest, I haven’t read all the comments above, but since my friend Pippa commented I saw the headline, and being controversial I’ll offer

    The church in recent decades has not been successful in the UK. The results show…See more
  • Alan Wilson Thank you very much, Phil. The underwear story brings home the point very well. I often find that when Jesus’ teaching and character, and its concrete content is named, interest follows. When, on the other hand people attempt the Supernatural / doesn’t actually do stuff paradox, or posit a God zone apart from another, secular zone, privileging one over the other, people are genuinely foxed as to what is going on. Really grateful for your help on this.
  • Erika Baker If only 5% of people attend church we can be fairly sure that most of the 95% have no idea at all what goes on inside one. They have no idea what the liturgy might be, what kind of hymns people sing or don’t sing, what they say about God or Jesus. They know as much about what goes inside their local church as I know about what goes on inside the local mosque – the things you see on television, the self portrayals of the organisation in the news and in some of its more PR savvy members.
  • Alan Wilson +Dominic Walker used to send curates in training into a betting shop to experience what church felt like to outsiders…
  • Matthew Caminer When people prioritise numbers above all else, I am reminded of the person who pointed out that during the Stalinist times, the church in Russia was kept going by (harmless?) old ladies in black, and not too many of them. I rather suspect that the numbers in churches these days are probably a far fairer reflection of ‘believing’ people than in the days when there was a social cachet to going to church, nothing to do with needing to believe anything! Jane Austen: “How would you have liked making sermons, Mr Wyckham?” had no connection with whether he had a faith: just something that second sons did. So BAPS wouldn’t have been much use!

    On which score, and thinking back to earlier parts of this thread, I am left wondering whether the move towards ever-larger benefices led by stipendiaries, supported by much larger numbers of SSMs and LLMs was the result of a strategic vision or simply a pragmatic response to financial necessity. I would like to imagine the former, but I suspect the latter.
  • Katherine J. Kaye I don’t think there’s any doubt that the move away from stipes towards SSM/LLMs was financial and coincided with women moving into the priesthood and congregations changing with demography.
  • Matthew Caminer Yes, Katherine… the statistics support that…. 67% (and increasing) of females offering for ordination are SSMs, as opposed to only 25% (and static) of men. Not suggesting reasons or causality, but those are published CofE statistics.
  • Katherine J. Kaye In the history of women’s paid work in essentially middle-class occupations (excluding the vast numbers of working lower-class women in factories, mining, and agriculture) every time women are recruited in any number into an employment category, wages, and prestige as defined by ‘traditionally male’ norms, go down. This has been true in science (where it was a growth field for women and middle-class men, because ‘gentlemen’ did Classics and thence went into law and politics, up to WW1, then becamse male-only, and since circa 1980 has had more integration with women and correspondingly lower pay rates, especially in academia); in medicine (excluding surgery); in both the Bar and in legal practice generally; and in management and the boardroom, where even in major companies, women on the board are *still* paid less than their male counterparts. Women are universally STILL regarded as a source of cheap labour and men are STILL regarded as somehow more worthy of more money. My more-irate reaction phase tells me that men just down tools andrefuse to work unless their egos are massaged by sufficient recognition, but I compeletly acknowledge that this is a quondam and biased reaction!
  • Richard Haggis A largely non-stipendiary clergy is going to be quite a boot up the arse for bishops and laity alike, as they start to hear the word “no” expressed to their faces in the terms it’s been phrased only in the bathroom mirror until now. It could all be rather fun – people HATE it when they HAVE to co-operate.
  • Matthew Caminer Seriously, however much the church may claim that it is not seeking a ‘one size fits all’ solution, the fact is that that is an almost inevitable consequence of an IME regime that is based on streamlined delivery, a lot of box-ticking, and little to nurture individual gifts and callings, let alone educate or change expectations of host congregations. Hence endless advertisements in CT for “energetic” applicants – meaning presumably people prepared to work 70+ hour weeks, and prepared to sacrifice their personal and spiritual integrity to accept demands that are simply not a good fit for who they are? All such a long way from the Ordinal… “Priests are people who pray”…. In all that they do, do, do, where is the space for the rich contribution of, say, contemplatives… people with busy day to day occupations…. people with families…. ? Maybe dioceses, IME Officers and Training Incumbants could do more, but congregations must equally share responsibility to support and preserve the physical, mental and spiritual health of clergy AND their families.
    Ever-growing benefices should in theory present the wonderful opportunity for a rich mix of Ordained and non-Ordained ministry, and, within the Ordained, a rich mix of spirituality, time-commitment, involvement and so on… so room for anything from workaholic Marthas to “contemplative-in-the-world” Marys. I suspect, though, that the latter are seen largely as misfits and oddballs, when they should arguably be treasured most of all.

A Red Letter Day? CofE Admits ‘Ministry of the Laity’

I am sure you will have seen the statement by the Archbishops’ Council issued today. I am reblogging it here, not because of its main import, but because of the interesting (revolutionary?) third sentence. This is the first time I have ever seen the Church of England talk about the ministry of  lay people (of whatever sex). This may be an accident (but surely not?).  Whether this is a straw in the wind, a sign of what the Revd Rosemary Lain-Priestley referred to as the tipping-point, we shall be able to decide in years to come. She was of course referring to the ministry of ordained women, but the Church cannot possibly consider revaluing what I will now unashamedly call the ministry of the laity until the ministry of women priests has been revalued. Onward and upwards, brothers and sisters in Christ, the sunlit uplands may at last be beckoning!

Statement on the Conclusion of the Meeting of the Archbishops’ Council November 2012

28 November 2012

“The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England met on November 27-28th to consider a wide ranging agenda. A substantial amount of time was given over to the discussion of the recent vote by General Synod on Women in the Episcopate.

“As part of their reflections, many council members commented on the deep degree of sadness and shock that they had felt as a result of the vote and also of the need to affirm all women serving the church – both lay and ordained – in their ministries.

“In its discussions the Council decided that a process to admit women to the episcopate needed to be restarted at the next meeting of the General Synod in July 2013. There was agreement that the Church of England had to resolve this matter through its own processes as a matter of urgency. The Council therefore recommended that the House of Bishops, during its meeting in a fortnight’s time, put in place a clear process for discussions in the New Year with a view to bringing legislative proposals before the Synod in July.”



The Archbishops Council is a body of 19 members which acts as the standing committee of the General Synod and has a number of other responsibilities as a trustee body.

The members of the council include the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the chairs of the House of Clergy and the Chairs of the House of Laity. Full membership of the groups is available here:

The illustration is by Dmitrijs Dmitrijevs and is via Shutterstock

“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

Leading Intercessions: Coming ‘Further Up And Further In’

For most of the congregation, a service of Christian worship can be as passive an experience as you wish: no one will stop you if you want to sit at the back of the nave and watch the elements of the service unfold as if at the theatre. Most of us have felt at one time or another that this is all we want or are able to contribute. However, the hope is that you will eventually want to play a more active part. Some people are willing to do anything that does not involve ‘performing’ in public and, as we have explored in previous posts, may be coaxed into, say, reading the lesson. But others may be ready to come further up and further in by, for example, leading intercessions.


One reason for the widespread reluctance to lead intercessions may be the lack of training generally available – with its concomitant risk of falling flat on one’s face. Anecdotes abound – in my own case, I was asked by the ‘Revd Laissez Faire’  to lead the prayers of the people at Matins. When I asked for advice, he told me to ‘ask Deirdre’, an old hand with whom I would be alternating. She told me to cut down on the prayers for the royal family – for example, unless Mrs ‘Loyally Royal’  happened to be in church that morning, I need only offer the prayer for the Queen, which I could bring to a halt about half way through at walk in thy way. There was no need to go on to pray that Her Majesty might be endued with heavenly gifts, health, wealth, strength or everlasting joy and felicity. Though I thought this injunction overly Cromwellian, I did as I was told. A few days later  the Revd Laissez Faire rang me in I thought somewhat unholy glee to say that there had been a complaint about ‘my’ prayers at the PCC meeting for being too hidebound: in future I should model myself on the forms of intercessions used at the other (non-BCP) services. Though he made it sound so, I knew that it was not really my fault: a change of intercessor had simply made people realise that they wanted to move on.

I tried the Church of England website. Even today, though it contains some topical prayers which may be usefully incorporated, it takes a protracted treasure hunt to find any help for the stage before that: what should we pray about, how long for and any prescribed order.The following is offered under Notes:

Intercessions: These should normally be broadly based, expressing a concern for the whole of God’s world and the ministry of the whole Church. Nevertheless, where occasion demands, they may be focused on more particular and local needs. Where another service follows immediately, they may be brief.

Feeling as if I had sought for bread and been offered only stones, I set off for the cathedral bookshop where I found half a dozen books which seemed to deal with the subject.  I read them in mounting despair: although they did offer some general help which was useful, most of the ideas offered seemed outlandish in the context of a small rural parish church with an extremely conservative congregation.  There is a self-help website set up in March 2011 by Hilary Murray, who says: ‘When trying to write some intercessions for a local church service, I was astounded by the lack of help and inspiration found on the internet. I decided that something had to be done’.

Actually, it turns out that there is, after all, balm in Gilead, but it took me many years and the fortuitous purchase of ‘New Patterns for Worship‘ to find it. The patterns followed by four different sorts of churches are described: St Ann’s, St Bartholomew’s, St Christopher’s and (immediately recognisable!) St Dodo’s:

At St Dodo’s, the person leading the intercessions says ‘Let us pray’, but hasn’t found the right text, so we hear the pages of ‘New Patterns for Worship’ turning during the ensuing silence. He begins the responsive intercession for Creation, which unfortunately fits neither the readings nor the mood of the congregation. He forgets to rehearse the response at the start and so has to stop at the first break and say ‘When I say … you should say …’ in a voice which implies that the congregation should have known this all along. He keeps switching between addressing God and addressing the congregation throughout the prayers: ‘We really ought to pray for Ann (‘Who is she?’ half the congregation wonder) especially today because …’ – and more of his views of the circumstances of members of the community follow.

This post is by way of an introduction: next time I will offer some practical advice distilled from an increasingly large library and ten years of experience. This is certainly above the pay grade of a humble lay worship leader and with any luck will attract flak from all sides. We can then try and move to a form of advice acceptable to the Church in general (thesis, antithesis, synthesis anyone?) Of course, it would be even more welcome if you short-circuited this process by offering your advice right now, which we can then incorporate…



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The illustration is ‘Link for All’ in the metaphor series by Slavoljub Pantelic, via Shutterstock

Archbishop Rowan’s Thoughts on Lay Ministry

The title to this post is a sort of music-hall joke. The answer to the question: ‘what are ++Rowan’s thoughts on lay ministry?’ is
‘but ++Rowan doesn’t have any thoughts on lay ministry, does he? Does he?’ Boom-boom.

You must judge for yourselves. You can read the whole text of his address to Synod of 9 July 2011 here.

The following extracts give a flavour of the speech (but please read it in its entirety before coming to any conclusions).

“Effective ministerial presence is essential if people are to be in touch with the faithfulness of God through the Church.  It is more than just the presence of the worshipping community, vital as that is: this community has to have its presence focused and personalised in a way that makes it accessible.  And that is a central aspect of the role of the ordained, both directly (as the identifiable face of the worshipping community) and indirectly, as the catalyst that prompts worshippers into service by the repetition of the news of the gospel… We are never likely to return to the mythological past beloved of some critics when every small parish had its resident full-time pastor.  But – to pick up ideas and experiments that are being explored at the moment – sometimes what matters is having a person (literally a ‘parson’) in each small community who is genuinely recognisable as the focus of the Church’s presence, ordained or not; so that the ordained minister is there as friend and support for a number of such ‘presences’, and trained to recognise their giftings.  But this is not just a matter of encouraging people to ‘do jobs’ for the Church.  It is also about the way an ordained person can keep alive and impart to others ways of giving thanks, drawing together the prayer and aspiration of a community.  So how far do we currently think about an ordained minister as someone who can as a real priority communicate what the worship of the Church really is and help others to animate it? The ordained minister as co-ordinator, as liturgist and trainer in liturgy, as well as teacher and inspirer in the more usual ways, the ordained person as celebrant of the community in a very full sense, and one who helps others learn how to celebrate in the name of the Church – this is surely one dimension of where we are being led today…”

The speech is 3447 words long. The archbishop uses the word ordained 14 times; ministry 4 times; ministerial twice; and lay and laity not at all. He makes two oblique references to the contribution of lay people to worship: he talks about ‘effective ministry (ordained or otherwise)‘ and this curious idea of identifying people of God, exceptionally holy and well-behaved people presumably, in each parish who are to serve as what the archbishop calls ‘presences‘ and I think I would call ‘teacher’s pets’.

Archbishop Rowan is a gifted orator, and it is clear from the twitter reactions to his speech that it was well-received overall. For the bishops and clergy present, I can see that ‘heart spoke unto heart’.  But what about his listeners from the House of Laity? What about other lay people, looking on? What about the LGBT community, as David Goss reminded us on twitter?

I see nothing here for any of us except a desert and waste land.

Luckily, my experience of God is more or less the opposite of what ++Rowan appears to have in mind as the ‘correct’ way for lay people to experience Him, and that is solely as demonstrated by the ordained. Kindly meant, no doubt, but if, after 60 years of Christian worship, I had to rely on the priesthood  to explain to me what was meant by Christianity, it wouldn’t say much for their effectiveness over a lifetime, now would it?

One priest who has shown, and continues to show me the way is the Revd Lesley Fellows. Here is an extract from a recent post of hers:

The church sometimes draws me towards God and sometimes away from God. Sometimes I wonder whether there is more darkness than light in the church. However, I find myself connected to God through the Eucharist and even if it is that one sacrament alone that the church offers as light, that still leaves me committed to the church for my spiritual refreshment, however infuriated I sometimes get.

Thank-you, Lesley. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

1. The photograph of Archbishop Rowan is via wikimedia under CCL. The photographer was ‘Brian.jpg’
2. My assertion that the Archbishop has no views on lay ministry, or at least no affirming ones, is based on previous searches of the speeches on his website and the fact that there is no mention of my tier of ministry on the main Church of England website, and scant reference to Licensed Lay Ministers. I would be very pleased to be proved wrong on this inference.

Can Lay Worship Leaders and Organists Make Music Together?

The relationship between the clergy and the organist is laid down in canon law:

B 20 Of the musicians and music of the Church
1. … the functions of appointing… and of terminating the appointment of any organist, choirmaster or director of music, shall be exercisable by the minister with the agreement of the parochial church council…
2. Where there is an organist, choirmaster or director of music the minister shall pay due heed to his advice and assistance in the choosing of chants, hymns, anthems, and other settings, and in the ordering of the music of the church; but at all times the final responsibility and decision in these matters rests with the minister.
3. It is the duty of the minister to ensure that only such chants, hymns, anthems, and other settings are chosen as are appropriate, both the words and the music, to the solemn act of worship and prayer in the House of God as well as to the congregation assembled for that purpose….

In ‘Weary and Ill At Ease‘, Robin L D Rees wrote in 2001:

In recent years, many have written of a breakdown in relations between clergy and organists. While still organist at Exeter Cathedral, Lionel Dakers [later director of the Royal School of Church Music] was already expressing his concern:

There is something in the make-up of clergy and organists which on occasion impels them to behave both irresponsibly and irrationally. Obvious to all are the repercussions of two apparently responsible adults, both in prominent parochial positions, being unable to see eye to eye. Much harm can be done to the cause of the Church by the inevitable tongue wagging which accompanies such incidents.

Ruth Gledhill wrote in The Times on 22 September 2005:

Too many clergy use organists as “human jukeboxes”, demand impossible working hours and refuse to bow to their superior musical knowledge…Now two leading organists have produced a guide…Robert Leach… has written the book with Barry Williams…[they] estimate that two thirds of the country’s organists refuse work in churches because of problems relating to the clergy…

The book, Everything Else an Organist Should Know, gives advice on what to do when relations break down with the vicar…

And they urge organists to be realistic about the abilities of their choirs. “Four old ladies, three children and a grumpy old man cannot sing the Hallelujah Chorus.”

At the same time, members of both professions normally enjoy being centre-stage and have a flair for performance — and in churches, as in any other theatre, there can generally be only one star.

“The minister must not treat the organist as a human jukebox, and the organist must recognise that the minister has final authority in matters of worship,” Mr Leach says.

In our illustration, St Cecilia looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but she also looks as if she were taking her instructions direct from the Almighty: if it takes a brave incumbent to intervene in this cosy conversation, for a lay worship leader to do so is brinkmanship of a very high order.

The first organist I encountered on becoming a Lay Worship Leader was called, shall we say, ‘Drisella’. (The alias is necessary to protect the -possibly litigious- guilty). She had seen off many priests in her time, and presumably anticipated I would present no problem. A month in advance, I emailed Drisella (very politely) with my choice of hymns for the service I was due to take. The reply was instant, and deadly. She would make her choice, based on the theme and hymns suggested in the Royal School of Church Music’s ‘Sunday by Sunday’ booklet.

You will immediately detect the flaw in this arrangement: any theme that I might glean from the lectionary readings might or might not coincide with the RSCM’s interpretation. Although the theme is occasionally obvious, it often isn’t, and there is the added difficulty that, as a lay worship leader, I did not want to fall into the heffalump trap of expounding on doctrine. I appealed to the priest-in-charge, who saw my point and agreed to back me. His sole condition was that it would fall to me, not him, so to inform Drisella. I took a deep breath, and (perhaps rashly) telephoned her. The reaction was electrifying, if ungrammatical:

‘You’re trying to get one over on me with the vicar!’

She then refused to play at any service taken by me. Luckily, at that point my dear husband (and churchwarden) intervened. Although the last time he had played the organ had been in Dacca Cathedral in 1971, he would fill the gap. And so he did, for the next three years, the lovely man. At that point, a new priest-in-charge arrived: to the relief of all, Drisella did not survive the initial conversation about their future relationship.

We moved to a rota system, whereby a series of local organists took on, say, ‘the third Sunday of the month’. There was no ‘Prima Donna’, only a foursome who took it in turns to play in various benefices in the deanery. All that was needed was a little good will, with no jockeying for position. Harmony was restored. All for the greater glory of God. Amen.

1. The main illustration is ‘Organist und mesner’ by an anonymous Italian painter, 18th c via wikimedia. ‘Mesner’ = sacristan. The two seem to be to be eyeing each other distinctly warily.
2. The second illustration is ‘Saint Cecilia’ by Simon Vouet c. 1626 via wikimedia.
3. You can read Ruth Gledhill’s story in full if you click the hyperlink, as it was written before the pay wall.
4. Kathryn Rose, of the Artsy Honker blog, has been invited to post with her reactions at The Organist’s View.

A Meditation for Trinity Sunday (Year A) on Andrei Rublev’s Icon

Lay worship leaders are unlikely to be asked to take services on Christmas Day, Good Friday or Easter, but I have twice found myself taking a Matins on Trinity Sunday. In these circumstances, it would be foolhardy to launch into one’s own explanation of the Trinity (although one ‘kind’ suggestion was that I should use a pot plant as a prop to expound on Trinitarian doctrine).

At the last Year A Trinity Sunday, I drew heavily on a sermon by the Dean of Durham Cathedral, the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, and a meditation by Dr André Boguslawski on Andrei Rublev’s icon of  the three Angels being hosted by Abraham at Mamré.

Holy God, faithful and unchanging:enlarge our minds with the knowledge of your truth, and draw us more deeply into the mystery of your love, that we may truly worship you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

The nation’s favourite hymn begins:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes…

It reminds us, if we need reminding, that God is beyond our understanding. Part of the point of today is to celebrate His mysteries, which are not the same as puzzles. Puzzles, however difficult, can be solved, but the more you explore mysteries, the more their mystery deepens. To contemplate them is more like prayer than intellectual analysis:
‘Great music,’ said the pianist Artur Schnabel, ‘is music that is better than it can ever be played’…Worship, too, is something that is performed. The words we say and sing this morning are like a musical score: only in the performance, in the doing, do they come alive. And we realise that however good the words, however honest our intentions, our worship always falls short of what it proclaims…On Trinity Sunday, we realise the impossibility of ever doing God justice by talking about him. We ask too much of language when we expect it to carry this profoundest mystery of all…For how can we speak about the God who is both high and deep; beyond us, yet within; encompassing all that has been, and is, and is yet to come? ‘To whom then will you compare God?’ asks Isaiah.40:18
I can barely comprehend the mystery of another human being, my own self even, let alone the mystery of God.
As the Welsh priest-poet R.S. Thomas writes:
‘For one like me God will never be plain and out there, but dark rather and inexplicable’.
But Trinity Sunday means more than what we can’t say. This ‘more’ is about what we can do, indeed must do, if we are to live as Christians. In the Trinity, we see a pattern of relationship that speaks of how we are to be towards others and towards the world. The threeness of Trinity means community, a society of persons moving constantly out towards one another in self-giving, living and being in that perfect oneness we call by the name of ‘love’.

The Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Trinity 2005

Among the world’s most influential religions, only Hinduism shares with Christianity the concept of incarnate deity. Although one thinks of Hinduism as having a multitude of gods, they are all avatars or incarnations of one of the Trimurti: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver or Shiva the destroyer. Sometimes shown as one body with three heads, these three are engaged in the same triune cosmic dance that Michael Sadgrove describes in the last passage – ‘moving constantly out towards one another’. A single god is but a single point in the universe; two points would only allow for movement backwards and forwards between them, but three points form a triangle, the essence of a circle- Three in One and One in Three, in fact- which suggests perpetual movement.But we are getting into deep waters. The Russian Orthodox Church invented icons as a way of focusing on the deep truths behind our faith without the barrier of words, putting into colours and shapes what cannot be grasped by the intellect. Perhaps the most famous is the icon of The Trinity by Andrei Rublev.

Alexander Boguslawski leads us through his interpretation:

This icon takes as its subject the mysterious story where Abraham receives three visitors as he camps by the oak of Mamre. He serves them a meal. As the conversation progresses he seems to be talking straight to God, as if these ‘angels’ were in some way a metaphor for the three persons of the Trinity. Genesis 18:1-3
In Rublev’s representation of the scene, the three gold-winged figures are seated around a white table on which a golden, chalice-like bowl contains a roasted lamb. In the background of the picture, a house can be seen at the top left and a tree in the centre. Less distinctly, a rocky hill lies in the upper right corner. The composition is a great circle around the table, focusing the attention on the chalice-bowl at the centre, which reminds the viewer inescapably of an altar at Communion.
On one level this picture shows three angels seated under Abraham’s tree, but on another it is a visual expression of what the Trinity means, what is the nature of God, and how we approach him. The three angels show a paradoxical equality and dissimilarity, so much so that commentators disagree on which represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit [but in my view] reading the picture from left to right, we see the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
On the right, the Holy Spirit has a garment of the clear blue of the sky, wrapped over with a robe of a fragile green. So the Spirit of creation moves in sky and water, breathes in heaven and earth. All living things owe their freshness to his touch. The Son has the deepest colours; a thick heavy garment of the reddish-brown of earth and a cloak of the blue of heaven. In his person he unites heaven and earth, the two natures are present in him…The Father seems to wear all the colours in a kind of fabric that changes with the light… that cannot be described or confined in words. And this is how it should be. No one has seen the Father, but the vision of him fills the universe.
The wings of the angels or persons are gold. Their seats are gold. The chalice in the centre is gold, and the roof of the house. Whether they sit, whether they fly, all is perfect, precious, and worthy…The light that shines around their heads is white, pure light. Gold is not enough to express the glory of God. Only light will do, and that same white becomes the holy table, the place of offering. God is revealed and disclosed here, at the heart, in the whiteness of untouchable light.
The Father looks forward, raising his hand in blessing to the Son…This is my Son, listen to him… The hand of the Son points on, around the circle, to the Spirit. In this simple array we see the movement of life towards us, The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit. The life flows clockwise around the circle. And we complete the circle: we are invited and sent to complete the circle of the Godhead with our response.
The Spirit touches us, even though we do not know who it is that is touching us. He leads us by ways we may not be aware of, up the hill of prayer. It may be steep and rocky, but the journeying God goes before us along the path. It leads to Jesus, the Son of God, and it leads to a tree. A great tree in the heat of the day spreads its shade. It is a place of security, a place of peace, a place where we begin to find out the possibilities of who we can be. It is no ordinary tree. It stands above the Son in the picture, and stands above the altar-table where the lamb lies within the chalice. Because of the sacrifice this tree grows. The tree of death has been transformed into a tree of life for us.
The tree is on the way to the house. Over the head of the Father is the house of the Father. It is the goal of our journey. It is the beginning and end of our lives. Its roof is golden. Its door is always open for the traveller. It has a tower, and its window is always open so that the Father can incessantly scan the roads for a glimpse of a returning prodigal.

Henri Nouwen sums up:

Through the contemplation of this icon we come to see with our inner eyes that all engagements in this world can bear fruit only when they take place within this divine circle. It seems to beckon. It seems to say, ‘Join us. Join us in the circle of true love, where there is joy for evermore.’

Eternal Trinity, you are a deep sea, into which the more we enter the more we find, and the more we find the more we seek. The soul ever hungers in your abyss, longing to see with you with the light of your light and, as the deer yearns for the springs of water, so our souls yearn to see you in truth. Amen.


1. Grateful thanks to Dr Alexander Boguslawski and Dean Michael Sadgrove for their generous permission to quote at length from their copyright work as above.
The extracts from Dean Michael Sadgrove are in Courier font, the extracts from Dr Boguslawski are in Georgia font, and my own narrative is in the default font. (I’m sorry it is still a bit muddling!)
2. Postscript: ‘The Circle of Love: Praying with Rublev’s icon of the Trinity’ by Ann Persson is reviewed by the Revd Peter McGeary in the Church Times of 7 January 2011
3. The illustration is  Rublev’s  icon showing the three Angels being hosted by Abraham at Mamré via Wikimedia
4. The first prayer is an Additional Collect for this Trinity Sunday.

To Train Lay Worship Leaders, Do We Need To Start In Childhood?

The Body of Christ
When I was eight, my father gave me ‘the talk’. Maybe you know the one? He draw a sketch of our house, with pin men for its inhabitants. ‘What does Daddy do’? ‘He goes to work to make money to keep the family’. He went through the house’s inhabitants, one by one, until he got to me. ‘What does Laura do?’ I couldn’t think of anything, except doing my best to enjoy life. Somehow I knew that wasn’t the right answer, so kept quiet. ‘You need to go away and think about what you can do to play your part in family life.’ His tone was loving, but carried a hint of menace, I thought: he definitely meant business.

If the Church is to find volunteers among the adult congregation for all sorts of jobs, we need to have the equivalent of this talk with children at a similar age. We need to explore with them the part they might play in the Body of Christ.

In the Church of England, whether called Children’s Church or Sunday School, Children’s Ministry seems chiefly to mean ministry to children, not ministry by children. In contrast, The Episcopal Church’s webpage on Children’s Ministries says it seeks to engage children in the exploration of their own ministries:

‘Children are innately spiritual. Given the opportunity, their lively and passionate expressions of faith can help transform the church’.

In the words of Booker Washington:

Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility on him and to let him know that you trust him.

Many churches already do give children a role in services such as asking them to distribute hymn books and service sheets to the arriving congregation and to take the collection. Booker Washington’s advice is implicit in this allotment of tasks, but maybe it also needs to be stated explicitly. Perhaps we should copy the ‘monitor‘ idea from school? Just a thought!

Are Christians guilty of ‘brainwashing’?
Before going any further, we need to deal with the accusation often levelled at Christians  that we ‘brainwash’ our children. The idea that parents themselves damage their children by raising them as Christians is presented in this video (3.57 mins)  by ‘The Thinking Atheist‘. (The ‘Christianity’ described is of the ‘weird and wonderful’ variety, with a God in the clouds that takes care of everything. Unsurprisingly, when this version of Christianity is spurned as unreal, religion as a whole is also rejected).

Secular advice on parenting
Well, are we guilty? Anyone wanting to be a good parent these days might naturally turn to the web for advice. Here is Dr Stuart Crisp, a paediatrician, on net doctor:

‘Each person’s knowledge of how to bring up a child usually comes from their surroundings and their own upbringing…Parents should express their unconditional love for their children, as well as provide them with the continued support they need to become self-assured and happy…Discipline is crucial when bringing up a child. All children need and want reasonable boundaries. Through discipline your child learns that some kinds of behaviour are acceptable and others are not. Setting boundaries for children’s behaviour helps them to learn how to behave in society…Children like to have special days reserved for special activities…Such rituals and routines build strong families’.

This, although from a non-religious source, sounds very much like a prescription for Christian parenting, doesn’t it? Let us agree to regard the case against Christian upbringing as, at the very least, unproven!

Back to the question of training lay worship leaders
As we have seen in How do you find lay worship leaders from the congregation?, in many cases it is too late to train adults to be Marys, although it is much easier to find Marthas, serried ranks of whom down the centuries have polished the brass, laundered the linen and dusted the pews. Others have read the lesson or served as churchwardens. But finding potential worship leaders among the congregation is an uphill task. Why is this?

Well, partly perhaps because churches have always had steps dividing the chancel from the nave and those in clerical garb from those in ordinary dress: roles have been clearly defined. People have not been brought up with the expectation that they may have to take on liturgical roles as part of their lives as Christians. Is it a case of the herd instinct? If people accept that it is a case of ‘all hands to the pump’ and regard it as a matter of course that they may be called upon to take their turn, they will not stand out by doing so. But if it is seen as an esoteric calling, as it largely is at present, people are perhaps unwilling to look too ‘holy’ by joining this group? If, wherever possible, children are encouraged to take part in worship, they are more likely to take it in their stride as adults.

Education, education, education
‘Doing God in Education’  was the subject of a recent Theos report by Trevor Cooling which I recommend. If the training is reinforced at school, taking even a small part in leading worship is likely to be of great potential benefit to the children. First and foremost, it promotes their spiritual development: having to choose prayers around the readings for the day and even, with help and perhaps in groups, filling the ‘sermon slot’, teaches active participation rather than passive observance. But leading worship is also a great privilege and a great responsibility: fostering the personal growth needed to fill such positions of responsibility is in itself a definition of the ‘leading out’ that is at the root of the word ‘education’.

1. The illustration is ‘Little Girls At Church’ by Gwen John, via wiki gallery under creative commons licence.
2. Part of this blog is based on an article by me in ‘Conference and Common Room’ Vol 48 #2, Summer 2011 called ‘Send not to know for whom the bell tolls‘; grateful thanks to Alex Sharratt of John Catt Educational Ltd for copyright permission. 

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