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Category: Anglicanism

Cosmo Lang

Cosmo Lang

 Cosmo Gordon Lang: Archbishop in War and Crisis   Robert Beaken (I B Tauris, £25),


This was a hasty buy helped by a book token that I had been trying to use for ages and (frankly) a rather interesting set of photographs! I was not disappointed…. It has gained a little publicity in relation to the role of Lang in the abdication of Edward VIII – it is a well researched book and provided all kinds of unsuspected parallels with todays conflicted Church of England.

Lang was clear that Edward, who had come to the throne on January 20, could not retain it if he married a woman twice divorced whose husbands were still living. The archbishop, in any case, had come to the conclusion that Edward was not fit to be king. Partly this was political: the King had stopped even attending to state papers. Partly it was religious: Lang recoiled from the idea of consecrating “him as King”. As he said to his chaplain: “Think of pouring all those sacred words into a vacuum.”

the text has judgement and perspective in telling the story of the Abdication. A textured picture is painted  of the man at the helm of the Church of England from 1928 to 1942.



There is a sympathetic and humane judgement here – Beaken shows that Lang’s main troubles were loneliness and workaholism. You will remember the well-known anecdote has Lang remarking that a portrait made him look “proud, pompous and prelatical”, to which Hensley Henson, the angular Bishop of Durham, responded by asking which epithet he took exception to.

Far more enlightening is Lang’s judgment on his portrait by William Orpen: “It is a portrait of a very hard-working, very well-meaning, very lonely and very disappointed man.” There is speculation of the reasons for loneliness which, in  the end are inconclusive.

Lang was dutiful, disciplined, frugal, ambitious and given to surface irritability (of which he was aware ) and to verbal exaggeration. He excelled as a speaker and preacher. He enjoyed the company of important people but never wrote gossip even in private diaries or told risqué stories. He could type but never mastered the use of a fountain pen. He left, Dr Beaken judges, the Church of England stronger than he found it.

A fascinating reflection about the power of a personality, the establishment and the Church of England’s central place in it and the need then (as now) for people to be seen and recognised …. History indeed but some things (perhaps) never change! And here is my favourite picture!!


Our need for theology?

Our need for theology?


It is the role of the contemporary conflicts of theology to expose the idolatries to which we Christians are prone; and the exorcism of them is necessary for the renewal of faith and for the convincing communication of faith to the world. Idolatry for Christians wears many guises. It arises when the service of God becomes so ‘religion­ized’ that people become blind to the challenges of God in everyday episodes; but it can arise also when the service of God becomes so activist that there is no room for the contemplation of God as the author and the goal of human service. It arises perhaps most frequently when the concepts and images of God, and our own way of realizing them, become ‘absolutized’ and so replace the reality whom they represent. In all these ways we can ‘turn our glory into the likeness of a calf that eats hay’.

Theology needs openness.

So often a lack of open­ness has vitiated theology in its tasks. Through lack of openness to the contemporary world theology has sometimes worked in a kind of vacuum with neither meaningfulness for itself nor power of self-communi­cation. But through lack of openness to the past theo­logy can be so obsessed with the contemporary as to lose a true perspective and give to the contemporary far less than it can.

And openness to the world must always be accompanied by an openness to Christ crucified, or else the world’s wisdom can mislead. The need is for every kind of openness – to the past and to the present, to the world and to heaven and eternity.

By openness to the past the Christian can contem­plate the life and death and Resurrection of Jesus.

It is humbling to be made to realize that the world before or since has produced nothing so worthy of contemplation because what is there given is from be­yond the world. The life of Jesus is to be imitated, and the death and Resurrection of Jesus are to be shared. So the sacraments of the Church which convey the death and the Resurrection to the believers link the contem­plation of the past with the reality of the present. There must no less be openness to the past in the many cen­turies between the historic Christ and today. The saintly lives of the past encourage us, and we discover that new truths or errors are often in fact the re-emergence of old ones.

Seeing the Glorgy of God

Seeing the Glorgy of God


The truth of God’s transcendence still stands. God is near, but God is different. God is here, but man is dependent. God’s otherness is the otherness of Creator to creature, of Saviour to sinner; and it is for the creature still to worship the Creator and for the sinner still to ask for the Saviour’s grace. Without this the new Christianity of the secular city will lose its identity as Christianity and will deceive itself and mislead its citizens. And, on the other hand, those who cherish God’s transcendence will know that it is within the secular city that it has to be vindicated and that the transcendent and the numinous are to be seen not in a separated realm of religious practice but in human lives marked by an awe-inspiring self-forgetfulness, compassion, humility and courage. Such lives bear witness that we have here no continuing city, for we are looking for a city which is to come.

Institutions can become a fetish unless it is seen that their glory is not their own but the glory of Christ reflected in their self-effacement. The imagery in which Christians think about God can become a fetish if it circumscribes thought about God within the circle of religious interests and ceases to convey the God who cares about everything which happens in the world. Preoccupation about God’s laws can become a fetish if it allows devotion to the commands and the pro­hibitions to replace devotion to God whose commands and prohibitions they are. The Sacraments can become the focus of veneration instead of being windows into the sacrifice of Calvary and the actions of the living Christ. Equally the moods and phrases of evangelical piety can substitute a kind of self-contemplation for the self-forgetful contemplation of God and obedience to him. It is by a constant self-criticism of our own idolatries that we Christians can learn again and present to our contemporaries the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

( after Michael Ramsey)

On Anglican Piety

On Anglican Piety


“Her intellectual temper,” W H Auden  said, “is summed up in a remark by one of her bishops, ‘Orthodoxy is reticence”

Auden believed that “at its best,” Anglican piety “shows spiritual good man­ners, a quality no less valuable in the religious life than in so­cial life, though, of course, not the ultimate criterion in either, reverence without religiosity, and humour (in which last trait it resembles Jewish piety).” “Like all styles of piety,” he said, “it becomes detestable when the fire of love has gone out. It is no insult to say that Anglicanism is the Christianity of a gentle- man, but we know what a tiny hairbreadth there is between a gentleman and a genteel snob.” Auden suggests the same at­titude, though less as a matter of manners, in discussing the imbalance in S0ren Kierkegaard’s piety, his “overemphasis on one aspect of the truth at the expense of all the others.”

He strongly criticizes Kierkegaards neglect of ordinary human affections and quotes as correctives Dietrich Bonheoffer s declarations that “we ought not to try and be more religious than God Himself,” and that “we should love God eternally with our whole hearts, yet not so as to compromise or dimin­ish our earthly affections, but as a kind of cantus fermus to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint.”

This Moment !

This Moment !

Never let yourself think that because God has given you many things to do for Him — pressing routine jobs, a life full up with duties and demands of a very practical sort — that all these need separate you from communion with Him. God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament; however unexpected its outward form may be receive Him in every sight and sound, joy, pain, opportunity and sacrifice.

Evelyn Underhill



I’m not, I think, a signer up to campaigns! I think there is an activist streak to me – as I hope there is to many of my friends and colleagues – but perhaps early middle age has brought both a wider (and perhaps even wiser) perspective combined worryingly with a pinch of complacency.I really do wonder which battles are worth fighting for and what is the best use of energy in order to effect difference.I have been much sobered by a challenge she shared with me recently ‘what difference are you making?‘ 

One campaign that I signed up to and attracted some very sharp criticism from some of my more attractive secular friends was the keep Sunday special campaign.You may remember it some time ago? It was an attempt to encourage communities, families and the wider society to respect the sabbath day, the first day of the week, as a day of rest, refreshment and for those of us who wanted to, a day of worship. Of course it failed and the result – Sunday is now  a day like all others – and even on the roads sometimes busier. Shops are open – there is freedom and absolute self-determination – with little sense of any differentiation.

Perhaps it has done no harm – but I’m not convinced or sure of this. I cannot turn the clocks back but as I write I see crowds of people pouring into Windsor from the station, noise and activity of the day – most, I guess, oblivious to the origins of Sunday and its meaning and significance for religious people. I know that we do not convince people by standing aside, judging and criticising, to demand that we be treated differently but the loss of the feel and shape of Sunday I think has had profound spiritual effects on us all.

So what do I want?

1. For us to so travel through the week that we have a stronger sense of rhythm and pattern and cycle.

2. To have more differentiation between boundaries where work does not impinge on everything; where there is space for us and the things that matter.

3. To cherish and celebrate a sabbath day.This does not mean inflicting religion on individuals but by perhaps offering some space within which people might attend to their interior lives.Time out from the individualistic, consumerist and materialist world perhaps?

Today has been an extraordinary privilege.Worship, people, celebration of new life and so much very more. Life in the context of our trust and faith in God who loves us and journeys with us through all the   ups and downs of life… Belief that a Sunday marks a conviction that much of our flourishing can find its place in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.time to dig deeper into wisdom and to ask questions (as a colleague of mine did today) about truth – truth that we can live by and truth that might even be able to help us die by.

I love Sundays and long for a shift so that others can drink deeply of its spiritual opportunity.

See how these Christian love one another

See how these Christian love one another

Church of Nigeria reacts to Archbishop of Canterbury’s Resignation

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd and Rt. Hon. Dr. Rowan Williams took over the leadership of the Anglican Communion in 2002 when it was a happy family. Unfortunately, he is leaving behind a Communion in tatters: highly polarized, bitterly factionalized, with issues of revisionist interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and human sexuality as stumbling blocks to oneness, evangelism and mission all around the Anglican world.

It might not have been entirely his own making, but certainly “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. The lowest ebb of this degeneration came in 2008, when there were, so to say, two “Lambeth” Conferences one in the UK, and an alternative one, GAFCON in Jerusalem. The trend continued recently when many Global South Primates decided not to attend the last Primates’ meeting in Dublin, Ireland.

Since Dr. Rowan Williams did not resign in 2008, over the split Lambeth Conference, one would have expected him to stay on in office, and work assiduously to ‘mend the net’ or repair the breach, before bowing out of office. The only attempt, the covenant proposal, was doomed to fail from the start, as “two cannot walk together unless they have agreed”.

For us, the announcement does not present any opportunity for excitement. It is not good news here, until whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction. To this end, we commit our Church, the Church of Nigeria, (Anglican Communion) to serious fasting and prayers that God will do “a new thing”, in the Communion.

Nevertheless, we join others to continue in prayer for Dr. Rowan Williams and his family for a more fruitful endeavour in their post – Canterbury life.

+Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria



The Study of scripture is at the heart of theology.

 Scripture truthfully tells the story of God’s action of creating, judging and saving the world.

It is to be read and reread above all for the sake of God and God’s purposes; hear it as God the Creator, Judge and Saviour crying out to humanity; respond to it, in cries, worship, life and thought, with love for God and for the world God loves.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

“Lord teach us how to pray aright … for we perish if we cease to pray.”

Lent calls us to repentance and repentance involves a change of heart. Help me to realise Lord that to change my life without changing my heart is like cutting weeds and leaving roots in the soil. Give me the grace to turn away from evil and to do what is pleasing to you.

We pray for those for whom fasting is a permanent condition due to hunger and a lack of food.

Protect me Lord from being blind to my own sins. Help all of us to see the need to change our lives.

Give me the grace to show repentance by a new way of living.

God of love hear our prayers tonight. Help us know your will and do it with courage and faith. We make this and all our prayers through Christ our Lord, Amen.



In a way that seems to be more and more crucial to the modern quest for the spiritual, cathedrals can offer a transforming experience. If religion appeals to duty, it seems spirituality must deliver a tangible personal intuition – ‘the tug of silver’.Cathedrals welcome the visitor, whether as worshipper, wanderer or the indifferent perplexed, and they deliver an experience. That experience may be about height, depth, colour, sound, scale, space, history or story. The sheer scale of things, the beauty of holiness, the rumour of faith, the drifting tones of evensong from remote choir stalls scarcely discernible, all allow the skirts of mystery to be touched. For a moment, people for whom too close a definition of what is happening would turn their wonderment to ashes may know the spiritual.

 All this has been captured by Ronald Blythe when he refers to cathedrals and the old-new numinosity’. Les grands projets are part of that mission and that order of thinking.

Cathedrals also witness to something beyond our experience and place us in a greater context. It is not fanciful to sense in the multi­lingual literature at the cathedral door, in the exhibition about Fair Trade, in the prayers which gather concerns from across the globe left by the candle stand, in the resonances of regional celebrations and in the scale of the building – in all this it is not fanciful to sense the call of the universal creator.

 The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ finds witness in the hewn stone, in the smell of the herbs in the monks’ garden, in the play of light in the cloister, in the record of the generations and the word of greeting at the threshold. Doors of wonder are opened by walking into a cathedral. That is the ultimate justification for these great projects.

The search for dignity

The search for dignity

 I thought this well worth pondering from 

Katharine Jefferts Schori  ( the Presiding Bishop of Episcopal Church in the United States of America. She is the first woman elected primate in the Anglican Communion)


There’s an institution in New York City called the Doe Fund. Its motto is Ready, Willing and Able. Early in the morning, trucks bearing that logo can be found on the streets of Manhattan, and out of those trucks come workers with garbage cans, brooms, and equipment for collecting litter. Some of the trucks disgorge workers with pumps and containers for collecting used cooking oil to be recycled into biodiesel. The Doe Fund takes its name from John Doe, the traditional moniker for a person whose name is a mystery. Its founder is a Roman Catholic layman who’s convinced that employment and learning personal responsibility are the key to ending homelessness. The fund assists people who are trying to leave homelessness by providing jobs, support in sobriety, and help with developing employment skills and a sense of their basic human dignity. Each year the Doe Fund helps several hundred people transform their lives.

Those people are overwhelmingly from minority populations, more than half have been in prison, and most have substance addiction issues. That motto, Ready, Willing and Able, is a proud witness to dignity gained. That’s also pretty much what we hear when Jesus asks James and his brother John if they are able to drink the cup that he will drink. Yep, they say, “we’re ready, willing, and able.” Their journey in some sense moves in the opposite direction, but it is about the same kind of vocation. James’ and John’s charge to fish for people is about serving whoever turns up, and following a leader who has nowhere to lay his head. They are becoming workers without a permanent home because they’re focused on worldwide cleanup and the transformation of all communities. The goal is a healed society where all have the dignity that comes of right relationship with God and neighbour. We usually call it the reign of God, or the common weal of God.

That commonweal of God work is a prophetic vocation, often deeply unpopular and challenging, and born of the dream that dignity for all is a deeply divine warrant. That kind of prophetic witness, in both word and deed, is what made Jesus so offensive to the powers at hand. The same kind of prophetic witness got James executed by Herod, the first of the inner circle of disciples to be martyred. It is what Jesus himself pointed to when he said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37). But prophetic work is not primarily about death and homelessness, even though either may be a byproduct. Prophetic work is about more abundant life for the whole world, and it is about a home everywhere, a home for all. When Agabus and the prophets go down to Antioch and tell of a looming famine in Judea, the whole community shows itself willing and able to respond to that demand of the moment. The people in Judea are losing their ability to build a home of the sort that God intends for all – enough to eat, freedom from oppressive government, the ability to worship. Together the company of prophets and the early Christians in Antioch determine to respond in the way they are able. They are helping to gather the chicks under God’s wings.

Prophets and disciples are meant to be ready and willing to respond to the challenge and opportunity of the moment, in whatever way the spirit is calling. We continue to tell their stories and celebrate their lives so that we might be encouraged, and literally given a little more heart-strength to challenge indignity that results from injustice. Dignity means a sense of worth, suitability, or honour, and it is the state in which God created all that is. The indignities came later. One of the eucharistic prayers in the Episcopal church’s prayer book says that we have been created worthy to stand in God’s presence. When we treat others as less than that, we reject God’s good creation, and in a very real sense, we deny our own dignity. Prophetic work helps to restore the dignity of creation, and acknowledges that creation reflects the utter dignity of the creator. We get in trouble when we limit dignity to lesser things, or deny dignity to some. Dignity is really what James’ mother is after when she pesters Jesus to put her boys first when he becomes king. She wants them to have the important chairs closest to Jesus. Jesus responds by asking if they’re willing and able to suffer indignity, even die, in order to restore dignity to others. What do the English call the circle of greatest dignity in this realm but the Court of St James’s? It’s not just the site of royal courtesies and where the monarch receives emissaries from other realms.

 The Court of St James’s takes its name originally from a place of healing, the Hospital of St James, a leper hospital dating from at least the 13th century. The dignity originally offered to lepers is carried on in the dignity and courtesies extended to representatives of other nations, whatever their political reputation. All those lesser dignities have their roots in the dignity of human creatures who bear the image of God. We miss something essential when we mistake the lesser dignities for the divine one we all bear. The other difficulty we all know too well is the human tendency to insist that some are not worthy of respect, that dignity doesn’t apply to the poor, or to immigrants, or to women, or Muslims, or gay and lesbian people.

Prophetic work is about challenging human systems that ignore or deny the innate dignity of all of God’s creation. That’s the aspect of prophetic work that’s dangerous, for those systems often respond with violence – the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, the disappearance of righteous gentiles who rescued Jews during the Second World War, or the expulsion of a Ugandan bishop because he asked the church to treat the gay and lesbian members of his society with dignity. Members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) are engaged in prophetic work right now. The IFI is in full communion with TEC and the Anglican Communion. A month ago, two lay leaders were assassinated by masked men on motorcycles. Four years ago a retired bishop was assassinated in his kitchen. Two priests have been similarly murdered, as have leaders in other denominations. All have been working to bring dignity and basic human rights to farm workers and labourers. Our own prophetic solidarity and advocacy just might bring some accountability from the former government and justice from the present one.

Can you imagine what might happen if a good number of Anglicans and Episcopalians insisted that our governments pay attention to human rights in the Philippines? The search for dignity is work that all members of Christ’s body share. We’re invited to join the band of prophets, share the meal and drink the cup. It can be dangerous work, but most prophets I know are also filled with joy. Prophets generally decide that it’s not worth living in a system without dignity. Better to lose that life, and exchange it for one that builds up, because we lose our own dignity when we tolerate indignity for some. The journey down to Antioch and back to Jerusalem led our ancestors to discover that one’s own dignity is mixed up with that of every other human being, and indeed all of creation. James made the same discovery. The work of the cross is the most life-giving journey we know. Are you ready, willing, and able?

This is the text of a sermon delivered at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on Sunday 25 July 2010, the feast of St James

Leading the Church of England

Leading the Church of England

I thought this profile worth sharing – as we continue to pray for all our Church leaders…..

The last time the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spoke to the New Statesman, it was at the end of 2008, a year that our writer, James Macintyre, described as “one of the most difficult for Anglicanism since the Reformation”. The Lambeth Conference, the assembly of bishops from the worldwide Anglican Communion that meets every ten years, had begun amid what even the Archbishop acknowledged was “bitter controversy” over questions of sexuality. But by the end of the conference, the dire warnings about lasting schism over the matter were largely forgotten. Williams, Macintyre reported, had won over his critics: “Conservatives and liberals embraced and previously sceptical bishops spoke of a ‘new Pentecost’.”

This year, however, the Archbishop’s gift for compromise and reconciliation appears to have deserted him. On 10 July, a proposal designed by Williams and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, to permit the creation of separate dioceses for those opposed to the ordination of women priests was rejected by the Church of England’s General Synod. Apocalyptic predictions of mass defections of Anglo-Catholic clergy and laity to Rome duly followed.

This latest imbroglio, preceded by the refusal of the Crown Nominations Commission to consider the candidacy of the gay cleric Dr Jeffrey John to the bishopric of Southwark, is, among other things, a reminder of the distinctive challenges involved in leading an established church. “People sometimes ask me,” Williams told the New Statesman in 2008, “does being in an established church mean you have to watch what you say?” He insisted that he didn’t worry about “being a nuisance” to politicians, if not to his own flock, though he conceded that his time in the Church in Wales had left him receptive to the case for disestablishment. “I spent ten years working in a disestablished church; and I can see that it’s by no means the end of the world if the establishment disappears. The strength of it is that the last vestiges of state sanction disappeared, so when you took a vote at the Welsh Synod, it didn’t have to be nodded through by parliament afterwards.”

He remained suspicious, however, of the motives of many of the partisans of disestablishment among the political class. “My unease about going for straight disestablishment is to do with the fact that it’s a very shaky time for the public presence of faith in society. I think the motives that would now drive dis­establishment from the state side would be most to do with . . . trying to push religion into the private sphere, and that’s the point where I’d be bloody-minded and say, ‘Well, not on that basis.'”

The Archbishop’s resistance to what he sees as attempts to consign religion to the margins of the public sphere is not merely “bloody-minded”. On the contrary, it is grounded in deep and sustained reflection on the place of faith in modern liberal democracies. Consider the comments Williams made in February 2008 on the application of sharia law in Brit-ain. His remarks in a BBC interview, widely and mischievously reported as amounting to a straightforward call for sharia to be implemented in this country, were in fact a gloss on a dense and closely argued lecture on “Civil and Religious Law in England” delivered at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Although that lecture addressed the specific question of the relationship between sharia (and, for that matter, Orthodox Jewish practice) and the jurisdiction of British courts, it also ranged widely and probed deeply. In Williams’s view, examining the legal provisions of individual religious groups (Muslim or otherwise) helps us to see something important about the limits of a certain secular conception of political identity.

Impoverished citizenship

Modern secular states take for granted what Williams regards as a partial and impoverished notion of citizenship. According to what one might call the “public philosophy” of liberal secular democracy, to be a citizen is, in his words, to “be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state”.

The problem with this idea of citizenship, for Williams, is that it is too narrow. It takes no account of the cultural and religious affiliations citizens might have above and beyond their status as legal subjects – or, at best, it relegates those other kinds of attachment or belonging to a private world. And that is especially problematic in ethnically, culturally and confessionally diverse societies. It risks, Williams argues, producing a “ghettoised pattern of social life”, in which religious forms of “interest and reasoning” are treated as infra dig, and not given an airing in public debate about “shared goods and priorities”.

Williams maintains that one of the consequences of religious interests being excluded in this way is a coarsening of political discourse. Religious perspectives can, he thinks, imbue the language of public deliberation with a “depth and moral gravity that cannot be gen­erated simply by the negotiation of . . . balanced self-interests”.

They can do this, in part, precisely by expanding our notion of what it is to be a citizen. Over the past 30 years or so, politics in much of the western world has been dominated by a drastically simplified vision of the idea of freedom, in which this has been regarded as iden­tical with the ability of individuals to pursue their preferences with “minimal interference”. “Liberty,” Williams has written, “is more than consumer choice.” He is certainly right about that, though it is not at all clear that the blame for this calamitous narrowing of our horizons lies entirely with”secularism”, unless that concept is defined in the broadest terms. There are, after all, versions of secularism that do not require the banishment of religion from the public sphere.

Williams’s most sustained treatment of these issues – a lecture he gave in Rome in November 2006 – suggests that he also recognises this. The lecture was an intervention in a long-running debate among political philosophers over the implications of the doctrine of state “neutrality” towards religion. Roughly speaking, this doctrine holds that, in conditions of diversity and pluralism, the state ought to be neutral with respect to the competing moral and religious outlooks of its citizens. The question is what follows from this. Does the burden of neutrality fall on citizens, requiring them to divide their lives into public and private parts? Or is it only the agents of the state who are obliged to keep their moral and religious beliefs to themselves?

Williams sketches two competing visions of the secular society: one in which neutrality does require the exclusion of religion from public deliberation and debate, and one in which it doesn’t. A secular state, he argues, need not demand of the religious that they set aside their most deeply held beliefs when they enter public space, so long as they don’t expect those beliefs to be given a free pass just because they are religious. The result may be “noisy and untidy”, yet that is surely preferable to the “empty public square” of the more “programmatic” form of secularism that Williams rejects.

From the New Stateman 19 July 2010

Wither the Anglican Communion?

Wither the Anglican Communion?


I thought it worth drawing your attention to these helpful comments by the Bishop of Gloucester?

I think there are some things here we need to explore sensitively together. In doing so I want to acknowledge the honesty and courage of my friend, James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, who has publicly told his own story of moving his position on the issue of homosexuality over recent years and urged the Church not to allow this issue to divide us in a way that breaks communion. And I also need to acknowledge that I have long been in a different place and so have not had to travel as difficult a path as he has to be in the place where I now am. My own understanding has long been that the Church of England’s current stance is not tenable long term, but that, while we engage, struggle, with these issues, it must be task of the bishop to uphold our agreed policy, with all its weaknesses, and to try to hold the Church together while we tackle the things that divide us. I don’t believe I can move away from that position, though I need to share with you some of my discomfort.

It is difficult to know where to begin, but I think the best place is with the categorising of first and second order issues. I am quite clear that the issues on which the creeds make a firm statement – God as trinity, the divinity of Christ, the death and the resurrection of the Lord, the role of the Spirit and more – are first order issues on which there can be no change in what the Church teaches. They are fundamental to the Christian faith. I am equally clear that there are second order issues, which are important, and where interpretation of the tradition needs to be careful and prayerful, but where nevertheless individual churches and provinces need to be free to define doctrine in the way that seems to them to be in accordance with the mind of Christ.

Can we live together with difference and disagreement? What model of coalotion might the Church be for the world?


Money worries in the C of E

Money worries in the C of E

Clergy in the Church of England are being asked to cut their cloth to suit the economic times and to prepare for mergers and staff cuts that could drastically reduce pastoral care and worship.

A report on finances has found that a quarter of all 44 dioceses are running deficits and plundering reserves to pay stipends and pensions. A similar proportion has liquid reserves to last them one month or less.

High staffing levels of clegy and laity are highlighted. The Church of England spends £1 billion a year in salaries and pensions for clergy as well as the upkeep of its buildings, an amount roughly matched by donations from parishes. But rising pension costs mean that every year churchgoers are asked to increase donations. The report, commissioned to help churches to improve “efficiency and effectiveness”, suggests that finances are so finely balanced in some areas that parishoners will have to dig even deeper or face cuts in provision. “Cuts are not inevitable, but are an option that needs to be thought through,” said Paul Gibson, of the accountant Mazars, and the report’s author.

The study of 42 dioceses found that although the Church has assets valued at £3.5 billion, its cashflow is parlous. Between them the dioceses had an income of £388 million in 2008 and spent £384 million. While some are extremely wealthy, 14 dioceses are running deficits.

The report suggests that staffing levels are high among clergy and laity and that dioceses as charities are top heavy with trustees. On average across the dioceses, 40 lay staff support 200 clergy: there is one lay person on the staff for every five clergy.

There are 180 Church of England clergy per million people, with each covering 1.7 parishes. “What changes in working practice could reduce the proportion of lay staff and enable individual clergy to support a higher population? What would be the effect of such changes on parishes, dioceses, staff and clergy?” the report asks. It also suggests reducing the size of trustee boards.

The Church Commissioners, who manage the investments and contribute to dioceses’ running costs, recently disclosed a 15.6 per cent return on investments in 2009 and a rise in asset value to £4.8 billion. Although they have pledged to make no cuts in funding to dioceses, this is only until 2013.

The Eucharist

The Eucharist

The sign-giving does not aim to take us back to the first century; the eucharist is not a time machine.

Rather, it catches us into the stream of God’s continuing and liberating activity. It goes without saying that only the signs, rather than the symbols, can do this. The signs speak of a God who is humiliated, cursed and spat upon.

They take us into the heart of the darkness of the gospel, the folly which is wisdom and the wisdom which is folly, the weakness which is strength and the strength which is weakness. No symbol rooted in the order of creation could do this.

The symbols speak to us of God’s love but do not lead us into the mystery of redemption. They are ambiguous about the threat to creation by death, disease, wickedness.

The signs take us to the heart of that darkness and illuminate it with the light of redemption.

The Sign of Love, Reflections on the Eucharist

Timothy Gorringe, SPCK

Page 15

Easter Joy!

Easter Joy!

In this reflection I share the surprise of joy I experienced within a moment of spiritual awareness at an Easter Vigil. This forms part of a conviction that Easter Christians always entertain the possibility of joy when being open to the new.

It is Easter morning 1984. I have journeyed through part of Lent and Holy Week and listened and prayed a familiar story. We gathered in a convent Chapel set in acres of Kent countryside in the darkness to affirm, proclaim and celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. In some brief seconds something remarkable happened for me. As the priest lifted the communion vessels I became aware that the darkness had given way to the morning. The sun rose and Light filled the Chapel. By the time we said the Lord’s Prayer we were joined by the birds in a chorus of sound.  The ordinary cycle of night and day took on a new meaning – we experienced what we were proclaiming. Darkness had given way to light; Christ conquered death. The new life of Christ made present in the broken bread and outpoured wine. It was an experience of profound Joy, quiet but clear, light but holy. The celebration of life offered in this Easter Eucharist was transformative – a brief moment of pure joy that has carried me through many times of perplexity. Even that distant memory has the capacity for surprise and refreshing joy. That moment was a movement to being aware, of experiencing truth. I began to absorb in head and heart the powerful love that God offers us in Christ. It was a moment of harmony where the cry of thankfulness gave way to gratitude and joy.

The Christian story is a story built upon joy. We are and we should be a people who overflow with joy. This joy is a byproduct of the deep gratitude that we all experience when we realize how much God loves us and when we accept God’s invitation to become integral characters in God’s story. Joy is a consequence of our sense of the beauty and wonder of God’s presence with us.

 It was Nietzsche, himself the son of a minister, has expressed his concern about how we live out the Easter message, “His disciples should look more redeemed”. A visit to our Churches this weekend may give us foundation for this criticism.  Many Christians are surrounded by an air of heaviness, of oppressive sternness, of lack of humour and irony about themselves! Finding time for the transforming possibilities of worship, of giving more time to be aware of the power of love and joy might find expression in our lives and Churches.

This is not escapism. We know that in this life very little is certain and fixed. It is hard to keep the faith in a materialistic, distracted and busy world. Easter joy asks us to redraw our lives into a new way of seeing. This envisioning might happen when we consider how we understand God and where we look for the presence of God. More time spent with scripture as a preparation for our Sunday worship, in silence, in giving expression to the parts of our lives that give us cause for delight. I often place in my prayer book a list of the things that lift my heart towards joy. God can speak to us in and through these small actions. Joy can be nurtured through an embracing of doubt, honesty and openness. For all of us there are aspects of our faith that can feel fragile and thin. As we are receptive to our questions about discipleship then this fosters an openness that can be a springboard into a deeper wisdom. Those early disciples found their dawning of joy, freedom and release spilled out of their bewilderment, anguish and searching. We might want to share our spiritual journey in conversation with others building up the trust to discover and be surprised by listening to each other.

We know that all of life is God’s, and God is the creative Ground of life. God meets us in the tapestry of our living and can work creatively through this. The joy in God and the joy of life can belong together. Joy is born out of union with reality itself especially when we open ourselves up to the new and unfamiliar. This may include getting to know other Christians in different circumstances to our own, at home or abroad. It might mean opening up ourselves to something new in worship whether in music or ways of praying.

We Christians do not change our minds about things, embrace new ideas, and adopt new attitudes easily! It was Newman who said ‘Growth is the only evidence of life’ and ‘to be perfect will be to have changed often’. How odd then that people pride themselves on the fixity of beliefs. Joy might be about being open minded and being ready for surprises. When new ideas, approaches to things, new discoveries about human nature come to us, they often come from the outside and our experience challenges us to change. That Easter Eucharist taught me that nurturing faith is as much a matter of the heart as the intellect. We often glimpse the truth of God through our readiness to open our heart to the divine movement of love. Some have found religious art as a way into a deeper comprehension of the way the story of Christ can shape us. We should look afresh so that things can dawn on us. My exposure to the rich tradition of Anglican choral music here in Windsor has unfolded the way that sound brings the world alive in new ways from moment to moment.

Spending time looking and waiting and being opens the doors of perception. The hardest wood takes longest to grow. We should place ourselves in difficult places and conversations where the risk of challenge and change is possible. This might mean looking at our ‘good Friday’ wounds as part of learning to live with whatever has hurt us in the past. In contemplating these wounds, of love lost, of mistaken choices, of hurts caused, we learn to mend and have courage to move on. The obvious place to open oneself up to this joyful resurrection life is through our affinity with creation. But that change can emerge from the honesty of our struggle with living, people and modernity. There might be nobility tower block or estate of identical homes, dignity in the plea of the Big Issue seller, community amongst the commuters distracted by their mobile phones and computers.  In this crucible of life God will bless us as we wrestle with a new or disturbing idea. This can produce passionate commitment, surprise, and joy. Love that endures best took the longest to develop. 

 The element of joy in religion is prominent in the New Testament. ( In  Matthew 5:12 we are asked to rejoice and be glad ). It provides the foundation for happiness and pleasure. It is present in all levels of our striving for fulfilment. It requires a movement of heart and will; a choice to nurture this gift in self and others. It can emerge out of our struggle. We must be prepared to be surprised by the possibilities of our Emmaus journey. The stranger might lead us in unexpected ways of knowing. Our vulnerable hearts are the places where joy springs and informs the intellect.  The joy of life is possible in pleasure and pain, in happiness and unhappiness, in ecstasy and sorrow. Above all it can surprise us when we open ourselves up for change.

A healthy and moderate contribution to debate

A healthy and moderate contribution to debate

The Bishop of Liverpool is to be congratulated for his moderate and heartfelt  plea to get some of the Churches disagreements into a wiser perspective. See this report from the Diocese of Liverpools web page – and all the better coming from an evangelical!

Perhaps this image of reconciliation might challenges us?

The Bishop of Liverpool, The Rt Reverend James Jones has used his presidential address to the March synod of the Diocese of Liverpool to call for Anglicans to “accept the diversity of ethical convictions” in the debate on sexual ethics so that “we will let nothing deflect us from mission”

In his address the Bishop made comparisons with the history of the just war theory and the ethics of pacifism. He talked about how “we handle disagreements about ethical principles within the body of Christ” and will say that the need to allow a diversity of ethical convictions should mirror the way that the church “has always allowed a diversity of ethical stance on taking human life”. The Bishop said that “on a number of major moral issues the church allows a large space for a variety of nuances, interpretations, applications and disagreements”.

The Bishop proposed that we can move “towards allowing a variety of ethical conviction about people of the same gender loving each other fully” and that he believes “the day is coming when Christians who equally profoundly disagree about the consonancy of same gender love within the discipleship of Christ will in spite of their disagreement drink openly from the same cup of salvation.”

He asked that if “traditionalists are ultimately right and those who advocate the acceptance of stable and faithful gay relationships are wrong what will their sin be? That in a world of such little love two people sought to express a love that no other relationship could offer them? And if those advocating the acceptance of gay relationship are right and the traditionalists are wrong what will their sin be? That in a church that has forever wrestled with interpreting and applying Scripture they missed the principle in the application of the literal text?”

Bishop James stated that by allowing a variety of ethical views “this approach will allow for the development of a more humane pastoral theology”.

Bishop James talked about the ability of the Diocese of Liverpool to continue in partnership in mission with the Dioceses of Virginia and Akure despite the differing positions on gay relationships. He also restated the condemnation issued by church leaders in Liverpool of a number of homophobic attacks stating that church leaders “stand together in condemning the use of violence and other forms of intimidation against minority groups which are especially vulnerable.”

Bishop James mentioned the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address to General Synod where the Archbishop refered to the concern the church should have for the rights and dignities of gay and lesbian people. Agreeing with that principle the Bishop stated that “just as the rights and dignities of gay and lesbian people are a matter for proper concern for both church and society so are the rights and dignities of those who out of theological and moral conviction believe that the gift of full sexual expression is given only to those in marriage”.

The Bishop  talked about the situation in the Diocese of Liverpool where he will say “we have gone forward in mission with a remarkable degree of unity” and that “we do already as a Diocese accept a diversity of ethical convictions about human sexuality.” He talked about the “culture of diversity” in the Diocese and the “rich ecumenical landscape is that we have a variety of doors through which different people might enter into the Christian faith.”

The Bishop offers this address as a Bishop called to “maintain the spirit of unity in the bond of peace in the Diocese of Liverpool where we have the full spectrum of moral opinion on human sexuality evident in the Church of England at large and in the Anglican Communion”. As he concluded “it is offered in the hope that we will let nothing deflect us from mission, the sending out of use all to embrace the world in the love of God.”

In Praise of Anglicanism

In Praise of Anglicanism

The Church of England has taken a pounding from critics, but Rowan Williams has reasons to be cheerful as Christmas approaches, says a leading Anglican historian and commentator,Diarmaid MacCulloch ( printed in the The Observer  Sunday 20 December 2009)

I thought this letter worth pondering?


Dear Archbishop Rowan,

Even though I’m not sending Christmas cards this year – ran out of time – you are not going to escape my seasonal circular letter. It is filled not with the record of my many achievements, holidays taken, operations survived and the GCSE results of my imaginary children, but instead has a few tidings of great joy, because you seem to need them at the moment.

You sounded a bit down the other day when you were talking to the Daily Telegraph, complaining that our government assumes “that religion is a problem, an eccentricity practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities”. Well, the government is often right about that, so if I were you I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I’d be more worried if the government didn’t think religion was a problem.

The Telegraph came up with more why-oh-why material last week, publishing the results of a survey indicating that only half those questioned in this country called themselves Christian. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that either. God will no doubt cope. Let me draw on the words of the Blessed Ian Dury and give you some reasons to be cheerful: one, two, three.

The first reason is the established Church of England. It’s true, as that Telegraph survey suggests, that it’s not what it was, and the change has been astonishingly quick – encompassing my own still not over-prolonged lifetime. When my father, an Anglican parson, moved in the mid-1950s to become rector of a little country parish in Suffolk, there were still old ladies who would curtsy to him in the street, just because he was the rector.

Worldly power has gone out of the established church, and that is why so many of its adherents have fallen away. Thank goodness for that; churches never handle power well. Think what 1950s England was like when you and I were small boys: the stodgy conformity, the sexual hypocrisy, the complacent, monochrome white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. The Church of England, in its funny, messy, unwitting way, helped us to get out of that – giving vital help, for instance, to the tentative and much opposed moves in that same decade to decriminalise homosexuality. Compare the grim-faced, negative reaction of the Roman Catholic church in Spain in recent years to new freedoms as democratic Spain has thrown off General Franco’s legacy; give public thanks for the Church of England’s bumbling liberalism.

The C of E doesn’t deliver strident moral or doctrinal judgments to make an easy headline. Journalists and broadcasters often sneer at such indecisiveness, even though rarely would they be inclined to subject themselves to any system of moral stridency. The history of Anglicanism is confused and contradictory, and because the C of E never succeeded in achieving the monopoly over national religion that it undoubtedly sought, the church has become an icon of diversity and plurality for the nation.

Its doctrinal statement, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of 1563, is pleasantly anchored in past history, fighting ancient battles. Any Anglican would be happy to acknowledge the importance of such history, while not having to believe personally, for instance, that “the laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death for heinous and grievous offences”. Instead, this established church can be a home for those who go to it to express their doubts as well as their faith. It can be a shelter also for the kaleidoscope of culture, faith and no faith that now makes up our cheerfully diverse nation: an inoculation against the fanatics, both religious and anti-religious.

As the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish withdraw into their own search for national identities, please tell the English, whoever they are, to cherish this ecclesiastical symbol of a rainbow nation. At the moment the English church is afflicted by humourless, tidy-minded souls who want everyone in it to think just like them, and who frequently use the Bible to achieve their aim in the manner of a blunt instrument in an Agatha Christie mystery. Resist them, firm in the faith! Remember what Neil Kinnock achieved against the entryism of Militant in the Labour party of the 1980s. You and archbishop John Sentamu could together witness in the same way for sanity in the C of E.

My second reason to be cheerful is the ordination of women in the Anglican priesthood. Anglicans were the first episcopally governed church grouping to ordain women, way back in the Second World War, in a dire emergency in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong, when the only person available to do one priestly job was a woman, Florence Li Tim-Oi. Loud were the condemnations then, and there has been much angry noise since. But what riches the Church of England has gained since it joined sister-Anglican churches in ordaining women in 1994!

Women priests have faced some extraordinarily childish behaviour from many male counterparts: bullying, condescension and frank undervaluing of their ministry. Besides this has been the glass ceiling that prevented them from being eligible for choice as bishops. Now all that is about to change, and not least among the considerations behind the General Synod’s overwhelming vote for change has been the grace so many women have displayed in the face of masculine bad manners. But there is also an everyday grace that women have brought to the ministry: a general reluctance to join in the theological party strife so common among male clergy, who like nothing better than to line up as Anglo-Catholics or evangelicals, as if they were a set of football hooligans out on the streets after the match.

Consider, Archbishop Rowan, that one of the most positive images of the Anglican parish priest in the English media is the now evergreen Vicar of Dibley. There’s what the Great English Public think of their women clergy: a bit daft, fond of a box of chocolates or two, but, underneath it all, a source of love and common sense for a community that always has the potential to behave badly. When you think of some of the other stereotypes of priests around at the moment in these islands or beyond, just thank your lucky stars for the folksy silliness of the vicar of Dibley.

My third reason is the election of a bishop in a diocese of the American Episcopal Church in California who happens to be a lesbian. There’s maturity for you. Faithful, seriously worshipping Christian folk have made a free decision in an open election that the best candidate for the job is a woman, who has shown by her decisions in life that fidelity, love and honesty are demanded by her practice of the Christian gospel.

These Californian Anglicans are grown-up enough to believe that it is entirely irrelevant that such fidelity, love and honesty are expressed in a same-sex relationship rather than a heterosexual one. Perhaps they have come to the conclusion that it would be a strange sort of supreme being who cared that much for a particular configuration of genitalia in her servants.

The Episcopal Church of the United States of America has been subjected to continuous abuse and carping from fellow Anglicans, attempted poaching of its churches by dissidents and demands that it curb its understanding of love and sexuality to fit in with the sexual mores of an entirely different society. So American Anglicans have decided that enough is enough: that they should just get on with being Anglicans and elect the best person for the job.

It would be nice if the election of bishops in the Church of England were that democratic and so effectively took into consideration the wishes of all the diocesan faithful. That’s a job to be tackled in Lambeth Palace once the mince pies have gone down and the archiepiscopal sherry decanter put back in the sideboard.

Meanwhile, I hope that you may rejoice at Christmas in this multiform church over which you so graciously and thoughtfully preside – give a welcome to the continuing unobtrusive and untrumpeted trickle of converts, not least from your sister church of Rome, join in the worship at one of your cathedrals, so packed to the gills, so well cared for and cherished as never before in their history, and enjoy the heritage of beautiful music that is one of the treasures of Anglicanism.

The Christmas story may be expressed in biblical forms that are not very good history and which some of your congregations may find difficult to take literally, but Christmas music can sweep past the puzzles of words to celebrate a new human life, weak, vulnerable and humble, which is glorified precisely for that. You will know the saying of Thomas Aquinas, which a wise old Dominican friar once quoted to me over a great deal of Irish whiskey, that God is not the answer, he is the question. As long as your church, and all other churches, go on asking the question, they will never die.


Diarmaid MacCulloch is professor of the history of the church at Oxford University. His latest book is A History of Christianity: the First Three Thousand years (Allen Lane). His BBC4 television series on the same subject ended last week.

Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts  –  (1674-1748), English hymn writer

Watts was born July 17, 1674 at Southampton, England, the eldest of nine children. His father was a Dissenter from the Anglican Church and on at least one occasion was thrown in jail for not following the Church of England. Isaac followed his father’s strongly biblical faith. Isaac was a very intelligent child who loved books and learned to read early. He began learning Latin at age four and went on to learn Greek, Hebrew, and French as well. From an early age Isaac had a propensity to rhyming, and often even his conversation was in rhyme.

Because Isaac would not follow the national Church of England, he could not attend the Universities of Cambridge or Oxford. Instead, he attended an academy sponsored by Independent Christians. After completing his formal schooling, Watts spent five years as a tutor. During those years he began to devote himself more diligently than before to the study of the Scriptures. In 1707 he published his first edition of Hymns and Spiritual Songs.

For a few years Watts served as an assistant and then pastor to an Independent congregation in London. A violent and continual fever from which he never recovered forced him to leave the pastorate. Sir Thomas Abney received Watts into his home, and Sir Thomas’ family continued to provide a home and serve as Watts’ patrons for the next 36 years!

Though naturally quick to resentment and anger, the Lord used Watts’ sufferings to produce a gentle, modest, and charitable spirit. Out of his compassion, one-third of his small allowance was given to the poor. Watts’ tenderness to children can be seen reflected in his lovely Divine Songs for Children, published in 1715.

Watts’ most published book was his Psalms of David, first published in 1719. In his poetic paraphrases of the psalms, Watts adapted the psalms for use by the Church and made David speak “the language of a Christian.” Examples of Watts’ method can be seen in his paraphrases of Psalm 72 into the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Wher’er the Sun,” Psalm 90 into “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and Psalm 98 into “Joy to the World.”

Benjamin Franklin first published Watts’ psalm paraphrases in America in 1729. Franklin was not the only American publisher to take an interest in Watt’s hymns. In Boston his hymns were published in 1739. They were well-loved by Americans of the Revolutionary period.

Besides over 600 hymns, Watts published 52 other works, including a book of logic used in the universities, books on grammar, pedagogy, ethics, psychology, astronomy, geography, three volumes of sermons, and 29 treatises on theology. After his death on November 25, 1748, a monument to Watts was erected in Westminster Abbey. His greatest monument, however, are the hymns to his God still used by Christ’s church.

A new Bishop?

A new Bishop?


From the Guardian Diary page……

At this, the beginning of our week, let us give thanks for the elevation of the Reverend Donald Allister. Who is he, you ask? So did we. But last week, rather quietly, he was unveiled by Downing Street as the new Bishop of Peterborough. Whole new ball game now. National press, Thought for the Day on Radio 4. What do we know about him? Well, at the moment the   Allister is archdeacon of Chester, and has a fine track record, including the reported banning of baptisms for children whose parents are not married. He also refused to sully a marriage ceremony with the hymns chosen by the couple concerned, on the grounds that he found them noncommittal at best in their attitude to God. No to Jerusalem, he declared. As for I Vow to Thee My Country, not in my church, said the Rev. “Liberalism is one of Satan’s greatest weapons against the church,” was his pronouncement in 1993, which makes us think that Mel of the Mail might like him. But on the Thinking Anglicans website, opinions are mixed. “Sounds like an exemplary fellow,” says one observer. Sounds like “an embarrassment”, says another. Churchgoing just got more interesting in the Fens.

Well let us see – but Im feeling just a bit uncomfortable!