Thursday 11 February 2010

The C of E is Bankrupt; so who cares where we throw the money?

Synod has moved to yet another Private Member's Motion, and this time has decided 'That this Synod request the Archbishops' Council and the Church of England Pensions Board to bring forward changes to the rules governing the clergy pension scheme in order to go beyond the requirements of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and provide for pension benefits to be paid to the surviving civil partners of deceased clergy on the same basis as they are currently paid to surviving spouses.'

Now we do not just accept that clergy may enter into civil partnerships, nor that we must therefore go as far as the State requires, but that we will go the extra mile to give the 'widowed' partner the same benefits as a bereaved wife or husband. The Bishops voted for this by a majority of 12 -2 (three abstaining) ... and where were the rest of them, skulking in the tearoom rather than declaring themselves maybe? The laity, bless them, nearly voted it down... but it passed. Oh, roll on the Ordinariate!

The Catholic Church & England 2.

We are just beginning to come to terms with "Anglicanorum Coetibus", the proposals for a way into Unity with the Catholic Church for Anglicans. Thanks to commendations from other bloggers, yesterday's post "How Long, O Lord" is receiving record numbers of viewers. So perhaps the time is right to remind you that there is now a Church Union Tract on the subject. I do not pretend that it is comprehensive - how could it be before even the first Ordinariate is set up? - but I hope it will help many Anglicans (and perhaps some others) understand the issues, and what has brought us to our present situation.

The Additional Curates' Society has published the Tract, though it may be a day or two before it appears on the Church Union list at the ACS website. Meanwhile, though, you can secure copies by emailing ACS ( ) or ringing them on 0121 382 5533. £5 for single copies to include P & P, lower rates for quantities - and just in time for Lent, so you can get some real penitential reading.

And, yes, despite the Kalendar the picture is Fatima, not Lourdes - just to remind us that the Catholic thing can be rather larger than we are used to in the Church of England.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

How long, O Lord?

Dear Archbishop Rowan is once more engaged in circle-squaring. It was handed over to the Manchester Commission, and they have been able to propose nothing; except this:

..."after more than six months work we had rejected all the options which would have involved conferring some measure of jurisdiction on someone other than the diocesan bishop. The legislation that the Revision Committee sends back to the Synod will, therefore, be on the basis that any arrangements that are made for parishes with conscientious difficulties about women’s ordination will be by way of delegation from the diocesan bishops. That much is already clear."

So that much is clear; and it is in the light of that decision that we should hear what the Archbishop is saying. In his address to Syond today he summed up the position "for both many women in the debate and most if not all traditionalists, there is a strong feeling that the Church overall is not listening to how they are defining for themselves the position they occupy, the standards to which they hold themselves accountable. What they hear is the rest of the Church saying, ‘Of course we want you – but exclusively on our terms, not yours’; which translates in the ears of many as ‘We don’t actually want you at all’."
Ipse dixit: we have been saying, as loudly as we possibly could, that delegated authority will not do. Whoever is to be our bishop must believe with us that women may not be ordained, and must have authority over us. That, says the Manchester Group, is not possible.

So what does Archbishop Rowan have in mind?
First, as so often, he askes another question: "what are the vehicles for sharing perspectives, communicating protest, yes, even, negotiating distance or separation, that might spare us a worsening of the situation and the further reduction of Christian relationship to vicious polemic and stony-faced litigation?" In other words, how do we get the jolly old Indaba process going to prevent us from reaching any conlusions?
He does hint at a way forward: Restraint. But not over women's ordination, that is clearly a done deal - despite all we were told about there being 'a time of Reception until the whole church, Eastern and Western, was of a mind'. No, restraint is what he proposes - but only over the LGBT issues (and no, that is not another version of a bacon sandwich - BLT- keep up!)
"Sometimes that may entail restraint – as I believe it does and should in the context of the Communion – though that restraint is empty and even oppressive if it then refuses to engage with those who have accepted restraint for the sake of fellowship". Restraint, maybe - but not delay over women in the episcopate, it seems. Only over Gay issues.
So it is back to circle-squaring. " Whatever we decide, we need to look for a resolution that allows some measure of continuing dignity and indeed liberty to all – in something like their own terms". Somehow, some day, the Synod will discover the magic elixir... giving us "something like" what we need. But what we need is Jurisdiction for our bishops, not lent them by women bishops when and if they see fit, but by law. And that, as the Bishop of Manchester has made clear, just is not on offer.
Rowan again: "as Christians we somehow have to add to that the question of how granting any freedom anywhere is going to set free the possibility of contributing to each other’s holiness".

Well, Rowan, we must tell you there is a way to set us free. It is to go ahead as quickly as you can to consecrate women as bishops, making no sort of provision for us at all. Any provision you make CANNOT give us what we need and have consistently asked for, so GET ON WITH IT: and set us free. Don't concern yourselves with what happens to us. The Good Lord will provide - and if Parliament's concern to ensure justice when women were first ordained is renewed this time round (by requiring there to be financial provision for us) so be it.

Only so is there any hope of your "contributing to (our) holiness". We do not want to be endlessly arguing about this issue. We have the offer of an honoured place - a real one - from the Holy Father, so just let us go. It will be sad to bid farewell to the church of our life's ministry; but that church is now just ancient history. We look to a better future. And we hope you too will enjoy your purified church with its broad open vistas without glass ceilings for women or LGBT bishops.

You said it yourself in your address to Synod; there might have to be "an unwelcome degree of distance" between us - just remember sometime though, that it was not we who chose to go, but you who made it impossible for us to stay.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Handing on the Faith

A very chilly Holy Trinity Winchester today - but still two cheerful churchwardens. The gauge on the oil tank had failed, so we were like the foolish Virgins, oil-less. For all that, the Mass went ahead, the singing was lusty as ever, and here is the sermon.

I taught you what I had been taught myself I Cor xv 3

Do you find yourself sometimes humming a bit of a tune, and then you realise with a jolt that it is from way back in your history? When an old friend and I met the other week we reminisced of days in college, and then found that between us we could reconstruct most of the word of some silly song which had been written for end of term entertainments…. fifty years ago!

There are so many fragments of the past locked in our minds – not exactly in our memories, since we do not often consciously remember them. They just come to us unbidden, and it is hard to know what has jolted that bit of our brain into action. Often, they are things which once we worked at, committing them to memory; poetry learned at school, hymns from assemblies, speeches from plays. Earlier generations of Christians were better than we are at remembering whole chapters of Scripture, entire psalms, all the Prayer Book collects. This committing to memory is of the nature of the Church. On television this week, talking of the making of Britain, David Dimbleby visited Florence to see the earliest complete Bible in existence. There are older fragments, but this total Bible dates back to early 8th Century Jarrow, where the monks copied out the whole of Holy Scripture as a gift for the Pope.
At that time books were incredibly precious. They were copied by hand from older copies, by the few learned men capable of writing. It was reckoned that the Jarrow Bible took several years for a group of monks to complete. Cost those man hours today, and you are dealing with hundreds of thousands of pounds.

So of course people learned by heart; that, and the hearing of parts of Scripture read in church, was the only access they had to the Sacred Texts. Now, all the words of the Bible can be held on a single compact disc. We become blasé about the word, and certainly give it little reverence. The text of today’s readings can be screwed up in our coat pockets along with the cough sweets and our small change. To realise how much it meant to our forefathers, we need to see how Muslims treat the Qu’ran. Nothing is ever placed on top of it, it has its own special bookstand, and they are ready to execute anyone who is caught defiling it.

This is not a plea for prosecuting those who maltreat the Bible. But we certainly have a duty ourselves to respect Holy Scripture We should, too, remember and honour those who handed the Word of life down to us in our day. Our parents and teachers who first read to us or taught us the Our Father. But also those more remote ancestors who safeguarded our heritage. Columba and his monks who crossed the Irish Sea to bring the faith to North Britain.
Augustine and his colleagues who braved the English channel a few years later, carrying copies of the scriptures and of the Pastoral Rule of Pope Gregory. All in order to hand on the Faith. Which is where we began; with St Paul in today’s epistle giving an account of his faith.

‘I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, the gospel your received and in which you are firmly established; because the gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you’. No room in Paul’s teaching for “on the one hand – and on the other”… no, well, of course, that was all right for then, but we have grown out of that. Certainly none of “If Jesus were alive today he would change his mind” – because Jesus IS alive today, and the Church is meant to be where his teaching is safeguarded and handed on.

Then he gives, in just a couple of sentences, a précis of the Gospel he believed and taught; ‘namely that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures (that is to say, as the Old Testament had foretold): that he was buried, and that he was raised to life on the third day, again in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared – first to Cephas and the twelve, then he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time most of whom are alive to this day, then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me too.’
In those few words S Paul gives us a marvellous resumé of the Gospels… and it is probable that it was written before even some of the gospels had been committed to parchment. This is the very beginning of our Christian story; the handing on by word of mouth, or here in a letter, what people had learned about Jesus.

We have a responsibility to continue that handing on; tradition, which is what handing on means, is not dead. When we give a godchild a copy of the New Testament, when we say the Our Father over a child’s cot before she goes to sleep, when we make it plain at work that we are a Christian and will not take the Holy Name in vain, then we are part of the tradition.

So many people have suffered so much to enable us to be followers of Jesus. We can’t allow the desire for a quiet life to distract us from the same task of handing on the faith. It should constantly be going round in our heads, like a tune we learned long ago.

Paul, as he reminds us at the end of that epistle today, was not worthy to be called an apostle. He had perscuted the church, he was the very least of the apostles. His only value was in what he preached, and that was done not by him, but by the grace of God working in him. What matters, he says, is that I preach what the apostles preach, and that is what you all believed.

The faith is not a private matter, just between me and my God. We Anglicans are coming to a crucial moment, when we will have to decide between belonging to a body which is selective about its belief, deciding for itself what bits of the Gospel are important and what can be overruled; and a body which can seem severe and doctrinaire because it holds the faith which Paul and the Apostles held. It will not be easy – any more than it was easy for the first disciples to leave their nets to become fishers of men. Yet what we decide, and how we decide it, may determine how – and whether - the faith continues to be handed on to generations to come.