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Saturday, 29 September 2012

God help the Church of England



"Some time in the next two months – maybe next week – the new archbishop of Canterbury, primate of England and head of the Anglican communion worldwide will be appointed. The process by which he (sic) will be chosen is barely more transparent than it was when Henry VIII first persuaded Thomas Cranmer to consolidate his breakaway foundation. The Crown Nominations Commission has been meeting in secret conclave in a secret location, paring down the candidates until one preferred name emerges. The PM and the Queen then approve his appointment. Candidates tend to be bishops already (so no chance of a woman) but there's no formal application or interview. More open, perhaps, than the election of a pope – but not much. Letting in the light would not immediately arrest the church's decline, but at least it would link it to ordinary life. The pageant and tied palace are non-negotiable, so the appointment process must be grabbed for the opportunity it is. Give churchgoers the vote, have a hustings in every pulpit and a ballot box by the font. It would compel leaders to move on from their inward-looking arguments over sex and women and, as the church would put it, allow the faithless an encounter with the sacred. In the US, where there have been elections since 1919, the Episcopal church is a liberal, campaigning movement with a woman at its head. In England, there'd be one other welcome consequence: at least one member of the House of Lords would be elected." - Editorial, The Guardian,


At the other end of the media scale the Mail Online reports that Christians have often despaired of the true spiritual message of the Nativity being heard highlighting a Church of England-backed campaign to raise awareness of Jesus Christ by portraying him as a toy doll (illustrated above). The image with the slogan He cries, He wees, He saves the world is to be "emblazoned on bus stops, advertising hoardings and in newspapers in the weeks leading up to Christmas." Alongside the £100,000 poster campaign, radio adverts will tell the Nativity story in the style of a celebrity chef. The idea is, apparently, to make the birth of Christ seem more ‘modern’. As one person commented: ‘I don’t think my non-Christian friends and relations would be at all impressed by the ad or even understand what it was trying to achieve.’ The article goes on to say that the Rt Rev Nick Baines, the Bishop of Bradford and one of the favourites to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury, has given his enthusiastic support. Jesus wept!

With deadlock in the CNC, God help the Church of England. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Ed Miliband Out




In the latest bit of political opportunism the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, has come out 4marriage. Given his ratings there will be many wishing he were out altogether but leaving that aside, not only has he pledged his support but he has pledged "wholehearted" Labour backing for what he sees as 'reform'. He said, "I know that equal marriage is a very, very important part of ensuring equality before the law, the equality in our culture which is so important, and such a sign of us being a modern country and the kind of country I believe in." 

This campaign has nothing to do with equality or reform. Marriage cannot be reformed, it is what it is, the union of a man and a woman in an environment that protects the family unit and provides children with the security they need for the benefit of society as a whole. The introduction of civil partnerships has given same sex couples the equality they demanded but that is not enough. Enough is never enough. Today in Anglican Mainstream attention is drawn to a problem in the US military following the introduction of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy with homosexuals now demanding special privileges. We should not be surprised. Just look at the church. Following the acceptance of women for ordination there have been moves by the newly enlightened to ban anyone from ordination if, regardless of conscience, they are unable to accept women priests as consistent with the teaching and tradition of the Apostolic church. To have principles opposed to the latest fad gives rise to accusations of discrimination and even homophobia. So much for 'equality'.

Not satisfied with acceptance of difference we are now expected to embrace it fully or suffer the consequences. To witness members of the clergy using false propaganda to achieve their aims was sad but to witness elected representatives of the people demanding change for which they have no mandate using the same distortions is sickening.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury Poll


Photograph: Graeme Robertson/PA

In March 2012 when Rowan Williams announced his decision to return to academia after 10 years trying to hold the Anglican Communion together as Archbishop of Canterbury, the Guardian speculated on his successor with the bookies favourite, John Sentamu, in the lead. Now the Telegraph is running a poll which again shows John Sentamu in the lead with 38.5% of the votes followed by Richard Chartres with a respectable 23.8% and Justin Welby, enthroned less than a year ago as Bishop of Durham, in third place with 14% of the votes. Perhaps next time after more experience?

For me, Richard Chartres is the obvious choice. He has considerable gravitas and has not raised the doubts about his suitability which have dogged John Sentamu's chances. Also, as pointed out in 4 News he has actually increased attendance in his diocese, a rare attribute when church attendance is falling in this country. But the Archbishop of Canterbury is leader not just in England, but of 77 million Anglicans worldwide, the majority of whom regard the liberal direction of the church here and particularly in the US as a hindrance to the mission of the church, something which the Crown Nominations Committee now sitting must seriously consider in the interests of church unity.

Almighty God,
you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church
to lead us into all truth:
bless with the Spirit's grace and presence
the members of the Crown Nominations Committee.
Keep them steadfast in faith and united in love,
that they may seek your will, manifest your glory
and prepare the way of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
Amen.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Area Ministry: the Business Solution


Map: Wikipedia


Landmark report by Church in Wales recommends replacing parishes with ministry areas: 
"Key recommendations include replacing traditional parishes with "ministry areas" modelled on the catchment areas of secondary schools. Each area could include around 25 parishes." - WalesOnline.

In reality the 'landmark report' only repeats what the Archbishop of Wales forecast back in 2006 in a lecture organised by 'The Christian Centre for Rural Wales' when Dr Morgan said:
  "there are provinces across the Anglican Communion in America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and in many dioceses of the Church in England and now in Wales, which have begun to examine the setting up of local ministry teams without diminishing the role of the clergy, but which take the discipleship of all God’s people seriously.  Instead of seeing the Church as a community centred around a priest, the church itself is seen as a corporate body which becomes a ministering congregation.  In other words, it ceases to be a congregation which is ministered to but becomes an active congregation and lives out God’s mission in the world."

So the 'Independent Review' is effectively an endorsement of Barry's plan based as usual on the performance of the failing Episcopal Church of America. In this example of area ministry we have the now familiar liberal agenda in a PowerPoint presentation, a business based solution to confront the shrinking membership of the church.  [Download viewer here if required.]

Those members who have already been active in the Church in Wales, seeking to live God's mission in the world, will be sadly disappointed having responded to their Archbishop's urgings to take part in the Review. Evidently eager to tackle the top heavy structure resulting from severe losses suffered in their church, it was suggested by a clear majority [that has a familiar ring! - Ed] that the number of dioceses be cut to three, no doubt with commensurate reductions in senior posts but while the Review recommends that the number of administrative areas be reduced to three, the seven bishops would remain - even if the number of dioceses is eventually reduced! This was the assessment of the 'independent review':

 15. Dioceses: their number and administration
We have received a wide variety of views on how many dioceses there should be
in Wales, fluctuating wildly between one and the opinion that every deanery
should be a diocese! The majority view was probably that there should be three
or four dioceses, with some re-drawing of boundaries. However, we believe that
this is the wrong time to be changing the number and shape of dioceses. It would
occupy time and energy for the next ten years and distract the church from the
urgent changes which are necessary now, irrespective of the number of
dioceses. The present number and shape of dioceses may not be ideal. If we
were starting again we would have three. However, the present number and
configuration works and we think that the Church should continue, at least for the
next four years, with the present six dioceses. ... These recommendations should be reviewed after three years, with a view to evaluating the effectiveness of the change. At that point a judgement should be made about whether or not the church is best served by six dioceses with three administrative centres, or three dioceses. If the latter, we believe there should still be the same number of bishops as at present, namely seven.


No doubt the seven bishops will be well satisfied that the Lord Harries of Pentregarth managed to produce a report which they think makes the Church in Wales 'fit for purpose'. Actually the Lord Jesus Christ did that long before these revisionists started tinkering with His plan. The consequences for the US Episcopal Church can be read here.

Monday, 17 September 2012

All that is wrong with the Church in Wales


"Radical re-thinking for the Church in Wales" is the main headline in Highlights of the Church in Wales Governing Body September 2012. The highlights can be read here. Described on the Church in Wales website as a 'full round up of news from the Governing Body meeting'it appears to be more of a rubber stamping of the Archbishop's decision making process with only positive comments allowed. I note the absence of any opposition to Dr Morgan's plans under 'Women in the Episcopate'; simply a rehash of the proposals and a dismissive: "After debate, GB agreed through a majority vote for legislation to be drawn up in this way". Just what the doctor ordered!

Introducing the Church in Wales Review Report Lord Harries, the Review Chairman, said:  “The parish system is no longer sustainable—we have to radically rethink the way we look at our ministry, and begin with the concept of an area ministry”. I doubt that the average person in the pew has fully grasped the significance of the loss, not just of the parish priest but of the whole concept of the parish system, something that has stood the test of time, as has the traditional concept of priesthood within the church. Wanting the best of both worlds, the bishops have become very adept at insisting that the church should become more relevant to society but where is that relevance when the overseers (managers) take no responsibility for the mess they have created? Further on in Highlights some interesting facts could not be hidden:

+ There is a continuing decline of between 2 and 4% in attendance on Sundays and the major festivals.
+ Total income and expenditure have fallen on 2010 levels, and the Long-term Trends 1990 to 2011.
+ Easter communicants and average Sunday attendance has fallen by close to 50% in the last twenty years. In fact the Easter communicant figure for 2011 was lower than the average Sunday attendance figure in 1990.
+ There is also a steep decline in the number of baptisms and confirmations over the twenty year period. 

Presenting the Membership and Finance Report from which these quotes are taken, Canon Mike Starkey said, "The membership statistics show that we are doing what we have always done with diminishing returns. How can we move forward? “We have a visionary and radical new Report which charts a way forward. But while restructuring is a good thing, that alone will not get us to the core of our problem. We need to ensure that we are renewing the Church, not just re-engineering it.” Concluding his report he pointed to Russell T Davies as a Welsh role model—he renewed a tired classic in Dr Who to make it fresh for new generations, proving it is possible to both satisfy the guardians of tradition and engage with a new constituency.


Secure in their bishoprics there has been no apology for the mess the bishops have created with their 'half-baked initiatives “So often in the Church we move from one half-baked initiative to another, often at great financial cost with little or no thought at measuring outcomes and the difference we make, and learning lessons for future strategy and work.” - Highlights September 2011. Concluding his Presidential Address, Dr Morgan preceded a self-congratulatory poem with this quote:

"Cardinal Carlo Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, and said to be the best Pope the Roman Catholic Church never had, in his last interview before his death this month said of his own church, “The church is 200 years behind the times. Why doesn’t it stir? How can we liberate the embers from the ash to reinvigorate the fires of love? Are we afraid? Faith is the foundation of the church – faith, trust, courage”."

But the Archbishop failed to quote Cardinal Martini's solution:

"Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous," the Cardinal said. "The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the Pope and the bishops."

The message is clear. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Respect!




So the bishops have capitulated. What little comfort was left for traditionalists in the Church of England opposed on theological grounds to the ordination of women has been watered down to one word: Respect. Archbishop Rowan says ‘Respect’ means taking somebody else in their own terms; letting them define what they believe, what they think, who they are. It means trying to find a settlement that allows them to recognise in whatever emerges that their views have been taken seriously. Archbishop Rowan may very well think that but few have the capacity of His Grace for treating their opponents with the same respect. Across the border in the Church in Wales even their Archbishop has difficulty in showing respect for those he disagrees with and far from 'taking somebody else in their own terms; letting them define what they believe, what they think', he obstinately refuses even to appoint a replacement Provincial Assistant Bishop preferring to tell traditionalists what they must accept while, tomorrow, making another bid to allow women to be ordained into the episcopate on his own terms in his vanishing church. 

Consider also the attitude already displayed in England by proponents of the ordination of women in the Church and in Parliament - "No promises were broken, says GRAS" and "Essentially everyone knew that when you had the ordination of women as priests that this would lead to the ordination of women bishops after a decent length of pause. Some would say it has now been an indecent length of pause" said Peter Bottomley. Where is there any evidence of respect? When the House of Bishops proposed an amendment to the legislation which would have "strengthened somewhat the provision for the minority, in the hope that this would allow people in the minority to feel that their position was respected, that they were allowed to flourish, and that they were welcome in the Church of England" Women and the Church (WATCH) found it "deeply offensive " claiming that the vision of women as bishops, and the dignity and security of the position of women when they were ordained as bishops would be undermined.

So what is in a word? Personally I find it offensive to be branded as one of those "whose consciences gave them difficulties with the idea of women as bishops, and would find it difficult to receive their ministry." I would have no difficulty with the concept of women bishops or of receiving their ministry if it were simply a matter of debate or if it were accepted throughout the Church Catholic but it cannot be for the simple reason that in conscience we remain faithful to Christ's example rather than synodical persuasion. Whatever arguments are advanced in support of the ordination of women they can only be opinions not supported by historical fact. They condemn Jesus as a failure for being a captive of His time in not appointing women Apostles but in an age when there were numerous priestesses, Christ showed us a new way which honoured men and women equally, different but complementary. What is difficult about that?



Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Barry's Rule


  “I’ve always thought that Barry is probably rather more liberal than I am. And I’m a very old-fashioned high churchman – I know he disapproves of that, really.” - Archbishop Rowan Williams

The Gospel according to Barry pretty well sums up everything that has gone wrong in the Church in Wales and in the Church of England for that matter. Liberalism par excellence: gender politics, same sex marriage and of course his obsession with women's ordination but despite his claims, what he preaches is a minority view in the wider church, even in mainstream Anglicanism. In England where WATCH have done all they can to secularise the Anglican Church we have just witnessed the appointment of a new Bishop of Beverley. - (The Bishop of Beverley is a Suffragan Bishop in the Province of York. The Bishop’s role is that of a Provincial Episcopal Visitor, assisting in the pastoral care of those parishes that have petitioned for Extended Episcopal Care under the Act of Synod – the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood.) 

True to his word Archbishop Rowan has kept faith with those who, as a matter of synodical process, find themselves in a minority in the Church of England. He has consistently re-appointed Provincial Episcopal Visitors, bishops who share the same beliefs as those in their charge. In Wales it is a different matter. So far as Archbishop Morgan is concerned he has made it clear that there will be a replacement only over his dead body.

Back in 2008 when he first tried to force through the ordination of women to the episcopate in Wales, Dr Morgan said: "I cannot support any of the proposed amendments to the bill, which call for the appointment of a male bishop with jurisdiction for those who oppose the authority of a woman bishop. To do so, moreover, would be to sanction schism, to threaten the unity of the church" obviously blind to the fact that in ordaining women he has already sanctioned schism in the church abandoning any hope of unity with Rome and the Eastern churches as they move closer together. 

Aping members of Women and the Church he told the Guardian: "In an age when women have broken through the glass ceiling in most professions in Britain, it is strange that they still face discrimination in a church that believes there is "no male or female" in Christ. Women can become judges, surgeons, chief executives and heads of state, but in the Church in Wales - which waited until 1997 to ordain women as priests - they are as yet unable to become bishops". Treating Mother Church as though she were just another secular organisation Dr Morgan falsely accused opponents of discrimination while blatantly discriminating against them in his own church.

Papers have now been published in preparation for the meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales next week (13-14 September). Agenda Item 13 sets out Dr Morgan's new strategy to allow women to be ordained to the episcopate. As foreseen when discussions were initiated at the last meeting, the proposals are clearly intended to enable Dr Morgan to establish the principle of women's ordination to the episcopate before he has to retire. They could not be more explicit. The proposals are based on these statements:

   1. There would appear to be clear and sufficient support for the Bench to bring forward a Bill to enable women to be ordained as bishops. 

   2. There is smaller, but nevertheless significant, support, for some form of pastoral provision for individuals who, in conscience, cannot accept that this step should be taken.


In the event, 'smaller but nevertheless significant support' actually amounted to "65% of the lay members and 51% of clerical members indicated either strong or broad support for provision for individual conscientious opt-out with 16% of the lay members and 11% of the clerical members indicated strong support for such provision". Comparing these percentages (65% and 51%) with the 0.05% of Anglicans the Archbishop represents when he presumes to have an input into the selection of the next Archbishop of Canterbury it would be fair to say that there was overwhelming support for 'pastoral provision for individuals who, in conscience, cannot accept that this step should be taken' but instead what is proposed is a scheme devised to avoid Dr Morgan losing the vote a second time by seeking to ensure that the measure is safely approved in principle leaving any opposition to be dealt with (ie crushed) later.

At the same meeting the Governing Body will be asked to welcome the Report from the Church in Wales Review, Section 5 of which deals with Governance and Decision making. The thrust of this section is that the Governing Body should be making decisions based on the system of synodical government used by other churches in the Anglican Communion resulting in a proper flow of ideas and resolutions from parish or deanery to Diocese and from there to the Governing Body. The current top-down, 'Father knows best' approach results, with the rare exception, in rubber-stamping decisions already taken by a liberal Archbishop who does not take kindly to dissent. The Review panel also made it clear that they do not believe that the present system of elections to the Governing Body results in a true reflection of church opinion. In these circumstances it is absurd to try to force through legislation on such a weighty matter as the ordination of women to the episcopate when true representation is in doubt and governance is not what it should be.

The new proposals are clearly designed to get agreement in principle regardless of the fact that to date, intent to care for all in the church has not been honoured:

 
    1. The first Bill would deal with the following matters of principle:

Women may be ordained as bishops in the Church in Wales.

There will be a scheme of pastoral provision, to be approved by the Governing Body by means of a second Bill, making provision for those who cannot in conscience accept the ministry of a woman bishop. 

If this first Bill were to be passed and become a Canon, it would not come into force until such a second Bill is approved by the Governing Body and becomes a Canon.

    2. The second Bill would refer to the Canon enabling women to be ordained as bishops. We have purposely suggested that the scheme of pastoral provision be included – presumably as a schedule – in a second Bill in order to give as much confidence as possible to those for whom it provides that their genuinely held views are being taken seriously and that the church is being faithful to its declared intent in 1996. 

It is suggested that the two Canons would come into force on the same day.


In effect, this establishes the principle with minimal risk of losing the measure for a second time due to the Archbishop's intransigence while embarking on the charade of 'making provision for those who cannot in conscience accept the ministry of a woman bishop'. Proposals currently being considered will not provide the pastoral and sacramental oversight of a bishop who shares their views; under Barry's rule 'declared intent' has proved meaningless. If earlier promises can be broken so lightly there can be even less confidence in the new proposals. 

Even if the proposal were accepted, ultimately they may become impossible to honour. Already in England it has been projected that "unless we start growing our congregations now at the rate of three per cent each year, we will decline into near oblivion"  but in Wales congregations are declining at the rate of 5%!  As the church is increasingly feminised and numbers dwindle, it is possible that in a generation there may no male bishop to appoint from the likely two or three remaining before ultimate collapse. Without the security of a bishop who shares their faith enshrined as a Canon there can be no future for traditionalists in the Church in Wales.

The most sensible way forward at this stage is to withdraw the measure pending resolution of the proposals recommended in the Church in Wales Review for improved governance and representation. In the meantime, Barry's rule should come to an end having reached normal retirement age. He should retire gracefully leaving his successor to take the church forward not with the liberal political agenda that has resulted in decline but in faith before it collapses completely.