Wonderings about Hereford Motion

On Thursday evening the Hereford Diocesan Synod passed the following motion:

‘That this Synod request the House of Bishops to commend an Order of Prayer and Dedication after the registration of a civil partnership or a same-sex marriage for use by ministers in exercise of their discretion under Canon B4, being a form of service neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter, together with guidance that no parish should be obliged to host, nor minister conduct, such a service.’

Well done Hereford. Incidentally I believe that the Bishop spoke in favour of the motion; well done +Richard.

So, what are we to make of this motion and the work of Hereford diocese?

Well, first of all, it is important that ‘progressives’ don’t get too carried away. This motion could get parked in General Synod’s Business Committee for years to come.

However, if a number of other diocesan synods chose to adopt the Hereford motion then maybe the Business Committee will feel obligated to accelerate the process? In a very real sense Hereford Diocese have laid down the ‘will you come and follow me’ challenge, asking other dioceses if they are also prepared to be ‘called’  by ‘name.’ 

 I would suggest that, whatever those who self style as orthodox claim, this motion shows that there is a clear direction of travel towards far greater levels of inclusivity and affirmation. It is the first significant and concrete manifestation of GAFCON’s worst fear.

Previously all initiatives to celebrate and affirm same-sex relationships have been highly localized, taking place in ‘rogue churches.’  The Hereford Motion is the first time that a synod has requested a formal liturgy available for use across the entirety of the Church of England.

The Hereford Motion rightly implies  that it is inappropriate for the Church of England, as a liturgical church, to offer ‘informal prayers,’ for same-sex couples. The Hereford Motion celebrates the fact that as a national and established church what we offer is common and formal prayers. The Hereford Motion is therefore a statement of  liturgical Church of England orthodoxy. It is also a rejection of strange, but unverifiable notions, such as ‘change in tone and culture.’ The Hereford Motion in a very real way builds upon the decision of General Synod not to ‘take note,’ of the House of Bishop’s report.

I have often argued that real and significant institutional change comes not from the centre but from the institutional and geographic margins. Sometimes institutional leaders become so taken with their own plans and ways of doing things that they lose their peripheral vision. So I wonder whether ‘the institution’ saw the Hereford Motion coming? I suspect not.

I also wonder whether the Hereford Motion exposes weakness in the idea that the process towards some form of resolution on issues of human sexuality can be centrally, planned, coordinated and controlled? After all isn’t the next step in the process supposed to be the publication of the (in) famous teaching document? Surely, in producing the document its authors cannot simply ignore the fact that at least one diocese accepts that loving, monogamous and covenanted same-sex relationships may be formally and liturgically affirmed?

I wonder, if when ecclesial historians chart the history of the Church of England, the Hereford Motion will be regarded as a decisive, epoch changing, event?

The answer to this question, I guess, depends on whether other dioceses also allow themselves to be ‘called by name,’ and similarly adopt the Hereford Motion.



Speaking of leadership; speaking of reconfiguration.

For political and church leaders alike these are strange and difficult times. It feels to me that in both the political and religious spheres (at least within Anglican ‘Communion’ and, the Church of England) nothing is settled yet nothing has really changed. We are living through a real world limbo. Limbo is, of course, deeply unsettling. It is also, through its very nature, characterized by rancor. Limbo is, for many, perhaps even most, the strangest of lands. It is neither one thing or the other. It offers neither the sure-footedness of a mythical past nor the excitement of a progressive future. Limbo is a place that’s a bit this and a bit that. For those who don’t like ambiguity limbo is a living hell. Those suffering from acute limbo phobia will either, depending on their pre limbo orientation, wish to drive the nation, or institution, back towards a ‘better future,’ thus ‘taking back control,’ or forwards towards a supposed ‘new Jerusalem.’

Leadership in such times is an interesting subject. In fact with my cynical hat on I would suggest that the pre-occupation with leadership is indicative of turbulence and an underlying sense of fear. What we, apparently, need to deliver us safely through limbo is ‘strong and stable,’ leadership. But, is there a misfit between our notions of leadership and, the environment? Limbo, you see, is not stable. It is elastic and, fluid. Limbo stretches every pre-conception to breaking point. That is the reality that faces some of our most prominent leaders such as Mrs. May and Archbishop Justin. The institutions they lead are literally at breaking point, the notions that they ‘are in communion’ and ‘walking together’ are fanciful at best.

The further reality is that strong and stable, decisive and charismatic leadership models are not fit for purpose in Limbo-Land. There is simply, for too many people, too much at stake. In Limbo-Land the strongest of actors like to drive their ‘leader’ fast and  hard from behind. Threats are issued, orthodoxy appealed to, sanctions imposed, vetoes used, red lines drawn; at least by those whose gears have been slammed into reverse. For progressives authority is deemed to be excessive, subsidiarity claimed and taken and, the demands of justice promoted.

Where and how does leadership help in Limbo-Land, an environment where nothing can really be planned for, nothing imposed and, where top down generic management and leadership approaches are of no value despite their seductive appeal? In Limbo-Land what is required is a very different set of leadership skills; skills which are not taught on a full or a mini MBA program of study.

How does leadership work in a world where no one wants to eat carrots and no one is frightened of the stick? That is the question facing Mrs. May and Archbishop Justin alike. The temptation facing all leaders is to pretend that we aren’t really in Limbo-Land. But, to pretend otherwise is to occupy Lala Land.

So can anyone actually lead in Limbo-Land? How can Archbishop of Canterbury (Justin and his successors) lead in Limbo-Land? I suspect, as with all good questions, the answer is ‘it depends.’ It depends on the mind-set. If ‘leaders’ believe all parties can be appeased, that ‘in all manner of things all will be well’ then, no, they can’t lead their people through Limbo-Land. If they believe that the institution they lead will ever be the same again, or commit to it being so, then no they can’t lead their people through Limbo-Land, for ultimately they can only then be an agent of discord and disunity; and that is not the job for someone who is called to be a focus of unity.

If they believe that the tent is so broad that it really can contain the widest possible spectrum of beliefs and behaviours then again, no they can’t lead their people through Limbo-Land. And, if their guiding emotion is fear (as Heidi Alexander suggested to the Prime Minister this week) then they absolutely will not be able to lead their people through Limbo-Land.

Fear not,’ is the phrase our leaders, and especially our religious leaders, need to take to heart. If size is confused with strength and unity, then there is no chance of a successful journey through Limbo-Land. Limbo-Land leaders need to be courageous leaders. They also need to be vulnerable leaders, or wounded leaders. They need to accept the real (theo) politic which is that nothing is ever going to be the same again, and they need to say so. They need to acknowledge that the institution is on a long and unpredictable journey. Limbo-Land leaders, if they are to be regarded by history as ‘leaders,’ need to be clear that the institution is going through a period, not (sorry Gavin Ashenden et al) of reformation, but of reconfiguration. The job of the ‘leader’ is then to lead then people through this painful and unpredictable period. Leading for reconfiguration is, sadly, bound to attract criticism and even ridicule. Leading for reconfiguration is an exercise in vulnerability and rejection. Not everyone is going to be delighted with either the journey of reconfiguration or the resulting new configuration. At some stage various people might choose to leave ‘according to the word’ as they perceive and understand it. The hope, but not the guarantee, must be that they will ‘depart in peace.’

Reconfiguration leaders cannot be overly doctrinal, neither can they work from a paradigm that insists that it is the leader’s own theologies, or ideologies, that are of primary importance. Reconfiguration leaders encourage diversity of views and a form of teaching that encourages reflective learning. They do not insist on their view being the right, traditional or even orthodox view. Reconfiguration leaders offer multiple perspectives – just like any good teacher. They encourage new perspectives and, synthesis of perspectives. Creativity and flexibility rank alongside vulnerability as their guiding virtues. None of this means that boundaries aren’t set. Reconfiguration isn’t an exercise in non bounded relativity. But, reconfiguration leaders need to be skilled and adept cartographers.

So in the Limbo-Land that is the Anglican Communion and the Church of England where might some initial boundaries be drawn. I say initial because in the process of reconfiguration it surely must be accepted that boundaries aren’t fixed and that they are flexible and porous? The journey of reconfiguration is a long journey.

I would suggest that, and I am going to annoy my progressive friends here, that full marriage equality isn’t in the C of E and across the majority of the Anglican Communion on the cards. The cartographers pen simply cannot draw this boundary. The reconfiguration leader should be focused on the art of the possible and not the impossible. There needs to be a degree of healthy pragmatism in the process of reconfigurative leadership. Yes, the boundary might move over time, but not in the short-term. That is just the real domestic and international theo-politic of the situation. This does not, of course, mean that some churches in the ‘communion’ will cease to amend their canons, or that their amendments will not form a necessary part of an overall long-term reconfiguration. Substantive change, after all, frequently, perhaps even normatively, comes from the margins or periphery much to the irritation of head office types. Again this is simply part of the real theo-politic. Its messy but mess is characteristic of Limbo Land. Part of the reconfiguration leader’s burden is the acceptance that for fast-moving progressives they will be regarded as an agent of frustration.

And now I am going to annoy those who wish to see no change. For no change also simply isn’t going to happen. That again is part of the real theo-politic in the journey of reconfiguration. It isn’t as yet possible to say where a new, and initial, boundary might be drawn but to pretend that it isn’t going to be drawn is, as previously suggested, to inhabit LaLa land. Stasis is not characteristic of reconfiguration. ‘Progressive’ churches both at the provincial and local levels have drawn their boundaries in different places. The S.E.C. & T.E.C. have opted for full marriage equality, the Church in Wales has written liturgies of affirmation. Various churches in the C of E have written their own liturgies (mostly with their bishop’s knowledge). What should be clear is that the ‘leadership’ of the church is not in control of the cartographers pencil. I think it also clear that the cartographer in chief isn’t going to wrestle it back. The reconfiguration leader will frustrate, challenge and unsettle strong and alpha types because he, or she, will unveil the weakness in traditional, top down and patriarchal modes of leadership. The reconfiguration leader will take courage in both hands and dare to stress that these cherished models of leadership are no longer fit for purpose. That is why the reconfigurative leader can only ever be a wounded-leader; sometimes a severely wounded leader.

I don’t think that the leadership of the Church of England is as yet in a position to say where the boundary line is going to be drawn, but surely it is time to say that a new boundary line is inevitably going to be drawn. The only real question is ‘who is doing the drawing?’ I would want to suggest that the Archbishops and Bishops need to be the lead cartographers. If they aren’t then we might as well give up on the idea of being an episcopal church.

Now is the time to set some limits and, to draw, liturgically, these limits. Maybe the limit in the Church of England will be a form of blessing as suggested by Pilling, maybe it will be a Welsh style liturgy of affirmation, but a boundary needs to be drawn and, it needs to be drawn liturgically. Liturgical leadership is an essential component of reconfiguration leadership. Liturgy is after all our epistemology.

There can be no change in ‘tone and culture,’ separate from an accretion to the liturgy. We are a liturgical church and we need to constantly remind ourselves of this, our most traditional and orthodox, fact. Liturgy verifies our beliefs, boundaries and sense of being ‘in communion.’

There are no quick fixes to the Anglican Communion’s and Church of England’s problems. Limbo is a slow-moving and ambiguous place. It is an ill content place, a place that needs to be reconfigured. It is place that requires flexible, innovative and courageous leaders. It is a place of vulnerability that asks both its leaders and its inhabitants to remain for the long haul but accepts that it will simply be too painful for some; some will depart and sadly not in peace. The ‘noble’ army of departees will of course blame the leader. This will be a sad and tragic truism for both conservative and progressive leavers alike. Part of the reconfiguration leaders sad lot is to be a scapegoat.

The vulnerable and wounded leader names the pain. The reconfiguration leader works with and through the pain, in the full and certain knowledge that he or she is going to be rejected, ridiculed and labelled as weak by those regard themselves as strong (isn’t this the lot of religious leaders in the biblical tradition; wasn’t the post resurrection Jesus the ultimate wounded leader?). But, the reconfiguration leader also works with the knowledge, or at least hope, that something new, and something better, will emerge.

The Anglican Communion and the Church of England, just like the country are in new and uncharted territory. We are in Limbo-Land, we need to make sure that we avoid descending yet further into LaLa Land and for that we need a new style of leader: the reconfiguration leader, or if you prefer the wounded-leader.

Speaking of Anglicanism; speaking of subsidiarity.

The last few days haven’t been great for those whose vocation forces them to speak to the public at large whilst simultaneously seeking to appease various factions within their own constituency.

Mrs. May and Archbishop Justin have both had an extraordinarily difficult and, I daresay, personally uncomfortable week. They both carry a similar burden; the burden of seeking to reconcile the irreconcilable. They are presumably both aware that the very different factions who cohabit under the banners Conservative and Anglican have widely different hopes and expectations from their leader. And, I suspect, if they were to speak candidly they would both have to acknowledge the limitations of leadership and the notion that all manner of things can be institutionally planned,  managed and controlled.

There is a real sense that the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury are being pushed and controlled from behind. Don’t say it too loud because to do so is to undermine the very ideology and cult of leadership but, that’s often what happens to ‘leaders.’ If it happens over an extended time ‘leaders’ become mere figureheads or even puppets.

I don’t know what Mrs. May can do from this point to make things better for the country, her party and her own sense of well-being but I have an inkling that there is something that Archbishop Justin can do. In fact, I think that if the Anglican Communion, perhaps even the Church of England, is to hold together and press onwards in proclamation of the gospel then the Archbishop has to do, or say, something that provides the possibility of better conversations and a new way ahead, for there will come a time when one side or the other will force the Archbishop of Canterbury to declare his, or possibly in the future her, hand. Archbishop Justin might be able to hold the line that he really can’t speak his mind on matters of ‘human sexuality,’ (which is code for homosexuality) but I very much doubt that this is a luxury, or is it really a burden, that his successors will be afforded.

So what can Justin, or a future Archbishop of Canterbury, do since it has been acknowledged that various views on homosexuality are irreconcilable?

I think that the first thing that the Archbishop should do is to state that homosexuality is not a first order, that is to say salvation, issue and that this is the Church of England’s unequivocal position. The Archbishop should do so in the full and certain knowledge that some in the Anglican communion, and in the Church of England, will disagree. In fact they will leave. But, is the concern of leadership the retention of a false and insecure unity? I don’t believe it to be.

The Archbishop should however take the leading role in the church’s teaching on salvation issues. The Archbishop as an heir to the reformation should state that we are saved through grace and faith and not works. Equating same sex relationships and same sex marriage to salvation is a retrograde step back towards a theology of salvation by works.

The Archbishop could then suggest, and many Primates and Bishops won’t like this, that the theological positions held by Archbishops and Bishops, are also of second order ecclesial  significance. Archbishops aren’t monarchs, bishops aren’t princes or princesses, and we don’t have a magisterium.

It should also be abundantly clear by now that all attempts, both within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, to manage the sexuality journey have failed. Sanctions and consequences issued by the Primates have proved to be toothless, hence pointless, and the Bishop’s Report to General Synod was kicked into the long grass. In fact the sanctions, or are they consequences, have only succeeded in promoting the theology and ecclesial polity they sought to dampen.

The responses of the Presiding Bishop of the T.E.C. and the Primus of the S.E.C. to their ‘exclusion’ have been graceful, eloquent, resolute, measured, and humane. They have stood in stark contrast to other voices. I daresay that should the Anglican Church of Canada introduce legislation to facilitate same-sex marriage the stock of their leaders will also rise. Sanctions clearly have the effect of leading to unintended consequences.

The Archbishop inhabits a dangerous place because he, or she, cannot make any promises whatsoever on the direction of travel in the Church of England. It is simply not in the gift of the office holder and that is why it was unfortunate that the Archbishop of Canterbury sought to placate the Primates before the now infamous report was discussed, and rejected, at synod. This was a significant strategic error.

The direction of travel in the church, or should I say directions of travel, are being set not from above but from below (and the very fact that Archbishops and Bishops don’t feel able to express their own view is evidence of the collapse in top down approaches to management and leadership in either the development or non development of doctrine, depending on the different directions of travel being taken). If the issue is of second order doctrinal significance it surely should follow that an archbishop or bishops own view is also of second order (ecclesial) importance? Doctrine and ecclesiology should be held together in a relationship characterized by equivalence?

If it is accepted that human sexuality is a second order doctrinal issue, and hence also a second order ecclesial issue, then the possibility exists to promote the principle of subsidiarity as the guiding virtue.

Subsidiarity’s concern is that second order decisions are taken at the local level. Under this scheme the Archbishops and bishops leadership role is to foster and promote subsidiarity; their own personal position being of secondary importance. Subsidiarity is also a close bed fellow (excuse the pun) of flourishing. Subsidiarity allows communities which co-habit under the same banner (Anglican, Church of England) to come to different conclusions and adopt different forms of practice.

Subsidiarty’s genius is its ability to reconcile the irreconcilable. It is able to do this because it doesn’t make the category error of translating uniformity as unity. Subsidiarity doesn’t celebrate relativism but endorses a non binary acceptance of divergent integrities. Subsidiarity is a virtue that Church of England bishops commended in their pre 2015 General Election state of the nation letter.

Subsidiarity is the virtue that the S.E.C. has prized above all in its polity. As the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church explained to the Primates the ‘‘nature of the decision reached by the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church is such as to allow those of different views to walk together.’’ Shouldn’t creating the conditions where those of different views can walk together be the very essence of episcopal leadership? Have the S.E.C. paradoxically, despite being placed on Anglicanism’s naughty boy step, shown the Communion (and the Church of England) a new and better way ahead? Isn’t subsidiarity in any case supposed to be one of Anglicanisms animating virtues? Isn’t it  the case that provinces aren’t supposed to meddle in the affairs of other provinces? The notion of subsidiarity is therefore enshrined in the communion’s mode of praxis. Are the notion of consequences and sanctions therefore a repudiation of Anglican polity and evidence of mandate drift?

Subsidiarity is also one of those virtues that is sometimes simply claimed from below as provinces and communities stake their right to do that which they believe to be right. The actions of the T.E.C. and S.E.C. validate this point as do the actions of the C of E congregations who already offer services of recognition and affirmation for same-sex couples. This trend is likely to grow, irrespective of any sanctions threatened. That is the real theo-politic of the situation. Surely its is far better to go with the grain?

I would want to strongly argue that from this point in history a Church of England bishop who doesn’t actively promote the notion of subsidiarity stands little or no chance of either leading from the front or of being a focus for unity. Of course not everyone will want to accept the living out of ecclesial subsidiarity in relation to second order issues. Some will always prefer top down approaches, some theo-political types will seek to continue leading their archbishops and bishops from behind, however, if the archbishops and bishops were to promote subsidiarity in relation to this most contentious of second order issues the integrity of bishops as leaders might just be preserved and even enhanced. This is important because their stock is at present pretty low. Both within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion there is a crisis of episcopacy.

Yes, whatever the Archbishop of Canterbury says will provoke dissent and derision, that goes with the turf, and yes some will choose to leave the Anglican Communion and the Church of England, but that too goes with the turf. But, there will also be a large and diverse group that rallies behind the Archbishop and who commit to helping create a new, smaller, and better thing.

This group of committed Anglicans will hold different views but will happily co-exist based on the surety that issues of human sexuality are of second order sotoriological and ecclesial importance and that twin integrities can be held together through a prior commitment to the notion of subsidiarity.

Surely the time has come to stop worrying about the size and supposed uniformity of the thing because, as stated, whatever Justin and his successors say or don’t say, believe or don’t believe, splits are inevitable, more ‘missionary bishops’ will be consecrated, some churches will insist on alternative oversight, some provinces will leave to create a new denomination? Rather than worrying about the size and uniformity of the thing is it instead time to focus on the quality of the thing?

Is subsidiarity the route to Anglicanism’s salvation?

Talking of speaking

‘We need you to speak’: US evangelicals urge Trump to condemn racist ‘alt-right’ in open letter.

According to Christianity Today a group of conservative evangelicals have written an open letter to The Donald urging him to very publicly disown any ideology which appears to endorse white supremacy. Good on them; that’s what I say.

It is of course important that Christians speak out on matters of dignity and justice. No one should be made to feel second class on the basis of temporal identity markers for God is recorded as saying ‘let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,’ (Genesis 1, 26).

It is this foundational  scripture that humankind has struggled with since the start of history. We like to rank and categorize but God doesn’t. We like to put country first but God, I fear, puts humanity first.

Maybe repentance means, in part, a turning away and repudiation of any ideologies or theologies that seek to rank and create hierarchies of being based on the crudest of measures? Maybe repentence means throwing off the false yokes of apathy and passivity and speaking out as an ally of those who live their lives in fear of the consequences of injustice and tyranny?

If this is true it is to be lauded that a group of ‘conservative evangelicals’ have written to President Trump seeking to hold him to account and, in some senses, repent. Of course ‘liberal’ Episcopalian types have also expressed dismay and outrage over the direction of policy, or do I mean ideology, in the US. ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!’ (Psalm 133, 1).

Speaking out against injustice is, of course, part of the biblical tradition. It is part of the prophetic mandate placed upon the church. Speaking out even, especially, when the very act of speaking courts ridicule, a barrage of tweets, or even physical danger is part of what it means to ‘take up (y)our cross and follow,’ (Matthew 16, 24).

Speaking out often means standing in opposition to the actual or emerging civic and political culture and that is why I am glad that the open letter written this week by the General Synod Human Sexuality Group calls on all Anglican Primates to continue to speak out against the criminalization of homosexuality. For some Anglican primates to do so will take significant courage. Speaking out also, on occasion, means being a a disruptive and challenging influence in the cultural and political life of the church. The church needs a stream of voices calling it to be its true, and liberating, self.

It has often been said that ‘you can’t be neutral’ on issues of justice. I agree. The Christian faith is, or at least should be, a liberating faith; a faith where our most significant act of fast or sacrifice should be ‘to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke,’ (Isaiah 58, 6).

Because it is impossible to be neutral on issues of justice surely it is the case that if the Church (and her leaders) aren’t working to ‘loose’ the ‘yoke’ then it must be the case that we are contributing its tightening? Passivity, apathy and complicity may be, I fear, the greatest sins of our day.

Thursday was National Poetry Day. A well-known former Cathedral Dean asked on Twitter for nominations for poems that have really inspired people. I suggested Martin Niemoller’s ‘I did not speak.’ It is a chilling and haunting poem, written just after the Holocaust. I suspect it is very much a poem for our times.

Let’s let Niemoller have the last words:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.



Speaking of ordination, speaking of good will.

‘If in doubt refer to the liturgy.’  This point was stressed time and again by my liturgy tutor at theological college. My tutor was also took every conceivable opportunity to remind his students that for the Church of England ‘liturgy is doctrine in action.’ 

So, in the light of the ‘Sheffield debacle’ how can the liturgy of ordination help us, in the Church of England, to understand ordination into the episcopacy? How can it help us understand how the process of ‘nominating’ (as distinct from appointing) candidates may be reflected on to ensure that the opportunity for ‘debacle’ is minimized? I ask this question because it appears to me that the findings of Sir Philip Mawer’s report are geared towards the avoidance of future debacle.

I welcome the emphasis Sir Philip has placed on education and increased transparency in the work of the Crown Nominations Committee and hope that these will mitigate against ‘debacle,’ however, I also worry with Canon Jeremy Worthen that ‘it is no longer possible to talk in a straightforward way about the Church of England holding full sacramental communion within its own life, or with other churches.’ Hopefully a rubicon hasn’t already been crossed, but I fear it may have been.

Anyway returning to the liturgy:

The last question before the Archbishop celebrates the act of ordination, through which the candidate’s status is changed from ordinand, or nominee, to bishop is: ‘Brothers and sisters, you have heard how great is the charge that N is ready to undertake, and you have heard his declarations. Is it now your will that he should be ordained?’ (the ‘final question’ was taken from the Common Worship web site for the ordination and Consecration of Bishops, surely the exclusive use of the masculine form needs updating? The language for the ordination of deacons and priests is gender neutral using the phrase ‘these ordinands’).

The final act of verification is therefore  given, liturgically and doctrinally, by the ‘People of God’, lay and ordained, the ‘brothers and sisters.’ It is only through their assent that the ordinand’s status can be changed from nominee to appointee. The Church of England’s liturgy in this respect is different from the Roman Catholic ordinal. In the Roman Catholic Church candidates are presented and the ‘People of God,’ are asked to affirm their new ministry with a straightforward ‘amen.’

In the Church of England candidates for each of the three orders of ministry are not appointed, they are instead nominated, received and only then ordained. This, I think, is a significant point because it implies that the most important role of those charged with identifying and selecting candidates is to ensure that they may be received with the ‘goodwill’ of all who have a stake in their ministry, at least to the extent to which it is clear that goodwill is the dominant and guiding virtue. The baptism liturgy includes the beautiful line that ‘today the Church receives with joy…’ Perhaps the essence of this line could be captured in ordination services the next time that the liturgy is revised for, surely, the guarantee of joyful and gracious receipt should be the primary aim of every nomination process? What is good enough for baptism ought to be good enough for ordination; after all both express a theology of (gracious) receipt? 

As Sir Philip Mawer has suggested  what I describe as a theology of gracious receipt becomes possible only when the needs of the diocese, and other stakeholders, are fully understood and this means asking the right questions at the beginning of the process. It seems bizarre given that gracious receipt is central to the liturgy, and therefore doctrine, of ordination that the question of whether the ‘diocese would accept a diocesan bishop, who did not ordain women as priests,’ was omitted (Paul Handley, Church Times, 22nd September). My lingering concern is whether the Crown Nominations Committee had lost sight of their mandate to nominate for gracious receipt, instead thinking that their remit was to appoint? I also worry whether the Church of England, for all its good intentions, remains unaware of a deeply entrenched patriarchal mindset?

If the nominations process can be regarded as being geared towards helping the ‘brothers and sisters in Christ,’ affirm their desire that the nominated candidate should indeed be ordained with the goodwill of all (if this is possible) where might this leave the Five Guiding Principles and, the notion that those outside the Church of England have a legitimate stake in the nomination of a diocesan bishop?

Let’s deal with the second question first. Some inside the Church of England criticized politicians for objecting to the nomination of Philip North. This objection strikes me as odd given that Bishops are nominated through the Prime Minister’s (political) office.  Some may not like it but senior nominations in the established church are, by their very nature, also political nominations. Politicians and civic leaders therefore have a right to comment on those appointments which will have a significant bearing on the life of the diocese. Bishops do after all sit in the legislature. on the benches of the House of Lord’s. Bishops also have the opportunity, through their very office, of shaping civic life and culture.

1 Timothy 3, 7 stresses that potential bishops ‘must be well thought of by outsiders.’  So, when assessing whether the diocese is content to accept or otherwise a ‘non ordaining’ bishop the views of civic leaders should carry significant (not necessarily decisive but significant) weight.

As an aside the notion that a ministry should only ever be affirmed when the candidate is received with the goodwill of both the ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ and ‘outsiders’ representing the  local community is beautifully dramatized in the liturgy for inducting and licensing parish priests when the candidate is specifically invited to ‘come among us’ by representatives of the church and also cordially welcomed by representatives from civic society.

The Church of England, as the Established Church, has to be aware of social mores in its appointment process. Every bishop is also a potential archbishop. Could we really foresee a situation in which an archbishop was consecrated who couldn’t on grounds of theological conscience ordain women to the priesthood? I would suggest not for the Church of England would surely lose the goodwill of the majority of the population (or at least those who care) and, if this is true for archbishops, then why not also for diocesan bishops?

What of the Five Guiding Principles? Well, in some ways I think they are a bit of a red herring. Or at least they are if it is accepted that the remit of the Crown Nominations Committee is simply to nominate candidates for gracious receipt in the diocese on the basis of goodwill. A diocese, put simply, either will or will not be happy to receive a non ordaining candidate. The Five Guiding Principles whether they stand or come to be revised following a process of episcopal theological reflection may continue to make it possible for a traditionalist to be nominated, but the testing ground should always be the diocese and other interested stakeholders.

The Church of England, General Synod, and the Crown Nominations Committee do not have a mandate, right or responsibility to ensure that ‘a priest who publicly espouses the traditional catholic position on holy orders’ (Forward in Faith) will be appointed. It currently has a mandate to inquire into whether such a priest might be nominated, but that is a very different thing. The only promise that General Synod and the Crown Nominations Committee can make to those who would like to see traditionalists nominated is to ensure that the architecture is in place to test whether such appointments may be welcomed.

In the Church of England our hope must be that when the question ‘brothers and sisters, you have heard how great is the charge that N is ready to undertake, and you have heard his ‘ her declarations. Is it now your will that he / she should be ordained’ the answer is a resounding, confident and joyful ‘it is.’ The ‘it is’ must be said with integrity and without reservation.

Perhaps one of lessons the Church of England needs to re-learn is simply this: that our theology of ordination into all three orders of ministry is based not on appointment but on nomination and gracious receipt. Whatever the bishops and synod decide, however the Five Guiding Principles are tweaked, modified or even radically amended the testing ground for whether a nominee can be ordained can only ever be the diocese. Any shaping or re-shaping of the episcopacy should  therefore in many ways be a bottom up process and the process starts with asking the right questions. The work of identifying and nominating candidates is, of course, delegated to the Crown Nominations Committee but the validation of candidates can only ever be done at the local, diocesan, level. The nominations process is not, and should never be designed as, a mechanism for ensuring representation for a given group in the episcopacy.

In the Church of England we don’t appoint, we nominate, affirm, hopefully gratefully and graciously receive, and only then ordain.

How do I know this? Because, the liturgy tells me so.




Speaking of faith in the public square

It has been a strange old-time recently for theology in the public square.

The latest, post Fallon, series of ‘faith in the public square,’  started when Quentin Letts chastised Archbishop Justin for his role, nay his very public role, in seeking to help establish a better, more equitable, and just way to model socio-economic affairs. Justin’s ‘faux pas’ was quickly followed by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s defense of his anti-abortion, anti same-sex marriage, stances on the basis of his Catholic faith.

Next, without pausing for breath, came the story of the Isle of White couple who have made the decision to withdraw their child (who happens to be a boy) from a C of E primary school on the basis that another child (also a boy) wears a dress to school. Apparently the parents, who are being represented  by Christian Concern, feel that they have grounds for a claim against the school because they or their child have been victimized in some way.

There is now a growing campaign seeking to ban Franklin Graham from speaking next year in Blackpool. Notions of unity and peace seem to be in short supply in the Christian community. No wonder that those who can be bothered to take an interest in what the church has to say are looking on askance. It’s all pretty depressing stuff.

But what is most depressing and tragic is the myth that Christianity necessarily stands opposed to the very best that humanism has to offer is being allowed to grow, almost unchallenged. The notion that mission and evangelism is reducible to individual acts of conversion and that people of faith shouldn’t seek to play a part in shaping  the socio-economic-political environment is also a myth that needs well and truly debunking. The Christian faith is political.

Zoe Williams, writing earlier this week in the Guardian, urged ‘co-religionists’ to stand up, in the public square, in response to the ‘perspectives’ offered by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg. She pleaded for members of the institutional churches in particular to do so:

‘History has no shortage of religious movements for peace, justice and universal rights, and arguably it is within church structures that warriors for social justice – the Oscar Romeros, the Desmond Tutus – are likely to be found, while hard right authoritarians like Mike Pence, exist outside it.’  Zoe Williams, I think, rightly understands that humanism and religious conviction are not binary opposites. She also understands that there are different, and very possibly binary, expressions of Christianity (something that the church doesn’t seem able to confront) and not all of them are opposed to so-called ‘secular’ humanistic values.

Humanism according to the International Humanist and Ethical Union can be described as ‘a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic  based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry into human capabilities. It is not theistic, and does not accept supernatural views of reality.’ 

Now, as Church of England Priest, I am obviously of a theistic persuasion and I do accept supernatural views of reality (and I am intrigued that the humanists do in fact accept that these are views of reality, even if they reject them), and also believe that I am caught up in a larger cosmic, and salvation,  story. Laying my cards on the table I also believe in a theology of judgment. I am not an universalist. I also have no problems in saying the ‘Catholic Creeds’ each and every week fully affirming each and every proposition without crossing my fingers behind my back.

However, I fully accept the sentiments expressed in the rest of the definition; I guess I am, de facto, an Orthodox Christian Humanist. I also long for a church which truly values and encourages the ‘spirit of reason,’ and ‘free inquiry,’ for then I suspect that we really will be a teaching church?

I yearn for an institutional church that fully absorbs Rabbi Jonathan Sacks belief that the primary religious vocation is to be a blessing to all of humanity. The Church of England, in particular, needs to re-appropriate this notion; this foundational Old Testament tradition. The Church of England, as the established church, needs to be simultaneously pastoral and, prophetic. It needs to offer comfort and stand in solidarity with those in need, materially and spiritually, whilst discomforting the proud and powerful. It can’t fulfill this role if it remains quiet on issues of what it means to be fully human.

Maybe we need to stop fixating quite so much on ‘church leadership.’ Church leadership is but one aspect of parochial ministry; a subset of diaconal and priestly ministry? My very great fear for the Church of England is that if we fail to encourage ‘the spirit of reason’ and ‘free inquiry’ in our teaching and, if fixate on the notion of ‘church leadership,’ at the expense of our wider ministry to be a blessing for all we will become an irrelevance at best and a nuisance at worst.  Establishment could then only be defined in legal and constitutional, as opposed to ministerial, terms.

The Church of England must seek to avoid all drives that may lead to it becoming what Martyn Percy has described as a ‘suburban sect.’ Sectarianism may well be popular and carry with it the veneer of ‘success’, but it is seldom attractive. I do wonder whether the excessive focus on ‘church leadership,’ and the preservation at all costs  of the status quo in deuterodoctrinal terms necessarily leads to sectarianism?

For our own sake, as well as for the nation we are called to serve, we need to speak more loudly, in the public square, about ethical issues, always ensuring that we communicate God’s love and grace; which implies that in our dialogue we need to be both loving and graceful. We also need to be far more courageous. We need to stop talking to and among ourselves and begin talking to society at large. We need to stop seeking to appease various factions within the church (factions which ultimately cannot be appeased) and enhance our credentials in society through the blessing we offer. When we speak in the public square we must do so with humility in the awareness that the for many, particularly younger people the church  has become a ‘face of intolerance,’ (Elizabeth Edman).

I suspect that in some, no many ways, I have more in common with many ‘secular’ humanists than I do, ultra conservative Christians. To be clear I would probably feel very uncomfortable in communities that endorsed a theistic and supernatural view of reality,whilst seeking to suppress reason, inquiry, dialogue, reflection and, difference. I think I would find such communities just a tad too priestly, patriarchal and life limiting and,  it matters not whether the priest sports a chasuble or some rather smart chinos.

My own views on abortion are that it should be permitted, even offered,  in a small range of circumstances.  I would like to see the Church of England providing rites for same-sex couples who wish to affirm their desire to live together in a faithful, monogamous and covenant relationships. Why? Because I believe, based on my own experience, that such relationships, in the words of the preface to the marriage service (Common Worship) ‘enrich society.’ 

Yes, I strongly believe that love, union, self-sacrifice, monogamy and fidelity are ideals worth both striving for and celebrating because they are in and of themselves ‘ethical’ and humane.’  And, by the way, I strongly reject Quentin Lett’s critique of Archbishop Justin’s role in arguing for a new way of doing economics. His critique seeks to erase the uncomfortable fact that Jesus launched his public  ministry by saying:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ 

Justice, compassion, liberation, inclusion, dignity, fidelity, self-sacrifice  and, monogamy are all distinctively (but not exclusively) Christian values. The Church of England as a national and established church  really has no option but to speak of such virtues in the public square. To hold these virtues dear and to speak of them in the public square is to honour tradition. To allow these virtues to engage with the epistemology offered by other disciplines and world views is to allow the tradition to live and breathe. As Elizabeth Edman has written ‘the progressive Church should square its shoulders and provide moral authority to people who hunger for it, one important way to do this is to acknowledge the moral witness of other communities, to celebrate them, honour them, and learn from them.’  A tradition that doesn’t live, breathe, learn and evolve will end up being a stale old thing, incapable of quickening (to borrow a prayer book term) new life into the very communities we are called on to bless.

Speaking personally, I suspect, that were I  not a Christian, my commitment to these values and, the shaping of communities based on these values may not be particularly strong.  I celebrate and, in many ways, deeply admire those who promote such values without also holding a theistic world view.

Yes, I would still want to critique secular humanism, and in the spirit of evangelism help promote free inquiry into the rationale for a rationally held faith. I always want offer the opportunity for faith and hope in the love that never ends and,  I strongly believe that this is entirely possible when the starting position is a shared commitment to a lived out expression of humanism.

I am, it appears, an Orthodox Christian humanist!




Speaking of the wonderful old writers; in search of the significant

The management scientist Henry Mintzberg wrote in his introduction to the Strategy Safari that:

‘There is a terrible bias in today’s management literature towards the current, the latest, the hottest. This does a disservice, not only to all those wonderful old writers, but especially to readers who are all too frequently offered the trivial new instead of the significant old.’ 

It is a quote, nay a sentiment, that I very much like. I also think it is a sentiment applicable beyond its context (i.e. the management sciences).

Is there a danger in the life of the church that works of real significance are being left to gather dust on library shelves in favour of shiny new coffee table offerings?

Now I am not saying for one minute that there aren’t contemporary books that are both wonderful and significant (I would highly recommend Steven Croft’s ‘The Gift of Leadership, for instance), but I am suggesting that within the Christian Literary Tradition there are books that should be read and read again by successive generations, not simply for their own sake, but so that the church really can preach the gospel afresh to, and for, each generation. Paradoxically the goal of freshness might mean reaching into the treasure chest marked ‘ old works of significance.’

I think I would also suggest that it is the responsibility of all who are involved in the leadership of theological education to curate such works to prevent them from losing their significance. So here are five of my ‘must reads,’ which have been categorized into five ‘leadership spheres:’

Ordained Ministry:  The Christian Priest Today, Michael Ramsey

Worship: The Mystery of Christian Worship, Odo Casel

Discipleship: The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Organisational behaviour, managerial decision-making, virtue based leadership:  The Rule of Benedict, St Benedict

Pastoral care: Pastoral Care, Pope Gregory I

Of course this ‘reading list’ is hopelessly incomplete both in terms of author and categories covered. But, hopefully, it’s a start. I would be very interested to find out who others consider to be ‘wonderful old writers,’ who should be read by successive generations, such is the significance of their work.

My thesis is that if we, the church, really want to keep the christian tradition alive and relevant we need to engage with the wonderful writers of old.