Talking of The Clash, Bonhoeffer, and the Church of England.

I suppose that many, perhaps even most, self-proclaimed members of the Church of England have something of a love-hate relationship with ‘mother church.’ Sometimes she delights us but gosh can she frustrate, annoy, even anger many of us. In fact sometimes she can be so annoying that we may be tempted to walk or even flounce away. But, for some strange, mystical, reason most of us don’t walk; we stay. Perhaps the love for mother-church tends to be stronger than the resentment (I don’t want to use the word hate again!) we feel? Or perhaps its a sense of proprietary ownership, a sense that ‘its my church.’ I certainly feel like this. The Church of England did after all baptize me, confirm me, marry me and ordain me. In very basic terms the Church of England – mother church – has set me up for my life’s journey. She has done so in the only way she can; through her rites and sacraments (there really is no other way).

But the painful truth of the matter is simply this: that I am one of her favored children. I didn’t ask to be treated as a favorite but I am. I am not treated as a favorite because I am kinder, nicer, more devout, better at preaching, or because I look stunning when dressed up for church. No, I am favored because I am educated, white, male and heterosexual. These are the shallow characteristics through which I am favored. None of these, of course, speak to notions of virtue, godliness, and character; the things that really matter.

My problem is that some time ago God exploded my bubble. He introduced me, at first inconveniently, to disability and then to homosexuality. He introduced me to the equally beloved other. God showed me the glory of diversity in the created order and that godliness, righteousness, and fruitfulness come from the depth of the soul and are not the consequences of immediately observable, or shallow, characteristics.

My even bigger problem is that the Church of England has favored me, but that it is unlikely to favor my friends and family. As things stand she won’t turn up to, still less host, the marriage of my gay friends and family. She is in many ways a distant, remote, and cold aunt, friend, and grandparent. And, that makes me sad. It makes me ask, in the words of The Clash, ‘Should I stay, or should I go?’

The answer, for me, although over the last week or so I have met others who have come to a different conclusion (I have also spoken to a ‘senior cleric’ who is giving serious thought to whether he can, with integrity,remain in his current post), is that I will stay. My rationale is that it is my church. It isn’t the bishop’s church, its my church. And its my friends church. And, its my daughter’s church. Its the national church, the people’s church. But, ultimately its God’s church and God it seems, looks beyond the shallow and into the deep.

Having said that I will stay, I think I would also want to say that my sense of proprietary ownership may be contingent on the overall direction of travel. At present I continue to believe that mother church is on a journey towards full inclusion, full and equal rites. I also believe that the journey will be long, slow and torturous. However, I may be wrong (he says in all humility!). If it becomes clear that I am wrong, then I would have to seriously consider going, for as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said ‘if you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.’

To change direction for a brief moment I was also struck by the question of whether the Church of England (through the office of the Church Commissioners) should stay or go in relation to climate change. In the back page interview Danielle Paffard laments the decision of the Church of England not join other investment institutions in deciding to dis-invest from fossil fuel companies, whilst Loretta Minghella (the First Estates Church Commissioner) argues that it is better to remain at the table as an active shareholder and seek to persuade the fossil fuel companies to change strategy. Loretta Minghella in justifying the strategy appeals to the fact that if the companies don’t comply with the terms of the Paris Agreement by 2023 then disinvestment will follow.

I suspect that if, by 2023, the direction of travel in the Church of England isn’t totally, unequivocally, visibly, clear many will also simply take the decision to go; some quietly in a mood of resigned sorrow, some loudly and with real anger . Making clear the direction of travel, the destination of the train, or ship, is the most basic task of leadership. 

Let me finish with The Clash and their anthem to family torment:

Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
It’s always tease, tease, tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day it’s fine and next it’s black
So if you want me off your back
Well, come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
This indecision’s bugging me (esta indecision me molesta)
If you don’t want me, set me free (si no me quieres, librame)
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be (digame que tengo ser)
Don’t you






2 thoughts on “Talking of The Clash, Bonhoeffer, and the Church of England.

  1. I have also been beset by the same thoughts you have – I am a lay minister, licensed by the Bishop, serving in CofE parish. Like you, I have the same “privileged” characteristics except I am not in the separate “Clergy Club” that ordination brings. When I recently had your thoughts it came to me “that I am not my own” and “I have been bought at a price”. You see, I did not want to “join” the Church of England but God had other ideas and so, almost without realising it, I was in it and serving the local church, first as churchwarden and then as a lay minister. I despair at the CofE as an institution but I know I am meant to serve God by being there for the people in the place where I am. To proclaim the good news to them, to serve them, whoever or whatever they maybe, “now there are no male or female, all are one in Christ”. I also find that I am in the place where the overburden vicar needs all the help he can get; my leaving would only add to his problems. Perhaps we can do no more that do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God on whatever path he has chosen for us.
    Every blessing,

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