Speaking of teaching

I must admit to feeling ever so slightly nervous when I hear the word ‘teaching’ mentioned in, or by, the Church of England. With the panel being announced for the greatly anticipated Episcopal Teaching Document on Sexuality my nervousness has greatly increased.

Part of my anxiety derives from a feeling that teaching and instruction are used interchangeably in church circles. Of course I would say this as a progressive. But, I also strongly believe that churches, in particular conservative churches, are far happier instructing than they are teaching. So what might we mean when we discuss the notion of teaching, or at least good teaching? What virtues might underpin good teaching and what are some of the ‘intended learning outcomes’ that derive from good (theological) teaching? Here goes:

Good teaching should foster reflection and discourse. Good teaching introduces different ways of thinking about problems. Good teaching deliberately brokers  significant disagreement. Good teaching isn’t necessarily a route to uniformity or even unity, at least not in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Good teaching doesn’t necessarily mean that students must assimilate the convictions of their teachers. Again at least not in the arts, humanities and social sciences. For some ‘teachers’ in the church this might be a hard pill to swallow. A good teacher, paradoxically, is one who fosters in learners the ability to develop strong and defensible counter arguments. Good teachers often accept that their own perspectives are of secondary importance.

Good teachers render themselves vulnerable and are open to the possibility of personal change (cf Matthew 15, 21-28), not just in perspective but also through new and revised forms of practice; even where such forms of practice may depart from their own sympathies.  I hope that those who have been asked to chair various panels are ‘good teachers,’ rather than political appointees. For the sake of the church they need to be.

So, in producing a ‘teaching document,’ the Church of England should carefully articulate its desired ‘learning outcomes.’ Has it? Does the Church of England know what it is trying to achieve through the Teaching Document on Sexuality? Does it know which of its bishops are the best teachers?

If the desired result is a document which presents a settled outcome to which all are expected to (uncritically) accept then the document, I suggest, will have little integrity as a teaching document. If the document presents different ways of thinking and responding then maybe, just maybe, it really will be a ‘teaching document.’

The production of this document is a watershed moment for the church for what is at stake is not only our response to issues of human sexuality (aka homosexuality) but our very credibility as a teaching church. In fact I would go further and say that the credibility and mission of the Church of England is the thing that is really at stake.

Teaching or instruction that is the question.

 

 

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Speaking of Paradise (for clergy)

Dear clergy friends,

I am thinking of setting up a Paradise Scheme for clergy (this is a spoof). Yes, I know we already have one, a Paradise Scheme, but really it is a bit of a tired old story. And, why wait?

Let me start by explaining that I used to work in the city and have been a director of an offshore umbrella fund. I know about hedge funds and the like. Its part of my past, part of my history. I thought that I had left such things, such deeply temporal things, behind some years ago when I finally listened to and followed my calling but now I am rethinking things; renewing my mind once more, following Paul’s advice.

Perhaps an opportunity now exists to redeem my past for the good of the clergy?

So this is how the Clergy Paradise scheme might work:

An offshore company could be set up to receive and administer clergy stipends. Each member of the clergy, irrespective of whether the size of their stipend, that subscribes would hold one share in the company. It is important that Clergy Paradise Holdings demonstrates a commitment to equality, after all we must always hold before us a vision of the kingdom and, take seriously our prayer that ‘thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.’ 

On the same day that the stipends are paid into the holding company (gross of tax), a loan will be issued to each shareholder for the exact same amount as their gross stipend, less a small administration fee. We should be able to negotiate a fee of in the region of 0.5%. Because, we would now be receiving the value of our stipends as a loan, rather than as income, no further tax liability would be incurred. The loan isn’t of course a loan in the conventional sense. It is simply an ‘asset swap.’ The value of the loan is simply the value of the monthly stipend which is repaid in full each and every month.

The scheme would therefore be making a valuable contribution to one of the church’s preoccupations: ‘clergy well being.’ A better paid cleric is a happier cleric. Shareholders (which in time we hope will include all stipendiary clerics) will also be making a real contribution towards the Church of England’s ‘simplification,’ programme for no longer will payroll be forced, through the coercive nature of the government’s tax policies, to divide the gross stipend into tax, national insurance, and take home pay. One simple payment is all that will be required.

The management company for the clergy pension scheme should also be moved offshore so that arrangements can be made for ensuring that payments from the scheme are also exempt from taxation. Clergy well-being should be from ordination to the grave.

The Memorandum and Articles will make it clear that part of the rationale behind Clergy Paradise Holdings is to preserve the distinction between clergy and laity. What better way to do so than through the creative use of corporate structures and tax avoidance for the sole benefit of the clergy?

It is of course right and proper that investors are warned of the potential risks. The risks in a sense fall outside of the scheme itself. But, they do relate to the word ‘paradise.’

As clergy we are unfortunate that some of our historical texts seem to suggest that the love of money causes problems. These same texts do in fact talk about taxation (although it is important not to take them out of context) and, duty to society at large (again these shouldn’t be taken out of context).  This is a situation not of our own making. We didn’t write the rules we simply inherited them. So what can be done?

I would like to suggest that a small and carefully selected group of  ‘prosperity theologians’ are tasked with the job of reinterpreting these texts. The alternative is simply to redact them. If the offending (and offensive) texts can be faithfully reinterpreted or redacted then I am confident that the scheme will be the first ever ‘risk free’ investment. The Clergy Paradise Scheme is uniquely designed to cater as much for the wallet as for the soul, this being neatly captured in our new strap line (which has of course been registered in all major off shore tax havens & some minor ones as well):

‘Clergy Paradise Holdings: requisite for the wallet as for the soul.’ 

Yours in Paradise,

Andrew

‘What is the shape of the community of women and men that you long for?’

In 1991 Peter Selby, then the Bishop of Kingston, posed the following questions to ‘traditionalists’ who opposed the ordination of women to the priesthood:

What is the shape of the community of women and men that you long for, and for which the Church is a preparation? How would a Church that excluded women from certain aspects of its life be offering anything that might be called good news for women?’

He also invited traditionalists to reflect on the nature of calling, asking them to answer how they could refuse women who believe themselves to be called to the priesthood, the rite of ordination (subject to their sense of calling be discerned by the church).

Over the last twenty five years things have changed and women, like men, may now be ordained into all three areas orders of ministry, And,…….

And yet, a significant minority within the Church of England, whilst not seeking to deny the rite to ordination, of both men and women alike, continue to locate themselves within quasi ecclesiological structures which represent their theologies and provide a mechanism for ensuring they both provide and receive male only priestly and episcopal ministry. No longer do we have a situation where women are excluded from ‘certain aspects’ of the ecclesial life but we do have a situation where the ministry of women is restricted to those who are willing to accept their ministry. Thankfully the majority of Church of England parishioners and priests are happy to both receive and endorse women’s ministry. Sometimes their endorsement is based on theological and ontological grounds but usually because they have been direct beneficiaries of women’s ministry. Experience frequently helps shape doctrine in ‘real life.’ Yet, all too often experience and tradition are placed in different theological compartments. How much better if they were asked to travel together so that the tradition stands the chance of becoming a living, breathing, expanding, tradition?

For the majority of the time the fracture between experience and tradition causes no particular problem. Most parishes rub along doing what they do in their own contexts, possibly slightly aware of what they regard as the eccentricities, or traditions, of nearby parishes, but without paying too much attention to notions such as the Five Guiding Principles. Just occasionally though something happens in the life of the Church which brings the fragility of the supposed settlement to the attention of the wider church and society at large. Such a something was the ‘Sheffield Débâcle.’

On Saturday I attended a colloquium on the Five Guiding Principles. I must admit to feeling ever so slightly apprehensive and, to be honest, male (I am also aware of the irony of the male me writing this reflection on an issue which at face value mostly impacts on women, however, I also believe, as a fairly basic theological point, that if one part of the body is impacted so must be the entirety of the body.) My biggest worry concerned the mood of the meeting. Was I about to enter into a seething pit of anger and resentment, or a trough of woe mes?

This thought piece reflects my understanding of some of the issues raised at the colloquium. All of those present were asked whether they were content for me to write a reflection under Chatham House Rules. Permission was given. Any misunderstandings and under or over statements presented in this article are mine alone. Whilst this is my reflection, I hope that I have managed to capture the essence of the meeting both in terms of the discussions held and, just as importantly, its tone and culture.

To my relief, despite the fact that a number of the attendees had been personally hurt by the events surrounding Bishop North’s nomination, the overriding feelings were ones of lament and quizzical frustration. To my male mind there was a somewhat strange lack of anger, and there was certainly no vitriol. But, neither was there was a feeling of resigned passivity or Godly stoicism; there was too much love for the Church of England and a determination that for the sake of her mission things have to change for these emotions to hold sway. There was too much longing for a Godly community in which all, female and male, stand side by side on equal terms, to allow passivity and stoicism to win through.

So what, apart from the somewhat obvious fact that women are still not regarded, by some, as rightfully and ritefully (ritefully refers to the liturgical ‘rites’ through which the Church of England confirms and commissions candidates into various states in the life of the church) equal in the ordering of ministry, were the main areas for lament?

Starting with the obvious there was a sense of lament that, despite their best intentions, the Five Guiding Principles legitimize the notion, based on gender, of no go areas within the Church of England. The Five Guiding Principles, paradoxically given their commitment to ‘mutual flourishing,’ also help create the conditions for sectarianism. Sectarianism and mutual flourishing are not natural cohabitants of the same ecclesial family (denomination), even in a famously broad church. It is, and remains, a fact that even where the ordination of women is ritefully accepted women continue to be excluded from full and equal participation in certain aspects of Church life. How we might ask, can this be? Does this, can this, as Peter Selby asked all those years ago accurately depict the ideal of a Christian community we might long for and ‘for which the Church is preparation?’

Part of the group’s lament was that in striving to arrive at pragmatic and theo-political settlements it might just have been the case that the Church of England took its eye off that most cherished of all images: the church perfect. When we are able to see, even through a ‘glass dimly,’ an image of the ‘Church Perfect’ then we are better positioned to help shape the ‘Church Militant,’ or temporal.

A further characteristic of the sense of lament was the perception that the nominations process, and in particular the configuration of the Crown Nominations Committee, makes it far harder for a woman to be nominated, elected and appointed to an episcopal see. The nomination process, in other words, far from embedding the principle of mutual flourishing actively mitigates against it. Hopefully through Professor O’Donovan’s review of the work of the Crown Nominations Committee this structural deficit will be rectified and both women and men will have a genuinely equal opportunity of nomination to the episcopacy.

Whilst recognizing the gravity of the task set before Sir Philip Mawer there was a sense of sorrow that the report was in many ways sub optimal. It was not, for instance, an independent review but more of an internal audit of shortcomings in the nominations process and the subsequent reaction to Bishop North’s nomination. In asking Sir Philip Mawer to investigate what came to be termed as the Sheffield Débâcle the institution was playing it safe. Theological and ecclesiological questions were very much out of scope and off agenda. The report’s concerns were instead political and pragmatic. This I believe can only be to the detriment of the church. The Sheffield Débâcle was an ecclesiological and theological crisis and not a theo-political failure.

Could more have been achieved through an externally commissioned report? Was it sensible for the Archbishops to ask for the report to be authored by just one person? Would a better more rounded and nuanced report have been produced if a woman had been asked to be the co (and equal) author? Would the report have been more fruitful if a theologian had been asked to contribute; someone who recognized that good theological discourse speaks to many publics, including the public? These are some of the very real questions that it is fair and appropriate to ask. Is it unreasonable to suggest that these are in fact preliminary questions, ones which should have been asked up front?

It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Sheffield Débâcle was played out in public and was as such a missional disaster. The potential for our Church of England angst to be played out in public, and critiqued by agents of the state, is part of the turf on which we stand as a national and established church. Church affairs, for us Anglicans, can never be simply church affairs. As an established church we should expect to be interrogated when a decision we make stands contrary to cultural norms, such as gender equality. This does not mean that the Church of England should always seek to affirm cultural norms but it does mean that where we depart from them it must be for the most noble of reasons.

The group were particularly concerned about some of the use of language in the report suggesting that it revealed an implicit bias towards maleness. The example was given that when Philip North answered various questions, questions that made him feel uncomfortable, he did so ‘robustly.’ By contrast the asking of difficult questions, by women, was described as ‘savaging.’

I was left wondering whether, despite all our protestations, we (the Church of England) still simply don’t understand that making the step change from regarding certain classes of people, women and members of the LGBTI community for example, as issues and problems to be solved means including them ‘at all times and in all places,’ at the top table and allowing them to help not only shape but take a leadership position in our most difficult discussions.

This point leads to the final area of lament, fear; the fear of inclusion, the fear of giving people their voice, of, if you like, the fear of genuinely ‘setting God’s people free,’ and the fear of tackling the difficult issues directly and, theologically.

The spirit of quizzical frustration was animated through perspectives suggestive of the idea that the Church of England has relinquished all serious attempts to understand itself ecclesiologically (and I would add liturgically). The question was repeatedly asked: ‘who is doing the work of theology and ecclesiology?’ (At times I wanted to shout ‘we are,’ – but that’s not the main point).

The bishops, to be sure, came in for a certain amount of criticism. They were criticized for enabling the conditions for the creation and sustenance of a theological and ecclesiological vacuum. They were also criticized for colluding in the maintenance of a sub optimal ecclesiology which seeks to honour all theologies in the belief that they should be afforded equal merit. It may well be right, in fact it is right to protect minorities within the church, but, does this mean that it is also right to nominate and seek to impose those who adhere to a minority position on the majority, asking them to set aside their own theologies in the name of ‘mutual flourishing?’ Surely as the Sheffield Débâcle shows to do so is to court rejection and rebellion?

Anecdotal evidence was offered of various bishops agreeing that appointing a ‘traditionalist’ to a see is problematic but that in the pursuit of unity it is also better not to speak out or ask the difficult questions. And, haven’t we seen unity confused with collegiality and uniformity in other spheres of ecclesial debate? Did all of the bishops who voted to take note of their (in) famous report on sexuality really believe that it was a cracking piece of work? The answer is surely ‘no.’ So what dynamics are at work in the College and House of Bishops that seeks to prize uniformity (for it surely isn’t unity) over the rough and tumble work of ecclesiology and theology? Do the bishops operate within a closed system of inquiry, challenge and debate? These are questions deserving of an answer.

The other question that the bishops must ask of themselves, or perhaps the Archbishops must ask of the college and house, is whether they have sufficient theological fire power to identify and address the tough questions. Surely the Church of England, if it is to make ecclesiological, theological, and missional headway needs a better balanced episcopacy and that this must include a cadre of bishop-theologians? If such theologians can’t be appointed to a see why not, as I have suggested before, create an order of bishop-theologians, or Lambeth Theologians? I would argue that an episcopally led church must include theologians among her bishops. For the health and welfare of the church and her publics we cannot, must not, create the conditions where theology is left to the academe alone. Over the last few years we have seen the perils of such an approach. The Church of England, must have her own ecclesiologists and theologians, for the sake of our identity and mission. At the colloquium we were privileged to listen to a Roman Catholic church historian of renown. His major point was that during the Vatican ii process the Roman Catholic bishops were repeatedly challenged by a group of Roman Catholic theologians. The theologians shaped the debate and informed the bishops thinking. Does the Church of England need its own equivalent of Vatican ii? Maybe.

So what are the questions that a cadre of ecclesiologists and theologians might be asked to address on behalf of the Church of England?

I would suggest that the group that met on Saturday might raise two:

What does it mean to have the highest possible degree of communion?’

And,

Has the Church of England already gone beyond the limits of diversity but is too polite to discuss it?’

Successfully answering the first question may, in fact, be the best way to answer the second. The term ‘highest possible’ is in itself interesting for it implies a level of communion that is at best impaired and falls short of the objective standard of full and absolute communion, which for a sacramental church must be the goal, or in Peter Selby’s terms, the longed for community of women and men for which the church is a preparation.

Are we a communion of brothers and sisters through baptism? Well, clearly we are, up to a point. This definition would seem to me to work reasonably well ecumenically but not denominationally, because the point is the sacrament of the Eucharist. Surely, in the Church of England and Anglican Communion, the only way we can say that we are ‘in communion’ is by literally, unequivocally, being in (Eucharistic) communion? As the liturgy stresses ‘we are one body because we all share in one bread.’ Is the liturgy wrong? I would suggest that the liturgy gives the correct and definitive answer. And, lest we forget, priests are ordained to share in the sacramental ministry of the bishop, this being foundational to any ‘catholic’ understanding of ministry.

Are there ways of being in lesser, ‘highest possible,’ degrees of communion, or are these meaningless terms? Is being in the ‘highest possible degree of communion,’ a realistic possibility, or is it like being a bit pregnant? If it is possible for the relationship between bishop and priest to meet a ‘highest possible’ standard, which falls short of full of sacramental communion, what would be the implications of this? Is it something to be lived with? Can such as situation be legitimized as a ‘bearable anomaly?’ And, if the answer is yes, is it just that one group of people, women, are asked to bear the full weight of the anomaly? Is it acceptable to ask ordinands to assent to the Five Guiding Principles as a condition of ordination? For the sake of women and LGBTI Christians (and in fact non Christians) these questions need to be both asked and answered. Finally, if ‘no’ is the answer to these questions what would the implications be for traditionalists?

These are the questions that must be answered by ecclesiologists and theologians; they are not questions for managers, politicians or even pastors. When we, the Church of England, understand the answers to these questions, then and only then, can we start to understand whether the nomination of a non ordaining bishop goes beyond the limits of diversity.

As things stand we don’t have a robust ecclesiology and theology, we have a theo-politicallly enabled vacuum; the task of the ecclesiologist is to fill the vacuum and in the process help shape the community of men and women for which the Church is an earthly preparation.

In Light of Hereford

The Hereford Motion has attracted plenty of attention. For some it represents light, for others heat.

Sexuality (code for homosexuality ) is obviously the Church of England’s hot, and most divisive, topic. So it is not surprising that the Hereford Motion attracted plenty of heat. There is a campaign for other dioceses to adopt the Hereford Motion whilst pressure is also being brought to bear on bishops who might be persuaded to say ‘over my dead body.’ And, there are those for whom the motion doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.

For me the most interesting simile is light. The Hereford Motion may not go far enough, or it may go too far, depending on your theology (or it may even hit all the right notes) but what it does show is that all top down and institutionally sponsored attempts to manage some form of settlement have been well and truly off beam.

The motion, first of all, accepts that real and significant difference exists. Surely, this is to be expected in a famously ‘broad church?’ The great Anglican paradox is that difference is an essential characteristic of our unity. Being able to accept, work with and endorse difference on second order issues is part of the Church of England’s institutional genius. I understand that the diocesan and suffragan in the Hereford debate voted in different directions: so what?

The motion also rightly calls for formal and prescribed prayers, whilst making it clear that no priest or parish should be mandated to offer them. Asking for formal prayers, written liturgies, shines light into the straightforward fact that the Church of England is a liturgical church and that the prayers we offer are both formal and common. I have a deep-seated dislike of the notion of informal prayer. It feels very unanglican  and, to be honest, ever so slightly grubby.

I have a suspicion that one of the reasons that the House of Clergy decided not to ‘take note’ of the (in) famous bishop’s report was that it sought to ratify a departure from Church of England liturgical orthodoxy. Advocates of the Hereford Motion (and I am one of them) have claimed that the motion doesn’t infer a change in doctrine. I am not so sure. If liturgy is the method through which we verify our doctrine then any (serious) addition to the liturgy is, if not a change, then at least an accretion, to doctrine. If the motion proceeds to the floor of General Synod and is accepted it will be a watershed moment for the effect would be to override the Higton Motion.

The motion illuminates the nature of the Church of England’s synodical system. The synodical system, for all its flaws, is again part of the Church of England’s institutional genius. The synodical system facilitates a process through which motions debated at General Synod can start in the smallest of church councils. Yes, debates and motions can be generated ‘top down’ by the bishops, but they can also be inaugurated from the smallest hamlets in the land. There is something very precious and special about this aspect of Church of England polity that we should seek to protect, nurture and cherish. I can see no reason why changes in doctrine and liturgy shouldn’t be the concern of the smallest parishes in the land. If in the Church of England we are serious about ‘setting God’s people free’ surely this must also imply the freedom to think and shape the very nature and character of the Church of England?

This week several ‘commentators’ have suggested that the bishops should seek to arrest the progression of further grass root motions using a range of technical and reserved powers. Surely this would represent an abuse of power and a misuse of authority? Do we really want our bishops to act as technocrats?  Bishops are not absolute monarchs in their own dioceses. The Hereford Motion shines a torch back into the very nature of Anglican polity, with all its strengths and weaknesses, and reminds the Church of England that not everything can (or possibly even should) be managed and controlled through top down processes. The Hereford Motion illumines the fact that in the C of E there are real limits to archepiscopal and episcopal authority and control.

Finally, the Hereford Motion shines a light onto the real question facing the Church of England.

‘Do we really and sincerely wish to welcome and affirm same-sex couples who wish to live in life-long, monogamous and faithful relationships, in the belief that such relationships can be spiritually fruitful,’ or in Archbishop Justin’s words be of ‘stunning quality.’ That really is the only question.

And, if we do, if that is what we really believe, the only way we can verify such beliefs is liturgically. If we, the Church of England, can’t bring ourselves to write ‘formal,’ and ‘common’ liturgies then we need to drop the pretense that everyone is to be valued without exception, being regarded as neither a problem to be solved or an issue to be dealt with.

Although the Hereford Motion has attracted plenty of heat its biggest contribution is to shine a light into the hypocrisy which characterizes much of our debate. We either need to write a formal liturgy or stop pretending that we wish to be (radically) inclusive and affirmative.

There really is no other way but the Hereford Way.

 

 

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?