Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 17 May 2017

Robert Atwell Church of England God in fragments: how worship can unlock memory

Stephen Bullivant of St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London has published this report: The “No Religion” Population of Britain.
Harriet Sherwood of The Guardian and Olivia Rudgard of The Telegraph have both written about the report.
[direct link to the full report (20 page pdf)]

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Stanley Monkhouse, the artist formerly known as Fr WilliamPat O'NeillJoSusannah ClarkInterested Observer Recent comment authors
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Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“To compare: just 6% of Anglicans are under 35, and 45% are 65 or older.” It’s possible that fighting over just how badly to treat gay people plays better amongst the over-65s, but even amongst that age group homophobia is a small minority activity; at most, there may be more passive toleration of what others might think homophobic. But even were that true, it’s a short-term strategy. The Church of England is conducting slow-motion suicide, as it makes itself completely toxic to anyone under 40 (for whom “women should be in the kitchen” and “gays should repent” are not compelling,… Read more »

Pam
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Pam

Robert Atwell’s article is sensitively and beautifully written. I work, in a voluntary capacity, with people living with dementia. Gentleness and slowness are very important in communicating and I’ve experienced some very happy times with them. I know how much I’ve benefitted. My work with them is for a secular organisation, however churches should be involved in Bible reading and other religious activities.

Lavinia Nelder
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Lavinia Nelder

+Roberts article shows why it is important that we retain some of our older liturgy and traditional hymns. We have a former parishioner brought along to evensong occasionally. He may not know who anyone is anymore, but he can say the responses and recognize where he is in the service and appears to be comfortable with where he is. I know we need to be able to provide for everyone’s spiritual needs – with more modern services, but we need to remember that one day we might need our old service style once the church has moved forward while we… Read more »

Froghole
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Froghole

The report on the Nones is striking. It is especially interesting to note the profound variations in Christian and Anglican affiliation across regions. It seems that the ‘heartland’ of Anglicanism is now the outer ring of Greater London, yet even there things are held up by a small number of successful churches, whilst almost everywhere else the picture is uniformly devastating. I had hitherto thought of the south-east, south-west and the east as the bedrock of Anglican affiliation (allowing for the strong presence of dissent in Cornwall, Devon and East Anglia); however, when only 6% of those in the ‘East’… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

You may be right, Froghole. But it is not helped by the way in which mainstream Christianity has allowed itself to be defined by extremists and, worse, has refused to distance itself from those extremists. So in the eyes of the outsider, to be Christian is to be not only homophonic and misogynistic, but also laughably anti-intellectual:many, both inside and outside organised Christianity, believe for example that creationism is a sine qua non of being a Christian. The result is to make Anglicanism, for hundreds of years the centre of British intellectual development, look like some sort of cult for… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

@Interested Observer – I agree with your excellent remarks. The unseemly wrangles between Church parties, the bigotry camouflaged (whether sincerely or dishonestly) by appeals to doctrine and scripture, the evasive yet discreditable Synodical compromises, have all conspired to make much institutional Christianity contemptible to even those few who are prepared to give the faith any time of day. The ordure lately evacuated from Jesmond (and by its somewhat malignant apologists) has also been a ‘moment of clarity’ for me. As to the ‘brain death’ of British Christianity, the Rubicon was perhaps crossed in the third quarter of the nineteenth century… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

I agree with Froghole that religious, or numinous, experiences are now met by other means, whether that’s watching movies, playing video games, or listening to music. There’s also been an explosion in “spiritual, not religious” people, who draw spiritual nourishment from a hodge-podge of syncretism and new age mysticism. Materialist competition shouldn’t be underestimated. With dramatic rises in real wages and easy credit since WW2, alongside the relaxation of blue laws, the shopping mall’s become perhaps the church’s fiercest competitor. Homophobia and sexism may exacerbate the church’s decline — although, given that most people are indifferent to gay rights and… Read more »

David Emmott
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David Emmott

Bishop Robert’s comments about praying with dementia sufferers are pastorally sensitive. But what forms of prayer will be lodged in the memories of future generations? I am in my mid-70s and although some passages from the BCP and Authorised Version are at the back of my mind, for most of my worshipping life I’ve been accustomed to other liturgies and other versions of scripture. The great majority of the population have had no exposure of any kind to Christian worship, and even those who have will not have any common language. What will sustain them when they are in their… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Regarding evangelicals, while I’ve no time for their doctrines, I would defend them from charges of anti-intellectualism. Evangelicals are some of the finest exegetes, and have an intellectual rigor and discipline often lacking from those who appeal to emotion and the spirit of the age. What evangelicals have is clear beliefs, and the courage of their convictions. Liberalism has similarly clear beliefs, but, with rare exceptions like John Shelby Spong and Richard Holloway, liberals tend to shy away from stating them. Given the opprobrium they’re subjected to, I can see why, but it’s led to their being marginalized. Perhaps liberalism… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse aka Father William
Guest

A most stimulating to and from from Froghole and IO. One that I find convincing too. The psychological authenticity of the gospel is what keeps me in the church, but as Froghole says it is insufficiently compelling to attract others now that professional counsellors and psychologists provide the same services without the finger-wagging thou-shalt-nots perceived inevitably to accompany Christian involvement. The church’s role as patron of the arts, driver of civilization in Europe, and a significant factor in my own story, is now completely gone, with shopping malls and sports stadia the new cathedrals. A coherent theology of delight and… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse aka Father William
Guest

Froghole writes; “the Rubicon was perhaps crossed in the third quarter of the nineteenth century … ” How about even before that – the printing press as the beginning of the end? My impression is that many clergy and possibly all bishops STILL can’t grasp that people are able to think for themselves. Do you remember a couple of years ago when Maynooth seminarians were reportedly on grindr fixing up assignations, and the response of the Irish Catholic bishops was to replace after supper free time with the rosary. Problem solved, so.

Froghole
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Froghole

Apologies for getting carried away in earlier comments; I was probably being unduly harsh – let’s call it post-Jesmond stress disorder. I agree with James Byron that evangelicals have made many exceedingly distinguished contributions to Biblical scholarship (the likes of Charlie Moule, Anthony Thisleton and Christopher Rowland spring to mind, whilst it should be noted that they have also made noteworthy forays into patristics: for instance, Henry Chadwick’s edition of Origen’s Contra Celsum was penned from the evangelical stronghold of Emmanuel, South Croydon). I also agree that they often have remarkable expository gifts from which I have derived much profit… Read more »

crs
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crs

“the generation born after c. 1945 has grown up with little sense of the numinous; their contemplative and imaginative desires are, arguably, sated more effectively by the mass media and virtual experiences. Yes, the Church appears to many of them as institutionally creepy but Christianity means nothing to them because they have no need of it. Essentially, the message of the Gospels (which seems so profound to faithful Christians) is just another set of mythological or semi-mythological stories which are simply insufficiently compelling to drive any change in their lives. And that will remain the case. And it will remain… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse aka Father William
Guest

Froghole, who are you? If you have written more I’d love to read it. If not, please do.

christopher seitz
Guest
christopher seitz

Trou de Grenouille

Could I add some names? Richard Bauckham, FBA, Oliver O’Donovan, John Webster, Markus Bockmuehl come to mind. The recent publication of Ephraim Radner on mortality was lauded by Rowan Williams with the words “theological essayist of near genius quality.” All anglicans.

Alastair Newman
Guest

Oh, this is all slightly depressing reading as one who is to “pursue stipendiary ministry in the Church”.

About the best possible conclusion that seems to be reached by the various articles is that countrywide the decline may finally have “bottomed out”. I suspect that this masks the situation where small growth and stability in some areas masks terminal decline in other areas. I’m not sure we’ve really seen anything from the CofE about what they propose to do in those areas that appear terminal.

Plenty of food for thought here.

David Emmott
Guest
David Emmott

Froghole: ‘I should add that, as a peripatetic worshipper, I frequently find myself being evangelical in evangelical churches, Anglo-Catholic in Anglo-Catholic churches and broad church in liberal churches’. I had to laugh because I often feel the exact opposite: my liberalism comes to the fore in anglo-catholic churches; my catholicism in evangelical ones; and my inner evangelical (such as it is) in liberal ones. Maybe I’m just naturally bolshie.

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

Dr Monkhouse: I am afraid that I am merely a working stiff in an IT company, and am neither a writer nor have any formal association with any church (I am confirmed, but am not on any electoral roll). However, as a peripatetic, I hope to get to your end of Staffs before too long… Mr Newman: I must apologise for making such a bleak assessment of things, and hope/pray that something turns up which leads a large portion of the population back to the faith. Please accept my very best wishes for your future ministry! Prof. Seitz: Many thanks!… Read more »

Leslie Fletcher
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Leslie Fletcher

Like Father William (17 May 2017 at 7:19pm) “the psychological authenticity of the gospel is what keeps me in the church.” Didn’t Bultmann, in the first couple of sections of Kerygma and Myth, nail the problem with how/what we proclaim? For want of anything accessible to the non-specialist layperson, I have done my own de- and, of course, re-mythologising. I am somewhere between dismayed and angry that I have actually had to do this on my own while suffering years of pious platitudes from the pulpit. I would have responded sooner to Father William, except that I have been collecting… Read more »

Daniel Lamont
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Daniel Lamont

I heartily agree with Interested Observer when s/he says ‘So in the eyes of the outsider, to be Christian is to be not only homophobic and misogynistic, but also laughably anti-intellectual’. We can list all the scholars we like, many of whom may be in orders, but since the departure of Rowan Williams and Tom Wright, the offical CofE is determinedly anti-intellectual. I don’t think that being evangelical or not is relevant in this case. What member of the current House Of Bishops could credibly hold a University chair? All the current thinking about Reform and Renewal and the creation… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

@Daniel Lamont. I agree. We do not have bishops who skilled in theology because the pool upon which the authorities depends has practically run dry. The CNC presumably cannot find suitably weighty scholars who possess sufficient administrative skill and charisma to run a diocese. This is not necessarily for want of theologians, but rather because academic theology taught in British universities has become decreasingly confessional; as such, theologians seldom take orders and, insofar as they do, it is frequently within the somewhat confined and often partisan context of seminaries. The progression seems to have been this (if you will forgive… Read more »

Bernard Silverman
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Bernard Silverman

Froghole…thanks for reminding me of my existence. I have to say that the rather depressing sentiments about the anti-intellectual atmosphere of the CofE ring true. Of course most of our bishops declare an interest in football, if you read the press releases on their appointments. Perhaps sports science is the new theology!!

More seriously, much of the Bullivant report goes over ground already covered by my friend Linda Woodhead, for example in her British Academy lecture and in other writing. I’m a bit surprised this isn’t referred to.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Regarding Daniel Lamont’s comments… On the other hand, my father (who was a working class boy, ordained in his thirties after a two year course at Birkenhead, and served as an ordinary parish grunt his entire life) used to say that he had never once in his ministry enjoyed the pastoral care of a bishop who understood the sort of life he lived. Almost every single bishop he served under had spent most of their pre-episcopal life as an university academic, and very few of them had had more than a year or two of parish experience. My father said… Read more »

Daniel Lamont
Guest
Daniel Lamont

Tim, I don’t see it as an either/or but a both/and. Like you, my father was a working class boy who was ordained and well supported by William Temple when he was Bishop of Manchester and he continued to serve as a parish priest in that diocese well supported by his bishops. I agree that a Bishop who can only be an erudite theologian and has no parish experience can be unhelpful. However, it is perfectly possible for a bishop to be both a good theologian and preacher and also a good pastor both to his clergy and the laity.… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse the artist formerly known as Fr William
Guest

@ Tim Chesterton. In the C of E I served first in a diocese where the diocesan’s only experience of parish life was Curacy in posh Wolverhamton. You could tell. Now in the next door diocese my area bishop is a parish priest through and through and has worked in that and other roles in some of the most difficult areas of the country. It is a real joy to have him. I hope he doesn’t retire before I do. Our new diocesan has organised a day in the cathedral today where he can tell us about the new direction… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“My father said they could all discuss theology at a very erudite level, but hardly anyone in his parishes could understand a word they said” The problem with those sorts of tales from the past is that he was preaching to a congregation where most of them had left school at 12, few had remained in school by 15, and university take-up was infinitesimal. For christianity to survive as a mass religion much longer, it has to realise that its prospective audience (the people it needs to survive, but who are currently outside its reach) are immensely more educated than… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

Lots of interesting comments. Are the clergy preaching to a more educated population? I am not so sure; people are being processed through schools for longer than they were, but to what end? We now have half almost half the population being ground through higher education, but to what purpose? Are the pens of millions of hitherto mute, inglorious Miltons being unstopped thanks to the massive expansion of provision? I would suggest that the lengthening duration of formal education has yielded comparatively little fruit relative to the investment, but has done wonders in suppressing the unemployment and underemployment figures. I… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse, the artist formerly known as Fr William
Guest

Wonderfully interesting comments. First, I am pleased to say that my diocesan today said, inter alia, please carry on doing what you are doing. Terrific. I have been a medical school teacher of anatomy and embryology, and did my alsolute best to put my message across to the weakest students (you quickly come to know who they are, and why. And by weakest I do not mean laziest). Sermons I aim at one or two individuals whom I know quite well, ordinary, intelligent, not well educated in a formal sense, but common sensical and intellectually supple. Post nominals, i know,… Read more »

Jo
Guest
Jo

Interested Observer: I think university CUs are a terrible example, given their tendency to exhibit the worst kind of know-nothing anti-intellectualism you rightly decry. Whether it’s telling the Pagan Society reps at the next table at Freshers’ Fair that they’re going to hell, quizzing random passers by on campus before pronouncing them to be nihilists, refusing to allow female leaders or speakers, or pretending that the university chaplains don’t exist because they might (shock; horror) work with people of other faiths, CUs are a terrible poster-child for the effect of education on Christian faith. UCCF and their fellow travellers respond… Read more »

Jo
Guest
Jo

Incidentally, the New Statesman article reminded me acutely of my own experience with Alpha. I am a Christian but I was appalled by the level of sophistry and dodging difficult questions in the “official” material. It’s emotionally manipulative and borderline abusive, and sells Christianity – which has a deep and powerful intellectual tradition – very short indeed.

S Cooper
Guest
S Cooper

Jo – the archbishops love alpha … thy see it as going back to st Peter and st Paul

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“I think university CUs are a terrible example, given their tendency to exhibit the worst kind of know-nothing anti-intellectualism you rightly decry.” I was under the impression that was the exception (Bristol, for example) not the rule. But if I’m wrong, that’s sad. On reflection, I think the change I’m struggling to pin down is not so much about education, but the end of deference. The village priest, the village bank manager, the village doctor: these were the token educated, middle-class, often outsider people in insular places where there was little education past 12. The doctor stopped you dying, the… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

I agree with Jo that some Christian Unions at universities are disappointingly dogmatist and overseen by organisers with a conservative brand of evangelical Christianity. Obviously I can’t speak about all universities, but (a) my daughter reported this dogmatism and conservative evangelical dominance at her university (b) when I trained as a nurse in 2011, I faced zero issues anywhere in the university (I was even welcomed in the Islamic Society) but as a trans female the vibe when I started coming to CU meetings was uncomfortable and I was left feeling I was viewed as crossing acceptable Christian standards. The… Read more »

Jo
Guest
Jo

Alas, Interested Observer, all the examples I gave were from my own experience at a university that is a long way from Bristol. Anecdotal evidence suggests that my experience is fairly typical.

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

I think the anti-intellectual strain in evangelical Christianity can more readily be described as “anti-science”. They are all for a rigorous intellectual view of scripture and theology (provided, of course, it does not deny the literal truth of said scripture), but they are adamantly opposed to any scientific theory that challenges scripture or the “traditional” gender roles or even man’s dominion over nature (hence the opposition to most ecological theories, including climate change).

Stanley Monkhouse, the artist formerly known as Fr William
Guest

Spot on, Pat O’Neill. Anti biology in particular. They are happy to benefit from new chemicals, drugs, technology etc. But new discoveries, insights in biology – no, no. no. I could wax lyrical for hours on this, but suffice it to say that structurally we are reptiles with knobs on, primates (apes not archbishops). Our brains are evolving, so since theology is a product of the human brain, it has to evolve too. Heresy. I’ll get my coat.