Saturday, 24 May 2014


Timothy Schenck asks To Pew or Not to Pew?

The third of the St Paul’s Cathedral series: What I Want to Say Now: Retired Bishops Speak Out is now available to watch online: The Rt Revd Tom Butler. [13 minute video]
There is a transcript of the sermon to read online here.

Christopher Howse writes in his Sacred Mysteries column in The Telegraph about Mindfulness and Teresa’s gnats.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 11:00am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Pews and Pipe Organs (and the heat that removing them generates) have probably broken more clerical hearts than anything else, mine included....

Posted by: Fr Paul on Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 11:52am BST

An excellent summary of the situation in the Church of England, by retired Bishop Tom Butler. His open criticism of the Anglican Covenant is based on the reality of cultural differences among the Provinces of the Communion, which renders a papal-style magisterial rule from Canterbury - or, indeed, anywhere else, like, for instance the Global South Provinces, just does not work for our developing Anglican ethos.

As Bishop Tom so clearly suggests, there have been differences on matters like polygamy and women's ministry that seem to have been accommodated quite well in the Communion at large; whereas the tabu subject of homosexuality - which has been subject to minute critical observation in the past three decades, with a consensus in western society regarding its acceptability in today's world - would seem to have become a test of Christian orthodoxy, that has already divided the Church.

This issue alone - except that it' urgency seems intimately tied together with a sola sciptura theological viewpoint - has threatened the family unity of our Anglican tradition. This leads some of us to question the basis of our relationship. Are we a Confessional Church? Or, a fellowship of Churches bound by our catholic and apostolic origins - yet open to constant reformation by the power of the Holy Spirit into an emergent Body of Christ?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 12:27pm BST

Couldn't agree with you more Fr. Paul. In my first living about a dozen pews were removed from the Chancel creating an open and accessible space for worship. I still bear the stripes on my back from the experience.
Many years after I had left the parish for pastures new arsonists set fire to the church and thereafter all the pews from the nave were replaced by more movable chairs creating an even more flexible area.
It wasn't me that struck the match! Honest!

Posted by: Fr. David on Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 1:11pm BST

I have been unable to find the text of the 11 May sermon in the "What I Want to Say Now..." series preached by The Rt Revd Peter Price. A URL would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by: Pepper Marts on Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 2:54pm BST

What a great sermon by +Tom Butler. A Godly voice of reason. How refreshing. I really like this series by the recently retired bishops. They give me hope.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 6:12pm BST

Pews are all right in their place - outside providing fuel for a bonfire. They are beloved of a certain type of Christian - those with a yearning to fill a beautiful space with something ugly and uncomfortable.

Posted by: Stephen Morgan on Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 6:33pm BST

Tom Butler's is essentially a voice of commonsense. We don't all have to be the same. Our mission contexts may be different and various. But we can still seek God's grace to love and care for each other, even in our different expressions of our faith.

In so many ways, it is the grace of God that is essential, the way we treat each other, and respect one another's consciences, even if we don't share the same views.

And this grace - to me - is the real test.

Can we love one another, even with all our differences?

And what a wonderful church, if we could.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 7:24pm BST

Thanks, Simon.


Posted by: Pepper Marts on Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 9:47pm BST

Bravo to Bishop Tom Butler for declaring the Covenant dead and for acknowledging that the Episcopal Church, in ordaining Gene Robinson, "was less susceptible to pressure" than the Church of England was in ditching the candidacy of Jeffrey John.

In Tom Butler's final paragraph, he envisions the Anglican Communion as "an Anglican commonwealth or federation, a voluntary international family of churches faithful to the Anglican tradition of thoughtful holiness and based on mutual respect, comparable in structure to the Commonwealth of nations."

I agree that the Communion is a family of churches, nothing more.

What, however, does the concept of "federation" or "commonwealth" add to the idea of family, other than a degree of central authority or unity that is unnecessary, undesirable, and illegitimate?

Other provinces are willing to accord to Canterbury the privilege of hosting the family get-togethers. But that is about all--and that is the right of it.

If the idea of commonwealth or federation brings central control, then there is a very deep concern over whether any such control based in London would have any legitimacy.

I seriously doubt that provinces that separated forcefully from the British Empire, or that never were part of the British Empire in the first place, would be willing to cede any authority, control, or leadership to London.

Therefore it seems that the alternative to the Covenant should be to continue to regard the Communion as a family of independent churches. To regard the Communion as a family would, in my view, fruitfully and constructively lower expectations.

The key is this: Canterbury can convene. It cannot control, and it should not be expected to.

Posted by: Jeremy on Sunday, 25 May 2014 at 2:19am BST

'Canterbury can convene...' I just hope that it doesn't. Bp Butler seemed to imply that there were doubts about whether to hold the next one, due in 2018. And it maybe that it would be wise to cancel or postpone since another parading of intolerance, exclusion and indecision could be fatal. One could argue, of course, that 1998 Lambeth was so disastrous because of Carey's inability or reluctance to ' control' and it all went badly wrong.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Sunday, 25 May 2014 at 6:50pm BST

I would vote for the next Lambeth Conference to be convened for ALL Anglican Bishops - except for those who have signed up to the GAFCON sodality, which seems antithetical to our historical 'Unity in Diversity' way of coexistence and koinonia.

This would ensure that only those of us who really want to be Anglicans are joined in conversation.

This would then free the dissidents from having to pretend they want to belong. They will be free to form their own sola scriptura enclave.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 26 May 2014 at 7:40am BST

Hmmmm. Tom Butler?
Restricting comments to the Commonwealth approach to Communion fellowship, Butler raised this as a thesis in the middle of the Covenant debate.
But when he was asked to expand on the idea and offer a coherent alternative strategy to the Covenant, he demurred. Of course, he was still a working English diocesan bishop then ..... I suppose the story as to why he didn't push this idea forward at the time will have to wait for the autobiography.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 26 May 2014 at 11:06am BST

"Pews are all right in their place - outside providing fuel for a bonfire. They are beloved of a certain type of Christian - those with a yearning to fill a beautiful space with something ugly and uncomfortable."

I'm sorry, but this is nuts. I'm in the choir, and spend most of the service in *good* choir chairs...

...but I'm still only really *comfortable* during the sermon, when we in the choir come down into the nave to hear. We have wonderful, ergonomically-canted pews there, which are both beautiful and very comfortable, even w/o cushions. You can spread out on a pew, in a way you can't in a chair. [And the notion that pews are "ugly", compared to chairs, is not worth discussing]

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 26 May 2014 at 11:40pm BST

The problem with pews, of course, is that they are basically un-Anglican - forcing total strangers to sit next to each other, posteriors pressed together on a common hassock! Much better the autonomous, atomistic chair which permits a good three or four inches of fresh air to intervene between each individual worshipper. And being Anglicans, of course, we must all leave a vacant seat on each side of us (and preferably in front and behind as well) so as to avoid undesired pewish proximity to our fellow Christians. Some other - I might say lesser - denominations view worship as a collective and communal activity, but we know better - it is all about the solitary believer conversing semi-formally with his or her Maker. Other people are a distraction and should be kept as far away as possible. In this respect the lone chair in an empty nave is the ideal symbol of the Anglican faith, if 'faith' is not too strong a word for it.

Okay, I exaggerate a *little*. But the assumption that pews are backward, stultifying and reactionary and that chairs are somehow dynamic, forward-looking and progressive is not necessarily true either. I have seen some really horrible congregational use of chairs. And as chairs usually lack kneelers and a ledge for books, they can actually restrict the options available to worshippers rather than allowing for greater 'flexibility.' If pews must be done away with I would at least appeal for long wooden benches to replace them - they are easily moved, and they retain the communal feel of pews in a way that chairs definitely do not. Or - best of all, perhaps - we could do as the Orthodox do and just insist that everybody (except the very frail) stand up.

Posted by: rjb on Tuesday, 27 May 2014 at 11:46am BST

JCF - lucky you! with your 'ergonomically canted' pews! In all the churches I have had care of they have been long in the back and short in the seat, so the worshippers had no choice but to sit bolt upright. And the 'notion' that pews are ugly compared to chairs is entirely your own. I never mentioned chairs at all! I was merely saying that we seem to have a compulsion to fill beautiful medieval open spaces with fixed furniture.
I agree with rjb about benches, although not about 'the communal feel' about pews. When I was vicar in a small market town the church had about 40 pews and our 8.00am BCP congregation of about 26 would always sit one to a pew!

Posted by: Stephen Morgan on Tuesday, 27 May 2014 at 4:12pm BST

Tom Butler who closed down Pastoral Care & Counselling in the diocese, undoing the work of Stockwood and Derek Blow - priest and Jungian analyst).

He also publicly accused curates of being whimps for needing pastoral support.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 at 1:00am BST

We traded in our pews for chairs last year. They have book racks underneath them, and we have free standing kneelers for those who want them. And best of all, we can move them around, so we have more flexibility in our use of space.

As for pews somehow encouraging people to sit more closely together, my observation is the opposite. Pews are a bit like parking lots with no lines on them - people park as far away as possible. Chairs give a clearly defined space, and tell people how far away from each other they can sit. And since our chairs hook together, that isn't very far.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 at 2:56am BST

Somewhat disconcerting, Ron, to read that you think us Sola Scriptura people don't really want to be Anglicans. I've been an Anglican all my life, thank you very much!

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 at 3:03am BST

Dear Tim, with you eirenic support for Same-Sex monogamous couples I would never have taken you for being Sola Scriptura (the other S/S). My apologies!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 7:13am BST
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