Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Opinion - 31 May 2017

Richard Beck Experimental Theology How to See an Old Church

Colin Coward Unadulterated Love The insidious nature of systemic homophobic prejudice at the heart of the respectable church

Justin Gau a sermon preached at St John’s College Cambridge Kingdom Values…Mercy
There is an audio recording and a transcript.

Posted by Peter Owen on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 at 8:00am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

"How to see an old church"
I used to think that Long Melford parish church was the finest in the realm that is until I visited Sherborne Abbey! Since then I have seen St. Mary's Redcliffe in Bristol. I also served my Title in the late 1970s at Boston Stump and now minister at a church which was founded in 772 by King Offa the Mighty. So, we are indeed spoilt for choice when it comes to uplifting fanes in which to worship the one true God. Having recently returned on Sabbatical leave from Iran I also found the architecture, design and decoration many of the Persian mosques to be truly inspirational and uplifting - especially those in Isfahan, the city where my wife's late aunt used to work as a C.M.S. missionary in the days of the Shah.

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 at 8:32am BST

I hope to visit England again in the not too distant future and, if I do, I'd very much like to attend a service at the Church of St Michael, Coxwold, North Riding, Yorkshire. There's an extraordinarily beautiful wooden altar rail there.

Posted by: Pam on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 at 9:32am BST

I loved Colin Coward's piece and I loved Jusin Gau's sermon.

I wonder if anyone else here picked up on Justin Gau towards the end of his sermon, when he said that on the day he had been asked to preach this sermon, he also received a letter from the lawyers of the acting Bishop of Southwell informing him that if his client, Jeremy Pemberton, appealed against his decision to have his license revoked for marrying his husband, the church will bankrupt him.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 at 10:03am BST

Pat, when you are next in North Yorkshire I would also recommend a visit to St. Mary's, Lastingham where you can go down into the wonderful crypt and see the shrine where St. Cedd (brother to St. Chad) is buried. He who in the 7th century travelled from Lindisfarne in order to convert the East Saxons of Essex to the Christian Faith.

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 at 10:43am BST

What a wonderfully inspiring sermon from the Chancellor of the diocese of Bristol. His points - about the excessive caution of the Church of England's bishops to preach by example the mercy of God towards ALL his children - is well enunciated.
We need more clergy to become more explicit about the 'quality of mercy' shown by Jesus to sinners like ourselves. The Gospel is still being preached in some places. Thanks be to God, Alleluia!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 at 12:00pm BST

Justin Gau's sermon needs much wider circulation, if only to expose the abysmal behaviour of the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham's lawyers. It's pretty rich given their Chancellor has just been jailed for embezzlement. Above all, what Justin Gau says reminds me of Simon Tugwell's The Way of Imperfection in which he says:

‘The Church has known many different moods in the course of history … And it is not necessarily in her “best” moments, when she is most confident and clear, that she is most true to herself. There is a kind of unsatisfactoriness written into her very constitution, because she is only a transitional organisation, keeping people and preparing them for a new creation, in which God will be all and in all, and every tear will be wiped away. When she speaks too securely, she may obscure the fact that her essential business is with “what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, nor has it entered the heart of man”’.

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 at 4:02pm BST

On St Justin's day I have just read Fr Justin's sermon, and simply say 'Thank you' to him for an illuminating and strenthening word.
He is right that at parochial level we see the gospel preached, and lived out by priest and people. It reminds me yet again of Fr Potter of Thameside. I'm proud to be a good old fashioned Anglo Catholic. Yes, Catholic and gay like many of my brothers and sisters.
I'm proud that Fr Justin is Chancellor of the Diocese of Bristol, a diocese in which I grew up, and was ordained by dear Oliver Tomkins.
One hopes that that other Justin might read his brothers word! Though I very much doubt it.

Fr John Emlyn

Posted by: Fr John E. Harris-White on Thursday, 1 June 2017 at 8:18am BST

Thanks, Father David. I have a photo of the crypt at St Mary's, Lastingham in a book and the text says "The most perfectly preserved part of the interior is the crypt, shown here, which is supported on four rugged piers of stone." It is simple and beautiful.

Posted by: Pam on Thursday, 1 June 2017 at 9:37am BST

JG: "... I received a letter from the Bishop of Southwell’s solicitors informing me that if we continued to appeal his decision to remove Jeremy Pemberton’s licence for marrying his husband then they [i.e. the acting Bp's solicitors, contra Erica's reading] would bankrupt him."

A question of fact: PCC members are indemnified against claims arising from a wrongful act, including the cost of defending such claims, so long as we act lawfully and with a duty of care, excluding reckless or wilful wrongdoing.

Are decision-making senior clergy similarly indemnified, I wonder?

Posted by: Andy Macqueen on Thursday, 1 June 2017 at 12:06pm BST

A stunning and profoundly moving sermon by Justin Gau.

It saddens me greatly that the Church threatens to bankrupt someone for appealing for the right to look after the sick and frightened in hospital, because in some way that person's tender love and relationship with their partner invalidates their ministry and care to dying women and men.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 1 June 2017 at 1:13pm BST

I regret to say that I cannot agree with those who have made approving comments on Justin Gau's 'sermon'. I read it as a tendentious lecture - appropriate for an address at an conference when seeking to argue his case (or, perhaps, a speech to a synod), but not appropriate for a sermon at evensong (or any other service) whether at a Cambridge College or elsewhere. (I see that in the footer on each page Gau describes it - accurately, I suggest - as 'a paper'.)

I also consider Gau's reference to the letter he said that he had received from the solicitors for the Bishop of Southwell [and Nottingham] as displaying a failure on his part to distinguish his roles as lawyer and priest. It may not have been subject to client or professional confidentiality, but it was quite wrong to mention it in a sermon.

In response to Michael Mulhern's post at 4.02 pm on 31 May, Mr Mulhern should hope that his post is not read by Mark Ockelton, the Vice President of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) and the current Chancellor of the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, or he might find himself sued for damages for libel. It is the former Chancellor, Linda Box, who was jailed for 7 years for theft in March 2017.

Posted by: David Lamming on Thursday, 1 June 2017 at 8:24pm BST

Would crowd funding or something similar be an option for Jeremy Pemberton's appeal? In addition to preventing him from being bankrupted it might demonstrate he strength of feeling about his situation. It's been used for quite a few other high profile defense funds - just a thought.

Posted by: Lavinia Nelder on Thursday, 1 June 2017 at 9:51pm BST

David Lamming's comment manages to miss the point of Justin Gau's sermon entirely whilst simultaneously proving it for him. Quite an achievement!

Posted by: Steve Morgan on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 1:57am BST

It is ironic to have a comment about incompetent lawyers responded to with an entirely ludicrous suggestion that the possible omission of the word "former" constitutes libel. Defamation Act 2013, S.1(1): "A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.". Note the word "serious". Not a passing factual reference which arguably is ambiguous as to which holder of a post is meant, but which is quickly resolved with a Google search.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 6:57am BST

"It" [the threat] "may not have been subject to client or professional confidentiality, but it was quite wrong to mention it in a sermon."

I beg to differ, David. Mention of this threat was consistent with - and illustrated - the point Justin was making: that the Church too often is reactionary to social change and justice issues. And the threat to bankrupt someone who sought to work in a hospital providing succour for the sick and dying exactly illustrates the resistance the Church sometimes operates to justice issues (and common decency) that most of society has embraced.

With regard to why it was alright to mention this rather seedy threat... if the Diocese and its lawyers felt there was nothing shameful in threatening to bankrupt someone in this context, then there is no reason whatsoever to hide that threat from open and honest inspection... if the Diocese *was* ashamed of the threat, and preferred it to be kept secret, then that's an even stronger argument to expose it, and make it openly known.

Let light shine on the truth. I understand that you may take a different view to mine, and respect that, but in representing my own view - and the view of an increasing number of Church of England members - I'd say that Jeremy has been treated poorly, and the threat (or even the supposition) of bankrupting him is a shameful, shoddy, and inappropriate way for the Church to be proceeding.

Here we have a good and decent man, in a good and decent relationship, doing good and decent work with the sick, the scared, the dying (I am a nurse and I know how valuable his work can be, and how much needed). And his private relationship and life in absolutely no way damages the kindness and care he is known to give to people in need, as he has done over previous years. On the contrary, being in a loving and faithful relationship even better equips him to give love to others.

And he has been sacked, and hounded, because some church officials want to assert power and dogma. His marriage is legal. Its accepted by probably half the church. His abysmal treatment has been disproportionate and domineering.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 9:42am BST

Thank you. I read your many comments, and admire your tenacity in these columns.
Your comments are so on the mark regarding Jeremy, and Fr Jason's sermon.
For many years I was a hospital chaplain. First at a county pschiatric hospital, and then for many more years at a London teaching hospital. It was a joy to minister both to staff and patients, and I very much valued the support of all staff including consultants and nurses.
I was supported by my wife and son. Sadly this came to an end by a very uncharitable Bishop, who refused to renew my licence, after being outed as a gay priest. Instead he send me off to the Franciscan friary, away from my wife and family. I returned home after a few days, and we took up our life working as a consultant to an international firm of undertakers.
After my wife died, after going through many hoops I regained my licence to officiate.
It was with the full support of Forward in Faith
I found a loving and merciful parish, and it was Forward in Faith who supported me through the death of my son in a road traffic accident.
Mercy and love can be found in our church, but others can be so hurtful.
Thank you Susannah for your words, and bringing back memories of my time as a hospital chaplain.
I am now in a civil partnership with a most wonderful loving and caring person.

Fr John Emlyn

Posted by: Fr John E. Harris-White on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 11:24am BST

Earlier this week I wrote a comment on Justin Gau’s rather extraordinary sermon and then deleted it (as I do so often). However, having read some of the remarks above, I feel moved to add my two pennies’ worth.

As usual, I cannot better Susannah’s remarks; she has articulated what I consider the correct view with her customary precision, humanity and urbanity. Law, of course, has its uses (I am a lawyer), where it is part of a system ‘which has learned to give due weight to the stability of the state and the liberty of the subject’ (Sir W. S. Holdsworth ‘Some Makers of English Law’ 1938, p. 7), but I would distinguish it from a certain species of ‘legalism’ which may be characterised as the opportunistic exploitation of the letter of the law for the purpose of oppressing the individual. I fear that the attitude of the Southwell authorities in the Pemberton case tends to my definition of legalism; frankly, it makes me want to puke. Indeed, it is so wanting that I am reminded of Gladstone’s famous condemnation of the Two Sicilies (12 October 1845).

Mr Gau’s remarks were, perhaps, unseemly. However, there are occasions when unseemliness might be appropriate (as evidenced by certain words and actions of Jesus Himself). What was really surprising about the sermon was that it represents a very direct and bold attack upon the current bench and its policies on sexuality by someone who holds a judicial position in three dioceses. Imagine what would happen if a senior judge decided to attack a fundamental plank of government policy. Yet the status of a diocesan chancellor is perhaps even more inextricably woven into diocesan structures than any other judge is with the executive (in that the 'powers' are not arguably separated in the same fashion). It is this which makes the sermon so remarkable. Now it might be that Mr Gau feels that he can make this sort of attack because, if necessary, he can always depend upon his income as an advocate if he forced out of his chancellorship and deputy chancellorships (an option not open to most clergy slaving away on common tenure). Yet his sermon does tend to reflect a deteriorating ‘discipline’ within the ranks of the clergy and the progressive collapse of episcopal authority, which is being crushed by the weight of its own collective inadequacy.

Posted by: Froghole on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 12:52pm BST

God bless you, Father John. What an amazing journey you've been on.

I think one of the wonderful things about Hospital chaplains and visitors is - that in the all too frenetic rush of nursing shifts (not helped by understaffing), people who can actually give patients *time* are like gold dust. Hospital can be a fearful and sometimes lonely place, and as a nurse one *wants* to stop and give time and listening and simple company to a distressed individual, and yet there is so much to be done in a shift.

My cousin is a bishop and I didn't know but his wife does hospital visiting. One day, in the hectic rush of medications, and preparing people for surgery, and careplans, and dressings, and everything else, I bumped into her. No-one paid her. She just does it because she knows it meets a need. I was so happy to see her.

So hospital chaplains and visitors are really precious. And it really staggers me, that a person who has done this for many years, and is decent and kind, and simply serving people... should be told they cannot be a hospital chaplain... because of something private about their lives... something entirely legal and endorsed by the law... which has nothing to do with the quality of love they conscientiously give to dying and suffering patients.

It seems unbearably uncharitable when people are told they can't do a job that is decent and good, which they have already done faithfully.

To go further, and be willing to bankrupt them... simply staggers me.

Lord have mercy.

I am very happy for you, John, that you are loved and cared for. Life is often complex, and sometimes it takes almost a whole lifetime to open up to the whole of who we are.

I believe every single person is called and beseeched by God to open up to the fullness of God's own love and grace. And to try to do it each day.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 3:23pm BST

Half a lifetime ago, as a very raw curate I had responsibility for the chaplaincy in a major oncology unit. One day as I was in the lift on my way home the door opened to admit the senior radiotherapy consultant, who came over to me and tapped me on the chest, and said "You are the most important person on the staff of this unit, because you have TIME". That incident has never left me, and I simply add it to what Susannah and Fr John have already written.

Posted by: cryptogram on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 3:45pm BST

Thank you Susannah. God Bless you and your family.

Fr John Emlyn

Posted by: Fr John E. Harris-White on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 4:06pm BST

Neither Jeremy Pemberton nor I know from whom the Church's solicitors are receiving their instructions, but we doubt it is from anyone in Southwell & Nottingham diocese and almost certainly not from the now-retired former acting Bishop.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 4:56pm BST

This exchange about Fr Gau’s sermon is remarkable for many reasons, but principally for the comments by a group of people who, to me, represent the best and wisest of TA. My comments on TA tend to be tongue in cheek or even sarcastic. This is because I am so angered by much that goes on the C of E at present, or doesn’t but should, that the rational part of my brain, if I have one, is silenced by the volley of messages that comes from my amygdala. I admire all of you who contribute to this thread without appearing to lose your cool. Cryptogram writes about hospital chaplains having time. Indeed they do. For 12 months in 1975-6 I was a full time hospital doctor at King’s in Camberwell, and at the Belgrave in Kennington (I wonder, Fr John H-W, did our paths cross?). For years after that I was a part time clinical assistant in ENT in Nottingham and Dublin. I can reinforce what cryptogram writes. Now, as a parish priest, I have started to make time. The loss of our adult son and the issues that has uncovered in me have forced me to think again how I think, live and work. I now have time once again. I see colleagues working too hard, as I used to. They think they must attend every social function, every meeting, every study group. In a one-parish-one-church situation, fair enough perhaps. But not in today’s multi-church setting. We do this because it makes us feel wanted. We do it because we have not outgrown the need to have approval from higher up the food chain (part of my problem - read Evagrios on the demons that infect mankind). Pish to all that. My eyesight is such that I don’t like driving in the dark, so I have as few winter evening meetings as possible, and for the few that remain I get people to come to me. The punters are delighted. I tell them to wipe their own bottoms - sorry, to make their own decisions and tell me what they’ve decided. I give them my hymn suggestions and let them work with that. I say that I was not ordained to operate the photocopier, or staple the magazines, or arbitrate on playground tiffs, or fill in faculty applications. For the first time ever I am taking my full leave entitlement and if I can’t find a priest to cover midweek masses, I cancel them or tell those attending to say MP. And do you know something: the sun still shines, the churches still stand, the people are still happy - well, as happy as C of E congregations ever admit to being, the Sunday attendances have not fallen – rather the opposite actually. I have time to think about sermons. I have time to read. I have time to watch Sean Bean as Fr Michael (worthwhile). I have time to visit the schizophrenic parishioner in hospital 10 miles away. I have time to talk to the recovering alcoholic who wants to wed his partner who is on antipsychotic medication. I shall regard it a privilege so to do, despite their unfortunate previous marriages. I look forward to performing not-a-blessing on the relationship of two women who wish to mark their commitment in the Lord’s presence. I don’t feel the need to consult anyone about any of this. My opinion matters not one jot, but the more that people like Fr Gau expose, in seemly fashion or not, the crassness of the church, the better. As far as I can tell from Holy Scripture, the Master condemned very little but always, always, always hypocrisy, complacency and pretence. There is much work for him to be getting on with. Should my P45 plop through the letter box, I shall publish everything. I might even enjoy it! Having had a job in the real world (though I know that many of my parishioners’ worlds are far more “real” than anything I’ve had to bear), I could just about manage.

Posted by: Stanley Monkhouse, the artist formerly known as Fr William on Friday, 2 June 2017 at 5:36pm BST

Seriously, though: GoFundMe is a thing. Jeremy Pemberton is effectively fighting a test case, on behalf of not only gay people in the church but also everyone who wants to see the Church of England getting on the right side of history and not looking like Margaret Court without the racquet.

If there are threats to Jeremy's finances, people of good will should stand alongside him. In reality, the awarding of costs against plaintiffs in employment tribunals is relatively rare, and threatening to bankrupt people who take cases to appeal is a common tactic by sketchy lawyers with bullying clients. But it should not be hard to get the backing in place to nullify this risk.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 3 June 2017 at 7:56am BST

Stanley aka Fr William,

Yes our paths did cross. I began my chaplaincy at Kings in April 1977.

I so agree with what you write, and become at a loss for words when I find retired clergy at a loss because they have no purpose. Or are so busy filling their diaries to show they are still needed. So sad.

I now have time to grow for myself, in prayer, the sacrament, reading, gardening, and loving my partner, and great and grandchildren.

Fr John Emlyn

Posted by: Fr John E. Harris-White on Saturday, 3 June 2017 at 2:14pm BST

Threatening to bankrupt an appellant is a pure Donald Trump technique. Surely some Anglicans are in a position to find out who initiated this monstrous threat?

Posted by: Iain McLean on Monday, 5 June 2017 at 10:43am BST

Thank you, David Lamming, for your correction. Of course, I forgot that Southwell & Nottingham managed the resignation of Linda Box and the appointment of her successor with their usual cloak-and-dagger efficiency. There wasn't a whisper of it in the public sphere.

Generally, though, I am fascinated by the vehemency of your antipathy to Justin Gau's sermon, what it reveals, and the responses to it on this thread. Anyone would think you had an axe to grind...

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Tuesday, 6 June 2017 at 8:39am BST

It's also worth pointing out that organisations that _really_ want to find answers fund both sides.

My one-time employer ended up as the lead for a consortium of companies that wanted to know the answer to an arcane question about holiday pay for part-time staff on temporary contracts. We didn't care what the answer was, we just wanted there to be an answer that was generally accepted. So when we were taken to an ET and "won" (the point was so technical that gives it a weight it doesn't deserve: the ET agreed with the interpretation we thought more likely) we funded the appeal so that it would go to a reported court, and if memory serves agreed to give the plaintiffs the most favourable to them of the outcomes.
The point was, once the dust settled there was a judgement in a reported tribunal.

Similarly, in the case some years ago in which banks were in court over the issue of how independent the legal advice has to be to the spouses of people borrowing for their business against the family home, they funded the appeals by the spouses as far as the House of Lords (as it then was) in order to drive as many nails as possible into the coffin of the argument. The worst outcome would be one favourable to the bank but not appealed because of lack of resources, because that is then a timebomb for when a better resourced borrower comes along; in the end, a House of Lords judgement was needed. The banks were happy to write off the loans in the particular case; they just wanted a concrete judgement, whatever it said, so that in future such loans would not have this problem.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 6 June 2017 at 10:40am BST
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