Monday, 26 April 2004

Inclusive Church Sunday

inclusivechurch.net has announced plans to observe 20 June 2004 as Inclusive Church Sunday. Details of the plans can be found here.

The arrangements include an order of service for a liturgy are built into Common Worship Order One, with Eucharistic Prayer G.

There are also sermon notes prepared for inclusivechurch by Canon Jeffrey John.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 26 April 2004 at 11:16pm BST | TrackBack
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Sunday, 25 April 2004

Dean stories

Only the Telegraph could sustain the St Albans story into another Sunday.
Evangelicals threaten to ‘ruin’ C of E over gay canon which begins:

Evangelical Anglican churches are threatening the Church of England with financial ruin in protest at the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John, a homosexual, as the Dean of St Albans Cathedral.

The BBC’s Sunday radio programme took a broader view, with:
Deans
Several cathedral Deans have been lively characters with a national profile. And colourful deans aren’t just the stuff of church history: as Christopher Landau has been finding out, even in Anthony Trollope’s fictional town of Barchester, controversy surrounded a dean’s appointment.
Listen (5m 31s - Real Audio)

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 25 April 2004 at 1:57pm BST | TrackBack
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Saturday, 24 April 2004

new evo sexuality campaign

Anglican Mainstream the conservative evangelical campaign organisation has changed its mind about the acceptability of Jeffrey John’s appointment as a cathedral dean. (Earlier it had issued this statement.)

Yesterday, it issued a Press Release and a Full Text of Response.
Other extreme evangelical groups have also issued statements:
Church of England Evangelical Council
Reform
Church Society (Note: this is a pdf file; an html copy for TA readers is here.
Church Society has also issued a more detailed document, also as a pdf file, but similarly archived here.

As this campaign appears to be based on what was said in St Albans on Monday, here are the detailed links to transcripts of the event:

Statements made at press conference, Monday April 19th
Extracts from press conference: ‘gay marriages’

And for completeness, here is the letter sent by the Bishop of St Albans to all his clergy (including David Phillips) and the diocesan announcement of responses to the appointment from diocesan officials and others.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 24 April 2004 at 5:28pm BST | TrackBack
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Dean of St Albans roundup

Since last Tuesday there have been further reports in the local St Albans papers, and in the church press, all listed below. Coverage of the story outside the UK has been very limited, consisting mainly of copies of the AP story linked earlier.

Also, we failed to list the Guardian’s leader comment from Tuesday, Evangelical veto which concludes with this:

The subdued reaction to Dr John’s appointment suggests that a sobering shame has descended on his opponents after the excitements of last year. That is welcome, if surprising: they had seemed shameless in the heat of the campaign against him. But it does not undo the damage done last year, when it was established that the Church of England is in the last analysis controlled by the large evangelical churches which consider themselves its paymasters.
No one can now be appointed a bishop against their veto, backed up by the threat of financial sanctions. Deans are immune to this kind of pressure. Their salaries are centrally paid and their appointment is made directly from arcane committees. Curiously, this is an argument in favour of the Church’s establishment, which is a mechanism for preserving diversity. The more democratic and congregational the Church becomes, the less tolerant it is likely to be. American churches, operating in a free religious market, tend to hold narrow and exclusive views, whether liberal or conservative. It is the civil war over homosexuality in the US church which is driving the break-up of Anglicanism. In the end, it may be the absurdity of a church which can take so seriously a job like bishop of Reading or dean of St Albans, which preserves it as an oasis of tolerance in a world where religion is increasingly important, and dangerous.

However, yesterday, “Anglican Mainstream” launched a new campaign against Jeffrey John’s appointment (see later report for details) which was reflected in two newspapers today:
Guardian Campaign begins against gay dean
Telegraph Evangelical backlash over gay dean

The Church Times reported the story as New chapter opens for Dr Jeffrey John and carried editorial comment under the headline Jeffrey John’s appointment. Andrew Brown’s weekly press review column analysed coverage, and I have summarised that here. Giles Fraser’s opinion column, which is mostly about something else, mentions it in passing towards the end.

On the other hand, the Church of England Newspaper reports St Albans clergy meet to decide response to John and editorialised The appointment of Dr Jeffrey John (this URL will fail after one week, so archived here for TA readers).

Local newspaper stories:
Herts Advertiser New Dean for St Albans, followed by Gay cleric is the new Dean and sidebar comment City’s warm welcome for Dr John
St Albans Observer Gay dean praises city’s welcoming tradition

Addition
Local Radio report BBC 3 Counties Reaction to gay cleric’s appointment and this one earlier Gay cleric welcomed into role, both with Real Audio links:
Main radio report including key parts of press conference, listen here and
Interview with Patience Purchase the day before the official announcement, listen here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 24 April 2004 at 4:30pm BST | TrackBack
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Friday, 23 April 2004

God for England and St George!

Today is St George’s Day. Articles about St George frequently begin with words such as ‘Little is known about St George’, and it is true. Probably he was a soldier living in Palestine at the beginning of the fourth century. He may have been a Palestinian or a Syrian, and he was martyred in about the year 304, during the persecution of Diocletian. If this is true, it means that this is the seventeen hundredth anniversary of his martyrdom — an anniversary which seems to have passed unnoticed, as did that of Agnes, martyred in Rome in January of about the same year. Agnes, though, has a shrine and feast day in Rome to keep her cult alive, but George seems to have gone somewhat out of favour. Even this morning’s Church Times carried an article suggesting he be replaced as England’s patron.

George is mostly remembered for the legends that came to be told about him, most famously his slaying of a dragon, and the consequent rescue of a virgin princess. George is said to have been martyred at Lydda, in Palestine, the place at which Perseus, in Greek mythology, defeated a sea-monster, and it seems likely that the legend has been transferred from the pagan hero to the Christian martyr.

This legend, however, serves us well as an allegory of aspects of the Christian faith. George, a soldier for Christ, puts on the whole armour of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, as Paul writes in Ephesians. Thus armed, he is ready to take action against the dragon, the representative of evil, a deed reminiscent of that of Michael, the archangel, in the great vision in the Book of Revelation. And he does this, not for great glory and honour, but to save the life of an innocent girl threatened by this evil, a girl who has no one else to protect her.

Modernists may mock, or may consider the legends to be sexist or sexual, but here is a parable, an allegory, of our Christian life — whatever our politics or churchmanship: to defend the weak against the onslaught of evil, and to help bring each person that we meet closer to the kingdom of God.

Posted by Simon Kershaw on Friday, 23 April 2004 at 9:07pm BST | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

Mel's Passion

I wasn’t going to see it. It wasn’t that I felt strongly about the movie, one way or the other, it was just not top of my list of must-do’s. It was only when I was alerted to the fact that The Passion of the Christ might be a subject at a dinner party that I thought I might give it a go.

I kept waiting for something to happen. That’s not to say that there was not plenty of action, far from it. I patiently sat and noted the various bits of the gospel stories which Gibson had pressed into service. I flinched a little at the initial bloodletting. Patiently I watched for the androgynous Devil character to develop into significance, but it never quite got there. By the time Caviezel’s Jesus fell a second time, I realised we were doing the stations of the cross, and I wearily ticked them off in my head as they passed across the screen.

At the end I was left with a big ‘so what?’ I didn’t know what Gibson wanted me to do with his tale; I was left with a surfeit of blood and carnage with nowhere to put it. It was beyond me why some of my colleagues had block-booked theatres, to use the movie to encourage people to faith.

The point about telling a Jesus story is that you do so to answer a question, or to raise one. Each of the gospel writers was telling their version of the Jesus story in such a way as to address a particular need of the community to whom they were writing. The question might be about who belongs in the Christian community? or who is my neighbour? Why should we take Jesus seriously? Either way the stories are written in such a way that invites a response. Gospel writers are not simply spinning a tale for the sake of it, they want you to take what they’ve written and do something with it.

The Gospel according to St Mel does none of this, unless having your nose rubbed in the brutality of first century Roman justice somehow makes you want to say your prayers. If the film was created to answer a question it was certainly lost on me.

Gospel writers and preachers know that there is no such thing as a plain vanilla Jesus story. That’s why the four gospels differ in the way that they do. Why they write and preach is because they recognise that people start with real-life questions, and so the story has to be told in such a way that speaks to the real-life situations of their hearers, and all of these are different. They shaped their material in the belief that God meets us where we are. So, don’t send me to a movie, tell me in your own words how you, a person like me, with problems and concerns like mine, has been changed by Jesus. If I can see that it is possible for me as well, then it’s news I can use, good news.

Posted by Andrew Spurr on Friday, 23 April 2004 at 7:34am BST | Comments (3) | TrackBack
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Tuesday, 20 April 2004

New Dean of St Albans

There are a few more articles in this morning’s newspapers, and the St Albans diocesan website has added a few extracts from yesterday’s press conference.

The Times has Time to bless same-sex unions, says gay cleric.

The Guardian has Gay canon welcomed as dean of St Albans with the subtitle “After prayer, bishop feels appointment is ‘right and good’”.

The Guardian also has an Associated Press report Gay Clergyman to Hold England Church Post. This AP report has also been carried by large numbers of online newspapers in the USA.

The Telegraph has On his first day, dean says Church should bless gays.

Posted by Peter Owen on Tuesday, 20 April 2004 at 4:13pm BST | TrackBack
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Monday, 19 April 2004

New Dean of St Albans - early evening update

Following this morning’s official announcement from Downing Street of Dr John’s appointment the St Albans diocesan website carries statements made at the press conference in St Albans, a number of responses to the appointment and a letter that the diocesan bishop has sent to the clergy.

Several online newspapers are already carrying articles written since the announcement, although, since the story was accurately leaked several days ago, they have little new to say.

The Telegraph has Gay cleric takes senior Anglican post.

Reuters has Gay priest given senior church post.

The BBC has Gay cleric takes up senior post.

The Scotsman has Gay Cleric Takes Up Senior Post and, later, Gay Churchman Promoted Dean Offers Olive Branch.

Outside Britain, the Mail and Guardian in South Africa and the Providence Journal in Rhode Island have stories.

Posted by Peter Owen on Monday, 19 April 2004 at 7:35pm BST | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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New Dean of St Albans

Last week’s ‘rumours’ about the appointment of a new Dean of St Albans have been confirmed this morning.

The press release from the Diocese of St Albans reads

It has been announced from 10 Downing Street today (Monday, April 19th) that the Queen has approved the nomination of The Revd Canon Dr Jeffrey John as the next Dean of St Albans.

Canon Jeffery John, who is also to be Rector of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Albans, is currently Chancellor and Canon Theologian of Southwark Cathedral. He succeeds the Very Revd Christopher Lewis, who became Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, last October, after nine years as Dean of St Albans.

The Bishop of St Albans will be writing to all clergy in the diocese today. The text of the letter will be placed on the diocesan website later today.

More information on the diocesan website.

Posted by Simon Kershaw on Monday, 19 April 2004 at 11:49am BST | TrackBack
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Sunday, 11 April 2004

Rowan Williams' Easter Sermon

The text of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter Sermon is below.

Canterbury Cathedral 11 April 2004

A good few years ago, I heard a distinguished American scholar of ancient history commenting on the proclamation of the resurrection as it would have been heard in the classical world. ‘If an educated Greek or Roman had been told that someone had been raised from the dead’, he said, ‘his first question would have been “How do you get him back into his grave again?”’. The point was that most of those who first heard the Easter gospel would have found it grotesque or even frightening. Resurrection was not a joyful sign of hope but an alarming oddity, something potentially very dangerous. The dead, if they survived at all, lived in their own world - a shadowy place, where they were condemned to a sort of half-life of yearning and sadness. So Vergil at least represents it in his great epic, unforgettably portraying the dead as ‘stretching out their hands in longing for the other side of the river’. But for them to return would have been terrifying and unnatural; the boundaries between worlds had to be preserved and protected.

Even the ancient Hebrews, who first made resurrection a positive idea, thought of the condition of the dead in just such a way: and resurrection was something that would happen at the end of time, when the good would be raised to receive their reward and the wicked their punishment, as in the prophecy of Daniel. But the news that someone had been raised from the tomb now would have been as disturbing for the Jew as for the Greek, if not perhaps quite so straightforwardly frightening. When St Matthew tells us that between the death and the ascension of Jesus many holy people of older days left their tombs in Jerusalem and appeared to many in the city, he is portraying not a scene of happy reunion but a true earthquake in the established order of the universe. It all helps us make sense of that unmistakeable element in the resurrection stories in the gospels that speaks of terror and amazement.

But why might resurrection be such a problem? Apart from the total confusion of present and long-term future which resurrection involved for the Jew, and the untidy blurring of boundaries between worlds for the Greek, there is another factor. When the dead did appear in vision or dream in the ancient world, it was often to denounce their killers; and the ancient empires specialised in mass slaughter. What would it have meant to a Roman to be told not only that the dead could return but that the ‘firstborn from the dead’, the firstfruits of the harvest, was one who had been among the victims of the empire’s legal system? Ancient empires grew and survived by assuming that enormous quantities of human lives were expendable and unimportant; those who fell victim to the system simply disappeared. But what if they didn’t? Here was a message that might well cause alarm: an executed criminal, instead of disappearing into oblivion, is brought back into the world and his friends are told to speak in his name to his killers, telling them that for their life and health they must trust that he has made peace for them with God.

And what was worse still was that this was seen not as an isolated matter: the risen one was only the first. His rising from death guaranteed that all would be raised, that no life would be forgotten and obliterated, or even relegated to the everlasting half-light of Hades. Death does not end relationships between human persons and between human persons and God; and this may be sobering news as well as joyful, sobering especially for an empire with blood on its hands. We forget so readily what Christianity brought into the world; we are so used to it that we think it is obvious. In the ancient world there was absolutely no assumption that every life was precious. Fathers had the right to kill their children in certain circumstances, masters their slaves; crowds flocked to see criminals or prisoners of war killing each other in the theatres; massacre was a normal tool of war. Some philosophers defended a theory of abstract human equality, but they were untroubled by the political facts of life in which lives were expendable in these familiar ways. It is a shock to realise just how deeply rooted such an attitude was. And when all is said and done about how Christianity has so often failed in its own vision, the bare fact is that it brought an irreversible shift in human culture. Human value could not be extinguished by violence or death; no-one could be forgotten.

The gospel of the resurrection announced many great things, but this must have been one of the most disturbing of all. Here and now, God holds on to the lives of all the departed - including the lives that have been wasted, violently cut short, damaged by oppression. All have worth in his sight. If God can raise as the messenger of his word and the giver of his life a man who has been through the dehumanising process of a Roman state execution, a process carefully designed to humiliate and obliterate, then the imperial power may well begin to worry.

We don’t live under an empire like that, thank God. Yet we look back on century in which imperial powers have in so many ways sought to obliterate their victims, as if the resurrection never happened. At Auschwitz there is an inscription in Hebrew from the Old Testament, ‘O earth, cover not their blood’; the Holocaust, along with the mass killings of the thirties in the Soviet Union or the revolutionary years in China, went forward at the hands of people who assumed as blandly as any ancient Roman that the dead could be buried one and for all and forgotten. Cambodia and Rwanda and the Balkans remind us that it doesn’t need to be an imperial power; it may be your closest neighbours who turn into murderers.

Now we may not have that kind of blood on our hands; but there are times when we are convicted of sharing something of that assumption about the dead. Who is there who has not felt a little of this conviction, reading in these last few weeks the heartbreaking stories that mark the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda? It is not that we wielded the weapons; but the nations of the world stood by in indecision and distractedness while the slaughter went on. Some lives, it seems, are still forgettable; some deaths still obliterate memory, for those of us at a distance. And as I speak, the carnage in Northern Uganda continues; just a matter of weeks ago, a mass killing there failed to make anything like an adequately serious impact on great tracts of the media; and most people here are not aware of the nearly one million displaced persons in that region, living in continual fear, and the nightmare situation of the hundreds of thousands of children kidnapped to be soldiers, to kill and be killed. When deaths like this are forgotten, the gospel of the resurrection should come as a sharp word of judgement as well as of hope.

But hope, of course, it is. We may and we should feel the reproach of the risen Christ as we recognise how easily we let ourselves forget; and nearer home, we might think too of those who die alone and unloved in our own society - the aged with no family (or forgotten by their family), the homeless addict, the mentally disturbed isolated from ordinary human contact. But Easter tells us to be glad that they are not forgotten by God, that their dignity is held and affirmed by God and that their lives are in his hand. In that gladness, we should be stirred to turn our eyes to look for those likeliest to be forgotten and to ask where our duty and service lies. God’s justice rebukes our forgetfulness; and the truth that he will never let go of the lost and needy, so far from being an alibi for us not to bother, is a reminder of the responsibility of service and reverence laid upon all of us.

But the goodness of the resurrection news is most evident for those who have lost people they love to any sort of incomprehensible evil - the tragedies of dementia, the apparent meaninglessness of accident, the horrors of violence or injustice. Think back for a moment to the days when death squads operated in countries like Argentina or El Salvador: the Christians there developed a very dramatic way of celebrating their faith, their hope and their resistance. At the liturgy, someone would read out the names of those killed or ‘disappeared’, and for each name someone would call out from the congregation, Presente, ‘Here’. When the assembly is gathered before God, the lost are indeed presente; when we pray at this eucharist ‘with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven’, we say presente of all those the world (including us) would forget and God remembers. With angels and archangels; with the butchered Rwandans of ten years ago and the butchered or brutalised Ugandan children of last week or yesterday; with the young woman dead on a mattress in King’s Cross after an overdose and the childless widower with Alzheimer’s; with the thief crucified alongside Jesus and all the thousands of other anonymous thieves crucified in Judaea by an efficient imperial administration; with the whole company of heaven, those whom God receives in his mercy. And with Christ our Lord, the firstborn from the dead, by whose death our sinful forgetfulness and lukewarm love can be forgiven and kindled to life, who leaves no human soul in anonymity and oblivion, but gives to all the dignity of a name and a presence. He is risen; he is not here; he is present everywhere and to all. He is risen: presente.

© Rowan Williams 2004

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 11 April 2004 at 2:06pm BST | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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