Comments: Simplification – the story so far

Item 21 'Marriages qualifying connections' - what a pity the Group thought it was too early to revisit this one. Out in the field, as it were, pastoral and mission opportunities are being lost by the hundreds. Despite nowadays a rather more flexible approach to qualifying connections, which has improved things a bit, many couples are still opting for secular venues where, of course, clergy may not venture even to bless let alone conduct a legal service.

It's time for a radical rethink here to enable the minister rather than the building to be licensed. This already happens in Scotland and the United States. In this scenario clergy could go with the people into hotels, castles, theatres, any licensed premises and conduct a good C of E service and meet people where they are.

Mission impossible? - come on let's grapple with this one now, we are haemorrhaging support where we used to be strong.

Posted by Nicholas Henderson at Thursday, 13 October 2016 at 7:23pm BST

"Work stream?" When a Church gets so far up its own managerial navel that it has "work streams" it may be time for some pretty radical simplification. :)

Posted by Clive at Thursday, 13 October 2016 at 10:32pm BST

'Tis a gift to be simple,
'Tis a gift to be free,
'Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be.
And when you find yourself in a place just right,
You'll be in the valley of love and delight.

Quaker Song.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 10:58am BST

I'd love to see a simplification of all the outrageous titles that the church has proliferated and still seems to love, despite them surely being deeply unchristian and also bewildering for outsiders. Can we bin Preb. Canon, Ven, Rt Rev, Most Rev etc please?

Posted by aic at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 2:08pm BST

Father Ron, thanks for getting us back to basics with the 'simple gifts' lyrics. However, the song originated with the Shakers rather than the Quakers! And now of course it belongs to everyone.

Posted by Mary Clara at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 5:28pm BST

aic - How come Very Reverend Deans are exempt from your list of possible prohibited clerical titles?

Posted by Father David at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 6:23pm BST

alc, reverend, venerable, etc are not titles but styles, effectively adjectives describing the person (accurately or not). Canon, Bishop are often job titles, and not to use them would be confusing and, therefore, silly. The usage, Rev Surname, is a clear solecism, and thus to be avoided. Whether the different styles, Most, Very etc, are needed is open to question but they add a certain colour to life, surely! There are better targets for simplification.

Posted by David Exham at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 7:57pm BST

Simplification is the wrong word. Clarification would be better. There's nothing wrong with complexity or intricacy; a labyrinth can be an education, a thing of wonder, a source of inspiration.

But I do think the process itself is excellent because it is on the whole about clarification: what do we want to do, and how do we do it well?

Then of course, there's Mark 10:21. Give it all away?

Posted by Peter S at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 10:47pm BST

I think we would be well shut of most titles. In a Christian community what is wrong with Christian names? If you want to describe a person's role as well, Father or Mother for a priest, Bishop of course, maybe even Canon or Dean. But why should a priest be any more Reverend than any other human being? Let alone degrees of reverendness implied by Most Rev, Very Rev etc.

Posted by David Emmott at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 10:58pm BST

But why not styles too? From Scripture it is generally accepted that we have deacon, minister and bishop so that should be our basic list for both titles and styles with a bishop addressed simply as Bishop etc? I can see the need for dean to be added to avoid confusion, and maybe vicar for a minister who holds a benefice because it is so widely, but a simple list would have greater integrity and make the church seem more accessible.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 11:23pm BST

Thank you, Dear Mary Clare.
Shakers and Quakers - both capable of Moving with the Holy Spirit. The nett result? Loving concern for all Creation; including Humanity.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 5:57am BST

I'm also pleased to see that aic does not wish to "bin" the title "Father"

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 8:47am BST

David, a number of Christians believe the use of Father as the form of address for a minister of religion is sacrilegious, and that those who style themselves Father are blasphemous. The church should prohibit its use. Vicar or Minister are the correct forms. (It is another issue which would prevent reunification with the Catholic Church.)

I appreciate Anglo-Catholics like to be styled Father but there's no reason they need to, so harmony is best achieved by prohibiting its use entirely.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 9:12am BST

I see Kate continues to maintain that the C of E doesn't have priests! Surely deacons and bishops are also ministers.

Posted by David Emmott at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 9:31am BST

Isn't TA being a bit slow in adding a thread to its Blog about the current fracas at York Minster with regard to the mass dismissal of 30 highly skilled and experienced campanologists?
The take over of the episcopate by those who have been dubbed episcopal "managers" is well documented and publicised (see the last Dean of Peterborough's Farewell sermon)- now it would seem that the managerial virus is aversely affecting one of our great Northern cathedrals.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 10:35am BST

I note that the bishop of Willesden touches upon the possibility of amending Canons B11 and B14. I am especially concerned that an amendment to Canon B14 should not be used as a ramp to discontinue worship in many places (especially on a festival basis, or in order to encourage redundancy) if there is no adequate funding in order to ensure that buildings selected for festival use are maintained in default of there being support from regular attendees. By all means amend these canons, but please do so as circumspectly as possible, and include appropriate safeguards in order to ensure that there is at least some residuum of Christian witness (which I appreciate might themselves militate against simplification).

The suggestion that these two canons be amended strikes me as being one of the most important (perhaps the single most important) aspect of reform and renewal, since it might affect - perhaps adversely - the notion that the Church is a living presence in 'every community'.

It is worth noting that we already have a number of de facto festival churches in a number of places (and which are not vested in the CCT or FFC), without there being any need for amending legislation: think of Bicknor in Kent, Easington and Godington in Oxfordshire, Horningsham in Wiltshire, Tilbury juxta Clare in Essex, Woodsford in Dorset, etc., etc., where services are held only a few times a year.

Posted by Froghole at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 11:29am BST

@the two Davids, if you prefer the term presbyter can be used. But I would be interested in why you believe the term priest should be used? Likewise father.

Terms like priest and Father can offend and drive some people away from worshipping in a church where they are used. So they should only be used if there is very strong justification. Personal preference, Anglo-Catholic tradition etc just doesn't cut the mustard. But I can see no such justification - or am I missing something?

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 12:09pm BST

"Terms like priest and Father can offend and drive some people away from worshipping in a church where they are used." - Kate -

With all due respect, Kate; on this matter you are 'going against the grain' of Church Tradition - even in the Church of England. If your suggestion were to gain credibility in the Church; where would that l;eave society at large? Are you against all titles that indicate one's calling? Would you be content to discard the use of Papa and Mama for children?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 9:35pm BST

And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven - Matthew 23:9

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 8:35am BST

Kate: The statement about 'calling no-one Father' , does that apply to familiar abbreviations like Dad? If we can't call another human being father we would need a new term to refer to our male parent. As for 'Vicar' being the correct term to refer to a priest/minister, that only applies to those clergy with that job description. Not to curates, rectors, priests-in-charge, deans etc etc. I know most people use it and most of us don't quibble, but nor do we claim it is the 'correct' term.

I'm all for keeping it simple and I don't see the need for any titles. But I much prefer Father or Mother to Reverend, not because it is 'anglo-catholic' but because it denotes a relationship, not social status (of which we have none).

And 'presbyter' is only a synonym for priest anyway. As was said (by whom?), 'old priest writ large'.

Posted by David Emmott at Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 5:18pm BST

Kate - so can we also assume you expect us all to pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands when they offend us - as they surely do?

Posted by David Runcorn at Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 5:35pm BST

The historic formularies (to which all office-holders subscribe) include the Ordinal which outlines 'the form and manner of making, ordaining and consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons according to the order of the Church of England'. In the preface it is stated that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed'. From that I can see no argument (within the CofE at least) for saying that priests are not priests (or bishops bishops/deacons deacons).
Many priests are referred to by the offices they hold vicar, padre, dean, curate, chaplain, rector - but although all priests (or deacons or bishops) they are not all vicars. Indeed, it would be simpler to just call all priests 'priests' regardless of their office...
I personally prefer my first name to 'reverend', or 'vicar' or 'rector' - but normally I'm just grateful it remains to be polite!
P.S. My understanding is that presbyter is the Old English antecedent of the word priest anyway.

Posted by NJW at Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 10:43pm BST

David Emmott, it is clear that Matthew 23:9 should be read in conjunction with the Commandment to "honour thy father and mother" so I don't see why you would think it meant you couldn't call your father "Dad"?

However there is NO possible way of reading it which doesn't suggest it is disrespectful to God to call a human cleric "Father", especially since what comes before ch 23 is aimed squarely at clerics.

And David Runcorn is suggesting we abandon the whole Bible because he struggles with the verses which tell us to cut off a hand [or foot] if it causes us to sin. But of course it isn't our hand which causes us to sin, it's our greed, or our anger... It is our sinful nature which causes us to sin. That is why Jesus wasn't surrounded by one-handed Apostles.

It is also entirely possible that both verses are prophetic with Matthew 23:9 aimed ahead in time at the Catholic Church and Anglo-Catholics and the verses about an offending hand aimed at Sharia law, pointing out it is for the sinner to act not for a third party to judge them.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 8:42am BST

"And 'presbyter' is only a synonym for priest anyway. As was said (by whom?), 'old priest writ large'."

That is not true. Presumably you are talking of etymology? If so, then firstly you are making an erroneous assumption that if two words have the same apparent etymology that they have an identical meaning. The second error is the assumption that the two words have the same etymology when they don't. The etymology of presbyter is relatively straightforward, that of priest quite complex.

But the better way to look at things is that the English word presbyter maps only into the Latin presbyter (elder) whereas priest maps onto both presbyter (elder) and sacerdos (one who offers sacrifices) because English is missing a common word which corresponds to sacerdos. So in English presbyter has a single meaning (elder) but priest has two meanings (elder and one who offers sacrifice).

When untrained laity use the two words they probably don't understand the distinction and will likely say priest since it is the simpler sounding word. When trained clergy choose priest rather than saying presbyter or "presbyter or priest", the chances are very high that they are invoking the sacerdos meaning as well.

So no, priest and presbyter are not identical terms by any means.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 9:06am BST


No, there's a sleight of hand going on. Usage has moved from presbyter to "presbyter or priest" to priest.

If you can't see the difference, try looking at it this way. There are various Hebrew words in the Old Testament which are translated to priest and never to presbyter because the two English words have different meanings and presbyter won't stretch to cover kohanim for example.

Put another way, the Old Testament describes a priesthood based on ancestry and sacrificial responsibility. The New Testament describes elders and apostles recognised by the laying on of hands who had no sacrificial responsibilities.

If we use the term priest to embrace the entirely different concepts set out in the Old and New Testaments, we risk those who haven't studied the two deeply conflating them and not recognising the impact of Jesus's teaching. It must therefore surely behove the church to use different words to describe the OT and NT concepts and priest for the OT and presbyter for the NT is the obvious approach.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 9:50am BST

"No, there's a sleight of hand going on. Usage has moved from presbyter to "presbyter or priest" to priest."

Any sleight of hand seems to go the other way - so far as CofE doctrine goes it was consistently priest in 1550 and 1662, becoming 'priests, also called presbyters' in 1980 and priest/presbyter used interchangably from 2000.
The change in nomenclature is therefore in fact the opposite of that stated - with presbyter being the innovation (albeit) on the foundations of a particular convention of translating the old and new testaments.
Whilst my own understanding of priesthood is shaped by the Church of England's teaching and therefore different from the teaching of the Roman church I nonetheless see the ordained priesthood in the CofE to be a reformed priesthood that is in continuity with that which went before - in line with the teaching of the 1550 Ordinal and 1662 Prayer Book (not exactly unAnglican documents!).

Posted by NJW at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 4:24pm BST

Kate 'David Runcorn is suggesting we abandon the whole Bible ....'. What?!! I am teasing you for your own over-literal use of texts.

Posted by David Runcorn at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 4:52pm BST

The thing is, Kate, that the Church generally, and over 2000 years, has recognised the calling of some to be priests: in the Anglican Church, in the (Roman) Catholic Church, in the Orthodox Church. They all have priests.

And vocation is discerned and tested by the Church as a whole. Over the best part of two millennia, the calling of certain individuals to fulfil priestly vocations has been embraced, explored, tested and lived out.

Has the greater part of Christendom been living out a fantasy, an error? or, in practical and spiritual terms has it been found to be a way of grace, with accompanying charism. Something that God has worked through and blessed?

I think it is important not to downplay the significance and importance of tradition - the way that God has worked in the life of the Church through the generations - and not try to pin down doctrines (lepidopterist-style) based on proof texts alone.

The Word of God is alive and active, and lives not only in texts, but in the lives and ministries of Christians and communities. In countless communities, priests have carried out anointed and ordained ministries, lives of sacrifice and service, and - if they model themselves on our Lord Jesus Christ - been servants to us all. What a lovely thing.

I agree that we should also recognise - in a different way - the priesthood of all believers, but for myself, I recognise and acknowledge the continuity of the ministry of the priest, in line with Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox practice through the ages, as a specific vocation that some (but not all) people are called to.

It simply isn't the case, in the lived out practice of the Church over countless generations, that the call to be a priest has been invalid.

We all have our callings - and these are explored in all kinds of diverse ways, by people living in community in their churches and religious houses as well as their lives of service.

All of us have vocations. The vocation of serving as priest is one of many ways in which God calls some people. In each case, it is best that vocation is tested and affirmed by the Church, and not just individually asserted, and that is exactly what the Church has been doing for so many centuries in living, authentic communities.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 6:13pm BST

On the question of Canon B14, Canon B14A (2) already states "Where there is more than one parish church or place of worship in a benefice or where a minister holds benefices in plurality with more than one parish church or place of worship the minister and the parochial church council acting jointly shall make proposals to the bishop as to what services of Morning and Evening Prayer or the celebration of the Holy Communion (as the case may be) are to be held in each of the parish churches or places of worship and if the bishop is satisfied with the proposals he shall authorize them accordingly."

The Bishop of Willesden is quoted in the Guardian as saying, "In rural parishes, no vicar can actually get around all their parishes so technically, they’re breaking the law. All we’re doing is putting the law in line with what already happens." ( He must be being misquoted or quoted out of context, presumably another error from the Guardian newspaper. Incumbents of multi-parish benefices certainly are not put in the position where they are breaking the law.

Posted by Russell at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 7:28pm BST

If we have to have a title, I'm all for 'sheepdog' myself...

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 1:59am BST

Amen and amen aic. Such nonsense these styles and titles are, comrade.

Posted by DBD at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 9:25am BST

Even Christ needed to be baptised. That is why John the Baptist had to prepare the way. Jesus though underwent no rite of priesting before he celebrated the last supper and was crucified.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 11:11am BST

I would add that Jesus's followers called him Master, Teacher or Rabbi but never addressed him as a priest. Also, Rabbi in those days was simply a descriptor, not a title, since Rabbinic ordination had not yet been invented. The more I study, the more convinced I become that any title other than Minister, Presbyter or Teacher has no foundation in the Gospels.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 19 October 2016 at 1:26pm BST


So you would render us without bishops, deans, deacons, sisters, along with priests?

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Thursday, 20 October 2016 at 8:21pm BST
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