Two quick thoughts about a couple of comments below the line on Bishop Tanner's blog. A churchwarden from Belford (within sight of Holy Isle) expresses indignation about the manner in which the Newcastle diocese seems to ignore parishes at the top end of the county, and an incumbent from near Tamworth protests about the want of recruits outside the more affluent parts of the south-east.
Re the churchwarden. I have found it quite common that certain dioceses will place the greatest degree of attention upon particular areas - generally the more thickly populated and affluent areas. This results in some deaneries/parishes becoming diocesan Cinderallas. I can think of a number of places where I have heard the complaint "No one [in authority] ever comes here." If this is indeed true (and in some cases it might be), it is unfortunate, and I wonder whether the degree of attention paid needs to be in almost inverse proportion to the affluence of an area or the funds received from it.
As to the lack of recruits in the North, this is a major problem. The disgruntled Staffordshire incumbent notes that if clergy get free housing in the wealthier parts of the south-east they are, in effect, receiving aggregate compensation considerably in excess of many clergy in more 'difficult' regions (and a working spouse will therefore receive income 'clear' of mortgage/rent resulting in a considerable boost to the couple's living standards). In effect the south-east is perhaps free-riding on the North. Of course, I appreciate there are many areas in the 'south-east' which are also 'difficult'.
This suggests to me that the Commissioners should consider: (i) a reverse 'weighting', such that Northern dioceses are allowed to pay their incumbents relatively more than those in the south-east (with the Commissioners providing assistance); and (ii) a small rent be paid by incumbents for accommodation in certain areas, with the payments being shared between the parish, diocese and Commissioners (and then diverted by the Commissioners to the North or to more difficult districts within the relevant diocese).
I expect hostile comments (if anyone does comment) and appreciate that there are cogent arguments against this. However, we are a national church, and when resources are as limited as they are there does need to be a measure of real economic equity between and within dioceses/provinces.
Wow - thank you for an excellent selection today. Colin Coward - spot on. Michael Perham - a gift. Mark Tanner with such good quotes that are memorable and challenging. And then a bit of fun re the choristers! Thank you.
Colin Coward is right to identify a variety of opinions among the bishops about human sexuality. Whatever the ‘collegiate’ unanimity presented, it belies opposition among some bishops which has gone unexpressed in public. Setting aside the already known opposition to the Bishops’ Report expressed by the Bishops of Buckingham and Bradwell (whose views are not among the ones I've detailed below), I have written to 50 other bishops so far about the concept of Unity in Diversity, and the case for diverse consciences to be allowed to operate (and be respected) within the Church of England. Although I said in each case that ‘no reply is expected or assumed’, I have received 20 replies, with diverse views and opinions expressed. I am not going to name any names, or quote verbatim, because I want to respect and maintain confidentiality in ongoing discourse. However here is a sample of 10 bishops' views communicated back to me:
> the problem of many conflicting priorities and claims
>the absence of any easy answers
>The difficulty of adopting the same approach as was taken over women bishops because gay marriage is not the same order of issue
> that I've nailed the issue, but would the CofE permit diversity on this question?
> the desire for a church where room is made for all, more wholeheartedly than we are able to do at the moment.
> huge disappointment with the bishops' report, pleasure it was not noted, almost exact agreement over Unity in Diversity, but possible under-estimation of the conservative response if this approach was adopted
> if the Church could model a different way of living unity in diversity, it would have much to show a wider society, which seems to be fragmenting at an alarming rate
> my proposal for Unity in Diversity could be supported if it was presented to GS, is not that radical, and if anything is pragmatic, leaving one wishing for a more radical, whole-heartedly inclusive position
> the basic thesis of agreeing to disagree will have to be acknowledged in some way
> unity in diversity may well come into play in the difficult days ahead, love and grace seem in short supply
I have another 20 bishops still to write to.
Mark Tanner is right about a non-coercive God. Being a Christian is distinctly uncomfortable, wherever we are. Yesterday, I read one of John Henry Newman's sermons about Lent - "Christ's Privations a Meditation for Christians" - and earlier this week I read a Lent message on this site about being joyful at Lent. I agree with both. I must say, though, that Newman's sermon is one I've returned to again...and again.
Church "establishment" have come to misunderstand the nature of establishment, seeing it simply as the "closed loop system" about which Colin Coward writes. It often is just that, but establishment has a secondary dimension in that church doctrine cannot move too far from societal views on morality and justice. When the tide moves strongly on an issue, an established church must move with that tide or cease to be established. It is, I think, a somewhat frightening dynamic to those who believe in untrammeled episcopal authority.
Establishment gives bishops greater moral authority over a nation than bishops in other churches, or leaders from other religions. The price is that those bishops are, however, expected to reflect society's views on morality. Establishment is a permissive act by society but the elastic is only a certain length and, increasingly, must now pull bishops where many of them are reluctant to go.
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