Comments: Opinion - 13 May 2017

Giles Fraser - I attended a memorial service, held at our local Golf Club, a few days ago. I cried as Paula's two daughters remembered their mother and told funny stories about her. I cried as her husband of 38 years told us of his beautiful young bride. And I wasn't the only one crying. Their words were so full of love and happiness for the gift they'd been given. No one can take over a funeral and make it something it's not. Not if there's people there with love in their hearts.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 11:55am BST

If a network of ‘liberal/progressive’ Anglican churches in England placed themselves under the ‘authority’ of a ‘bishop’ consecrated by an overseas Anglican representative; and affirmed lesbian and gay marriage in good conscience on theological grounds; celebrated gay relationships in formal services, including the precious and fully sexual relationships of lesbian and gay priests; formally blessed trans people at the outset of their transition; and declared themselves still part of the Church of England, but under alternative oversight...

...they would be exercising their conscientious belief in the same way as those conservative evangelicals involved in the ‘Credible Bishops’ initiative...

...if the Archbishops allow the latter, then they would also have to allow the former.

IN REALITY, there is a need for dialogue with the nation as a whole, and democratic political representatives, about what kind of national church the Church of England should be in 2017, if it is to remain national. And there needs to be clarification about whether you are ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ an organisation (and its properties and structures) if you rebel against that organisation’s authority.

IN EFFECT, those in the ‘Credible Bishops’ initiative who envisage dislocation from the Church’s authority must either (a) accept participation in a federation of consciences that also include the liberal equivalent detailed above; or (b) leave the Church of England (and its properties and structures) and in sincere conscience set up their own ‘Church’. Dislocation from the Church’s authority also means dislocation from its properties, because they belong to the Church of England, not to the Anglican Communion. What they cannot do is impose their conscience on other Anglicans’ consciences and expect the whole Church of England to adhere to their radical position. That is fantasy land.

The logical outcome and consequences of setting up their own church structure and unauthorised bishops (unauthorised by the Church they claim to belong to) is that they are stepping outside the Church of England. The Bible which they champion, incidentally, says more about obedience to authorities than it does about lesbian sex. But that’s selectivity for you...

By launching the ‘Credible Bishops’ initiative, and eschewing due process and dialogue within the Church of England, they need to acknowledge that they are stepping outside the Church of England itself. They need to take responsibility for that, and follow their consciences in an exodus, as of course they are entirely entitled to do.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 12:33pm BST

But in taking this exodus, although entitled to follow their consciences, they are not entitled to take properties entrusted to them by the authority and Church they contracted to serve. Those properties belong to the Church of England. They are a national heritage.

Or… the Church – if it allows this conscience-led group to abide in them – must also allow conscience-led progressives to do exactly the same. In short, a federal arrangement of many consciences, and unity in diversity. However, this option is strongly resisted by those on the conservative evangelical fringe advocating exodus from the Church of England’s authority.

To be plain, exodus from the Church of England’s authority is exodus from the Church of England.

In reality, if we cannot agree on ‘unity in diversity’, or if the leaders of the Church will not embrace it, then authority will have to be asserted to uphold the decisions of Synod, the advice of the House of Bishops, the continuing journey of the Church of England. By short-circuiting these processes, the conservative evangelical grouping under Rod Thomas’s guidance are jumping the gun, and to be honest, jumping ship. Of course, some will celebrate that, but I don’t.

People need to take responsibility for their choices; and for their consequences. If ‘unity in diversity’ will not be accepted by some conservative evangelicals (such as the Bishop of Maidstone or churches like Bishopsgate) then this is a point of schism – or the brink of schism if they don’t pull back. If they repudiate the Church’s authority, vested in its bishops and Synod, then that is an exodus setting out, and may God bless them and be with them.

It is also a journey into wilderness (or new land), leaving behind the Church of England and its properties and structures. Because these properties are for the WHOLE nation – including all the lesbian, gay, bi, trans, non-binary, intersex and otherwise queer members of it. They are a future inheritance for ALL these people. And though it may seem magnanimous to just let a rebel group keep the properties (that actually belong to the Church of England) in fact, that would be stealing them from the nation: from all the LGBT kids I care for in school, and from a nation that more and more accepts and affirms gay and lesbian lives as decent, kind and loving.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 12:35pm BST

So those who embrace a ‘Credible Bishops’ initiative need to clearly understand the extent of their exodus, and for them it would be a new beginning outside the Church of England and its properties. And that would be fair enough, though I would find it grievous and sad.

It would also, incidentally, gift the Church to more progressive members whose views they can’t accept. In allying with the Church of Nigeria, they might in effect be liberating the Church of England to flourish in its own expressions, in its own culture and communities. If they want to stay inside the Church, they can no longer demand to impose ‘their’ conscience on other people’s consciences. In terms of realipolitik, they have to accept there will be diversity in the Church. There already is. We – straight, gay, trans, lesbian, and scores of other diversities - are already here. We are joyful. We are alive. We are who we are. And we are not going away. We have communities to serve, children to support, Christ to follow in all sorts of ways.

Coming from an evangelical background myself – a moderate evangelical background that was wonderful and caring for my own children – I believe the silent majority of Anglicans in the pews don’t actually want the dogma and the schism, they simply want the Church of England to continue, albeit there is diversity and various traditions within it; and want to serve Christ in their local communities, from their local churches and church halls, and on the street – in all the ways local people need help and love and kindness. I do NOT believe most evangelicals want an ‘exodus’. In short, I believe the life of the Church of England – and the faithful lives of many evangelicals – will carry on, even if a minority at the fringe choose to self-define their exit and build new church buildings, new church structures, for themselves.

In all things: love and grace. Even at times of distancing and departure: abiding love. Indeed, especially at those times. Because love is always calling us. And the so much grace of God.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 12:37pm BST

Having looked at the six envisioned subsets of Anglicans in the CofE, the more obviously liberal ones are far too muted on the LGB and Trans advocacy. I should have thought that theme would be more front and centre.

Posted by crs at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 2:57pm BST

Giles thank you for your very timely comments on 'happy funerals' The only people to benefit from these charades is the Funeral Director, or soon to be known as Funeral Producer. They are the ones who reap in the money, more and more; at the expense of grieving families.

Yes the funeral is a time to commend the soul of the departed to the eternal care of our Creator. We have through the years a liturgy that is very fit for purpose, known as the Requiem Mass. A time to remember, a time to pray, and above all a time of Communion with our Creator.

We all need to remember by whom we are created and to Whom we return.

Self glorification has no place in a funeral service.

Fr John Emlyn

Posted by Fr John E. Harris-White at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 4:58pm BST

Andrew Brown sums it up. "He is intelligent, energetic, legalistic, strategic in his thinking; I have always found him personally repulsive."

Posted by Interested Observer at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 9:18pm BST

Giles Fraser's view of the families he deals with doesn't sit at all well with me. Part of the strength of a funeral with a good eulogy, that truly celebrates the life of the deceased, is that it tells us of the love that brings us together to mark its passing. Some of the Iona liturgies do this much better than the Victorian prayers of Common Worship. If we keep offering to people the boredom of an Anglican service that hardly speaks of the love they held for their relative or friend, it's hardly surprising when they are leaving us in droves. The services and eulogies that leave people laughing and smiling at the shared memories of the dead, are also the services that connect and bring to the surface the immense pain of their loss, and so tears come with the laughter. 'Death is nothing at all' splits opinions amongst clergy, but there is profound wisdom in the whole sermon the famous excerpt is from. The bereaved need to be allowed the whole range of emotions - yes, Giles is right to say that sadness shouldn't be denied, but neither should happiness at a life well lived.

Posted by Jeremy Fagan at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 9:22pm BST

Fraser and funerals. Surely it's not either or, but both and. It's perfectly possible to celebrate the life and celebrate the sadness. I like it when a family member gives the eulogy so I can concentrate on other things like pastoral matters for the family. The liturgy deals with the future so that I don't need to other than tell everyone that they're all destined for the coffin so it's time to think on and look sharp. That warning has led to many appreciative remarks. The other thing that people really like is incense at the commendation and proficiscere. Knickers to the theology: give us the symbolism.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse aka Fr William at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 11:13pm BST

Andrew Brown's brilliant remark - 'It appears that the only way to be absolutely certain your bishop is doing God’s work is to be that bishop yourself.'

It says so much about our times generally.

Posted by Davis at Saturday, 13 May 2017 at 11:16pm BST

Can Mr Brown produce any statement in which CESA praised the actions of the national government. Yes they presided at the state president's they sincerely believed they were the oldest Anglican Church..which when it arrived the Cape met in the Dutch Reformed Church.

Individual members of the Church ( like all denominations ) may have had less worthy views of race, but that was as true as the CPSA . I can show multi racial photographs of clergy from the 1940s , which was unthinkable in the Afrikaans Churches. Yes Reach is firmly in white leadership, but that its because of its Sydney is patronising rather than racist.

Posted by robert ian williams at Thursday, 18 May 2017 at 10:20pm BST
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