Comments: Opinion - 6 December 2017

I don't feel clear what the point of Linda's article is, except to assert the ubiquity of divination in human societies. To be honest, I'm not comfortable with casual reference to visiting a medium. Nor do I equate glossolalia with 'possession'.

My personal view is that when it comes to God's supernatural interventions, or disclosure of wisdom and understanding, we can learn to be receptive, but in my own little experiences it is God who initiates - and I sense dangers in 'going looking' for signs, wonders, visions etc.

What we should surely be seeking is: God. And opening to God's love and God's grace. That might be a surer way of growing in knowledge and understanding than... tea leaves, horoscopes, mediums (ugh!), dice or other ways than a straightforward relationship with God.

I hold Linda in high regard. I just don't understand where the logic of her article here is leading.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 6 December 2017 at 11:35am GMT

I definitely appreciated Mark Oakley's lecture. There were a lot of nuggets that seemed to glisten with truth. Among them:

"We fear God not because God is fierce and out to get us but because God is real and we aren’t always."

That is oh so true.

And this is a gem:

"God's gift to us is being, but our gift to God is becoming."

I will harbour that thought long in my heart. May we each continue to open up, continue to grow, in the love and the grace and the wonder of God.

As for the parameters of this growing: well Mark stresses 'nearness' - what might be called 'alongside-ness'. In the sharing, God's being assists our becoming. Becoming for fully human. I'm mindful this week here at Thinking Anglicans about the juxtaposition of the Graham team parachuting in to Blackpool, and the moving earlier article about Christians in one of the most deprived areas of England - Blackpool again - trying to be present, trying to be there, trying to live alongside... and their witness to a God who loves and a God who longs to draw us close. A God who is there, and real, and listening, and daring to face the hurt.

Yearning for God, seeking healing where we hurt, encountering realities about ourselves and others, learning to share... all aspects of that 'becoming' I would suppose. Somehow, becoming more real with God, and with one another. Less 'polished', less PR-presented, less controlled. Rather, borne forward by love, and beauty, and flow, and open emotions - by poetry as he puts it. Reflecting the elusive loveliness of God, the unknowing, the mysterious... but pulsing with love and our continuing call and creation.

I very much enjoyed Mark's thoughts.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 6 December 2017 at 1:10pm GMT

The article by Liam Beadle appears inspired in part by the letter written by the priest in Wiltshire, reported elsewhere in the news. It is interesting that the Bishop of Salisbury is reported as offering a particular kind of pastoral support to the priest. Not reported is what, if any, pastoral consequences may be in order for the congregation the priest was serving. That is my one specific question from afar.

With regard to the generalities the Beadle piece addresses, conflict is a possibility in many walks of life. As parish priest I have had occasion to engage in confrontation within a parish. The trick is to engage people candidly, address the specifics, avoid a "shot gun" approach aimed at everyone, trying as much as is humanly possible to treat people as equals worthy of respect and demand the same in return. One must have competent trustworthy persons with whom one converses about one's conflicts with others.

Confrontation on those few occasions when required can be much more constructive in the long run than ongoing passive aggressive reactions typical in pastoral relationships.

Beadle notes correctly that clergy can have unrealistic expectations of people. This is sometimes manifested in a modus operandi best described as in loco parentis. Frustrated expectations are met by exhorting parishioners to be more 'religious' and admonishing them for not being 'holy' enough. It is a pattern observed over many years that has always bothered me.

The people we serve have lives that are difficult and challenging and often characterized by family anxiety, dysfunction, and unresolved conflicts at home or at work. It is crucial to care about people, to listen like crazy, while being aware of the limits of both one's competence and pastoral contribution. Making a small contribution to ease the suffering of others usually has to be enough--and it can be enough in a meaningful way for priest and parishioner who see one another as equals.


Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 6 December 2017 at 2:43pm GMT

All Saints Burbage sounds a snake pit of a parish. I have every sympathy for the Revd Andy Thewlis. No half decent candidate to succeed him will give it a glance, at least not without new churchwardens and PCC members whose key role should be to support their incumbent, not undermine him or her. This is all too common in parishes sadly and I hope the bishop was even handed in his response and involvement.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Wednesday, 6 December 2017 at 7:58pm GMT

"The fuzzy boundary between divination and magic is another topic worthy of a treatise in its own right. Early Christian writers often bracketed the two together, condemning them in the same breath as practices which encouraged the demonic deceptions. ‘Sorcery’ comes from sors, the Latin word for a divinatory lot." - Linda Woodhead -

I must confess to my distinct aversion to anything smacking of sorcery or witchcraft. Solomon's epic downfall was attributed to such endeavours. There is, in my opinion, a distinct difference between the charism of 'discernment' - a biblical principle - and cultic divination that is connected with anything but a search, in a dry land, for water.

I have great respect for Linda's observations on the Church's treatment of women and LGBTQI people, but draw the line at sorcery.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 6 December 2017 at 10:12pm GMT

Ian Paul, who is not normally a fan of anything that promotes the Catholic understanding of how best to encourage faith through sacramentalism, rather than sola scriptura preaching, maybe can see the weaknesses present in Richard Peers' presentation of a credibility gap that seems to have appeared in the A/C community in the Church of England. Might I suggest that this could be directly attributable to its divide on women's ministry?

Anglo Catholic churches in other countries - such as New Zealand - have adapted to the modern understanding of women as being equal to men in their capacity to preside at The Eucharist. This means that the division existing in the Catholic wing of the Church of England on this issue is not reflected here.

I am heartened by the fact that the Anglo-Catholic church of St.Matthew's, Westminster in England, has a picture of vested women behind the altar on its website. Surely there must be other such A/C parishes in England that have kept in touch with the progress made on this issue?

Sadly, however, the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham seems not yet ready to accept that; if the task of a priest is, primarily, to facilitate the Presence of Christ on the altar; then Mary actually brought forth the Presence of Jesus in her womb - a very priestly act.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 6 December 2017 at 10:50pm GMT

Liam Beadle's piece tells a truthful story. I have spoken to four clergy in the past six weeks who have left (or are just about to leave) parishes without another job to go to, simply because they are physically and mentally exhausted. They cannot face any more of the destructive behaviour of people who are either bullying or slandering others and/or the vicar; or who are determined to remain unchallenged in their belief that the church is their personal play park, and refuse to see the church as being of service to the wider community. In two of these instances, the priest concerned is being undermined by an OLM colleague (i.e. not simply a SSM, but a home-grown person, who has no experience of the church in other contexts, who has been, in effect, 'chosen' by the local congregation; then trained locally, serves in that one parish only, and who, inevitably, colludes with the local culture because it is all they know). In all four cases, they are small, struggling rural parishes.

What I am sensing is that Renewal and Reform, as well as other diocesan programmes to facilitate growth, are being delivered through a megaphone to the parish clergy, who are then expected to do the hierarchy's dirty work by selling it to a small core of the local church (PCC and wardens especially) who are resistant to change. The accumulative effects, over a sustained period, is (not surprisingly) having an impact on the health of clergy - as well as their sense of perspective.

Compounding this is the jittery, corporate culture of the Church, which means that increasing numbers of clergy are fearful of making mistakes, let alone asking for help, as more and more archdeacons are resorting to the CDM as a matter of default, and bishops simply don't want to know. As has often been said, there is no parallel process for wardens and other lay officers who behave selfishly and unprofessionally.

Rod Gillis makes a valid point, but it is not always easy to be specific when the causes of malaise in a parish (and the wider church) are 'legion' and a scatter-gun approach seems like the only option. I am glad that the Bishop of Salisbury is offering pastoral support to Andrew Thewlis; but the more sentient question should be 'What factors - and people - brought him to take this action?' Getting him to apologise for the letter is just a tidy archidiaconal-sounding strategy to paper over the cracks and preserve the reputation of the institution.

Posted by David Richards at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 7:53am GMT

Linda Woodhead has discovered the forgotten gift of divination.
Well I thought, this could save an awful lot of time in my discernment work as a DDO. What to use? Dice? Tarot cards? Tea leaves? Or just book all my candidates in for a reading at the witchcraft shop on the corner of the Cathedral Close here. Well partly for budget reasons and partly because it was to hand I caught and strangled the pigeon on my office windowsill and poked around its entrails with my predecessor’s letter opener. As my theological training was hopelessly inadequate on occult arts (evangelicals! – don't get me started!!) I was not sure what I was looking for. But then the candidate was suddenly, violently sick on the carpet. This of course revealed he was not ‘RESILIENT’ (currently THE defining criteria for all things in the Church of England). So it works!
Just off to Sainsbury’s for some carpet cleaner.

Posted by David Runcorn at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 7:59am GMT

Fr Ron,

I have always read with interest your comments, and coming from New Zealand which I have toured and loved, you bring added interest.
Your final words in your comment are a Blessing to us all, so powerful, and true. I share your understanding, as each day we pray the Angelus.

AS a priest associate of Walsingham, I pray that the powers that be will be brought to a deeper understanding of Priesthood, and be agents to bringing the two wings of our catholic church in England together.

For myself I honour and am grateful for those women priests of the catholic wing of the Church of England, many who are Religious, who serve alongside us in our church.

Posted by Fr John E Harris-White at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 8:51am GMT

Thank you Anthony Archer and David Richards. As an academic social psychologist my research area is workplace bullying in churches and other religious groups. It is, sadly, widespread in the Church of England and goes largely unchallenged and the targets go unsupported and the perpetrators unchallenged and undisciplined. The 2008 Dignity at Work paper is currently being revised by the Clergy HR team at Church House Westminster and is being brought up to date with amongst other things, the legislation of the 2010 Equality Act. Until the senior staff in all dioceses take these issues seriously there is little hope that targets or perpetrators will get the help they need. Mr. Thewlis needs far more than a sabbatical, he needs the active support of his Bishop AND the knowledge that somebody with the relevant expertise and ability will go into the Parish to investigate ‘on the ground’ what is and has been happening. Mr Thewlis is clearly a man of integrity to have written an apology, but I am not sure that this will have been an entirely appropriate response. Too often the Church has the response of Deny, Minimise, Blame. Ten years ago in Australia it was found that the commonest reason for a priest to leave ordained ministry within their first 5 years was because of being bullied. My research has uncovered some tragic stories. Far too often I have been told that the targets have tried to get senior people in the Diocese to listen to them without success, and that I have been the first person to listen to their stories. Very recent research from the NHS to negligence claims has been shown the response has often been ‘deny, delay, defend’. The church should be modelling best practice. As in all abuse situations, the target is never to blame. We are all human beings, with greater or lesser flaws and none of us always behaves as well as we would want to in all situations, so we all need the opportunity to be able to share these situations before they get completely out of hand and targets either leave the church, or go on extended sick leave. Our prayers should be with Mr. Thewlis and his family. Clergy spouses and children ore often as damaged as the clergy person in these situations, but the church rarely offers them any help or support. I hope we will all be keeping the whole family in our prayers. I also hope that somebody has pointed them in the direction of the Sheldon Community, a wonderful resource for clergy and their families in these times.

Posted by Anne Lee at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 10:02am GMT

Following David Richards comments on Liam Beadle's piece, I'd like to enter a plea for incumbents to consider the value of local knowledge (every parish is different) and the worth of assistant clergy (whether OLM or NSM) who can provide such knowledge. Unless the Vicar is prepared themselves to change some, if not all, of the people will recognise the hypocrisy and resist. Simply trying to make this parish the same as your last one will not do.
And finally the scattergun approach is always wrong. If you can't think of anything else, do nothing!

Posted by RevPeterM at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 10:22am GMT

Reading the piece by Colin Coward is very interesting...in many ways it mirrors my own position and experience....but it does leave us out on a limb. I have never "loved" the Church of England as many people do, even though I spent 22 years of my professional life trying to protect it in the media and beyond. Personally I have always felt most comfortable on the fringe between the Church and the world...which is quite an uncomfortable place to be....because neither side fully embraces you...and then when the old, familiar, unexamined certainties start falling away you're in trouble! It is also a fairly lonely place to be. I always remember Bishop John Waller (who I think in many ways was in a similar place) saying "don't worry about the minority position, just find one or two folk for support, who are in the same place and position".......and it works and you hang on in there by your finger tips!

Posted by Robert Ellis at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 10:30am GMT

Father Ron Smith,
'if the task of a priest is, primarily, to facilitate the Presence of Christ on the altar; then Mary actually brought forth the Presence of Jesus in her womb - a very priestly act.'
Wonderful words and how I wish your views were shared throughout the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church. The discrimination against priests who happen to be women or are men who are affirming of women is causing a great deal of pain and suffering. So much so that some of us (not necessarily ordained ourselves) are considering leaving the Church of England.

Posted by not flourishing high church woman at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 11:29am GMT

Re: comments by David Richards and Rev.PeterM, interesting discussion. With regard to OLM, our diocese has been invested in those kinds of auxiliary priestly ministries, initially termed non-stipendiary priests or more recently associate priests. They can be sources of inter-personal conflict between the two types of clergy with enmeshment of the wider parish following upon quickly and extensively.

The flash point may come with the departure of the rector incumbent during the time the non-stipe has been 'raised up' by the parish and the subsequent arrival of a new rector who "knew not Joseph" kind of thing.

The other issue is clergy burn out. I invested a lot of time studying issues of burn out during my two tours as archdeacon. The Liam Beadle article considers the range and volume of parochial clergy tasks; as Beadle suggests, it is not simply a matter of how much work one does. There is also the kind of work, the nature of expectations placed on clergy and/or that clergy place upon themselves.

Pastoring parishioners who are experiencing trauma may also result in the priest developing vicarious suffering syndrome.

There are other issues as well, including trauma a priest may have experienced in life prior to ordination or outside of parish life.

Sometimes candidates for ordination seriously underestimate the polarities of parochial life. They are psychologically or constitutionally unprepared for both the repetitive common round "ground hog day" nature of parochial ministry and the amount of episodic emotional trauma in the lives of their parishioners that punctuates parochial ministry.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 6:26pm GMT

The link to the Mark Oakley piece doesn't appear to work.

Posted by David Emmott at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 8:53pm GMT

I forgot that Modern Church does not allow other sites to link directly to their downloads; you have to go via their news pages. I have now put in a working link.

Posted by Peter Owen at Thursday, 7 December 2017 at 11:41pm GMT

"Sometimes candidates for ordination seriously underestimate the polarities of parochial life. They are psychologically or constitutionally unprepared for both the repetitive common round "ground hog day" nature of parochial ministry and the amount of episodic emotional trauma in the lives of their parishioners that punctuates parochial ministry."

Rod - I agree. Most ordinands I have taught over the last 20 years are great people but a few have unrealistic expectations of what lies ahead. Some BAP advisers pick up on this and some do not. It is an especial issue with regard to those heading towards being incumbents and sometimes hard to get bishops and DDOs to take seriously TEI's concerns here.

As regards MSE / NSM / OLM and the incumbent (sometimes the incumbent is an MSE by the way) - it helps if you train everyone together as most regions now do (and some colleges too). If Readers train alongside ordinands, even better. We have been doing this in parts of East Anglia for a long time and see the positive results as regards collaborative minstry. However, I sometimes meet college trained clergy who seem to regard non-stipendiaries and Readers as inherently inferior. And one of my former students (an NSM) welcomed a new incumbent into his church who had never met an NSM and could not understand how that worked. Indeed, the new vicar had never heard that non-stipendiary clergy existed....

Posted by Charles Read at Friday, 8 December 2017 at 12:20am GMT

What time is it Eccles?
Excellent lecture by Canon Mark Oakley but I fear a typo has crept into the script on page three - for Good read Goon.

Posted by Father David at Friday, 8 December 2017 at 7:11am GMT

Rev Peter M is right to point to the value of 'local knowledge.' There are rather too many lazy clergy around who think they can move to a new parish and use the same formula as last time. But how often is 'local knowledge' used as a pretext for obduracy and stagnation: 'we know what we like, and we don't want to be any different'? For that reason, I am grateful to have read Peter's comments alongside Anne Lee's.

It's all very well imposing top-down brilliant ideas on to parishes, but who is paying the price of attempting to implement them? It strikes me that Dioceses not being able to bear the cost of the 50% increase in ordinands is, in principle, a prime example of this.

I realize this is a huge can of worms, and likely to incite howls of protest, but I cannot help feeling that while the Church insists on a two-tier system of training (residential and local - especially when, in practice, residential is restricted to the under 40s) the propensity for the kind of collusion with resistance to a 'new' perspective is always going to be around - especially in small, insular communities.

Posted by Michael Mulhern at Friday, 8 December 2017 at 12:47pm GMT

Re Charles Read, thanks for the informative comment. The integration of various streams of training/ formation as you describe it from your context there seems constructive and problem solving oriented.

The context for my comments was very different. Two solitudes, as it was anyway, best described our local situation with regard to clergy trained in a residential theological college/divinity school and the non-stipes trained in non-residential programs. We have now considerable history of non-stipe clergy deployed in many of our parishes. I suspect many of the growing pains have eased. I have been retired for over five years. I'm not up to date on the local scene.

My experience of working with conflict motivated me to try and appreciate the psychology of individuals in relation to institutional vectors with the goal of understanding and remediating conflict before assigning either motivation and/or blame. Some of this was the result of the excellent training that was provided by the diocese to archdeacons during the ten years I was in that role. I'm unclear whether archdeacons' training remains in place.

The institution can set people up for problems and then focus immediately on micromanagement and public relations when things go south. Dwindling resources compound the problems.

I agree in part with other sentiments noted in the thread i.e. when one is in a new situation it is a good idea to try and find out what has been going on before saying too much. ( :

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 8 December 2017 at 9:50pm GMT

Charles Read: "However, I sometimes meet college trained clergy who seem to regard non-stipendiaries and Readers as inherently inferior." I could not have put that better myself! As the spouse of an MSE (Minister in Secular Employment) this is our common experience. I could go on about the sacrifice we are making: full time employment AND ministry, but I won't. In my experience the stipendiary clergy who behave in this way are motivated by one of two things, envy or fear. Envy: they are envious of our perceived lifestyle with salaries which exceed a stipend. Fear: we appear 'successful' in our secular employment and they can't cope with that apparent success. One of the important issues in ministry in secular employment, whether ordained or lay, is that we meet people on a daily basis who never go to church. We have a fantastic mission field. Another is that we are not trying to measure our 'success' in ministry by the number of people in church. Our major 'tool' for mission is that we are trying to live out our faith in our daily work, loving people into the Kingdom. Trying to demonstrate the love of Christ in our work, in our working practices, in the ways in which we respond to and react with the people and the situations, with which we are in daily contact. For whom we may be the only opportunity 'the Church' has of meeting them. Another major issue is that we bring experience and expertise to the Church which few stipendiary clergy are able to bring. We are a major missed opportunity. How many dioceses actually use the expertise of their MSE's, SSM's or Readers which is freely available to them? Most Bishops or Archdeacons don't even know what experience 'their' MSE's, SSM's or Readers have, let alone try to use it. I could go on at length, but thankfully for all of you I won't. I hope you have got the gist! Thank you Charles Read for raising this.

Posted by Anne at Saturday, 9 December 2017 at 7:13am GMT

Re Anne, if your post with its attempt to assign motivation and blame in others ("In my experience the stipendiary clergy who behave in this way are motivated by one of two things, envy or fear.") is typical, then little wonder there is conflict in the church.

"Trying to demonstrate the love of Christ in our work, in our working practices, in the ways in which we respond to and react with the people and the situations, with which we are in daily contact." That is a very altruistic goal. Do you find you are able to apply it in the parish as well, and with your clergy spouse's stipendiary colleagues?

"I hope you have got the gist!" Indeed!


Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 9 December 2017 at 2:34pm GMT

Dear Rod Gillis, thank you for your response. I am sorry you think that demonstrating the love of Christ in our work and working practices is an altruistic goal. Surely it is the goal of all of us who are followers of Jesus? Yes of course we are flawed human beings who make mistakes but trying to demonstrate the love of Christ I would have thought was the fundamental goal of a Christian. And yes of course I include the parish and stipendiary clergy. In the post I was only talking about our secular context. I am sorry if you found it limited, perhaps I should have added another sentence (or two) to make that clear.

Posted by Anne at Sunday, 10 December 2017 at 11:57am GMT

Rod Gillis, I forgot to say that there was no attempt on my part to assign blame, I was just trying to explain possible motivation. Happy Advent!

Posted by Anne at Sunday, 10 December 2017 at 12:00pm GMT

Re Anne, Altruism in the sense of subordinating self regard to a regard for others seems not a bad way to describe discipleship; but my comment was intended to spark a reflection on the congruence between your stated goal in the secular work place alongside what appear to be some very strong frustrations with stipendiary clergy in the 'church place'if you will i.e a category of clergy (stipendiary) you perceive motivated by fear and envy, no?

Taken as general comment I was reminded of conflict situations I encountered as an archdeacon. Such instances would have caused me concern in a parochial situation in the order of: (1) the person expressing profound frustration (2) the ministry of all every ordained person(s) in that context and (3) possible implications for the parochial context itself.

One would hope that those responsible for oversight in such a situation, the bishop and the bishop's delegates, would be proactive and provide pastoral resourcing to all involved.

"...no attempt on my part to assign blame, I was just trying to explain possible motivation..." Motivation and blame tend to be walking partners. When one is in a visceral state, as all of us are from time to time, especially when in conflict with others, then assigning motivation becomes perilous and with a skewing effect.

In any event, advice that is worth exactly what you paid for it.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 10 December 2017 at 10:18pm GMT

Rod Gillis, I am so sorry that I hit what is obviously a very sore nerve for you.

Christ came down at Christmas! Happy Advent as we await His coming.

Posted by Anne at Tuesday, 12 December 2017 at 10:11am GMT

Re Anne, "I am so sorry that I hit what is obviously a very sore nerve for you."

Actually, I'm thinking the thread which provoked your original comment about the fear and envy you say you find in others, has struck a nerve in you.

If your comment is reflective of an actual situation, I would recommend you have someone with the appropriate pastoral skill set to talk to about how you feel about it all.

I have tried to frame my remarks here so that they focused on the generalities of your comments in a way that allowed me to draw on my experience dealing with conflict, and in a way which others who find themselves in a space such as yours, may find pertinent. Additional comment from me on your specific conflicts would not be helpful.

I wish you well going forward.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 12 December 2017 at 1:35pm GMT
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