Comments: Opinion - 17 February 2018

Agree with Mish: to the degree that the church is "organized," i.e., has a power structure, it will be abusive, because it's in the nature of power structures to do whatever they have to do, including sacrifice whomever they have to, in order, at the very least, to maintain their status quo. Doesn't matter what kind of organization it is either: an oil company, an international relief agency, a university or a small evangelical sect will all behave in exactly the same way to preserve themselves. So while it's no longer permissible (thanks to the birth of the ethos of the modern state) for churches to subject "heretics" to the rack, churches continue to strip dissenting clergy of position and of their legitimately earned retirement monies, basically leaving them to starve. And because the church bureaucratic here in hell believes itself to be, somehow, a divine agency, it still has an astonishing capacity for congratulating itself for its egregiously evil behavior.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Saturday, 17 February 2018 at 4:58pm GMT

I defer to no-one in my distrust of institutions (I've been accused of "cynicism" here several times, as if that were something to be ashamed of), but the above goes too far even for me.

Power structures are, ultimately, driven by people, and their responses vary from the worst to the best of human behavior. I've experienced everything Daniel says from powerful people (or those who imagine themselves to be such); but have also had people in power admit mistakes, set them right without prompting, and go to bat for me far beyond the call of duty.

What we need isn't a counsel of despair, but structures in place to catch the bad and reward the good. Power can be abusive, yes, but it needn't be.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 18 February 2018 at 5:00pm GMT

Mr Byron, I want to believe everything you say just as you've said it. Of course power needn't be abusive, but I think one of the reasons monks who were nominated to be bishops in the early church fled into hiding in the desert was because they knew too well how power or even fantasies of power acted on them and didn't dare take the risk. And yes, people do go to bat sometimes for those mistreated; but (I'm sorry to say this) if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on saying that members of bureaucracies are bullied into silence much more often than otherwise, lest they risk their own well-being within the bureaucracy. We see this type of thing in church life daily. For decades, bishops knowingly ordained gay people to the priesthood long before it was canonical to do so, and simply kept quiet about it rather than risk public exposure for it--even though (I'm quite certain) the majority of bishops were doing so, but, er, stayed in the closet about it. Maybe all of that is a bit tangential to the point, but is intended to address the less reputable dynamics of power.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Sunday, 18 February 2018 at 10:49pm GMT

Excellent article by Rosie Harper. Abuse can be exercised by neglect as well as positive activity.The Church's neglect of the LGBTQ community could be considered abuse of a minority in the Church as well as outside of the Church.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 19 February 2018 at 9:29am GMT

@ Fr Smith: The type of neglect you bring up is what led to the rise of Methodism: neglect of the poor and working poor by the Established Church led Wesley to take into his own hands the evangelizing of those neglected groups. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Monday, 19 February 2018 at 1:59pm GMT

There’s a great deal of truth in Canon Harper’s piece. And of course it’s not just the churches. Now boarding schools are in the firing line with Alex Renton’s book and the forthcoming ITV documentary. Mark Stibbe has already raised awareness of this issue and, having had two sons at cathedral choir schools, I can’t help wondering how long it will be before the Church questions its association with them. As many have said, it’s all about power. As a former assistant DDO, albeit briefly, I wonder why we put ourselves forward as candidates for ordination. I wonder why the parish communion movement took off when it did. I suspect it was so that clergy could big themselves up again at a time when status was slipping away. I love catholic theology and ritual; I am sustained by the theology of that great English churchman Lancelot Andrewes; I concur with R S Thomas’s view of protestantism as a castrator of art (and delight and pleasure). Yet, as far as the Methodist business is concerned, we should say yes now without further ado or condition. I’ve never understood what bishops are for other than to look after the clergy, and I know that some do. I don’t care two hoots about apostolic succession, and I will take the sacrament from anybody who ‘consecrates’ it in a seemly fashion (that rules out more than a few Anglicans), including ’lay’ people. In any case, according to the biggest Christian organization on the planet, I am a layman myself. How I regard the bread/wafer and juice/wine is up to me; its efficacy is up to the Lord and I would not presume to judge that.

I’m having time off from TA. Same old same old topics, same old same old people talking at each other. The problem, if problem there be, is doubtless mine and mine alone, but nevertheless, bye bye.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Monday, 19 February 2018 at 9:02pm GMT

Yes, Daniel. And women in the Church have experienced this paternalistic nonsense for a long time now. No wonder they find the Church resistant to change - even when their talents are now being recognised. "How long, O Lord, how long?"

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 19 February 2018 at 10:03pm GMT

I am saddened to read that Fr Monkhouse is no longer to comment here. His views and his own blog are always stimulating and sensible and his words are an oasis of sanity in an increasingly insane Church. Please Father don't leave us!

Posted by FrDavidH at Monday, 19 February 2018 at 10:26pm GMT

Stanley Monkhouse,
I'm sorry to see you leave here.
I can understand it! It does get tedious to have the same conversations over and over again.
This will not change until the church changes.

But I can assure you that many of us here don't just comment, but that we do what we can in real life to change matters. Each in our own sphere of small influence.

And together, bit by bit, we WILL change the church.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 20 February 2018 at 9:04am GMT

Michael Volland's piece is timely and necessary, because residential training has never been in a more dangerous position. As economic pressures crowd the horizon, and ill-informed commentators bang the drum of 'practical experience' ever loudly, you also have to reckon with the fact that you have two 'partners in crime' in Lambeth Palace who have negative things to say about their experience of residential training at Cranmner Hall and St Stephen's House. That one of them now chairs the Development Advisory Group (i.e. is a goalkeeper for the preferment list), and the other is openly talking about what he will - and will not - bless, I think it is more important than ever for the value of residential training to be promoted. If not, we can kiss goodbye to a theologically literate and spiritually well-formed clergy in the future.

Posted by Graham Hardy at Tuesday, 20 February 2018 at 9:17am GMT

Re: Stanley Monkhouse, "Same old same old topics, same old same old people talking at each other."

But Stanley, you could be describing the church, any church, in general with those words.

The news this morning is the usual horrific chronicle of events from war criminals running amok in Syria to the rise of the far right in Europe to the endless grinding down of the poor in western democracies by way of government austerity.

Yet the conversation in churches of all types seems increasingly irrelevant and inane. For example, the latest is the tempest in Rome over replacing the word 'cup' with the word 'chalice in the Eucharistic prayers. Example:

"In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands, and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing and gave the chalice to his disciples..." ( RC Eucharistic Prayer I)

I can understand your taking time off from TA; but increasingly these days I'm thinking about taking time off from organized religion. Can one give up 'church' for lent?

In any event, I hope you have bread for your journey.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 20 February 2018 at 1:06pm GMT

Thank you Erica. Just what I wanted to say to Stanley Monkhouse. We will miss you SM. I think/hope Erica is right that we are all, or almost all, involved in doing what we can to get change in the church. One day we will all meet when our circles of influence meet each other and we have achieved it!

Posted by Anne Lee at Tuesday, 20 February 2018 at 3:56pm GMT

Oh I entirely agree that cover-ups are the rule, Daniel, not the exception. It takes a strong moral character to do otherwise, which most of us lack. That's why processes need to be in place to compensate for our shortcomings.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 20 February 2018 at 6:23pm GMT

Dear Fr. Stanley (Monkhouse). Many of us here on T.A., I am sure, will identify with your need to take time out from the constant battling on the web for the need of the Church to become open to the real world of today. Not by neglect of the glories of the past - with its accent on beautiful liturgy and music - but with a sense of mission open to and attendant on the poor, the lonely and the outcast of society. This was a work begun with the clergy of the Oxford Movement - people like those in London's East End, whose ministry was to ALL people not just the great and the good.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 20 February 2018 at 10:42pm GMT

I wonder if Michael Volland thinks that those of us who were formed on courses rather than in residential colleges are in fact unformed and second rate priests, lacking in experience of grace and incapable of thinking, acting and living with theological insight?

Posted by Chris Wedge at Wednesday, 21 February 2018 at 12:21pm GMT

Re: Fr. Ron, "...the Oxford Movement London's East End, whose ministry was to ALL people not just the great and the good."

Ron, there are lots of examples of past glories that have inspired us all I'm sure--although one has to evaluate their actual legacy and impact from the the critical vantage point of historical distance.

Note What Chris Hedges says in this interview (link) about the fate of his clergy father: "He took very unpopular stances within the church around the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and the gay rights issue. His brother was gay. My uncle was pretty much disowned by the rest of his family, and my father translated that into the pain of all gays. He was very outspoken, and the church was very unforgiving of that. It was a good lesson because it taught me that institutions, including the church, do not reward you for virtue. My father pretty much got pushed out of the church."

The larger point I take from Stanley's sign off comment is about finding oneself in an echo chamber. It is true of blog sites and it is true of the church in general. What is it like where you are? Up here the church is yamming about discipleship and holding 'mission schools' attended by its aging dwindling membership. It is a panic strategy to get bums on seats in redundant buildings. The 'missional' argot is in air everywhere on the inside. Meanwhile outside the echo chamber the world is in flames.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 21 February 2018 at 3:02pm GMT

Chris Wedge This article was written on the Ridley website to commend residential training - and Ridley's in particular. in that context it would be odd to find him doing anything else. But why assume he means training on courses is the opposite? Furthermore if any form of training is under threat in the present climate it is residential not courses. Hence his emphasis - which I support. Meanwhile I work with both in my job. Both have distinctives to offer and the wisdom is knowing which would benefit a candidate best all other factors (such as age) being equal.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 21 February 2018 at 8:31pm GMT

Michael Volland's arguments for fully residential college based training also apply to part-residential course based training. Hence he does not make a case for the distinctiveness of college based training - though such a case can be made and I think I could make it!

Posted by Charles Read at Thursday, 22 February 2018 at 12:16am GMT

I'm with Stanley Monkhouse in heading for the EXIT door. I've discovered Justin Welby is bad for my blood pressure and reading about his machinations week in/out on TA is addictive and depressing in about equal measure. I need to break out of the bubble. Listening to many TA posters is like listening to Brexiteers telling us how great Britain was/is/will be. To most people in society today the C of E is at best an irrelevance and at worst a joke. Some notes: There are only about thirty regular posters on TA! (echo chamber!) (IO is by far the most lucid and incisive.) LGBTI posts always attract at least thirty posts, and often make a hundred! There is a tiresome tendency to go 'off-thread.' There will be an interesting discussion on child poverty and then someone will mention the type of lace cotter they were wearing last Sunday and a fifty-post discussion will ensue! Grateful thanks to the excellent moderators and goodbye!

Posted by Stephen Morgan at Thursday, 22 February 2018 at 10:04am GMT

Commenters leaving TA is not as significant as those leaving the Church itself. I fearthe majority of people consider that religion has had its day and holds no meaningful significance in everyday life. Alpha courses,Messy Church and other trite initiatives can't counter a disillusionment with all religions. The majority of English people have simply decided Christianity is not true.

Posted by FrDavidH at Thursday, 22 February 2018 at 1:36pm GMT

Stanley Monkhouse's post of 19 February gave the thread a certain trajectory. Stanley began by referencing Canon Harper’s piece. So I went back and re-read it.

Harper asks, " ...scary question: Is it right to stay within the institution of a church which treats its weakest with such disdain?" Her answer is in her penultimate paragraph i.e. think local; faith stories, and the values of kindness and love.

Her question is a good one going beyond staying or leaving blog sites or what posse one hangs with at synod.

Her answer is on the way to a solution. The problem is, what is the nature of the local community to which Harper points? Is it the parochial community?

Harper is right about the most important aspects of her proposed solution, i.e. an attention to lived values; but can we not think about those in a post-parochial system?

The few young people today who are discerning a call to ministry might look at ways of serving the values of the gospel while avoiding a moribund parish system. By all means do religious studies, read theology, get ordained by your chosen community; but look for a companion calling in that community. Become an environmentalist, a teacher, a poet, a therapist, a community activist, a carpenter.

As for echo chambers and synod cliques, even the U.N. Security Council is an echo chamber. But one must not give up on humanity or our planet.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 22 February 2018 at 5:13pm GMT

As one who has bid adieu for the Lenten season I second the commendation of the moderators here. Stellar work over the years. Godspeed to TA folk. The Preacher has understood seasons well.

Posted by christopher seitz at Thursday, 22 February 2018 at 6:28pm GMT

Given the reflections here about staying or leaving, whether in terms of blog sites or in the terms raised by Canon Rosie Harper in her article, I thought this article from The Guardian from a few years back may be of interest. The article is titled, We Must Escape the Institution by Theo Hobson who writes:

"Maybe we should learn to see religion as a special sort of artistic tradition. And maybe this is the way in which a non-institutional Christian identity can gain traction."

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 23 February 2018 at 1:41pm GMT
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