Comments: Opinion - 2 May 2018

I am amused that the term 'Staggers' apparently triggers elitist micro-aggressions against working class people, whereas 'The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley' is evidently an entirely transparent way of introducing yourself.

Posted by Robin Ward at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 11:17am BST

"And so the Church of England continues its merry way, the last refuge of the 18th Century." - Archdruid Eileen.

I think 1938, Interested Observer thinks 1968. Archdruid Eileen thinks C18. Any other suggestions?

In real life today I am dealing with a high street bank which genuinely believes it is OK to discriminate (even if illegal) so long as they do it politely. I think that is essentially the problem Eileen is describing. The institutional Church is entirely comfortable discriminating so long as it does it genteely and tries to recruit people who can do that, preferably in a mellifluous, posh accent. It is a triumph of form over substance.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 11:49am BST

"They are my LGBT family – but they’re also more than that. Whether straight or gay, young or old, grumpy or not so grumpy, we see each other at our best and worst, and we’re still there for one another. They’re friends for life, and they’re my family." - Victoria Stock

For me Victoria's piece is one of the most important linked on TA in many months because it describes so eloquently the end-point we need to reach and explains why it is important. As I keep saying, the key is unconditional welcome in every parish. Every LGBTI Christian should be able to go into their nearest church and find the welcome and Communion - family - Victoria describes. And yes, marriage if two of that family fall in love even if they are the same gender. There can be no opt out for conscience by individual parishes or ministers- unconditional welcome and acceptance goes to the core of ecclesial Christianity.

My thanks to Victoria for sharing something so wonderful.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 12:07pm BST

About 'Staggers'. OK, it is in-talk and I would only use a term like that in conversation with someone I am confident would recognise it. But please don't assume that Oxford talk implies public school. It really doesn't.

Posted by Flora Alexander at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 4:44pm BST

Thanks for posting the The Rev. Canon Anna Norman-Walker's article on the Windrush generation. It is a very moving and insightful addition to the coverage of the story by the secular press.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 5:22pm BST

I trained as an ABM selector in 2000 (now it would be called a BAP adviser - evidently someone who can counsel you which sandwich to choose). I was taken aback at how the procedures and assumptions we were taught discriminated against working class people. I raised some of these issues during the training, which probably didn't make me popular.

There were other issues too. I remember one question about what was the candidate's most significant spiritual experience. We were told certain answers should be marked as wrong. That's not on - if someone describes to me a formative spiritual experience, it's not up to me to tell them it wasn't significant, or shouldn't have been. The Holy Spirit can't be caged like that.

It reminds me of when I was undergoing the 'discernment procedure' for women priests in 1994. The selectors asked me to tell them how and when I was called, which I did. They then said, 'That can't have happened.' 'Why can't it have happened,' I enquired, taken aback. 'The Church hadn't made up its mind then.' As if God didn't know beforehand that it would! Or might even call people the Church doesn't approve of, or feel comfortable with. Which takes us back to the lack of ministerial opportunities for working class people.

Posted by Janet Fife at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 5:23pm BST

I don't have a clue what 'Staggers' means.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 5:43pm BST

What a wonderful piece by Anna Norman Walker. I am deeply ashamed of our Government over this immigrant debacle. A lovely photograph of Marvellous, his sister and brother. Thank you so much for writing the piece Anna and for TA for giving us the link to it.

Posted by Anne Lee at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 7:23pm BST

It is amusing how Robin Ward and Flora Alexander focus defensively on the staggers terminology, rather illustrating Archdruid Eileen's point.

It really doesn't matter that not everyone who gets to Oxbridge is educated in the commercial sector, because such neat equations rarely happen. Instead we all observe that Oxbridgeans are disproportionately posh.

And the posh (and rich) try to control the language by making their ways and terminology normative.

Even when, as in this case, their ways can give us no understanding. Staggerering!

Posted by RevPeterM at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 8:36pm BST

I don't actually disagree with Archdruid Eileen's argument. I was reacting rather irritably to the idea that Oxford is overwhelmingly posh, and I recognise that this is a trivial digression from Archdruid Eileen's essential point. For the record, Oxford admissions recently show that 55% of students are state-educated; still not enough, but it is a majority. And 'Staggers' is an Oxford theological college with a catholic tradition.

Posted by Flora Alexander at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 10:30pm BST

I had always thought that 'The Staggers' referred to 'The New Statesman'. I am reasonably au fait with CofE in-language but I had to look up 'Staggers'. It is the name which alumni use of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford college, St Stephen's House. It reminds me of the way public-schoolboy rugby fanatics refer to Twickenham as 'Twickers'. All totally meaningless to most of the world.

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 11:23pm BST

The vast majority of those involved in the selection of candidates for ordination in the Church of England over many years have shown overwhelmingly they absolutely do not want people from what was once known as the working class as vicars, archdeacons or anything else for that matter.

The points made by Archdruid Eileen are as ever amusing and, as with the best humour, unerringly point to unpalatable truths.

I ought to know as it has been my experience throughout selection, training, ordination and ministry. My parents were solid working class, we lived in a council house on a brand new post war estate in London. I still remember the first vocations event I attended, sometime around 1980/81 where I stood out like the proverbial sore thumb.

After my ACCM selection conference the bishop of our diocese wrote saying I'd been recommended for training, though my spirituality was thought to be 'earthy'. It was to be hoped that 3 years at college would rectify that.

I soon learned that 'earthy' was church speak for working class with attitude and it made me laugh whenever I attended lectures on social justice where tutors banged on about opposing prejudice, apartheid and so on yet cheerfully perpetuated their prejudices against people like me.

Still today our diocesan pathway for OLM /NSM involves evening lectures and study groups, weekends away, the reading of lots of expensive books and of course writing essays. Whenever I challenge this I'm told, 'oh but we bend over backwards to make it possible for anyone...' Really?

Disadvantaged communities are not empowered by being invited to adopt an alien culture. Most clergy I meet assume working class estate parishes are awful and most people want to escape to the 'burbs - guess what? They aren't and we don't. Yet I lose count of the times over the years colleagues, and some bishops, have told me I am 'brave' to stay where I choose to.

The C of E is still essentially an anxiety driven middle class suburban culture and will NEVER make significant inroads into working class communities because it doesn't like or understand them and doesn't really want to.

As they sing at Millwall, 'no one likes us, we don't care' and we really don't.

Posted by anotherFRDavid at Wednesday, 2 May 2018 at 11:39pm BST

Dear Tim (Chesterton). No wonder you don't know what 'Staggers' means, you are an acknowledged, beloved Evangelical. 'Staggers' is St.Stephen's Theological College, Oxford (Anglo-Catholic).

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 12:19am BST

I went to St Stephens House theological neither posh nor rich and emerged from it the other end neither posh no rich. I’m still neither.

What people seem to be missing-even the normally astute Eileen- is that the college nickname ‘Staggers’ is used self-mockingly, part of the camp culture which functions (at SSH anyway) to deflate the sense of self-importance that is an ever present danger for ordinands. It’s use is a piss take, not a sign of public school snot.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 7:52am BST

Tim, 'Staggers' is the nickname for St. Stephen's House, the high church theological college in Oxford. I went to Wycliffe Hall ("Wickers'), the evangelical equivalent, even though I'm from a working class background and was a shop assistant before training (though I admit to being an editor before that, and to having a degree). If I remember rightly Cuddesdon, the broad church Oxford theological college, was nicknamed Cudders.

'Wickers' is a very distinguished college: one of its ordinands has the distinction of being the first person to please not guilty to murder by reason of diminished responsibility. The story is that he murdered one of the college servants (in the days when Wycliffe had them), dumped his body on the roof outside his room, and went off to lead a OICCU (Oxford Uni Christian Union) meeting.

Posted by Janet Fife at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 9:17am BST

Thank you, Victoria (Stock) for your moving account of your experience in the Scottish Episcopal Church as a member of the inclusive congregation of Old Saint Paul's. It is the bravery of people like yourself - prepared to stand up and be counted in the theological forums of the Church - so that your personal circumstances and your vibrant faith can be seen to be integrated, wholesome and refreshing.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 10:14am BST

"Instead we all observe that Oxbridgeans are disproportionately posh."

Oxford, yes. But in the "posh universities" league tables, Cambridge usually only comes in fourth or fifth, sometimes even lower if you include the farming and music colleges as well as the universities with "university" in their name.

Bristol, St Andrews and Durham routinely out-posh Cambridge.

The 2015 numbers in a digestible form here:

And as an indication of how troubled British education is, note that the classic metropolitan redbricks like Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester all hover around 20% privately educated and UCL and Imperial 30%. It's just not as noticeable because these are numbers for home students, and those institutions have a lot of overseas undergraduates which makes the privately educated home students more of a minority than the numbers might imply.

Note: the universities named in this post include everywhere I, my spouse, my parents and my children have studied. All of us are state educated.

Posted by Interested Observer at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 11:14am BST

Staggers is, as everyone knows, a station of the cross.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 11:44am BST

Stanley Monkhouse, 'staggers' and the stations, hilarious! In these parts staggers is a reference to alcohol withdrawal. You know, like in the Stan Rogers's ballad, Barrett's Privateers, where "the cook is in the scuppers with the staggers and jags." It's a drinking song very popular with the Royal Canadian Navy. ( :

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 5:18pm BST

Ron, it's more likely that the reason I don't have a clue what 'Staggers' means is nothing to do with being evangelical. It's the same reason you've never heard of the town nicknamed 'Speedy Creek' in Saskatchewan. I left England long before I knew nothing about theological college nicknames, and have been a foreigner since 1975.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 5:19pm BST

To 'anotherFRDavid'.

My dad had a similar same experience as a working class boy from Leicester. He left school at 16, served his national service in the RAF, then worked as a commercial artist for twelve years - during which time he was trained as a lay reader and led services in many different parishes in Leicester diocese. He did his theological education at St. Aidan's Birkenhead but always felt the system was designed for middle class university boys (in those days they were all boys).

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 5:22pm BST

Mr Gillis, that sounds like midrash on psalm 107, vv21 ff. Regarding toffs and Oxbridge, I was at a university on the edge of the fens 1969-1972. This northern state grammar school boy was not alone, though in a minority. Not a bother except for a few ignorant oiks mocking my flat Cumbrian vowels (very handy for Latin) and sentence construction (Norse influence I maintain). Within the last decade I've been an Assistant DDO and I can confidently state that the best candidates I came across were both women without formal education after school who showed remarkable depth and great humility. Both were turned down at BAP but in both cases the recommendation was set aside and both were ordained and are doing sterling work. As an observer at a BAP I witnessed lamentable discrimination by a selector against an "ordinary" candidate; upon pointing this out I was put in my place in no uncertain terms by the oleaginous chairman.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Thursday, 3 May 2018 at 10:37pm BST

I have something to add to Archdruid Eileen's list of suggestions. If you are speaking at a church meeting, do not introduce yourself by mentioning your Oxbridge college, or the college at which a son or daughter is currently studying. I have now heard this done on three separate occasions, at Deanery Synod meetings. The speakers seemed quite unaware of how damaging to inclusiveness this is.

Posted by Flora Alexander at Friday, 4 May 2018 at 9:37am BST

I can confidently state that "Staggers" is a condition that horses and sheep are afflicted by.

Also that the patronising attitude to the lower classes who might want to be involved in Church life from diocesan staff is also alarming. Notable are the forensic accountant whose concerns about a diocesan budget were dismissed possibly because his accent is too regional for anyone other than his mother to understand.

and then people wonder why attendance is declining...

Posted by Lavinia Nelder at Friday, 4 May 2018 at 4:27pm BST

I grew up in the CofE, son of a (scholarship to private school; Oriel and Westcott) priest, inheriting the sort of accent one might expect, so I come at this from the side of privilege in this discussion. It never occured to me that there was a class prejudice issue in the CofE, and I'm pretty horrified by the stories that have been related here. The way people have been treated is simply not ok, and goes some way to explaining why Anglicanism continues to skew so worryingly middle class. My question is: how does this culture change? I've met and been served and nourished by working class priests (in predominantly working class but slowly dying churches), but it's true to say that when I reflect on it the vast majority of priests have been middle class with matching accents, something that's been true of the Methodist and Church of Scotland ministers too, and the RC priests. Is there a large denomination in the UK that successfully draws leaders from a fairly balanced range of backgrounds? How much worse is the problem than the class gap in educational attainment or in church attendance? Is there anything middle class lay people can do (or stop doing) that would help?

Posted by Jo at Saturday, 5 May 2018 at 7:15am BST

Is it really surprising that class prejudice is alive and kicking in an organisation that loves to stress how important people are at every opportunity?

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 5 May 2018 at 12:29pm BST

I would say I'm shocked rather than surprised, particularly at how systemic it seems to be. The nature of privilege, to my shame, is that one often doesn't notice these things until someone points it out.

Posted by Jo at Saturday, 5 May 2018 at 6:31pm BST

As a frequent visitor and part-time resident in England, it certainly seems to me that class prejudice is alive and thriving in the CoE, because I rarely hear non-posh accents in church. My experience may be limited, I travel around worshiping where ever I go, but that's still a small sample.

It's great being an American in England, because we are free of the phenomenon where people know our postal codes and educational journeys every time we speak.

Prejudice is hard to root out. I've just had a major round fighting unconscious gender bias in my role as a leader who happens to be female. Also, most racial and religious bigotries in the US are pretty open and raw right now. (I know there are troubles in the UK too). Identifying the bias is not solely sufficient to create change. It's hard work and usually, there has to be extensive diversity (not token diversity) at all levels to get past it.

Posted by Cynthia at Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 10:58pm BST

Kate; 'Is it really surprising that class prejudice is alive and kicking in an organisation that loves to stress how important people are at every opportunity?'

Did you mean to say 'how important *some* people are'? I would have thought that an organisation [sic] that believes every human being is a child of God, and every Christian is an ikon of Christ, should stress that people are important. And that this is a counter to class prejudice.

The accents thing is depressing nevertheless. I think it is good that we hear other than just local accents in church, from clergy and lay participants, but preferably a mix of accents from different parts of the country and the world. I was put off church on my rare visits as a teenager because the clergy appeared to come from a different world and all spoke 'posh'. It was only later that I realised some of them were actually working class but had cultivated what they thought was an 'appropriate' accent.

But some of the clergy most committed to working with (not for) the poor, and dedicated to working-class communities, come from upper-crust backgrounds and it's unfair to criticise them for that.

Posted by David Emmott at Tuesday, 8 May 2018 at 6:34pm BST

David, I agree with what you say.

But Kate is right to spell 'organisation' with an 's'. That's the correct spelling in the UK. In the US it's spelled with a 'z'. (Which is pronounced 'zee' there, but 'zed' here.)

Posted by Janet Fife at Thursday, 10 May 2018 at 9:39am BST

Thank you Janet. Just to clarify, I used the word 'sic' after organisation, not as a comment on the spelling (I get irrationally upset by Americanis/zations!) but to quote Kate's word while wanting to query its appropriateness applied to the Church. Essentially the Church is an organism, not an organisation. It goes wrong if it sees itself as the latter. Inevitably it has organisational characteristics, but the short-term nature of the organisation needs to be seen in the context of the eternal nature of the Body. If the organisation gets 'up itself' and starts judging people according to worldly values, that's when it stops being the Church.

Posted by David Emmott at Thursday, 10 May 2018 at 10:22pm BST

David, thanks for the clarification. People from all over the Communion comment on here, so I. thought perhaps you were an American who wasn't used to our spelling.

Re. 'organism' vs. 'organisation', I agree that the Church Universal is an organism. However church denominations can share characteristics of organisations - and of late the C of E has been revealing itself to be, in several respects, an organisation. And a dysfunctional one at that.

Posted by Janet Fife at Friday, 11 May 2018 at 5:04pm BST
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