Comments: More reporting on the Bishop of Maidstone's letter

Isn't it wonderful how these conservative evangelicals keep digging and digging; and, as they dig, they simply confirm the popular widespread perception that churches are nothing more than sectarian ghettos? As one of my neighbours recently told me, 'I don't want my kids going to church and being told it's ok to discriminate against people because they're different.'

Well done, Rod Thomas, you've struck gold - again. And so has the Archbishop of Canterbury for not censuring one of his suffragans for meddling in the affairs of another diocese.

Posted by Michael Mulhern at Monday, 11 June 2018 at 11:43am BST

A quick PS to my previous post. Perhaps Rod Thomas would like to talk to the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. He and they seem to have an awful lot in common - and the PCI are obviously prepared to say out loud what Rod Thomas is (probably) thinking.

https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/presbyterian-church-in-ireland-votes-to-deny-gay-people-full-membership-of-the-church-36989680.html

Posted by Michael Mulhern at Monday, 11 June 2018 at 12:10pm BST

How sad that the evangelicals. personified in + Rod, seem to want to discriminate. The table (or altar) is not their prerogative - it is God who invites and also the only one who can bar. These words from a Baptist liturgy book sum it up for me and in ths I rejoice and gain strength for my lay ministry:

‘Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may; come not to testify that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ and desire to be his true disciples: come not because you are strong, but because you are weak; not because you have any claim on heaven’s rewards, but because in your frailty and sin you stand in constant need of heaven’s mercy and help.’

The Lord's table does not need guardians. That is up to God and the individual. How I wish that the Con Evangelicals would get on proclaiming the Gospel of the love of God in Christ - as Dick Lucas did when I was at Cambridge in the 60s, and left these secondary matters.
Paul said' For the Love of Christ constrains us' not who lives with whome. Remember also that until very recently marriage was not really seen as a sacrament, but a legal and dynastic arrangement to secure the maintenance of property in the family. Let's forget the romantic marriage bit. What was the basis of the various 'marriages' of Henry VIII blessed by the Church?

Pragmatism should not over-rule scripture but as John Robinson on the Mayflower declared:' The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.' Scripture is dynamic, not fossilised.The Declaration of Assent reminds us that 'which faith the church is called to proclaim afresh to each generation.'

We can sort secondary issues later. I'm sure on the Day of Pentecost no-one was quizzed about their relationships, finances, family. Let us rejoice in those who come to the Lord and not impose barriers that are not warranted by a contextual reading of scripture.

John

Posted by John Wallace at Monday, 11 June 2018 at 6:22pm BST

"The Lord's table does not need guardians. That is up to God and the individual."

As I read his letter, Bishop Thomas upholds this position when he writes of the practice of 'charitable assumption'.

I am curious, however, whether the clergy should have no discretion in administering the Sacraments? What if a priest has knowledge of unrepentant adultery or publicly expressed homophobia or racism on the part of a parishioner seeking Communion? Few priests exercise such discipline today, but to remove that pastoral discretion is radically to alter the relationship between priest and layman.

Posted by Jeremy Bonner at Monday, 11 June 2018 at 9:32pm BST

Great post John.

For me it is Matthew 20:1—16

Posted by Kate at Monday, 11 June 2018 at 9:34pm BST

Welby sees large, full evangelical churches .... don't expect any censure

Posted by S Cooper at Monday, 11 June 2018 at 11:31pm BST

"I am curious, however, whether the clergy should have no discretion in administering the Sacraments?"

They absolutely should not have discretion. It is the Lord's Supper and the minister is not there as priest but as a servant to serve the food and drink for our Lord. It is not for a servant to question the guests his/her master has invited.

It's one of the objections I have to Bishop Rod's letter.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 12:43am BST

Jeremy, it was always been the case that only the bishop can excommunicate. Priests must give Communion to anyone who asks for it. They can have pastoral conversations in which they might attempt to discourage certain people from receiving Communion (eg, unbelievers or those who have not been prepared sufficiently, or notorious sinners, indeed) if they wish, but they can’t deny Communion if the person asks. The Lichfield letter merely states this established bit of law, it’s not an innovation.

Posted by Olivia at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 6:51am BST

Here’s Canon B16 on the subject:

‘If a minister be persuaded that anyone of his cure who presents himself to be a partaker of the Holy Communion ought not to be admitted thereunto by reason of malicious and open contention with his neighbours, or other grave and open sin without repentance, he shall give an account of the same to the bishop of the diocese or other the Ordinary of the place and therein obey his order and direction, but so as not to refuse the sacrament to any until in accordance with such order and direction he shall have called him and advertised him that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord's Table: Provided that in case of grave and immediate scandal to the congregation the minister shall not admit such person, but shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary within seven days after at the furthest and therein obey his order and direction. Provided also that before issuing his order and direction in relation to any such person the Ordinary shall afford to him an opportunity for interview.‘

It strikes me that if priests were allowed to refuse Communion to notorious and public sinners, we wouldn’t have any prison chaplains.

Posted by Olivia at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 7:35am BST

One does wonder (from 'down-under') what the provincial archbishops will actually do about the
'Shepherd of Exclusion' situation in Maidstone. Will he be cautioned in any way whatsoever about his sacramental gate-keeping policies that are quite contrary to the hospitality of Christ in the Gospel?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 7:55am BST

Olivia,

I was thinking of the provision of Canon B16 that "in case of grave and immediate scandal to the congregation the minister shall not admit such person, but shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary within seven days after at the furthest and therein obey his order and direction." While such discipline is ultimately for the ordinary to approve (or not), it does exist.

I must confess that the bald statement that "priests must give Communion to anyone who asks for it" seems theologically highly suspect. It's very different from saying that the circumstances under which a priest should deny Communion are remarkably few (with which I would be inclined to agree, incidentally).

Posted by Jeremy Bonner at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 8:05am BST

I assume we can all agree that (a) no sin is unforgivable and (b) that certain categories of sin constitute more grievous infringement of our Lord's injunctions than others (while disagreeing as to which categories those might be).

The problem arises when there is disagreement over whether there is a sin for which it is necessary to repent, which is at the root of the objections expressed here to the Bishop of Maidstone's letter. Contemporary interpretations of Luke 18: 9-14 are so often preoccupied with the self-righteousness of the Pharisee that they forget "Lord have mercy upon me a sinner."

A prison chaplain will have awareness of the context in which his flock lives and moves and has its being, but he will also be aware, within that context, of "grave and open sin" that first requires repentance. Pastoral discretion cuts both ways. If you abandon legalism, then the priest must have some discretion, even if ultimately subject to higher authority.

Posted by Jeremy Bonner at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 8:42am BST

Jeremy,

Our posts crossed. I would argue that Canon B16 is clear that such provision - denial of the Sacrament - is only to be used in the direst of cases where there will be immediate public scandal, and the priest concerned is to ask immediately for an interview with the Bishop to give an account of his reasons, for the Bishop then to approve or not the case. This is an emergency provision, not a discretion allowed to the priest. And I can't really think of a case where it would be appropriate to use it as opposed to other pastoral ways of dealing with difficult situations. In any case, the power rests with the Bishop.

If anyone has been denied Communion because they are gay or trans, or for any other reason where the priest did not immediately refer to the bishop, I think they would have a good case to bring a CDM.

Posted by Olivia at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 8:52am BST

Jeremy,

I also disagree with 'I must confess that the bald statement that "priests must give Communion to anyone who asks for it" seems theologically highly suspect.'

Article 29 says that:

'The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.'

It doesn't say the wicked should be refused Communion, but rather that they are taking it at their own risk (of condemnation). This Article wouldn't be needed if it were possible simply to exclude the wicked from Communion.

Posted by Olivia at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 8:55am BST

Olivia,

Thanks for the reply. It sounds as if you would prefer to abandon Canon B16 entirely (which from your perspective I can understand), but while I suspect you're correct in your interpretation of its emergency character, as it stands it leaves the discretion to invoke in the hands of the priest (subject to referral to the bishop).

I find it hard to imagine even the most conservative of Anglican clergy denying Communion to someone simply "because they are gay or trans". What is at issue is whether sexual expression is licit in such contexts (and, for that matter, in unmarried heterosexual ones). I assume that a majority of Church of England clergy and - probably - a majority of laypeople feel that it is. A minority - perhaps larger than some imagine - feel that it isn't and that it therefore constitutes sin.

The fact that it's sin doesn't necessarily make it among the worst manifestations of sin. Consider, for example, a situation involving a married couple where one partner has dementia and can no longer relate meaningfully to the other (who is also the full-time carer). If the latter has an affair with a third-party, it is still adultery (and therefore a sin) but it can also be understood in a pastoral context. The issue is whether to treat it as sinful but forgiveable, or not sinful. The Bishop of Maidstone - I presume - would see it as the former, even though the partner against whom the sin is committed is not really aware of the offense.

Posted by Jeremy Bonner at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 9:29am BST

Inherent within the Communion Service itself is the act of formal repentence. Since most Anglicans do not use the confessional, we rely entirely on the Eucharistic liturgy for confession and repentance. Exclusion because someone hasn't repented would be entirely paradoxical.

Moreover, Anglican repentance is private between the penitent and God so no minister knows, nor should ask, what has or has not been repented.

The Maidstone letter is much more sinister. It suggests that if same sex couples stay together that is prima face evidence of ongoing, unrepented sin. That's totally different to remarriage involving a divorcee where the assumption is that it can be cured with a one-off dispensation. The more people discuss it, the more concerned I become about the Maidstone letter.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 9:55am BST

I have myself at times withdrawn from receiving communion for what felt to be a necessary period of self examination and penitence. I have at times encouraged others to do the same. That is where I understand priestly discretion and pastoral guidance to be rightly expressed and exercised. So I am disturbed by suggestions here that the Lord's table and supper is somehow 'secondary'. It is where the Lord's death is proclaimed and where Christ is most faithfully 'remembered'. There is nowhere more central.

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 10:15am BST

"I assume we can all agree that (a) no sin is unforgivable and (b) that certain categories of sin constitute more grievous infringement of our Lord's injunctions than others (while disagreeing as to which categories those might be)."

I wouldn't see b) is contentious but it isn't axiomatic either. Certainly I don't believe that the scale of grievousnes, if there is one, is the same for everyone, nor invariant over time. I definitely don't believe that anyone, lay, claric or saint, is in a position to judge the seriousness of anyone else's conduct - we often have no idea of mitigating circumstances

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 12:31pm BST

Since the letter, not the spirit, of the Law seems to be in fashion, can we be assured by +Maidstone that all the ordinations he conducts are done according to the authorized Church of England ordinals (Common Worship or 1662)?

Posted by Grumpy High Churchwoman at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 1:26pm BST

The disciplinary rules in TEC for denying someone communion are a bit different than those in the CofE.

A "priest" may deny communion to (1) "a person who is living a notoriously evil life," (2) "those who have done wrong to their neighbors and are a scandal to the other members of the congregation," and (3) where "there is hatred between members of the congregation."

In each case, the priest must first "privately" speak to the person involved. If communion is denied, the priest must notify the bishop within 14 days. (1979 BCP, p. 409.)

This was an expansion and clarification of the rules in the 1928 prayer book, where the priest could deny communion to an "open and notorious evil liver" (pp. 84-85), which seemed to imply those suffering from cirrhosis.

Posted by dr.primrose at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 4:32pm BST

"Since the letter, not the spirit, of the Law seems to be in fashion, can we be assured by +Maidstone that all the ordinations he conducts are done according to the authorized Church of England ordinals"

Are you suggesting some people exercising ministry have not been properly ordained? That could make some marriages void too I guess.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 4:56pm BST

Those who are divorced, especially women, are also often discouraged, firmly, from communion in churches of this theological outlook.

Posted by RosalindR at Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 10:14pm BST

No, I don’t wish to abandon Canon B16, Jeremy, whatever gave you that idea? I quoted section 1 in full above precisely because I agree with every word of it. It says that nobody is to be denied Communion except by the Ordinary of the Diocese, except in an emergency situation which then must be referred straight to the Ordinary.

I don’t know where you got your interpretation from, that Canon B16 allows for clergy to deny the Sacrament of their own volition, such that to remove this arcane emergency provision (which I have never seen or heard of being used in the way intended) would irrevocably change the nature of the relationship between priest and parishioner. That is the interpretation I’m rejecting, since I can’t see how it is a defensible reading of what the Canon actually says.

Posted by Olivia at Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 8:13am BST

I take it that in respect to Canon B16, in those parishes which are under the oversight of +Rod he would be "other the Ordinary of the place" - and would therefore give his backing to the presbyter who regarded same sex marriage as "grave and open sin without repentance."

However, I read +Rod's letter as saying that he would discourage any of his clergy from actually denying communion. I think the point is that he's trying to make clear that he would support any clergy who preach that same sex marriage is "grave and open sin" and who would hold that line in private pastoral encounters. And he would support them because he regards that as currently the teaching of the Church of England. This, surely, is the point of him mentioning twice the support clergy receive.

My guess (really a guess, since I'm in no way part of his constituency) is that +Rod's open letter had the object of pushing back at what he will have seen as Lichfield trying to change doctrine by stealth (by which I myself imply nothing about whether that was the intention).

BTW I don't for a moment think that Colin Coward's objections to the letter can be sustained: +Rod nowhere says that anyone will be questioned as to their relationship, nor that they will be excluded or denied anything by anyone other than themselves. Only a voluntary decision not to participate is mentioned. What goes on in practice may not feel like that, but the letter is carefully written. Nor does the letter say anything at all about denying baptism: that is entirely Colin Coward's invention (which is not to say it doesn't ever happen, just that +Rod isn't supporting it here).

Posted by Bernard Randall at Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 1:05pm BST

'I take it that in respect to Canon B16, in those parishes which are under the oversight of +Rod he would be "other the Ordinary of the place" - and would therefore give his backing to the presbyter who regarded same sex marriage as "grave and open sin without repentance."'
Posted by: Bernard Randall on Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 1:05pm BST

Within the framework of the CofE it is always very clear who the Ordinary is in a particular situation. In most cases it will be the Diocesan Bishop (not a suffragan, area or PEV - who act on the authority of the Ordinary). However, certain institutions, such as St George's Windsor, Westminster Abbey, Eton College, and many Oxbridge colleges have a person other than their natural Diocesan bishop named as their Ordinary - it is this that I think the wording referred to in the Canon applies.

The situation that a PEV ministers under the authority of and within the jurisdiction of the Ordinary was recognised within the 5 guiding principles (which are of more direct relevance to other topics). Within the structure of the guiding principles a parish petitioning does so to the Ordinary, who then delegates sacramental ministry or headship to the relevant PEV if there is not a suitable bishop within those already serving as suffragan or assistant bishops within the diocese.

In summary the Bishop of Maidstone can only act within the framework set by the relevant Ordinary - he would not be the Ordinary in their own right.

Posted by NJW at Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 10:53pm BST
Post a comment









Remember personal info?






Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.