Thinking Anglicans

IC newsletter

The latest newsletter of is now online.
Note that the day of action is Tuesday 10 February:

1.30 pm – Handing of petition to Archbishop
Our petition, signed by 8,500 individuals and 100 PCCs, will be received by Chris Smith, chief of staff at Lambeth Palace, on behalf of the Archbishop. Assemble outside Church House, Great Smith Street, Westminster from 1.15 pm. We are looking for a professional photographer to record the event – please contact if you can help.

7.30 pm – Eucharist
On the eve of the General Synod’s Sexuality debate at St Matthew’s Church, Great Peter Street, Westminster. The celebrant will be Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser, chair of The preacher will be Revd Canon Dr Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and Canon of Christ Church.

1 Comment

More questions than answers

I think it was a 1960’s pop song that contained the line, “There are more questions than answers”. To the philosopher it opens up the exciting prospect of never coming to the end of our search for knowledge. To the bureaucrat it suggests the importance of stretching the few answers we have to cover as many disparate questions as possible. I fear that the Review of Church Commissioners Spending comes well into that second category.

Some of the questions (and I include those that are implicit as well as the explicit) are important and timely. It is legitimate to ask whether funds are being spent in the most effective way, rather than just continue with current practice. It is vital for every level of the church to seek ways in which it can top slice or earmark money for clear mission (as opposed to maintenance) imperatives. And it is important to cast a particularly questioning gaze over areas of expenditure that seem to grow year on year.

But there are other questions that seem to lurk behind this paper. I fear that the biggest has not been tackled head on in the way that it needed to be. This is the issue of how to continue to reallocate funds, to poorer dioceses as well as to mission imperatives, when the richer dioceses (mine included) are no longer receiving any central support that can be withdrawn to fund them. It is entirely consistent with our ecclesiology (and a parallel of what happens between parishes in any individual diocese) to begin to ask those with greater means to contribute to a Mutual Support Fund. We’ve talked about it enough over recent years. It now needs action.

Unwilling to tackle that question, the report inevitably thrashes around for economies to make here and there. It lets itself get drawn into a wholly separate set of issues about how, and how generously, bishops and cathedrals should be supported from national funds. And even reaches the shores of the debate about whether the Church of England has the right number of bishops in the correct places. These are legitimate questions for someone to ask, but they don’t fit here and now. The review of the Dioceses Measure provides the opportunity for creating the correct structure to ask what we need to about episcopal deployment. The Mellows report has already pronounced on bishops’ costs.

Attempting to answer those questions here leaves us with a mess. The ministry of bishops and cathedrals is set up as in opposition to money for mission. I would argue strongly that bishops (and suffragan bishops every bit as much as diocesans) are one of the more effective missionary tools that the church has. I set the challenge of the Christian faith before “those who are not, or not yet, our members” (to quote our diocesan strap-line) far more now than I ever could as a parish priest. Our cathedral attracts many times the number of visitors as any parish church in the diocese, and it speaks to them through its music, architecture and liturgy as well as through the exhibitions and special events that run through the year. Church statistics show cathedrals as one of the few classes of churches that are consistently growing at present. To imply, however tangentially, that these mission centres are some sort of historic drain on the real work that goes on in parishes, is obnoxious.

Along the way we lose a consistent pillar of Church of England ecclesiology – that no minister is directly dependent financially upon his or her congregation. Bishops and cathedral clergy hold a teaching office. The freedom to exercise that office without undue influence lies in being paid by a level further up the ladder.

I suspect that the report is at its weakest when it seems to be asking itself, “What can we get through Synod?” and comes up with the idea that diocesan bishops and deans, relatively better represented on General Synod, might be persuaded to support a proposal that exempts them by targeting canons residentiary and suffragans. It may still be in living memory that one diocesan explained to his new colleague, “When I’m out of the diocese you’re me. When I’m in the diocese you’re nobody,” but it ill befits a Synod that will debate a report authored by the Bishop of Maidstone to contend that suffragans are a diocesan resource whilst diocesans are national. Our work is collegial, both within and beyond the dioceses where our sees are located. The national work I do with organisations as diverse as Housing Justice and the Community Fund, the work I have taken on at the behest of Lambeth and Synod, and my regional responsibilities in the West Midlands overlap with those of my colleagues to provide a range of mission and ministry to the whole church and whole nation.

Finally, we need to remember that what is proposed here doesn’t bring in or save a single pound coin. At the best we will be asking parishes to pay more Share in order to absorb the expenditure transferred to them. Rather worse is the risk that we will succumb to the temptation of shunting costs and simply identify some of what we already do as “mission”. Worst of all is my suspicion that the centralising influences in the church might wish to welcome me to the Decade of Filling in Mission Fund Application Forms.

As the late, great Douglas Adams showed, when we try to boil down a series of big, disparate questions to a single, clear answer we are liable to get something as appropriate and practical as “42”.


Radical Debates?

The General Synod of the Church of England meets in London from 9 to 13 February 2004. This is the first synod session since Thinking Anglicans began.

We want to stimulate discussion here about some of the major topics to be debated: these are summarised for example in the Church Times Heavy agenda and serious issues facing General Synod

“RADICAL DEBATES on the future of the Church, the shape of dioceses, and how best to spend the Church Commissioners’ money will be on the agenda for the General Synod when it meets next month. The Synod meets at Church House, Westminster, from 9-13 February.
There will also be debates on human sexuality, the Doctrine Commission’s report on “time, power, sex and money”, cohabitation, HIV/AIDS (when Synod will be addressed by the Secretary of State for Overseas Development, Hilary Benn), asylum-seekers, and ARCIC conversations with the Roman Catholic Church.
The new Common Worship Ordinal will be before the Synod for the first time, as well as other liturgy, and a large amount of routine legislation. Such a heavy agenda is the result of the Synod deciding to have only two sessions a year instead of the former three, said the secretary general, William Fittall, on Monday.”

Peter Owen has listed all the documents that have been issued in preparation for the session, with links to quite a number that are now available online. Also, I have listed all the news stories available online from the British press about the forthcoming session, and during the synod I will continue to list them daily.

Please join in.


Christians on the internet

just thinking…

The potentially global reach of the internet is still quite limited in practice. In November 2003, less than 11% of the world’s population had internet access. 62% of North Americans and 28% of Europeans (58% in the UK) were internet users, while in Africa only 1% of the population had access. In two major African countries with significant Anglican populations, Nigeria and Uganda, the figures were only 0.1% and 0.2%. Within Latin America and the Caribbean the average was 7%, in Asia 6%, Oceania 2%, and in the Middle East 5%, although there were very wide variations between individual countries. The UK had the fifth highest number (34 million) of internet users in the world, after the USA (185 million), China, Japan, and Germany.

The reduction of this global “digital divide” is a major challenge which the United Nations and the International Telecommunications Union is trying to meet. Seven of the ten countries with the largest Christian populations, i.e. Brazil, Mexico, China, Russia, The Philippines, India and Nigeria have low figures for internet use.

Christian usage of the internet reflects the restricted geography of internet users. North American Christians currently dominate, with other English-speaking countries coming second, non-anglophone Western Europeans third, and the Global South is scarcely represented as yet. This balance will not change much over the next decade unless the global “digital divide” is significantly closed. It is not surprising therefore that so far the major Christian voices on the internet use the English language and reflect the theological balance of American Christianity, with strong representation of protestant and often conservative viewpoints. Thinking Anglicans is a small effort to redress this imbalance.

The most detailed survey so far of religious internet use is a 2001 survey of North Americans (see CyberFaith: How Americans Pursue Religion Online for details) which found that 3 million people a day (and in total 28 million Americans) had used the internet to get religious and spiritual information. This was a quarter of all American users and interestingly that was more people than had used internet dating services. 91% of them were Christians, compared to 71% of the American population.

Religious internet users appear to differ from many secular communities in that they do not use the internet much to find a new religious organisation to join, but rather to connect better with the one to which they already belong. Their most popular uses of the internet were to discover more information about their own faith, or about social issues, to email prayer requests, to download religious music, or to buy books or other religious materials. Nearly one-third subscribed to one or more electronic mailing lists of a religious kind. A majority had a favourite website affiliated with their own religious denominational group.

There are huge opportunities for Christians to promote the Kingdom of God via the internet. Thus far only a small proportion of Christian internet effort has been directed to evangelism: spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard it. Much energy goes to nurture existing Christians in their faith, which is valuable. But far too much internet time is wasted in disedifying wrangles between Christians. This does nothing to further the Gospel, and leaves the potential of the internet for Christianity unfulfilled.


plot to supplant ECUSA

The Washington Post has revealed details of the plot by the American Anglican Council for the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes to supplant ECUSA as the globally-recognised Anglican jurisdiction in the USA.

Plan to Supplant Episcopal Church USA Is Revealed

Episcopalians who oppose the consecration of a gay bishop are preparing to engage in widespread disobedience to church law in 2004, according to a confidential document outlining their strategy.
The document makes clear that despite their public denials of any plan to break away from the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church USA, leaders of the traditionalist camp intend to severely challenge the authority of Episcopal bishops, and expect that both civil lawsuits and ecclesiastical charges against dissenting priests will result.

The full text of the strategy document described in the article can be found here.

Update: for follow-up press coverage on this, and other regular reports of Anglican news, go here

1 Comment


just thinking…

Matthew’s gospel concludes with a worldwide vision for the Christian message — ‘Go, and make disciples of all the nations’. The evangelist celebrates the universal vision first given by Israel’s prophets to the exiles returning from captivity. Matthew responds to Isaiah’s cry ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come’ by telling us that the first worshippers of the infant messiah are foreigners, magi from the East.

The gospel is written for Jews who are being awakened to the challenge of bringing the Christian faith to other cultures. Jewish dietary laws and distinctive dress would not be sustained within a faith which sought to be universal. Perhaps also the threat of persecution under the Roman Empire might have made it inadvisable for believers to parade their faith too publicly by sporting distinctive clothes.

One legacy is that there is no distinctive Christian dress code required by all, akin to the Sikh turban, or the Jewish skull cap. Within Britain we can also point to the fact that for those who want to retain a dress code which identifies their faith, this is accommodated to the extent of allowing Sikh men on motorcycles to wear a turban in place of a crash helmet. The law clearly shows that although the majority see no necessity for a religious dress code, the wishes of those who find this an essential expression of their faith are respected.

The present controversies about dress codes seem to show that the Christian community in many places has little understanding of the value placed on such rules by peoples of other faiths. It is significant that it was the Protestant President of Germany who made the point that ‘If one bans the headscarf in schools as a religious symbol, it is difficult to defend the monk’s habit.’ The comment is a two edged sword. Is he defending distinctive religious dress in a country that has a large Catholic population, or attacking Catholics as well as Muslims?

It is dangerous territory in Germany. Banning Jews from wearing skull caps would be almost as much an act of anti-Semitism as it was to insist that in Nazi Germany they should wear a Star of David. But it is unthinkable that the Pope, on a visit to Germany, would not wear his white cassock. Perhaps the President was saying that this line of argument had no future.

It is easy to caricature the Muslim headscarf as being a sign of the repression of women, or a political statement. Perhaps the opposite view should be heard — in many schools it would be far preferable if all girls dressed more discreetly, instead of following the pressure of advertising to flaunt their sexuality at increasingly earlier ages. Isn’t the modest dress of Muslim girls far more appropriate school wear than the revealing outfits of others? Isn’t there a value for the headscarf wearer in displaying a public sign that she belongs to a faith which prizes faithful marriage above casual sex?

At this time when we celebrate the visit of the magi from the East, we should be building a society which welcomes cultural diversity and allows people freedom of religious expression. With diversity, they bring precious gifts.


Happy New Year… anyway

just thinking…

My first reaction to the celebration of New Year is to retreat into the role my family describe as “Grumpy Old Man”. As a morning person I dislike the effort to keep awake well past my bedtime in order to simply watch some figures change on a clock — and I resent the expectation that I should do so with a show of bonhomie. I bemoan the way that New Year so quickly takes over from Christmas in the entertainment schedules that determine our popular culture; though I recognise that it allows broadcasters and journalists to put their compilation pieces together before December 25th, and go home to their families. Climbing fully onto my GOM soapbox I suspect that New Year bears blame for pushing the celebration of Christmas into Advent.

So is there anything positive I want to say about this commemoration? Well, yes there is. And it comes in the form of a plea that (as the current adage goes) we do what it says on the tin and let New Year’s celebrations be primarily a celebration in anticipation of the year to come.

Liturgically we make that point by beginning our year on the day when the church remembers the Circumcision of Christ. Efforts to re-brand the feast as “The Naming of Jesus” simply miss the point. Christ is not the last person whose circumcision gets recorded in the bible; that honour goes to Timothy. But he is the last whose circumcision is recorded as other than a piece of political expediency. Just as by his death he will destroy death, so with his circumcision the scripture looks back at the tradition into which he has been born, in order to move beyond it. Our challenge is not to forget the past, but it is also to try not to live in it either.

In different times the church will express this “future weighted balance” in different ways. In my own diocese of Worcester part of it is through our strategic plan, Looking to the Future. It isn’t a clever title, it doesn’t mean to be, but it does seek to determine an orientation towards the church we are, by God’s lead, becoming, rather than what we may formerly have been.

Back in our BC (before children) era Sue and I enjoyed long distance walking holidays. On a trek of well over a hundred miles the landmarks and staging posts became important. Be they natural, like rivers and mountain tops, or of human construction, towns and motorways, they punctuated the journey. They provided space to rest, to look back, and to look ahead. They were the places where we ate and drank, both to replenish our bodies after exertion and to build up energy for the next stage. There was a balance between what had gone before and what was to come, but the tilting of that balance was always towards the way ahead, and the ultimate destination that lay there. New Year is such a staging post, and it calls us to glance both forward and back, but then to set our feet firmly on the path ahead.

So amid all the other ideas you may have about New Year Resolutions let me suggest one more. When you catch yourself looking back in 2004, do so first in thankfulness for the good, then briefly in penitence for the bad. And then take that remembrance and let it strengthen you to face the year ahead, and embrace the new that it will bring.