Thinking Anglicans

Notes from a small room

The parish I am visiting this Sunday have issued a Press Release. It tells the world that among a series of repairs and improvements to be celebrated is the church?s new toilet, and goes on to declare that, ?The facilities will be put to use fully for the first time at a dedication service led by the Bishop of Dudley?.

I will leave it to my readers to speculate on what specific liturgical actions and movements might be appropriate to fulfil this promise. For me though it has served as a reminder of how significant a role the humble lavatory has played in my spiritual and ministerial formation.

Between school and university I worked six months in a labouring job. As the lowest of the low in the factory it fell to me to cover the jobs nobody else wanted to do. So when the cleaner went off on his fortnight?s holiday every blocked pan and overflowing urinal became my personal responsibility. I learned both that no task is beneath me and that even the most unpleasant duties pass. And I came to understand the gospel truth that engaging with the dirt and mess of life does not in itself defile us.

As a young vicar working in deprived urban areas there was a constant struggle to bring resources into the community. Governments attempted to show concern and interest by authorising a whole series of exceptional funds and programmes to combat poverty, unemployment or whatever the latest target might be. Much of it was well-intentioned but the delivery mechanisms were poorly thought through. I discovered that a proposal to improve church lavatories was the ideal quick spend medium sized project that officers badly needed to land on their desks in January ? just at the moment when they were being pressed to allocate the remainder of their budgets. ?Be wise as serpents?, says the gospel, and the new church loo was its practical outcome.

More problematically, I have learned the value of the comfort break in handling complex issues. I?ve long lost count of the number of occasions on which the breakthrough has occurred not at the negotiating table but in the gents? urinal. The psychological change from confronting across a table to standing side by side whilst engaged in a basic bodily function cannot be underestimated. Indeed I am told that a common ploy of industrial arbitrators in the 1970?s was to ply disputing sides with coffee and then call a strategic break. The problem of course is that it is hard to see how to incorporate gender inclusivity.

I could add other examples, but my point is that Christianity is an earthy religion. Our faith takes seriously that we are bodily beings. We follow one who took our flesh, with all its material nature, and we assert belief in ?the resurrection of the body? not the immortality of the soul. In blunt language we are not only Thinking Anglicans but eating, drinking, and defecating Anglicans. The tendency of religious writers and pundits is to over-spiritualise, to speak in abstracts and to attach labels to human beings that emphasise difference rather than commonality.

As a new teenage Christian in the mid 1970?s I was fortunate to come across the meditations of the French writer Michel Quoist. His ability to reflect theologically on the most prosaic and everyday objects and events continues to inspire me today. So I shall perform my liturgical duties this Sunday with gusto. Knowing that dedicating the church loo is no less important than dedicating a new stained glass window. And giving thanks for the ways in which God uses the ordinary stuff of life to reveal the gospel truth.

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What the world thinks of God

The BBC has a major documentary going out tonight on BBC2 television in the UK and next Sunday on World Service Radio. The programme will be broadcast on BBC Two on Thursday 26th February at 21:00 GMT. The programme can also be heard on World Service Radio on Sunday 29th February at 13:06 GMT.

Those who have seen the programme are welcome to write to TA (use the Comments below) to tell us what you thought about it.

The website for this programme is here: What the World thinks of God

As part of this the BBC has conducted a new poll which it is reporting under the headline UK among most secular nations.

A survey of people’s religious beliefs in 10 countries suggests the UK is among the most secular nations in the world.
Ten thousand people were questioned in the poll by research company ICM for The BBC programme What The World Thinks Of God.
More than a quarter of Britons thought the world would be more peaceful with nobody believing in God, but very few people in other countries agreed.
The survey found the highest levels of belief in some of the world’s poorer countries, but also in the world’s richest, America.
Some poll results are available on this page
Full poll results will be published on the programme website after the programme. They are now here in PDF format.

The Church of England has thought fit to issue a press release in advance of the TV broadcast: The Church of England questions BBC analysis of faith poll – 26/02/2004

Update 29 February This survey was discussed in detail by two experts, Grace Davie and Bernard Silverman on the BBC Radio programme Sunday. Listen to that report here with Real Audio.


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RW charge to Eames

Rowan Williams delivered a charge to what is now called the Lambeth Commission, during its opening service at Windsor last week. This is available from the ACO website only as a pdf file. Portions of this text are now being quoted in news reports and will no doubt appear in various blogs. Below is the full text as a web page, to show the context of these quotations.


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I wrote a news article for Anglicans Online this week.
The title is What the Church of England said about ECUSA

At this week’s General Synod, several questions were asked about the relationship between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA in the light of the consecration of Gene Robinson. The answers to these questions have received almost no press attention so far, but they are of considerable importance to ECUSA members. The Archbishop of Canterbury also made some remarks about Anglican Communion matters at the opening session of the synod, which have been widely reported and made available in full on the web, but also seriously misunderstood by some.

Read the full article here.

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Inclusive Church: sermon

Here is the sermon preached at St Matthew’s Westminster on 10 February 2004. The occasion was the service arranged by on the night before the General Synod debate on Some Issues in Human Sexuality.

The preacher was The Reverend Canon Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford.

Text continues below…



IC petition presented

The Church of England Newspaper reports that

On Tuesday the lobbying group Inclusive Church, set up as a result of anger over the mishandling of the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John to Reading, handed over a petition to a member of the Archbishop’s staff. The petition, with 8,500 signatures and the support of about 100 parochial church councils, calls for the ministries of the Church to be open to all regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.
But the Chairman of Inclusive Church, Dr Giles Fraser, spelt out the message: “The Archbishop must resist those bent on dividing the Church as an authentic response to the consecration of bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire.”

The Church Times carried a picture captioned thus:

Point of view: the Revd Dr Giles Fraser handing a petition from the InclusiveChurch network to Chris Smith, Dr Williams’s chief of staff, outside the Synod chamber on Tuesday. Photo Richard Watt

The BBC has a short video clip of the handover ceremony, viewable with Real Player here

The covering letter to the petition is reproduced below.



Synod answers on VGR

The main feature of the first day of the General Synod of the Church of England was Questions. There were 85 of them. Several dealt with matters arising from the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop in ECUSA.

Dr Philip Jeffrey (Chichester) asked the Chairman of the House of Bishops:
Q. What advice, if any, will the House of Bishops be offering in connection with any decision as to whether the Church of England is in full or impaired communion with those bishops of ECUSA who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson and will any such advice be given in time to assist those members of the Church of England who, whilst working or travelling in the United States in the course of this summer, desire to worship in Anglican churches.
Revd Brian Leathers (Derby) asked:
Q. In the light of the world-wide opposition to the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, what consideration has the House given to formally breaking communion with the Diocese of New Hampshire and with those parts of ECUSA which endorsed his appointment?
Mrs Margaret Brown (Chichester) also asked:
Q. What steps has the House of Bishops taken to ensure that any bishops involved in the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson should not be allowed to officiate at Confirmations, Ordinations and Consecrations, or to celebrate the Holy Communion in this country?
Revd Brian Leathers (Derby) also asked:
Q. Has the House of Bishops issued, or will it be issuing a policy or guidance for its members on the granting of licenses or permission to minister in their dioceses to those who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson.
Mrs Margaret Brown (Chichester) also asked:
Q. Has the House of Bishops expressed its support for all those in ECUSA and the Canadian Church who remain faithful to traditional Biblical teaching on marriage, homosexual practice and cohabitation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury replied:
A. Chairman, with permission I will respond to the question from Dr Jeffrey and the two questions each from Mrs Brown and Mr Leathers together.
Synod has heard the remarks I made earlier concerning the Anglican Communion. As I said then, I hope we will pray for the work of the Eames Commission looking into related matters.
With regard to arrangements for visitors worshipping in the United States, this is surely a judgement for individuals and not one for the House of Bishops.
On the ministry of Gene Robinson in this country – that is not a question for the House of Bishops, but, in accordance with the Overseas and Other Clergy Measure of 1967 – for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. I have indicated already that I would not be prepared to give my permission under that legislation for Gene Robinson to exercise episcopal functions here.
On the position of others involved in the consecration, the House of Bishops has not thought it appropriate to issue guidance.

Also, the following:
Dr Philip Jeffrey (Chichester) asked the Secretary General:
Q. In view of the fact that a number of Provinces of the Anglican Communion have declared themselves to be out of communion with, or in a state of impaired communion with, those bishops of ECUSA who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson, what is the competent authority in the Church of England to decide whether or not the Church of England is in full or impaired communion with those bishops?

The Secretary General, Mr William Fittall replied:
A. The Church of England is in communion with Churches, and not separately with individual dioceses – still less with individual bishops – within those churches. For the purposes of the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure and the Church Representation Rules, a decision by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York is conclusive in determining whether a Church – as a whole – is in communion with the Church of England.


IC petition to Archbishop hands petition to Archbishop
PRESS RELEASE – – 5th February 2004

The Archbishop of Canterbury is to be handed a petition signed by over 8,500 individuals and over 100 Parochial Church Councils from the Inclusivechurch network of Anglicans. The petition demonstrates the strong conviction of the majority of grassroots Anglicans that the Church of England must be an inclusive church, open to all. The handing over will take place outside Church House,Westminster on Tuesday 10th February 2004 at 1.30pm, whilst the General Synod is meeting.

‘ is an organisation set up to campaign for an open, honest and generous spirited Anglicanism that has always been the very heart and soul of the Church of England,’ says Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser, chair. ‘It is excellent that so many people have supported the petition in such a short time, and with such little promotion.’

The message of the petition is clear: the Archbishop must resist those bent on dividing the church as an authentic response to the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, U.S.A, and continue to work for a Church that is open to all, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

The Inclusivechurch petition contrasts dramatically with the petition handed to the Archbishop last month by evangelicals opposed to a fully inclusive church for gay people. It claimed to include millions of Anglicans but turned out to have been signed by fewer individuals than this new petition from Inclusivechurch. ‘The point is that dioceses and parishes do not operate like unions, with block votes,’ says Fraser. ‘Rather, dioceses and parishes are made up of individuals.’

The vast majority of Inclusivechurch’s signatories belong to the Church of England. In addition to individual Anglicans who have signed the petition over 100 parishes have signed up too, each having passed motions of support through their PCCs. ‘It is important to note that many signatories come from parishes belonging to organisations like Reform,’ adds Fraser. ‘We have also received emails from individuals keen to protest against the actions of their local clergy who make gays or women clergy feel unwelcome, for example in places like Fort Worth or Pittsburgh in the USA, where dioceses have declared themselves to be conservative, non-inclusive zones.’

Inclusivechurch believes that this petition is part of the groundswell of Anglican opinion that is opposed to the sort of intolerance and bigotry that has been threatening the church. ‘The true diversity of Anglicanism is beginning to come through, for all that well-organised, well-funded conservative forces would have it otherwise,’ continues Fraser. ‘We are here to celebrate the true spirit of Anglicanism which is strongest when it is diverse and inclusive.’



Ndungane sermon

The Primate of Southern Africa, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane preached a sermon at the annual convention (synod) in Washington DC of the Diocese of Washington last weekend. The full text of this sermon is available here. An extract follows.

As was clear from our epistle reading, the rich abundance of God’s love finds expression in creative diversity. We are each formed unique, with different gifts. In this way we complement one another as we contribute to the life of the Church, the one body of Christ and to God’s mission in the world.
Created diversity should not surprise us. We are created in the image of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, each distinct, yet united in communion with one another and united in purpose. This is God’s pattern for God’s people. ‘The body is one unit, though it is made of many parts.’ (1 Cor 12:12)
Recognizing that God creates us for unity in diversity has important consequences for how we construe difference, especially within the body of Christ. We should expect it, and see it as a generous gift from the overflowing love of God. This creative complementarity is at the heart of the life of the Godhead and at the heart of the life of the Church. It gives immeasurable godly potential to the partnership we have between Washington Diocese and the Church of the Province of Southern Africa. The same is true at every level: within congregations, in Diocese and Provinces, across the whole Anglican Communion, and in all our ecumenical relations.
These are fine words, but I am not so spiritually minded that I fail to see that they are a tough challenge to us – especially in the life of the Anglican Communion today.


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Don't call us evangelicals

In January, the Church Times carried a two-part feature article by Theo Hobson which is now online.
Part 1: Don’t call us evangelicals
Part 2: When the world is our parish . . .

These articles make interesting reading in conjunction with the book, Mission Shaped Church which is to be the basis for a General Synod debate next week.

Theo Hobson talked to a wide range of people including Nicky Gumbel, Mark Oakley, Grace Davie, Rob Gillion, Dave Tomlinson, and Si Jones.