Thinking Anglicans


James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, is the Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons. He is currently presenting a series of three programmes on BBC Radio 4 The Bishop and the Prisoner. So far two have been broadcast and the last is scheduled for next Monday, 16 January, at 8.00 pm GMT.

The BBC has a synopsis for each programme.

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

If you are in the UK you can listen to the programmes by following the links in each synopsis.

The Liverpool Echo published this preview article by Paddy Shennan about the series: Bishop of Liverpool Rt Rev James Jones talks about his radio series on prisons and prisoners.

The second programme in particular has prompted some attention by the press.

Nadia Khomami in the Radio Times The Bishop of Liverpool: punish our criminals in public
Liverpool Echo Bishop of Liverpool says too many people are being jailed
The Press Association Too many people jailed, says bishop

There are two related articles in the Church Times. They are currently only available to subscribers, but should be available to all on Friday of this week.
James Jones Community sentencing could change society
Paul Vallely Prison reform isn’t just for prisoners


Court rules for Diocese of Virginia in property dispute

From the Diocese of Virginia: Court Rules in Favor of Diocese


Tonight, the Fairfax Circuit Court issued its ruling in favor of the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church in litigation seeking to recover Episcopal church property. “Our goal throughout this litigation has been to return faithful Episcopalians to their church homes and Episcopal properties to the mission of the Church,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia.

The court ruled that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have “a contractual and proprietary interest” in each of the properties subject to the litigation. The court ordered that all property subject to its ruling be turned over to the Diocese.

“We hope that this ruling will lead to our congregations returning to worship in their church homes in the near future, while finding a way to support the CANA congregations as they plan their transition,” said Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese and chief of staff.

Bishop Johnston added, “While we are grateful for the decision in our favor, we remain mindful of the toll this litigation has taken on all parties involved, and we continue to pray for all affected by the litigation.”

The ruling can be found here (PDF).

From the CANA website: Statement by the ACNA Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic

(January 10, 2012) – Seven Anglican congregations in Virginia that are parties to the church property case brought by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia are reviewing today’s ruling by the Fairfax County Circuit Court that the property should be turned over to the Episcopal Diocese.

The Circuit Court heard the case last spring after the Virginia Supreme Court remanded it in June 2010. The congregations previously had succeeded in their efforts on the Circuit Court level to defend the property that they bought and paid for.

“Although we are profoundly disappointed by today’s decision, we offer our gratitude to Judge Bellows for his review of this case. As we prayerfully consider our legal options, we above all remain steadfast in our effort to defend the historic Christian faith. Regardless of today’s ruling, we are confident that God is in control, and that He will continue to guide our path,” said Jim Oakes, spokesperson for the seven Anglican congregations.

The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, a historic property involved in the case, stated, “The core issue for us is not physical property, but theological and moral truth and the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. Wherever we worship, we remain Anglicans because we cannot compromise our historic faith. Like our spiritual forebears in the Reformation, ‘Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other.’”

The seven Anglican congregations are members of the newly established Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a member diocese within the Anglican Church in North America. Bishop John Guernsey of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic has expressed to leaders of the seven congregations, “Our trust is in the Lord who is ever faithful. He is in control and He will enable you to carry forward your mission for the glory of Jesus Christ and the extension of His Kingdom. Know that your brothers and sisters in Christ continue to stand with you and pray for you.”

The Anglican Curmudgeon has his analysis of the judgment here.


Diane Abbott’s tweet, an opportunity missed.

In one of my former parishes there was a very energetic ecumenical group which prided itself on the variety of spiritual experiences it could provide for its membership in any given year. When I was approached for the use of the parish church for the annual visit of a linked West African congregation from Birmingham, I asked what the link was about. The reply was that the group liked to watch Africans worship, they are much better at it than we are.

I spent a couple of years in the eighties studying Black theology in an American seminary. During that time I had had to come to terms with some uncomfortable truths about my own race, particularly around the subject of slavery. As I didn’t feel comfortable with hosting African worship as a spectator sport I phoned a friend in Birmingham who is a Black theologian, who introduced me to a further uncomfortable truth. He said that slavery was not the only aspect of our past that I had to take into account when I was thinking about the relationship between our races; there was also colonialism. As an example he cited the way in which members of a colonised people would vie for invitations to social events at the local colonial residence, taking their status by being A-listers at a white event over solidarity with their fellow dominated blacks. He said that he would be thinking in these terms about a professional African congregation which was prepared to make the two-hour journey to a white church in the stockbroker belt, but have next-to-nothing to do with the Jamaican church in their own neighbourhood.

This episode from my past came to mind when we heard on the news this week that a careless Tweet, from Member of Parliament Diane Abbott, to a colleague about how whites tended to divide black people. When the news of this Tweet broke, she was immediately disciplined, and her party machinery moved at lightning speed to mend the damage from the outrage. If Diane Abbott was in error it was in the means by which she expressed the view. The truth that whites have divided blacks is incontestable, and I have no reason to doubt that it remains a present reality. I believe the Labour Party leadership missed an opportunity here, which Ms Abbott unwittingly provided, and it has to do with our national identity, which is inseparable from our national narrative. Who we think we are depends on who we think we have been. Politicians have understandably been cautious about articulating a narrative which has been about the decline of our status as a nation for most of the last century.

On the other hand, much has been made of our status as a multi-cultural nation. When the chef Jamie Oliver can tour the nation, and then produce a best-selling cookbook, full of recipes which we have inherited from the communities which have moved to these islands, then we know that multi-cultural Britain is an idea that his generation is ready to appropriate.

But there’s a catch. Almost thirty years ago I was told by my Afro-American Black Theology professor that it was not possible for a black person and a white person to have any kind of genuine relationship without agreeing a common version of history. In other words, unless the white person could appropriate the uncomfortable facts from our history about our nation’s role in slavery and colonial subjugation, then we would be blind to the key historical events which have shaped people of the African diaspora, and even why they come to call these islands home.

To begin to work on such a narrative is a big ask for politicians. It means becoming a target for tabloid ire, and having to face the anger of members of the public who cling to our colonial past and the notion of our identity being centred on imperial power. A party in the early period of Opposition has much less to lose that the Government, and this may be a way to serve the nation in a way that would bring healing and wholeness. There is a spiritual task here, about seeking the truth, even painful truth, about ourselves in order then to be able to seek harmony with our neighbours, and I include neighbours of all former-colonial races. In the absence of a story on which we can all agree, the vacuum will continue to be filled by the versions of who-we-are peddled by extreme right-wing groups, and we will still see racial violence on our streets. A shared story of how we came to be would be a substantial beginning to how we account for who we are, and what is keeping us from where we need to be as a nation.

Andrew Spurr
Vicar of Evesham


Was Jesus faking it?

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’s baptism is almost the start of the whole story. Brief, to the point, Jesus is baptised and he is the (only) one who sees the heavens open; he’s the one who hears the voice, ‘You are my son, the beloved’. Matthew, having done Theology 101, isn’t all that crazy about Jesus being baptised, and he depicts Jesus as virtually going through the motions ‘to fulfil all righteousness’. In Luke, again it is Jesus who hears the words addressed to him — though this time it is after his baptism, while he was praying: a sort of prayer experience. In John, it is the Baptist who attests to Jesus’s baptism.

All those differences aside, I’ve long wondered why Jesus queued up that day to be baptised. If Matthew is correct, how did he feel being the only one not repenting of anything? Or do we take the other accounts at face value? He got baptised: live with it.

Thirty years ago I wrote a brief article suggesting that Jesus could well have felt guilt for social sin, as anachronistic as it was to use that term in that context. But if he is as incarnate as we believe him to be, he would have been the product of a particular culture with all its insights and biases, some of which hurt people (Mark 7.27). He would have had to participate in an unjust socio-economic system – what other option did he have? And, without wishing to psychoanalyse him, he might naturally have felt, as a good Jew, a collective responsibility for the sin of his people. There were reasons to be in that queue.

Since then I’ve wondered if more could be said. In Mark 10.18 and in the parallel Luke 18.19, in a remarkable exchange with the rich young ruler, Jesus would not allow himself to be called good, insisting that ‘No one,’ himself included, ‘is good but God alone’. Matthew, as in his account of the baptism, is sharp enough to realise the same danger here, so he changes the story a bit: instead of calling Jesus ‘Good Teacher’, Matthew has the man ask about ‘good deeds’ instead — with Jesus responding a little less precisely, ‘There is only one who is good’.

The Greek word for good, agathos, is concerned with the moral good and perhaps could be thought of as ‘morally perfect’. Though one can understand why Jesus might instinctively have wanted to deflect praise away from him towards his Father (he was pretty consistent), and though we might appreciate how Jesus eschewed flattery to focus on good actions instead, what if Jesus had meant what he purportedly said? What if this wasn’t only humble hyperbole? Perhaps Matthew was quite right to sense the danger again. No matter how we try to wiggle out of it, Jesus was not claiming moral perfection. Quite the opposite. And though this doesn’t often feature in formal christology, as a divine person with a created finite human nature, Jesus is also morally finite like the rest of us, and would have experienced himself as such (granted, this needs some careful teasing-out).

For the sake of argument, though, let us suppose that Jesus was in that queue. He had honestly come to be baptised just like everyone else: he had wanted to be dunked in that water and he had hoped to emerge different. In response, something new did occur: he was caught up in the Spirit and discovered (whether during the event or in prayer afterwards) that God was truly delighted with him, that his Father loved him to bits. As wonderful as that was, this experience turned his life upside-down, so much so that he had felt driven by that same Spirit into the wilderness, where he struggled to figure out what it had all meant. There he faced his various demons, demons that might have duped him and undermined what had just happened, and Jesus gradually came to understand his vocation: he was called to share what he had received, realising in Isaian terms that he had been anointed by the Spirit to proclaim good news to the poor (taking Luke’s particular ordering of events).

Though others have balked at this idea, Jesus’ baptism seems to have had all the hallmarks of a powerful conversion experience, a real turning-point. Like the evangelist Matthew, some are reluctant to use such language, thinking that it implies a conversion from sin. But if we suspend our Matthean-inspired theological need to make excuses for Jesus, the basic story of Jesus’ baptism is all the more compelling and paradigmatic for Christians: if Jesus needed to experience God’s love so powerfully, do I dare ask for anything less? Should I even dream of following Jesus unless that same Spirit palpably courses through my veins? And, perhaps, should we really associate conversion with sin, with what we do, as opposed to what God is doing?

Joe Cassidy
Principal, St Chad’s College, Durham


Church responses to latest euthanasia lobby report

A group which styles itself as The Commission on Assisted Dying issued a report last week.

The official Church of England response was this: Statement on the report of the Commission for Assisted Dying.

The ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’ is a self-appointed group that excluded from its membership anyone with a known objection to assisted suicide. In contrast, the majority of commissioners, appointed personally by Lord Falconer, were already in favour of changing the law to legitimise assisted suicide. Lord Falconer has, himself, been a leading proponent for legitimising assisted suicide, for some years.

The commission undertook a quest to find effective safeguards that could be put in place to avoid abuse of any new law legitimising assisted suicide. Unsurprisingly, given the commission’s composition, it has claimed to have found such safeguards.

Unlike the commissioners, we are unconvinced that the commission has been successful in its quest. It has singularly failed to demonstrate that vulnerable people are not placed at greater risk under its proposals than is currently the case under present legislation. In spite of the findings of research that it commissioned, it has failed adequately to take into account the fact that in all jurisdictions where assisted suicide or euthanasia is permitted, there are breaches of safeguards as well as notable failures in monitoring and reporting.

The present law strikes an excellent balance between safeguarding hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people and treating with fairness and compassion those few people who, acting out of selfless motives, have assisted a loved one to die.

Put simply, the most effective safeguard against abuse is to leave the law as it is. What Lord Falconer has done is to argue that it is morally acceptable to put many vulnerable people at increased risk so that the aspirations of a small number of individuals, to control the time, place and means of their deaths, might be met. Such a calculus of risk is unnecessary and wholly unacceptable.

The Church Times reported this in a news article by Ed Thornton Assisted dying ‘unwise’, warns Canon

CANON James Woodward, a member of the Falconer Commis­sion on Assisted Dying, this week declined to support its conclusion that there is “a strong case for providing the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill people”.

The Commission, chaired by the former Lord Chancellor, was established in September 2010 “to consider whether the current legal and policy approach to assisted dying in England and Wales is fit for purpose”.

Its report, published yesterday, argues that the law should be changed to allow terminally ill people in the last year of their lives who are mentally sound to ask a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose. A second doctor would have to assess the candidate independently, and alternative treatments would have to be presented. Candidates would have to administer the lethal dose themselves.

The Revd Dr Woodward, a Canon of Windsor, was the sole dissenting voice on the Commission. He said last week that a visit to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland had been his Damascus-road experience. Writing in today’s Church Times, he says: “Fundamentally, we cannot demand freedom to choose at any cost. I understand that there are significant difficulties with the current law. Yet my visit to Switzer­land . . . raised many more ques­tions about the way a culture views life, death, and the freedom to choose…

The full text of Canon Woodward’s article is available at Why I dissented from Falconer.

…It has been a privilege to travel alongside my fellow commissioners, but we have not ended up in the same place. In the end, mine was the single dissenting voice from the con­clusions. My fellow commissioners have accommodated my divergence with generosity. I support the co­herence, rigour, and quality of this work, and hope that it will be read and used as a basis for further research, work, and public debate…

The Church Times also carried this leader article: Assisting the dying to find dignity.

THE Commission on Assisted Dying assembled by Lord Falconer knew that it had a large stone to push uphill. Parliamentary debates too numerable to recall have considered various schemes for euthanasia and found all wanting. A certain level of help with the stone-pushing has been gained by presenting this as a libertarian issue: those nasty, conservative Churches preventing people from doing what they wish. But, in general, the difficulties of regulation and the lack of safeguards have left a large body of opinion unconvinced that a change in the law can be made securely, even before any slippery-slope arguments are deployed…


opinion for Epiphany

Savi Hensman writes for Ekklesia about David Cameron and Richard Dawkins: misunderstanding Christianity.

Peter Oborne writes about The return to religion in The Telegraph. “With the chill wind of austerity blowing through the country, religion’s warm embrace looks more and more inviting.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave this New Year Message on BBC television. You can watch it here.

Greg Carey in the Huffington Post asks What Does The Book Of Revelation Really Mean?

The Economist has published this leader: Christians and lions. “The world’s most widely followed faith is gathering persecutors. Even non-Christians should worry about that.”

Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times that Detectives don’t replace God: they seek him.

Gary Nicolosi in the Anglican Journal poses Seven questions every church should ask.

The Church of England has launched a competition to Design a Church Chair! Scott Gunn has some suggestions: Um, chairs?


Epiphany and epiphanies

I’m speaking tonight, the Feast of the Epiphany, not in church but to a gathering of scientists and theologians interested in the interface between those two subjects. It’s really important, and outfits such as the Faraday Institute here in Cambridge do great work keeping the dialogue going and developing public understanding in an often polarised discussion.

Some of the themes that come up are the perennial big ones of origins and ends. In between are other issues of identity and — particularly at the moment — sexuality. The idea of Epiphany gives us a particularly helpful way in to what is a difficult topic. Epiphanies are showings. In the theological and literary tradition they are where two stories intersect, where the things of this world are shot through with the things of the beyond, and they are often the turning point of the story. James Joyce’s Dubliners was for instance explicitly conceived as a sequence of fifteen such events.

In them we are taken into the territory of wonder and mystery, and new meaning emerges. Accompanying people to their threshold is a key part of the work of the church — and whether it is through worship, or the sacraments, or the scriptures, or silence, or the awe of the universe, we see time again that as they encounter the Other their lives are transformed for good. Research too, in my experience, may be 99% perspiration but usually hinges on the 1% of inspiration, the sudden insight, often out of the blue, that sets its direction.

Closed doors are the enemy of epiphanies, the blockers of transformative insight. So my second suggestion, as we address the vexed issues of sexuality and identity, is that we can make common cause across the science-religion divide to keep the doors open, to oppose fundamentalist positions which close down the questions, and then close down the answers. And more positively (since just opposing fundamentalism breeds a sort of fundamentalist liberalism of its own) to sponsor new spaces in which such open discussion can take place.

It’s not an easy path to tread. One of my first experiences as a bishop was the so-called Indaba process at the Lambeth Conference, which deliberately tried to create such dialogue — and was roundly attacked from all sides for not coming down on any of them. Discussion is something an Institute such as the Faraday does rather well, but issues to do with homosexuality may prove challenging even for its members whose churchmanship is varied: so how might we go about it?

Both theologians and scientists have something to bring to the table here to create a dialogue that could just possibly draw in others too. On the theology side Reasoning, in which people of various faiths expound their scriptures together, might prove a useful model for explorative exposition. When the Lambeth Bishops picketed Parliament I was given a copy of the Poverty and Justice Bible, with all the relevant verses highlighted. Far more than any to do with sexuality. So, for instance, how do biblical teachings on justice and sexuality speak to each other?

Then from the science side, we have been quite fleet-footed in relating the Biblical accounts of Creation to our scientific theories about the origins of the universe. Could we read across some of that sophistication to build up an equal expertise in dealing with a verse such as “male and female he created them”? And just what is the current science anyway about male and female? I for one, even though I am relatively conservative on this issue and happy to live within the Church’s guidelines, see it as essential that genuine scientific insights are factored into and not out of our theology.

So — are there ways in which all of us could use our experience and positions to underpin a more creative debate in the church than the one I fear we may end up having? I pray for epiphanies!

David Thomson
Bishop of Huntingdon


Looking ahead: The Episcopal Church in 2012

Jim Naughton wrote at Episcopal Café about the year ahead for The Episcopal Church.

A number of comments related to this article were made in an earlier thread here, which was about an English subject: Same-sex Marriage and Disestablishment.

In order to stop the discussion on the latter topic being dominated by Americans discussing something quite different, I have created this article.


Sir Joseph Pilling to chair CofE Bishops review on human sexuality

Church of England press release:

The membership of a group to advise the House of Bishops on the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality has been announced. The Group will be chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling. Sir Joseph, a former Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Office, chaired the group that produced the report on senior church appointments, Talent and Calling, published in 2007.

The other members of the Group are the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Michael Perham, the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Rev Keith Sinclair, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Rev Jonathan Baker and the Bishop of Warwick, the Rt Rev John Stroyan.

The House of Bishops announced on 1 July that it intended to draw together material from the listening process undertaken within the Church of England over recent years in the light of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on human sexuality. It also committed itself to offering proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England about these matters might best be shaped in the light of the listening process. The task of the new group is to help the House discharge its commitment to produce a consultation document in 2013. The membership of another group, advising the House on its review of the 2005 civil partnership statement, was announced on 1 December.

The full text of the 1 July statement.


Same-sex Marriage and Disestablishment

Iain McLean has written at OurKingdom about Same-sex marriage and the Church of England: an argument for disestablishment.

He starts this way:

The UK government has promised to launch a consultation on ‘how to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples’ in England and Wales. Note: HOW, not WHETHER. This reflects the astonishing social change in the last two decades in the UK and other liberal democracies. Surveys such as British Social Attitudes show that moral opposition to gay relationships has gone from a substantial majority to a minority in only 20 years. The Coalition is going with the flow, although not as fast as the devolved Scottish government, whose consultation on the same subject has already taken place.

This is a very difficult subject for faith communities, many of which have been left stranded; and many of which have a principled opposition to recognising same-sex relationships in their churches, synagogues, or temples. That opposition must be honoured, if religious freedom is to mean anything; but equally, so must the principles of those who do want to recognise same-sex commitments in their places of worship.

And he concludes:

… If Parliament makes same-sex marriage possible, will the obligation not then extend to offering same-sex marriage to any parishioner?

No. it cannot and it must not. As the Quakers, Unitarians, and Liberal Jews told the Lords last month, religious freedom must mean the freedom to say no as well as the freedom to say yes. Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights says the same thing. In England, although not in Scotland, the current proposal is to exclude religious communities entirely from the arrangements for same-sex marriage. This will predictably come under pressure if the Government’s intention to legislate for civil same-sex marriage in England and Wales by 2015 comes to pass, and/or if Scotland allows religious celebrants to officiate at same-sex marriages. But, in any such extension of permission to religious communities, there must at an absolute minimum be a conscience clause modelled on the existing ones relating to divorced or transgender people. To force unwilling religious celebrants to celebrate same-sex marriage would be deeply illiberal, and plain stupid.

But this blows English-style establishment out of the water. The courts have already ruled that a Church of England parish is not a “public authority”. This ruling was necessary to protect religious freedom. If parishes were public authorities, they would be subject to the public-sector equality duty laid down in the Equality Act 2010. They could not then refuse to marry an otherwise-qualified same-sex couple. In the interests of religious freedom, it is appropriate to insist that the Church of England is no more a public authority than is any other faith community. But then, it is imperative that it be treated in the same way, and subject to the same law, as all the others. True religious freedom does not only permit, but requires, the full disestablishment of the Church of England and the removal of its bishops from the UK’s legislature. The Church of England could remain a “national” church like the Church of Scotland, but without the entanglements that have led it astray. Each faith community must then decide its attitude to same-sex marriage on its own principles and according to its own rules. There must be no bullying of either side by the other; but nor should there be any claims for special treatment.


Power to become children of God

At the end of the school carol service, the headteacher of our church school walked to the microphone to give her votes of thanks, on the way she whispered to me that I was on next, to say a few words and to give the blessing. I was all ready and had in my mind lots of good things to say about the Christmas story; about God in humble places and appearing to the shepherds, lowly people and the like. The headteacher stood up, did the votes of thanks, and then spent a moment talking to the congregation about Christmas and about God in humble places and appearing to the shepherds, lowly people and the like. I simultaneously felt delight that she was on-message and panic that I had been robbed of my lines. As I stood in front of the microphone I struck out into unanticipated territory. I said that while Matthew and Luke, in their gospels, give us our kings and our shepherds, angels and so forth, John begins his gospel with a wedding. That the wedding of Cana was setting the mood of a story which would be telling us what it was like for someone to be truly and fully alive.

Getting into my stride, I said that Christian living was like a dance, learning the steps to move in God’s way, and that John’s gospel was a story of how lives were transformed by this dance.

A couple of days later, I returned to the prologue to John’s gospel, a familiar text, to see what I could preach about on Christmas Day. As I read the lines I had read countless times before, it struck me that I was not far from the truth in describing the gospel as a dance. As my eyes scanned the verses about everything beginning with a still point, I began to contemplate the gap between this origin, and the promise of what we could become if we “received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” [John 1:12]. Yes it was a dance, a dance between being and becoming; between what is and what will come to be.

Suddenly I saw the wedding in Cana where the old ritual jars were transformed, the encounter with Nicodemus a point of disclosure, the meeting of the woman at the well as a holding and hallowing of a shameful history, and so on, as occasions of people coming into contact with something which made them more human than they were before. It went on, to a blind man healed by someone who did not have the right credentials onto the climax of a dead man breathing again. John’s gospel is indeed a dance, a dance into fuller humanity through contact with the source of life.

In the week before Christmas I was intrigued to read David Cameron’s speech to clergy at Christchurch Oxford on the No.10 website. He was speaking of the legacy of the King James Bible, the phrases it has left us in our language, and the fact that the church has been in the forefront of education for the masses and social action. He said that we need to remember that we are a Christian nation, that it is part of what we should stand for, because we have to stand for something in order to know who we are as a people. His speechwriter had done a good job in saying what he thought the audience would want to hear. But he was saying we had to go backwards, conveniently ignoring that a state church had meant our monarchs could not marry Catholics, and Jews were forbidden from reading for a degree at Oxford until the early last century, or that only Anglican clergy can sit in the House of Lords. He spoke of a past maintained by coercion. To this day the Unitarian and Baptist church buildings in my parish do not have doors which open directly onto the street, a reminder of the time where it was not legal for them to do so.

If Christian values have any place in our contemporary public life as a nation, we need to recover what our sacred texts tell us about what it means for human beings to flourish in the way that St John’s gospel offers us, a way of transformation upon contact; a way of re-connection with the source of life.

What does it mean to flourish as a human? This, in a world where there are some very skewed visions about what it means for humans to live well. Look at our rich, look at our celebrities, look at the anger of the dispossessed which spills out of the pubs onto Evesham High Street on a Saturday night.

We need to rediscover what it means to say that, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” rediscover the celebration and to learn again the dance steps to become the people God intends us to be, and to be the transforming presence God will for his people in the world.

Andrew Spurr
Vicar of Evesham with Norton and Lenchwick


US Ordinariate is announced

A year after the Ordinariate was established in England and Wales, the corresponding announcements have been made in the USA.

Rocco Palmo Upon This “Rock,” An Ordinariate Is Born

In an unprecedented Sunday announcement — a significant sign of Rome’s degree of seriousness about the effort — the Vatican’s press bulletin gave official word of the erection of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, encompassing the territory of the United States. The national quasi-diocese for the entering groups is the second of its kind, following England’s Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which was launched a year ago this month.

Fr Jeffrey Steenson, 59, the former Episcopal bishop of Rio Grande ordained a priest of the archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2009, has been named the founding Ordinary. A married father of three and Oxford-trained patristics scholar who’s been serving until now as a professor at Houston’s St Mary’s Seminary and University of St Thomas, Steenson’s appointment is effective immediately…

George Conger Jeffrey Steenson to lead the Anglican Ordinariate in the U.S.

The Vatican has appointed the former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande to head up the American branch of the Anglican Ordinariate.

On 1 Jan 2012 the Vatican announced that Fr. Jeffrey Steenson had been named the Ordinary for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. The American branch of the ordinariate will be based in Houston, Texas and is the second national jurisdiction for former Anglicans established under the provisions of Pope Benedict’s 2009 apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus”.

A second former Episcopal clergyman, Fr. Scott Hurd, who was received into the Catholic Church in 1996 and is presently a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, has been appointed vicar-general of the ordinariate for a three-year term, the Vatican announcement said…

The website of the American Ordinariate is here.


The situation with respect to Canada is discussed here by Rocco Palmo On Day One, The Ordinariate Spreads North.


The Naming & Circumcision

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. Luke 2:21 (NIV)

Of the four Gospels, only Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus’ birth, and only Luke includes both the naming of Jesus and his circumcision. For Luke, it was important that Jesus was accepted as the Messiah, the one whom Isaiah had prophesied about, and that would have required Jesus to have been involved in the obligatory Jewish religious traditions and rituals, including circumcision.

Luke’s version of the angelic pronouncement is what we know as the Annunciation, with the angel Gabriel speaking directly to Mary about the child she will soon be carrying and telling her what she is to name him. Not only was this baby to be given a certain name, Luke emphasises that Jesus had been given his name even before he had been conceived.

It is easy to overlook the extraordinary nature of Luke’s statement, implying God’s pre-knowledge of Jesus and the role he would assume (the name Jesus translated literally means ‘the Lord saves’). Most of us will have read the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, and accept that, as one of the Persons of the God we worship as the Holy Trinity, Jesus would have been ‘known’ before he began his life as one of us: God would, of course, know another part of the eternal God-self.

Our understanding of God may also lead us to the conclusion that we have always been known, that we, too, have been both known and ‘named’ before we were conceived. Think of the Psalmist’s meditations on an all-knowing God:

It was you who created my inmost self,
and put me together in my mother’s womb;
for all these mysteries I thank you:
for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works. Psalm 139: 13-14 (NJB)

I can think of no better way to start a New Year than with a fresh realization that we are wholly and deeply known to a loving God, and that, whatever our individual ‘name’ may be, our own unique and distinctive calling which we are continually discovering, if we are Christians, we also walk under the banner of the name of Jesus Christ.

None of us knows what 2012 will hold for us or for anyone else, and my prayer for us all is that we will be able to go forward with boldness and confidence, in the name of Christ:

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. From Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

Christina Rees