The central figure in Advent is John the Baptist, a figure both angry and angular emerging out of the desert. In coming out of a place of death, he establishes a theme which will run right through the New Testament, that the wisdom of God is found deep in the heart of our mortality.
Last year I spent a week in the Sinai desert on a silent retreat. When we were bidden to go find a sand-dune to pitch our bedding, mine was next to a bleached bone sticking out of the ground as a reminder, if I needed one, that the desert was a place on the edge of life and death. Looking down from my meditation spot to the camp where our food was being prepared, I realised that the only things between me and oblivion were a handful of Bedouin and a tent full of bottled water.
The desert is a great teacher, it strips you back to what is really essential, what really matters, like all things which have to do with our mortality, the important things come into focus in an instant if we are facing our end. Rowan Williams observed in his reflections on being in lower Manhattan on 11 September 2001, Writing in the Dust, that the passengers in the doomed airliners, once they knew their fate, their last acts were to call loved ones, to make sure that nothing was left unsaid to those most important to us; it was a moment of profound truth and affirming what was essential.
Many years ago, on an Ignatian retreat, my first task was to write my own obituary. In the age before laptops, the waste-basket of my room filled very quickly with half-finished scripts which had foundered at the first sign of the lies and illusions which I maintained about myself. All of these have the same motivation: self-esteem, competitiveness, concerns about one’s rank, standing, significance, why we should not be overlooked, why we were not run-of-the-mill. It took a long time that day to ruefully discard the phoney sentences, and it was only then that I was surprised to discover where there may be real gold.
James Alison tells us that, being mortal, having a life which we know is going to end, naturally makes us competitive or jockey for attention; my time is short, do not overlook me. His observation about resurrection was that Jesus did not return to those who had judged and condemned him. His death was behind him, he was free from the anxiety of mortality, who would prevail, and the preoccupation with status that it brings. He had nothing to prove by going back to Pilate, Herod or Caiaphas; instead, Jesus went back to his disciples. In other words, death revealed what was most essential, most important.
So this madman, the Baptist, comes out of a place of death bellowing judgement. Judgement comes down to one thing: have we ordered our lives to attend to what is most true, most important, most essential? Can we take our baptisms seriously, treat that moment as our death, and live as if our deaths were behind us, free of the need to worry about who we are, and get on with the business of what really matters?
Andrew Spurr is Vicar of Evesham in the Diocese of Worcester2 Comments
The Queen has approved the nomination of the Reverend Canon Graham Barham Usher to the Suffragan See of Dudley.
The Queen has approved the nomination of the Reverend Canon Graham Barham Usher, BSc, MA, Rector and Lecturer of Hexham, in the Diocese of Newcastle, to the Suffragan See of Dudley, in the Diocese of Worcester, in succession to the Right Reverend David Stuart Walker, MA, on his translation to the See of Manchester on 20 November 2013.
Reverend Canon Graham Usher
The Reverend Canon Graham Usher (aged 43), studied ecological science at the University of Edinburgh and then theology at Corpus Christi College Cambridge.
He trained for the ministry at Westcott House, Cambridge. He served his curacy at Nunthorpe-in-Cleveland, in the Diocese of York from 1996 to 1999. From 1999 to 2004 he was Vicar of North Ormesby, Middlesbrough.
Since 2004 he has been Rector and Lecturer of Hexham in the Diocese of Newcastle, serving as Area Dean of Hexham from 2006 to 2011. In 2007 he was made an Honorary Canon of Kumasi in Ghana, the place of his early childhood.
He has a particular interest in biological issues and is currently a Secretary of State appointee to the Northumberland National Park Authority and chairman of the Forestry Commission’s northeast Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee. In addition he is a lay member of Newcastle University’s biomedicine biobank governance and access committee.
Graham Usher is married to Rachel who is a GP and they have 2 children of school age. His interests include hill walking, drawing, writing and the company of his friends.
The Worcester diocesan website has its own announcement.6 Comments
Yesterday, the Government made this announcement: First Same Sex weddings to happen from 29 March 2014.
Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller has announced that the first same sex weddings in England and Wales will be able to take place from Saturday 29 March 2014.
Following the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 successfully completing its journey through Parliament in July 2013, the government has been working hard to ensure that all the arrangements are in place to enable same sex couples to marry as soon as possible.
As a result of this work, the first same sex weddings can now happen several months earlier than anticipated, subject to Parliament’s approval of various statutory instruments, to be laid in the new year.
David Pocklington reports today on the details of this, and notes the various further steps required, in Same-Sex Marriage from 29th March 2014?
He then adds the following Comment in relation to the Church of England:
On 9-10 December, the House of Bishops met for two days in York to discuss a wide range of business, including the Pilling Report. The Minister’s announcement that the first same-sex weddings are likely to happen several months earlier than anticipated brings a new urgency to their deliberations on the approach of the Church of England to human sexuality. As noted in the Report, [at paras. 382, 383],
382 […] Moreover, some form of celebration of civil partnerships in a church context is widely seen as a practice that would give a clear signal that gay and lesbian people are welcome in church.
383. This is a question on which our group is not of one mind – not least since a willingness to offer public recognition and prayer for a committed same-sex relationship in an act of public worship would, in practice, be hard to implement now for civil partnerships without also doing so for same-sex marriage (which, like civil partnerships, makes no assumption, in law, about sexual activity).
Today’s press release following this week’s meeting of the House of Bishops includes this paragraph.
As part of their discussion on Women in the Episcopate, the House heard from members of the steering committee on women bishops on suggestions for the next steps in the process. The House agreed the text of a draft declaration and regulations for a mandatory disputes resolution procedure for debate at General Synod in February 2014. The House also agreed to begin at the February Synod the process for rescinding the 1993 Act of Synod so that all the elements of the new package could be agreed by the synod in July 2014.
The full press release is copied below the fold.10 Comments
Yesterday, Ruth Gledhill published a report concerning the recent Crown Nominations Commission meetings to select a new Bishop of Exeter.
The original report is behind the paywall of The Times but subscribers can find it here.
Much of its content is reproduced in this article in Pink News: Times claims Church of England ‘on the brink of appointing its first openly gay bishop’
…The paper claims the Dean of St Albans, Dr Jeffrey John, came within one vote of being recommended as the new Bishop of Exeter.
It is thought to be the first time that Dr John has made the shortlist for a diocesan post, although he has been tipped for promotion several times before.
The successful candidate to succeed the Right Rev Michael Langrish as the Bishop of Exeter is to be announced soon.
Although he has missed out on the position, The Times claims Church sources say that it is only a matter of time before Dr John gets a diocesan post.
This year the Church of England dropped its prohibition on gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops. That was the change that allowed Dr John to be considered again after effectively being banned from the episcopacy since 2003.
The Crown Nominations Commission met in October to choose the new diocesan bishop for Exeter. The meeting was chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who would have had the casting vote in the event of a deadlock.
There are already meetings scheduled to choose the bishops to fill six diocesan vacancies next year. These are Europe, Hereford, Liverpool, Guildford, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and Southwell and Nottingham. Besides Europe, Hereford and Guildford also have liberal traditions that might make Dr John an acceptable candidate…
The original article says that this is believed to be the first time the Dean of St Albans has been shortlisted for a diocesan bishopric. But back in 2010, when the bishopric of Southwark was under consideration, the contemporary reports suggest otherwise, see:
Telegraph Jonathan Wynne-Jones Gay cleric in line to become bishop in Church of England
Australian reproducing The Times Gay bishop to divide Anglicans
TA coverage of the ensuing story started here, and ran for a considerable number of subsequent articles during the next couple of weeks.
And in May 2011, the Guardian published Colin Slee’s own account of the matter.40 Comments
Diocese of Bath and Wells: Peter Hancock nomination approved
The Queen has approved the nomination of the Right Reverend Peter Hancock, MA, Suffragan Bishop of Basingstoke, for election as Bishop of Bath and Wells in succession to the Right Reverend Peter Bryan Price on his resignation on the 30th June 2013.
The Right Reverend Peter Hancock
The Right Reverend Peter Hancock (aged 58) read Natural Sciences at Selwyn College, Cambridge and then studied for the ordained ministry at Oak Hill Theological College. He served his first curacy at Portsdown in Portsmouth diocese from 1980 to 1983.
From 1983 to 1987 he was Curate at Radipole and Melcombe Regis in the diocese of Salisbury.
From 1987 to 1999 he was Vicar of Cowplain in the diocese of Portsmouth.
From 1993 to 1998 he was Rural Dean of Havant.
From 1997 to 1999 he was an Honorary Canon of Portsmouth Cathedral.
From 1999 to 2010 he was Archdeacon of Meon in the diocese of Portsmouth.
From 2003 to 2006 he was Diocesan Director of Mission.
Since 2010 he has been Suffragan Bishop of Basingstoke.
Peter Hancock is married to Jane and they have 4 grown-up children, Claire, Richard, Charlotte and William.
His interests include walking, meeting people, travelling and watching sport. He has particular concerns for the environment and the work of mission and development agencies.
The Bath & Wells website has its own announcement.2 Comments
Our previous report is here.
The Church Times carried a detailed news report by Gavin Drake but this is available only to subscribers.
Frank Cranmer has published the more detailed analysis that he promised, see Clergy employment and Sharpe v Worcester DBF.
Two other articles have been published:
Philip Jones has written The Removal of an Irremovable Pastor: Sharpe v Diocese of Worcester. He argues that it is impossible for the holder of a freehold office to bring a dismissal claim of any kind in an employment tribunal.
Neil Addison writes that Anglican Vicar May be an Employee.2 Comments
The eight elected senior women clergy are attending their first meeting of the House of Bishops this week. The Church of England issued this press release to mark the occasion.
Bishops Welcome Participant Observers to First Meeting
09 December 2013
The House of Bishops of the Church of England has today welcomed eight women as participant observers to its meetings. The welcome follows the election of the eight senior women clergy from regions across the country.
In February of this year the House decided that until such time as there are six female members of the House, following the admission of women to the episcopate, a number of senior women clergy should be given the right to attend and speak at meetings of the House as participant observers. The necessary change to the House’s Standing Orders was made in May.
Elections for the eight senior women clergy were held in autumn of this year and the following were elected:
- East Midlands – Ven Christine Wilson, Archdeacon of Chesterfield
- West Midlands – Revd Preb Dr Jane Tillier, Prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral
- East Anglia – Ven Annette Cooper, Archdeacon of Colchester
- South and Central – Ven Joanne Grenfell, Archdeacon of Portsdown
- South East region – Ven Rachel Treweek, Archdeacon of Hackney
- South West region – Ven Nicola Sullivan, Archdeacon of Wells
- North East – Very Revd Vivienne Faull, Dean of York
- North West – The Rev Libby Lane, Dean of Women in Ministry, Chester Diocese
Having taken up their role on 1st December, the two day meeting of the House of Bishops in York on December 9-10 will be the first meeting at which the participant observers will attend.
Left to Right Back Row:
The Ven Rachel Treweek, The Ven Nicola Sullivan, The Ven Annette Cooper, The Ven Joanne Grenfell
The Revd Libby Lane, The Revd Jane Tillier, The Very Revd Vivienne Faull, The Ven Christine Wilson
There is a larger version of the photograph here.13 Comments
The Archbishop of Kenya, Eliud Wabukala, Chairman of the GAFCON Primates, has written an Advent Letter to the Faithful of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and friends.
…The Church of England has just released what is known as the Pilling Report, the conclusions of a Working Group commissioned by the House of Bishops to report and make recommendations on issues of human sexuality. I am sorry to say that it is very flawed. If this report is accepted I have no doubt that the Church of England, the Mother Church of the Communion, will have made a fateful decision. It will have chosen the same path as The Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada with all the heartbreak and division that will bring.
The problem is not simply that the Report proposes that parish churches should be free to hold public services for the blessing of homosexual relationships, but the way it justifies this proposal. Against the principle of Anglican teaching, right up to and beyond the Lambeth Conference of 1998, it questions the possibility that the Church can speak confidently on the basis of biblical authority and sees its teaching as essentially provisional. So Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth conference, which affirmed that homosexual practice was ‘incompatible with Scripture’ and said it could ‘not advise the legitimisation or blessing of same sex relationships’, is undermined both in practice and in principle.
The proposal to allow public services for the blessing of same sex relationships is seen as a provisional measure and the Report recommends a two-year process of ‘facilitated conversation’ throughout the Church of England which is likened to the ‘Continuing Indaba’ project. This should be a warning to us because it highlights that the unspoken assumption of Anglican Indaba is that the voice of Scripture is not clear. This amounts to a rejection of the conviction expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles that the Bible as ‘God’s Word written’ is a clear and effective standard for faith and conduct…
Stephen Noll, the retired Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University has written The Pilling Report and the Anglican Communion.
Susannah Cornwall has written Some thoughts on the Pilling Report.
Symon Hill has written Why I’m Not Cheering The Pilling Report.22 Comments
Tributes pour in for Nelson Mandela, as Gavin Drake reports in the Church Times. Here is a selection from Anglican church leaders.
Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of York
Bishop Nick Baines
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop of Cape Town
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church
Archbishop Of Armagh
Archbishop Of Dublin
Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada
The Archbishops of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
The Anglican Communion News Service has Anglican Communion leaders pay tribute to Nelson Mandela.5 Comments
Marcus Borg has been Thinking about Advent.
The BBC reports that MPs discuss plight of Christians across the world. The statistics are a matter of dispute, as Ruth Alexander of the BBC asks here Are there really 100,000 new Christian martyrs every year? and we reported in this opinion article.4 Comments
Today’s Church Times has a leader about the Pilling report: Pilling disappoints.
THE Pilling report, The Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, adds a shade more civility to the gay debate. It talks of repentance for homophobia, and begins its findings and recommendations with a statement of welcome and affirmation of the “presence and ministry” of gay people in the Church of England. And at various points in the report we can feel the group’s members, or rather most of them, yearning towards a greater liberalism. Its concession, however, that same-sex partnerships might be “marked” in church has been construed as the very least that the group could have recommended. The C of E, if it has the stomach for it, now faces the prospect of two years of facilitated conversations, “conducted without undue haste but with a sense of urgency”, about a move that will be moribund unless it encompasses same-sex marriage, and will do little to convince the gay community, and society at large, that the Church really knows the meaning of the words “welcome” and “affirmation”.
The report was always likely to be disappointing. When it was set up in 2011, the Pilling group’s task was to reflect on the post-Lambeth ‘98 “listening process” and merely “advise the House [of Bishops] on what proposals to offer on how the continuing discussion about these matters might best be shaped”. In other words, it was not being asked about policy, only about process. Even this modest goal of directing how future talks might be modelled proved too difficult, damaged by the fact that one of its number, the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, queried even the continuation of the listening process on the grounds that no further discernment is necessary. His dissenting statement, which, with his appendix, takes up more space than the group’s reflections, is a key factor in the report’s ambivalence. If evidence were needed on the brokenness of the Church on this matter, here it is.
A narrow brief and internal disagreement have made for a tame report, one that is hardly likely to enliven further consultation. Bishop Sinclair does his best to portray it as dangerously radical, but his description of it as undermining the Church’s teaching about homosexuality is inaccurate. The undermining has already happened: the report’s most radical act is to reveal in an official document what is already widely known: that a significant proportion of churchpeople regard that teaching as flawed.
Faced with this gulf between conservatives such as Bishop Sinclair and, say, almost everybody under the age of 30, it is easy to see why the majority in the working group latched on to the concept of “pastoral accommodation” with such enthusiasm. But this merely takes the Church’s ambivalence into a pastoral situation, saying to a couple, in effect: “We agree with what you’re doing, but are too weak to prevail against those who disapprove of you.” This is hardly a convincing response to the missiological challenge that the Pilling report identifies.
Margaret is a committed and faithful ‘8 o’clocker’, and despite her free church leanings usually manages to cope with my Anglo-Catholic excesses. She is also one of the driving forces behind the church-led Barton Food Bank and is regularly appalled at the deprivation and suffering endured by those who seek its help. Great, then, was her embarrassment when at the 8.00 mass a few weeks ago she found herself reading out the words of the Epistle, ‘Anyone unwilling to work should not eat’.
We Christians are all sophisticated enough these days to recognise our moral superiority over the rest of unenlightened humanity. The Jubilee movement, Fair Trade, even (for Neanderthals like me) ‘Faith in the City’ are constant reassurances that ethically we are on the side of the angels. We believe.
Uncomfortable though it is to recall the widespread Christian support for slavery, John Wesley’s enthusiastic endorsement of capital punishment and the solid Church backing given to many an unpleasant regime and policy, we who know God to be a Guardian reader who sources the ingredients for the Messianic Banquet ethically, stand above that misguided history.
The problem is, of course, what is our security for that belief? The philosophical debate on whether there can be a morality independent of a deity rages on, but wherever we stand in that discussion, the easy equating of ‘Faithful’ with ‘Moral’ often passes unexamined. Our ancestors in the faith did not believe that they were in any sense unjust, and yet we are astonished or repelled by their lack of vision, their obvious feet of clay.
We all enjoy the ‘brood of vipers’ reference in the Advent 2 Gospel reading, as the venomously powerful get a verbal flogging. We may even identify other bits of the Church with that description: on a good day even accept that there’s a poison within ourselves. However, when I consider that image, I see also a knotted herpetological tangle, snakes coiled and curled around one another, impenetrable, self-sufficient, self-absorbed, self-embracing.
The mathematician Kurt Gödel established his ‘incompleteness theorem’, whose insights have been taken into other disciplines. Simply put, it is impossible for a line of reasoning properly to critique itself because any flaws in the system are invisible from within it. It can be an admirable line of defence for theists against arid rationalism, but we are not immune: what if even our Christian thirst for justice is a selective reading and favouring of our own prejudices and proof texts, be they Bible or Blog? It’s said that the verdict of history is often, ‘How could they not see that?’ where ‘that’ is an issue so vast that no-one at the time recognised it was there.
There is no simple resolution of this, and certainly one is not to be found in surrendering our own insights in favour of another unverifiable world-view. But a tradition running from John to Pope Francis reminds us that the word of the Lord may sometimes come from outside our own tightly-bound communities of the like-minded. There is a world beyond our serpentine knot which we forget at our peril.
David Rowett is vicar of Barton-on-Humber in the diocese of Lincoln.4 Comments
Updated Thursday afternoon
David Pocklington of Law & Religion UK has published a most helpful summary, putting the report in context: The Pilling Report, the CofE and human sexuality.
Andrew Goddard has written for The Living Church that Divisions Deepen in Pilling.
Anglican Mainstream have published these Pilling report – Dissenting Statement FAQs from the EGGS (Evangelical Group of the General Synod) Committee.17 Comments
Fulcrum has published its Response to the Pilling Report. Fulcrum welcomes much, but not all of the main report. But it also welcomes elements of the Bishop of Birkenhead’s Dissenting Statement, starting with a welcome to
The clear and irenic statement of the church’s teaching that “the proper context for sexual expression is the union of a man and a woman in marriage”. We also welcome the biblical case set out for this vision by the Bishop of Birkenhead in Appendix 3 and would further have liked to see this biblical engagement throughout the whole report.
But do read it all.23 Comments
The Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada elected the Reverend Canon Melissa Skelton to be its ninth bishop on Saturday.
Press reports include:
Huffington Post Canada Rev. Melissa Skelton Elected Bishop Of New Westminster
Douglas Todd Vancouver Sun Rev. Melissa Skelton elected bishop of Vancouver-area Anglican diocese
Paul Sullivan Matro [Canada] Anglican bishop brings branding skills
By coincidence the election took place on the same day as the Consecration Of The Revd Pat Storey As Bishop Of Meath & Kildare. Patrick Comerford, a Canon at Christ Church Cathedral, where the service took place, describes the occasion in detail: A Memorable Afternoon at the Consecration of Bishop Pat Storey in Christ Church Cathedral. The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church was there, as was the Archbishop of Wales. The Archbishop of Canterbury was represented by Archdeacon Sheila Watson.
Claire Duffin Telegraph First female Anglican bishop consecrated
BBC Irish Anglicans install Rev Pat Storey as bishop
Belfast Newsletter First woman bishop installed by Anglican Church
Sarah Stack of the Press Association in the Irish Independent Tributes paid to first woman bishop at Christ Church Cathedral
The Irish news CoI consecrates first female bishop
The Irish Times Irish woman becomes first female bishop in UK and Ireland
Ciarán Hanna Inside Ireland Tributes to first woman bishop on these islands consecrated by the Church of Ireland at a service in Dublin
Savitri Hensman writes for Ekklesia about Ireland’s first – or perhaps second – woman bishop63 Comments
Updated Monday evening and Tuesday morning
Ekklesia have published several articles
C of E should be more welcoming, sexuality report urges
Think-tank proposes different approach to church sexuality row
Bishops back think-tank call for reconciliation in sexuality debate
and a related paper: Church views on sexuality: recovering the middle ground by Savitri Hensman.
Andrew Symes writes for Anglican Mainstream about The Pilling Report: what it says, what it means, what we should do.
John Martin writes in The Living Church about A Cautious Step Leftward.
David Gillett blogs My reflections on the Pilling report.
Ian Paul blogs The Pilling Report: divisive and damaging?
The Sybils have issued a press release,available online here Sybils Christian transgender group respond to Pilling Report, and as a pdf here.27 Comments
I live just outside Glasgow, but I worship and work there. The first I knew of it was hearing a doctor friend had been called into her hospital, and things, quite unspecified things, looked bad. Then, overnight, the picture began to build.
The news reporters have said it all. The courage of the helpers, the calm of the survivors, the willing aid of the medical staff.
And because we are human, the search for meaning starts. We want it all to mean something, if it can. Jesus, we are told, got waylaid by the same questioning. Those people killed by the fall of the Tower of Siloam, were they wicked? Or was it a flawed Eurocopter which fell on them?
No, it was just a tower, it just fell. Something went wrong, and people just died. Foundations were not right, or metal was fatigued, and people just died.
It is a hard thing for faith to grapple with — this injustice. This lack of reason.
In this case we have as yet no idea what caused the tragedy. The overwhelming probability is that some small flaw somewhere caused this disproportionate effect. The natural impulse is to demand why God does not set the world up to be just. Why he cannot step in each time to sort things out so that the innocent never suffer and the guilty only suffer proportionately.
If we could solve this, we would have unravelled one of the major stumbling blocks to faith, and I suspect our churches would be much more full.
Sometimes, it is true, we can catch echoes of a kind of reason, if not a justice. Global warming increases weather disasters. Any one typhoon may not be down to global warming, but the fact is, we know that western greed and selfishness will create weather events that kill the disadvantaged elsewhere. It is not justice but it is a consequence. If there were no consequence, if each time God stepped in and stopped the suffering, it seems to me that people would be trapped in endless childhood. If no person could kill with evil intent, we might as well all give rein to our anger to the full, for who is hurt? If no negligence could ever derail a train, who would, in the end, put in a full day’s work or pay a wage which offered motivation? Not me, that is for sure.
But for all that, we start Advent, and we start our meditations on justice, with a glaring example of how unfair the world is. Any Glaswegian could have been unwinding on Friday night, listening to the music. Any pub could have the one on which the helicopter fell. It could have been anybody.
The pious lesson is that we can keep such terrible harm to a minimum by each doing what we can, just as the medical staff of Glasgow all answered their various bleeps on Friday night. Just as we have worked over the ages to understand the foundations of towers, and the breaking points of metal, and the stalling of engines. The little we do builds to a greater whole. Also, we can attend to the great matters of justice, so that the poor can eat and typhoons be stilled.
But still, for each of us, as we face the inevitable random tragedies of our lives, the large and the small, there will always be a struggle to make the best sense we can of things, and a need to say firmly that after all, there is no sense to be made of some things. No sense, but if we believe in our creative faith, even out of the horrors of no sense, and of heartbreak, we can still spin beauty, and seek comfort in the faces of the rescue workers, the medical staff, the ordinary public, who let a little light into a dark place.
Rosemary Hannah is the author of The Grand Designer.2 Comments