Thinking Anglicans

Bishop of Newcastle announces his retirement.

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Martin Wharton, has announced his forthcoming retirement. There are these two items on the diocesan website.

Bishop of Newcastle to retire
Announcement from the Bishop of Newcastle

The announcement does not give the exact date of the bishop’s retirement, but the Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975 requires him to vacate his office on his 70th birthday, which is on 6 August 2014.


GAFCON criticises Church of England again on same-sex marriage

Updated again Wednesday morning

The GAFCON Primates Council, which met in London this week, has issued a Communiqué, which after dealing with a variety of other issues, contains this passage:

…Meeting shortly after the recognition in English law of same sex marriage, which we cannot recognise as compatible with the law of God, we look to the Church of England to give clear leadership as moral confusion about the status of marriage in this country deepens. The Archbishop of Canterbury has rightly noted that the decisions of the Church of England have a global impact and we urge that as a matter of simple integrity, its historic and biblical teaching should be articulated clearly.

7. We are particularly concerned about the state of lay and clerical discipline. The House of Bishops’ guidance that those in same sex marriages should be admitted to the full sacramental life of the church is an abandonment of pastoral discipline. While we welcome their clear statement that clergy must not enter same sex marriage, it is very concerning that this discipline is, apparently, being openly disregarded. We pray for the recovery of a sense of confidence in the whole of the truth Anglicans are called to proclaim, including that compassionate call for repentance to which we all need to respond in our different ways…

The following names appear at the foot of the statement:

Primates present in London were:
The Most Rev’d Daniel Deng Bul, Archbishop, Episcopal Church of Sudan
The Most Rev’d Robert Duncan, Archbishop, Anglican Church in North America
The Most Rev’d Stanley Ntagli, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Uganda
The Most Rev’d Nicholas Okoh, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Nigeria (Vice Chairman)
The Most Rev’d Onesphore Rwaje, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Rwanda
The Most Rev’d Dr Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Kenya (Chairman)
The Most Rev’d Tito Zavala, Presiding Bishop, Province of the Southern Cone

Also present:
The Most Rev’d Dr Peter Jensen, Diocese of Sydney, General Secretary
The Most Rev’d Peter J. Akinola, Church of Nigeria, Trustee
Most Rev’d Emmanuel Kolini, Anglican Church of Rwanda, Trustee
The Most Rev’d Dr Ikechi Nwosu, Anglican Church of Nigeria

The Mail on Sunday has picked this up and reported it as Church of England split fear as African bishops speak out over clergy flouting a ban on same-sex weddings.

Another quote from the communiqué (emphasis added):

…We are equally concerned for the affected communities in Chile from the recent earthquake, terrorist attacks in Kenya, and the backlash from the international community in Uganda from their new legislation

This appears to be confirmation that GAFCON in general, and ACNA in particular, endorses the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014.


Religion News Service reports Conservative Anglican leaders back Uganda anti-gay law.

WASHINGTON (RNS) Leaders of the conservative wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion equate the experiences of Ugandans who support a new anti-gay law with those of victims of an earthquake or a terror attack.

The Global Anglican Future Conference — made up chiefly of Anglican archbishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America — concluded a two-day meeting in London on Saturday (April 26) with a statement that expressed concern for violence in South Sudan and Northern Nigeria. It then said:

“We are equally concerned for the affected communities in Chile from the recent earthquake, terrorist attacks in Kenya, and the backlash from the international community in Uganda from their new legislation.”

That legislation, signed in February by Ugandan president President Yoweri Museveni, specifies life in prison for some homosexual acts. It also outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires citizens to report to the police anyone suspected of being gay.

President Obama has called the bill “odious,” and the U.S. Embassy staff has avoided meetings and events with any Ugandan government agencies since the signing.

But despite the GAFCON statement’s equation with catastrophes, the archbishops’ response seems more concerned with finances than outright support for the Ugandan law. The “backlash” line could be a reference to the loss of $140 million in financial aid and project support from the World Bank, the U.S. and other countries. According to IRIN, which covers humanitarian issues, this included $6.4 million intended for the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, which backed the legislation…

Episcopal Cafè has this: Why won’t ACNA say it is wrong to put gay people in prison?

…The Anglican Church in North America is led by a man who was so deeply offended by the ordination of a gay bishop that he decided to break away from the Episcopal Church and take tens of thousands of other people with him, but who is comfortable with church leaders who have successfully urged their governments to round up LGBT people and their supportive friends, and put them in jail.

For years, breakaway Anglicans have tried to downplay the role that simple anti-gay bigotry has played in their movement. They’d say that they didn’t hate gay people, they just didn’t think they should be able to be ordained or married. Or they’d say that homosexuality was just one symptom of the Episcopal Church’s drift from Biblical truth. Duncan’s unwillingness to say in a simple and straightforward way that he doesn’t think gay people and those who do not inform on them should be put in jail gives the lie to these arguments, as does the obsession with homosexuality evident in statements from the GAFCON primates council.

What we are seeing now is a comfortable white American religious leader who cannot bring himself to say that it is wrong to throw LGBT Africans in jail because he doesn’t want to offend the African archbishops who have been his allies.

Duncan is in a bind. On one hand, the bogus claim that the Anglican Church in North America is part of the Anglican Communion depends entirely on its relationships with Anglican provinces led by archbishops who support anti-gay legislation. On the other hand, ACNA’s leaders in this country know that their church won’t survive if its homophobic roots and willingness to countenance human rights violations that advance its institutional interests become widely known. His strategy at the moment seems to be to sign on to homophobic documents that circulate widely within the Anglican Communion while hoping that the U. S. media and the wider public doesn’t notice…



Ben Myers is compiling a Church attendance manual. Here is part 1: arriving late.

Allison Pearson writes in The Telegraph that Wishy-washy Anglicans like me should speak up for the Church.

Jonathan Clatworthy writes for Modern Church that Hard work is not a virtue.

Paul Vallely writes for the Church Times about What really makes a nation Christian.

Simon Barrow writes for Ekklesia about Easter: actually it’s 50 days, and nothing to do with ‘Christian country’ ideology.

Barney White-Spunner writes for The Telegraph that Village churches need their own resurrection.

Diarmaid MacCulloch has given the fourth annual Princeton in Europe Lecture: What if Arianism had won? [63 minute video]


Church in Wales Governing Body meets in Llandudno

The Governing Body of the Church in Wales met this week in Llandudno.

The full agenda can be found here.

Earlier we published an article linking to the various documents issued for this meeting, relating to Same Sex Marriages.

The Archbishop’s Presidential Address is the subject of a press release: Quoting Bible texts does not settle moral disputes – Archbishop.

The full text of the address is available here.

This was reported by Wales Online as Church risks being seen as ‘homophobic’ if it doesn’t evolve, says Archbishop and by the BBC as Gay marriage ‘patience’ urged by Archbishop of Wales.

Another press release reports Church launches mediation service.


A better resurrection

I think that if I were inventing a resurrection story, I would have had him reappear as victor over death with gaping unsightly wounds healed up. I would not, I suspect, have thought to have him going around with a hole in his side big enough to put one’s hand into. I might, I suppose, have run to some discreet scars and a little bitterness over how he was treated.

The Jesus who bursts back into Thomas’s life is much better than anything I would have imagined. His wounds are still open, with one plenty large enough to put a finger into. His preoccupation, though, is not with the past, but the future. He is moving his disciples on to a new world, where they take up the role he has carried. Jesus’s old work of forgiving (or not) will become their responsibility, and they will struggle to make others believe what they can never see.

So we enter a world where we know something new about healing, which is that probably we will never really be healed, although we may well be resurrected. What we are offered is a new life, not a patched-up old life.

I struggle to get my mind fully around this, just as I struggle to imagine writing the story that John writes of Jesus’s resurrection. There are memories, and actions, which I would like to be able to wipe out, to fully expunge from the record. I would like the ‘forgiveness’ or which Jesus speaks to mean that these things cease to be. But I think that that is not what is on offer. I suspect, reading this story, that forgiveness actually means that I will carry these holes in me forward for ever. A hole in my side wrenched by a mercifully lance and cruel damage inflicted intentionally to hurt me. They are mine forever.

I am not offered that these things will vanish. Instead, what I am offered is that they will become for my good, and for the good of others. If, in some ways, they will always define me, they will also become creative. I think, and I say this very tentatively, I think this is true. I suspect that the more I try to turn my face towards all that is good and positive, the truer it becomes.

I think you deserve at least some example. For me, the insecurities of my childhood experiences of my peers lead me to a solitude which is not, perhaps, quite natural to me. I am not any good in social contexts, and I never will be. It has made me miss taking up careers which might otherwise have been a joy to me. But it has also led me to be a much more reflective person, and to become a writer. This has come to define me, to become the holes in my hands by which others recognise me. The future beckons me. Maybe the writer I can still become will indeed imagine a better resurrection than mere healing.

Rosemary Hannah is currently writing a Victorian Whodunnit using up characters researched but not used in her biography, ‘The Grand Designer’; she also writes religious fiction.


Largest Diocese – is it really West Yorkshire and the Dales?

The new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales claims to be the largest diocese in England by area with an area of 2425 square miles.

History will be made on Easter Day, April 20th, when the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales is created, the first new diocese in the Church of England since 1929, and, at 2,425 square miles, the largest diocese in England by area.

The same figure can be found on pages 9 and 31 of the statement of need for the new diocese.

But table 1 of Statistics For Mission 2012 lists four dioceses with an area larger than this.

diocese    area (sq miles)
Lincoln 2670
York 2660
Exeter 2580
Carlisle 2480

However, we understand that the total land area of the new diocese is actually 2630 square miles. This makes the diocese the third largest in terms of size after Lincoln and York (though there is not much in it!).

Another error is that the previous new diocese in the Church of England (Derby) was created in 1927 and not 1929.


Justin Welby interview for the Telegraph

Cole Moreton has been interviewing the Archbishop of Canterbury for The Telegraph (and not just about same-sex marriages).

Part One (Friday) The Archbishop of Canterbury’s deadly dilemma
Part Two (Sunday) Archbishop of Canterbury: Sometimes I think: ‘This is impossible’

There are also these news items by Cole Moreton and John Bingham.
Justin Welby: the anguish I face over gay marriage
Church holds on to Wonga shares.

Other news outlets have covered the first part of the interview.

Kashmira Gander The Independent Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says Anglican Church cannot support same-sex marriage

Jack Simpson The Independent Justin Welby: Same sex ceremonies a balancing act for Church of England

Ben Quinn The Guardian Justin Welby: church ‘struggling with reality’ of same-sex marriages

BBC Welby: Church ‘struggling’ over same-sex marriages


The Day of Resurrection!

The day of resurrection!
Earth, tell it out abroad;
the Passover of gladness,
the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal,
from earth unto the sky,
our Christ hath brought us over,
with hymns of victory.

Today is the day that either makes fools of us believers or that reveals the reality of our life in God. Either the resurrection was, as Bishop David Jenkins famously said, ‘more than a conjuring trick with bones’ (he was, of course, infamously misquoted as saying ‘merely a conjuring trick with bones’), or it was just a resuscitation, not a resurrection?

People have been resuscitated before — think of Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus, both raised back to life by Jesus — and there are many more stories across the faiths and traditions of the dead being miraculously brought back to life. The persons so raised presumably lived out their earthly lives and then died a second time, for good.

The resurrection was something else, an unprecedented event that, if true, changed the basis of our relationship with God, with other people and with the rest of creation. It makes possible the seemingly fanciful teachings of Jesus, as when he states that if his followers had even a little faith they could move mountains and perform miracles greater than they have seen him perform.

If the resurrection is what we believe it to be, then the risen Christ ushers us into a new kind of existence, a positioning in eternity within the life of Trinity, with all the power of the Divine available to us now. This is what Saint Paul believed and what he attempted to express in his great charter of emancipation in Romans chapter 8: ‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.’ Paul was so convinced of the transformative effect of the resurrection that he repeatedly insisted that those who were in Christ were tantamount to being a ‘new creation,’ people who would be able to express in their lives the very nature of God.

The resurrection blows out the walls, the floors and the ceilings of our understanding of our own spiritual identity. What we do with open access to the Holy Spirit is up to us. It becomes a question of how much truth can we bear? How much life can we live? How much love can we take? How much do we trust the God who explodes our limited perceptions of who we are and what life is all about?

This Easter my prayer is that we will all be given the courage to open ourselves more to the infinite God, whose love we know and whose face we have seen in the man who resolutely climbed the hill to Golgotha.

Now let the heavens be joyful!
Let earth the song begin!
Let the round world keep triumph,
and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen
their notes in gladness blend,
for Christ the Lord hath risen,
our joy that hath no end.

Christina Rees


Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales

Overnight the Dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield, and Ripon & Leeds ended and the new Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales was born.

Madeleine Davies writes for the Church Times that Yorkshire dioceses will celebrate Paschal rebirth.

Nick Baines is Moving on. He will become the acting Bishop of Leeds until he gets made ‘legal’ on 8 June at York Minster.

Bradford diocese has published First new diocese for more than 85 years. This is also on the Archbishop of York’s website, along with a biography of Nick Baines.

The new diocese has a new website.

The Church of England Parliamentary Unit has published these three brief histories of the bishops of the three old dioceses as parliamentarians.

1 Comment


Andrew Brown profiles Justin Welby: the hard-nosed realist holding together the Church of England for The Guardian.

Giles Fraser writes for the Mail Online: Bless you, Dave, for ‘doing God’. But there’s more to faith than your do-gooding religion-lite: A combative Easter message from the former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s.
Tim Stanley responds in The Telegraph with Sorry, Rev, but Christianity isn’t just about being nice to people.

David Cameron writes for the Church Times about My faith in the Church of England.

Some Easter Messages:
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
Dean Jeffrey John
Archbishop of Wales
Archbishop of Dublin
Archbishop of Sydney
Archbishop of Melbourne

N T Wright writes for ABC Religion and Ethics: Only Love Believes: The Resurrection of Jesus and the Constraints of History.

Jonathan Clatworthy blogs for Modern Church about Resurrection and kingdom.

Holly Baxter writes for The Guardian about The importance of Easter to this atheist.

Also in The Guardian Giles Fraser writes about The one day when Christians and atheists sing from the same hymn sheet.

A N Wilson writes for The Telegraph about Good Friday: the day we forget to remember.

John Dickson has Top 10 tips for atheists this Easter.


Understanding Good Friday

During Holy Week some 40 years ago, just as I was coming to the end of my teenage years, I first saw a concentration camp. It was a beautiful spring morning in the Austrian countryside, with signs everywhere of nature coming to life. Then we arrived at Mauthausen camp. I imagine the birds kept singing and the daffodils still danced in the breeze, but for us — a group of students nearing the end of our secondary school education — everything suddenly seemed totally still, as we entered a world that we had heard and read about but had never seen. Even as a cleaned up monument to this awful, cruel piece of history, the camp was terrifying.

It was Good Friday.

Back then, I was a committed atheist. The terrible appropriateness of the day was not in my mind as we approached the camp. And oddly enough, on the preceding evening, over a drink with my classmates, I had held forth on the impossibility that there could be a divine creator who would allow starvation, war and oppression.

Over the subsequent weeks, while reflecting on the experience, something occurred to me. The Via Dolorosa is not a sentimental journey. It is not the beautification of suffering, it is not the nobility of pain. God’s plan on Good Friday was not to invite us to contemplate a sense of cruelty redeemed, but rather of cruelty understood. We have to believe, and Jesus has allowed us to believe, that suffering can have a meaning. But suffering is not good, it is not beautiful, it is not destiny; it is not God’s will.

On that day, 40 years ago, I began, very slowly, on my own journey back to faith. Part of that faith is the belief that we cannot fully and properly live the Christian life until we have really, really understood Good Friday.

Ferdinand von Prondzynski is Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen


Preparing the Feast

Traditionally, we celebrate the Last Supper with a blaze of glory, in total contrast to the austerity of the Lenten season. The Gloria is sung, the sackcloth is laid aside and white vestments are worn to celebrate the Feast. We give thanks for ‘this wonderful sacrament’. Yet in this joyous moment, there are uncomfortable reminders that even the holiest moments are not immune from attack.

After Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, Luke warns us that this was no final defeat. He writes (Luke 4.13) ‘When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.’ Tonight, on this most holy night, he returns in envy and spite to attempt to wreck the celebration.

Jesus came to the table knowing that one of the disciples would betray him (Matthew 25.23). Peter at first refused to have his feet washed, the disciple thinking he knew better than his teacher. Luke (22.24) tells us that ‘A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.’ Matthew (20.20-28) had described this kind of contest more delicately, in saying it was a request from the mother of James and John to grant her sons first place in the kingdom of heaven, but the rivalry clearly bubbled away under the surface, and broke out again tonight.

They were all out for themselves, and Jesus knew it, saying (Matthew 26.21) ‘You will all become deserters.’ We recall that Peter protested, and Jesus recognised how great the threat was, saying (Luke 22.31). ‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat’.

Even in our holiest moments we remain a prey to pride, envy, jealousy and selfishness. We are so full of ourselves that we fail to see the glory that is before us. We fail to listen to the voice of God. The fact that we are engaged in the most holy enterprise grants us no immunity from temptation. But the heart of the gospel is that even when we are failing, Jesus is not failing us. At the very point where Jesus tells Peter that all of the disciples will desert him, he assures Peter (Luke 22.32) that ‘I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ He prays for us even as we are going wrong. He exhorts us to pray for ourselves when we are being tempted, as he did repeatedly in the Garden of Gethsemane. And the assurance is that though we will fail, he will accept us when we turn back. The father accepts the prodigal son back not with a reproach, but with a feast. The risen Christ welcomes Peter with a breakfast of fish by Galilee, and the repeat of that command to strengthen his brothers in the words ‘Feed my sheep.’(John 21). The fishermen had come empty handed to the meal, but Jesus supplies their want.

But then, we never did obey that command to ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ in our own strength. The initiative had to come from God. There was little left of faith in the two shattered disciples who left Jerusalem for Emmaus. But Jesus prayed for them. They recognised him as he blessed the bread, presiding at the first Christian Eucharist. It was not their remembrance of him, but a reunion with the risen Lord who remembered them and invited them.

Tonight, in this most holy night, Christ is preparing the feast. He prays for us that our pride, our envy and all our sinfulness will not prevail. He warns and teaches us of the dangers, as he did that night, and he assures us, whatever happens, that when we turn back to him, he will remember us. He has overcome the world. Tonight we can sing ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’.

Tom Ambrose is a priest living in Cambridge.


Same-Sex Marriage: Anglican Mainstream takes a position

The Trustees of Anglican Mainstream, whose names are listed here, have issued this: The Ministry Continues: A Position Statement from the Trustees of Anglican Mainstream.

The following extract is only part of a much longer statement:

…6. We well understand that an appeal to the Bible will not in itself carry the day in our contemporary secular society. We will therefore continue to deploy four additional arguments which demonstrate why the 2013 Act is a serious mistake in public policy which needs to be reversed.

  • Marriage – between a man and a woman – is good for human flourishing, an aspect of God’s common grace for the whole of humanity irrespective of people’s faith position. Public policy should be directed towards supporting marriage, not undermining it.
  • Homes centred upon such marriages provide the best context for the bringing up of children, so that they can know the love and support of a mother and a father. Public policy should be directed towards supporting such homes for the benefit of children, whose needs should have priority.
  • There is well-founded evidence of the physical and emotional harm which can be a consequence of sexual relations between persons of the same sex. Footnote 1
  • Scientific enquiry into sexuality has shown that, rather than being a given, it is fluid, the product of a combination of factors including particularly nurture and experience Footnote 2 [and see also] J Michael Bailey. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 78 (3), March 2000, pages 524-536; M Frisch, A Hviid. ‘Childhood Correlates of Heterosexual and Homosexual Marriages: A National Cohort Study of Two Million Danes’, Archives of Sexual Behaviour 35 (5), October 2006, pages 533-547; The Social Organization of Sexuality, University of Chicago Press, 1994, pages 307, 309; Female Bisexuality From Adolescence to Adulthood: Results From a 10-Year Longitudinal Study Developmental Psychology 2008, Vol. 44, No. 1, 5–14

CofE priest enters a same-sex marriage

Updated again Monday evening

There are numerous media reports today about this event.

Guardian Gay marriage first for chaplain in defiance of C of E

Sunday Telegraph Church of England faces ‘crisis’ as gay priest weds and also Gay Anglican priest marries his boyfriend. He’ll be the first of many

Mail on Sunday First gay clergyman to wed plunges Church into crisis: Archbishop under pressure to sack canon who flouted ban on same sex marriage

BBC Chaplain defies gay church wedding ban

Independent Gay priest defies Church of England ban on same-sex marriage as senior vicar warns of ‘crisis’ and
Gay marriage: Anglican critics say canon’s same-sex union ‘defies God’

Daily Mirror Gay priest first to break Church of England ban on same-sex marriages – to wed his partner

Savi Hensman has this analysis: Another crisis for Church of England, newspapers warn

Andrew Brown has this view: The gay Anglican wedding exposes a creaking compromise within the church


Sexual violence in Africa

This week’s Church Times carries a special report compiled by Tim Wyatt on sexual violence in Africa: First the rape. Then the stigma. Now the healing?


“One of the Janjaweed pushed me to the ground. He forced my clothes off, and they raped me, one by one. I did not have any energy or force against them.

“They used me. I started bleeding. It was so painful. I could not stand up… I was sick for seven days.”

This is the harrowing testimony of a 13-year-old girl from western Sudan. It is not an isolated incident. Starting in 2003, the government-backed Janjaweed militia terrorised locals across the region in what appeared to be a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the non-Arab population.

From the beginning, rape was used alongside guns and machetes as a weapon of war…

The main report is available to all, but subscribers can also read the Revd Dr Nyambura Njoroge writing on the gender debate in Africa Teaching men all about women and this leader comment Sexual violence.

The report mentions the efforts of several organisations working with the victims of rape, and who are attempting to change the culture and circumstances that contribute to sexual violence. Here are some relevant websites.

Restored – Ending Violence Against Women
We Will Speak Out
Christian Aid
Mothers of Congo
Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict
Silent No More – Tearfund report
Created in God’s Image – World Council of Churches and World Communion of Reformed Churches report


Entry to Jerusalem

In the early Church there were people called ‘Gnostics’ who were eager to dilute the humanity of Jesus. For them it was far too vulgar a notion that the Son of God might actually have died on a cross. Some even claimed that angels did a last-minute switch so that it was really Simon of Cyrene who hung on the tree, presumably with a chorus of angelic sniggering. This is immoral nonsense.

The truth is that neither cutting Jesus down to size as a human being nor ‘pushing him upstairs’ as a glorified angel is any answer to the suffering of the world and our need of redemption. What eternal difference at all can the exemplary life of one pious Jew make to people being bombed and terrorized in Afghanistan, Syria, the Congo or South Sudan? Answer: precisely none. Jesus was made higher than any angel to be our flesh and blood Saviour. He came not primarily to show us how to lead moral lives. It is true that he did this; but much more important, he showed us once and for all how to die that we might live in eternity.

For Jesus, his entry into Jerusalem was not a triumph like that staged for a Roman emperor. It was the vindication of the truth of who he was. The scene is set for the drama of our salvation to be played out in the city where the holy name of God dwelt. Already the forces gathered against Jesus even as he is fêted by a crowd. Plenty of those who shouted ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ later shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Some just came to stand and stare, wanting to be entertained. But Jesus had not come for his moment of fame. The only way to understand and follow him is through the Cross. The Christ who gives meaning to our world today is the crucified Son of God who shares the humanity of every starving baby in South Sudan. We have hope not just of eternal life later, but hope in the struggles and challenges of today because we have no burden that he does not bear alongside us through his sacrifice. All the crucifying choices we may have to make as human beings are caught up in Jesus’s tears in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Nonetheless, the question persists and propels us into the mystery of suffering and apparent meaninglessness. Some Christians play a kind of roulette wheel of prayer whereby if you are really, really a Christian, you will be healed or set free. Of course it is God’s will to heal us; but sometimes that is the healing of a good death and, sometimes, mysteriously, the answer is ‘no’. I have no easy answer to the mystery of suffering; but I know that God has not abandoned us. All that we see in Christ broken and crucified reveals the love and the majesty of the Blessed Trinity who reaches out to each one of us.

The God worth believing in is the God whose Son enters Jerusalem knowing that he is going to suffer and die for the sins of the whole world. This is the God whose glory is so great that it is not diminished by being laid aside for our salvation. This is the God who is more loving than love, so that everything is poured out for the world with nothing ever held back. This is the Spirit who is closer than close, who faithfully remains with us even when sin brings darkness and freedom is abused by pride. This is the God who is greater than great, more loving than love, and closer than close. And if we are to be followers of Jesus and not just bystanders looking for cheap thrills and easy answers, a renewed commitment is invited from each of us this Holy Week to be martyrs.

The saints of Iona belonged to a tradition that looked for martyrdom even if not in the finality of death. They invented an extra kind of martyrdom: they left their homes and crossed the seas to carry the Gospel to unknown lands. They called this a ‘white’ as opposed to a ‘red’ martyrdom. We are invited to be white martyrs this Holy Week.

It is this little martyrdom, this pilgrim journey to the Cross with Jesus this week that will open us to the delight of forgiveness which carries Hosannas from our lips to our hearts. This little death will reveal life to us, even if we are suffering ourselves. These steps to Golgotha will enlarge our sympathies and open our eyes to see Jesus more clearly; not only in this holy sacrifice but also in the faces of the people we do not like or do not care to know. Only at the foot of the Cross will we find out who we truly are and what we most wonderfully might become. There we shall be taught again that every suffering can be redeemed even when it is not taken away.

Stephen Conway is the Bishop of Ely


Further discussion of the LBC radio phone-in controversy

Updated Sunday morning (scroll down for new item)

Kelvin Holdsworth Understanding the Justin Welby Radio Phone-In Controversy. One extract:

…It looks as though the Archbishop is trying to set up a “reconciliation process” when he has already decided that the best outcome would be for the church to adopt a policy of blessing gay couples in Civil Partnerships but not affirming anything to do with same-sex couples and marriage. The trouble with this is that it won’t do for those who have come to the view that gay people and straight people should be dealt with equally because they are fundamentally equal in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God.

The suspicion is that the Archbishop of Canterbury and many others with him, is trying to address this question on the presumption that gay people are in some way disabled (or worse, dysfunctional) straight people. Does he believe that gay people just can’t help themselves and so something must be done for them? It may be to misjudge him terribly, but it feels very much like it.

The reality is that those who have campaigned long and hard for marriage to be opened up to same-sex couples have drunk deeply at the Civil Rights well of justice. They (we!) believe gay people and straight people should be treated equally because of a fundamental existential equality between gay people and straight people.

Any hope that the church could have satisfied people by blessing civil partnerships but refusing to affirm marriages contracted by gay and lesbian couples is 10 years out of date. Had the churches affirmed Civil Partnerships in the first place then they might be in a better place to affirm them now. The argument can be endlessly made that Civil Partnerships and Marriage confer the same rights. The trouble is, most people now accept that Rosa Parks was right. Even if the bus does get you to the same destination, travelling at the front of the bus and travelling at the back of the bus are not the same thing…

Jim Naughton reports on the North American trip: Welby’s assertion on massacre follows him “far, far away in America” and then offers this analysis:

…The grave in Bor [South Sudan] does not seem to be the mass grave that the archbishop was referring to in the radio broadcast in the United Kingdom last week when he initially stated that the victims had been murdered due to events “far, far away in America.” Indeed, the ENS story carries a “correction” that reads: “a correction was made to this article to remove reference to the location of the mass grave where Welby said he had been told Christians were murdered out fear that they might become homosexual because of Western influence.”

Welby had previously said that he would not reveal the site of the mass grave he spoke of on the radio to protect the community. His refusal to give further details on the massacre also means that his claims cannot be independently evaluated, and that his analysis of why the massacre in question occurred cannot be challenged.

Meanwhile, The Church Times has published a story in which it says that Sudanese bishops “confirmed … that Christians in their country face a violent reaction if the Church of England permits same-sex marriage and blessings.”

However, one of the three Sudanese bishops interviewed disputes this assertion and the quotation used in the headline of the story is not spoken by any of the bishops whom the Church Times interviewed.

Additionally, one of the bishops is said to have “verified” Welby’s experience at a mass grave that Welby has not said was in Sudan, and which at least one British religion reporter has placed in Nigeria.

One can appreciate Welby’s concern for the safety of Christians in Africa, and some readers may even be persuaded that it is necessary to discriminate against LGBT people in the West to save lives in Africa, but Welby cannot be given a pass for introducing 12-15 year -old right wing talking point into the debate over LGBT equality as though it were a proven fact, and then refusing to provide the details that would allow for a critical examination of his claim. (Secular human rights groups have documented many massacres in Sudan and Nigeria, and attributed none to the actions of gay-friendly churches.)

In his radio interview last week, the archbishop said: “It’s about the fact that I’ve stood by a graveside in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far, far away in America.”

Nothing he has said since then indicates that he doesn’t believe this to be the case. But everything he has said indicates he is unwilling to actually defend this assertion. That’s dirty pool.

Mark Oakley wrote a letter to the editor of the Guardian How the Church of England can tackle anti-gay violence




N T Wright writes for ABC Religion and Ethics On Palm Sunday, Jesus Rides into the Perfect Storm.

Archdruid Eileen of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley writes about the Church of England: Dying on Its Feet.

Alan Jacobs is interviewed by Christianity Today: The Book of Common Prayer Is Still a Big Deal.

Andrew Brown at The Guardian asks Is the internet really killing religion in the US?

Geoff Thompson writes for ABC Religion and Ethics Not Nearly Radical Enough: The Irony of John Robinson’s ‘Honest to God’.

Jonathan Clatworthy writes for Modern Church: Hell: the worst theory ever.

Kathleen Ward blogs on The problem with church growth.

Giles Fraser writes for The Guardian that Forgiveness is not something you feel – it is something that you do.

The Guardian has a regular column What I’m really thinking and today it’s the vicar’s wife.
It has prompted this response from Archdruid Eileen of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley: A Vicar’s Wife’s Life.


Bishop of Oxford to retire in the autumn

John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, has announce that he will retire on 31 October 2014: Bishop John announces his retirement.

My list of current and forthcoming vacancies in diocesan sees is here.


Civil Partnership Review: response from Church of England

Updated Saturday morning

Church of England press release:

Response to Government consultation on future of civil partnership

11 April 2014
The Church of England has submitted its response to the Government’s consultation document on the future of civil partnership. The 12 week consultation period opened in January and closes next Thursday (17 April).

The response, which can be found here, has been considered and approved by the Archbishops’ Council and House of Bishops’ Standing Committee as well as by both Archbishops.

Details of the Government consultation can be found here:

The Church Times has reported this under the headline: Keep civil partnerships, Bishops tell Government.