Thinking Anglicans

We have a king who rides a donkey

Anglicans of a certain age may remember the ‘Pink Book’, a collection of traditional hymns set to new melodies. I have it on moderately unreliable information that some of the perpetrators never seriously intended their forced marriage of the words of ‘Vexilla Regis’ to the tune of ‘Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington’ to have any currency beyond an intimate, if misguided, circle, but, as they say, the rest is history. Nevertheless, they would welcome into their circle whoever it was who decided that a jolly good wheeze for Palm Sunday would be to set a rhyme about the Triumphal Entry to the tune of ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’. But my unease about Palm Sunday’s proliferation of donkeys goes beyond the æsthetic.

Two aspects of the donkey ritual in particular strike me. First, is it not curious that, although we willingly cast people as Christ in various forms of Passion play up and down the land, the Palm Sunday donkey is usually unburdened. What are we looking at? And, perhaps more to the point for those for whom the Palm-Sunday-with-a-donkey is a profound act of witness, what is the onlooker supposed to see? Something’s missing.

And my second concern starts in a conversation some years ago when the Palm Sunday liturgy started once more to incorporate the reading of the Passion. An indignant parishioner demanded to know why we were spoiling Palm Sunday with a long Passion reading? Did it not detract from the Triumphal Entry, and also make the service far too long? Should not the Passion reading be left for Good Friday, so we could therefore enjoy the Palm Sunday story unclouded? And, as it happened, they never attended the Holy Week services, so they would bound effortlessly from the cries of ‘Hosanna’ to those of ‘He is risen’.

A riderless donkey and a sanitised liturgy conspire to bypass the messy reality of the Gospel. Attention falls not on the Christ, riding to his doom, but on the anonymous animal, for there is no human figure there to cause us to ask, ‘And what happens next?’ The band of enthusiastic, palm-waving followers may well find unpalatable a fifteen minute reading of the Passion in all its darkness. What bystanders there may be at 09.30 on Sunday will look on with a mixture of bewilderment, amusement and even a little ridicule at this peculiar spectacle.

Yet somehow, in this there is a faithful encounter with the Gospel narrative. Between the lines of the Palm Sunday story we see the enraptured followers, all shouting ‘Hosanna’ and preferring not to think about where this might all be leading. We hear the crowd, puzzled, uncomprehending, asking what all the fuss is about. The donkey in the Gospels might just as well be riderless for all the serious attention being paid to its rider and what he might signify by the locals, by the tourists, and even by the disciples themselves, still reluctant to take to heart Jesus’ dark warnings of what must be. And in Sunday morning’s damp and half-deserted streets there is a genuine echo of Jerusalem’s confused, ambivalent mosaic.

‘We have a king who rides a donkey’ these days might well produce the response, ‘So? The house of Windsor has ridden elephants.’ But the very incoherence of this much-loved Palm Sunday spectacle brings us closer than we could expect to the real Triumphal Entry. In all this tangle of uncomprehending denial, with its over-optimistic disciples, its uncomprehending crowd and its all-but-invisible rider journeying towards a cross about which no-one really wants to think, we find our participant selves.

David Rowett is a priest in the diocese of Lincoln


Bishop of Sheffield: Peter Wilcox

Press release for Number 10

Bishop of Sheffield: Peter Wilcox

From: Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street
First published: 7 April 2017

The Queen has approved the nomination of the Very Reverend Peter Jonathan Wilcox, Dean of Liverpool, for election as Bishop of Sheffield.

The Queen has approved the nomination of the Very Reverend Peter Jonathan Wilcox, MA, DPhil, Dean of Liverpool, in the diocese of Liverpool, for election as Bishop of Sheffield in succession to the Right Reverend Steven John Lindsey Croft, MA, PhD, on his translation to the See of Oxford on 6 July 2016.


The Very Reverend Dr Pete Wilcox, aged 55, studied history at Saint John’s College, Durham.

He trained for the ordained ministry at Ridley Hall, Cambridge and served his title at Preston-on-Tees, in the diocese of Durham from 1987 to 1990.

From 1990 to 1993, while completing a doctorate at St John’s College, Oxford, he was Non-Stipendiary Minister at Saint Margaret with Saint Philip and Saint James, with Saint Giles in the Diocese of Oxford. From 1993 to 1998 he was Team Vicar in the Parish of Gateshead, in the diocese of Durham, and Director of the Cranmer Hall Urban Mission Centre. From 1998 to 2006 he was Priest-in-Charge at Saint Paul’s at the Crossing, Walsall in the diocese of Lichfield and then Canon Residentiary at Lichfield Cathedral between 2006 and 2012. Since 2012 he has been Dean of Liverpool.

Pete is married to the novelist Catherine Fox, who lectures in creative writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. They have 2 adult sons: Jon, who is married to Izzy, and Tom, who is engaged to Rosa.

He has a mildly obsessive interest in all ball sports, especially (as a fan of Newcastle United) football. He is the author of 3 books, including ‘Living the Dream: Joseph for Today’ (Paternoster, 2007).

The Sheffield diocesan website has Bishop of Sheffield Announced.


Gay clergyman passed over seven times for promotion to bishop

Harriet Sherwood has this report in the Guardian Gay clergyman passed over seven times for promotion to bishop

Jeffrey John, a gay senior Anglican churchman, has been passed over for promotion to a bishopric for a seventh time since the Church of England rescinded his appointment as bishop of Reading in 2003 amid homophobic protests.

John, dean of St Albans Cathedral, was put forward for the post of bishop of Sodor and Man in February, but failed to make it on to the shortlist despite positive feedback. The rejection came shortly before he was passed over for appointment as bishop of Llandaff after objections to his sexuality allegedly were raised.

In the diocese of Sodor and Man, which covers the Isle of Man and surrounding islets, John’s name was considered by the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), an appointment body of 14 people chaired by the archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and including representatives of the General Synod and from the diocese of Sodor and Man. An open vote confirmed that the panel had no objection to John’s sexuality and long-term civil partnership with Anglican priest Grant Holmes.

But in subsequent secret ballots, John’s name failed to win enough support to ensure a place on a shortlist for interview. Although some members of the CNC were believed to be unhappy with the shortlisting process, an appointment has been made and is expected to be announced in the coming weeks…

…A spokesperson for the C of E said: “We do not comment on Crown Nominations Commission business. We would resist strongly any suggestion that selections for senior appointments are influenced by the sexuality of candidates.”


Opinion – 5 April 2017

Updated Thursday evening, Friday morning

Patrick Cox Public Radio International ‘What a total God shot!’ Understand that? Then you speak Christianese.

The Guardian The Guardian view on funding heritage: save buildings if not beliefs
“The ancient churches and cathedrals of Britain are real national treasures, shared with unbelievers. They must be paid for.”

Nick Baines Diocese of Leeds Bishop Nick speaks on working with the media

Liz Graveling Ministry Development Larger Churches: Who leads them and where are all the women?
[Update: This article has been temporarily removed and will be reposted after Easter.]


Bishop Tim Thornton announced as new Bishop at Lambeth

Press release from the Archbishop of Canterbury

Bishop Tim Thornton announced as new Bishop at Lambeth

Tuesday 4th April 2017

Bishop Tim will take up the post in September, replacing Bishop Nigel Stock, who is retiring.

Lambeth Palace is pleased to announce the appointment of Rt Revd Tim Thornton, the current Bishop of Truro, as the new Bishop at Lambeth.

Bishop Tim will take up this post in September, replacing Rt Revd Nigel Stock, who is retiring.

His duties at Lambeth will include supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury’s work in the House of Bishops, General Synod and the Archbishop’s Council.

He will also be heavily involved in the Lambeth Conference 2020, and take on the role of Bishop to the Forces.

Bishop Tim became Bishop of Truro in 2009. During his time as bishop he co-chaired an inquiry into foodbanks which led to the report Feeding Britain, and was President of the Royal Cornwall Agricultural Association. He is chair of the Development and Appointments Group which oversees the leadership development work among senior clergy.

Bishop Tim said: “It has been a privilege to serve as bishop in this very special part of the country. I have especially enjoyed being part of the wider life of the county and community, as well as working with wonderful colleagues to implement a strategy for discovering God’s kingdom and growing the church.

“It will of course be a real sadness to leave Cornwall. However I am very much looking forward to working with the staff at Lambeth, and thinking about how we continue to embed Archbishop Justin’s priorities of prayer, evangelism and reconciliation into the life of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

“I am particularly interested in the Archbishop’s emphasis on spirituality and prayer, and seeing how the incredible work of Thy Kingdom Come continues to flourish.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said:

“I am delighted to be welcoming Bishop Tim to Lambeth Palace. He brings a wealth of experience to the role. He already has extensive knowledge and understanding of the College and House of Bishops, and a heart for those on the margins of society, who are often overlooked. His work on Feeding Britain demonstrates his range of ability and skill in bringing people together.”

Bishop Tim is married to Sian and they have two children and three grandchildren.


Sheffield and the Five Guiding Principles

Martyn Percy has written another article on this topic.

The press release is here: Not a matter of opinion: Discernment, difference and discrimination. The text is copied below the fold.

To read the full article follow the link in the press release.



Stephen Bates writes about Justin Welby

This article first appeared in The Tablet on 16 March. It is reproduced here with permission.


by Stephen Bates

A week after the election of Pope Francis four years ago, the Anglicans installed Justin Welby as their new spiritual leader. His crisp, business-like approach contrasted with that of his predecessor, Rowan Williams, but recent events suggest there may be limits to its effectiveness

Four years ago this month, both the Catholic and Anglican churches put into office leaders very different in style and character from their predecessors. In Pope Francis, the conclave of cardinals got more than they bargained for: a zealous, humane figure seemingly bent on giving Catholicism a thorough shake. But what of Justin Welby, enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury a week after Francis’ election – a managerial, evangelical figure chosen to replace the deeply spiritual, intellectual Rowan Williams?

Under Welby there seems to have been a distinct tightening up of the CofE’s traditionally meandering managerial style. Where Williams agonisingly sought compromise and delay, Welby seeks decisions. (It somehow seems appropriate that while everyone called Rowan by his first name, many use the current archbishop’s surname.) The decisiveness is not always welcome, but it is a change.

As is well known, Welby, 61, had a career before ordination. The first Etonian to become Archbishop of Canterbury for 150 years, he read history and law at Cambridge and was an executive in the oil industry until becoming ordained in his mid-thirties. He had only two years’ experience as a bishop before being elevated to Canterbury, though he had previously served as dean of Liverpool.

The crisp business style is notable, according to those who have observed him at close hand. Christina Rees was a lay member of the Archbishops’ Council – the Church’s executive – working with four archbishops until she stepped down last year. “I think of him as Action Man,” she says. “He is very brisk, businesslike and a quick study. At his first meeting, someone was rambling on in traditional Anglican style and the archbishop started looking at his watch. When the man finished, he just said: ‘That was six minutes, let’s keep comments down to 90 seconds.’ I’d never seen an archbishop calling someone out for waffling before. It was quite brutal.”

The brusqueness can verge into bad temper, others say. One bishop remarked: “I haven’t been spoken to like that since I was at school.” He is impatient of challenge or contradiction and can be short with those who do not keep up or amuse him intellectually.

Welby’s strengths include public relations savviness – never shown to better advantage than when it was revealed last year that his father was not the man who had brought him up but a diplomat with whom his mother had had a brief affair. His assured handling turned a potential embarrassment into a story of personal redemptive faith, and strengthened his reputation. “He has done a world of good for the Church’s public image,” says Rod Thomas, the Bishop of Maidstone, whose pugnacious brand of conservative evangelicalism was often a thorn in the flesh of Williams. “He is joyful in the faith and a reconciling presence.”

Welby is impressive speaking in small groups, showing genuine interest and empathy, though his preaching style is bland and often mundane, rather than inspirational and challenging. One vicar told me how he had gone to a Lenten talk and heard the old trope about a crucifix ornament “with a little man on it”: “We’ve all used that one, but not pretended it had happened to us personally. I thought it was weird and dishonest.”

The businesslike approach was seen early in the way the consecration of women bishops was hustled through shortly after Welby’s elevation: a decision that had caused anguished debate for years was finally accomplished and followed by something close to a rush by dioceses to be among the first to make the move. Welby, unlike some evangelicals, is comfortable with women’s ordination – a fact of Anglican life almost since he was ordained priest in 1993 – and his two chaplains at Lambeth have both been women.

But what had appeared to be a done deal, universally accepted, was called into question by the appointment of Philip North, from the Church’s High Anglo-Catholic wing, to be diocesan bishop of Sheffield. North, although widely respected, is a council member of the quaintly named Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, a title commonly shortened to “The Society”, composed of clergy and parishes that do not accept women’s ordination. It has even taken to issuing membership cards to indicate their freedom from the taint of female clergy’s touch.

North would have inherited a diocese where nearly a third of the clergy are women and following a welter of criticism he decided last week to stand down, prompting a new outburst of internecine squabbling. This has left the question unresolved whether a bishop who will not ordain women whose orders are accepted by the rest of the Church can fulfil the traditional episcopal purpose of being a focus for diocesan unity. Thirteen years ago Rowan Williams retreated – disastrously for his reputation – from the appointment of Jeffrey John, an avowedly gay cleric, as Bishop of Reading in the face of evangelical protests on precisely the grounds that he could not be a focus for unity.

The North appointment was not Welby’s decision but that of the Crown Nominations Commission. But on the still divisive gay issue Welby is “on a journey”, as they say, and that is what caused his first setback last month. At the General Synod, a bishops’ report that both Welby and Archbishop John Sentamu of York had strongly supported advocating no change in the Church’s stance on the blessing of gay partnerships or the conducting of gay marriages, was narrowly rejected. Although the report was almost unanimously backed by the bishops, and less decisively by the laity, it narrowly failed by seven votes to obtain the assent of the synod’s clergy members.

The report itself was the Church’s latest attempt to reconcile deeply divergent and antagonistic views on gays, and a number of bishops have claimed privately that they were coerced by Welby into supporting it despite their reservations. “His style is a transactional relationship: you support this and I’ll give you something else,” said one.

Canon Chris Chivers, principal of Westcott House theological college in Cambridge, says: “I think the bishops now realise they were played. It is his first major rebuff: he miscalculated – you can herd the bishops into line, but the clergy are less easily controlled.”

After the vote, Welby and Sentamu issued a statement promising a rethink producing “radical inclusion” but, essentially, same-sex marriage has been kicked into touch at least until after the 2020 Lambeth Conference of the world’s Anglican bishops. For now, Welby has managed to keep the worldwide communion show on the road and to head off any boycott of the conference, but it is an uneasy truce, achieved by bland words and sleight of hand – and Third World conservatives are suspicious. Welby has extensive experience of Africa, where some of the most intransigent bishops come from, but mutterings remain. His whistlestop consultation tour before a primates’ meeting last year did not go down particularly well, being regarded as an exercise in neo-colonialism by those determined to look for slights.

At home, other critics suggest Welby has shown a lack of interest in grassroots, rural Anglicanism, coming as he does from the suburban evangelical strand popularised by Holy Trinity Brompton, originator of the Alpha course. Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University, the leading sociologist of religion, says: “Rural parishes are among the most successful but he has neglected them in favour of the city churches. The average church attender is an older woman and yet the initiatives have all been towards recruiting and encouraging younger, urban people and Alpha-type churches.”

Others suggest that the problem is a lack of theological depth at the heart of the Church’s episcopacy. “They are like a bench of Labradors,” one suffragan told me. “Perfectly nice, gentle creatures but you want a bit of variety in the breed.”

Martyn Percy, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, has emerged as one of Welby’s critics. He accuses the archbishop of short-term pragmatism and not being reflective enough. Welby himself admits that he is not a professional theologian and some suggest that it shows in his recently published first book Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace, a series of Lenten reflections. Percy says: “He has got an instinctive grasp of what needs to be done but pragmatic fixes have their limits. If you don’t do the theology you can’t move forward, you just go round in circles.”

On the other hand, Chivers says: “There is something very middle-England about him which appeals to the core constituency of Anglicans. They don’t do theology much either. That makes him ideal.”

Stephen Bates is a former religious affairs correspondent of The Guardian.


Opinion – 1 April 2017

Bosco Peters Liturgy Pope Francis to make Martin Luther a Saint on October 31

ABC Religion and Ethics published this piece by Michael Collett God and the problem of sincere disbelief followed by this reply from Michael Jensen Sincerity is not enough: the problem with the problem of sincere disbelief.

Archbishop Cranmer Women bishops: the desperate and disingenuous distinction in the Five Guiding Principles

Rhian Taylor pcn britain It’s a Man’s Church

Sam Charles Norton Elizaphanian Let my people go

Andrew Lightbown Theore0 Oxford, Sheffield, Llandaff etc

Mark Hart Church Times The C of E’s unsung success story

David Ison ViaMedia.News The Power of Feeling over Thinking

James Jones The Yorkshire Post House of God opens a door to the divine

Colin Coward Unadulterated Love How do we come into the presence of God?
and Prayer and the body


Honey and Oranges

Forgiveness takes some making sense of. For a long time I really saw forgiveness as something I was called upon to do. And I did do it, to the best of my ability. Then the long slow agony of my marriage ground to its death, and I was left with a burden of guilt, although it was not I alone who was responsible for its sad withering, nor I who dealt the wretched remnants their coup de grace.

Ten years later, and in a totally unexpected way, I found I was in the flowering of a new relationship. As I moved towards the second marriage I had never expected, I realised I was experiencing being forgiven. Not so much intellectually as practically and spiritually. It was as sweet in my mouth as honey and as refreshing as oranges. It was dawn. It was birth.

I have been trying to make sense of the link between death and forgiveness. The gospels sense it, that is for sure. Jesus forgives, and he heals. People are glad of the healing, shocked at the forgiveness. ‘Which is easier to say?’ he asks the crowd around the paralysed, ‘You are forgiven, or get up and walk?’ He can prove he can do one. But while they can believe a man has the right to heal, only God can forgive. And in John, finally, Jesus forgives Lazarus out of the tomb. And in gratitude for that forgiveness, his sister anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her unbound hair. An act the synoptics keep for a whore, who (they feel) has been forgiven more.

So Jesus, in all four gospels, shocks the authorities into coming after him. By claiming authority which can never really belong to a mere human. (Though, to be fair, he does other things as well in the synoptics to show he arrogates an authority nobody on earth gives him.)

Forgiveness is shocking. It is shocking because of the magnitude of hurt it sets behind itself. Here, I think, lies its inextricable link with death. The burdens of guilt we carry are real, or are usually real. We have done terrible things. People starve because of unfair trade. People die from ‘benefit sanctions’. Girls in British schools bleed into sports socks because nobody can afford sanitary towels or tampons for them. We scream at those we love. We look at our phones and not our children.

These things are bitter and cruel, and they spring out of damage and create more damage. Even when they do not end in an actual death, they all create dark. Even in saying that, we fool ourselves, because often enough real people die. This is less than a tithe of the damage we do, which we are asked to see, and to repent of.

We never see (on this earth anyhow) the full extent of the damage we do. Our repentance is, I think, only capable of being truly fulfilled in the assurance offered by love. It is in the arms of God that we are best able to see the harm we do, and repent of it. To seek a new mind and therefore a new life.

This is, in a way, really unfair, for we are asked to forgive at a higher cost than that at which we receive forgiveness. We are asked to forgive others, who are apparently heedless of the hurt they cause, and who do not repent. It is a hard demand.

We, ourselves, are asked to take a gulp, and it is that same gulp which Jesus took. We are asked to swallow pain and grief. To take our part in the forgiving of things. To offer honey and oranges to those who have really truly hurt us. To let ourselves forget, and where we cannot forget, to let the pain be, to occupy no more of our lives than it has to claim. And where the hurt is new or especially grievous, we cannot forget. There, I believe, the command is to let the wrong be ringed by other, and good, things. To accept death, the death of hopes, and joys, and peace, and to recognise what is left, and what is still good in life, and so not be bound by the evil, but instead to look to a new birth.

That much I knew, but what I have learned is this: in return Forgiveness offers us the same. ‘The past is buried for me,’ she says, ‘Move ahead. Fill your mouth with honey and oranges. Lift your eyes, see the dawn. There is a wholly new, clean birth for you.’ I have come to believe that only when we see our own dawn can we learn how to offer that dawn to others. I think we can have a benign circle, a circle of grace to enjoy as we rise towards joy instead of a spiral into death.

These are, I know, Easter words, unseasonable. But forgiving and forgiven are inextricably linked. The Lenten command to forgive, and the Easter command to be forgiven. This is the very enormity of the offer, which we take with us into Passiontide.

Rosemary Hannah is a historian and author. She lives in Scotland.