Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 6 February 2016

Robert Cotton reflects on his five years as a member of the Archbishops’ Council.

Church Times leader Don’t rest yet

The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith Statement on Government plans to extend Sunday trading

ChurchPOP 15 Hilarious Complaints Medieval Scribes Left in the Margins

Constantino Duran The Single Path

Philip Jones Ecclesiastical Law The Proposed Enabling Measure: A Complex Process of Simplification


  • Pam says:

    I hadn’t thought much about medieval scribes leaving complaints in the margins! Just as well they’re hilarious and didn’t consist of phrases like “Can’t I do something else” or “The employment agency sent me to the wrong place”.

  • Froghole says:

    As I see it the proposals issued by BIS on Sunday trading amount to a local option. On the face of it, this looks like a modest proposal that merely extends the compromise agreed in 1993. Whilst the protest issued by Dr Smith is, in many senses plausible (not least because the further encouragement of visceral consumption in a society that is already highly indebted is problematic, if not desperate), it assumes that Sunday is a special day across England. Can that really be assumed in the increasing number of places where the majority are no longer even of Christian ‘heritage’?

    The impact of the 1993 legislation on the Church should not be underestimated. In many places it is not just that there is increasing hostility to organised religion, but that church attendance has simply been crowded out by other activities, notably shopping. As I have been to more and more parishes I have come to the conclusion that main Sunday services now need to be in the slot between 4 PM and 6 PM – between the closure of the supermarkets and the time at which people get ready for the week ahead. Where this has been done (and not always on a ‘messy’ basis but as proper worship), it has often (though not always) achieved some success, but it remains very rare. However, extended opening hours will cut off the one slot in the weekend where the churches face relatively little opposition from other activities if local options extend hours. The Church will therefore find itself completely boxed in with respect to weekend timetables.

    If the bishops had pushed worship in the 4-6 PM slot their arguments against extending opening hours might have had more traction. However, the seriousness of the threat to the Church lurking in the government’s proposals should not be underestimated; last year’s vote in the Commons against extending hours shows that a majority against unfettered consumption can still be mobilised if an adept case is made to the relatively small number of traditionalist Conservative MPs, as well as to Labour.

  • On the Church Times article, I feel great nostalgia – and even a sense of loss – for the days when Sunday was truly the day of rest, and I’d walk through silent and empty streets on my way to church, then return home to the special meal of the week (cooked by someone!) and know the whole family was home and the day was different. Of course, I grew up with certain privileges, and life was never like that for everyone. But there *is* a deep theological message in the concept of a day of rest, and the way it acquaints us with the concept of the ‘land of rest’ in eternal and spiritual terms.

    I miss those disappeared Sundays.

    Having said that, culturally and socially our country has moved on. We are post-Christian as a nation. And to be honest, on the other side of the coin, it can be inconvenient when GP surgeries are closed etc. As a nurse, well, there is no specific ‘day of rest’ because sick people sadly can’t take a day off from being sick. So I make my day of rest on whatever day of the week my rota permits me to. I think that’s what Christians basically need to do in our modern society. We need to safeguard our own ‘day of rest’ spaces as far as we can.

    In a multi-cultural society, is there a stronger case for Sunday to be cordoned off as a day of rest, than Saturday or Friday?

    I don’t think we shall put the clock back to those halcyon Sundays of the past. And yet… the country of rest where God abides is always there… and such an amazing country, and place of tangible peace.

    As a Christian, I maybe have to find new ways to ‘connect’ with that eternal and blessed reality. It is God’s desire, after all, that we enter this rest, not only when we die, but in the place within us where God dwells, waiting for us to return again, day by day.

  • Father David says:

    Anyone know where I can obtain a pirated copy of THAT WAS THE CHURCH THAT WAS which has apparently been withdrawn for being too incendiary?

  • I loved Robert Cotton’s article. Three things particularly provoked thought and reflection.

    1. He wrote: “In an organisation that has such a strong sense of devolved responsibility it is vital that those ‘at the centre’ do not take away the authority and motivation of those who have to make decisions at a more local level.”

    This statement could be applied to LGBTI Mission’s stated aspiration for local priests and churches to exercise their own consciences and ministry in terms of equal marriage. As things stand, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, we have “top down”. The Primates try to dictate what can and cannot be done, at Provincial level. The Bishops (collectively) try to dictate what can and cannot be done at local parish level. In both cases, sanctions get imposed for breach of the top-down authority.

    2. “There are two names in particular (theologians who I read and treasure highly) who are demonised by the council in a shameful way: when their names are mentioned, a hiss seems to go round the room.”

    Can anyone here at TA enlighten me about who they think Robert is referring to?


  • (Concluding…)

    3. Thirdly, these comments resonate and concern: “Increasingly I see, in the council, the General Synod and the Church as a whole, a readiness to listen to special advisors from one’s own tribe – people who are ‘one of us’… As I leave the council, one of my greatest concerns is that ‘they’ are increasingly believing their own rhetoric.”

    There is indeed rhetoric… and spin… and the desire to enforce a uniformity based only on ‘my way’. This then alienates those ‘others’ who think differently. This resort to ‘camps’ and ‘tribes’ leads towards schism. It defines unity only within the confines of one’s own dogma.

    What is needed is grace.

    Grace to ditch the rhetoric, and fall back on love. Grace to recognise that there are diverse consciences and views, but that they can all fall within the unity we find in God, in whom alone we can ever find true Christian union and communion. Grace to exercise ‘unity in diversity’ and to love and accept and welcome even those we disagree with.

    This ties in with the whole ‘devolved’ authority Robert refers to in the 1st of my points. We need to let different and diverse Christians in different and diverse churches in different and diverse locations exercise and pursue their consciences, without retreating to rhetoric and camps.

    This is a lesson, too, for those of us who may seek more inclusive responses to human sexuality. The difference being, that top down authority seems to be saying ‘my way or the highway’ while the ‘inclusive’ priests and churches seem to be saying, “Well at least let those who want to include, include, even if you carry on doing your own thing.”

    But we still need to recognise – as James Byron often points out – that more traditional Christians can also act in good conscience and a consistent theology. The biggest untruth turns out not to be lack of moral rectitude, but lack of grace and love, and reluctance to listen to each other and love one another.

    Spin doctors, special advisors, and rhetoric… and a managerial approach to church organisation… these may say less of mission than the grit and pearls of local community life, where we rub up against each other, but somehow wrestle through to some kind of love and treasure.

  • Froghole says:

    Fr David: As you may know, there was an article in Thursday’s Spectator by Damian Thompson about why “That Was The Church That Was” has been ‘pulled’:

    Although Dr Thompson often has what I suppose could be described most tactfully as ‘a certain point of view’, I am sure that – even if there are factual errors that require correction and/or there is a dissonance between the prose of Andrew Brown and that of Linda Woodhead – the book should have something interesting to say about the current trajectory of the Church, even if I don’t necessarily agree with all of the premisses advanced by Prof. Woodhead about why attendance has fallen as it has. As such, I look forward to its publication (if it happens).

  • peter kettle says:

    Father David: there is an article about this by Damian Thomson in this week’s Spectator – all advance review copies were apparently requested to be returned forthwith.

  • Anyone interested in marginal notes &c should visit the exhibition “Scholar, courtier and magician” containing some of the lost library of Dr John Dee, 1527-1609. Known for his study of angels and alchemy, he was an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, and a prolific writer of marginal notes and drawings. Royal College of Physicians, until 29 July.

  • Richard says:

    The study of “Erotic Marginalia” — lwed, cartoon-like drawings along with comments — was a popular thesis topic among students majoring in medieval languages.

  • ExRevd says:

    Froghole: I fear that for “pulled” read “pulped”

  • Father David says:

    It is now ten years since the publication of Michael Hampson’s book “Last Rites – The End of the Church of England” and the old girl is still very much alive and kicking. I’m quite sure that she will also survive the publication of THAT WAS THE CHURCH THAT WAS. All this temporary withdrawal has succeeded in doing is to ensure much extra publicity for the tome and will considerably boost sales when the book is eventually released for publication.

  • Fr William says:

    Fr. David, imho Hampson was/is prophetic about different brands and finance, if nothing else. And a good short historical analysis. From this Midlands urban benefice where couples are having difficulty in affording weddings, where diocesan shares rise more than incomes or giving, and where people simply don’t have spare time to give to anything let alone church, the future staffing for two large and nationally important buildings in what is a significantly Muslim area looks shaky at best. Yet for the c of e to abandon full time paid ministry here would be imbecilic. Yet nothing is impossible with managers at the helm

  • Robert Cotton, in his reflections after having been a member of the archbishops’ Council for the last five years, mentions his fears about the possibility of the Council making decisions that might pre-empt action being taken at the local level that might be seen to threaten the ‘authority’ of the Council.

    This makes one wonder at the level of authority – if any – being assumed by the Archbishops, that might undercut the authority of General Synod?

    There would also seem to be a culture iof disdain for any minority voices on the Council – which, in the circumstances of most of the ‘Incomers’ to the Council’ – mainly conservative Evangelicals – will not concern their participation. My real fear is that the Church of England (and the Archbishops’ Council) may become even more conservative.

  • Erika Baker says:

    Fr David,
    I don’t think that without having read the book, we can necessarily infer that it is about the “death” of the Church of England.
    It could be about a change from how it used to be.

  • Father David says:

    Fr. William. You’ve hit the nail on the head with regard to the future shape of the C of E. With all these managerial types being talent pooled and appointed to dioceses – the future for parishes post the key crunch year of 2020 is looking very bleak indeed. For we all know what managers have as their major concerns – Finance, Profit Margins,Targets. If these are not met then that inevitably leads to Closures and Redundancies.

  • Fr Paul says:

    Fr Ron – “My real fear is that the Church of England (and the Archbishops’ Council) may become even more conservative.”

    Given the recent statistics regarding CofE members becoming increasingly open to same-sex marriage I don’t think it’s the Church that is becoming more conservative but an increasing distance between the membership and the leadership.

  • Father David says:

    Well, the sooner the book is published which is subtitled “How the Church of England lost the English People” the sooner we can make our own minds up as to whether or not it is about the “death” of the Church of England. I am sure we can all speculate as to the reasons for the well documented decline. I did point out that the obituary of the National Church has often been publicised and has proved to be a premature prediction. So – publish and be damned.

  • James Byron says:

    Fr Paul, those figures allow members to self-identify: there’s no indication that it refers to those who donate money and attend weekly. The people on the electoral rolls are the ones who have a voice: it’s crucial that we know what they think.

    Given the prominence of conservative Christian Unions in recruiting young members, I wouldn’t be at all certain that the church will head in a liberal direction. Especially when most of its liberal leaders are collaborators who’ve spent decades accepting and enforcing conservative policy.

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