Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 7 January 2017

Martyn Percy Archbishop Cranmer The Reformation 500 years on: do we need 95 New Theses for the 21st century?

Andrew Lightbown Only Connect! Thoughts on episcopacy and R&R

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes Church: Ice Dancing or Musical Statues?

Giles Fraser The Guardian A man recently broke into my church. Good on him, I say

The Archbishop of Canterbury preached this sermon during Evensong at St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday 30th December 2016.

Jonathan Jones The Guardian Crucifixion is horribly violent – we must confront its reality head on


  • Froghole says:

    Whilst I note Dr Percy has put considerable effort into the construction of his theses, I have my doubts about some of them, including these:

    “The dis-location of theology to the academy, and away from the church, together with the separation between biblical studies and doctrinal theology, serves neither academy nor church.”

    It is surely the academy that has banished the Church (viz. the removal of clerical restrictions in the 19th century and the progressive secularisation of theological faculties, especially over the last 30-40 years). Apologetic scholarship is now seldom viewed as ‘respectable’. Scholars are deemed to be reputable because of the calibre of their scholarship, which is usually accepted as such by dint of its actual or perceived objectivity. However, ordained scholars may be viewed in some/many quarters as not being wholly objective.

    “Bishops from previous eras of church history uniformly understood their vocation in theological terms.”

    Really? For long periods money and power appear to have been the leading considerations in the often unseemly scramble for preferment.

    “The bishops of the church are suffering from theological anaemia.”

    Perhaps, but how often have the theological pronouncements made one iota of difference to the mass of layfolk, saving a very few exceptions from long ago (W. Temple, King, Gore…, and perhaps not even then). We have lately had a very fine scholar/poet/theologian as archbishop; what transformative difference did that make to attendance, morale and renewal?

    “Seminaries exist to foster biblical and theological literacy for the sake of understanding and living out what it is to follow Christ today, and how to ‘be’ the church.”

    Some seminaries have also been very good at embedding a costly and destructive partisanship within the Church.

    “The recent emphasis on numerical church growth in the Church of England – borne largely out of fear, and not faith…”

    This is the nub of the matter; we now have a monoculture of administrator-bishops because we know almost everything is going south; we need people who know how to husband resources, because the financial underpinnings of the whole institution are in such an advanced state of decay and, barring a miracle, the collapse in attendance will result in extinction almost everywhere (including almost all the parishes close to Cuddesdon).

  • Justin: “There are two ways in which typically the church fails to walk by the Spirit.

    First, we abandon the law entirely. We neglect the issues of truth. We forget the teaching of scripture, or we reinterpret them in the way we want.”

    Or… we reinterpret scripture because the Holy Spirit prompts us, prompts our God-given consciences, helps us engage with the real world in our own times, and make sense of the call to love (which, after all, is the primary imperative of the whole bible), in the actual contexts of our own communities, their culture, their insights, their needs.

    Re-interpretation of scripture does not = bad. The scriptures are not ossified, they are not set in aspic, preserving the understandings, limitations, customs, prejudices of one moment in history – and perpetuating them for all time.

    Celebrating LGBT+ lives and human sexuality (and he rightly says later we should love LGBT+ people, though the Church often contradicts that)… does not mean we are re-writing scripture “in the way we want.” It means opening up to justice (another huge scriptural injunction) and responding to conscience (a duty to God) and even perhaps calling out the limits and fallability of scriptural extracts, if one tries to apply them literally and legalistically for all time.

    God’s creative word doesn’t stop creating. He is alive and active. And God doesn’t stop revealing to us – She is always challenging us to open up more… to her love, and her beauty, and her passion.

    Even when it hurts so bad to do it. Because, as Romans 8 struggles to tell us, we are being set free, we are called to grow into our calling as children of God, and that is ongoing, not static. Biblical re-interpretation… in the context of our lives and those we engage with, in the context of our communities, in the context of the unfolding understanding and insights of our times… should be valued as a creative imperative, driven by love.

  • Laurence Cunnington says:

    “…the church turns away from the Spirit when it becomes legalistic.” Archbishop’s sermon.

    *bites tongue*

  • Father David says:

    Having skim read Dean Percy’s 95 Theses for the 21st century I am left wondering if there are any current C of E bishops that he actually approves of? I have long bemoaned the fact that there are at present no real scholar bishops gracing the Bench and would agree that in the present climate Michael Ramsey, William Temple and Edward King wouldn’t get a look in. But, are they all “Actor Managers” as they say in the theatre?

  • Anne Lee says:

    Thank you Susannah, spot on as always.

  • Pam says:

    Giles Fraser’s article is one of his best, and that’s my steadfast opinion. Being alone (but not alone) at prayer in a church. That’s why the building stands.

  • Andrew Lightbown makes an very important point about the need for ministry to be ‘intentionally diaconal’. But he concludes – ‘whilst bishops and priests focus on their first vows, how about using some of R&R’s funds to establish a lay order of deacons, commissioning men and women alike to go out on behalf of the church only to connect?’ CofE has had such an order for the last 150 years. They are called Readers. They were the Victorian missional fresh expressions of the day – charged, among other things, with ‘reading to the poor’. There are currently around 10,000 of them in the CofE. But like the laity as a whole, they remain on the fringes of the clergy/episcopally focused R&R initiatives in the church. But a report from the working party on Lay Ministry is due very soon.

  • Malcolm Halliday says:

    As always Miranda’s occasional contributions hit the nail on the head and reflect her very fine brain but tempered by working creatively hands on and day by day with average thinkers in parishes.

  • Kate says:

    What a contrast between the pomposity of the sermon the Archbishop of Canterbury gave and the grace of the Giles Fraser’s piece in the Guardian. Giles doesn’t preach. He doesn’t quote the Bible simply because that is the passage of the week. Instead he shares something of the mystery of God in a way which is incredibly graceful and very moving.

  • Andrew Lightbown says:

    David – wasn’t the Order of Deaconesses different and complementary to Readers? Either way I would welcome a strategy to increase the number of men and women commissioned / licensed to represent the church in the community and beyond.

  • Helen says:

    Interested to see, David, that the R&R report on lay ministry is due soon. Is there a date for that ‘soon’? Last time I recall this being mentioned on TA, it was going to the House of Bishops – in November?

  • Andrew Like most ministry in the CofE the office of Reader was not open to women until the 1960s. Deaconesses were created in the 1870’s. No budget, no training, ‘a woman set apart by a bishop under that title for service in the church’ was as clear as it got. They were basically parish assistants, allowed to do almost nothing publically in church and without private means were often dependent on their incumbent for their survival.
    But Andrew, most dioceses now have a variety of well developed licensed ministries for lay people in place – evangelism, worship assistants, pastoral assistants etc. These are evolving all the time and have been in place for a while.

    I think the report on Lay Ministry is due to be published this month.

  • Kate says:

    It is not just lay ministry. I worked with an accountant some years ago who was a Baptist. In his spare time, he and one other were managing a £3m project to rebuild the community church, on top of running the present building. In the Church of England, that sort of role would be undertaken by paid staff.

    The Church of England was once wealthy. It still retains a culture of paying lay and clerical workers. The Church cannot afford that culture any longer – and frankly I praise the Lord for putting the Church under so much financial pressure that things have to change.

  • Andrew Lightbown says:

    Thanks David – let’s hope that the report on Lay Ministry is worth waiting for. We do need to find ways to purposefully excite, equip and experiment with new and contextually relevant forms of lay ministry. In the meantime the clergy should as I have argued focus on being intentionally diaconal and connecting both with each other and the myriad other groups and individuals that make up society.

  • Anne Lee says:

    Kate: I am glad your experience tells you that the CofE ‘retains a culture of paying lay and clerical workers’ In my experience the CofE expects lay people to work for free. I very rarely even get my expenses. Just one of the ways in which the church abuses people! But I wholeheartedly agree with you that the financial crisis may use just what is needed to shake the church up (and all of us) to rethink it’s/our priorities. And, dare I suggest, allow the wind of the Spirit to blow through the structures and help us respond with joy and gladness. One area for change is the use of its self supporting ministers for one. So many SSMs have amazing areas of expertise from their professional lives, which the church won’t even recognise, let along use. So let us embrace the current problems and listen to what the Spirit is saying to us.

  • Pat O'Neill says:

    “The Church of England was once wealthy. It still retains a culture of paying lay and clerical workers. The Church cannot afford that culture any longer – and frankly I praise the Lord for putting the Church under so much financial pressure that things have to change. “

    And what happens to the parishes who either do not have members who can perform such functions, or cannot find outsiders to work pro bono?

  • Kate says:

    Anne / Pat

    Diocesan offices, Church House and cathedrals have a large number of paid lay staff. I agree that the situation in ordinary parishes can be very different.

    I do not agree though that this means even in small parishes there is necessarily a need to pay staff – although I accept that exceptionally there might be. Around the country there are many small LGBT organisations which manage with essentially no income.

  • James Byron says:

    Following the centralizing fashion at the time, the CoE pooled its finances in the ’60s and ’70s, which allowed its money men to piss away centuries of wealth on unwise speculation in the greed is good ’80s. “A good living” (in both senses) became a thing of the past.

    Other provinces haven’t followed this model, and expect churches to be both solvent, and self-funding. While that imposes its own burdens, it helps localize and disperse power, and combats wasteful spending. Time to return to the good living.

  • Charles Read says:

    Actually Kate, most dioceses have severely reduced their central staff in the last 20 years, as has Church House Westminster.

  • David Rowett says:

    Picking up on Charles’ point to Kate just now, there is such a thing as ‘under-management’ – where the level of central support is insufficient. This diocese has had to seek redundancies: the art is to make the cuts where they’ll do least damage. At the same time we now have (wisely, I think) three people working in safeguarding, something which wouldn’t have been on the radar twenty years ago.

    Best use of volunteers’ time is not always gained by withdrawing support at the centre. Audit trails, charity law, safeguarding, heritage and planning are all much more complex than once they were. It’s fashionable to bash ‘management’, and although I’m a severe critic of ‘management culture’ where the aim seems to Do Management rather than further the aims of the organisation, in a diocese like this, with six hundred parish churches spread over a geographical area from the Humber to the Wash (it’s further from here to the southern diocesan boundary than it is from said boundary to Charing Cross) some things do need to be done by paid, full-time professionals.

  • Kate says:


    There is a case for employing compliance staff to deal with things like charity legislation but in any other organisation they would not be in individual dioceses, there would be a shared service centre – probably somewhere like Kingston upon Hull.

    But the Church should not discount the skills which would be volunteered if the structure was right and volunteers properly valued. It is also possible to get people on secondment from some big firms as part of their professional development.

    I also agree with James. Shared services does not need centralisation and localisation is important. I think Martyn Percy only has it half right about the bishops. We might be lacking theologian bishops but if one was recruiting middle managers to an organisation of similar size and complexity, I doubt few of those bishops would be first choice either. It’s a compromise which offers the worst of both worlds.

  • Percy’s focus on the episcopate is natural in a church that is “synodically governed and episcopally led” but it seems a bit of an over-emphasis from the perspective of this parish priest. I am reminded of the quip in response to the question as to whether bishops are of the _esse_ or of the _bene esse_ of the church: “They are of the _esse_ but NOT the _bene esse_.” 🙂

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