on Saturday, 21 October 2017 at 10.00 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Ian Paul Psephizo The shame of Britain’s prison system
Jonathan Draper Afterthoughts Obsessed about sex?
David Keen Opinionated Vicar Church of England Attendance Change by Diocese, 2011-16
Three cheers for Jonathan Draper and his thoughtful item about the Church of England’s obsession with what rich people have their coal delivered in!
Mind, if we did have a welcome moratorium on that particular subject Thinking Anglicans would present us with a much slimmed down blog!
The following article points us to the slow and steady decline in church attendance. I wonder if, by any chance, the two are related?
The relative holding of numbers in the Diocese of London is seen by some commentators as a small decline given the increase in population. But has anybody any ideas why north of the Thames (London) has done better than south (Southwark) which has declined 10%?
I sympathize with Jonathan Draper. The difficulty is that we know this topic will not go away until it’s been resolved and that it is primarily a justice issue.
We don’t have the luxury of walking away from it.
People who’ve had enough of it must get stuck in to help resolve it – then we can all move on.
That Jonathan Draper piece is fantastic.
Very good article/homily by Draper. Yes, the church should be more concerned with justice and spread the Good News, and there’s simply nothing good about hand-wringing over exclusion.
The “obsession with sex” is about power and control. The machinations to justify the unjustifiable are indeed ugly. The theology behind it is really poor and is out of sorts with the general population.
Religion in Europe has been in decline for a long time (the US is also in decline, we started later). But that should focus our minds and hearts. I’ve been in a couple of life-threatening situations where I was a teacher, one of the responsible adults amongst hundreds of children. In those moments, you decide who you are. Without going into detail, on two occasions I decided that I was a Christian, that in the fibre of my being I believed the teachings, love, compassion, and potential sacrifice required by following Jesus. I did my utmost to protect the children and faced down a muscular man who was drunk, armed, and belligerent with the Peace of Christ. It simply was the only appropriate response of a believer, and it was the only “weapon” I had.
We are all dying all the time. The church is dying. Given the climate situation, our world might be dying. Who are we as a church and People of God? Could we please cut to the chase and minister to a hurting world and let God sort out the rest? While we still have capacity?
RE London vs Southwark…
We’re dealing with classic false equivalence. London Diocese and Southwark are not two identical halves of one city.
Conservatives try to claim the difference occurs because of Southwark’s generally liberal theological outlook. This is wishful thinking on the part of conservatives.
London /Southwark is more a tale of two cities rather than two parts of the same city. As all Londoners know, south of the river is very different to north of the river. South London is mostly suburban: north London has suburbs but also almost all of what most of people think of as London, i.e. palaces, institutions, galleries, the City and Westminster, landmarks, the inner city etc. That almost certainly will have a bearing.
I’d hazard a guess that some at least of what we’re dealing with is a ‘city centre’ effect, and in Greater London pretty much all of the city centre is in London Diocese.
Before pointing the finger at churchmanship, leadership or theological styles, I would want to compare like with like e.g. the suburban part of North London with Southwark. The difference will not be quite so stark then.
A better comparator may be Chelmsford.
Ian Paul has drawn attention to a serious problem. Standards in many prisons fall far short of what might be expected in the twenty-first century and indeed basic human rights, which also makes rehabilitation harder. As someone whose work has occasionally took me inside prisons a year or two ago, I am perhaps more aware that I would otherwise be, but there have been a number of documentaries which give some idea of the conditions, made worse by public sector cuts.
Sex, Jonathan, is an integral element in most people’s lives. Sadly, the Church will have none of it – except for procreation. (Not like the O.T. Song of Songs, which most Church Leaders flee from – as of from the devil himself).
Historically, south of the Thames was under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Winchester and the bishop was far more lenient than his opposite number north of the Thames and allowed such things as theatres and ladies of the night to operate freely.
It’s pretty simple, though. Sex before marriage, to cite an example the church is still noisily exercised about, is something that essentially the entire population under sixty regards as entirely OK. Not even one of those things you do on the down-low but keep quiet about: it’s something regarded as entirely unexceptional. It is not entirely coincidental that the invention of sex in 1963 (to quote Larkin) coincides almost exactly with the generation then becoming adults ceasing to regard the church as of interest or moral dominance. If your opening position is that 99% of the population are behaving immorally, people are going to look at themselves, their friends, their partners, their siblings, their children and say “who are you saying is immoral?”
One factor in South London is the strong growth of independent churches, many of which are Pentecostal, and with entirely or mainly black congregations.
IO: right, I’m sure if churches just mimicked culture everybody would be flocking to participate in things they already do without blinking. “You can have sex before marriage.” “Great, I’ll be with you next Sunday to worship Jesus Christ.”
‘Sadly, the Church will have none of it [sex] – except for procreation.’
The C of E doesn’t teach that sex is only for procreation. On the other hand, it’s difficult to get away from the New Testament’s teaching that sex is for committed and faithful relationships. That’s not something we can change just because our culture doesn’t agree – few cultures and times ever have. The Corinthians in St. Paul’s time certainly didn’t.
What is clear from even a cursory reading of the Bible is that God has been pretty tolerant of varying sexual behaviours – Abraham’s concubine Hagar; Jacob’s two wives; David & Solomon’s many wives and concubines, Rahab the harlot, Ruth sleeping with Boaz before they were married. And these were people God chose and gave foundational roles to. Like many clergy, I’d guess, I don’t make a fuss about unmarried couples sleeping together, or babies born out of wedlock. I just accept people as they come. Jonathan is right, the Church places far too much emphasis on sex.
I think the traditionalists that I know are concerned more about commitment than sex per se, and human flourishing within the commitment and scope in, say, the BCP’s understanding of marriage.
As for Jonathan Draper’s piece, it includes–if you have eyes to see it–the now commonplace substitution of us for Christ. We are, simpliciter, Christ. We are given a pretty lush role in salvation. My hunch is that when we reaffirm the actual sense of the hymn he may be alluding to, viz, Christ for the world “we sing” instead of claiming that we “are* Christ for the world, our witness will be more effective, not less.
The diocese of London has more historic money..and can thus keep one priest one parish more easily than Southwark.I’m sure that’s a factor.E.g.the South Camden deanery is kept afloat partly by the St Pancras Lands trust.Interestingly tho Southwark clergy are paid more.
“On the other hand, it’s difficult to get away from the New Testament’s teaching that sex is for committed and faithful relationships”
Thanks to Janet for this comment. The ConEvos are stuck with their exclusive view of marriage as being between one man and one woman and don’t get the notion of a covenanted relationship. They also have a view that all homosexual acts are sinful. That requires contextual gymnastics, especially as regards Romans 1. Full marks to the Diocese of Hereford for starting to push for commended liturgy. This is to be be a long journey, but the direction of travel is clear and the destination certain.
Thank you Fr Andrew. I can see like needs to be compared with like, and that central London churches (mainly in the Diocese of London) are likely to attract more visitors – but not much more than that. I too don’t buy the argument that difference in theology is the reason – nor what Fr David says about independent Pentecostal churches being prevalent in Southwark. They are equally so in London. I also hear what Perry Butler is saying – and his argument explains why the total NUMBERS in London far exceed Southwark. However I don’t think we’ve got to why there should be a decline in one Diocese and not the other – given that all the factors mentioned were in play five and ten years ago. Any other thoughts?
CRS, it might at least provide a chance to talk about other things. The position now is “you’re a bad person who we despise for your bad living: come in and let us tell you about the love of Jesus Christ”. How’s that working out, would you say?
IO: as others have pointed out, you are the king of exaggeration on this theme. Exhibit A:
“you’re a bad person who we despise for your bad living”
I agree with you Erika. There is a realism needed here. To describe anyone’s attitude to any issue as ‘obsessive’ is a complete discussion stopper. It is insulting, it personalises (especially in relation to sex) and does not encourage an openness to change. Arguably the debate about gender, sexuality and human relationships in our society has a great deal to do with justice too.
“However I don’t think we’ve got to why there should be a decline in one Diocese and not the other… ….Any other thoughts?”
I’m not sure I have any idea. Looking at the stats I think the question ‘why is London growing and Southwark isn’t’ is a red herring because it invites us to get bogged down in specifics about Southwark rather than asking the question why are ALL Dioceses, apart from London (and latterly Norwich) declining? There’s something more going on than the peculiarities of particular dioceses.
While accepting that London may have been more on the missional ball than others (though there is no evidence of effectiveness there), I will reiterate that the area covered by London Diocese is unique in terms of social and human geography in this country, and Southwark isn’t. Seriously, once you get past the south bank it’s solid suburbia till you hit the North Downs. Therein must lie some of the answer. If you compare Southwark to its / London’s other neighbouring dioceses- Guildford, Rochester, Chelmsford, St Albans- the difference is nowhere near as stark as if you compare it with London.
IO and crs:
May I gently remind you both to avoid the use of ad hominem remarks.
I should wonder if the resistance to CofE, reflected in statistics, is that it smells too much of establishment. Church=Institution.
This could also explain why the growth is in church spaces perceived to be something else, even “raucous Jesus” or what others regard as bad music, etc.
England is trying to understand “who it is” and what the heritage of “established Christianity” actually is, as a powerful spiritual reality able to change people’s lives in Jesus Christ.
Diverting attention to LGBTQI issues pro/con in order to understand this deep reality is going to fail and fail miserably.
Focussing on one of the very few bits of positive news in the attendance figures, can anyone explain how Norwich appears to have done so well? Does +Graham James know something his episcopal colleagues don’t, but need to?
For what it’s worth, I think that +James would have been a much better choice for ABC last time. Arguably, it would have been seen as a stopgap, but it would have allowed ++Welby some time in Durham to prove the messianic qualities the appointments committee apparently but mistakenly thought he had.
As it has turned out, he has shown himself to be unquestionably a prisoner of his ‘constituency’, both in the CofE and in the wider Communion. And the results in this report, for most of which period he was ABC, speak for themselves.
I think the majority of ordinary people in this country just don’t find the Christianity they are offered (or observe) the most convincing paradigm for understanding the whole picture of why we are here in life or how to find relevance in its particular set of values and assertions.
Taken as a whole, a rational, scientific world explanation provides what they assess to be a more credible paradigm. Too much of the Christian package still seems straddled by dependence on ancient text, and a religious culture of asserting it is always right.
In short, however nice Christians (sometimes) seem to be, they are no longer believed by many people. Their paradigm – with its bolted on biblical inerrancy and assumed entitlement to moralise – just doesn’t offer a relevant grand narrative for most people. Science and evolution shone a light on the provisionality and temporary contexts of some of the Bible’s narratives. Christians nonetheless – perhaps ignoring a God-given sign – persevered with a dogma package that was packaged millennia ago… and so the faith got ossified around its own inerrancy and intransigent claims of an elevated bible text, to be received and submitted to… and yet ordinary people had found other, decent, ways to live.
Christianity’s sense of entitlement cuts it more and more adrift. The package as a whole is broken, it leaks, and yet in too many churches we are still doing this intransigent, unevolving kind of Christianity… as if text was set in aspic, like an insect in resin.
In my view, the fundamental problem is that people don’t ‘buy’ “the Bible is always right” mantra any more. So however sentimentally pleasing it is to go to Church on Christmas Eve, the package as a whole is no longer bought.
The answer, of course, lies not in dogmatic rectitude or entitlement to moralise… but in LOVE, love expressed in alongsideness, love that is messy and broken and not bound in to paradigms and packages of belief that are grandiose and believed to be untenable.
These paradigms need to change, but even here at TA, I often suspect people hold on to a magic bible that is STILL inerrant. I don’t believe it is and neither do most people. Even Jesus may have been misunderstood. Do YOU understand God? At the very least he was enigmatic. Perhaps that’s how we’re drawn out into mystery and love.
“Diverting attention to LGBTQI issues pro/con in order to understand this deep reality is going to fail and fail miserably.”
Because justice, inclusive love, and the bounteous Grace of God isn’t transformative and lacks the capacity to “change people’s lives in Jesus Christ.”
My life has been changed in Jesus Christ as TEC has grappled with the essentials of a theology that believes that all people are created in the Image of Good and that the Incarnation came to be “the Good News for ALL people, everywhere.”
“I should wonder if the resistance to CofE, reflected in statistics, is that it smells too much of establishment. Church=Institution.”
Suspect there’s much truth here, CRS. People are, to put it mildly, disenchanted with institutions. Those successful charismatic-evangelical churches aren’t just lively, accessible places: they’re perceived as being more authentic than the habitat of the Tory Party at prayer.
Christendom without coercion’s a death sentence for the church. When people aren’t free to leave, doesn’t matter that the church is corrupted by power: but when there’s a free market of religion, many will go elsewhere, or nowhere.
Yes, millions ignore the church ’cause they find it boring and irrelevant to their lives. But a church that aspired to excellence in all things, practiced what it preached, and confronted the abuses of the powerful would do much to challenge that irrelevancy.
‘Focussing on one of the very few bits of positive news in the attendance figures, can anyone explain how Norwich appears to have done so well? Does +Graham James know something his episcopal colleagues don’t, but need to?’
Why should growth, or the lack of it, be credited to the bishop? Maybe Norwich has some very good clergy in parishes and chaplaincies? Or – considering the number of multi-parish benefices there are in Norfolk – maybe it has some really stonkingly good lay people? It’s even possible that the diocesan office assists the work going on in the parishes, rather than hindering it as some sadly do.
Bravo, Ian Paul – and how interesting that the usual Anglican obsession means that his post has attracted not one comment here, sex-obsessed as we are. The British prison system is not only a national shame, so too is the virtual silence from the Church of England about how these overcrowded human warehouses are a major contributor to social disintegration, especially in our most deprived communities. It is significant that Cardinal Nichols, addressing the prison chaplains’ conference last year, threw down a challenge to the government and said the Catholic church was ready and waiting to play its part in addressing the current crisis.
The statistics speak for themselves, and sending people to prison for non-violent first-time offences, when there is virtually no mechanism for rehabilitation, let alone the abysmal support mechanisms on release (especially now that probation services have been privatised) makes the option of custodial sentencing morally indefensible. I’ve read twelve sermons preached at ‘Legal Services’ in English cathedrals at the beginning of October. Almost all of them are full of the usual obsequious, platitudinous tosh. Only Bishop Michael Doe, preaching in Westminster Abbey, focused on the crisis in the prison system. What is it about the English – and the C of E in particular – that makes us accept that the judiciary are unchallengeable – and infallible? As a French lawyer asked me a couple of years ago, why are you English so servile about the Law?
Whether London is doing well, or is currently the worst-performing diocese in history, is a matter of conviction. What is the role of a national church?
A mere 3% of London infants were baptised, and only 13% of her dead had Church of England funerals. (The next worst were 5% and 21%, while Carlisle was top-performer on baptisms with 30%, and Hereford wins first prize for funerals, with 55%.)
Has the Church disowned the Christian Community? Are we fretting about decline in the worshipping community, and ignoring the decline in the Christian community generally? Like Luther’s monks, is it only the super-committed who matter?
Muslim leaders don’t tell their communities they aren’t proper Muslims, they show them how to be better ones. Same with Jews and Roman Catholics, and it used to be the same with us.
The Church should, I suggest, be more concerned with bolstering, strengthening, nourishing and affirming the faith of the Protestant Community, and the nation generally. The story of the last fifty years especially, is not the people leaving the Church, it is the Church leaving the people.
The figures on school services show only those led by a member of the ministry team, but all schools are supposed to be worshipping communities. Are there no figures on this? How many schools are struggling here? The Roman Catholics would rather close their churches than their schools. Sometimes the Church of England seems to think religious education is more about learning to respect other cultures than about passing on a priceless pearl, the most valuable thing this world affords.
The figures for the worshipping communities are not the problem. Any person born into a Christian community should be baptised, that was once the accepted wisdom. Having been baptised they must then be taught. Then, maybe, some may choose to worship.
Hereford’s support for a same-sex liturgy is only to be expected, given its high funeral rate. It is a diocese in touch with its flock. The resurgence of the Russian Orthodox church shows national churches can still recover and thrive.
By all means look to London for inspiration, but three cheers for Hereford, Russia and Carlisle.
I think one of the biggest indictments of the current prison system is that it’s not safe for anyone to be sent to.
Whatever we think of criminals and crime, we at least owe each human being a duty of care when we lock them up. However, going on some recent inspection reports, bullying is rife, especially among young offenders.
In the absence of strong alternative culture inside – rather than abdication under the guise of ‘humane containment’ – what happens is that the Street comes inside the prison and takes over. If you do not build alternative environments and rehabilitative ambition (which costs money), you are basically in the recycling industry… sending prisoners back out to carry on their lives where they left off, only a little more alienated, a little more cut off from families, from employment chances, from alternative hope.
No-one can pretend any of this is easy. It’s not, it’s complex. You are not dealing in fairy stories or sugar-coated endings. But at least, while in prison, there should be state investment in creating alternative culture… and not just a security environment preventing escape, while handing over day to day control inside to the gangs and the street.
But such investment does not create financial profit. The privatisation of prisons commodifies countless human lives.
I’m not sentimental. I’ve worked in the Prison Service as an Assistant Governor. I know what it’s like. But at the end of the day, if we don’t build new paradigms, the likelihood is people will just return to society the same as before, or worse.
Of course, the society itself is unjust, full of deprivation, broken, fragmented. And the Church has a role and calling to share in building community and justice. But at least in prison, for a time, there’s a chance to engage with people in a time out from their lives. As Christians, many of us believe in the potential of redemption and change.
My final posting in the Prison Service was running a centre for 120 sex offenders. Almost zero support was offered at the time. A sentence for their next victims.
I submitted a 100-page report to the Home Office, with ideas and models of work done in other countries, proposing an alternative regime. Within a week I had been moved off the centre. What we essentially have in many prisons is a culture vacuum.
T Pott: Carlisle was top-performer on baptisms, 30%, Hereford for funerals, 55%. That’s the church in rural areas for you. Is it just me, or do I detect more acknowledgment of, and fractionally more respect for, the church the further north you go? I am a native of Cumberland, so Carlisle is special.
T Pott again: “Sometimes the Church of England seems to think religious education is more about learning to respect other cultures than about passing on a priceless pearl”. Couldn’t agree more. Not only religious education. It’s frightening to see the way in which some clergy emasculate Christianity at so-called interfaith events in order to appear to be accommodating. No wonder some other faith leaders have little respect for us.
I found T Pott’s post very interesting.For me it raises the question,assuming we wish to continue as a parochial national Church of England, and not the Anglican denomination in England, “What is ( and who is) the Church of England now for?
“Muslim leaders don’t tell their communities they aren’t proper Muslims”
Er, they do. Accusations of takfir are thrown are with illiberal abandon, not only along the Sunni/Shia divide, and obviously of Ahmadiyya, but in far more detailed disputes. Parenthetically, It’s ironic that every time the media want a counter-example to extremism the Ahmadiyya are brought up, ignoring that most Muslims don’t regard them as Muslims: it’s as though someone tried to argue that Christians do or don’t take a particular position by reference to Unitarians. So for example, it is routinely claimed that Evolution is incompatible with Islam, and believers in the one are excluded from the other: see this in action here: https://goo.gl/2a6xuu.
I don’t say this to castigate our Muslim brothers and sisters, as I don’t regard their theological discourse is any more or less riven with division than anyone else’s. But it’s certainly not the case that it’s _less_ riven.
Susannah nails the main problem with prisons as warehouses: without a means to overturn street culture, they become universities of crime, with gangs able faculty, kingpins the best of professors.
The solution’s no mystery: pretty much what the Nordic countries do.
Problem is, that kinda prison takes time, money and, above all, a social agreement to prioritize reform over retribution. Tiny, homogeneous, and wealthy countries are in a different place to England and America (whose dysfunctional penal system England appears to be copying). Above all, the Anglosphere culture’s a world away, putting the focus on retribution.
Can it be challenged? Maybe, but reformers have tried for decades and gotten nowhere. Perhaps it’s time to package it differently, and design a new model that combines reform and retribution, a model sold on being a more effective means of both punishment and public safety.
Such would be anathema to many liberals, but it must surely be better than the squalid warehouses that exist at present.
I’d be tempted to explore economic factors behind church growth. Having a church plant in an area where property prices are rising means you can generate significant rental income to help keep the church afloat, and my own (very non-scientific) observations suggest this is relevant in London, especially in central areas. You might want also to factor in average incomes, on the assumption this influences congregational giving. Combine this with a general sociological observation that the Church of England has always attracted the middle and upper classes much better than the working classes or the poor, and that might explain some differences in the stats. One would need to break this down on a parish by parish basis to really test for correlations. Because London has the luxury (compared to many other dioceses) of shortlisting and selecting incumbents from a range of applicants, one might hypothesise London is able to appoint (on average) more able priests, which may also be a factor.
Can’t see how any of this would explain Norwich though. (I’m tempted to imagine Norwich is a statistical quirk.)
Perry Butler asks what’s the CoE for? It’s a bit stuck until HMQ dies. Here’s a vision for the church in England in 20 years time, maybe sooner. There will be the RC church. There will be the evangelicals, including much of the present CoE. And maybe there will be a rump of a liberal/rural CoE. Maybe. Disestablished? will the next few monarchs care? The catholic wing in whatever form will have vanished, as will the Ordinariate. If you want to be a catholic, be a catholic. The civic churches will occasionally have to scrabble around in vestry cupboards looking for surplice and scarf. Remembrance Sunday will be secular at the War Memorial only – no bad thing.
“Bravo, Ian Paul – and how interesting that the usual Anglican obsession means that his post has attracted not one comment here, sex-obsessed as we are.”
Actually, Savi Hensman commented about it on Saturday. Does she not count? That could lead us into the second biggest obsession, WO, WB, and the voice of women.
And why are you denigrating TA’s obsession with justice for me, my wife and LGBTQI people?
SM-I believe you have stated it correctly.”Maybe sooner” strikes me as accurate given the age of HMQ.
“Will the next few monarchs care” — if the answer is No, which I think is correct, it still remains a live question what ‘establishment’ would mean in fact.
“Can’t see how any of this would explain Norwich though. (I’m tempted to imagine Norwich is a statistical quirk.)” @Charles Clapham
Having had a look at the figures the C of E has published, it took me a while to see where David Keen got his 5% rise for Norwich diocese from. The big rise is partly one of those big percentage jumps that occur with changes in small statistical populations (5.5% = 800 people) and partly the category one chooses to observe. The 5.51% figure was arrived at by considering the reporting category ‘Usual Sunday attendance’ for which Norwich showed an increase. For average adult Sunday attendance, 2011-2016 Norwich showed a decline of circa 6.25%. The equivalent figure for Southwark would be a decline of 9%.
Make of that what you will.
Fr. Andrew’s analysis shows that although “usual” attendance in Norwich diocese increased, “average” attendance declined.
In churches that have services every week average attendance is typically slightly higher than usual attendance since it includes Harvest extras (if in October) and any Christenings etc, divided by 4 for the 4 Sundays counted.
However, in a church which holds a service only fortnightly, attended by 20 people, the “usual” will be 20 and the “average” only 10.
Consider two churches, St, Mary and St. Mark. Instead of holding weekly services in each church they decide to hold only one a week, alternating between each church. If the same people attend the combined services as did the separate ones, then each church will increase its “usuals” but the “average” will stay the same. There is no increase in the number worshipping in Norfolk, but the diocesan total for “usuals” will increase, as each worshipper in St Mary and St Mark is double-counted.
In practice not all Marians will go to St Mark’s, and vice versa, or find they can make it less often, leading to a reduction in average.
Norfolk, outside Norwich, has a many multi-church benefices, so the 5.5% increase may not be an increase in usual attendance across the diocese, but just indicate that more churches discontinuing weekly services.
If this is correct, the rise in “usuals” is not the harbinger of a golden dawn, rising from the East, but merely another symptom of encircling gloom.
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