Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 20 December 2017

Kelvin Holdsworth Advent and How Religion Works

Josiah Idowu-Fearon Anglican Communion News Service The ties that bind our Anglican Communion family
Phil Ashey American Anglican Who decides membership in the Anglican Communion? Not the Secretary General of the ACC!

Alan Bartlett The Telegraph As a vicar, I know better than anyone why so many clergy are close to the edge

Nancy Rockwell Patheos No More Lying About Mary

Linda Ryan Episcopal Café The Quiet Man

Revd Drayton Parslow The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley Only Purely Biblical Carols

David Baker Christian Today Why it’s time to put ‘We Three Kings’ (and some other carols) in the bin

Nick Cohen The Guardian In losing religion we lose touch with each other

Stephen Cherry The New Bishop of London – and the merits of being ordained later in life

Stephen Parsons Surviving Church The new Bishop of London – some Concerns


  • CRS says:

    No More Lying (note the categorical title of this essay)

    “So let’s be clear: the focus is on her uterus. The state of her hymen is not at issue here.”

    How in the world can we know that with such confidence? and why is there such a distinction between strong character, ‘grittiness’ and what has traditionally been taken as Mary’s virginity? The author seems to believe Mary’s sexual activity before marriage somehow makes her more heroic? Sounds like late-modern projection.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC says:

    Thanks you, Drayton Parslow, for bringing good sense and humor in the face of the alternate view represented in “Anglican minister” David Baker’s piece about “We Three Kings.” Honestly, is somebody really getting worked up about the extra-biblical mythological stories that have grown up around the highly mythological infancy narratives? BTW, Fr Parslow, you forgot to mention all that In the Deep MidWinter snow falling on snow stuff. Totally un-biblical.

  • Jeremy says:

    Looks as though the Secretary General is finally saying the obvious. About time:

    “We pray wholeheartedly for all churches and communities who are engaged in spreading the gospel, but it’s not correct to say that they are part of the Anglican Communion if they are not in communion with the See of Canterbury. This applies to Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), and other similar bodies.”

  • Fr Rob Hall says:

    Re ‘We Three Kings’
    I was asked to sing the ‘myrrh is mine’ verse at a primary school in a midland town thirty-five years ago. I was a Tolkien-obsessed child and the language of the hymn – and of the verse I sang in particular – resonated with me and was instrumental in my asking my mom if we could start going to church. We did just that, then my brother joined us, and my late step-father when my mom remarried. So four practising Christians and one vocation to the priesthood linked to a hymn easily (it would seem) dismissed as dated and unbiblical. I second David Baker’s comments about Christ the King. But…….

  • rjb says:

    It wouldn’t be Xmas without some be-blogged busybody mounting his or her high-horse on the subject of Christmas carols and Magi and what-not, but David Baker’s seasonal contribution to this genre really stands out for its virtuoso display of plodding literalism and meanness of spirit. In previous years Ian Paul over at Psephizo has set a very high standard for such offerings, with his lengthy and endlessly-reiterated protestations that Jesus “wasn’t born in a stable,” so I intend no small praise when I say that David Baker manages to completely miss the point in ways that are both excitingly new and crushingly mundane. A man who can complain about the hymn “Away In a Manger” because the Gospels don’t explicitly say that the Christ-child wasn’t constantly crying is a rare talent and a gift to the internet, if perhaps not to the Church.

  • Kate says:

    When I read Baker and Rockwell on Three Kings and Mary, I feel that they have missed the point. Our task is to bring people to Jesus, not to the Bible. Jesus is quite clear about this: he instructed us to follow Him not to follow the Bible. Does it matter what people think about Mary or the Wise Men? Jesus came to free us from the Law, not to enslave us to belief in a particular narrative.

    That’s a realisation which has taken me years to reach.

  • crs says:

    Ho hum, another installment in the long-running intra-Nigerian battle between +Okoh and +Idowu-Fearon over ‘who is the Real Anglican.’ I suspect this aspect in the life of the Anglican Communion will become increasingly beside the point. The CofE is experiencing its ‘Suez moment’ vis-a-vis the Communion.

    As for hymnody, thank you rjb for the sane riposte. Many are the ways Jesus Christ’s birth is remembered by the faithful through the ages.

  • James Byron says:

    Couldn’t agree more, RJB; but, suspecting as I do that Mr. Baker wouldn’t exactly object to condemnation on Thinking Anglicans, I’ll let the article speak for itself.

  • T Pott says:

    We three kings is focused firmly and very profoundly on Jesus. Verses 2 3 and 4 deal very simply with the meanings of gold, frankincense and myrrh summed up in the last verse where He is described as”King and God and Sacrifice”. This together with the chorus “Guide us to thy perfect Light” means this beautiful song, packs more Christological insight than most hymns many times its length, and in a way accessible to all. Given its depth and simplicity a few contrived rhymes can be forgiven, especially with the superbly evocative “field and fountain, moor and mountain”. Let’s not worry too much about the number and precise social status of the wise men.

  • “The CofE is experiencing its ‘Suez moment’ vis-a-vis the Communion.”

    *blank stare*

    no ill-will intended crs, but what does that even mean?

    There is one communion: our communion in Jesus Christ. We are one in Christ, end of.

    All the rest is bickering and turf wars between rival institutional power groups.

    So for my part, I am in communion with the Anglicans in Nigeria, the Orthodox in Greece and Russia, the Southern Baptists, the Vineyard churches, the Elim pentecostalists, the Roman catholics, the Quakers, the Plymouth Brethren, the Lutherans, the ‘Wee Frees’, TEC Christians and ACNA Chrstians, the Anglo-catholics, the Copts, the Methodists, and probably lots of Christians I don’t even know about.

    But God knows them all. Our unity and communion is in Christ, not in one another. We don’t get to choose our eternal bedmates.

    Whether Nicholas or Josiah are nearer to the truth, they are both in communion with Jesus Christ, and I’m really not sure Jesus has delegated either (or Justin) to say who is or is not in communion with God.

    Or is being Anglican a kind of ‘club’, a social construct, with its own membership rules, and if we don’t like you, you’re out of communion. In which case, wtf?

    We’re all in communion with one another. We don’t make the rules. God does.

    Our task, individually and with others, is to try to open our hearts to the love and grace of God, and to… you know… love one another, and love our neighbours.

    While our communion with one another is already bestowed in Christ, there are a whole load of tasks we can be getting on with here on earth, without trying to dominate one another, insist on uniform dogma (or what? consequences? expulsion?), or otherwise generally strut like little princes and mansplain and hector and quarrel about ‘who has the right to grant communion’.

    God does.

    We are just servants.

  • Incidentally crs, I did understand what you meant by Suez, and it’s a clever analogy given the post-colonial dimension of everyone needing to get Canterbury’s mandate.

    My point is that no-one has the mandate to make or break ‘communion’. ‘Communion’ is the pre-rogative of God. It’s a contract already forged in blood and sacrifice.

    Let the princelings clash and bicker over institutional status then. Meanwhile, the hungry need feeding, the sick need help and healing, the poor need justice, the prisoner needs visiting.

    And there, in the midst of the dust and thirst and obscurity and despair of humanity, is God.

    I wish we would set aside our institutional boundaries, and simply be Christians – children of the living God.

    It saddens me that there is so much pomposity and rivalries and bitterness of heart.

  • Fr Andrew says:

    “Our task is to bring people to Jesus, not to the Bible”

    Thank you Kate. If only I was able to be so succinct.

    The convenience of ‘having it all wrapped up in a book’ sometimes seems to be so attractive that the fact that the book is patently not suited to the task is willingly ignored. Or the faithful end up playing Procrustes’ beds with the Word in order to make it behave like the god they want it to be. I can remember at college our doctrine tutor (now Principal of one of the big evangelical theological colleges) saying something to the effect of ‘if the Bible isn’t the sole and infallible revelation of God, then what is?’

    Erm… begins with a ‘J’…?

    Of course, the last time the Puritans had any real power in England they didn’t just moan about carols not being Biblical, they abolished Christmas altogether. No doubt that will be in Reform and Renewal 2.2

  • crs says:

    “So for my part, I am in communion with the Anglicans in Nigeria, the Orthodox in Greece and Russia, the Southern Baptists, the Vineyard churches, the Elim pentecostalists, the Roman catholics, the Quakers, the Plymouth Brethren, the Lutherans, the ‘Wee Frees’, TEC Christians and ACNA Chrstians, the Anglo-catholics, the Copts, the Methodists, and probably lots of Christians I don’t even know about.”

    I know this is how you feel, as you say, ‘for my part.’

    The SG of the AC has a different take, however. He is quite clear about the rules for Communion in the AC.

    My point was simply that Anglicans worldwide are living at a time when the ‘rules’ aren’t working, don’t mean much, or who cares — probably some combination.

    Yes, you have caught the meaning. After Suez, the obviousness of British authority vis-a-vis its colonial past was over. Advent blessings.

  • peterpi - Peter Gross says:

    Regarding “We Three Kings”, every time I hear it, I think of an elementary school version involving an exploding cigar. Or shepherds washing their socks by night.
    On the other hand, I fimd the third verse of “O Holy Night” to be profoundly revolutionary.
    Even though I’m Jewish, I love Christmas carols. Not necessarily for their Christology (if that’s a word), but for their sentiments of peace on Earth, memories of home, our higher aspirations, etc.
    But, to echo another comment, singing about bleak midwinters or snow piled on snow, must sound strange to people in the Southern Hemisphere celebrating Christmas four days after the summer solstice.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC says:

    @ T. Pott: THANKS. What you get from We Three Kings matches up wonderfully with my experience of a carol that was long my least favorite – until I began to realize that it’s a meditation. Once I realized that, the music, which I had always liked even less than the text, strangely took on new solemnity. I now look forward to singing it almost as much as I look forward to singing another former un-favorite: It came Upon a Midnight Clear, especially the line, “Until the whole world give back the song/ Which now the Angels sing. For years I was often bored during my almost perfunctory attendance at midnight mass. Now in my sixties, I often find myself weeping at words I’ve known and pretty much ignored all my life.

  • Cynthia says:

    It’s a true Christmas miracle! rjb, crs, and I all agree on something! Hooray!

  • CRS says:

    RG: the thimble-sized account of Suez you have seen in The Crown is massively dwarfed by the facts on the ground at the time. Read any account. British humiliation. International scorn. Amphetamine popping Eden crashes and burns. England roiled internally. French and British exit in a diplomatic nightmare, leaving ally Israel to grab what it could. US refuses to support the invasion. The dominions baffled by turns — with Australia strongly opposed. No, I’d say ‘Suez moment’ is no bad analogy. Except of course the AC is a more anodyne reality and the ABC has his hands presently filled with different crises in proportion and character.

  • Kate says:

    “Now in my sixties, I often find myself weeping at words I’ve known and pretty much ignored all my life.”

    My father was an art teacher and taught children how to throw pots on a wheel. If he sat at the wheel himself, he would produce perfect pots but he could inspire children to produce some pots, albeit imperfect, which were still pleasing.

    God works through us ‘children’ to inspire us to write carols, hymns, even Gospels. They are never going to compare in beauty to what He could create if he sat at the wheel himself: they are of necessity imperfect; but they *are* still God-inspired.

    Maybe Baker and co should concentrate on looking for the parts in each carol which are God-inspired and revelatory rather than be distracted in a hunt for the human-introduced flaws?

  • Kate says:

    I am surprised Holdsworth did not quote Ecclesiastes 3 which is surely the Biblical justification for an ascetic advent. Certainly I am one of those who has historically railed against the commercialisation of Christmas and used to boycott any store which put up decorations before Christmas.



    But the birth of Jesus was one of the greatest things which ever happened. Does it matter if we celebrate it for more than 12 days? In fact, shouldn’t we celebrate it? The commercialisation of Christmas is the biggest free, mass marketing ever. Everyone, agnostic, atheist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu knows that Christmas is coming. Rather than being disciplined and observing a “proper” advent, shouldn’t we be out in the world celebrating Christmas and trying to lever the greatest mission-opportunity ever? Shouldn’t we be shaping things and saying how wonderful it is that everyone is celebrating the birth of Jesus and ensuring that *everyone* knows that is what they are doing. Rather than seeing commercialisation of Christmas as a subversion of advent, why not see it as God subverting the mundane world to take His message to the masses since we, the church, have rather been letting Him down?

  • Janet Fife says:

    I don’t mind carols like ‘See, amid the winter’s snow’ because they remind us that Christ was made flesh for all of us, whatever our climate or culture or time on earth. For the same reason I like icons and religious art where Jesus and other figures are black, or Asian, or Eskimo, or white. I was once profoundly impressed by a museum exhibit of Armenian icons. I think the Rublev ‘Visitation to Abraham’ icon is so popular partly because it appears to depict all 3 members of the Trinity as women.

    What I do mind, very much, is those Christmas carols which give the impression that Jesus came to take part in a Disney fairytale, where everything is soft focus and sentimental. ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ are prime offenders – Bethelehem was bursting at the seams, smelly, noisy, and probably everyone was out of temper, grumbling, and swearing at each other. That’s the whole point of Christmas – Jesus came to share the crap with us.

    The trouble with ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘no crying he makes’ is twofold. First, healthy babies cry. If Jesus didn’t, he was probably seriously ill. More important, it detracts from his humanity. Of course Jesus cried, as a baby and as an adult. That’s the awesome thing – God became flesh, to share our human weakness, vulnerability and pain. He knew the same physical needs and emotions as we do.

    I can be moved to tears by carols like ‘O Holy Night’, ‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’ (the American tune is much better than the English), ‘Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne’ or ‘Who Would Think That What was Needed’. That’s what Christmas is about – Jesus choosing to be one of us, to suffer as we do, so that he can remove the shadow of death and (eventually) bring in a world where the tears shall be wiped from every eye and the lion shall lie down with the lamb.

  • David Rowett says:

    In the days when I ran the Diocese of Bolsover (mission statement ‘Not Dead But Sleeping’) I recall doing a page featuring ‘The Reductionist Hymnal’ and in due course its Christmas equivalent ‘Bells Over Bolsover’ – the idea being to avoid all metaphor, supernaturalism, unjustifiable faith-assertions, culturally inappropriate/anachronistic/meteorologically improbable references etc (hence ‘Some for Jesus, some for Jesus,’ ‘See Amid The Winter’s Mud,’ and the fine old Easter hymn, ‘Jesus Christ is feeling a little bit better today, thank you very much’). I never thought anyone would take the idea seriously…….

  • CRS says:

    RG: Yes, Lester Pearson ended up being to the left of Australia, which ultimately in the UN Security Council voted against GB. Suez was a mess for GB and the colonial identity. (I say that without endorsing Eisenhower and his realpolitik).

    I have no particular end position on the AC. I simply note that the traditional role of the ABC will continue to be plagued by Suez-like internal English roiling and concomitant international Anglican looking elsewhere. I was in SE Asia a year ago and they mostly expressed sympathy for the now declining assumptions about Canterbury and its role. SE Asia is not Nigeria.

    It is becoming harder to understand the alleged role of the ABC vis-a-vis the Communion if 1) the catholicity claim is so threadbare when it comes to his role, and CofE accounts of it and 2) the CofE is itself so internally unstable theologically and politically.

    I do not read the transmissions you refer to.

    The real question is whether the AC has devolved into a vestigial commonwealth legacy, without any real theological warrant for the role of the ABC. And if so, what is next?

    I am happy to receive another prognostication.

    Advent blessings.

  • Mr Rowett, how marvellous. Is Bells over Bolsover still available? It promises from what you say to be a most worthy publication. As a sometime incumbent of Old Brampton and Barlow, my affection for north-east Derbyshire is very real. Bolsover still has its prophet in the House of Commons.

  • Realist says:

    Well CRS, who do you endorse over Suez? Nasser? Kruschev?

  • Janet Fife says:

    David Rowett reminds me of a satirical piece the American author Joseph Bayly wrote in the 60s. It was called ‘An Honest Hymnbook’ and included:

    When morning gilds the skies/my heart awaking cries/’Oh no, another day’.

    Jesus, I am resting, resting/Resting, resting, resting, rest…

    I love to tell the story/Of things I see below

    The Church’s one foundation/Is tax-deductable

    Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?/I’ve locked the door, and I’ve a gun within

    Wodehouse also had a version of the latter:
    ‘With Great Aunt Agatha safely in London, Bertie at last knew what it was to have ‘peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away.’ A sentiment I have frequently echoed.

  • Janet Fife says:

    Re. Stephen Parsons’ piece: I note that Bp. Sarah Mullally singled out St. Helen’s Bishopsgate and Holy Trinity Brompton for positive comment in her statement about her new diocese. I wonder whether this was political – especially in view of SHB’s recent statement – or whether it reflects her real views? Or perhaps a bit of both?

  • Peter S says:

    Here in Australia (where we might sadly be far to Canada’s right although still a day ahead) we tinker from time to time of necessity with the words of carols.

    This year’s favourite, sung in 34 degree (celsius) heat: See, in yonder manger low …

  • CRS says:

    RG: I wouldn’t have thought ‘dissolution’ was an ‘end position’ but a natural outcome of a structure no longer viable.

    What will come out of this I do not know.

    Realist: this is one of the rare occasions when the UN had it more right than alternatives.

    Churchill thought if Eden had decided to get in he ought to go all the way. Instead Nasser came out pretty well. But the seeds were sown for future Middle East tensions.

    I don’t believe Britain ever really recovered.

  • Richard Ashby says:

    It was only this year, after singing it for more years than I care to remember, that I realised what a dreadful piece of emotional and controlling blackmail is the line:

    Christian children all must be
    Mild, obedient, good as He.

  • stephen morgan says:

    I don’t mind any carol, except the excruciating verse in ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ that ends ‘Christian children all must be, mild, obedient, good as he.’ I do think we could be more adventurous with the toons – the American tune of ‘Away In A Manger is far less sickly than ours, and ‘While Shepherds Watched’ takes on a whole new life when sung to the tune of ‘On Ilkley Moor By Tat’ (Thanks Kate Rusby!)

  • David Rowett says:

    I fear my director of music rolls out a new version of ‘While Shepherds Watched’ for every Christmas Eve carol service. We’ve had ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’ and the theme to ‘Match of the Day’ (apols to non UK types, but it works – and also fits ‘There is a green hill’)among others. It also goes to ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ as it happens. He does have the decency to translate his spoof pieces into Latin on the order of service so as not to give it all away prematurely.

    And sadly the ‘Bells over Bolsover’ CD was a limited edition of less than one….. I do have some spare Myers-Briggs pills for INTJ’s attending their eighth primary school nativity play, though. Guarantees an hour of ESFP bliss.

  • David Rowett says:

    “By tat”? Oh have Messrs. Watts & Co agreed a sponsorship deal for that part of Romuald’s Moor known as ‘Ilkley Moor’?

    I believe the word is rendered “baht” :-). Etymology unknown to me – Old Scandinavian, perhaps, plenty of it still around in that part of the world (which I can just see from my study desk here in Mercia)….

  • Flora Alexander says:

    ‘Baht’ is dialect for without. Think about the words: you go out on the moor without your hat, and you catch cold!

  • Stephenmorgan says:

    I knew I should have spell-checked ‘Ilkley Moor’ before posting it, but I should have known there would be at least two TA wordsmiths……Happy Christmas!!

  • Pat O'Neill says:

    David Rowett’s comments on his music director’s use of spoof pieces reminds me that “Amazing Grace” can be sung to the tune of the theme song to “Gilligan’s Island” (and vice versa)…and that virtually everything Emily Dickinson wrote can be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.

  • Jo says:

    And of course Guide me O thou great Redeemer fits wonderfully to My Darling Clementine.

  • “Guide me O thou great Redeemer fits wonderfully to My Darling Clementine”. Rambling Syd Rumpo did something like that, did he not? Ah, great days.

  • Joan Rasch says:

    I remember a choir director, after all the rigors of Holy Week, the Vigil, and Easter Day, demonstrating how Tantum Ergo went to Darling Clementine. Great days indeed!

  • Kennedy Fraser says:

    ..And of course Guide me O thou great Redeemer fits wonderfully to My Darling Clementine.

    This is turning into a round from ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a clue’. For non-BBC Radio 4 listeners this is a show known as ‘the antidote to panel games’ and the round involves members of the panel being asked to sing the words of one song to the tune of another – much hilarity ensues.

    Happy Christmas to you all.

  • Janet Fife says:

    In my Free Church days my church had an organist who liked using popular tunes for hymns & choruses. We once sang ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ to ‘The Carnival is Over’. On another occasion we all wondered why he was playing ‘Just One Cornetto’ as a voluntary; after the service he explained he was actually playing a hymn to that tune. Only, as no hymn was announced, the words we were supposed to be singing were lost on us. The same organist, playing for a wedding, once had the bride process down the aisle to ‘Within the Veil I Long to Come’.

  • Jo says:

    We once had the EastEnders theme tune as a voluntary. General consensus was that our elderly organist had found it in a book and liked it but was unaware of the soap in question.

  • Richard says:

    Back in the 60’s we sang the nine-fold Kyrie Eleison to the pop tune L’Amour est Blue (Love is Blue). It worked well with the folk masses of the day (or so we thought). We sang Gloria in Excelsis to another pop tune, and it’s just as well that I do not remember what that tune was.

  • Jo, there’s a “worship” hymn (have I the correct jargon?) set to Eastenders. So I’m told.

  • Perry Butler says:

    Worship “song” Stanley.?Happy New Year.

  • Perry: thank you. The phenomenon is foreign to me, praise be. And, et cum spiritu tuo.

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