Thinking Anglicans

Bishop of Kensington to lead new Centre for Cultural Witness

News from the Church of England

Bishop of Kensington to lead new Centre for Cultural Witness
16/02/2022

  • Bishop Graham Tomlin to lead work to explore how the Church can explain and share with others its profound and transforming story in public.
  • Project to be based based at the Lambeth Palace site and run in partnership with prominent UK-based theological faculties.
  • Output to include a magazine website, explaining aspects of Christian faith in accessible language and Christian perspectives on culture and contemporary life.
  • It will offer a learning and training programme for senior Christian leaders and emerging communicators, and theological research into the task of Cultural Witness in the contemporary context.

The Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, will step down in August 2022 to lead the new Centre for Cultural Witness, a project to underpin the Church’s work of being a Christian presence in every community, by exploring how the Church can communicate and share with others its profound and transforming story in its public witness.

Rooted in the Anglican church but fully ecumenical and international, it will embrace a wide range of Christian voices to seek to share the rich wisdom that the Christian faith can offer contemporary societies.

Upon the Centre’s formal launch in the summer, Bishop Graham will step down as Bishop of Kensington, having held the position since 2015.

A consultation to help guide the appointment to the Suffragan See of Kensington will be announced shortly.

The Centre for Cultural Witness will initially run as a four-year project and will, be based at the Lambeth Palace site. It will be funded by donations, including from the McDonald Agape Foundation and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Charitable Fund.

Bishop Graham will lead a full-time staff, supported by regular and occasional contributors. Recruitment for this team will begin shortly.

The project will focus on the following three key areas:

1. Communication: The main outward facing work of the project will be a ‘magazine’ style website. This will focus not on internal church debates, but on explaining Christian faith in accessible terms and how it might contribute, challenge and respond to contemporary cultural issues and themes, in conversation with those of all faiths and none. The content of the website will be guided by an independent Editorial Board and will be committed to develop a range of both regular and occasional contributors, both well-known names and younger, more diverse voices.

2. Learning: The Centre will draw together prominent Christian leaders with media specialists and academic theologians, involving partnerships with prominent university theology faculties, to help develop the Church’s voice in public. This will include developing and supporting a network of emerging younger communicators, giving both training and a platform for their contribution.

3. Research” The Centre will conduct dedicated theological research into the changing nature of culture and communication and how the church can better communicate its transformative message in the contemporary world.

Bishop Graham said: “We have a remarkable story in the Christian faith that has shaped cultures over centuries in profound ways.

“Yet we need to find better ways to communicate that faith so that others can understand and believe it today.

“My hope and prayer is that this new initiative can help re-tell that story in imaginative ways for new generations and enable the Church to find a clearer voice to share its wisdom with others.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “We are living in times – and in a world – that urgently need healing, justice and hope. In other words: a world that needs the gospel of Jesus Christ and the good news of his kingdom.

“Giving expression to that good news is the task of every new generation of Christians.

“That is why I am delighted to welcome the Centre for Cultural Witness and I’m especially pleased it will be led by Bishop Graham Tomlin, who will bring to it deep theological knowledge and a great flair for communication.

“I look forward to learning from the Centre and pray God would use this witness to excite, inspire and engage many with Jesus Christ, and the joy and wonder of his kingdom. This is timely, creative and essential.”

The Bishop of Aston, Anne Hollinghurst, a member of the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission, said: “Our society faces multiple challenges for which it appears ill-equipped.

“The global pandemic has highlighted the divisions and inequalities in society. Issues of racial and climate justice demand urgent attention. Digital communication and artificial intelligence are changing how we live.

“At the same time there is disillusionment with political and economic systems and those who run them. There is a need to lift up the eyes of our nation to a new horizon of hope.

“That horizon is what the timeless good news of Jesus Christ reveals but we often struggle as the church in our contemporary culture to speak engagingly of the compelling beauty, sweep and relevance of this horizon.

“The new Centre for Cultural Witness has its sights boldly set on enabling us to tell afresh the Christian story on the public stage, confident that it holds the key to the transformation and new future that many long to see.

“It sets out no less than to capture the imagination of our generation and to restore a cultural vision for our times. I am thrilled that Bishop Graham Tomlin will be taking a lead in a project of such significance for church and society.”

The Revd Dr Andrew Davison, Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences in the Faculty of Divinity, and Fellow in Theology and Dean of Chapel at Corpus Christi College Cambridge, said: “This initiative is sorely needed.

“The theological tradition of the Church is one of its treasures, but it has become a hidden one. The Centre for Cultural Witness looks set to bring it to light.

“Theology has the widest possible range of interests: nothing less than ‘God and everything’. The Centre will embody that breadth. The world of academic theology is particularly vibrant today, not least when it bridges between present contexts and profound resources from previous ages. The Centre will draw on that depth.

“This initiative is not about building defences; it is about exploring the central questions posed by human beings down the centuries in conversation with people of all faiths and none. Setting arid proofs and arguments aside, it wants to show that theology is the stuff of life and the Christian faith has wisdom to share with everyone.”

The Bishop of Loughborough, the Rt Revd Saju Muthalaly, said: “I heartily welcome the vision and aims of the Centre for Cultural Witness (CCW).

“The person of Jesus Christ is God’s most precious gift to the world, and the Church’s call to be a community of witnesses to Christ’s life, death and resurrection is not diminished in a pandemic world.

“I believe the CCW’s outward-looking focus and desire to creatively, prophetically and imaginatively reflect Christianity in our culture – and do it in such an intentional, international, transcultural and ecumenical manner – will be a tremendous blessing.”

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Bill Broadhead
Bill Broadhead
3 months ago

I’m relieved to see Andrew Davison’s statement of support here, which offers a welcome reassurance that this is not just a front for more of the HTB brand. However, there is little detail on the ‘partnership with prominent UK-based theological faculties’, other than the McDonald Agape Foundation (recently falling foul of the Christ Church Oxford cabal) and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Charitable Fund providing the start-up costs. Surely, these faculties will be keen to be indentified with such an initiative?

Barrie McKenzie
Barrie McKenzie
3 months ago

You really know the parish system is about to be smashed to pieces when they found a ‘Centre’ on how we are a Christian presence in every community. A great big white elephant to distract us from the destruction the current disastrous regime at Lambeth is intent on. Every penny in the CofE should go into resourcing frontline parish ministry, not this vanity project.

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
3 months ago

Further confirmation that the parish features nowhere in the thinking of those currently with money and influence in the C of E. The way this work might connect to parish/chaplaincy ministry gets no mention in a lengthy press release containing quotes from five senior representatives. But then the project is aimed at ‘senior Christian leaders and emerging communicators’. There is money to equip them, but no money to enable parish ministry to flourish. I don’t doubt +Kensington is superbly equipped to lead such a project. But the timing? +Tewkesbury can push back against ‘Save the Parish’ all he likes. But… Read more »

Angusian
Angusian
3 months ago

Yet another centralised irrelevance for the parishes to fund!

Simon Sarmiento
Reply to  Angusian
3 months ago

“It will be funded by donations, including from the McDonald Agape Foundation and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Charitable Fund.“

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
3 months ago

Once again, Stephen Griffiths hits nails on heads, What an irrelevance to parishioners.

I see one of the directors of the McDonald Agape Foundation is a Jonathan Aitken. If that is who I think it is, his time inside was not wasted.

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

Am I alone in being anxious that this is being part-funded by something with the name ‘McDonald’ in it? Are we going to be treated to the sight of the Bishop of Kensington in a Ronald McDonald outfit interrupting his erudite disquisitions on the glories of Anglicanism every ten minutes to bring us a message from his sponsor?

Fr John Caperon
Fr John Caperon
3 months ago

Let’s hold on a moment before this initiative earns too much predictable criticism. Could it be that it represents a realisation- at last! – that the tired, old emphasis on ‘evangelism’ needs to be replaced by a more thoughtful turn to apologetics and public theology? If so, this could be very good news indeed. If life and witness in the parishes is supported by a central and powerful think-tank which, along the lines pioneered by ‘Theos’, engages with the social, intellectual and imaginative context in which we live in C21st England, then parish and people will have a helpful resource… Read more »

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
Reply to  Fr John Caperon
3 months ago

Greetings Fr John. If only you’d shaped the vision and written the press release. The criticism is predictable because of the project’s predictable self-declared disconnection from C of E’s core ministry: ‘It will offer a learning and training programme for senior Christian leaders and emerging communicators, and theological research into the task of Cultural Witness in the contemporary context.’ The question vexing the C of E is not whether good apologetics and public theology are needed, it’s whether those things reach the public via a well resourced parish system or its senior leaders and a centrally managed website. Fr Dean’s… Read more »

Barrie McKenzie
Barrie McKenzie
Reply to  Fr John Caperon
3 months ago

I’m sorry, Fr John, but all that sounds like hot air to me. Properly trained, theologically sound priests put into parishes is what’s needed, not these Centres, not initiatives, not think tanks or any of the vacuous, liberal, revisionist pseudo-theology that the CofE hierarchy is so drunk on at the moment. Parishes are withering on the vine while the centre gets fatter and fatter. Eco-champions, racism officers, LGBT officers – it’s all a load of complete rubbish. When will someone call out the emperor with no clothes?

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Barrie McKenzie
3 months ago

Is there something wrong with championing environmental issues, or LGBT issues, or issues on racism? Surely these are all areas which merit attention at parish level, at diocesan level, and all levels of the Church. These things merit support as well as the day-to-day call to live out the Love of God in our personal lives and in our communities. I’ve worked with young lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and non-binary students, and they really do need the Church to take them and their needs seriously, and be able to find support within the Church, for example via parish or diocesan… Read more »

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
3 months ago

On the 22nd Andy Broom the Archdeacon of the East Riding is in Beverley Minster to outline cuts to parochial ministry in the deanery. Meanwhile Bishop Tomlin is going to be teaching grannies how to suck eggs. This enterprise feels so contrived.

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

I have just looked up the McDonald Agape Foundation, which describes its work in these terms: We work only with a small, selected group of distinguished Universities and within them only with a few of their distinguished faculty members. In this way we hope to leave a small footprint for Christ in influential places of learning with leading teachers who attain both the highest levels of scholarship and represent models of spiritual knowledge and faith. It strikes me as reminiscent of Iwerne etc with its emphasis on the few and the best. Let’s hope that’s all it has in common… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

Fr Dexter, this might reassure you…
https://www.mcdonaldcentre.org.uk/news/2022-mcdonald-centre-annual-conference-11-13-may

The GB of Christ Church Oxford recently told this organisation to stop using the Ch Ch logo….

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
3 months ago

After recent events, I am surprised anyone would want to use the Christ Church logo and be associated in any way with its Governing Body.

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
3 months ago

You have linked to the McDonald Agape Centre, which appears to be UK based and reasonable. The original press release speaks of the McDonald Agape Foundation, which is the American body whose website I quoted above. That is full of the usual guff like that sounds like it was written by champions of the SDF, thrilling prose such as:

leaders who are envisioning, initiating and leading major, distinguished efforts that are consistent with our Foundation’s aims…

Are these one and the same body, or are they separate organisations? If they are separate, which one of them is splashing the cash?

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
3 months ago

Output to include a magazine website, explaining aspects of Christian faith in accessible language and Christian perspectives on culture and contemporary life. Hey! Kids! Are you a handsome but robustly heterosexual middle-class boy from a good family in the home counties? Don’t listen to the squares! We’re hip and groovy! Why not come to the Holy Trinity centre for the 1950s? There’s lots of robustly heterosexual activities for robustly hetereosexual public schoolboys just like you! It’s a safe space for the robustly heterosexual middle-class public schoolboy of today! But we’re not exclusive! No! We’re very inclusive! You’re welcome if you’re… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Interested Observer
Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
Reply to  Interested Observer
3 months ago

Actually, I think this Centre could be a good thing. Bishop Tomlin has a good sharp theological mind, and if his work with those affected by Grenfell is anything to go by, and his astute and pastoral theological reflections on societal challenges which the tragedy exposed – then we are in good hands. Why are we so quick to damn things before they have even started? Surely we need a better and bolder Christian apologetic, and agile minds not just to keep on doing the same things we have always done, but to balance scripture and reason with traditions and… Read more »

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
Reply to  Homeless Anglican
3 months ago

If only the project was framed around the needs of local Christian leadership. From the press release I think I’m being invited to look at a website or await an invitation to attend a seminar at Lambeth Palace, if I am deemed to be one of the ‘senior Christian leaders and emerging communicators’. An appetite for apologetics and public theology is best nurtured in clergy at the theological education/formation stage, where they have a place within the broader theological landscape. There may be a touching point between CCW and TEIs through its engagement with ‘prominent UK-based theological faculties’ but that… Read more »

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Stephen Griffiths
3 months ago

Indeed. Furthermore, on another thread we have discussed the quality of training of those preparing for ordination, and the lack of tutors in certain disciplines in TEIs. How can public theology develop depth if few of those in ministry are properly formed and trained?

Toby Forward
Toby Forward
3 months ago

Fond memories of having to build extensions to parish churches and new chapels of ease during the Decade of Evangelism. The good ideas just never stop coming.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
3 months ago

I’m as cynical about the C of E as any, but I do think we should give this initiative a chance and see what comes of it: ‘by their fruits you shall know them.’ Complaints about current lack of theology in our senior layers are constant, especially on TA, so it seems we ought to be welcoming a new theological endeavour. And while I’m all for good theological formation, a few years at the beginning isn’t enough to carry us through 30, or 40, or even 50 years of ministry. Nor is there time in busy parish ministry to develop… Read more »

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
Reply to  Janet Fife
3 months ago

You have filled in some of the gaps in press release that could make the link to parish ministry. But the project is not framed in those terms. And that reinforces the prevailing culture that new initiatives in the C of E don’t connect with its core business. The location, intended partners, online presence, and key audience reveal so much. The funding it enjoys guarantees it will have at least a four year chance. At this point in time when the traditional front line of ministry is so under resourced, launching this kind of project on these terms seems wilfully… Read more »

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
Reply to  Janet Fife
3 months ago

To be clear, that is “a new theological endeavour” whose “main outward facing work … will be a ‘magazine’ style website” to “[explain] Christian faith in accessible terms and how it might contribute, challenge and respond to contemporary cultural issues and themes”. When I think of “accessible magazine style websites” I don’t immediately think of theological debate and education to carry people though their careers. I think of short articles which will convince no-one who is not already convinced, filled with cliche and easy certainty. That’s the charitable interpretation. More plausibly, “challenge cultural issues” will just be culture war railing… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Interested Observer
3 months ago

Maybe, but I have to say that when inquirers ask if we can get together and talk about faith, almost all of them have already done significant online research. That sort of thing is their comfort zone. One of the Bible study groups in our church is currently making use of some of the excellent free material about the Hebrew Scriptures on the Yale Divinity School website. Anglicans Online used to have multiple links to good sites like that. St. Paul’s Cathedral is also growing a good online resource hub, as is St. Martin in the Fields. From a different… Read more »

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

That’s fair enough, but there is a substantial gap in ambition between “provide some good resources for existing study groups in existing churches” (my precis of your entirely reasonable requirement) and “capture the imagination of our generation and to restore a cultural vision for our times” (Anne Hollinghurst). Setting out to achieve the former would be laudable, but would not acquire a long list of bishops and a plan for world domination.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Interested Observer
3 months ago

“provide some good resources for existing study groups in existing churches” is not everything I said. I also want more high profile sites where people interested in finding out more about Christianity, but currently too scared to darken the door of a church, can get some good information. And for it to be visible in the Google jungle, it needs to get lots of hits, which means it needs excellent promo. Sorry, that’s the way it works in internet land.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Interested Observer
3 months ago

When I was in active parish ministry, accessible online material keeping up with, analysing, and making perceptive theological reflection on, cultural developments would have been extremely useful. I was much too busy to manage anything else, with the phone and the doorbell going constantly. It would still be useful, now that I’m retired and spend much of my time writing and editing.

Dave
Dave
3 months ago

Two, separate points:

Was this position openly and fairly advertised, and was the selection process transparent?

Why is this not an ecumenical post – involving other christian churches – perhaps it is. But wasn’t there a body called the Christian Enquiry Center or Evidence center or some such title… why not bring such bodies on board?

Jeremy Pemberton
Jeremy Pemberton
3 months ago
  • “Bishop Graham Tomlin to lead work to explore how the Church can explain and share with others its profound and transforming story in public.”

Forgive me, but I thought that is what bishops were for. Why does he have to stop being a bishop to start doing this? What is the connection with church and parish, liturgy and sacraments? This is a shiny new thing, but I will be surprised if it does what is hoped.

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
Reply to  Jeremy Pemberton
3 months ago

Is there anything left for them to delegate or dodge? The ABC has a couple of years to do something about the legacy he will leave to the C of E. There is just about time for him to stop the madness developing in the House/College of Bishops and for him to lead them in a fresh appreciation of the settled purpose of the episcopate (see Iain Osbourne’s CT letter). If he can’t or won’t grasp that nettle then it’s time to pray and work towards getting good people on the CNC for Canterbury. For me this CCW business has… Read more »

mikethecanon
mikethecanon
3 months ago

It’s interesting that the project is to be housed at Lambeth is it not? A bit like the Tory government’s specious ‘levelling up’ programme (anyone seen it lately?). Did nobody suggest that it might have been encouraging for the new Centre for Cultural Witness to be situated in Manchester, Birmingham or, God forbid, Newcastle-under-Lyme or even (worst of all) Bradford? That might just send a message that the focus of the current Church of England is capable of somehow migrating north of Watford. Perhaps the intellects necessary for the challenge are not to be found at any great distance beyond… Read more »

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
Reply to  mikethecanon
3 months ago

“Perhaps the intellects necessary for the challenge are not to be found at any great distance” The Roman Catholic philanthropist Alonzo L. McDonald Jr explains the purpose of his foundation: We work only with a small, selected group of distinguished universities and within them their most influential faculty members. In this way we hope to leave a small footprint for Christ in places of learning. The appalling snob Roddy Martindale, a fixture in John Le Carre’s Smiley novels, refers to another character as a “redbrick don”. Smiley objects. ‘Roy Bland’s not redbrick,’ Smiley said loudly. ‘He was at St Antony’s… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  mikethecanon
3 months ago

Of course, in Internet land, it doesn’t matter a toss where the main computer is situated. The contributions will probably come in from all over the place.

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
3 months ago

I recognise the importance of being able to communicate theologically in ways that are widely understood and it sounds as if the McDonald Agape Foundation has funded some thoughtful work (https://www.mcdonaldagape.org/distinguished-projects/projects.html). This could be helpful at grassroots level. However I fear that, as with so many initiatives, this may be unhelpfully shaped by the assumption that the institutional church is the source of truth, whereas I think that the need to listen is now crucial. Those of us from ex-colonies have some experience of that approach to the good news and it all too easy to miss what the Holy… Read more »

A (not so) humble parishioner
A (not so) humble parishioner
3 months ago

Seems like a really expensive way to generate content for a website. I do hope that the outputs will be more meaningful than this.

Of course the selective nature of the charities funding this new centre will not influence the direction of its thinking in any way…

An academic theological think tank seems like a fine way to occupy a bishop looking for something new to do, but it won’t save the church.

Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
Reply to  A (not so) humble parishioner
3 months ago

Perhaps it could – since the comments here cant prove anything other than being tainted or poisoned with cynicism. Can we let this process run as it could, could provide a real blessing and resource for clergy and lay leaders who could really need this and make more of a difference than the ill equipped, hapless and ineffectual clergy who are trying to save sinking ship. Confirmations wont cut it. A stronger apologetic is needed for blunt ministers to be a bit sharper. Could this be the long needed CPD that church leaders need?

A (not so) humble parishioner
A (not so) humble parishioner
Reply to  Homeless Anglican
2 months ago

How many ineffectual efforts do we give chances before we realise that we need to directly invest in our clergy to improve their effectiveness not in more activity in Lambeth Palace?

Really, how does this help mission in a northern parish with 0.3 of a priest?

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  A (not so) humble parishioner
2 months ago

In the middle of the pandemic in 2020, the thing that would have made an enormous difference to me (struggling to negotiate live streaming) would have been a really competent tech person on the synod office staff who could come out to the parishes, look at our setup, tell us exactly what to buy, and then install it for us when it arrived. I finally found that person on my own in September 2021, but I had to go looking. They weren’t on staff. Sometimes more activity at the head office can make an enormous difference. And in the current… Read more »

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