Thinking Anglicans

Criticism of church closing policies continues

We reported the action of the CofE House of Bishops earlier this week here: Bishops discuss access to church buildings.

Before that announcement was made, Angela Tilby had written this for the Church TimesThe C of E has become member-only.

…As Bishop Peter Selby suggested in an article in The Tablet last week, the result, in effect, has been to “privatise” the Church of England — achieving what the National Secular Society has failed to do in years of earnest campaigning.

How trite has been the little trope that “The Church is people, not buildings,” which totally misses the point about the public and in­­stitu­tional nature of the Church. We  are now a domestic, members-only Church, with nothing to say to the nation about death, sacrifice, or charity, and nothing to plead before God on be­half of us all.

What we are left with is what the narrator in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India describes as “poor little talk­ative Christianity”, de­­lighted with itself for having mastered Zoom meet­ings, and talking excitedly about new mission oppor­tunities, while re­fusing, in some cases, “for safety reasons”, even to put the church no­tices through the doors of those who have no access to the internet. There are many priests, of course, who have battled their way through this, still finding ways to connect with the needy and vulnerable — even, sometimes, and with a bad con­science, creeping into their churches to pray…

And Meg Warner had written: Re-visiting Aberfan: The Church of England and Covid-19

…Such a concession – the apparent lack of conviction that the Church of England has anything to offer the situation – is deeply disheartening. The Church of England’s experience of the disasters of 2017 shows it also to be wrong.

Why is it that the Church of England now appears to be content to throw away the green shoots of its new life that everybody else seems to have noticed in 2017?

The parallels between the Queen and Aberfan and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Covid-19 are not, I suggest, superficial and they are not coincidental. As valid and cogent as the five reasons articulated by the Archbishop may be, they do not paint the full picture. The Bishops’ decision, the Aberfan story suggests, is motivated, at least in part, by fear. The fear is that the Church of England has little to offer to Covid-19 society, and that if offered, it would likely be judged irrelevant, and therefore self-indulgent and dangerous.

Ironically, the Archbishop’s decision to withdraw to his palace, away from public consciousness, and to direct his bishops and priests to do likewise, just as in the case of the withdrawal of the Queen after Aberfan and the death of Diana, raises the spectre of precisely the outcome the Archbishop and the Church of England are keen to avoid. Like Oedipus and the Queen, the Archbishop, in his attempt to ‘do the right thing’, risks bringing about the very disaster of which he himself has often warned – that the churches might be empty by the end of his unexpectedly long tenure at Canterbury….

Afterwards, Richard Burridge wrote this detailed analysis of the bishops’ statements.

…However, this means that the opportunity to sit back and reflect on what is happening is denied [the bishops] – and therefore perhaps the responsibility for this falls on those of us who are retired and on the sidelines in this situation, locked down with nothing else to do but think and write (the excellent article by +Peter Selby in the Tablet last week was a superb example of this). In that spirit I offer these reflections in an attempt to “speak the truth in love” to my episcopal friends and former colleagues – and pray that they might be able to receive it, although I say hard things, in that same spirit. And I also apologise for any offence or hurt caused by the previous circulation of these reflections – that was not my intent, sorry.

This is because I find the Statement profoundly worrying in its use of language. It would have been a golden opportunity, in an admittedly extremely complex and fast-moving situation to give the nation an example of how Christians can admit to having made a mistake, change their minds (which is what ‘repentance’, metanoia, means in Greek), apologise, and seek forgiveness and a new way forward in life – as indeed I am trying to do in this amended version. Instead, I fear that its use of language, with its ‘doublethink’, is regrettably typical more of the approach being taken by leading politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, than that of teachers of the faith and shepherds of Christ’s flock…

I do recommend that you read the whole of his article,  carefully.

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Angusian
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Angusian

Great, Richard! A detailed critique of the ill informed rules/guidance provided by our sadly less then competent leadership.
The second lead in to-day’s Times (9.v.20) is a clear condemnation of the church’s failed leadership reflecting the frustration not only of clergy but laity. +Welby’s inadequate responses and lack of leadership is particularly highlighted ! Such failure of the church’s prophetic ministry leads to the question of what relevance the national church might claim to a post pandemic nation. It underlines the failure, so long felt by those involved in mission, to differentiate between social action and spiritual welfare.

Froghole
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Froghole

Thank you. These comments speak for themselves. As I have indicated elsewhere, my primary concern has not been about the legitimacy of closures on health grounds (which struck me as plausible), but the economic effects of the lockdown upon the Church, which I fear will be cataclysmic. The authorities will need to be candid with the public (not just the clerical community) about the impact that the virus has, and may continue to have, upon the flow of funds and the ability of the Church to meet its financial obligations to its paid professionals from its own resources without indulging… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Froghole having mentioned the C of I, you might like a bit more information. I was a layman in Dublin for 15 years and Rector in Portlaoise (halfway between Dublin and Limerick) for three. The (united) Dioceses of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ossory, Leighlin and Ferns, covering just under one sixth of the Republic and in which I worked, has one bishop, one diocesan administrator, and just over 30 clergy (Tuam, Killala & Achonry has only 10 for a similar area) of whom some are part time or nonstipendiary. That’s the lot. Archdeacons are parish clergy with a bit of extra… Read more »

ACI
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ACI

I love this phrase “The Church of France” and all it seems to intimate. As there is a “Church of England” so, well, there is a “Church of France”! Gallic Catholicism is a special thing, and there is much to celebrate in that. But, helas, there is no “Church of France” but rather a Catholic Church which, from 1905 on, has been untethered from the state, and vice-versa.

As always, thank you Froghole for your economic analysis and counsel.

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

Apologies, ACI (and many thanks). I am obviously afflicted with a residual Gallicanism and, in future, will refer to the RCC in France.

ACI
Guest
ACI

I once asked our close friend and parish priest if he was a Roman Catholic, and he wryly said, I am a French Catholic. So I share your affliction. That said, when I hear “Church of France” I tend to hear “Church of England” and then the term doesn’t work. There is no “Church of France” on analogy to “Church of England” and that precisely at the level of your more general, and proper, concerns re: the latter. Thank you for your observations regarding the Church of England and her particularities. They are surely timely.

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

ACI: Thank you again. If I recall (and apologies if I am wrong), I believe you are resident in France and may attend services in your local RC parish. Recently I have been making several references to the RCC in France based upon some of the research I have been doing, and based on my past reading. However, my direct experience of services in the RCC in France is based especially upon Paris, i.e., within the Rue Peripherique (most recently last September), and on a part of Var and Cotes-du-Nord long ago. I found churches in Paris pleasingly busy, even… Read more »

ACI
Guest
ACI

Dear Froghole, I was the chaplain in Fontainebleau (CofE) for a brief period, but we have been living in the (RC) presbytere in Courances, and our garden enters the sacristy. So we worship in the RC, where I have been warmly received. The clergy in the secteur pastorale have been very welcoming, and we have been active as colleagues. Wedddings, ecumenical events. One of the the priests was a very close friend until his death now 2 years ago. I am visiting professor at Centres Sevres in Paris and we know the catholic life there fairly well. I have just… Read more »

Froghole
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Froghole

Very many thanks for this, ACI! That is most interesting (and I noticed yesterday that you also kindly responded to a previous posting of mine about France with some very useful information about 10 days ago). The ‘conventional wisdom’, based on my reading, appears to be that there is a ‘dead zone’ for the RCC which apparently runs from the Beauce (or perhaps the Sologne) almost down to Languedoc, and that some of the weakest churches are in Poitou and the Limousin (Limoges having been one of the ‘reddest’ places in the centre/SW); that even during the last quarter of… Read more »

ACI
Guest
ACI

In the US countryside one will frequently see three crosses on a distant hillside, constructed by some pious soul. Often these are controversial, or embarrassing signs of “backwardness.” Who can count the number of Crucifixes, usually rich in detail, that greet one upon entering a village in France? In our village attendance at Mass may be reduced, compared with previous generations. But the idea of removing these landmarks would be regarded as wrong, misguided, maybe even evil. “France is a Catholic country” the hardened cynic would respond. This is tied up with history, patrimoine, a sense of being a catholic… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

Very many thanks again, ACI. Yes, you are quite right. Outside Cornwall it is quite unusual to encounter wayside crosses, and even then they will be fragments (crosses, or rather the stumps of crosses, can be seen in many churchyards – and some famous ones are evident in more complete form in the far north). I was much taken with this study several years ago, which concentrates on that very subject rather than on church buildings: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-reformation-of-the-landscape-9780199243556?cc=gb&lang=en&. You may well have seen it too, and she is currently head of the history faculty at Cambridge. I’m struck by your comments… Read more »

ACI
Guest
ACI

What generous and interesting links you have sent. I did not know the reformation of landscape book but will order one. I believe she has got her hands on something. It does point to some important features of the English reality and the altering of memory via reformation. I was reluctant to use the labels ‘protestant’ England and ‘catholic’ France but there is something to that. The Tractarian movement tended to blur that historical ‘fact on the ground.’ Once the early claims of being a genuine catholic alternative faded (Jewel)–and one can see that in Hooker’s talk of visible/invisible churches–the… Read more »

Froghole
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Froghole

Very many thanks, ACI! That is most kind. I see Wilson makes much of Josiah Wedgwood, who is a really fascinating personality (“to a fire-fighter from an incendiary”). For me, his finest contribution to public life was the instigator with Lewis Namier of the ‘History of Parliament’, for some the last word in prosopography; for others an historiographical Sargasso Sea (https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/). I dimly recall Alan Taylor noting in his celebrated ‘English History 1914-1945’ that the only real parliamentary set piece between the wars was the controversy over the Deposited Book, which made for some very strange bedfellows: the arch-reactionary Jix… Read more »

ACI
Guest
ACI

Am I correct that Chesterton’s Fr Brown appears to become CofE in the TV series? I always thought Chesterton stylized him as the wise, imbedded, courageous alternative to CofE parsons. Maybe that is my imagination.

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

It could well appear to be so. But I think it’s a matter of the powers that be in television circles probably being equally ignorant of matters ecclesiastic, both C of E and RC. Father appears to have a fine mediaeval church with bells, and a large church yard – all very C of E. In a recent episode he appeared in a round-necked surplice with a black scarf very much narrower than the real thing (it wasn’t a stole). But behind him was a group of nuns, and a confessional nearby was almost worthy of the London Oratory (Brompton… Read more »

ACI
Guest
ACI

“all very C of E” — that would have been my hunch as well. I also assume that Chesterton styled his ‘hero’ as a very RC clergyman. But that might not slide easily into the public imagination as targeted by BBC…

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

No, I don’t necessarily think so. The series wasn’t made by the BBC. They bought it. It was first televised on commercial channels. I think my first sentence is an accurate summary of the present state of the media in the UK, television and newspapers both regularly demonstrating virtual ignorance of church matters whether C of E or RC and, sadly, the same must be true of the majority of the non-churchgoing viewers. It is possible, I suppose, that an RC church would not have been made available for these purposes. My impression is that RCs are stricter about secular… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

PS I should have said biretta – not beretta. That would have been a surprise for a priest! For those unfamiliar with RC (or high Anglican) garb, biretta is the square hat with fins, sometimes with a central pom.

ACI
Guest
ACI

I had in my mind’s eye the cure in la gloire de mon pere — a bit elite vis-a-vis les provencaux, but kindly. Or the bold cure in Manon des sources. Beefy, strong, self-reliant, hearing Pape’s confession, etc. Daudet’s cure in Lettres de mon moulin is a great gift. I’ll share with my wife. Thanks.

Kate
Guest
Kate

What future for the archbishop who cancelled Easter?

Martin Sewell
Guest
Martin Sewell

The Archbishop did not “cancel Easter”
He/we celebrated it differently.
Just as they did in many ways in varying cultures for hundreds of years before the Anglican Church was ever conceived.

Oliver Harrison
Guest
Oliver Harrison

Dear Bishop Michael I hope this finds you well. I have tried to pray this morning but found it difficult because I feel so vexed and perplexed at the recent ad clerum communiques from the Bishops and Archbishops. I was thinking about Jesus’ words Matthew 5 and Mark 11 (“if ye have ought against your brother” etc) and thought it best to email you directly. May I ask three questions about the recently decisions taken by the House of Bishops? First, why were clergy excluded even from praying alone in their churches; on what basis or evidence?  (It seemed to… Read more »

Oliver Harrison
Guest
Oliver Harrison

Redacted paragraphs: Third and finally did the House of Bishops take legal advice regarding the wording of the ad clerum dated 24th March? I ask that because it said: “Our church buildings must now be closed not only for public worship, but for private prayer as well and this includes the priest or lay person offering prayer in church on their own. A notice explaining this should be put on the church door (please find template attached). We must take a lead in showing our communities how we must behave in order to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus.… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

We have a terrible tragedy on our hands. Time to move on from this issue. Enough arguing among ourselves. The real and compelling question is: what are we doing now? I don’t mean about church politics, I mean about the actual communities we live in. I think there’s a huge amount of goodwill and collaboration going on in many communities. The Church of England is not a private, members only church. At this time in particular, our real challenge is to be *part* of the wider community. That’s being worked out in many parishes. It’s time to look out, not… Read more »

John Barton
Guest
John Barton

Before we get too carried away with self-righteousness, I wonder how many parish clergy used to attend their churches twice a day (including the depths of winter), tolled the bell to let the community know, and said the offices. The onslaught of anti-episcopal criticism for failing to respect the law might ricochet to reveal a certain amount of humbug – motes and beams and all that.

NJW
Guest
NJW

I can only speak for myself, but within a team setting there was public daily prayer said at least once in the main parish church seven days a week (with occasional exceptions that are noted – with reason – in the service register), A second daily office was said daily either in one of the other churches, at a public meeting (e.g. PCC meeting), or known to be said in the oratory in the Rectory. Whilst not perhaps fulfilling the full letter of the law, the spirit of the Parish being prayed for twice daily was publicly known and known… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

‘Humbug’, what a great word! No more so than when placed by Dickens on the lips of Scrooge. The irony being that Scrooge dismissed the humbug of Christmas with the humbug of business–until his terrifying epiphany births a profound conversion. Now the bishops, on the matter of ‘guidance’, engaged in some humbug of their own. However, if Canon Richard Burridge( above) is correct an epiphany, ‘repentance’ if you will, does not always ensue –just more humbug upon humbug. Who knows, perhaps “a vacant seat” here and there will be the future. Notwithstanding, I take your point that hypocrisy is part… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

These discussion threads are beginning to feel like endless repeats of Flog It! And as to this idea of a church is retreating into the private … is no one here following and rejoicing the extraordinary work of local churches who with courage and imagination have seized the moment, grasped new technology with impressive speed and report that they are regularly worshipping, praying and connecting with far greater numbers of people in their community than they were when their church doors were open? Retreating? This deserves far more attention here and holds out hope in what will be a very… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Thank you David. It’s an elderly and Christendom-bound generation that sees the enormous explosion of daily prayer accessed by huge numbers of the public as a retreat. Christ is far ahead of us; time to catch up with him.

Allan Sheath
Guest
Allan Sheath

Well said, David. Flog it! when the family’s prized porcelain turns out to have a provenance that’s more Hong Kong than Meissen. Yes, a note of contrition from my Provincial would be welcome, but first I need to recognise the times I’ve called him ‘Welby’ in private, as if he wasn’t given a name in baptism. Cabin fever is getting to us on TA!

Oliver Harrison
Guest
Oliver Harrison

I would like to see the minutes of any discussions held by the House of Bishops (including legal or scientific/medical advice) and to know who holds the Bishops to account.

Alan Marsh
Guest
Alan Marsh

The minutes are state secrets not shared even with the other Houses of the General Synod. And no, the bishops are not accountable to anyone unless they commit a criminal or serious moral offence.

Charles Razzall
Guest
Charles Razzall

Just come back from saying the Evening Office in Church and preparing for tomorrow’s Sunday Eucharist. Several Muslim neighbours enjoying the sunny evening commented on how good it was to hear the bell and to see you “worshipping God again”. Much humbled in this very deprived but amazing parish on the southern banks of the Tees …a long way from the digital kitchen.

Graeme Buttery
Guest
Graeme Buttery

Good to hear about your practice. As someone who also has a mosque close by, they wonder why our churches should be closed. No congregation they can agree with, closed buildings…… my people in this deprived community believe the role of the church is to be in the sacred space praying for them all. Who am I to disagree?

Graeme Buttery

David Exham
Guest
David Exham

The continuation of the coronavirus crisis has seen a steady flow of articles by experienced and learned people attacking the Archbishops and Bishops for how they have behaved. I am finding this tedious and unhelpful. Yes, the ABs and Bs almost certainly overreacted, and sought to impose—or suggest—undue restrictions that went beyond government guidelines. Yes, the ABs and Bs appeared to instruct when all that they had the power to do was advise, though they have of course recently taken a more conciliatory tone. Yes, the recent guidance didn’t contain an admission that the initial communication got it wrong, and… Read more »

Oliver Harrison
Guest
Oliver Harrison

Well said. I agreed but remain vexed and perplexed by three things: 1. The episcopal overreach. Bishops went way beyond the law; they simply do not have the right to power to ban Incumbents from their church. ALWAYS resist overreach on point of principle: it tends to creep if you don’t take a stand. 2. The episcopal overreaction. There was simply no sound scientific basis for stopping one person praying alone in a church. (Although we were instructed to go in to check the fabric of the building. Just don’t pray while you’re in there!) During the six weeks that… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

You make very valid points which I as a layman am not able to answer. But I have been puzzled, more by other posts, that some clergy absolutely challenge the archbishops having any authority at all (whether by instruction or ‘advice’) to take the kinds of action which have been so vehemently discussed in all of the recent threads. Canon C. 17 “Of Archbishops” says this: “1. By virtue of their respective offices, the Archbishop of Canterbury is styled Primate of All England and Metropolitan, and the Archbishop of York Primate of England and Metropolitan. ”2. The archbishop has throughout… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

On second thoughts, I am not entirely sure about my own argument! It would depend on how you interpret “jurisdiction as Ordinary”. The words “to correct and supply the defects of other bishops” can hardly be any basis for the ‘advice’ either to parish clergy – or bishops.

Apologies if I have muddied the waters. I guess that a stronger argument might be canonical obedience in the chain of command down from archbishop to deacons.

Oliver Harrison
Guest
Oliver Harrison

Thanks. “except in places and over persons exempt by law or custom.” That’ll be my church then.

David Exham
Guest
David Exham

…On the more positive side, we have seen an explosion of thoughtful, imaginative and committed online worship. We have seen a huge growth in pastoral care by clergy and laity alike. We have seen those whose have not been able because of personal circumstances to join in public worship at last being able to do so virtually. We have seen people joining in some form of worship who probably wouldn’t have done so before this crisis arose. So let us accept that some of what has been done is in breach of Canon Law—which never foresaw a pandemic! Let us… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

I suspect Bishop Sarah Mullally clued us all in to what is really going on when she said, “we are hugely grateful” for all that the clergy are doing “to support the Government’s message.”

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

My mother died this morning. She had been a churchgoer all her life, as I have been. That I and others cannot even enter a Church for reflection is a huge deprivation at this important time in our lives. How can it have come to this, that in a crisis where people are dying in their thousands, the bishops have seen fit to deprive the bereaved of even the smallest comfort; that of quiet reflection in a place she lived and where she spent so much time?

Graeme Buttery
Guest
Graeme Buttery

Richard, please accept my condolences. I can only imagine your grief and what would bring you comfort. If I may be permitted to know her name, I will pray for her and for you at our next Eucharist.

Graeme Buttery

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

My deepest sympathy, Mr Ashby. Loss of someone as close as that is difficult to bear. It won’t help you, probably, but I know of several bereaved families, not all regular churchgoers, who say much the same.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

Sorry to hear of your loss, Richard.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Richard, I am so sorry and wish well.

Robert Block
Guest
Robert Block

It feels like the Church has run away at the first sign of trouble. It feels like the Church is being guided by fear not love. How is it the Sainsbury’s are doing better than us ? Why is it that food can be brought to this house but the sacrament can not ?