Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 26 January 2022

Clare Hayns Consider the Lilies Naomi: bittersweet

Ric Thorpe Premier Christianity Reports of the Church of England’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Here’s where it is thriving

Stephen Parsons Surviving Church Wymondham Abbey – Stalemate?

Tim Wyatt Religion Media Centre Factsheet: Sexuality timeline in the Church of England

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Bob
Bob
4 months ago

Really encouraging article by Ric Thorpe, particularly the growth in numbers of young people attending churches and the planting of new churches in some of the neglected parts of England. Clear evidence of this in my diocese as churches live out the great commission. I would be interested to see if there are any common aspects to this growth.

Pete Broadbent
Pete Broadbent
Reply to  Bob
3 months ago

Just to counterbalance some of the nay-sayers, my blog spells out the underpinning theological and ecclesial understanding of what we are doing in Mixed Ecology. https://petebroadbentmusings.blogspot.com/2022/01/mixed-ecology.html

Father David
Father David
4 months ago

What is it about Norfolk – first, the Rev’d Harold Davidson, Rector of Stiffkey and now this trouble at Wymondham Abbey.

Simon Bravery
Simon Bravery
Reply to  Father David
4 months ago

Norwich was once known as the Dead Sea. A friend of mine had a theory that it is the C of E ‘s Siberia. Clergy who had upset someone important were given a living in Norwich.

Barbara Andrew
Barbara Andrew
Reply to  Simon Bravery
3 months ago

I thought that Peterborough in the 1970s was the Dead See! (+ Douglas Feaver).

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Barbara Andrew
3 months ago

Many thanks. I believe the original ‘dead see’ was Norwich under the Hon. Henry Bathurst, a whig from an ultra-tory family. In my experience, the expression was also applied recently to Chichester until the advent of the present bishop, perhaps unfairly…

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Barbara Andrew
3 months ago

I think Peterborough was known as the Cruel See

Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
Reply to  Ian
3 months ago

Fancy fighting over the accolade “Dead See”! Hardly resonant with Ric Thorpe’s encouraging article. I think Winchester could have been dubbed the “Cruel Sea” until recently.

Simon Sarmiento
Reply to  Father David
4 months ago

One eccentric every 90 years or so, that’s not a lot.

Father David
Father David
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
3 months ago

Don’t forget the Rev’d Kit Chalcraft a priest in the Norwich diocese who had his licence revoked in 1994 after refusing to abandon plans for his third marriage.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Father David
3 months ago

A. J. P. Taylor could be a stirrer. He made the following remarks of the Church in his celebrated ‘English History, 1914-1945’ (1965, 1975): “The proceedings in [the] consistory courts were not covered by the ban which had been imposed in 1926 on the publication of proceedings in divorce courts. They became the richest source for the popular Sunday newspapers. The greatest sensation of the decade was the trial in 1932 of Harold Davidson, rector of Stiffkey, who devoted more time to chorus girls than to his parish. He was unfrocked and became a public entertained like the Tichbourne claimant… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Father David
3 months ago

The considerable quantity of letters supporting the vicar (you can see them on the parish website) seem to indicate that this is not just a case of ‘bad vicar, good bishop’. Many of said letters speak warmly of her caring and supportive qualities.

I don’t know what’s happened there, but she must have been doing at least some things right.

Fr John Fellows
Fr John Fellows
Reply to  Janet Fife
3 months ago

I don’t think any disinterested observer sees it in terms of good/bad. I know people who have dealt with Mthr Katherine and they all use the same word “impossible”. But as you say the letters tell a different story. My guess is that she is good with people who agree with her but finds disagreement difficult or threatening. She is often described as “authoritarian”, which would not contradict most of the letters. The tone of the response is pretty combative. And I am afraid this fits with anecdotal evidence. Incidentally the original article says some letters are from children. Good… Read more »

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
Reply to  Father David
3 months ago

There is usually a Wymondham Abbey or two in every diocese. These cases are very bad adverts for the Church of England, and in most cases avoidable, except that when action gets taken it is often too late. Graham Usher, one of the best bishops of his generation, inherited this mess and has grasped the nettle, using some good advisors (Visitors). I make no comment on Mother Katherine, but a quick look at the key papers (both the Bishop’s Directions emanating from the review, and the parish Response) reveals an extraordinary lack of governance. In any other setting, the parish… Read more »

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
4 months ago

In regard to Ric Thorpe’s piece, it is yet again time to cite Spinal Tap’s manager Ian Faith, ums and ahs redacted.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZ6JxAgmxXg

Marty: The last time Tap toured America, they were booked into 10,000 seat arenas, 15,000 seat venues, and it seems that now, on their current tour they’re being booked into 1,200 seat arenas, 1,500 seat arenas. And I was just wondering, does this mean the popularity of the group is waning?

Ian: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no…no, no, not at all. I just think that their appeal is becoming more selective.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Interested Observer
4 months ago

One of the keys to success seems to be to disguise a new Church to make it look like a cafe. Serve coffee and danish pastries. Invite people in for a cake. Say a few prayers. Then can call it a ‘church’ as long as it doesn’t look and sound like one. Brilliant!

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  FrDavid H
3 months ago

Who gets to decide what a church looks and sounds like?

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

Most churches in England are historic buildings, many of them mediaeval Grade I listed. The church has a system that is alternative to the normal state listed building consent process and planning process, namely faculty jurisdiction. (I understand other churches are allowed to have their own schemes too provided they met the legal requirements.) Each diocese has a a diocesan advisory committee (DAC) that will consider proposals for changes (repairs, additions, alterations, removals) and make recommenendations. The diocesan chancellor may then issue a legal faculty allowing the change. Some lesser changes and repairs may only need the approval of the… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
3 months ago

I’m not asking which regulatory body in England gets to decide what church furniture will look like. I’m asking who has the right to say that a church that meets in a café doesn’t look like a church.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

Who gets to decide what a duck looks and quacks like?

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  FrDavid H
3 months ago

Was the church that met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila a real church?

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

Probably not. A house group is the precursor to an established Church. What is funny about Ric Thorpe’s desperate attempt to show CofE growth, is a how a pastry shop is regarded as a sign of success. Would it not be more effective to establish a contract with McDonald’s and to invite people to have a Big Mac and fries with the Lord’s Prayer said at the table? That way we could claim to have thousands of “Burger Churches”.

Last edited 3 months ago by FrDavid H
Tim Chesterton
Reply to  FrDavid H
3 months ago

St. Paul doesn’t call it a house group. He calls it ‘the church that meets in their home.’

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

Except that Paul did not write in English (obviously), so he didn’t use words like “church”, certainly not with all the modern connotations of that word. What does ἐκκλησία / ekklesia mean? A gathering or assembly? That’s not so far from the word group, is it?

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
3 months ago

If you are going to describe Priscilla and Aquila’s church as a house group, you must conclude that house groups were all that existed in those days. So for all intents and purposes, this was a church, at least as the NT defines that term.

Jeremy Pemberton
Jeremy Pemberton
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

The Canons of the Church of England provide the law for what is and isn’t done in churches in the Church of England.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Jeremy Pemberton
3 months ago

But since the Church of England has fostered ‘fresh expressions’ in the shape of cafe churches, Messy Church, etc, presumably those are all allowed under canon law.

Even if they weren’t, Tim’s question is still valid: who gets to say what is and isn’t a church? I suspect a lot of Anglicans wouldn’t recognise any New Testament church as ‘church’.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Janet Fife
3 months ago

And also vice versa, Kate – I suspect a lot of New Testament Christians would be hard pressed to recognize ‘church’ in what they saw on Sunday morning in a modern church. (Just try imagining the ideal Paul is assuming in 1 Corinthians 14, and compare it with our contemporary Anglican ideal). I’m not saying one is right and the other is wrong – just that our definition of ‘church’ has to include both.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

I really hate the faculty system. It ought to be unnecessary but in an age when choirs and organs are swept aside without an inertial break we risk all our churches being turned into meeting houses.

Mark B
Mark B
Reply to  Kate
3 months ago

I was thinking on similar lines, triggered by the recent item about soft furnishings in churches. All other organisations manage their premises and activities with a lot less fuss, applying some sort of internal guidance or specification document. I expect the specifications for say hospital buildings or MOD establishments are as detailed and proscriptive as one could wish and applied rigorously too, ditto for MacDonalds Restuarants. Perhaps the estates of the National Trust or English Heritage would be a better comparison versus the CoE . Other organisations are happy to allow more freedom for local outposts. I’m not impressed much… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Mark B
Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Mark B
3 months ago

The rationale for the faculty system is that, given that many church buildings are listed, faculties are a substitute for civic planning permission. However, there’s a certain amount of variation between dioceses as to what requires a faculty and what doesn’t. Some dioceses don’t require faculties for moveable or non-permanent items, such as kneelers and votive candle stands. Others are more stringent. In the first parish where I was incumbent, the building was modern and everything was moveable, including the altar and altar rails. The bishop said, ‘No one cares what you do here, feel free to experiment.’ And we… Read more »

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Janet Fife
3 months ago

Absolutely right, Janet. And to anyone who thinks we’d be better off under civic planning regs, the two senior planning officers in my family both say, “be careful what you wish for.”

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Allan Sheath
3 months ago

Of course, the joy of being under civic planning regulations would be that our historic churches would be preserved from the danger of having their interiors ripped apart in the name of ‘mission’. I’m surprised that the church hasn’t had its exemption from normal planning rules revoked given the awful things done to some of our historic buildings.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

This is a useful summary of the history of the exemption (and the comparison with Scotland and the US is helpful): https://era.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1842/8207/Lipton_Devil's%20Advocate_Historic%20Places%20of%20Worship.pdf?sequence=1. I find the critiques of the exemption advanced by Marcus Binney in 1984 and John Newman in 1997 summarised in this paper – both formidably erudite as they are – compelling. The present system dates only from 1913/38 (the origin of the current faculty regime) and 1979 (the exemption itself, revised in 1990, 1994 and 2010). The flow of state grants from the department of the environment in support of churches was made possible by the Ancient Monuments… Read more »

Bob
Bob
Reply to  Kate
3 months ago

Having been involved with the online faculty system I heartedly agree. Even a new noticeboard is an arduous process!

A not so humble parishioner
A not so humble parishioner
Reply to  Kate
3 months ago

The faculty system hasn’t saved a single choir from the whims of a modernising incumbent. It might slow down the change of the fabric of the church but what use is an unused organ gathering dust and empty choir stalls hidden behind a project screen?

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  FrDavid H
3 months ago

I was so naive that I thought cafe church was in effect coffee after church, which never struck me as being a fresh expression. I had no idea until a few years ago that worshippers were chomping their way through fruit tarts and fat rascals during an act of ‘worship’. These initiatives have had no impact on the church’s decline, but the patisserie may have expanded waistlines. Any gimmick in a storm; a church in Hitchin announced an Easter Egg hunt on Good Friday – ideal for the children as it’s a bank holiday we were told without a hint… Read more »

Bob
Bob
Reply to  FrDavid H
3 months ago

Surely ‘church’ is the gathered people of God. Whether they meet in a converted warehouse or shop or nightclub, or in a Grade 1 listed building with stained glass windows, pews and an organ is immaterial. What is important is that the setting facilitates worship, prayer, the study of Gods word, the sacraments. I would agree that just meeting for a coffee and a cake plus quick prayer is rather lacking, but it may be the first step on the road of faith for some who find a formal church service and liturgy off putting.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  FrDavid H
3 months ago

Sometimes mockery is revealing and it is the case here. I think Fr David highlights a deeper problem that the Church of England doesn’t really know what it is. We have seen it too with the Eucharist – again, I don’t think the Church of England knows what it is. Nor the Anglican Communion. Nor the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The list goes on and on.   I my capacity as a retired management consultant who used professionally to assist struggling organisations, my recommendation would be that for each of the important things, the church develops short descriptions.… Read more »

Neil J
Neil J
Reply to  Kate
3 months ago

39 articles silent on what is a church? I think Article 19 would be hard to improve on as a definition of a church

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Neil J
3 months ago

I think that defines the Church of England rather than a church as it is being discussed here.

Neil J
Neil J
Reply to  Kate
3 months ago

Really? “The visible church of Christ is a congregation…” Doesn’t sound to me like a specific definition of the CofE, rather their attempt to define what makes a church. Article 19 of course copies the classic Reformation definition used in many of the various European confessions: congregation, word preached, sacraments; only leaving out church discipline.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Neil J
3 months ago

Indeed, but the 39 Articles distinguish between “the Church” (eg Articles 19 and 20) and “the Congregation” (eg Articles 23 and 24). Canon A1 also refers to the Church universal and says the Church of England belongs to the universal church. It is a shame that Canon A8 – On Schisms – is not better known and noticed. If we are interested in defining “a church”, the F Canons “Things appertaining to churches” would be one place to start. There is no definition of “a church” here. I think that the lawyers would have to be consulted – the Canons… Read more »

Peter Hill
Peter Hill
3 months ago

Are Ric Thorpe’s thriving churches orthodox?

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Peter Hill
3 months ago

Danish Pastries are probably Lutheran.

Father David
Father David
Reply to  FrDavid H
3 months ago

And Dundee cakes are definitely Presbyterian, if not Wee Free but only if said cake includes no alcohol.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Father David
3 months ago

I’m all for ecumenism. Surely Anglican pastry shops could serve spaghetti bolognese to help Roman Catholics feel at home.

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Peter Hill
3 months ago

Perhaps the key question is whether they are churches at all. Is the pure Word of God preached and are the Sacraments duly ministered?

Bob
Bob
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

Surely this can happen in any building! Surely ‘church’ is the gathered people of God. Whether they meet in a converted warehouse or shop or nightclub, or in a Grade 1 listed building with stained glass windows, pews and an organ is immaterial. What is important is that the setting facilitates worship, prayer, the study of Gods word, the sacraments.

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Bob
3 months ago

I don’t disagree with you on that. My question is whether these new gatherings that we are encouraged to welcome are engaging in the Word and the Sacraments. The paper GS2254A before the General Synod appears to suggest that people engaging in these new forms of church are not receiving Communion, so we have to wonder whether these new gatherings are indeed Church.

Bob
Bob
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

I too have those concerns if the sacraments are not being observed.

Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
Reply to  Bob
3 months ago

I think there is a bigger concern – which is why do nearly all of these new communities NOT come from churches which have a more sacramental theology? The issue surely is not just criticising and policing the new, but also asking why there are so few from the Catholic tradition. I would love +Ric to write another article about the many new Eucharistic plants which are popping up all over the place, but I fear it would be a short article.

John Wallace
John Wallace
Reply to  Homeless Anglican
3 months ago

My Doctoral Thesis at Durham University has explored Church Planting in an Anglo-Catholic context. It will be available later this year via the on-line thesis facility of the University website.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

So you don’t consider the Quakers and the Salvation Army to be churches?

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Janet Fife
3 months ago

They gather in Meeting Houses and Citadels respectively. They are definitely not churches.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  FrDavid H
3 months ago

Churches are not defined by the buildings they meet in – or there would have been no churches in the New Testament.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Janet Fife
3 months ago

Indeed. From 1988-91 I was the minister at the Church of the Resurrection, Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories (find it on Google Maps!). Closest community is Kugluktuk, about 120 miles further south by air (no roads). The church can no longer afford to place a full time minister in Ulukhaktok. The lay-reader in charge is David Kuptana. He is willing, but has minimal theological education (to be fair, there is little material for it available in the Inuinaqtun language). He leads Morning Prayer most Sundays, and when the church runs out of money to buy heating oil (which happens sometimes) they meet… Read more »

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

Yes.

Jo B
Jo B
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

I think we could draw a meaningful distinction between worshipping communities that eschew the regular celebration of the Eucharist out of choice, and those who do so of necessity. In Scotland if there were a community like that they would at least be offered communion by extension from the nearest congregation with a priest.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
3 months ago

Yes, they are. A church is a group of people who try to follow Jesus and meet in the name of Father, son, and Holy Spirit (or Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier if you prefer). Wherever they are and any way they worship, that’s the essence of it.

Incidentally, my first parish (the one with the modern building) was also a Church of the Resurrection.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Janet Fife
3 months ago

Quakers and the Salvation Army do not perform or believe in baptism . Do they constitute a ‘Church’ when they deny the Trinitarian rite of initiation?

Kate
Kate
Reply to  FrDavid H
3 months ago

I think the elephant in the room is whether offering the Eucharist just once a month is sufficient to retain the status of ‘church’.

Jo B
Jo B
Reply to  Kate
3 months ago

Not an Anglican Church, I would argue, but there are other traditions that, for reasons of their own, have long celebrated communion infrequently. It is still common in the Church of Scotland, for example, for communion to be celebrated only four times in a year.

Fr Frank Nichols
Fr Frank Nichols
3 months ago

I seem to recall that the troubled Vicar of Wymondham was (or is?) a member of the Australian Province of the Society of the Sacred Mission. I wonder whether she needs to re-read the Principles of the Society? “On Submission to Censure. If you conduct be disapproved, especially by the Superior, do not be in haste to justify yourself. There are many ways of going wrong, and there may well be many your have overlooked which you need to learn about. If there be an answer, and it seems worth while, if permitted, state it, but the final decision does… Read more »

Richard
Richard
Reply to  Fr Frank Nichols
3 months ago

SSM Australia’s professed members are listed here:

https://arlyb.org.uk/community/society-of-the-sacred-mission-ssm-australian-province/

Perhaps Mother Catherine is part of the English Province. Australia or UK, the Principle should apply.

Father David
Father David
3 months ago

The new Archbishop has hardly been in office for 5 minutes and an Assistant Bishop for Bangor has already been appointed. It is regrettable that Bishop David Thomas wasn’t replaced as PAB with equal speed to serve throughout the entire Province and not just in a single diocese.

Robert Ellis
Robert Ellis
3 months ago

Tim Wyatt. Where does the Osborne Report fit into this timeline please? Or am I missing something?

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
3 months ago

What on earth was going on in Wymondham such that Gilad Atzmon was booked to play a concert?

Susannah Clark
3 months ago

Thank you, Clare Hayns. I love the Book of Ruth. It is such a tender-hearted narrative. And I love the way a lot of its perspectives involve two women, walking with God, and the solidarity between them, and their faithfulness. A lot of the Bible seems quite masculine-slanted in its voice (which is not to imply that God cares any the less about women). In the Book of Ruth though, there is a refreshing account of two women’s fidelity in adversity, their feelings, their perspective. Of course, I also love the good, decent, strong and masculine role of Boaz in… Read more »

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