Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 26 July 2023

Will Timmins Bible By Day Abuse NDAs and the Church: Making a Covenant with Death

Religion Media Centre Briefing: Is the Church of England ungovernable?

Kirk Smith The Living Church A Bishop Goes to Seminary
“How Working in Four Episcopal Seminaries Changed My Understanding of Theological Education”

David Runcorn Inclusive Evangelicals General Synod, LLF and the mind of the church

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David Hawkins
David Hawkins
10 months ago

I disagree. The Church of England is not “ungovernable” it is too governed from above and there is an absence of real democracy. I give just one example. A Christian Church that is supposed to be guided by what is written in the Gospels engages in what I regard as a celebration of inequality and inherited wealth in the Coronation and any discussion by Synod is ruled out of order. And at the same time victims of serious abuse by Church members are failed and the advocates who were supporting them are sacked. The Church of England has lost its… Read more »

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
Reply to  David Hawkins
10 months ago

I think that is too one-sided. An organisation may become ungovernable through a failure of leadership. But it can also become ungovernable through a failure of what I would call ‘followship’.

David Hawkins
David Hawkins
Reply to  David Runcorn
10 months ago

David I don’t agree that the Church is ungovernable. I think is over governed and not democratic enough. I think the managerial and bureaucratic culture that currently dominates the Church smothers the fellowship that we both believe in. I contrast the slick, overmanaged, centralized LLF with this local, informal building of fellowship and trust described by Bishop Cherry Vann. “Recognising that this was not a Christian way to go on, a few us began to meet: four clergy who were opposed to the ordination of women and four newly ordained women priests. Our early meetings, as you might imagine, were… Read more »

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
Reply to  David Hawkins
10 months ago

David Hawkins … I do not recognise your description of LLF here – having been involved at several different levels of it, but not its leadership. However I think the example you offer sounds strikingly similar to the best examples of what the LLF course material has sought to facilitate and enable. It also illustrates the point I am trying to make here – and that I suggest in my article – that there is a necessary mutuality in the work of leading and being led in the church.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  David Runcorn
10 months ago

A fair point up to an extent, David. I have always believed that we should try to respect and support leaders in all walks of life, based on my admittedly much smaller-scale experience of leadership in education, and the pressures on others in leadership in that sector. However, people need to believe in the leadership and need to be persuaded to follow. Recent actions by the Archbishops’ Council (for example) have shocked me, and left me feeling the people involved seem unfit to lead. I agree with you that there is a middle road when it comes to apportioning blame… Read more »

James Byron
James Byron
Reply to  Susannah Clark
10 months ago

Three reforms that could lessen the CoE’s structural dysfunction:-
* elect bishops
* term limits for bishops (say ten years)
* disciplinary functions transferred to independent tribunals

First would reduce the classicism of the English episcopacy. Second would mitigate the episcopacy being viewed as a career goal. Third would end the farce of asking bishops to fairly judge friends and colleagues. A start, at least.

Simon Bravery
Simon Bravery
Reply to  David Hawkins
10 months ago

I too had problems with the Coronation. I watched it with great interest and enjoyed some of the music. To my surprise I was not overcome with great waves of patriotism. It all seems rather Ruritanian and irrelevant to.modern life. I also have reservations about the behaviour of the couple at the centre of proceedings.

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Simon Bravery
10 months ago

As an Anglophile Yank, I also watched the Coronation (there’s never enough bagpipes in the USA). I kept thinking, “How does this ancient ceremony, steeped in meaning for the power structures of the Middle Ages, have any meaning for the average Brit of today?” The person who I was most impressed with was Penny Mordaunt, MP and member of the Privy Council, who stood perfectly straight and motionless for virtually the entire ceremony while holding vertically a heavy sword prepared to fend off all attackers. The music was indeed great. But, on the subject of Ruritania, by the time King… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
10 months ago

Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, who crowned our late Queen, in 1953 said that the Coronation is primarily a sacrament – the anointing and consecration of the Sovereign. I’m sure you are right that the significance of this would be totally lost on the majority of people 70 years later. I thought the introduction and participation of other faith leaders was very moving and done in a dignified way; certainly the first by Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs, and, especially noteworthy, the Archbishop of Westminster’s was the first Roman Catholic presence at a Coronation since the Reformation. That fact reflects the considerable… Read more »

Clare Amos
Clare Amos
10 months ago

In relation to David R’s interesting reflection on LLF. One of my colleagues in the Diocese in Europe pointed out to me that the section in the main LLF resource book on the various ways of reading and interpreting scripture is perhaps the first time since the 39 Articles were formulated that the Church of England has ever tried to say something authoritative about scripture (Basically the book sets out 7 graduated ways of interpreting the Bible, rules out number 1 and number 7 and suggests that the variants 2-6 are all acceptable Anglican ways of interpreting scripture.) I think… Read more »

Phil Groves
Phil Groves
10 months ago

David – you have done well to focus on the key issue for the moment – not what is right or wrong, but how a church takes seriously the mind of those who worship as members. The feedback from them is that change is required – there is a desire for equal marriage from the membership of the church which is not reflected in synod. I would question the ‘unique’ statement because there things to learn from our Anglican family. For example, the Indaba process in IEAB (so brilliantly assessed in an academic paper by Luiz Coelho) sets out how… Read more »

David Hawkins
David Hawkins
Reply to  Phil Groves
10 months ago

We had a very comparable situation at the end of the nineteenth century over the nature of the Eucharist and the introduction of ritual and mass vestments. But now this huge theological divide over a central act of worship has become a non issue. Each Parish does its own thing and nobody bothers about an issue that previously caused riots and painful court cases. I can understand the dispute about women clergy and women bishops in particular because that has an impact on every parish but I simply don’t understand the fuss about equal marriage. If a conservative evangelical parish… Read more »

Perry Butler
Perry Butler
Reply to  David Hawkins
10 months ago

I suspect that some evangelicals esp the more conservative would say that this diversity is regrettable and has rendered the C of E a Noah’s Ark to use J I Packer’s term due to lack of theological integrity and discipline but that its Charter historical documents (esp the 39 Articles) make it a Protestant Reformed Church as Ian Paul recently put it, echoing the Coronation Oath. Of course many evangelicals have seen the C of E the best boat to fish from. And the current C of E enables all groups to more or less do what they like esp… Read more »

Simon Bravery
Simon Bravery
Reply to  Perry Butler
10 months ago

Sadly I agree. Attendance has fallen by 20 per cent since covid. Income has probably also fallen as attendance is down.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Phil Groves
10 months ago

This response suggests that unity is a myth – a convenient myth, but not quite in the category of a truth. (The relationship between myth and truth is for another day – they are not incompatible, but are not the same). The issue for the Church of England is that unity is a myth projected onto bishops rather than owned by the collective. And bishops (as “instruments of unity”) embrace that projection rather than challenging it (and seem to be selected to embrace the projection, so that the few who resist are seen as maverick outliers).

Froghole
Froghole
10 months ago

I agree that the Church is over-governed. Indeed, its governance is almost rococo in its almost futile extravagance relative to the numbers of those governed. Its present systems of governance were designed for an institution which commanded the regular support of about 5 million people, and the tacit support of about another 20 million or so. That was during the decades of what Arthur Burns described as the ‘diocesan revival’ of the Church (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-diocesan-revival-in-the-church-of-england-c-1800-1870-9780198207849?cc=us&lang=en&amp😉 which continued into the 1920s. Although attendance was in rapid run off, both relatively and absolutely, after 1900 (if not before), the belief of those anxious… Read more »

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
10 months ago

The Church of England is largely ungovernable for the simple reason that is does not possess the attributes of an organisation where governance can properly be exercised. It has no legal status or authority as a whole. It functions (or not, depending on your viewpoint) as a complex body where there are myriad inter-connected but legally separate dioceses, councils, and related bodies. This is dispersed authority writ large; there is no conventional governance machinery which can be applied. Each diocesan bishop is scarily independent. S/he can largely ignore the National Church Institutions and any top-down initiatives if they wish, subject… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by Anthony Archer
Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Anthony Archer
10 months ago

“It has no legal status or authority as a whole.” Many thanks for all these thoughts. However, there are some statutes which refer to ‘the Church of England’, which suggests that it does have some sort of status, granted that it is effectively a confederation of mostly miniature trusts. Now there’s a Church of England; now there isn’t. It sometimes seems to me that the authorities want to proclaim the existence of a Church of England when it suits them, but plead that there isn’t such a thing (or, rather perhaps, that there isn’t such an effective or efficient thing)… Read more »

FearandTremolo
FearandTremolo
Reply to  Froghole
10 months ago

I suppose that insofar as that the Canons are state law, it is possible to allude to the CofE under Canon A1, in which case I suppose that the legal status of the CofE might derive from the apostolic succession. Although, I’m also about 90% this was the premise of an episode of Yes Prime Minister, so…

Susanna (no ‘h’)
Susanna (no ‘h’)
Reply to  FearandTremolo
10 months ago

What the chair of the Religion Media Briefing actually asked was whether the Church of England was ‘governable’ – I have just looked back again and checked . So it is interesting that the headline has chosen the nuance of ‘ungovernable ‘ with all the hints of mutiny which go with reframing the question. There have been some very fundamental questions raised in this thread, including the ‘follow the money’ arguments and the ‘where is the church’s theological base’ ones. I was amused by FearandTremelo’s point about similarities with an episode of Yes Minister- as an old lady sometimes in… Read more »

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  Susanna (no ‘h’)
10 months ago

“Can ( or should) the Church of England ever be a democracy if the archbishops see themselves as called by God to be In Charge?”

If that is truly what they believe, then therein lies the problem. They are called by God to serve, not to command or control.

FearandTremolo
FearandTremolo
Reply to  Susanna (no ‘h’)
10 months ago

After some digging, I found the relevant bit of the episode I’d half remembered, which seems faintly apt:

PM: “Couldn’t we let the Holy Ghost decide now?”

Sir. H: “No one’s confident the Holy Ghost would know
what makes a good Church of England bishop”

Whilst, admittedly, this episode is poking fun at a rather different CofE to the one we’re in now, it does have a few lines in it that still provoke a satirical giggle

Susanna (no ‘h’)
Susanna (no ‘h’)
Reply to  FearandTremolo
10 months ago

That’s even better! You have to wonder what the Holy Ghost would make of a lot of our present bishops, with a few honourable exceptions like Newcastle, Birkenhead and Huntingdon… and I wonder what they all have in common???

David Smith
David Smith
Reply to  Froghole
10 months ago

May I offer a cautionary – though non-theological – tale. Before ordination, I served in the armed forces for many years as an engineering officer. Whilst serving in the Falklands, we were running extremely low on supplies of de-icing fluid and other materials to keep the runway clear of snow and ice, and thus operational. On contacting the centralised supply branch concerned – somewhere in Yorkshire as I recall – they responded that new bulk stocks would only be procured in the autumn, ready for the cold season, and why on earth did I need them in the middle of… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  David Smith
10 months ago

Many thanks for that! Your anecdote chimes very well with my experiences of MOD Procurement and some other ‘sensitive’ parts of HMG, which have on occasion reminded me more of Mr Bean than Mr Bond. I do take your point. My view is that assets need to be centralised in order to realise savings and economies of scale. The present diocesan bureaucracies would be folded into the Commissioners and then rationalised. They would continue, on a significantly smaller scale and with a number of amalgamations, as branch offices of the Commissioners. A local connection would be preserved. By incorporating them… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Froghole
10 months ago

Part of the problem is that (well behind the timeframe of commercial businesses) the Church of England has loaded middle management functions onto a structure which does not readily accommodate middle management.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Mark Bennet
10 months ago

Many thanks for this and your other very useful remarks. That being so, I feel that it adds additional force to arguments that much (or perhaps all) of the administration of the Church should be consolidated in the Commissioners, so there is a central/core function which handles the assets and administrative overhead, and which permits both the bishops and the parishes to ‘breathe’, so to speak.

Peter
Peter
10 months ago

With reference to David Runcorn’s article, the matter is surely settled.

There will in due course be same sex marriage Rites in the Church of England.

Clearly David and those who share his view will keep up the pressure, but the outcome is no longer in doubt.

Other ecclesiological arrangements are emerging and will continue to emerge. The bishops’ response will surely be in direct proportion to the numbers of those who participate in such new arrangements.

Perhaps for the first and last time, the fate of the Church of England rests on the consciences of the laity.

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