Crisis in the Church?

Towards the end of the 100-minute service at St Luke’s in Birmingham on a sunny Sunday morning, Taryn Nabi began to shake uncontrollably. Near her, a man fell to his knees with head bowed and arms outstretched. Several people wept; some embraced. Guardian
Sounds like church to me.

Cue references to to various movements through history including the Wesleys, Augustine, and the Apostolic church. But others are less comfortable with this direction in the Church of England:
“The diehards become more and more frenzied, while everyone else looks on in total incomprehension – and in many cases are repulsed.”
This it simply is not my experience of running the Alpha Course. Or offering regular opportunities for prayer ministry in gathered worship. Or finding ways to make the richness of Catholic Anglican worship accessible to the unchurched. Or for that matter simply going out into the community and telling people about Jesus.

And then we have Martyn Percy:
"The church", (is) in the grip of a “small group of elite organisationally minded evangelicals who think the church is a biddable, shapeable, governable body, and that’s not the case. The reality is complex, messy, knotty."
Martyn is correct that the Church of England is difficult to lead. But it requires leadership. Evangelicals have invested in leadership training over the last 20 years in a way that other traditions have not. Some of those models may be good, some may be bad, but the alternative seems to be no intentional leadership. I learnt more about missional parish leadership in a one day course from an evangelical than I did in three years at theological college.

Martyn continues:
"A lot of the ways in which [evangelicals] talk about God is fundamentally offputting. More people are turned off than turned on.”
The anonymous commentator spoke of repulsion. Martyn speaks of 'fundamentally offputting'. This is emotional language.

In the past I have had my own hang ups about charismatic and evangelical spirituality. There are issues in all spiritual traditions, but I have come to recognise two things. Firstly that contemporary evangelicalism is increasing in breadth and depth - including valuing and working with other traditions. Secondly that in some areas I was simply wrong. In particular in re-embracing the supernatural action of God in the charismatic. I am not alone on this journey - the old tribalism is dead.

There are questions - especially about how a central leadership vision works in parishes across the country that have become resistant to growth and mission.
Robert Cotton said. “Membership is not the language that I and those that live in the soggy middle of the CofE often use. Of course we want more people to come to church, but I don’t think of the church essentially as a membership organisation.”
I cannot see the church surviving without becoming a membership organisation with high levels of commitment to growth from all the members of the church. But I understand where Robert is coming from. The difficulty is real and it needs to be addressed. Yet the soggy middle of the CofE does not have a great track record when it comes to growth.

Clergy hit brick walls in parish ministry and become disillusioned, but this is not the fault of those who are making it work. Evangelicals have built up support networks that have a proven track record, and are facing up to these new challenges.

And there are new networks and communities developing. The Sodality of the Holy Spirit is one such missional community:
"An inclusive community of individuals committed to developing the charisms (intentional, missional, expectational) in their own discipleship and ministry."
There is also Sanctum which is transitioning from an event into a network:
"A network of emerging sacramental practitioners and dreamers.
To worship, recharge, share ideas, pray and support."
I am convinced that God is doing something new in the Church of England. Yes, there are legitimate questions, those of the critical friend, that need to be asked. My worry is that the voices of negativity will be taken as speaking for whole swathes of the Church.

They do not speak for me.


Sign & Spirit - the website - and more ...

This website has been running in various forms since 2003. It has always been a diverse mix of different material on different subjects.

However recently writing on Sign and Spirit I have realised that this material needs its own space to develop:

So stuff that relates to church leadership, structure, theology, will be here. Stuff that relates to intersection of the charismatic and sacramental only will be there.

I am also involved in the Sodality of the Holy Spirit, An inclusive community of individuals committed to developing the charisms (intentional, missional, expectational) in their own discipleship and ministry.

Finally I am enabling Sanctum, an Emerging Sacramental gathering of practitioners and dreamers
to worship, recharge,  share ideas, pray and support.


Reflections on the YouGov Poll

Firstly I am deliberately not engaging with arguments for and against same sex marriage here.

Secondly, the recent YouGov poll: what does it really say?

This is the section which deals with those who responded as 'members' of the Church of England (Anglican/Episcopal etc.). We know that actual worshipping members of our church are about 2%. Yet here 19% identify themselves as having an affiliation.

This is a remarkable figure, as it demonstrates the missional impact the Church of England has in the nation.


The Primates

So the Primates are meeting to discern the future of the Anglican Communion. And we are praying. But I do have some thoughts.

Catholic or Reformed?

The Anglican Church is both Catholic & Reformed. Catholic in Order (Bishops, Priests and Deacons) and Sacraments (with ecumenical agreements and disagreements) and Reformed (and reforming) in its expression of the Catholic faith. Obvious statement - different Anglicans understand this differently. But so do different churches within the communion.

In particular what we will call the 'Episcopalian' tradition from Scotland and the United States has a different history and spirituality to the 'Anglican' tradition found in England. The churches in the communion which have these roots have had fewer people who look towards the Reformed Presbyterian model of church, and have far less historical attachment to the 39 Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Commonwealth and Monarchy!

Gender or Sexuality?

Although the debate in the communion is framed in terms of Liberal vs. Conservative this is not entirely accurate.


Rebuild My House

Synod this year was opened by a sermon from Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.

Fr. Raniero is a Papal preacher and an advocate of renewal in the Church. He writes (via CBN).
“Baptism in the Spirit is not a human invention; it is a divine invention. It is a renewal of baptism and of the whole of Christian life, of all the sacraments. It is a renewal of my religious profession, of my confirmation, and of my priestly ordination,”
You can read more of his reflections on renewal here.


Tribalism & Identity

The Bishop of London's lecture at Lambeth has created some great discussion. It is a long read, but worth it.

For me what stands out is the rejection of tribalism, but the acceptance of identity (or different expressions of church).

One obvious source of division was the training of the clergy in party colleges, and an effort was made to overcome this aspect of the old system while eschewing any attempt to homogenise the proper diversity of the Church of England.
The desire to stimulate vocations and to train ordinands in a context in which every legitimate tradition could be honoured had an impact on perhaps the most significant development of the past twenty years: the establishment of St Mellitus College.
In the old system candidates were entrusted to independent training agencies, often founded along party lines.
One of the underlying principles of the past twenty years in London has been that every legitimate strand in the Anglican tradition should be honoured and reflected in the appointments made in the Diocese. There is only one vital distinction which transcends the differences between different strands of churchmanship and that is the distinction between dead church and living church.
I am working with a St.Melitus placement at present and I can confirm the spirit of that community, that they carry out into their work in parishes. I also deeply value my time at Westcott, especially as part of the Cambridge Theological federation. But St. Melitus seems to be doing something different.


Badge Making Workshops

I am embarrassed by the response from Anglo-Catholics on social media to Bishop North's recent comments:

I didn't hear his comments in context - I would be keen to read them. But as they stand I would ask:

Who is denying people the Eucharist? 

Or arguing that songs and craft workshops represent the fullness of faith? I recently attended a Pioneer breakfast with ++Justin Welby and he was passionate about the fullness of sacramental life in Fresh Expressions. Yes there may be some in the Church of England who reject the sacramental entirely, but what I encounter among contemporary evangelicals is a greater desire to engage with sacraments, especially as worship.


Sinking Ships (Redux)

Keen as I am to keep on top of the ever evolving UK Christian blogosphere I am only just catching up with the conversations surrounding an article on a the 'mega-blog' Threads a few weeks back. The piece called "Sunken Ship Recruiting Now" by Alex Willmott was taken down and various people have responded including Liz Clutterbuck.

A quick search of Threads finds other pieces by Alex - all of the same vein. I remember reading his piece on Church & Sex Toys and being bemused that any Christian would find sex toys shocking - after all one of my two commercial ordination cards 10 years ago was from 'whollylove' a Christian sex toy venture, now sadly defunct (the other was from a Christian dating site for clergy). Then we have If You Can't Lead a Church ... which wrestles with the question of how clergy can stay in post whilst their organisations so visibly fails.

Photo: Matt Mechtley It looks like a Sinking Ship but really it's a Car Park.

Which is kinda how I ended up an Anglican in the first place. To escape a 'strong leadership culture'. To be part of the church that met with my mother on her deathbed, whilst my particular brand of 'radical' Christianity didn't. To escape a bubble of 'churchianity' that was like living inside a branch of Wesley Owen (if you remember them).


Asus Flip - Switching to Chromebook

Computers are a remarkably emotive subject - even amongst church workers. Some clergy and ministry folk are fanatics devotees of Apple. Some clergy and ministry folk are devotees users of Microsoft.

The reality is that you get what you pay for. If you spend £250 on a laptop then in general you get something not very good. If you spend £750 on a laptop you get something nice.

And the hardware is more than the internals. A decent desktop keyboard costs about £60. A decent desktop mouse costs about £40. A decent desktop monitor costs £150. The first £200 of any device - laptop or desktop should be on the stuff that makes it a pleasure or a pain to interact with. Buy a £400 laptop with higher end internals and the costs will have been cut somewhere. Buy a £750 laptop with the same bits inside and you suddenly find you have something that you want to use, is nice and quick, and works. Be it an Apple MacBook Air or a Microsoft Surface.

So why have I just switched to a £250 laptop?


Sign & Spirit - Three Streams

Sign&Spirit now has its own web space - read the article there

Following my post about Greenbelt, and the nature of Sign & Spirit I wanted to unpack further the three streams that flow into the emerging movement.