Sunday, 16 March 2014

Ten more commandments: How to save the Anglican church

My take on Peter Stanford’s list in the Independent.


1. Stop obsessing about sex and gender

And start obsessing about good sex instead. Our society is in a mess about sex and sexuality. Let's have more positive engagement with what lifelong loving covenant sacramental relationships might look like. An illustrated course on the Song of Solomon as part of the Pilgrim course perhaps? And no I am not kidding.

2. Pick on a subject that matters

Yes the poor are important. But last time I checked the CofE has been all over the press in its support for the poor. So why not make the subject Encounter with God - how we can meet with God and grow in faith?

3. Break that link with the state

The CofE is an Apostolical church that just happens to be a state church. But I wonder how much law and effort it would take to unstitch all that. We may be more than a 'best boat to fish from' but this is not a boat to be burned lightly. But that doesn't mean we can’t emphasize our Apostolical foundation above and beyond our historical state connection.

4. Beef up the role of the ABC

And beef up local ministry too - it needs to go all the way down the line - which may mean some serious pruning of stuff that isn't working. Leadership in the CofE can be extremely difficult for lay and ordained ministry, and can be shipwrecked by all a small number of people. We need to renew our understanding of lay ministry and find effective ways of ensuring that Clergy, Lay Ministers PCC members and Church Wardens love God and his people.

5. Treat the Anglican Communion as a religious equivalent of the Commonwealth

In other words ignore it and look closer to Europe, where other churches are facing the same challenges as the CofE. We should draw on success stories amongst our own ecumenical partners in the UK too – which churches are growing and why?

6. Offload the property empire

No-one is going to want to take on half the medieval church buildings in the UK. But we do have some valuable property, especially in central London, including Church House and some Clergy Housing. Let’s sell it off and invest it in mission and ministry, even if it is more appropriate property. A review of Church housing nationwide could result in more equality, more suitable housing for modern clergy families, and maybe some thoughts about how best to support (and benefit from) retired clergy.

7. Get out of state schools

And get into Free schools & Academies. Western schooling has its roots in Christian Monasticism, let’s embrace it, de-emphasizing faith requirements for getting into CofE schools but ensuring that each Church school is a community of disciples learning to follow Jesus. Establish ordination routes for Christian headteachers and treat this as an important pioneer role in the Church.

8. Get some better PR (i)

Rev is profound. But it continues the lie of the magically self-sustaining parish. In other words it is Dibley for Guardian Readers. Forget TV - Youtube is a better way for the CofE to communicate to a wider audience.

9. Get some better PR (ii)

I like Richard Coles very much. I am not sure he would want to be a Bishop. But I would love to hear more from pioneers from all traditions – especially working in challenging areas, urban or country.

10. Get some better PR (iii)

We canonize too quickly. Let’s learn patience and remember that even the greatest ministers of the Gospel have feet of clay. And let us not be ashamed to say so.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Unfurling the Sails

A minister capsized and sunk his little sail boat. He was thrashing around in the water when another yacht sailed up.

"Jump in, we'll save you" - they yelled.

"No" cried the drowning man, "God will save me".

Treading water, soon a motor boat came along side.

"Jump in, we'll save you" - they shouted.
"No" cried the drowning man, "God will save me".

Growing tired the man continued to tread water, until a fishing boat came alongside.

"Jump in, we'll save you" - they called.

"No" cried the drowning man, "God will save me".

Finally the man almost exhausted a helicopter came overhead.

"We came to rescue you" yelled the pilot.

"No, God will save me" was the response again.

The man’s strength gave up eventually. And as he crossed the Pearly Gates, he ran straight to Jesus.

"I placed my faith in you, and you let me drown?!

""Hey!" said Jesus.” I sent three boats and a helicopter".

Jesus Said: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

If you have ever been sailing you will know that the wind is very important. The wind dictates how fast you can go, and in what direction. Although modern sailing yachts can sail very close to the wind, it is not long ago that the sailing ships were far more limited.



You went with the wind or you didn’t go at all.

For the early Christians the ship was a symbol of the Church. They drew from the imagery of Noah’s ark being a safe place of salvation, and from the stories of Jesus and the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. In times of persecution it must have felt like they were in a mighty storm, calling out to Jesus to calm the waves.

And where is the ship of the Church today?


When I was young we used to sail in a small yacht from Kent to Calais. The first time my father came into Calais harbour we found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time in the path of a cross channel ferry. Grabbing the VHF my dad made the call:
“Calais harbour, Calais harbour, this is yacht Gypsy Dawn – where would you like us, over”

After a few moments of silence the reply came back.

“On ze bottom”

Less people come to church now than they used to. We are surrounded by a culture that values so many others things higher than faith and life with God. Even if we don’t subscribe to the idea that the western Church is a persecuted minority in the midst of a bitter culture war – and I don’t – it can still sometimes seem that the wider church is heading to ‘ze bottom’. A sinking ship.

But I do not believe the Church is sinking. Certainly not here at All Saints, where God is at work in so many lives from so many different backgrounds. We are a Christian family born of water and Spirit through our baptism.

And Jesus says: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

If the church is to continue to grow and thrive in the future we must be open to the wind of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not an optional add on in the Christian life. The Holy Spirit is active in our baptism, in our confirmation, in our communion.  The Holy Spirit is active in our study of the bible, in our worship, in our prayer. The Holy Spirit is active in different forms of spiritualty, prayerbook, celtic, catholic, liberal, traditional and contemporary.

But sometimes we may need to ask God to make us more aware of how the Spirit is blowing. Sometimes we may need to be honest and unfurl our sails.

As we come to Communion this and every Sunday morning was ask for the Spirit to meet with us.

Especially today where we have space for healing. There is also space to come and ask to become more aware of the Spirit in our lives.

To unfurl our sails a little more.

Amen

Monday, 10 March 2014

Ulf Ekman's Catholic Conversion

Hot on the heels of Kenneth Copeland praying for the Pope, news has come that Ulf Ekman - a significant Charismatic leader in Sweden has converted to Roman Catholicism.

For those who have been watching Ulf (and I haven't for many years) the signs have been there for some time. Pictures like this are not hard to find - that is Ulf on the right:



Charisma news broke the story in English, (here and here) but a (critical) Swedish site has far more details of the journey Ulf and his wife have taken - and it just about makes sense through Google Translate. Ulf's sermon (with live English translation) is available here - and like the Copeland piece is worth a watch. However most of what he says is explained on the Ulf Ekman ministries website:

We have seen a great love for Jesus and a sound theology, founded on the Bible and classic dogma. We have experienced the richness of sacramental life. We have seen the logic in having a solid structure for priesthood, that keeps the faith of the church and passes it on from one generation to the next. We have met an ethical and moral strength and consistency that dare to face up to the general opinion, and a kindness towards the poor and the weak. And, last but not least, we have come in contact with representatives for millions of charismatic Catholics and we have seen their living faith.
There have always been high profile conversions to Apostolical faith, but it is interesting that Ulf's story revolves around engagement with some of 140,000 Roman Catholic Charismatics worldwide, and includes yearning for both Spirit and Sacrament - this is explicitly a Charismatic Catholic conversion.

What works for Ulf obviously works for me too, although within an Anglican understanding of Apostolicity. I believe the Church of England is an ideal meeting place for the Charismatic and the Catholic - if we can manage to bury the hatchet and the hang ups and the different cultures.


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Ashes and the Spirit

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
Imagine that you come home one day, and there is a loved friend waiting on your doorstep to tell you that they have won the trip of a lifetime, and they are taking you with them.

How would we feel – Excited? Grateful? Joyous?

And then they tell you that this trip is to one of the least hospitable places on earth. That there shall be no food and only just enough water. Not only that, but on that trip you will be accompanied by the person you find the most difficult and unkind in all of the world. At that person would be badgering you, teasing and testing you all holiday.

How would you respond?

Perhaps joy would turn to ashes in our mouths.



Ashes are a symbol of Lent. We make them from the Palms that have proclaimed Christ’s Praises the year before. But once they have been through the fire, all that remains is ashes.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Ailing a Remedying Church

Linda Woodhead writes in the Church Times: 'A Remedy for an Ailing Church'. I haven't been reading the series as I don't subscribe to the Church Times, so I can't really comment on the claim that the Church is ailing, or comment on the various articles surrounding the series.



Professor Woodhead herself admits that the following remedy is a fantasy, but suggests that the Church of England could reshape itself into six different branches.


1. THE CATHEDRAL GROUP
"Celebrating the beauty of holiness since 597"

2. THE HEART OF ENGLAND GROUP
"The heart of the local  community"

3. THE ALPHA GROUP
"Freely exploring  discipleship"

4. FAITH FIRST
"Strengthening the faith"

5. JUSTICE AND PEACE
"Tackling poverty together"

6. OPEN CHURCH
"Go deeper"

And this perhaps is the rub.

I wouldn't identify with (or join) any of these groups. I wouldn't put any of the laity or clergy who inspire and energise me in these groups. If anything their defining commonality is that they are not strictly bound to these groups. But they are missional and active, passionate about encounter with God, and drawing others into relationship with Him.

For me this is what the Church of England is about, and I suspect its remedy.