6 Oct 2015

Tribalism & Identity

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

Bishop Richard Chartres speaking at Lambeth Palace, 30 September 2015. (Photograph: Lambeth Palace)

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.

The Bishop also recalled Jaroslav Pelikan's take on the difference between tradition and traditionalism:
Traditionalism is the obstinate adherence to the mores of the day before yesterday – the dead faith of living people. Tradition is the spirit-filled continuity of the Church’s life, through which the truth is communicated from generation to generation in fresh ways in order to stay the same.
I suspect that having an identity is vital for a congregation; a narrative or story of which we are a shared part, and one that speaks of growth. Movements in the church are good, healthy and normal. And yet that identity's role must be to act as a spiritual well that we draw from rather than as a fence built to exclude the gifts of other identities. Whilst believing what we believe because we believe it to be true, we must also believe that truth permeates other expressions of church also!

From Bishop Chartres reflections London's growth is prophetic. Not because the practical models used can be duplicated in other contexts (which may or may not be the case), but because those models have come out of a rejection of a tribal fenced in mindset.

In this God's Spirit has worked, and the Church is alive.

27 Sep 2015

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.

What was the pattern of the Apostolic Church?

Were enquirers and new converts brought immediately into the 'The Offering' of bread and wine, or were they expected to have first had an encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, been baptised and prepared? How was their context different to ours, and how has ours changed to be more like theirs in the last 30 years?

What happened to Anglo-Catholic badge making?

The success of the catholic revival in the Church of England was driven by diverse community engagement. My own parish had a number of football teams for teenagers in the 50's and 60's. These efforts may have failed in part but that is no reason to retreat, rather the lessons must be learned and passed on.

What is so great/bad about clapping songs?

Or other forms of media that engage with people, mind, body and spirit? If people are able to meet with Christ through them in emotion and physical action, isn't that what catholic worship offers in part? Or is there a deeper anglo-catholic insecurity that, through the ecstatic and charismatic, others have a knowledge of God?

What was St. Paul even doing on Mars Hill?

"Badge Makers, I see how extremely creative you are in every way. For as I went through the workshop and looked carefully at the objects of your craft making, I found among them a book mark of great beauty. Your natural creativity has a source: this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth."

9 Sep 2015

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).

Underlying all of Alex's concerns is a different ecclesiology. I stayed an Anglican because I became a Catholic Christian.

I believe Jesus intended to start a Liturgical, Sacramental, Spirit Filled Church growing out of his Rabbinical model, with his disciples ordaining others as he ordained them. Either that or John's Gospel represents some sort of corruption of Christ's vision.
John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
There is a lot going on here - not just the actual events but how the the first readers of John, the early Catholic church would have read it.

  • 'The doors ... were locked'  - John's euphemistic term for rite of offering the Eucharist (see also the book of Revelation for how that might have looked liturgically). 
  • 'Jesus stood among them' - Where Christ was fully present. 
  • 'Peace, be with you' - A liturgical greeting, but also an experience of Christ.
  • 'Hands & Side' - Christ present In resurrection and in sacrifice.
  • 'Rejoiced' - An emotional response to the ritual.
  • 'Jesus Said' - The charismatic prophetic voice.
  • 'I send you' - The apostolic commission - to be sent out and share the Gospel.
  • 'Receive the Holy Spirit' - Ordination.
  • 'Forgive the sins' - The sacrament of reconciliation as mission.
This is ministry. This is the Church. This is what I am called to.

So what of our sinking ship?

The CofE is not the Church Catholic. We are one expression of the Church Catholic - and it is vital that we remain so. But we are not growing at present - or are we?

We are not dead yet because new people are coming to faith all the time - in the fantastic congregation I lead and serve and in many others. Considering the number of people who die of natural causes in Anglican congregations it's a wonder we have anyone left at all. 

This means we are a shrinking ship, but one at which God is very much at work. Where those 9 bullets, the apostolic faith, is happening. That is the church - not the ship. And if the CofE does shrink or sink it will continue despite it.