Saturday, 31 March 2012

Reversing the Church

I watched two interesting programmes about religion on Friday and today, Saturday.

Friday's was Reverse Missionaries featuring Kshama Jayaraj from Mumbai who went to Belfast and modelled herself a little on Amy Carmichael, who went from Belfast to India over fifty years. Well I had no sympathy for Kshama Jayarajfor the simple reason that religion in Northern Ireland is part of its problem and not part of its solution, and certainly not with her evangelical narrow outlook. Yes, she did a little in attracting over some from the Catholic side and that was significant, but religion will only ever become a focus for any unity from a position of weakness.

I recall when at Unitarian College and going to the General Assembly, and being descended upon by members of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, a Christian for sure cousin of the Unitarians in Ireland. I was always critical of those ministers who went to Northern Ireland either as a means to shore up their Christianity or to get the bigger congregations. So when they came looking for recruits, I gave them my approving thoughts of Don Cupitt and non-realism. That was enough to get them off my back - they were so down the narrow path that all I had to do was mention this Anglican to throw them off.

Tonight it was the turn of
Diarmaid MacCulloch and the concluding part of How God Made the English. It included an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. MacCulloch has opposed Williams on the Covenant, but here they were in agreement (and highlights Williams's inconsistency - how he treats his own Church and Communion far more narrowly and bureaucratically than he treats relationships with people of other faiths and narratives including in the English context). Both approve of the idea of the Church of England - epitomised by its cathedrals - as places that can broker the diversity of faith in England rather than being defensive about a particular view of Christianity and Church. Instead of a secular state of toleration, that worries about tolerating the intolerant, the Church becomes a kind of centre for a huge ethnic and religious diversity and a creator of shared values. (Sociologists call this civic religion.)

Oh if it was true within the liturgical services themselves! The Puritan Presbyterians (who never set up Presbyterianism) wanted to get back into the Church of England, but could not. When Unitarianism was no longer dominated by its ideologues, the high command of the Unitarian movement had good relationships with liberal and broad Anglicans, but notions of a broad Church that could include Unitarians were rejected as impractical (by Anglicans, and even friendly ones).

Diarmaid MacCulloch (who, I understand, has Anglican Deacon orders) has indicated on a previous television series that he does not accept the Bible as regulative, and his 'love' for the Church of England is a kind of cultural Christianity. We see exactly the same with the motivation of John Rutter, who is not a believing Christian but wishes to preserve the cultural forms of Anglicanism and produces much of its better contemporary music.

Well I am quite favourable to these broader ideas, but in the end the Church of England is not a pot into which any ingredient can be thrown. The Archbishop's own belief pattern is a strongly detailed narrative of Christianity; he seems to be well capable of being on the inside, and indeed has made himself so ecclesiastical that he has dumped ethical features of his former broader (somewhat postmodern) theology. There are boundaries and I would suggest that they are:

  • The regulative nature of the Bible, even when subject to biblical criticism
  • Liturgical conservation around the detail of Christian beliefs (Reformed, some Catholic)
  • Beliefs held in the Incarnation in general and Resurrection in general of Jesus as the Christ.

I do not hold to these. I do not believe the Bible should be regulative, but that all scriptures are open to critical review and use, and much more besides. I think we should be liturgically creative including insights from faiths and philosophies, and I do not believe in a unique Incarnation nor in Resurrection and indeed Jesus is but a man of his time.

It is possible for the Church of England to hold services that others can give their input, but its input will always be doctrinal to the extent of the guidelines above. The reason I am now Unitarian again is because I am a broader pluralist than possible in the Church of England, and because I am not a Christian.

I also think that the Church of England is still going to trim itself inwards. Certainly the defeat of the Covenant, of which Diarmaid MacCulloch was a part, will delay that process, but the intended work of GAFCON as entryists, the loss of Catholic traditionalists, the bureaucrats of evangelical Fulcrum at the cutting off point between being evangelical and being open, and shrinking of mythic liberality and the loss of open non-realism as an active potential part of the Church of England, means it will not spread as far and wide as it did.

For Diarmaid MacCulloch to be right, and for his view to be sustained, the Church of England has to spread further and wider, and its cathedrals have to become vessels for a variety of religious expressions wider than Christianity itself. I doubt they can achieve this, and they may be dragged back by a shrinking Church of England in terms of its outlook.

Add Manchester

Manchester said no too, in all three houses. So there is no doubt at all about the general view of the Church of England as constituted through its decision making system. Now we have to wait until nearly mid-April for Southwell and Nottingham, then just over a week after that for Chichester, then Newcastle and York near the end of the month bring up the rear. It is now 25 to 15 noes.

With the exception of Truro, you can walk from one end of the noes to the other in England without ever having to enter yes territory! And even the yesses were rather forced (and one is in Europe, not within England itself).

Thursday, 29 March 2012

London Calling

The Covenant: even London voted against it! Only the bishops were in favour, 2-1, and as we know, any dissent among the bishops and the rest feel freer to vote it down. No sympathy presents, no bending to the still 'don't get it' bureaucrats.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

ACI Somewhat Skewed

The Anglican Communion Institute thinks that the failure of Rowan Williams in the Church of England to persuade it to join the Covenant and in the broader Communion in terms of follow-through of discipline is a positive opportunity for future the Covenant!

They accuse him of losing interest, and focussing on other things; but they also accuse him (before he lost interest) of irritating both sides at Lambeth 2008 and the 2009 ACC meeting was institutionally dysfunctional and the very opposite of what a Covenant would achieve. In other words, he did not do what the ACI would have wanted in a period of discussion amongst the purple and setting up a section 4 that he thought might bridge the gap.

Basically, now the Western Churches would seem to be outside the Covenant, those that are inside will get the opportunity to reform it. The ACI dreams of The Episcopal Church going bankrupt while this process of change takes place, and regards vital parts of Anglicanism as only in Asia and Africa. Only those inside the Covenant can reform it, and indeed the connection of the Archbishop, the Church of England and the Instruments needs some untangling if the Covenant is to work. For example, the ACC is an English company where membership for the purposes of English law is the Standing Committee, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is an ex-officio member.

So the insiders make amendments and the Covenant becomes workable, and then they might even invite dioceses as members of it where the Churches they are in do not Covenant. Yes - imagine that in the Church of England. The dioceses as a whole process rejected the Covenant, the General Synod collectively is unable to consider the legislation, and yet dioceses go and join the Covenant? On what legal basis exactly? Some bishops might declare they are 'Windsor compliant' but it will have no more than the force of a slogan, and probably a redundant one.

All this forgets that a body of Covenanters might want to retain real relationships with Western Churches that do not sign up to the Covenant. It assumes African Churches will sign up, but signing up that would limit the freedom of movement to compete. To assume, as the ACI does, that the Covenant now represents the opportunity to do reverse mission into the West is in fact not the assumption of the Covenant, nor those that have signed it, but the GAFCON competitors. The Covenant would only be the basis of the reverse mission if there was a complete and final break into two Anglicanisms where one part, Covenanting on a revised basis, did not recognise the other part, the non-Covenanting.

This is so far down the road and not likely to be the outcome. The Covenant has been weakened, not strengthened, by the rejection of the Church of England. It has been weakened because Churches signed up to it already and would have done on the basis that a number of Western Churches including the English would have signed up too. There might still be such a conserving group of Covenanters, but they are not minded to be competitive - the rules of geographical monopoly still apply for them.

The ACI is allowing its hatred of the policies of The Episcopal Church and much of Canada to cloud its insight as to the purposes of altering the Covenant by its insiders. There is likely to be a competitive group of reverse mission, that of GAFCON and its forms, but we have yet to see how it will organise itself in terms of entryism regarding other Churches and what the targeted Churches will then do in response.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Analysis of the Anglican Futures

There are some post vote analyses appearing among the victorious and the defeated (in terms of the outcome) and I might jump into the debates ad hoc. But here I get my own clear canvas for a summary argument.

In terms of the Anglican Communion, the balkanisation that was taking place will now obviously continue. There will be those Anglicans who do use the Covenant, which will be like a declaration to each other of being relatively conservative. There will be those Anglicans of the Jerusalem Declaration (who may and may not also Covenant - see below why probably not) who are producing a strongly doctrinal Protestant version of Anglicanism. Then there will be those leaving open a more flexible future outside any Covenant.

Whatever happens, Anglicans of the confessional and doctrinal type are going to be competitive. I can't see the Covenant as a process being sufficient for them, but then they have additional statements. The real issue for them is how they try on international oversight via their own Primates' Council and attempt to compete using fellowship structures. Churches 'taken on' by them will have to force the GAFCON/ FCA into independence, possibly then forming an Anglican Church of Northern Europe (or similar title) to parallel ACNA (or have one ACN).

The fact is that if an Anglican congregation decides to ignore the diocesan bishop and seek fellowship structures and international oversight instead, the congregation will lose its church building and the parish restored. Those seeking other oversight will have to leave and be self-sufficient, and this is the means by which 'entryism' if practised becomes separation. There aren't the property issues as in North America but there are issues of dioceses and structures.

The Church of England will have competition within from outside as one faction but it will also have those who dream of Covenanting. These hopefuls (of reintroducing legislation) will include diocesan bishops who can behave as if they are Covenanting. They might even declare themselves 'Windsor Compliant bishops', but some would do so knowing they didn't carry their own dioceses with them. But dioceses cannot join the Covenant, and it was invasive of Rowan Williams to suggest that some American bishops could escape their own province. Only by being competitive, can they: canon law is by Church, not Communion or Covenant. One could only see such an outcome of 'Windsor Compliants' popping up within the Church of England if the Conservative Evangelicals were invasive in terms of competition and nothing much was being done about them.

So Conservative Evangelicals cannot improve their position by getting ballast from other Anglicans if they wish to continue inside the Church of England. If 'international Anglicanism' is their pathway forward, then it means separation and testing their own strength.

And this is why they'd probably not want to sign a process Covenant that would impede their freedom of competitive movement.

Other and main Covenanting Churches will presumably not approve of the breaking of geographical monopolies, even against non-Covenanters. They might object to the boundary crossing/ new Church too (for northern Europe), and might seek to use the Covenant to prevent competition. But doctrinal and confessing Anglicanism is all about freedom of competitive manouvres. Why also sign a preventative Covenant if the Jerusalem Declaration is sufficient? If some do, then they may find themselves in the Covenant but then exercising autonomy as if they were not - their competition being declared incompatible with the Covenant!

There doesn't seem to be any direct effect on the Instruments of Communion as a result of the voting in the Church of England, in that the Archbishop of Canterbury can still do the gathering and organising type roles. He surely cannot be involved in dispute resolution, however, and the English provinces won't provide personnel into them directly for such resolution. It will still be represented in the Anglican Consultative Council. The real question though will be the obvious absence of authority of an Archbishop doing these things when coming from one of the non-Covenanting Churches, so it would seem more credible for someone else to be selected for these tasks. But the Anglican Communion formally is more than the Covenanting of some, and so matters like inviting to the Lambeth Conference etc. can carry on.

One can imagine a James Jones type Archbishop letting the Covenanters getting on with it via their own personnel as well as supporting those diocesan bishops facing competitive ill-discipline. This would involve a return to more broad conversations among the non-Covenanters and beyond. The one lasting legacy of Rowan Williams in terms of broad Anglicanism would be the 'Indabas' that don't make decisions.

If this all seems something of an incredible mess, then of course the whole Covenant policy should never have been launched in the first place. You cannot maintain a Communion and even Churches from schism by hammering nails in at the centre. You rather allow as much flexibility as possible.

This is why it would be better if, as a result of the Church of England vote, the whole Covenant did fail and became redundant. The bureaucrats of course will press on, and may even try and invite others to behave as if Covenanting even when they don't. Please come and discuss potential decision x as one of the Covenanting Churches doesn't like it...

Basically, there isn't a choice of paths ahead for Anglicanism, of A, B or C, but three paths ahead, A and B and C, and this balkanisation will now take effect quite quickly.

Perhaps the Irish will wish that they had not 'subscribed' to the Covenant, whatever 'subscribe' means, and the Scottish, Welsh (seem to be zigzagging), Americans, Canadians, Australians (most), Hong Kong and New Zealanders, Philippines, and some South American, will form the one flexible grouping along with the two provinces of England.

Even without the Covenant, Anglicanism was going in three directions. To that extent the Covenant itself just complicates things, rather than makes any significant structural difference. It is and was a pyramidal Weberian solution to a sacred problem of a religion prone to the shifting schisms of ecclesiastical authority.

Map Update

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Archbishop Responds...

I think it is about the right time to indicate what my position is regarding the Anglican Communion Covenant, now that it will not formally be returning to the Church in England General Synod, in that rather early in the process it has been rejected by sufficient houses within diocesan synods, although I suggest that it is fair to say that on a simpler majoritarian consultation it might have been passed more easily, especially as the remaining dioceses vote upon it in the near future running up to the next General Synod.

Therefore I would consider on reflection that it must be reasonable to consider altering the basis on which, in future, dioceses are to be consulted on matters that are especially for the Communion level. There need to be a number of reforms, I think, starting with the leadership of the bishops that can be actual, effective and weighty in terms of the voting, and a simpler structure of consultation among representatives of those who only attend church or are engaged in localised pastoral situations. This is not a denial of the extent of the Body of Christ; however, if any institution is a theocracy and not a democracy, it must be that of the Church, and the proper balance needs to be in place of leadership according to reading the ordinal.

I said in a previous Synod that the vote in the Church in England could not alter the outcome of the Covenant, and indeed nothing changes regarding my role, and my successor's role, nor indeed of any of the other instruments. As Anglican General Secretary Keiron Kenneth has recently pointed out, seven to eight of Anglican provinces have signed up to the Covenant already.

The Covenant functions as soon as it is adopted, and so we will begin its effective operations very soon. Indeed the Instruments have slowly and rightly become active in recent years. Those provinces that have not adopted the Covenant will still be invited to bring their contentious legislation to the Instruments for processes of internal debate and consideration, and will be asked for patience, simply by means of persuasion and responses by provinces (as was ever the presentation made), and of course whilst there cannot be any relational consequences for those presently not adopting the Covenant this does not prevent opinion being expressed about actions taken (and therefore potentially not taken) by some members of the Anglican Communion if those actions would be incompatible with the Covenant, if they were adopting it.

Also the Instruments of Communion will continue to invite provinces to adopt the Covenant - even those that have not already - and perhaps after some have seen it working they may be persuaded to adopt the responsibility of joining. The Church in England will be asked to engage through hopefully streamlined processes to adopt the Covenant in about three years time, or perhaps soon after those processes are in place that make such an adoption more practical.

I simply cannot see any alternative to the Anglican Communion Covenant if, in the medium to longer term, the process of uniting our bishops in the provinces and making the Communion more of a Church is to proceed. This is the inevitable direction ecumenically and I am pleased that a good number of the provinces are already so well advanced along this pathway.

To emphasise a point: it should be clear that the Church in England and indeed all provinces of the Anglican Communion are properly episcopal, hierarchical Churches, with a recognition needed of the charism of bishops, and that in this day of closer ecumenical relations there needs to be a wider but institutionally embedded recognition of this fact. I urge the Church in England to consider this need with some urgency. But such rationalising changes I must leave to my successor.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Living in Denial

They don't get it, do they? In fact, they learn nothing. The Church of England has just defeated the Covenant. For three years it cannot be returned for discussion never mind find a way to have it. Or can the leadership find 'wriggle room'? But Archbureaucract Kenneth Kearon has responded to the Covenant's failure by listing those provinces that have accepted it. Well good luck to them and their balkanisation of the Anglican Communion, and well done for the dead-hand spirit of the bureaucrat behind the desk.

Of course GAFCON is coming to London next month to stir the pot, and Religious Trotskyites love a crisis to advance their cause. Perhaps a new Archbishop might treat them properly. The defeat of the Covenant is a victory for the broad Church: for liberals, for some evangelicals, some Catholics and many in the middle. Over the last ten years or so the liberals have taken it on the chin over and over again, but the Covenant was a predicament that had to be defeated. If it hadn't been, then the Church of England would have changed markedly in character. A minority of Conservative Evangelicals who want to set up parallel and invasive structures under their own control ought to be told to either live within the given structures or go it alone.

It's Dead!!!


The Covenant is dead!

Now we can break out the drinks and celebrate
after years thinking they'd force it through!

Soon we'll see what back doors they try to open...

(Oh and well done Lincoln and sorry for doubting my old diocese: Lincoln: Bishops: 0 for, 3 against; Clergy: 6 for, 28 against; 3 abstentions; Laity: 2 for, 34 against, 2 abstentions.)

Super Conclusive (?) Six Saturday

Now Saturday is upon us again, and I shall like many be awaiting the news of the dioceses involved in voting on the Anglican Communion Covenant. These are Blackburn, Exeter, Guildford, Lincoln, Oxford and Peterborough.

There are still some dodgy practices taking place from above in terms of one direction of information only (that is: for the Covenant, with no presentation against) but people elected to Synods are well capable of making up their own minds.

We referred to the Anglican Communion Covenant several times in our In Depth Group when I was at Barton. No one thought anything of it in positive terms and I heard clearly that the parish view under development was that the rules of behaviour and belief were sufficiently set down by Anglican formularies plus relationships and there should not be any more. There is even a rumour that the presentation in Lincoln diocese is going to be one-sided. I can hardly believe it - if it is true then the 'powers that be' really must be daft in making it appear that they regard synod members as automatons or just mugs. Those interested have all been talking about this Covenant for a long time and if the presentation is going to be so obviously one-sided then the equally obvious response is that this indicates what a pro-Covenant Church will be like and why it should be disposed of straight into the legislative drainage system.

Let's be clear about this. We weren't anti-Covenant because there was a bishop then (John Saxbee) who'd indicated that he'd talk about it but wouldn't accept it. We were anti-Covenant because we reasoned ourselves that it would prevent the Church of England being responsive to its own situation. It would freeze, and offer itself and Archbishop to be 'in' and regulate the brakes applied by other members of the Anglican Communion in very different situations.

The Covenant has sufficient text for others to wave it about and demand the freezing of initiatives until slow discussion processes have been worn through, with only then some centralised verdict produced about what is and isn't compatible with the Covenant. This itself interferes with Synod decision-making processes. If the links are there with other Anglican Churches, then the views of others will percolate through to such decision making processes within the Churches. For example, now, with links to New Zealand and Hong Kong - how are they to be isolated as outside the Covenant if the Church of England is inside it? Rather, the argument has been: drop the Covenant and then all get a chance to be in on the many ways discussions take place.

And as for GAFCON responding by taking on the Church of England, then do a Neil Kinnock regarding them. If they are out to overturn the Church, then deal with them appropriately.

Look, I'm a liberal and really outside the boundaries of the Church of England. I can make my argument as a sympathiser, but I am now in a liberal Church. If you are outside the boundaries then better to be honest and clear. If I wanted advantage, I'd say have the Covenant and the liberals can become Unitarians (we'd have ordinariates of Anglican practice for free liberals!) but instead I retain the view that I held.

And with any luck two dioceses will vote no to the Covenant and this Saturday will see it dead for the Church of England and crippled internationally. Good luck voters: enjoy voting!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Reverse Missionary (but just pop down the road)

Given that Rachel's blog has closed, I thought I'll look at the programme Reverse Missionaries on BBC 2. I hadn't seen the first one, but have just watched this one through.

The factory worker into medical missionary David Livingstone came from his and his father's adopted Congregationalism in Blantyre and (to some degree) worked with the local cultures in Africa to spread Christianity and hoped to destroy slavery. In reverse, in our time, Pastor John Chilimtsidya left his Blantyre of Malawi with a population of 728,285 for the original in Scotland in South Lanarkshire (population 17,505) on both a pilgrimage to his spiritual founder and an attempt to spread the word in a secular, tough, urban landscape.

As with so many churches now, the young have vanished from the Congregationalist church known as the Asda church in Blantyre. In contrast, at home, he is fully part of the general social situation of all ages that gravitates around Christianity and the Church.

What he found here was a sedate church that he felt needed to engage with the entertainment of the young and go to where they were. He found someone to assist him, not from the local Congregationalist church but one of the charismatic churches.

And that, to me, was the giveaway. Whilst the local Deacons and Minister struggled to agree to let Pastor John hold a service in a skatepark - and it wasn't exactly well attended - everything he was doing, recultured to South Lanarkshire, Scotland and Britain, was already well available in the unstated nearest charismatic church.

My PhD tutor was a specialist of Malawi and made many visits. He said how they simply could not understand that he was an atheist, as if there was something mentally wrong with him. Here the cultural shift was indeed in reverse. It's not that the people he encountered were intellectually atheist (if they were intellectually anything): it's that their lives simply ignored what would go on in the Asda church, or any other. Some had residual belief, but even the comment that church services were boring was based on a distant, and dying itself, cultural memory. One woman who had a faith and lost it for faith reasons - an unfortunate death - was helped towards recovering it and she turned up at the skate park. Some of them then followed on as the deacons wanted, into the grounds of the church. The point is that people's basic assumptions today do not involve the supernatural and rather we are pragmatic and practical - technology is human made and makes things possible.

Without sustained persistence, Pastor John's efforts will not have a result. But it is simply irrelevant anyway because the choice already exists.

Every Sunday I travel to the Unitarian church in Hull. It has a very small congregation, but its average age has tumbled down as a few younger people have joined and older ones have died. It is a close run thing how the church keeps going, but it does. And every Sunday I pass a Pentecostal church that, at that time, is opening its doors. It now provides feed material to satellite television. It intends to open a second church near, would you believe, Asda, in the north of the city. I reckon that two will be about the limit too. I'll be suprised if the second church fills up. Including all the denominations I doubt Hull has more than 4% of people in regular churchgoing. This is tougher territory than Glasgow because at least Glasgow has a sectarian faultline to maintain some interest in religion.

The fact is that the Pentecostal church appeals to a kind of spiritual entertainment. Bishop Carlton Pearson might have imported the charismatic style into Unitarian Universalism, but that's a fluke of his own journey into universalism. There are now African Unitarians, coming from other denominations because they seek autonomy. They are also charismatic, but they are quite conservative and Christian in a non-trinitarian way. For many churches, including mine, such a style is simply not possible. What is possible, however, as Pastor John said, is to use music, and I do that it breaking beyond a desire for most to stick to a Classic FM style. There are lots of spiritually meaningful secular and other songs in pop and rock music history to loosen things up.

As for Pentecostalism, if you notice: it is largely middle class and of a certain age. It is good for networking and good for partnering up (making romantic relationships). Its folk are quite individualist and market orientated. It also has a good turnover of members, in that as many people come in there is also a good number going out. In fact, there is a circuit of churches in the charismatic and evangelical style that have people transferring between them, a merry-go-round of new people that were somewhere else before. The car and church car park is an important element in this. Presumably older folks go elsewhere later.

Pentecostalism isn't everyone's taste. It is very informal, but not much use for the broad religious seeker. Some younger people seek something quite different. Others on the circuit might settle elsewhere with a bit more sophistication. In general, evangelicalism might attract some believers but liberalism also keeps those who go deeper into the questions.

And that travelling is what we find too, as dedicated liberals. Our latest two new and youngest people are already veterans of elsewhere. One was in Reformed Judaism, well down the road of investigating, but a little too conservative, and one was in the Anglicans. Very few are brand new seekers.

So what do we do? Well we, Unitarians, build on our Unique Selling Point, which is the individualism of the seeker and the interfaith basis of the resources available for the seeking. It is a place for questions. Secondly, we emphasise more music and art - image and symbol - and break out of some past habits or limitations. This Sunday a service taker will talk about the Baha'i Faith, something of a speciality of mine. I've no idea if he knows about the existence of Unitarian Baha'is (now and within Baha'i history itself - what they called the followers of Muhammad Ali, the Covenant Breaker brother of Abdul Baha). So I will listen with interest. When I attended a Bahai wedding they sang John Lennon's Oh My Love, so that will feature, and so will some actual Baha'i music. Once again, it makes us more flexible. And this is by me, a critic of much that has developed in the official Baha'i Faith (it is not owned by the Universal House of Justice!).

Pastor John would have saved himself much effort and anguish by going to the Pentecostalists, but he would have found them as much a part of the contemporary religious landscape as the Unitarians. The rest had better get more ecumenical and rationalise their plant and machinery.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Yet Another Blog Dies

She might not think so, but I still miss viewing Reverend Lesley Crawley's blog. It was effectively shut down not long after her marriage and move of husband to a new locality and full incumbent ministry, where Lesley was to be in priestly assistance. The reason for the closedown was her obvious preference for local ministry, and her blog with its larger issue controversies was undermining this. She hasn't bothered much to use it to add her sermons, even. She was very much an open-ended liberal, even a religious humanist-Christian by how she justified (or didn't) a number of beliefs. The problem is that locals read a blog and then form a loop or two of suspicion and questioning. At least Lesley carried on co-ordinating the anti-Covenant coalition.

Rachel isn't such a liberal. In fact she has resisted any such movement. When she returned from India and doing lots of Diocese of Derby indaba with them and Americans, Deacon Rachel Marszalek was going to make her blog a private access matter (me included) but then changed her mind. Given that she was evangelical, with an ongoing encounter with some contemporary theology, I never thought that her blog would be a problem. But after settling into her curacy she suddenly received feedback through the channels by people reading her blog and not understanding it. So she thought she would make it private, then preferred openness. Now, with further events, she will close it down altogether, leaving it 'paired down' as a resource.

Well that's a shame. Rachel is the only virtual person I've since met in reality, visited on the way back from ministry background information (Unitarians) in Manchester. I diverted via Belper. Our chat then included Lesley's blog and all around it, and there was no controversy around her own. I liked chatting with Rachel because there was an openness and honesty and lack of coding around her speech, though this has since diminished (as you'd expect given these developments).

Rachel has had no recent direct contact with me, and so I am no more aware of what is happening than her own public output. Her background is conservative evangelism and pentecostal type worship, but moving across to more space in the Church of England where evangelicals accepted women leaders. She was rapidly accepted for ordination training. But anyone reading her blog will have noticed that she did Indaba in the United States and came back somewhat enlarged in mind, like eyes had been opened. She continued bringing forward some theology as encountered at theological college. She went to India and came back with some interfaith intentions as well as concerns. However, there has also been a change out of keeping with some of these impressions from the United States Episcopalians in New York and the (ecumenical) Church of North India at Mumbai. First of all there was an appreciation of the whole Church of England and what it offers, but since the Indian visit there has been a moving back to the emotional attachment of charismatic even conservative evangelical forms. She suddenly wants the Church of England to be more thoroughly evangelical. I find this in contrast with some of the (even conserving) postliberal type theology she was using, and in fact for some weeks I have been a little puzzled as to what is going on. Her own family apparently have criticised her attachment to the broader Church of England.

She writes:

I have been hearing for a few weeks that I might be finishing here. Today is the day - I returned to safe territory and was reminded about the importance of prayer and evangelism - the ground is shifting. I am going to start over and might relaunch something different at some point. This site will still float around in cyber-space as a resource, I suppose, or even as a testimony to a few years of my life.

If this is explained to me privately, and can go no futher, then the puzzle involved in its half-explanation cannot then be transmitted. But I'm not expecting or seeking information (ultimately it's none of my business) and all I've said so far here is what has been in the public space. It's not obvious to me what is involved, but it can be considerable with a tied house and a chap who is a house-husband. Perhaps another curacy involves a fresh start, or there is even a fresher start and all will be revealed (or not). I've even thought, humm, that new profile picture on Facebook is the one where she removed the white clerical collar bit before she actually became clerical (worn on a fashion show).

Anyway, what this shows is that blogs do seem to be dangerous even beyond the pools of Anglican liberality. Peter Ould also moved out of paid ministry, from a very conservative position and his blog continues. Incidentally I have had local [Unitarian] feedback (from one person and others beyond) that doesn't like my dives into controversy or the parallel universe, especially where I use the name John Sendmehome. You might notice that I have carried on - yes, I did reduce the Radio Chadderbox entries but they were going that way anyway, and have been revived as I please. Of course I am not in a paid position of expected behaviours and performances and the feedback loops aren't as critical. I'm not in the business either of training people to understand this blog. Take it or leave it: if you don't like it, don't read it. You're entitled to your opinion and that's it. I never have commented on ratings (and Lesley's blog was forever going on about female bloggers and ratings, including Rachel's). Other people who use this blog for their controversies might get their comments removed, but I'll defend what I do if all is within the bounds of reasonable comment.

So blogs are dangerous. Well, those that are not marketing add-ons. Some websites are publicity and so are some blogs. They have limited use - on line noticeboards.

I have thought about reducing and closing this blog, especially when it has diverted energies or stopped other events. But several controversies are coming to fruition at the moment and then matters may quieten again. So this is open ended commentary. Some of these entries will be slightly altered and become actual website pages. My website is my resource, and it is actively awake in a few places (e.g. lists of hymns for service takers) and otherwise makes itself available according to what is there. Once the Covenant business is through there will be some new webpages, charting its (surely now) rejection. I've a few new Unitarian pages to add too. So this blog is likely to evolve, quieten a bit, but should carry on. I'm noting however just how controversial they are when people are in a job that is supposed to be about personal growth and honesty. Expressing this seems to be a problem inside institutional religion.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Future Watching

If you watch a long match of snooker on television (or watch bits of it; it's all that interests me!) consisting of many games, you know some actual undeniable aspects. Every game won advances the score by two different from what otherwise would have been, because no one can draw a game. Winning includes not losing and losing involves not winning. Someone must always be at least one game in front after an equal score of games. As the match progresses towards its end, to be one or two games from the winning line introduces a random element. In other words, the slightest error, even a 'kick' can let a player in, and if good can stay on the table, win the game and take the match.

In the votes over the dioceses for the Covenant, there is a similar process with a difference between positive approval or not: whilst there can be a draw, a draw is not an approval. Either the Covenant is approved, or it is not, and this therefore makes it like snooker where a diocese vote is like a game: and the need to approve is why it takes 23 to pass and 22 to fail.

Furthermore, the vote to approve is not across a whole synod, but within each house of each synod, rather as if there are absolute required sets to a game. Lose or draw a set and you lose the whole game, regardless.

A simple majority of games to a match is all that is needed, but it is quite tough to achieve. Lose a set and the game is lost, and each game lost contributes to the 22. This is why the measure to ordain women bishops has done so well, and carried large-scale consent. The Covenant is now 2 'games' from defeat, and it takes just a few votes the wrong way (for proponents) in a 'set' within a 'game', with so many games still to play, for the Covenant to fail. I can't see Lincoln approving it anyway, and the chances of an accident among the others with opinion so divided is not low. Dioceses that might reject it still might pass it, and dioceses that might pass it may well reject it and thus cause the whole thing to fail. The Covenant could be dead next weekend, or soon after. It would be remarkable if it went on to win every 'set' and every 'game' to get to 23 to approve.

But will it be dead? I suspect that the powers that be will try to resurrect something like it, and it might go like this.

First of all, even with the core Church (of England) approval, there would have been Churches having said no to the Covenant. I think what they will do is regard such Churches as non-Covenanting Anglican Communion. When such a Church decides something controversial, a Church might still approach the instruments of Communion; the non-Covenanting Church will still be invited to centralised discussion and process and there will still be an opinion expressed from the centre. There will be no relational aspect, but still moral pressure, however Covenanting Churches can still find themselves ejected out to the others, and there will still therefore be a 'Communion opinion' in terms of what the centre thinks.

The obvious alternative to this is to scrap section 4, but a number of Churches have signed up because section 4 is included. This more patchwork approach will be a recognition that some Churches will identify themselves closer with others, and some others won't.

The honest thing would be to scrap the Covenant, but then why scrap it if the Church of England says no, but not scrap it if New Zealand or Hong Kong says no? Also, as seen with the women bishops process in the Church of England, the leadership will push its agenda with the smallest room to do so. The bishops will still try to find wriggle room when the dioceses said no to significant alteration to retain traditionalists.

Nothing will prevent a willing Archbishop of Canterbury from managing the Covenant, or, rather, managing the wider invitations to present cases for change to the centre. He won't have his Church behind him, but he will still have an international role. A clever Archbishop might allow the Covenanted Churches to operate their way, and introduce other ways for 'indabas' regarding Churches to explain themselves. These indabas will be Rowan Williams's one lasting legacy, probably.

Churches outside the Covenant might indeed still provide explanations to the centre, or via other means, but it would be expected that GAFCON type Churches would be the most ignoring of the centre and become competitive. Indeed, not passing the Covenant might make the GAFCON Churches take on the Church of England with GAFCON's international oversight, membership of the FCA, have approved colleges, congregations and bishops in dioceses. A different Archbishop ought to take them on as competitors. If they want a test of strength, let's see how they do when resources are refused to such undermining competition. Conservative Evangelicals ought to discover that they are quite a minority in a widespread parish based Church, even if they have some large suburban congregations. The present Archbishop tried to keep things together, but by the wrong policies and Churchship, whereas another one may have to start dealing with division. This is what the Americans have done: when priests started walking off with the buildings, the answer was they were free to walk off and with anyone else but not to take the resources. It will be a lot tougher for entryists to take Church of England resources - if they want parallel systems they will have to pay for them, and out of live money. Let them be honest and set up an Anglican Church of Northern Europe, an ACNE to go with ACNA, if they are so determined to be evangelically pure and force their policies.

Rowan Williams tried to include a far too wide span of types of Anglican Churches via a purple Catholic vision that they could be one Church. It was not possible. The next Archbishop will have the reality that his Church is a non-Covenant Church and that he is dealing with a co-operative patchwork and potential competition.

In other words, the next Archbishop over the Church of England is going to have to manage the Church from threats of deliberate competition as well as deal with the Churches that would like to Covenant and those who would not but nevertheless can at least talk.

Alternatively the Covenant, having failed at the core, will just crumble and be lost, and that way there will be Churches talking and agreeing and disagreeing, and those that are competitive.

The dividing point will be - as at home - among the evangelicals. It was before and it will be again. Do they maintain themselves in the broader talkative Anglican Communion that stretches into liberal views too, or do they separate off and finally become competitive to produce a new strongly doctrinal form of Anglicanism via their own Continuing Church.

Monday, 19 March 2012

In the USA

My Episcopal Cafe piece on the resignation of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury from December has been published.

Nicky Okoh's Letter to the Communion

Hello. I'm Nicky Okoh from down in Pokey Pokoh, Nigeria, lover of a good cup of cocoa.

And I want to react to the resignation of the big guy at Canterbury. The one who's a bit grey and with plenty of grey matter. You know.

Did God choose him to be Archbishop, like he chose me to be Archbishop? I don't know about him, the other man, but I do know God, and I do know that I can enforce every word I select from the Bible as true.

And I know that before he was appointed (the grey man, not God), Anglicanism was one happy family. Children from the American Church would play in the garden with children from all Africa; sheep would gambol in sunshine through the same field whether from Africa or Europe.

But then, after 2002, contrary messages came to the Great Dear Leader, Akinolo, at whose knees I sat, as he was saying:

Same sex marriage apart from being ungodly is also unscriptural, unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy, uncultured, up-African and un-Nigerian. It is a peversion, a deviation and an aberration that is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this country. It is also capable of extincting mankind and as such should never be allowed to take root in Nigeria.

We wanted to lock people up as a warning not to take on any of this: 5 years for marriage partners, 3 years for witnesses and options for large groups. But we were frustrated because the big man said don't oppress them. Not only that but said he wanted us to be in a Covenant with him. Why would we Covenant with him when we could not oppress them?

Some of us flew with the idea, "Kill the gays, kill the gays," but we said no to the pilot: choose Rowan Tree instead. But he ended up crucifying us.

No no. We can't walk together unless we agree with each other. Indeed we send the boys north walking as a tribe because it isn't just those northern Muslims who have a monopoly on the violence you know. Yet the big man wanted us to walk together to try to agree with each other, and he was looking to see how he could see things our way. We are a Church and he has a Church so we should in theory agree. So we walked instead with a small group of Western Conservative Evangelicals in Jerusalem who know how to organise things, while the grey man gathered purple people for lots of aimless chatting about disagreements. And we also stayed away from Dublin, but then lots of people stay away from Dublin.

Okay, says me, Okoh: it's not all his fault. He could have resigned when we went to Jerusalem, but at least as he was staying on then he could have stayed in post now to clear up the mess on our terms. After all, in 2007 it looked like he would do it on our terms but we weren't so hoodwinked were we when the Western Conservative Evangelics said please help us challenge the nature of Anglicanism in America and Europe by organising in parallel. We produced the Jerusalem Statement and Rowan Tree said how much he agreed with it, but we know we can only walk with those we agree with.

So no he should not be resigning. There is nothing to cheer about now. Children no longer play with each other and the lambs are rained upon in the fields, divided into different flocks.

But, well, we suppose there might be another Archbishop in December. He needs to agree with us, not like that revisionist in Liverpool. Please don't pick him as he might ignore us and let us go our own way so that his lot can be creative and open to change. But no we won't be ignored: if they are Anglican we will take oversight and organise in parallel and in control.

I suppose I ought to wish Rowan Tree and family a happy time in a more suitable job than the one he's occupied, whereas of course the Great Dear Leader did not err in picking me as his successor. At least in Nigeria we know what authority means and how the threat of imprisonment or even death persuades anyone to repent.

Nicky Okoh, Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate from Pokey Pokoh, of All Nigeria, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), The World.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Map of Voting on Covenant

Click on the map to see a better view. Feel free to right click and Save As.

Next up:


London: Thursday 29 March
Manchester: 31st March
Southwell and Nottingham: Thursday 12 April
Chichester: 21st April
Newcastle: 28 April
York: 28 April

Saturday, 17 March 2012

It's Not All Fun

A serious piece has been submitted by me about the resignation of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury to Episcopal Cafe. I haven't written for them since returning as Unitarian but I thought this moment might be one for a higher submission, so to speak. It goes into more analysis than I have seen so far. I'll link to it if posted, and if it is not then I'll put it here anyway. Jim Naughton is reading it.

Radio Chadderbox: Rowan Tree Resigns

Peter Levite: Right, a special Chadderbox religion round table with the announced resignation of Archbishop Rowan Tree as Archbishop of All England. He is with us, and you've been applying for jobs apparantly.

Rowan Tree: Yes, Magdalene. Pay my wages from January.

Peter Levite: What you are full of self-pity and this is why you are resigning?

Rowan Tree: What?

Peter Levite: Maudlin.

Rowan Tree: Mag-dal-en is pronounced Maudlin. Anyway.

Peter Levite: Before I come to others, a clergyperson said you have been the most disastrous Archbishop since Cudden Careyless, your predecessor, who was the worst ever. Yet Morgan the Archbishop in Wales said you have been the greatest since Anselm. How do you answer the charge of being so appalling?

Rowan Tree: I think the jury will be out for some considerable time.

Peter Levite: So what is your greatest achievement then?

Rowan Tree: Probably my book on Arius.

Peter Levite: What you've written a book on why you are so hairy?

Rowan Tree: Arius? No?

Peter Levite: Who's 'Us'? I'm not hairy. I get a shave in the morning.

Rowan Tree: Perhaps he was the world's leading heretic.

Peter Levite: So Us was like a hairy itchy thing, make you itch, a little bug. So if you itch a lot, got a hairy tick, why don't you cut it all off?

Rowan Tree: What? No, a theologian. Humm, I might just, in the new job. Become incognito.

Peter Levite: On a quiz show called Pointless recently, one hundred people had one hundred seconds to identify people and only 7 in a hundred knew that you were the Archbishop. That was after nine years in the job. Is that the impact you have had?

Rowan Tree: Obviously the impact of a theologian. Most people live by a secular narrative combined with an unworked-out religious narrative of some kind and this is the challenge.

Peter Levite: But you're not a theologian, John Sendmehome. Are you anything - yes or no? I tell you what you are though - you're the bookies favourite to succeed Rowan Tree here.

Lesley Tilgate (was Bloke): Crumbs I hope not.

John Sendmehome: A small man went into a butcher's shop and the butcher said I bet you £10 you cannot touch that meat hanging from the rail. The man said no bet, the steaks are too high.

Peter Levite: So Archbishop of the North. It's a big act to follow, your man from down south. some people say you are nothing more than an inequality publicist, if that isn't a mouthful.

John Sendmehome: Why do people who run the football pools have cheque books four feet wide?

Peter Levite: Obviously we are going to get a lot of sense from you. Let me introduce Bishop Monarch. You were made a bishop of some far our forgotten place and then a chap was put above you of a distinctly different point of view, Bishop Texas Holdem. I bet you have to Covenant with him! In fact my researchers told me that the fact you have to Covenant with someone who teaches contrary to your Church doctrine and standards (or something like that) is why some ugly vicar in Essex would have changed his mind and voted against your precious Covenant.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): Doesn't even get the support of some evangelicals.

Rowan Tree: It is my precious Covenant, though I am grateful for any support it receives these days. I'm praying hard for people to agree with me.

Graham Monarch: Yes, to your question: I work creatively with the bishop above me and it is an example of covenantal conversation; I would say, though, that as someone full of models of Communion, that the job of Archbishop would suit my kind of outlook. I never stop going on about it.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): I've got a set of marbles to play with. But then I enjoy eating grapes. So which is better? In the Anglican Communion, there's only one way to find out...

Rowan Tree: Indeed I would not recommend anything other than plenty of discussion.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): I fantasised about you once and wrote all about it, but then the need for local ministry took over and not embarrassing my husband or me and so I stopped all my revelations.

Rowan Tree: I cannot say that I have returned the dream-like favour; I don't know you from Eve.

Graham Monarch: I worry that without Rowan the Communion boat could get on to some choppy waters. That, by the way, gives me an idea for a new model of looking at the Anglican Communion. And such modelling means planning.

Rowan Tree: I once knew a Rowan the Boat in Wales, though he became up the creek without a paddle when he was renamed Rowan the Unemployed. I was just ever Rowan Tree in those days. I enjoyed my time as Rowanov Treetri, when the Russians thought I was something.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): So, Bishop Monarch, we had a bag of marbles and grapes, but before that, well, what was that glacier coming down the mountain that no one could stop? Did it melt, Bishop Monarch? Got a bit warm, did it, coming down the mountain as it sings?

Graham Monarch: If you people in the No Anglican Communion Covenant Coven think there are no relational consequences for your jobs and futures given the damage you have done, think again.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): I'm just an assistant priest, but an International Co-ordinator of the group.

Graham Monarch: Quite.

Peter Levite: So John Sendmehome, you were Bishop of Steptoe, before your elevation, and getting on a bit now, and then we have other runners and riders. There's Bishop Charterhouse, and he's even older than you; but then Bishop Bores of Bratford, who's a lot younger, and maybe that chap who's a bishop of lots of Hindus and Muslims; but not you Bishop Monarch.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): You'll have to keep playing with your toys. I've brought some marbles like I said.

Peter Levite: But, Lesley Tilgate, is it, do you think your side will win and stop the Covenant, or do you think the Archbishop here will get a sympathy vote in his dying days as Archbishop?

Rowan Tree: I wouldn't say it hadn't crossed my mind a little when I was praying.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): I surely don't know. We are trying to get our publicity to the members of the synods so it isn't all one way, to overcome the Father knows best dependency syndrome, but what's for sure is - sympathy or otherwise - this Covenant vehicle is the Archbishop's own, and he won't be around to drive it, so why should we be sure that his interpretation of it is going to be the one the people who have it at their disposal will use?

Rowan Tree: You are I would say obviously listening too much to my style of delivery. Either that or in your dreams.

Peter Levite: Would it be right to say then that you, Archbishop of England, have managed to hold off the formal division of your Communion before you go, and you are leaving just as much of a mess to your successor? By the way, listeners, do text in any of your comments.

Rowan Tree: I would have hoped and still do to have left the Covenant for others to as it were kick around...

Graham Monarch: Kick around? How can you say that Archbishop?

Rowan Tree: With the figure-of-speech narrative voice of someone who is somewhat demobilisation expectant and in such freedom beckoning I might be able to offer a little suggestion as to how we can have both female bishops and, for some, purely male bishops.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): Not possible. Wordplay between derivation and delegation might convince a few Anglo-Catholics but makes no difference for evangelicals and their 'no women in charge'.

Graham Monarch: You know, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition is nothing but a front for clapped out liberals in the Church in England. When this Archbishop beside us has resigned, your cover will be over. Here is a man from the theological left who understood the nature of stability and sacrificed his own views as well as asking the sacrifice of others.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): You did the sacrificing of others Archbishop, didn't you? That is the legacy. Always calling on the same people to put themselves on the outside. Why did you roll over your intelligence and take on board in Advent 2007 the arguments of the worst of the evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics?

Graham Monarch: Disgraceful. Not him, you.

Rowan Tree: Because this is how the Church is constituted and the proposed Covenant was a process of dealing with what is in negotiation until change in the character of the worldwide institution had so happened that there might be a change in the outcome. This is what I call patience. You failed to believe sufficiently in patience and thus no one was actually sacrificed, not finally.

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): Except this generation, and the next, and...

Graham Monarch: Disgraceful. Civil War? Do you want Civil War Reverend Tilgate? Are you really one of us, like in the way your learned professor is hardly one of us is he? Did he not dismiss the Bible as his guiding document in his recent television series?

Lesley Tilgate (Bloke): We have Sarah Coal as well, and she's a theologian: she wrote about the Trinity as prayer. One of the ways you can see the Trinity, if you want to.

Rowan Tree: I always sought to produce a theology and ecclesiology that was consistent with tradition, belief and the structure of the Anglican Communion, and particularly its collegiality of bishops. This is what I tried to do.

Peter Levite: Final question, Archbishop. Did you tell Pope Benny that you were resigning?

Rowan Tree: He said, either do it like me, and die in the job, or do something else. So I did what he said. He could see that I was in the process of failing to deliver him the Anglican Communion as something he'd understand as coherent, and so I decided to do something different for my remaining working years. I mean, I didn't fancy signing on.

Peter Levite: Where are you George Hudson?

George Hudson: York station, 'touching base' you might say. It's very sunny here while you have that Sendmehome with you.

John Sendmehome: You can send me home to York. But I might be moving, you never know. You in York: how can you finish with a small fortune betting on who'll be the next Archbishop?

George Hudson: No idea, never bother with religion. Don't care who they choose.

John Sendmehome: Start with a big fortune. Anyway, talking about the sun, weatherman, I've got my next column to write in the super soaraway sunny Stunner.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Compare and Contrast Marriage Assertions

There are two Anglican arguments presented for and against the extension of marriage to gay couples. Just contrast them. One against the extension is by evangelical Andrew Goddard. One for the extension is by the Anglo-Catholic Jeffrey John and reproduced from a Times interview with Ruth Gledhill at Thinking Anglicans.

Andrew Goddard's article is about trends and changes. Marriage has become more personal and part of a choice of options, including co-habiting with children reared outside and inside. Civil Partnerships have created parents-in-law, uncles and aunts so have added to changes.

Quite how this supports the institution of marriage I do not know. It seems to be an argument about the decline of marriage and its reduced relevance. His argument for seems to be to recognise male and female as complimentary.

Recognition of differences as well as similarities is vital – we would not wish all motor vehicles to be identified as "cars" or all colours to be classed as "blue".

Yes but marriage is a vehicle and offers some colour to life.

Compare the rather weak argument so offered with that of Jeffrey John. For him, manogamy is the key and marriage is becoming the shorthand name for both heterosexual and homosexual partnerings and calling it the same gives equal respect across both. Then he is straight in regarding the partnering as a sacrament, the covenant of love between Christ and his Church and a channel of the love of God. Nothing here about trends and changes. Plenty about the follow-on about social stability, including from gay people themselves, but principally it is theological:

"God saw that it was not good for man to be alone."

He refers to the Bible, holding no concept of sexual orientation, and Paul seeing gay activity as heterosexuals working out their excess of lust. And Jeffrey John comes to this view as an Anglo-Catholic, not as a liberal. In terms of the Church and its reputation, its sidelining of gay partnerships is a disaster, distancing the Church.

One wonders why Rowan Williams can't produce such an argument, instead of kowtowing to evangelical selectivity that there is no pro-gay stance in the Bible and some Mind of the Communion way back in 1998, that was never one mind at all (and indeed he didn't share it).

My own take on all this is that your sexual relationship should be one of your religious relationships, and that involves making a commitment of openness to the other. I made a commitment (unfortunately she walked off or never returned) and that was also a public statement and it was one to one. I wrote the service and went to the bother of having it in the Unitarian church to emphasise its holism regarding all else in my life including as a social statement. However, I personally have no view against people who have multiple partners so long as they are all affirming and non-exploitative. In reality, many do have one form or another of polyandrous relationship. There are married people with loving friendships elsewhere, and people who express themselves sexually among more than one person, sometimes at the same time and sometimes with more than one. Relationships are very complex. What undermines them is having more than one partner when the other expects you to be devoted to one only, and not hiding the truth. There is nothing as dishonest as the family tree, which must be a very cleaned up public record.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Rowan Tree on Vatican Radio One

Vatican Radio One! Broadcasting from the one Church to about no one except those lonely priests' residencies around the world where there is no off button.

Vatican Radio One: Mister Rowan Tree, it's a sort of welcome once again. You're back in Rome almost as if you could have a second home here. You talk so often to Pope Benny that there's no official record of your chat. Go on, give us a shuffty.

RT: Mind you own business.

VRO: Well thank's Mr Tree and we'll see you next time.

RT: Well, alright then. We said how little influence we have on the Middle East and we got annoyed together helplessly. The Holy Father then said what sort of thing I ought to be saying to the General Synod in the autumn when I next speak. I'll send my speech to him in advance. And he told me where he agreed or not with my speech in Geneva when I said something of my own views that human rights are limited to our stance on Christian theology.

VRO: The Pope expresses the position you seem to agree with, Mr. Tree.

RT: The Holy Father and I were very excited that human rights must only be in the image of God and none of this modern philosophical stuff since the Enlightenment. This way we can bypass uncomfortable minorities and focus on the primacy of the Church and other plural religious communities in the discourse.

VRO: What about ecumenism, as you come from an ecclesiastical community rather than a Church, Mr. Tree?

RT: We are the ecumenical relations and they are at a very low point. I am trying to improve things back at home. So there was no point making them worse in saying any more. Basically I need to report back on several items, some of which you might want to discuss here.

VRO: You've been to vespers with the Pope. Can you sing bass? Did you sing together ecumenically if imperfectly?

RT: The service at San Tropez involved unusually few levels of liturgical dress among the congregants, I noticed, and I suppose the importance is the pilgrimage many Britons make there and from where Saint Gregory and Augustine, not the rhinoceros one, came from when they came to sort the Church out in England and for where the first Anglican Covenant emerged at the Synod of Whitby. So we have that shared past.

VRO: After which you nicked our property, like the cathedrals and so on.

RT: I said to the Holy Father a few years ago that the prize of ecumenism is great. It's like a big family that squabbled in the past to the point of divorce. Now we want the divorced couple - you would say annulled - to get back into bed together, for a wee bit of jolly close companionship. We don't do the full wotsit but vespers is like a bit of afterplay I think, the letting it all down gently after the I'm afraid non-existent between us central ritualistic orgasm that we can only imagine.

VRO: And you want to use the model of the Curmudgeonly Community based there at San Tropez as an example of a road map to ecumenism.

RT: Well, I tried to stretch my imagination to see if there was any link at all between a bunch of monks in the resort and the whole issue of ecumenism and mission on a more sort of Anglican incompleteness basis. And eventually a light went on in my head that, being focussed on the job, with the full orgasmic ritual, that they have no tribal loyalties, even if they do. That says something to me about ecumenism, even if it says nothing of the sort to anyone else. And furthermore it says something about mission, because San Tropez is a very attractive place among the laity at least. I've been asked to make a theological investigation by the Holy Father and report back in public, and I want to grovel my thank you as much as possible because I am not worthy to sweep the floor near his feet. In fact, I could be doing this next time. So in the I think important cause ahead of me I am going to do some presentation at Monte Casino, like a few chips placed down at 17 to 10 about whether I can get the Anglican Covenant through the dioceses. Trouble is, on this model, I need the casino to distort the wheel, to stick a few magnets underneath it and so on. I know that in the narrative of these things they used to first film the wheel and then do the betting, but that is a virtual theology that's even too postmodern for me I would gamble. The Covenant too leads on to ecumenism and mission and why therefore I need to get the outcome I need.

VRO: Is the solitary life of the gambler similar to the solitary life of an Archbishop?

RT: Not when you have the roulette wheel, so to speak, and can put your magnets underneath, measure the patterns of the numbers, and make better predictions of the outcomes. But, no, it is not about being the one and alone, but needing other mugs, I mean the pundits; and then theologically the other gamblers enrich the winner in the betting of. Remember that to be initiated is to enter into an organisation with both rules and officials, and I am Chief Official with my hand on the wheel, so to speak. I throw the ball too. Even those of a different institutional language who say 'I am the only gambler in town' needs the other, and those who don't think they are the only gambler in town needs the other rather more obviously. It is how you get a certain fullness from an incompleteness.

VRO: So talking about mugs, do tell us about the Anglican Covenant.

RT: I'm praying hard that people agree with me. I'm going buzz buzz fuzz fuzz into the ether and saying, 'Look God I'm not some spam but an Archbishop with my prayers. If there is one intercession you should respond to it is mine.' Otherwise, what's the point? Surely he's not listening to the No Anglican Covenant bunch of misrepresenters and interferers?

VRO: But the Synods are 5 to go against and you've lost your fortune.

RT: You're obviously not a gambler with a mind to God. Well, how to put it. Humm. Ecclesiastical decisions are often deeply sinful, like drawing up a Covenant, but it is amazing how this becomes God on our side and close up I can just about justify this without absolute unclarity. I've no idea why others cannot see this as clearly and simply as I perceive the issue, and go on to assume a level of sophistication and bad intention among my kind and others close as we make our deeply sinful decisions. If only we were like the Mennonites and then we could glue ourselves to the walls and ceilings. What a gift that would be to the Church, as they are not a proper Church of course. It's like when Cardinal Cock says what can we learn from Luther, that bad bad man. Keep it in his underpants. Well, God can say to the real Church, 'Now look at this aspect they do because you've forgotten that haven't you?' (when I have eaten quite a bit of cheese).

VRO: But through the Synods God might be saying something like, 'You are going down the wrong road.'

RT: I am frustrated so I don't want to get angry again and again. Bishop Monarch has likened it to chucking marbles rather than grapes.

VRO: What's that about?

RT: Search me luv. Look, it is the middle of a process and won't be over until the fat Archbishop sings.

VRO: Not John Sendme something.

RT: No. Me! Not that comedian. Did you see what he wrote in The Stunner? Deeply sinful article and publication but he said to me God will bring something out of it as he does in his province. No, people have all the right fears but don't necessarily place them in the right object. The Covenant is the sweetest document you ever did see, beautifully written with lashings of love for everyone. It is not a Charter of Inquisitions, which only comes with later interpretations by the more devious minded. No, it is about the fact that until now we have never been able to talk to each other and discern, and suddenly this document will make it all possible. We will soon know where to locate conversation - "Stop talking there in the pews!" - and make decisions at the very highest level, where I am as Chief Official. We can't always wait for Lambeth when lots of bishops visit and I make the rather less arguably unfeeble point that the Primates can't discuss these things even though they have asked me to do so and would make time for the purpose. So I would like to see a structure of relational consequences set up at the centre with a Standing Committee, and therefore in no way is this to decide things, make any decisions or do anything other than invite into the conversation to then make those consequences effective. Why people can't see this, as I say, baffles me.

VRO: You are gambling that you will get the Covenant through.

RT: I'm in charge of the casino, luv.

VRO: Those people you call bishops; will women be among them?

RT: Well, at the last Synod there was such good feeling on all sides that the clear decision of dioceses not to refer the thing to the bishops means I will refer things to the bishops just to tweak something not insignificantly in a less absolutist way so that we can end up looking in two ways at the same time. We don't want to lose the what some people see as our most obnoxious right wing misogynists to your Communion or Church is it; well, I'd like to keep them because they provide cover for my bureaucratic plans regarding the Covenant and the like. So with no triumphalism except mine we can surely find some creative way to sort it out, say by derivation and delegation, rather like I can see a connection between monks and then ecumenism and mission. 'Take one last look at this and just see if there's some final adjustments that can be made,' could be a song you know. I can think of a few crooners who'd take that on and the sort of music. Yes, could be part of vespers. So I am not cautiously pessimistic about the optimism some have about a transformation in ministry that I would want to resist.

VRO: Just finish about Her Maj.

RT: Well recently she said that the Church of England exists to give the space to other faiths to exist and feel as if they have come home. So that means there won't be mission to them, but ecumenism is still important within a former Christendom country such as ours, as seen in San Tropez, another former Christendom area. She isn't just a monarch, but is a missionary of the country, the whole country, and so members of faiths - some, not all, and no humanists (those we can still target) - showed us their valuables and so the Church is a pretty good religious museum in this sense with me as Chief Curator. But I am getting angry with Anglicans, I'd admit: frustrated certainly.

VRO: Thanks Mr. Tree; and next up it's marriage, for all you girls and boys together!

Transcript: Vatican Radio

This is a word for word (put into sentences) transcript of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams speaking on Vatican Radio.

Vatican Radio: Archbishop Rowan Williams, you're back in Rome again less that six months after your last meeting with Pope Benedict. What can you tell us about your meeting of conversation this morning? We've had no official record of it so it would be good to hear what you talked about.

Rowan Williams: Very much a private conversation. Just touching base. We talked a little bit about the situation in the Middle East and the Churches' response to that and I think our shared sense of deep anxiety and frustration and uncertainty about what the future holds there; we talked a little bit about the Synod and what sort of thing I ought to be looking at when I come to speak at the Synod in the autumn; and a little bit also about the lecture I gave in Geneva recently on human rights and the need to reconnect Christian theology with human rights. So, as always, a very engaged conversation.

VR: Your words there must have struck a deep chord I imagine with the Pope on human rights.

RW: Well I think, yes, we got talking quite animatedly about the theological foundations of human rights and the need to ground it in a robust view of the image of God in human beings - not just in the sense of individual entitlements and clearly we are feeling very much of one mind on that need to get the theological grounding back into the discourse.

VR: Any talk about the current state of ecumenical relations?

RW: No I think we were the current state of ecumenical relations for that period! So, no, we didn't talk about that.

VR: You're here to celebrate vespers with Pope Benedict in the Church of San Gregorio al Celio, following very much in the tradition of your two immediate predecessors; so it is not in any way an historic event this but how important is it do you think to stress this real but imperfect communion between the two Churches?

RW: I think the fact that three successive archbishops will have been to San Gregorio is an acknowledgement of the historical fact that the Mission to England began here, and it is good to come and touch the soil on which you are nurtured in that sense: to honour the memory of St. Gregory and Augustine of Canterbury. And by that going back to common roots - a common history, a shared past, I think to affirm a communion that is still somewhere within us in the present as well - because we look back to that common past. Even the most Protestant of English Christians acknowledges that the roots of the mission lie here. So we are saying yes we have a common ancestry, yes that common ancesty gives us something now that is a real family relationship, and yes of course we work for that relationship to be full and sacramental and visible again in God's own time.

VR: The main purpose of this visit is to celebrate the millennium of the Camaldoli Community based there at San Gregorio; and you are focussing very much in these three days aren't you on the monastic values as a kind of road map for what many sadly see as a rather dead end path of ecumenical progress at the moment.

RW: The importance of monasticism both for ecumenism and mission, and that also is a focus this weekend, is I think that the monastic community just is a community assembled around the word of God. This is a community of people with no natural affinities or tribal loyalites. They are just drawn together as a community to say the psalms together, who identify themselves together with the prayer of Christ. Now that in itself says something about the deepest roots of ecumenism; it also says something about mission: it says that the community that lives like that attracts, that radiates something. And on Monday at Monte Casino I'll be speaking more specifically about the mission dimension of the monastic life - not that all monks ought to go out and be missionaries but that, as Bede says in his history, the beginnings of Christianity in England had a lot to do with the fact that of the apostolic life being lived by Augustine and his companions, drawing people in by the povery and the simplicity and the hospitality that was exercised.

VR: You also talk about it in terms of balancing the solitary life of the monk with the community dimension, and drawing on this model you also stress that therefore no Christian community on its own in solitude can possess in isolation the entire truth of the Gospel. That's a message that might not go down so easily here in Rome I'm thinking.

RW: Well it's one of those messages which I think comes home to you at the level of sheer spiritual and theological insight even if the institutional language is different. And a lot of Roman Catholics I know would say well of course we need something to enrich us from other Christian communions; we may believe we have institutionally and formally a certain fullness but there is also an incompleteness in the life as lived day by day which other Christians can help us in the living of. And for those of us who don't have the same commitment, that's even more obviously the sense that we can't cope without each other, and the fullness of the vision of Christ is every baptised person's image of Christ, vision of Christ and reflection of Christ.

VR: It's interesting that youre talking about all the baptised because you're urging us to really rethink ecumenical goals in the light of this monastic living around the world of God, but it brings us back to the question of authority without the ordained ministry of priests and bishops it's much easier to see this idea of reconciliation that we are searching for.

RW: Except of course that baptism is not just the baptism of an individual into an individual relationship with God through Christ; baptism is coming into a community which is structured, which has to wrestle with structures of authority. So I am not trying to bypass the need to tackle these things, as of course the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission has always done. Just that occasionally we can become so fixated on getting those problems solved that we forget the gift of baptism and the gift of one another in baptism that we are are all in some very very significant sense in Christ before we begin talking to each other.

VR: You're also looking back, if you like, at the divisions of the past, and suggesting that perhaps they even had a positive effect in allowing the different communities to develop different ways of doctrine or worshipping: it is a sort of radical rethinking of what were often very political decisions weren't they at the time.

RW: They were deeply political decisions and often deeply sinful decisions on all sides and what strikes me about it all is that the province of God uses these extremely flawed decision making processes and amazingly brings spiritual fruit out of them. The example I think I quoted and which is perhaps the most dramatic is the witness of the Anabaptist Churches in the sixteenth century whose theology would be very much at odds with that of most Catholic Christians and yet the witness of those Churches to peace, to the priority of living out a community life of reconciliation as in the Mennonite Churches of the present day - this has been such a gift to the whole Church of God that, whatever the origins of such a division, God has used that somehow to bring something into focus that might otherwise have been fuzzy or obscure and as it were pushed it back towards the Church and said, 'Now look at this because you've forgotten that haven't you?' And I think some of what some people have been saying how we will celebrate in 2017, the anniverary of the beginnings of Luther's Reformation - some of what Cardinal Koch has been saying about that, for example - surely that's saying the same thing we celebrate the fact that the Word of God has come into focus again.

VR: There'll be a couple of more chances to exchange ecumenical gifts here in Rome later this year, won't there? We've got the Westminster Abbey Choir coming over here and you're returning to address the Synod of Bishops in the autumn. Can you give us any insights into what you'll be doing? I know you've been talking quite closely to Archbishop Fizzicella's Council for Evangelisation, haven't you?

RW: That's right. I've had very helpful conversation there. And speaking about that this morning with the Holy Father it is very clear I think that I am being invited to give some theological reflection on the nature of mission, the nature of evangelisation and extremely honoured to be invited to do this and hope it's a sign that we can work together on evangelisation in Europe. It's disastrous if any one Church tries to go it alone here and assume that it and it alone has the key: there is no one key to the issue of evangelisation in the former Christendom countries and we need as many resources as we can and we need and as deep resources as we can find.

VR: Going back home and looking at the situation in the Church of England; the most recent Synod: the discussions on the Anglican Covenant, which of course has such significance for your ecumenical partners. It seems to be a real difficulty at the moment with many dioceses saying they won't support it. You've staked a lot on this haven't you. What are your feelings about this right now?

RW: Well first of all I think we're still in the middle of a process that won't be over until shortly before General Synod so I don't want to second guess where we get to on this. I do think that some of the fears people have expressed about the Covenant are fears of the right thing but attached to the wrong object, because I really don't think that the Covenant is a kind of Charter for Inquisitions and, if you read it carefully, I think it is crystal clear that the Covenant is about a process by which we can talk to one another and discern together. And at the moment we haven't got such a vehicle. So when big decisions, big controversies, arise, we don't know where to locate the proper discussion. We can't always wait for the next Lambeth Conference, which may be years and years ahead; we can't load everything on to the Primates' Meeting; we need some structures in which there can be a real testing of spirits. And I think that's what the Covenant is about and my main feeling, I suppose, is a passion to get that across and a certain frustration that it is still being represented as a bid for authoritarian centralised power, which it emphatically isn't.

VR: But you are hoping the next few months will bring some changes in that.

RW: Well, I am praying hard.

VR: The other question that was discussed of course at the recent Synod: the question of women bishops. And that continues to cause deep divisions doesn't it within the Church of England. Final approval of this question I understand could come in July. What are your expectations here?

RW: The discussion at Synod was in I think many ways quite an impressive one. There was a manifest desire to make something work for everybody. There wasn't any triumphalism around. There wasn't on one side a desire to subvert the whole thing, nor on the other side just a desire to grind the opponents' faces in the dust, but a real sense that we have got to try to make this thing work for as many people in the Church of England as possible. Hence I think the cautious but definite remit to the bishops: 'Take one last look at this and just see if there's some final adjustments that can be made,' and we're working as I speak; we're working very hard on that. The bishops will be looking at it in the months ahead and I'm actually still cautiously optimistic that we may find some structure that will hold here. And, as I have been saying endlessly to people in recent weeks: there is a huge will to make it work; there are great funds of goodwill at every level of the Church of England. Nobody wants to see a loss of a vital significant element in the more conservative parts of our Church and, actually, very few people want to frustrate the process of moving towards the final approval of the legislation. So if that's where most people are there ought to be a way of expressing it.

VR: Finally you're going to be leading celebrations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in June. This is likely to be a momentous occasion but how important is the religious dimension of this celebration and her role as a religious leader for people not just in the UK but beyond throughout the Commonwealth?

RW: The Queen has been more and more explicit in recent years about her own Christian commitment, and of course recently when she visited Lambeth Palace she spoke in a way that clearly rang a lot of bells for a lot of people about how she saw the role of the Church of England as in a sense almost reflecting of something she's tried to do which is to provide a large room in which people of faith can meet with confidence, to be hospitable to other perspectives and other commitments without sacrificing your own. I think that's very much what she's done and I think her role in the Commonwealth has always had that dimension to it. And it does seem to be significant that the first big public event of this Jubilee year was an event involving the religious communities, as if she was very happy to state her priorities about I'd say her ministry - not just her status and standing as monarch but her ministry - as somebody who sees it as a real calling from God to make that space for religious communities, to encourage the Church of which she is Supreme Governor to work in that way; and the feeling on that occasion was very much of different communities feeling welcomed, feeling at home.

VR: Thank you very much indeed.