Wednesday 28 November 2007

The Gathering Storm

Here we go with the latest swerve towards the Anglican motorway pile up.

Thinking Anglicans provides a connection between Conservative Evangelical Chris Sugden's latest piece of pre-organising the to-be-split Anglican Communion and a response by Open Evangelical Graham Kings. It's sad really because yet again it is the Open Evangelical response that does not seem to get it straight, despite the fact that in saying this I have more sympathy with them than I ever could have with such as Chris Sugden.

His piece in coupling the poor and some view of sexuality is nothing but exploitation and opportunism. The two are unconnected. I attend a church that gave money to a project for a few of the poor abroad. They sent photographs back of real, concrete assistance to the poor and practical life improvement that has taken place as a result. The church does not tend to express agreement with Chris Sugden's viewpoint, nor is his viewpoint or the church's view on sexuality relevant to the poor at all. In any case, such a viewpoint on sexual propriety is cultural - Africans can change their stance just as easily as Europeans and North Americans have. A bogus argument from top to bottom.

But let's look at what is the Open Evangelical response to the later half-nonsense from Chris Sugden in the same speech, about the Archbishop forfeiting the right to gather the Anglican Communion at Lambeth 2008 because he won't support or impose "orthodox" international intervention in The Episcopal Church and, presumably, now, into Canada.

For Chris Sugden, about half of bishops won't turn up at Lambeth 2008. Presumably they won't go nowhere, and they might meet somewhere else nearby, or perhaps far away, or before or after, to organise themselves. Rightly Graham Kings says, "We'll see." Chris Sugden is somewhat overplaying his hand.

Now a little while ago on Wednesday 21 November 2007 I said the situation regarding Bishop Don Harvey (illustrated) upping sticks from Canada from where he had retired and going down to the Southern Cone, to then become full time and work against the Church in Canada to organise the "orthodox" there at last made all the difference. Here was a situation about which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had to make a decision, partly because he had told Archbishop for Canada, Fred Hiltz, that Canada was approaching the same sex issue properly (unlike the Americans, who apparently should have worked out the theology first and then elected a gay bishop and had same sex blessings second - as if the electors and deciders are devoid of theologies) but also because (though I did not state it), that an invitation to Lambeth 2008 would have to be withdrawn, admission into which is in the gift of the "gatherer" of the Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury. If he was firmly sat on the fence, watching events rather than guiding them, then now he'd have to either exclude Don Harvey or change policy - he excludes Martyn Minns and others. Even in the USA recently, where apparently they do things wrongly, he described interventionist bishops like Martyn Minns as "illicit" (a good Catholic word). He'd have to withdraw an invitation to be consistent. However, Rowan Williams did not have to act and withdraw an intervention because the formerly retired bishop would not, being retired, get an invitation anyway. As a full timer he would get one, but no effort is required in not sending one to another "illicit" bishop even though he is full time.

This is what Graham Kings says:
The irony of this is that the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, Greg Venables, has been at pains to point out that he consulted with the Archbishop of Canterbury in September concerning the current events. At least he continues, it seems, to treat the Archbishop of Canterbury as one ‘who gathers the Communion’.
Well this cannot be so, can it? Rowan Williams cannot legitimise an intervention expressly opposed by an Anglican Church with its own bishops in situ, to have some outsider gather Anglicans against their geographical leadership. If he does, he is flying in the face of a Church he'd said was doing it properly, whilst excluding an illicit bishop intervening in a space of a Church which was not doing it properly (where an argument for intervention would be better made!)! Or, suddenly, Rowan Williams can chuck over the cliff all he has said about dioceses and bishops, including (as qualified) to the Bishop of Florida.

Either that or it really is a case of the bishops have their diocese and then it is straight past any national Churches to a curia or Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury as a fallible Pope. It really is a new Anglican Church, not a Communion. But he did say that national Churches produce a unity of canon law - indeed, which excludes interventionist "illicit" bishops.

So Harvey, the new full time bishop, cannot be invited to Lambeth, and therefore no matter how much Gregory Venables has consulted the Archbishop, he is not "gathering" him or any of the others!

Graham Kings, by accepting Chris Sugden's view of "gathering", and to then say the Archbishop of Canterbury is in on it, via consulation, simply is not so in terms of "gathering". Indeed it continues that there remains no international intervention that is allowed within the Anglican Communion against another national Church.

Why not just be a bit more up-front and tell Chris Sugden to get on with it. Not so long back careful watchers noticed a case of cold feet in some quarters when Sugden and Minns were doing their schismatic planning via Archbishop Akinola of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican communion). They really do have to plan their own meeting, communion and the rest. Just get on with it, and let's indeed see if it is anything like a 50% absentee rate next summer.

Tuesday 27 November 2007


The latest scandal for the Labour Party (adding to that of the Labour government) is this business of £600,000 paid by David Abrahams via three or four others ("Is there a fourth man?" is like a reminder of a traitors' spy-ring exposed - there is, too, a woman), so that he can stay anonymous. It is illegal; criminal law is involved. On Monday we were told that only the Chair of the Labour Party knew about it: the now resigned Peter Watt. Then on Tuesday we hear other donations to Labour leadership election campaigning also came from this man via others, which had Gordon Brown's team rejecting one for his no competition leadership campaign because the donor was unknown (though we are to suppose he didn't bother to find out who's offering such lovely lolly...), Hillary Benn rejecting a donation (deputy leadership candidate) because he spotted a proxy, and Harriet Harman accepted a donation for her deputy leadership campaign (one of many candidates) from Janet Kidd, unknown to her to be a proxy, "in good faith". Incidentally, how do you accept a donation in 'bad faith'? So Gordon Brown didn't know, and had judgment, rejecting the dosh, Hillary Benn knew, and had judgment, and then took the dosh direct from Abrahams, but Harriet Harman didn't?

The Chair Peter Watt said only he knew that the donation was via proxies, which is against the law that the Labour government passed in 2000. Was this ignorance for deniability then? Isn't the boss - aren't the bosses - supposed to know? Why is the National Executive Committee and the Great Leader in a complete fog? Mind, this was Monday's explanation, and now we at least have gossip and concern about dodgy donations according to Tuesday (today).

How to smell a rat: if someone who is in an ordinary job employed by a Labour Party supporter and probably having to pay off a hefty mortgage donates a meagre £200,000, do ask where such a generous donation comes from!

Nick Robinson, the Political Bilko of the BBC, puts it more starkly:
Labour MPs in the north east tell me that one call to any of them would have been rigorous enough to stop this happening. Asked, "have you heard of Ray Ruddick?" they would have replied, "never heard of him - why, who is he?".

Had the reply been anything like, "he's given us over £100k in the past few weeks and he lives on your patch - he says his address is Blakelaw..." the response would have been hysterical laughter. Blakelaw is, one angry Labour MP suggested to me, a well-known estate on which, "the only way anyone there would have that sort of money is if they were very lucky or they were drug dealers".
Well they still carry on government! They introduce this idea of skills to help longer term unemployed (come on, don't give it to local Jobcentre mini-bureaucrats to do), which is a good idea so long as the system does not descend into a return of noddy schemes of training. I remember the driving test approach of taking an NVQ IT test over and over again until your memory told you what to do in order to pass. They were rubbish, all to massage the unemployment figures. Job Clubs were a useful discipline, but cost them too much in staff, postage and travel expenses. At one time the Conservatives realised that with a bit more money from Incapacity Benefit to survive on and dole figures going through the roof they'd better put older people on to that. If this government takes them off Incapacity Benefit and puts them into training, to keep them busy, they'd better be sure it's worth the money. It won't be if there is a cyclical downturn - and the American dollar is plunging as that economy of borrowed money comes to the end of its cycle of debt. We all notice the rise in food prices never mind soaring petrol bills, and all this is cost not demand inflation that must mean more unemployment.

So there is the business of governing; but while the wagon is rolling along the wheels are coming off. The business of governing is going to get hard enough, with unpopularity to come, but they can't even get the basics of honesty with straight dealing and managing themselves right.

It is coming to the point where the impact of the Blair-Brown years is reaping its tarnished harvest - croneyism to business men and the fashionable, not telling the truth, spinning everything (announcing positive moneyed policies several times as if new each time) and "I believe" being a substitute for finding out. When this happens and keeps happening, the body-politic needs refreshing with someone else, and a new approach.

For a start, not only Blair should have gone but so should have Brown. Better still, an election would refresh the system. I bet he's pleased he did not call that election! With all this cock-up and scandal, he'd have been out of the Number Ten door just about as soon as he went in.

Saturday 24 November 2007

Lucy Winkett

A very good speech by Lucy Winkett given at the very recent Drenched In Grace conference organised by InclusiveChurch This is just a section:
And what are the sounds we offer to the world in our liturgy? It's really important, because apart from meeting the vicar in the pub, perhaps this is where most people in society encounter the Church of England, other than its pronouncements in the media of course: at funerals, at some weddings and baptisms, on TV.

Our current predicament in the UK with our own internal and shrill conversations reminded me of the story reported in the press last week of two men in Mexico who are the last known speakers of an indigenous language: they've fallen out with each other and are not speaking. So the very language they're speak is under threat. That tragic story can be translated into a situation where the disconnection between Church and society in twenty first century Britain is clear.

You will know of the ordinand who was told by his bishop that before the next time he saw him he wanted him to go into a betting shop and place a bet.
The ordinand was outraged; "What possible good could that do?" He would refuse. Anyway it might even be immoral.
The bishop insisted: "Go into a betting shop and place a bet."
Three months later the ordinand returned.
"Well, how did it go?"
"It was horrible. I couldn't find the betting shop at first - then I did see one on the high street. I walked up and down outside, and I really didn't want to go in. Eventually I plucked up courage and I did go inside: there were a load of men watching the race on TV, I didn't know what I was supposd to do, but I went up to the counter - in the end I was too scared to ask anyone. I placed the bet and watched the race; I couldn't wait to get out; my heart was pounding."
"Never forget," said the bishop, "that's how most people feel about going into church."

Liturgically and theologically, with the disconnect between Church and society in England: the fact that hymns are not known by which previous generations learned the theology of redemption and salvation; generations of young people and adults are not educated in the faith (as we heard this morning) - much less aware of what might actually happen within a church building. The spiritual gifts of awe and wonder, worship of something greater than ourselves, are being lost to a generation that is resolutely credulous and whose spiritual instincts are directed not so much towards God within any religion as towards a fantasy world of Dark Materials and Hogwarts Academy. It's not that society is becoming increasingly secular. The secularisation theory is being challenged by sociologists. The world is as furiously religious as ever and the paradox of the increase in fundamentalism in all religions in late modernity is a conundrum that Church leaders are struggling to understand.
She sees the Church as having tinnitus, that blocks its spiritual music - she speaks as a sufferer. She says it is caused by too much noise, like gunfire or too often in night clubs. Guess where she was. Not so - it can also be caused by allergy, which could be so in my case (could be headphones too).

She goes on to refer to the Church saying the same ancient liturgical prayers now as when a whale that came up the River Thames was killed enthusiastically by the public, yet 1000 years on when those same prayers are said the public cried as the whale in the Thames was helped and eventually died. Thus the London intercessions will have changed. We have changed the times we are in and we understand liturgy according to the context we know.

The Church, she later says, is doing displacement activity about itself in its disputes whilst there is a raunch culture of commodified sex and ongoing violence that is not (easily) addressed by the Church as commentator. Compassion, forgiveness and anger is right when justice is to be found on the other side of anger. As for the internal dispute, you can build relationships with others across a Communion with those with whom you profoundly disagree, but you must recognise the fundamental equality of the other.

This of course is what is lacking at present.

Here is a good joke from earlier in the talk, relevant to all of the above (of course):
On a lighter note I am reminded too here, while we're on the subject of vestries, of the distinction with which I am sure you are all familiar and for which I am indebted to my friend Mark Oakley, that you can always tell which denomination's vestry you're in by what is hanging on the wall. In a Roman Catholic vestry you'll see a picture of Jesus's sacred heart; in a Methodist vestry you'll see a picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and in an Anglican vestry what you'll invariably find on the wall is a full length mirror.
As an update (Tuesday 17 November) I consider I might have been too enthused by her speech. No harm in that. But I did listen to where she also said that Lazarus was in the tomb one day longer than Jesus, and that he is the only man in the history of the world to die twice. And I reacted on hearing that, "Oh come on! You don't believe that!" Well, she might do. If she does, then it shows how daft religion can get. If she doesn't, and she was engaging in myth-speak, then it is the problem of this era that such talk is misleading. Lazarus is a story by the early Church to show resurrection miracle power being engaged ahead of the big one. No one has ever died twice, and come to think of it a body dead for hours, never mind days, is not resuscitated. No, not then or later: not by anyone, not to others, not to themselves, not by a connected and outside agency, not in the supernatural. Let's get sensible.


I don't have a normal means of payment necessary to buy books on the Internet, but Elena in Reading can and she did agree to make an effort to purchase John P. Plummer's (2005), The Many Paths of the Sacramental Movement: A National Study of its Liturgy, Doctrine and Leadership, Independent Catholic Heritage Series, Berkeley, California: Apocryphile Press. For some reason they would not accept her purchase and send it to my address, and approaching the distributor simply produced the answer, "Amazon handle all payments."

I have an occasional correspondence with Bishop John Kersey of The Liberal Rite, and it was he who looked over my article on Independent and Free Liberal Catholicism. Here then was revealed one of the characteristics of the Independent Sacramental Movement - many of them know each other. He contacted the author, Bishop John Plummer (illustrated), who contacted his publisher at Apocryphile, Bishop John Mabry, who decided to send me his copy, which he did through the post, and most generously said I may keep it. I was thus given a practical example of gift and grace, highlighted in the other book I am intensely reading at present, Douglas Davies's (1999), Theology and Anthropology, Oxford: Berg, which discusses religion as about embodiment rather than rational ideas, and thus covers ritual, gift and exchange and sets these within the dynamic of liturgy and understanding religion on a more holistic and active level.

John Plummer can be seen talking through some of the issues of the Independent Sacramental movement. He takes a practical and realistic line and understands the flexibility its parts offer to try something different that may be taken up by the larger churches later.

His book is about the United States principally, and yet does cover historical background elsewhere in terms of the main strands of movements. The book avoids the biases of the written historical sources so far, where Anglican and Roman Catholic prejudices did come into play, as well as actual concerns that the movement has largely been able to answer via documentation (such as whether key individuals were actually consecrated).

Already I have added to my summary of Ulric Vernon Herford within the main article I have on the movement. He is clearly one of my heroes. He stands in the tradition of Martineau, and in Oxford, and developed this approach in a more explicitly liturgical and Catholic manner, and perhaps (says John Plummer) was mistaken about the theology of the Assyrian Church. Nevertheless he was consecrated, and from Ulrich Vernon Herford comes a vital connection with the Indian based Church for those seeking apostolic succession, and an attempted unity of East and West.

Many in the Independent Sacramental Movement do stress apostolic succession. There is though the more ideological and what the Church stands for connection. Thus, whilst there are some quite dogmatic and orthodox (in all senses of the word) Churches that derive from this Oxford saintly cleric, the Church connection is surely that of the liberal-liturgical, his own route to the Liberal Catholic (specifically via Unitarian Christianity rather than Theosophy), and with an important ministry to animals (especially in Oxford) and social conscience. There is an ideological connection then to Harold Percival Nicholson and his London ministry particularly concerning people and their animals, though he is from the Arnold Harris Mathew aposotolic line. Ulric Vernon Herford ordained W. E. Orchard of the Free Catholics, and they were also part of a liberal sacramental experiment, but which is remembered and returns in those movements that look back to them ideologically.

I attend an Anglican church, and this is where I form my spiritual practice. But in describing my own building blocks of experience recently, I mentioned one aid of meditation and emptying provided by staring at the Buddha, for example. So I suppose I am rather independent myself. I have never rejected the importance of contact with the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (it has its own apostolic succession equivalence argument regarding Sangharakshita with other Buddhist groups), and it is part of my personal matrix. To some extent, especially when watching institutions like the Church of England go through structural agonies, anyone who cares to think for themselves is going to be somewhat independent these days.

Thursday 22 November 2007

Move Over Darling

As can be seen with my earlier blogs, I never did think too much of Gordon Brown. In his part of the Blair years, he privatised and he cut jobs of people in the state sector doing important jobs. He was largely in control of domestic government, via a grip on the purse strings, and through his constant noes to Blair.

Now he has surrounded himself with comparative minnows in government, including this increasingly hapless Alistair Darling. We know that Northern Rock collapsing is not his fault, though a decision to throw vast sums of money at an increasingly worthless body is his decision along with others. They did not do this to Midlands car makers, even in a General Election and running around making noises about giving all the marginal assistance that the usual fringe economic agencies can. Nor did Alistair Darling lose the CDs by bunging them in the post - ah, don't worry, it'll get there. Ah yeah, that's the Royal Mail we are talking about, or is it TNT (and shall they expose the 23 year old individual who popped them in the envelope?)... No, but Gordon Brown merged two big government departments: one that wasn't broke and did not need fixing, and has tried to get them to do more while losing a high proportion of workers. There's the Home Secretary who presides over not knowing what levels of immigration are happening, and then the health service still isn't right - Norfolk finally filled up its beds and so people are being treated in ambulances. A bit like the prisons then - they're full.

It's that sense of nothing working. Meanwhile, Vince Cable as acting Liberal Democrat leader has been on a blinder. Well, he used to help run Shell. He has a way of mildly asking questions that are like a sharp knife, with a manner of enquiry, pointing out and exposing. Twice the primary school budget in a year sunk into Northern Rock, or all those Millennium Domes - clever images. I happen to think both candidates for the Liberal Democrat leadership have potential talent: Nick Clegg is the obvious thoughtful politico, who could do the vision thing and organise a party, and Chris Huhne is another person of business organising experience. Though I wanted Chris Huhne to win last time I slightly favour Nick Clegg now. However good Vince Cable has shown himself, he does not have to do the "future thing" and all the party organising, and put strategy into his questions. It's just that, on the narrow matters of events, Vince Cable is setting a high standard against no expectations (unlike David Cameron, who is having to perform against increasingly high expectations and that demand to be seen to represent more people as they get fed up with the government - something that the next Liberal Democrat leader will have to do too).

When I think, "Move over Darling," I don't mean the Chancellor, who'll obviously won't last the distance of the last one. I mean the lot of them headed by Crisis Man Gordon Brown - wearing his underpants in the manner of that other superhero, John Major. That's right, he didn't want an election. I bet he is at least pleased about that decision, as he occupies the throne of Number Ten for no obvious reason.

Tuesday 20 November 2007

High Methodists

In the local church I attend what is called the Bishop's Course. It is an adult education style course in the Diocese of Lincoln, that can be taken to whatever level the students (if that is what we are) want. The second year of this has started with looking at different denominations, about which I have some experience.

The most recent session was about the Methodists, and used some rather limited and dubious material from A Lion Handbook (1990), The History of Christianity, 453-456. I have to say I regard Lion material as somewhat biased to say the least, and the facilitator of this group rather had the same view. I would not touch Lion material about different religions, for example. At best Lion material is shoddy - actually, it shares many of the slapdash summaries that are found in school Religious Education books, where a sweeping statement will do at this level.

Our facilitator criticised the Lion source for saying Methodism was evangelical. As far as he was concerned, and following on from the position of a Methodist acquaintance, it was in origins a High Church movement. So our facilitator brought in some extra material of Charles Wesley hymns. His argument was as follows. If Charles Wesley taught theology through hymns, then these verses (from three different hymns) taught a high view of the sacrament:

We need not now go up to heaven,
To bring the long sought saviour down;
Though art to all already given,
Thou dost ev,n now thy banquet crown;
To every faithful soul appear,
And show thy real presence here!

Come, Holy Ghost, thine influence shed,
And realise the sign;
Thy life infuse into the bread,
Thy power into the wine.

Effectual let the tokens prove,
And made, by heavenly art,
Fit channels to convey thy love
To every faithful heart.

His presence makes the feast;
And now our spirits feel
The glory not to be expressed,
The joy unspeakable.

He bids us drink and eat
Imperishable food;
He gives his flesh to be our meat,
And bids us drink his blood.

That last verse is a bit heavy, and whilst I don't think these are transubstantiation, the point that they are not memorialist is well made. The argument is made in that, at the time, Church of England practice for the eucharist was occasional and rather lazy. In that the Methodists had disciplined, regular eucharists, then the argument that it was a High Church movement is well put.

Yet later on I wasn't happy about this assessment. The reason is this. Just as Methodism was too early to be part of a general evangelical revival, so it was too early to be regarded as a High Church movement. Not only this, but High Church involves a whole range of supporting ritualistic acts.

That Methodism became, in general, fairly memorialist, shows that it was not a High Church movement in origins, but that it was simply more self-disciplined across the board. It was later touched by the High Church movement in similar ways to other non-conformists. They then found the Wesleys to be sacramentalist, but it is to make the mistake of applying a later outlook on to an earlier movement.

Methodism was a rounded corrective movement to the Church of England, and it was for the Church of England. It set out to improve preaching, oversight and, indeed, spiritual practices such as the communion. Theologically the argument is made in roughly affirming what we now might now call transignification, with a bit of imagery added on top, but not as High Church.

In the High Church movement the supporting ritualistic acts helped maintain stronger views of the eucharist.

Excepting George Whitfield, the Wesleys presented a slightly altered Arminian based eventual universalist movement, where the attenders where in on their salvation, but must not backslide, and the outside others were unsaved, but could be brought in. The attenders had delivered to them a rounded, activist Christianity.

Wesley took the path of necessity and, as a priest, consecrated Thomas Coke to be an American bishop. Later the movement was effectively ejected out of the Church of England, and became another urban largely middle class denomination, with working class outreach and some pockets of respectable working class life (with a presence in primary industry areas). The denomination in England and Wales is one with missing bishops rather than having any principle against them as a third layer (like Presbyterians do).

Methodism locally is something of a failing institution, as it is elsewhere. The going rate is something like 2050 when, other things not changing, it begins to collapse in on itself (along with some other denominations). The reason now for Methodism is pretty much over - it is just a style of operating. The hard nosed fact of structural ecumenism is that it happens due to decline, and the Church of England might generously consider how to include Methodism's methods within a bigger tent, in taking it back. That is if the Church of England does not tear up its own tent in the meantime, offering several versions of itself that would (actually more easily) absorb the tendencies also dividing on similar lines (liberal, evangelical, some weakened traditionalist) in contemporary Methodism.

Monday 19 November 2007

Martineau and Me

The ongoing correspondence with Steve Griffin at Fulcrum shows a difficulty of getting across the idea that when someone is important for thought it does not necessarily imply agreement.

He wrote:
Thanks for giving some background on Martineau. Your last paragraph was complex, but let me see if I get your basic idea: you're advocating a group that takes this or that set of rites as the basis of a community that is defined, at some point at least, by a certain code of behaviour, but that is in principle prepared to stand that code on its head because the relevant signs may not mean anything. Since you affirm Martineau's idea that the Bible is one instance of a wider divine incarnation, and that the meaning of the liturgy is individual, I have to ask whether you take language seriously enough as a gift from God, as something that we have to be stewards of in the same way that we look after the world around us.
He is asking whether, given a shared view with Martineau that there is a universal incarnation, do I treat language as incarnated like everything else (presumably not a gift from God - or it all is).

But I don't share that view with Martineau (the illustration is a coloured version of that found at the Unitarian Historical Society). What is important is that Martineau developed both a universal Incarnation and a highly subjective view of religious authority. This he combined with a poetic and conserving view of liturgy said collectively. These are in such tension that they can go to a next step of the postmodern, and each qualify the other. There is no objective basis of understanding the objective universal Incarnation, only subjectivity, and yet in worship people continue to use collective words. This is a theology in transition.

Martineau published The Seat of Authority in Religion when he was 85, and it is some 700 pages long. He understood, as he states near the end, that Western religion became Jewish, Greek and German. Jesus was not and did not claim to be the Jewish Messiah (this being the result of biblical criticism that was in Germany at the time, and later achieved a kind of consensus - though Jesus may have claimed something that linked him to such a Messiah, or would be transformed into such a heavenly Son of Man as God brought in the transforming day). The relativity of Martineau is that Jesus is called The Prince of Saints whilst the universality of Martineau is to refer to Christ over the historical Jesus - echoing a later (and far too neat) division between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History. The Christian Gospel was a particular instance of something general (and yet in culture); this is the pure opposite of Karl Barth later on - another route via Hans Frei to a postmodern (postliberal) position. Martineau's worship was Christian but his ideas were moving on. He found, perhaps, transition while recommending Christianity to Victorian believers.

Culture is never general, and language is a negotiation in the particular culture (and even subculture). I do not believe, therefore, in a Universal Incarnation. I believe that we should try to understand other conceptual understandings, and deepen those we hold ourselves. We do this through conversation and gaining fluency over signs (signifiers). There was never a Jesus of history that was not theological, so the Jesus of history is a Jesus of faith, and a very strange individual he is as it is a number of thought worlds separate from out own. Cultural difference works through time as well as space, and we cannot travel backwards. There is a continuing community, but its frames of reference keep shifting.

Language means that we are not quite individuals and we work out our ethics and beliefs in conversation with others. So both objectivity and subjectivity have gone. Martineau represents for me a liberal Christian route of freedom into the postmodern that came after his time. Secondly he represents a way of identity, through liturgical signs - he knew that liturgy was a slower changing process than theology. My reasoning about how liturgy works is because it relates to the gift-exchange that uses symbolic tokens in different cultures.

Aha - says the structuralist, who is also a universalist: I am admitting that there is actually a universal structure of gift-exchange. Well, not actually, even if maybe, because each example varies so much that it may be misleading to consider it universal. For example, reciprocity in Hinduism and Buddhism is based on merit, whereas in Christianity it comes via mutuality in grace - the free gift that precedes all. It is like saying the family is universal, when we know that some tribes do not have families but collective raising of children with men visiting various women for sex and provisions. Yet everywhere raises children! So, for me, liturgy presents a kind of anthropology of moral reciprocity, which is delivered as a kind of artistic support for one's own personal and group moral and ethical development. Plus, just as our own lives are stories, so the stories in a broad tradition feeds our own complex sense of development as thinking and feeling people.

So this is my position - from Martineau's. Martineau's route to postmodernism is far more open and broad and is in contrast to Karl Barth's, which ends up as a narrow rules-bound dramatic performance (biblical reading of history-like content or dogma as expected performance) to demonstrate narrow identity.

In my view Anglicans can understand that liturgy and theology are not the same, being different in purpose, and that as theology has shifted so considerably the gift-exchange function of liturgy carries on whilst thinking develops on that and more broadly.

Saturday 17 November 2007

Tony Windross and Discussing God

What do I think of Tony Windross, the Anglican Vicar of St. Peter's Sheringham? His thoughts about God in his chapter called 'Why Bother To Think About God' in The Thoughtful Guide to Faith published in 2004 by O Books of New Arelsford, Hampshire, were the basis of a discussion of the In-Depth Group of the church I attend (November 13th 2007).

He tries to be accessible in his writings, but even so the odd word can throw some people - particularly his use of "ontological". To my given understanding, ontological means a different status of being - usually connected with God. It is, I said to the In-Depth Group of St. Mary's church, Barton-upon-Humber, the notion that a person is ontologically changed when he becomes a priest - which is why it cannot be removed. My account of the discussion (no hints of names, no connecting of views together except mine and once by the discussion leader) is my own, as I remember it and as it centred around contributions I made - it is on my website!

Tony Windross is liberal, and is roughly around the John Spong area of understanding Christianity - Progressive Christianity Network type position rather than Sea of Faith (just). He tries to make Christianity accessible to people of today's thought world. So, inevitably, the discussion features around decline and people going to church as much as the subject itself. We did not actually discuss the different options of understanding God - I added a bit about asking ultimate questions versus the Secular City but did not expand this point.

Personally I do not get much from him. We next discuss his chapter about Christmas, which is terribly weak. It could but does not tackle the key elements of the Christmas story, and why such a story is made "history-like" in the first place.

I like the In-Depth Group as it gives the chance to talk a little more deeply about some religious issues and also is a provision for this general approach to faith, just as there are other approaches to faith within the same church and among other people (and sometimes the same people). It is a mixed church theologically, which I regard as a healthy state of affairs with a chance for cross-fertilising.

There may be an argument for more locally based theological education (so that words like "ontological" mean something more easily). Nevertheless, such a group activity is theological education, where people at their own pace can freely discuss and reflect on a wide variety of materials.

Thursday 15 November 2007

Cultural Ricepaper

In a letter dated November 12 Andrew Goddard has replied to Giles Goddard. I consider that Giles Goddard's letter of 3 November has a vision for the future. In contrast Andrew Goddard wants to hold the line against ordained and especially consecrated ministers being in open, stable, gay relationships, and against blessings for such relationships. I think the crux of his argument exists within a small number of choice paragraphs, which are reproduced here, and which deserve some comment.

The following part paragraph is startling in its admission and its consequence:
Relationships may have moral integrity in varying degrees without the church's formal authorisation. The integrity that is claimed for some homosexual unions does not depend on any ceremony. Indeed, when, in the ordinary course of events, the church solemnizes a marriage, it is not purporting to pronounce on the moral quality of the relationship involved. It is shaping the expectations of the community and conferring evangelical authorisation on the form which the relationship takes.
By moral he does not mean, of course, moral reciprocity, which is a binding agent of society as identified in social anthropology. He means a moralistic ethical view. However, society has now conferred a moral reciprocal view upon these relationships - it is already (by so doing) commented on the expectations of the wider community: given these relationships a recognition of stability and social-building, that the Church officially seems so far unable to do.

There is still, however, a huge admission in this: that the integrity of a relationship does not depend on a ceremony. A ceremony? Is that what it is? So now there can be lots of relationships of integrity, but the Church chooses only to solemnise only a few of these. He calls this "evangelical authorisation". It's a sort of Church-choice then, like a bit of holy gloss on just a few of these relationships of integrity. The paper between one Church-choice and another Church-choice is getting a little thin.

Indeed, the Church-choice might change!
authentic developments cannot be ruled out; and we can learn to conduct our dialogue in such a way that, if and as new understanding does offer itself, we will be open to it. Borrowing a phrase from Issues in Human Sexuality, the Statement speaks of "respecting the integrity" of members of the church who "conscientiously dissent" (i.e. reflectively and with careful thought) from the church's teaching. That is to say, the church can recognise the seriousness of the stance these members are taking, want to engage equally seriously with them, acknowledge that such an engagement may have the long-term effect of developing the tradition of church-understanding (though nobody is in a position to say how and to what extent)...
So it is possible, then, that the Church-choice, this "evangelical authorisation" might actually change over time, after a lot of thought, after a lot of respecting those who "conscientiously dissent" from its current state. So what is slowing down the Church-choice being extended then?
...what is being asked of people like me is such that it becomes almost impossible for us as a Communion to ‘jointly seek Christ’s fullness in the Body of Christ, the Church’. To accept those terms would further damage relationships with parts of the Church from which we are currently divided and would miss our 'Ephesian Moment' by imposing a Western, liberal (politically as much as theologically) mindset as ‘the standard, normative one’ (Walls)...
Ah, it is other cultures. Or rather, to give the possibility, Western culture is cultural, which might mean the other culture (the let's call them "just say no" types) isn't a culture but absolute. He's not saying that though, is he? Both are cultures. We find this in understanding this so called "Ephesian Moment".
...the Ephesian moment is whether or not the church in all its diversity will demonstrate its unity by the interactive participation of all its culture-specific segments, the interactive participation that is to be expected in a functioning body.
So that's about it then. It is just cultural difference. He does not want cultural difference, despite the fact that since imperialism Anglican religion across continents has varied. For the sake of a so called "Ephesian moment", the Church-choice "evangelical authorisation" is denied to a group who have relationships that can be of integrity (no judgment conferred!).

This is a soft evangelical version of Church-together Catholicism (the one that allows a Church tradition to develop according to agreement based on baptism, bishops and having communion). Well just as the Anglican Communion is not a Church, so here cultural relativity is actually declared over "evangelical authorisation" (but frozen) and an "Ephesian moment" is a gloss to not enact such relativity. No absoluteness of scripture here, no clear judgment, no equality of integrity to decide who gets and who doesn't get a "ceremony": it's just a case of a Church coming to a view about "evangelical authorisation".

Thin! How thin can the argument get? So what about African priests accepting (even participating in) polygamous relationships then? Where is the "Ephesian moment" to cover up cultural relativity in that? Or perhaps they receive a sort of "evangelical authorisation" in some quarters there, but not here in the West. Well, nobody makes much of a fuss about that, so no issue then. Cultural relativity and noise says it all.

The next time someone says Open Evangelicals agree with Conservative Evangelicals, perhaps they should read this letter. Relativity is a pushover.

It is time the Church started treating relationships of integrity and potential stability with equality.

[Note: Please see the comment below from Andrew Goddard, particularly about him using the words of others - not obvious from the formatting at Fulcrum]

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Anglican Poetry Corner

Old Jack Iker
Is like a biker
Who'll ride towards
In Common Cause
(Without the women)
Who'll ever have him.
Yes it's Episcopal canon balls
To get some cover from Venables

Robert Duncan:
He's a right one.
He'll circle the wagons
around Fort worth
To say without mirth:
Someone else can have him
Here on earth.
So chuck him a bone
From the Southern Cone.

Rowan Williams
Juggles millions
Over Lambeth and the rest.
He writes so nuanced
Yet not so fluent -
Surely not clueless
When it comes to the diocese
and its relationship
To his high Lordship:
Like some Lunar Tea
He wants worldwide unity
But (not wishing to besmirch)
It's only in the national Church
Without any flaw
That he'll find Canon Law.

Jefferts Schorri
Is on the beach,
Who points her finger
With the effect of bleach.
After a warning,
It must be dawning
That, whatever they say,
They'll be on their way;
Whatever the criteria
It could be Nigeria.
But give a hearty moan
For that Southern Cone.

Thursday 8 November 2007


This is a developed reflection on a reply I have given on Fulcrum (if they show it) to Steve Griffin's response to the earlier entry in this blog.

Fulcrum is an Open Evangelical forum, and Steve Griffin is one of these there who is questioning some fundamentals about Anglicanism from his Protestant point of view. It produces some overlaps with my position, which I come at from the liberal perspective that I have worked at across different institutions. His own explanation shows that he is moving from an Anglican to a more Presbyterian position, and maybe less conservative in his evangelical theology as he gets pre-Constantinian.

He is saying that my Anglican position is one of perspectivism in principle (I assume meaning that it is not doctrinal or communal in principle). I took a while to think about this, and then basically agreed with him. I am making an individual response to the institution and what it does.

I say that I am trying to do, as a liberal, is ask how well and these institutions do, and if what they do works. In other words, as individuals we choose between institutions and, of course, they form us. Very sociological, of course.

One aspect of this is me leaving the Unitarians. The Unitarian movement is now such a muddle. One reason I gave it up was because too often congregationalism contradict a position of individual choice in belief and expression, by maintaining one faith expression as dominant and legitimate. That was made worse by the Object, and then some suggesting it be an invocation in worship, producing a postliberal institution somewhat less resourced than other institutions.

Then I have a position that even if I was in agreement with that postliberal outcome (but what a waste of an institution that could be otherwise), it would not meet my own theology/ anthropology of eucharistic practice and identifying with what it means in terms of continuity, releasing the past into the present, and exchange.

(I've actually not discussed the concept of releasing the past into the present as clearly as that headlining, and perhaps I ought to give this additional thought. I have a view about Christianity as continuous with its diverse origins, but this is further about memorial and releasing into the present - it relates to real presence and real absence.)

Eucharistic practice is divisive within the Unitarians, and I proved that locally when I took such a service, and I regretfully consider that other communing methods are inadequate compared with eating and drinking, and thus avoiding theologies of the consuming and changing body. The flower communion is a poor substitute, in my view: a practice that has spread with an absence of its potential theology, as indeed theology becomes increasingly difficult in a breadth rather than depth movement.

Steve Griffin is moving his foundations as regards ministry, and I am not rigid about ministry. Thus I have a difficulty regarding the Independent Sacramental Movement. I don't care about the size of groups, but I do worry about magical, superstitutious and supernatural views about apostolic succession, although I can justify this on recognition reasons. I'm probably a bit stronger than just recognition, that there is again something in the person and the body (a fusion of body into body into body into body) in the means of eucharistic distribution. Such views are still consistent even with lay presidency, though needs recognition by the second body.

(Body of Christ into body of Church into body of President into body of Christ sign)

Then there is the matter of theology and communion, and specifically rowan Williams and Andrew Goddard being "open" in appreciation about it. Anyone reading this blog or the website will know that I actually like aspects of Rowan Williams's theology. It is narrative theology, and story. It is why he likes Philip Pullman. Where I criticise is that the nuanced detail back and forth starts to look like something more orthodox than sustainable via the bigger overview. It is not doctrine as grounded in the once divine hit into realist history, though he may regard history as story too. Added to this is Williams's view on Catholic inheritance and structures as a means of conducting theology. This is surely Roman Catholic in implication (without the all important added on bits). The Independent Sacramental Movement shows how this Catholic stance (without Roman added on bits) can involve change whilst obeying the methodology in Catholicism. Thus I agree with Steve Griffin about Andrew Goddard's over appreciation of Rowan Williams. In the end the Open Evangelical position (of Andrew Goddard) is just a notch somewhere else on the same post and consistent with the Conservative Evangelical organising a fellowship based on doctrine. The Catholic position is different: a version of baptised people organised into an ecclesia - a form of ministry.

I am a liberal through and through, and trying to work through how this relates to such an institution as the Anglican. Thus there are points of agreement with evangelicals and with Catholics. My needle points slightly to the Catholic side, but the Reformed in me is another reason for parking in the Anglican Church.

However, in these pluralistic and postmodern times, an institution that stretches too far is likely to get reorganised into specialisms. It is new reformation with added knobs on. Anglicanism is full of increasingly unsustainable incompatibilities, and is at breaking point across flatly contradictory attitudes. The danger for it is that as it removes the first set of incompatibilities, and likely splits into two, at least the more doctrinal and activist (for the split) side will divide again - and then again. Fulcrum cannot get away with this by accepting a shaving off of an edge or two to keep the rest, because that becomes a compromise with those who have pushed for a split and once the first shaving has gone, then comes a demand for a repeat performance. Eventually the unacceptable shaved off become the once accepted shaved off.

(There is almost a mathematical approach to this: that the strength of view for removal increases as each shave goes off: the affected and the lost edges being the least in favour of splitting and schisming.)

In contrast, my argument for a Communion has been to stop either Protestant or Catholic centralisation (doctrine or communion) and to scrap the Covenant. In other words, keep these preferences and specialities close to home, and associate only loosely beyond them, or leave it to national churches to decide with whom to associate or not. You don't solve a problem by adding to the cause: over over identification between incompatibilities due to increased centralisation - that just leads to a bigger explosion in order to release the incompatibilities screwed in to each other.

Incidentally, whilst I might favour a free thinking liturgical movement in the James Martineau sense (plus eucharistic continuity), it really is too much to accuse The Episcopal Church (TEC) of effectively doing the same, or perhaps implying that it is committed to an ideological Unitarianism it simply does not express or what most Episcopalians believe. This is the latest silly writing from Conservative Evangelicals. The placing of words unitarian and universalist close by is of course a deliberate tease, as in Unitarian Univeralist Association (UUA) - and then the differences between the UUA and TEC in theologies or as communities are considerable.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Liberalism, Postliberalism and Catholicism

Steve Griffin, who could be regarded as Open Evangelical, wrote this in one Fulcrum discussion page about the Catholic side of Anglicanism:

...the theology of revelation that I was taught in the Catholic seminary I attended in Canada was close to RW's: Word and the interpretation of it are dimensions of revelation. Here and there it looks orthodox and apostolic and 'safe' because it's patient, waits for the communion to agree before receiving new doctrine, etc., but it provides the framework for thoroughgoing revision. That's because as long as interpretation of the Word is an aspect of revelation we have virtually nothing outside tradition to which the tradition is accountable. In practice, communion wins out over confession, because truth is always so tentative and provisional that you can never challenge tradition as such. You can only wait patiently to see if this or that is 'received'.

Posted by: Steve Griffin Thursday 1 November 2007 - 09:34 pm
This is surely right, and it is why Catholicism becomes associated with liberalism and looks like it to some, and indeed it can ally with some liberalism (as these elements of the Anglican Broad Church did).

The point has been made to me elsewhere that Catholicism and liberalism are different: Catholicism, particularly as it moves East, is a kind of given matrix that has deep paradox built in, and that its revelation is in that deep paradox that opens itself to the apophatic. So it can also appear to be liberal from that depth perspective too, as well as from the appearance about change.

The choices are that the Catholicism (that can change) has its operating unity within the named Church or, for Rowan Williams, within the Anglican Communion - and, if the latter (a rather big "if"), a cross section of cultures and Churches across that Communion would slow down any form of innovation, either Western or African (or of any region). Obviously its Churches are more culturally uniform and so innovation is more likely consistent with the region.

Incidentally, with the Eastern tradition, the paradoxes are continuously examined and never sorted out: change is a Western feature of sorting out. In the West concepts are developed, examined, and altered: in the East they are not altered once a fixed point is arrived at. Potentially, though, they can be, but a depth dynamic is at work over a sorting out dynamic. It is not just Western Protestantism that is rationalistic.

Where liberalism is different from Western Catholicism, and even Catholicism's ability to change, is that it becomes, in the end, group based or even individualistic. The group, or set of individuals, or indeed just individuals, is the new Church because this is where sentient interpretation takes place. Why should it be limited to a particular kind of greater institution in a particular place? One reason, of course, is that there must be a theology or ecclesiology of the Church. Nevertheless such a Church can arrange to have variation within: but then there can be a Church that says the Church is potentially each few or each individual - and this is what it becomes.

In this sense, then, there is a breaking down of the Catholicism of the larger Church - because, just as there can be a tendency to centralise (Rowan Williams), there can also be a tendency to decentralise.

Then what?

Groups will operate with some collective symbols. There might be a consistent worship, say eucharistic, in order that "Catholic" has retained meaning (and it follows the long tradition of Christian worship - its extraction from the seder meal and then agape meal), but the form of this can vary, and the interpretation of it be openly variable.

This then is where the Catholic intersects with the Unitarian, though the Unitarian grew up as an aspect of Reformation individualism (that is, individual interpreters of the scriptures, and then purely conscience over any particular text or tradition).

The postliberal, however, looks for more collective centres of the drama, and perhaps an ethical centre (Liechty postliberalism here over Lindbeck Yale postliberalism - the Yale version hardly has any liberalism to be "post" about). Postliberalism is Protestant. The comparative postliberal Catholic position would involve centres of collective existence and expectation to perform in a visibly Catholic manner. In other words, it moves back away from a pure individualism towards some sort of collective Church.

The key to this, I suggest, is that expectations of performance are found in liturgy, like interpretive cars revolving around a given liturgical roundabout. The liturgy provides the spirituality, and thus the terms of the debate, and so the liberalism that functions is in relationship to that collective expression: an expression rich in symbolism and inheritance, but open in postmodern fashion to interpretations even to the point of irony.

Liturgy is not quite fixed, however, because the Church is able to make changes according to interpretation: nothing stops it, for example, from adding syncretistic content, or cultural forms from the present, or whatever is agreed.

It would also include forms of ministry: particularly the threefold kind and succession. Again, the understanding of this would be liberal but the postliberal Catholic position is in the institutional appearance.

I come at this as a liberal. My adoption of the Catholic is a reasoned view that it offers spiritual resources drawing on the Jesus ethical imprint, and a range of witnessing texts, and offers a collective provision, and a continuing trained overseeing ministry. Nevertheless, I draw from Reformed elements too, as well as the religious humanistic and elsewhere (Buddhist, neo-Pagan).

I do think it is possible to have a truly liberal community. I used to argue for it. It means different people providing resources by which there is worship, and each pastorally in the collective worship setting provides for others in the market place of ideas and symbols. There is no given basis of ministry, though oversight is practical: the overseers would train others to do ministry. It means people showing the world that they can come together with differences as a community - a gospel for a world of difference that all too easily divides. Such does not aim for a collective definition of faith, only that of drawing on difference and demonstrating a common humanity.

Now the fact is that in 2001 the Unitarians in Britain adopted a pseudo-creed in its General Assembly Object that commits them to "upholding the liberal Christian tradition" (though I do not know what that "the" is). At the time some leading people there called for its use as an invocation in worship. So it was more than just something referring to a remote body (the General Assembly) that has limited powers of persuasion over congregations.

So the Unitarians are not such a body of pure individualism, or differences, but a body where one so called tradition was given privilege for its present and future amongst whatever differences do exist. There is no such purely individualistic or pluralistic Church now. There are some small groups, close to this. There are, of course, congregations of difference, although the Object tends to encourage definition by agreement over definition by difference. So this Church now tends towards the postliberal: having a maintained position of upholding that is then acted out, performed, for its religious and spiritual product.

The question is who does the postmodern, symbolic, Catholic and Reformed postliberalism better? My own adopted background was also Anglican as well as Unitarian, and as a liberal I made the full move out - Unitarian - in 2004 and more fully in - Anglican - in 2006. The Anglican makes more of the resources and the inheritance about which one can be symbolic, and it allows the movement into the Catholic (which Unitarianism excludes, by its Puritan shadow, and in practice - such as the "no" given to the Catholics of The Liberal Rite), and Anglicanism facilitates an in-depth theological engagement with Christianity's textual resources and the particular human-divine drama rather than the broad spread engagement that Unitarianism encourages.

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Eucharistic Quiz

Another of these quizzes, this time on the eucharist theology, which despite its limitations I tried to answer the given questions as accurately as possible from my point of view. There is probably not enough on transignification or consubstantiation, and some questions make assumptions.

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Zwingli

You are Ulrich Zwingli. You believe that bread and wine are symbols of the absent Jesus. You believe in interpreting Scripture reasonably.













The answer is disappointing, in that I do not see myself as being in agreement with the Zwingli position. I'm almost horrified to think I have any agreement with Calvin! Rather I think that when you say there is real presence, it is gone, and when you say there is real absence, it is present. This is a postmodern view, and I call it simulacration, but it may also be one apophatic view applied to this ritual - that is, to negate both positions when presented with them.

Being disappointed I had another go, trying to forget what I had put the first time. It is not easy, but I focused on what I really thought. The result was even worse:

Zwingli 81%
Calvin 63%
Unitarian 63%
Orthodox 31%
Luther 31%
Catholic 13%

Giles Goddard's Beacon

The correspondence that was stalled resumed between the unrelated Andrew and Giles Goddard. Giles Goddard (pictured) has produced, I think, a very powerful letter of 3 November that puts the issues of the future of Anglicanism very clearly.

There is a real possibility that a more generous Anglicanism can emerge from its continuing self destruction (if he is right), and a reason for this is a kind of self-destruction of the evangelical groups. They do tend to do this: as some of them lay the law down by their strategies, some get cold feet and others realise that the cost of following Conservative Evangelicals might be greater than the freedom of individuals. The Fulcrum position is both in the shadow of the Conservatives and trying to break free of the definitions being handed down and the actions they'd take.

The whole Lambeth 1:10 episode, and what has followed, is a disaster of manipulation and mess: the Open Evangelicals think that they can follow this disaster as a means to isolate The Episcopal Church and install some clearer doctrine. Instead they find themselves squeezed by their own making: the Covenant process is not about more doctrine anyway - it is a process. But they are squeezed between Conservative Evangelicals who are separatist or takeover in ethic, and the liberals who are inclusive in ethic. Fulcrum is buying the old idea that it can find some middle position by which to hold a much wider Church and a Communion together - but the middle does not work like this any more. Rather it is where the cut comes.

The Fulcrum position in being broader about evangelicalism is increasingly realising that, once again, the evangelical position is in a self-harming mess. As Giles Goddard says, a victor mentality has become a victim mentality.

He is right about Scotland and Wales and their movement, and that in England there are parts of a more generous approach.

Do I have any criticism of Giles Goddard's letter? Probably that we will end up with some sort of postmodern solution, that there will be splits and zones of similarity, and it may not be such a bad outcome. The point is that the change from victor mentality will remain a mentality of victim even afterwards. Confidence remains in generosity - that's the point.

Spiritual Freedom

My blog entry Logic and Mixture has drawn a number of comments due to what I wrote as follows:

Then, however, they do not usually have communion between these bishops, despite accepting that they are wholly legitimate lines of succession. The bishops do not share their altars with others [see the correction offered in the comments]. What they usually do is incardinate, that is bring the other in. The bishop shares with other bishops of the same (mini) Church, and priests are incardinated under them. To connect one Church with another is to develop a close relationship, one being the senior partner of the other.

This is why The Liberal Rite does not even share communion with the Liberal Catholic Church International, even though the LCCI was involved in consecrating those bishops who make up The Liberal Rite.

The last paragraph is factually wrong, certainly from The Liberal Rite and Independent Liberal Catholic Fellowship points of view, and it was a Canadian strand of the LCCI that was involved in The Liberal Rite consecration. Liz Stuart later moved into the British and Irish LCCI.

The explanation being given formed part of a wider explanation about the mess of the Anglican Communion, and if it is becoming a Church above Churches, and formal agreements of recognition and intercommunion made with other Churches that of course stay as other Churches.

So there is a need to clarify (and this is checked) as it is important not to misrepresent groups.

First of all, in a number of the liberal groups, and specifically the Independent Liberal Catholic Fellowship, the altar tables are free in terms of offering sacraments.

Secondly, altar tables are shared, but agreements of intercommunion are indeed problematic. It is the setting up of formal agreements that is the problem, as they suggest that without them there is no intercommunion - when there is. The idea and practice within many sections of the Independent Sacramental Movement is to free matters, not add barriers.

This was what I was trying to indicate for the other argument (if in a round-about way). Having a Communion does not involve a tendency to centralisation, as seen with Rowan Williams, which in effect transfers a Church upwards. The Independent Sacramentalist Movement has these small named Churches, situations of recognition, but they remain the masters of their own organising.

Incidentally, and as a qualifier to all of this, the Liberal Catholic Church International does not allow concelebration with other clergy, and it has introduced something of a creed. So what I wrote is correct regarding them, but not regarding others.

My own broader interest in this, I suppose, goes back to the inspiration of J. M. Lloyd Thomas, and James Martineau, with the further Catholic development of the reinvention of a Presbyterianism without the Puritanism, this development drawing from the Unitarian side that has been sidelined by the Unitarians themselves; as well as, on the Anglican side, the potential for the breadth found within the more symbolic approach of a conserving liturgical approach and, within that (and at the same time), a hopefully confident and freer theological expression.

There is also an area of debate here between the non-realist (which does not mean not realist!) and the apophatic (the via negativa), and so the relationship between spirituality and theological content. My view is about having the widest possible theological content consistent with a spirituality that works - one that includes the ethical Jesus, and a creative working of a freedom in a symbolic gift exchange between the spiritual and the material in people as individuals and as a collective.

Monday 5 November 2007

Papal Luther

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittburgh has responded to the letter from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori of The Episcopal Church.

1st November, A.D. 2007
The Feast of All Saints

The Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori
Episcopal Church Center
New York, New York

Dear Katharine,

Here I stand. I can do no other. I will neither compromise the Faith once delivered to the saints, nor will I abandon the sheep who elected me to protect them.

Pax et bonum in Christ Jesus our Lord,

+Bob Pittsburgh
This calls for a cartoon...

Thursday 1 November 2007

Reality and Abstraction

The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (in the United States), Katharine Jefferts Schori, has written to the Bishop to Pittsburgh, Robert Duncan, and will to others planning and acting similarly to take their dioceses outside The Episcopal Church. There is a report about the letter here. She writes:

I call upon you to recede from this direction and to lead your diocese on a new course that recognizes the interdependent and hierarchical relationship between the national Church and its dioceses and parishes. That relationship is at the heart of our mission, as expressed in our polity.

If your course does not change, I shall regrettably be compelled to see that appropriate canonical steps are promptly taken to consider whether you have abandoned the Communion of this Church...
These remarks can be contrasted with those recently of the Archbishop of Canterbury, dated 14 October, writing specifically to Bishop Howe of Florida, and clarified on 22 October to the world, that regarded the dicocese as significant - and a Windsor compliant one staying in communion with Canterbury, whatever the status of the "abstraction" of the National Church, but clarifying that the national Church is important for "administrative reasons" and to deliver a "unity of canon law".

Well here we have the reality of the national Church as it delivers its unity of canon law contrasted with the relative abstraction of the Anglican Communion.

There are comments on this on Thinking Anglicans.

Then, and also relevant, is the meeting the new Archbishop of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, with the Archbishop of Canterbury on October 25 2007, in which Fred Hiltz explained the diocese of Ottawa's decision to approve blessings of same-sex unions.

The Archbishop's reply was that the Canadian approach has been "coherent", according to Fred Hiltz, and, he adds (as stated here):
"It's always nice to hear someone like the Archbishop of Canterbury or from the Anglican Communion Office say you're handling this coherently, cautiously, judiciously, and you've got some things I would hold up as a model for others to consider as they grapple with the issue," said Archbishop Hiltz.
This clearly shows that the Covenant, should it ever happen, is intended to be based on Communion-process (baptism, [arch]bishops and Communion) and not fellowship-belief (fixed doctrine around which people gather), in other words this is Catholic understanding (based on a centralised Communion) rather than a Protestant or Reformed understanding. Some of the Conservative and even Open evangelicals do not yet seem to have got the point, and it is one reason why this Covenant process will end up not satisfying Conservative and some Open Evangelicals, as well as Liberals, and why (hopefully) it will fail.

There are comments also about this on Thinking Anglicans.

November 2nd sees additional interesting comment from T. W. Bartel writing under the Modern Churchpeople's Union (extracts follow, and emphases are added by me):

the notion that any Windsor-compliant diocese in The Episcopal Church (TEC) is a member in good standing of the Anglican Communion, even if its province is excommunicated, is anything but an innocuous restatement of traditional teaching on priest–bishop relations.

The Windsor Report, the communiqué of the first Primates' Meeting after Windsor (Dromantine), the Joint Standing Committee, the Covenant Design Group itself, and key Lambeth officials closely connected to the Group, all affirmed that the process of adopting a Covenant would need to be an unhurried, worldwide, comprehensive and truly consultative exercise, with none of the content of the Covenant fixed at an early stage. The final report of the Covenant Design Group, however, urged the Communion to commit itself immediately to the ‘fundamental shape' of the Draft Covenant, with consultation in the provinces limited to ‘fine tuning'. And the fundamental shape of that Covenant demands the surrender of provincial authority to the ‘Instruments of Unity', who are given the full and exclusive authority to rule that a member church is not fulfilling ‘the substance of the Covenant' and therefore requires ‘a process of restoration and renewal' to re-establish its covenant relationship with fellow-churches.

The Dar es Salaam communiqué went even further, exacerbating the trend of the Primates to credit themselves, in the absence of any worldwide Anglican Covenant, with powers over the provinces that have no sound basis in Anglican tradition, canon law or any other source.

In the midst of these circumstances, the trustworthiness of the ‘Instruments of Unity' is scarcely enhanced when the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a personal letter to another bishop, takes it as read that the Instruments, in addition to having the power to deprive a member church of full status in the Communion, have the authority to recognise dissident dioceses of that church as retaining that status—so long as their bishop conforms to the strictures of documents and processes with no legitimate binding force on the Communion. And, pace Lambeth Palace, that is both a new policy statement—albeit a natural extension of current policy— and a road map for the future of the Communion...
Quite so: the limited institutions of this Communion have been grabbing power and recent comments have all the characteristics of a new policy statement and a road map for the future.