Thursday 31 January 2008

Kings on GAFCON

Graham Kings has written a good summary of events regarding GAFCON so far, over at Fulcrum and originally at the Church of England Newspaper. It is also a good article in itself - until the last paragraph.

Yes, Chris Sugden's predictions regarding the Lambeth Conference have become less ambitious over time. This article makes a distinction between preparatory conferences as before 1998 and what it calls diverting conferences - this was a distinction that the Archbishop of Canterbury failed to make announcing the Lambeth Conference preparation (when I suggested he was in denial).

In my view the tendency to be militant (quoted in the article by Graham Kings) needs a capital M. The point is about method. Interestingly this article suggests that the wobble we have now seen about the Jerusalem pilgrimage and conference is not of any intention but logistics, and therefore the GAFCON team continue to drive ahead regardless of what anyone else thinks. Interestingly J. I. Packer's words are placed more in opposition to GAFCON than I had placed them: I just took them as off message without necessarily intending to be so, because he is a supporter of GAFCON; actually I think this treatment is better in that J. I. Packer regards Mouneer Anis's words as important in themselves whereas, for GAFCON, they are just another opposition to steamroller over.

Yes there is strength in opposition, and when it is gone so goes the strength. Will these Puritans be able to organise themselves, or will they be a constant raiding party. The latter, I suggest. A separate Communion they will be (if successful) but one based on taking people from the other one to theirs, one based on showing that the Canterbury Communion is not up to the job.

However, the Covenant is not vital to the health of the Communion. This Communion consists of many Provinces/ Churches that do not want it, or would have it only in a sense that it is minimalist and has no legal impact. It will not be able to do any job, never mind an evangelical job. It cannot stop progressive movements within Churches - otherwise the sensible thing would be to split, split after GAFCON has gone too. It is notjust GAFCON that, with less opposition as a driver, will divide its Conservative Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic extreme wings; with a Covenant trying it on, the Canterbury Communion could itself split. If such a wide body wants to stay together in any sense, then it had better stay loose. The Covenant would either have to be minimal or non-existent.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Goddards: Nine Legs Not Three

The Goddards keep writing:

13th January 2007

Dear Giles

...I am really excited at where this conversation could go and how others may join in or start their own conversations across the different divides we are so aware of in the Church of England and the Communion.

I get the sense that not so many are noticing the continuing correspondence between the two Goddards: Andrew who might be called Open Evangelical and Giles who might be called Liberal.

Both have written in January, Andrew more generally on authority and Giles also on authority but also more specifically on sexuality.

They both draw upon the Anglican stool, and I would here just focus upon understanding the Anglican stool - Giles calls it a "milking stool". It has three legs. Andrew's concern is that the superiority of scripture is being undermined (presumably scripture then has the longer leg):

Part of our agreement is obviously – thankfully – found in features of Anglican identity such as being both catholic and reformed, the wisdom found in the BCP (and of such value during boring sermons!), and the importance of Scripture, tradition and reason. As someone brought up a Presbyterian in Scotland those are all aspects I have discovered in Anglicanism which I treasure. But increasingly I sense that - under the surface issue of homosexuality – we also share worries and anxieties that what we particularly treasure in Anglicanism is under threat at present.

I sense that many of those I know linked to Inclusive Church see in the recent growth of evangelical Anglicanism, and particularly some of its expressions elsewhere in the Communion, a real threat to the valuable tradition of diversity and development which you highlight and they fear the Communion covenant project may try to define more closely what Anglicanism is and make us a more rigidly confessional church.

Indeed there is such a threat, especially if the Covenant is combined with the Advent Letter that stated there is one way to read the Bible, and that this is the basis of one Anglican Church's expectation regarding another Anglican Church and therefore the preservation of its Anglican monopoly in that area. Should that ever come into a Covenant, and should the Covenant come about and have some sort of moral authority, then this fear of Andrew's will be put to rest:

For myself and other evangelicals a major concern is that we will abandon the supreme authority of Scripture as ‘the revealed Word of God’ (Quadrilateral) and the subordination of the church to Scripture.

I believe our current difficulties arise because both the authority of Scripture and the authority of the church are being rejected or undermined.

So as well as the stool, there is this dance: the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. That was supposed to give a definition of Anglicanism.

While I suspect I have a more critical view of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral than you do, it is interesting to go back to its original context in the motion of 1886 adopted by the American House of Bishops. It was of course not offering a definition of Anglican identity but clearly stating simply what was ‘essential’

This is what came in 1886 from the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States; first of all there were four parts of a preamble:

1. Our earnest desire that the Saviour's prayer, "That we all may be one," may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled;

2. That we believe that all who have been duly baptised with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, are members of the Holy Catholic Church.

3. That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline, or to traditional customs, this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own;

4. That this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, co-operating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visibile manifestation of Christ to the world.

Then comes the dance itself, with in 1886 the Bishops state:

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.

3. The two Sacraments,--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord,--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

The context was after Bishop Colenso and his anti-literalist view of the Mosaic narrative, along with the publication of Essays and Reviews (1860), with a liberal schism in South Africa after he was deposed by Bishop Gray (his Church later becoming more 'orthodox' than the main Anglican Church in South Africa).

So in 1888 the Lambeth Conference Resolution 11 stated:

Lambeth Conference of 1888
Resolution 11

That, in the opinion of this Conference, the following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing made towards Home Reunion:

(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

(b) The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself - Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.

(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

So this was, as Andrew states:

in order to ‘restore’ Christian unity ‘among the divided branches of Christendom’.

And in the letter Andrew had stated on:

the fact that even after 1865 all clergy [in England] needed to 'assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and to the Book of Common Prayer and of the ordering of bishops, priests, and deacons' and state 'I believe the doctrine of the Church of England as therein set forth' is a reminder that diversity and inclusivity have often had quite strongly defined limits within Anglicanism.

Then he makes the important point:

Given that, by agreement of Synod and Lambeth Conferences, the Articles and Prayer Book no longer define those limits in that way in either the CofE or the Communion, the issue you highlight of the 'locus of authority' is particularly pressing and one I suspect we will keep coming back to in different ways.

So the central issue then is one of authority. This is reasonably clear, that the Quadrilateral does not say a great deal, and that of the stool, one leg is supposed to be the main one but people on Andrew's side think the liberal saw is being applied to make it a shorter leg.

Interestingly that in the English response to the Draft Covenant, the idea of only two sacraments is questioned, and also the application of scripture to questions of morality and constant reference to them. Minimalism is seen as important too:

(6) The biblical texts currently at the beginning of each section of the Covenant should be omitted. They suggest a way of handling the biblical material that not all Anglicans share and it is not always clear how the texts relate to the material that follows.

(11) Subsection 3 suggests that there are only two sacraments that were ordained by Christ. Although some Anglicans hold this position others do not and it would be better to avoid language that would provoke argument about this issue.

(12) Subsection 5 seems to suggest that every church has made use of the historic formularies, whereas in fact this has not been the case. Reference to the Thirty Nine Articles can also be seen to suggest a ‘maximalist’ approach to doctrinal agreement whereas arguably the Covenant requires a more ‘minimalist’ approach. On the other hand, having a reference to the formularies is important to many Anglicans who see them as a guarantee of fidelity to orthodox biblical theology. A way forward might be to use the language of the Church of England’s Declaration of Assent and to talk about ‘the faith to which the formularies bear witness.’

So little can be said doctrinally! The English provided an alternative Draft Covenant, but some Churches being opposed to its implications provided no alternative Covenant. They effectively don't want one (and yet this is a condition of attendance at Lambeth 2008 - to work on the Covenant).

It can be argued that every single one of these Quadrilateral clauses is questioned: what is salvation that it is found entirely within the Scriptures, how they are consistently a standard of faith (consistently?) and, even more puzzling, what sort of rule they supply. The Creeds are questioned: even the Archbishop of Canterbury justified the Covenant on the basis that the Creeds are culturally and historically problematic:

As we’re often reminded, we do say the same creeds. But it seems, with the widening gaps about culture and theological understanding, we need something a bit more intentional than that, a bit more expressive of responsibility to and for one another. So that’s why I don’t think a credal focus alone will do it.

They are going the way of the Thirty-nine Articles in practice if not quite in law. As well as the sacraments, as some will claim as many as seven, and some wonder what sacrament even means,the local nature of the Church is challenged - clearly the likes of GAFCON are not operating according to the rules of a local episcopate. The Archbishop of Canterbury wants the Communion alone to decide intervention when a Church has failed, according to that Advent Letter.

Giles focuses on the specifics of same sex relationships to start (these relationships that have, apparently, no positive statements in the Bible).

24th Jan 2008

Dear Andrew

at the moment the place that I part company with the Church is that whereas I see their sexual expression as integral to the relationship’s godliness the Church sees it as inimical.

I hear two, from Jesus; love God and love your neighbour; I learn from this that “Christ is the end of the law.” I find no commandments - simply some references whose meaning and implications are disputed - about the place of sex in same-gender relationships;

Then he gets to authority in general, and rather gets tied in his own knots.

I take seriously the notion of the Anglican theological method – the “milking stool” of the three strands of Scripture, Reason and Tradition

I deliberately do not include Experience as a fourth leg, not just because it spoils the milking stool analogy but because I do not believe that it is possible to separate our experience from the other three.

The notion that we can come at scripture unaffected by our cultural, our social, our political and our personal context is not a notion that is sustainable. We understand tradition in the light of our experience...

And reason and experience are bound up together...

The point is that they are all bound up together, so experience is a category. There are more, too, for Giles.

cultural context and intellectual reflection are locked in a sometimes virtuous and sometimes vicious circle.

we, as readers of scripture, do not come to it like blank sheets of paper waiting to be written on. We bring our cultural background, our language, our expectations, our preconceptions

So that is culture, language, expectations, preconceptions and experience. We can put the first four into culture. Experience might be culture, but experience also comes from events.

we interpret scripture through the lens of our faith and of our world. What is happening, when we read the scriptures, is that we are entering into a relationship with the text which is before us, and behind that with the almost always anonymous authors of the text; the past meets the future in the present, and we as readers are shaped by and shape our understandings of the words we read.

So now we have faith, the world, and time. Let's call 'the world' cultures, which can include our own. Faith in this context would be a condition of developing ongoing trust and having that as a means to bind together. Time is significant in terms of immediacy and tradition, the first being about constructing the dynamic and decision of faith. So time tends to dissolve into other categories. Difference in time between cultures is just other cultures (e.g. the New Testament period as a way of thinking).

In short, we are graced, by the Holy Spirit, with our desires, our reasoning, our emotions and our self-understanding. All of these are inextricably bound up with our past and our present, with reason and tradition. It is the interplay between all these which gives faith in Jesus Christ its dynamic tension.

This now adds divine action and the self (desire being partly cultural, partly internal, as indeed is reasoning - but reasoning exists on a rational level whereas desire as a thing-in-itself relates to sin).

There are quite a few legs on this stool now. There are scripture, tradition, reason, experience, own culture, cultures, faith, divine action and the self. One could be reductionist about these, and focus heavily on the functionings of language as transmitter of culture and symbolic forms, that culture writes scripture, culture shapes understanding of experience, culture shapes reasoning, it formed traditions and is in them, and it also interprets (even constructs) the divine. In that the self is kept as a category, so must relationship be added too. It is more than culture: like the self it cannot be limited by culture. this makes nine.

A reductionist approach here would leave culture and the divine (culturally interpreted). So the only issue then is how much is cultural and human and how much is divine (even if through culture).

So I do not myself think a great deal of the three legged stool. It is either two matters, the divine-human, or the nine.

Tradition of course changes over time, and so Giles asks Andrew, back on the specific subject:

I remain intrigued by your indication in an earlier letter that you substantially agree with Oliver O’Donovan on not ruling out a development in tradition in this matter – otherwise, of course, what would be the point of a listening process?

...what would you consider reason enough for the Church to consider it an acceptable alternative to either celibacy or marriage in this case, given that you do not rule out the possibility of a development?

The problem with the action of the divine is that no one can conclude an argument about it. What is divine and fixed to some is cultural and transient to another. The three-legged stool as stability about it, but a straight either-or argument is highly unstable, and schismatic over a presenting issue. This is why the Church of England is dividing up.

The other three legged stool it lost was the Broad, Evangelical and Traditionalist Catholic. The latter is marginalised, so it is a straight fight - if they want to fight.

It might be better to consider an nine legged stool or, if the argument about the divine cannot be concluded, just consider eight.

I notice that these days many an office chair has five legs and one central pole to the seat, and it goes up and down with gas inside. Perhaps Anglicans ought to think more like this than milking stools.

I cannot think what has nine legs, other than a very large but round table. That might be a symbol for Anglicans. Bahai temples have nine sides (nine prophets East and and Near East, apparently).

In my view the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is becoming a dead duck, and the creeds are hardly believed by many. They are all sets of historical documents. Scripture has a normative use, but cannot make any rules (it is not a rule book) and salvation is about what people do as much as being slavish about a book. Culture and language are fluid, and Churches are holders of religious culture in negotiation with wider culture. They and their collections of people make the decisions, decisions about the ongoing development of trust and how to bind people to one another, acted out ritually, without dividing from others. For me, that's all that matters. Of course there are ways and means and points and assistances from the past, but fewer rules and a closer focus on we the people (pastoral) matters more than anything.

It would not matter to me if there were more than the few verses of the Bible that are dedicated to anti-homosexuality, or if Jesus had said anything worth recording about it and against (after all what he said against divorce was recorded but the Churches are all flexible about divorce). On the basic matter of the self, and relationship, the Church as ever changer of tradition ought to include (blessings and ministry - encouraging stability), and then get on with the business of bringing the world to some kind of reconciliation, binding the people and other evolved life, and progressing.

Monday 28 January 2008

Founders of Free Catholicism

Around the UK there are a patchwork of free and liberal religious groups. Some are simply discussion groups, and some practice forms of religion. Some that practice as well as discuss are in minor denominations, some even in the odd congregation in the mainline Churches, a number come under are pressure groups that agitate for change, and there is the Independent Sacramental Movement, scattered and relatively unnoticed (but noticed more nowadays thanks to the Internet) . Somehow in these days of larger denominations being attacked by a virus of literalism and rules, these various groups exist, and grow, if sometimes in relative isolation.

They somehow need bringing more into contact with each other. We know that, having different bases of activity, the groups do stay largely separated. I gave a talk about this and developed some thoughts afterwards. Nevertheless I detect a need to bring groups more into contact and allow overlaps to be creative.

We are talking largely but not exclusively about Christianity, but a broadest possible definition of Christianity and faith that takes account of contemporary thought and tools of thought. We need some principles, perhaps, and even some parental figures for understanding the patchwork.

I suggest two main founding characters: Ulric Vernon Herford and Joseph Morgan Lloyd Thomas. The principle is set out by J. M. Lloyd Thomas here, in 1907:

[Religion] as elusive as the beauty of a picture, the emotion of music, the breath of poetry.

He argued that religion must be widely catholic, not even limited to Christianity, but dogma will make it wither. He wanted to emphasise common worship over agreement in belief, with:

...symbols that devotionally unite, not creeds that theologically separate.

The Church would be democratic:

...and seek to minister like the son of man and not be ministered unto.

I think this is a manifesto as good as it can get. Ulric Vernon Herford around the same time was thinking on similar but even grander lines. He argued the case in front of Unitarians that he had been developing a Church for all for the future, embracing all spiritual needs, with:

...sacraments of grace for the heart and will, and sermons for the intellect.

He, unlike Lloyd Thomas, crossed over into the Catholic side proper, becoming a bishop of the Syro-Chaldean Church (sometimes called Nestorian) and developing a progressive ministry in Oxford and beyond in a larger ecumenical effort, and yet adding to the patchwork of small and progressive service-ministry identities. He was inclined to monasticism too, making connections with Benedictines among others. Although Lloyd-Thomas announced in the late 1920s that he was a trinitarian, it is thought that Herford never changed the basis of his Free Christian and Unitarian theology.

Religious thought can be free, and so can religious worship - yet richly symbolic - even if up front, close and personal. It should be possible. In a world of disenchantment, it is possible to re-enchant whilst keeping our brains in the world in which we do actually live. I am sure that the Internet can bring many groups closer together; though for worship nothing replaces the local or regional gathering.

My website has added a renewed focus on these two, as well as having made some updated changes to the large resource document about Free and Liberal Independent Catholicism.

Recently a priest, formally of the Church of England, the Rev. Chris Horseman, had to earn his living through his funeral services and he developed practices and beliefs towards Paganism and humanism. Someone like him does not have to be alone. There are a number of bishops, priests and ministers already independent and form a friendly network of Liberal and Free Catholics and other variations - like Celts and Pagans and Buddhists and Universalists. Such people think freely and worship richly, and bringing these more together would be to provide a ministry to the free thinkers who retain a strong sense of contemplation and worship.

Saturday 26 January 2008

GAFCON to Upstage Lambeth (Opinion)

The Lambeth Conference 2008 is condemned by the GAFCON crowd for avoiding the making of serious resolutions and that, even if it did, such would be hollow (given the claimed condition of impaired unity in the Anglican Communion). So what is the purpose of GAFCON according to its legitimising supporter, J. I. Packer?

I see GAFCON as an attempt to upstage Lambeth by making policy decisions for the Anglican Communion, distilling policy guidelines for the Anglican Communion for Lambeth proper.

So whilst Lambeth does its study sessions, this not an alternative Communion (they say) is going to be producing the resolutions that Lambeth will not, and do them for the whole Anglican Communion. So in addition to, Lambeth 1998 1:10 these folks will be quoting Jerusalem 2008 1:10 for everyone.

Hang on a second. Did not a certain dialogue take place?

Archbishop Akinola then said, that this was a pilgrimage and wondered what the difference was to other pilgrimages.

The Rev’d Canon Hosam responded by saying that this was not only a pilgrimage, since the Archbishop himself was talking about a conference with an agenda.

Archbishop Akinola replied that he would be happy to change the terminology and refrain from calling it a conference, in which case he would call it a pilgrimage.

Which way do they want this? Do they want a Conference with solid resolutions, or do they want a Pilgrimage? Are they then going to Cyprus (an offer they can refuse - or wobbling), to make resolutions for the rest of the Anglican Communion, or is it still Jerusalem for such resolutions? Is J. I. Packer wrong? Are their supporters increasingly confused?

Perhaps J. I. Packer is a bit off message:

There is legitimate disagreement whether it is better to go to GAFCON or have GAFCON after Lambeth and encourage everyone to go to Lambeth. Archbishop Mouneer Anis is much wiser by saying we should go to Lambeth and constitute an evangelical phalanx.

He says he is not at the centre of discussions. Perhaps he should be told, or some clarity be given for him and everyone else. The whole point is for GAFCON to come first and set the agenda. Maybe, then, if he is being presented as on message, the wobble is in the timing!

Friday 25 January 2008

GAFCON Wobbles

The magnanimous thing for GAFCON to do would be to say, yes Jerusalem is for a pilgrimage only and the conference will be held in Cyprus. They would not just get a welcome from Bishop Suheil but also disarm the growing number of critics who might even be sympathetic to their cause.

Evangelicals are past masters at snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, but one can just imagine the arguments going on. Just as in any politburo, the ones who are at the centre argue like fury when the chips are down. What may well keep them in Jerusalem, lock, stock and barrel, is the fact that it all connects with the right wing Christian-Zionist group and its money. To back away might look like a defeat in the face of Palestinian concerns, and this would not do.

The agenda of Christian Zionism (and for a British shoestring budget satellite version just look at Revelation TV) is to set up a situation of Jews returning to Jerusalem so that Christ will return in glory - the second coming. It is a hard line evangelicalism at work.

It could be that there is a dividing point here with extreme Anglo-Catholics, who still may have a respect for Bishop Suheil and his patch. At this point GAFCON will want to carry the Anglo-Catholics (who can be dumped later). No one will give a stuff for the Anglican Communion, but in building up your own vanguard you don't want it to be wrecked before it gets going.

Tom Wright is acting as the big man again, chucking his weight about in an article called Evangelicals are not about to jump ship, and acting as "friend of the Archbishop" - like his tough guy bodyguard. He is pitching in against GAFCON - and he is happy to quote the Advent Letter, otherwise only quietly acknowledged by the embarrassed.

The rationale of GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference) is: "The Communion is finished; nothing new can happen; it's time to split." No mention is made of the Windsor report, the proposed Anglican Covenant, or, indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent letter, insisting as it does on scriptural authority, which GAFCON seems to regard as its monopoly.

That last point is crucial. To say "scripture is our authority" does not commit anyone to joining the small group represented by Chris Sugden, Martyn Minns, and Peter Jensen...

We know that his sort of evangelical is divided from the GAFCON sort of evangelical, but there could well be some infighting down in GAFCON land, as one would expect among the true vanguard.

Has Lambeth 2008 Nicked the Unitarian Logo?

Here is the Unitarian logo (in orange and on the right):

And here is the Lambeth 2008 logo (in yellow and on the left):


Thursday 24 January 2008

A Good Bloke - No Deception Here

Mad Priest has a line that says Evangelicals are responsible for all the hatred in the world. It's a joke with an edge characteristic of his blog. These are strained times, and I wonder how much some Evangelicals are purveyors of deception, to not let the truth of a situation get in the way of a good story when there is a campaign to show that the Church of England and other selected Anglican Churches are in need of interception (otherwise why go on and on about them).

A little while back Anglican Mainstream produced a story from Lisa's Lookout column about the Rev. Chris Horseman, with her preamble.

January 15th, 2008 Posted in From Lisa's Lookout

Part of the reason for the polarization between the various branches of the CoE, including the increasingly ‘diverse’ evangelical wing, is that there is a fundamental difference of perception: some feel the CoE is essentially on track, while others are deeply worried by the fluidity and ‘flexibility’ of moral and theological boundaries and issues like whether or not we actually believe the words of the Nicene creed. For them, this is not about who is in, but can we say and act upon the fact that some are out?

This is not about casting stones or demonising people! This is about taking people and their beliefs seriously - carefully listening to them and forming some sort of evaluation. And then it is about choosing one of three responses, all hugely value-laden. Either it won’t matter and things will tick over as normal as the CoE becomes even more radically diverse in its theology - and the public becomes aware of it; or it will matter but we won’t do anything because we are not that kind of church - and continued theological slippage will be allowed to occur; or some sort of church discipline (pejorative term, that!) will be put in place. Watch this space…

Further down in the column comes the text from her local newspaper, the Evening Post in Bristol, from 12 January, except that there is a gap in the telling of the report. The gap is all of this:

Mr Horseman's family background may hold a few clues about his all-encompassing view of life. His maternal grandfather was linked with Litchfield Cathedral, while his paternal grandfather, Tom Horseman, had a head for heights, as he installed illuminations on Clifton Suspension Bridge.

His communist father worked for Rolls Royce, building Spitfire engines during World War II, while his mum, Elaine, was a successful author of children's fantasy tales, published in the UK, Europe and USA, of which he says: "They were a precursor to Harry Potter books and I think they were better."

Both Mr Horseman and his brother were brought up as atheists so they had never been inside a church.

He was a pupil at Henbury School, then he went to work with disabled people, followed by a stint as a hospital laundry porter, and a "horrible" decade working for Avon County Council as a pay clerk.

It was helping a disabled Christian friend, who'd been left by his wife to bring up four young children, that changed Mr Horseman's life. He says: "I became more drawn to the religion. It truly felt like a calling."

Chris was ordained three years later and did his training as a curate in Weston-super-Mare, where he met his future wife Fiona (who has multiple sclerosis), before moving to various parishes close to their Claverham home.

Seven years ago he faced a dilemma, he recalls: "It wasn't with the job but with what I wasn't allowed to do because of church restrictions.

"At the same time, Fiona's MS worsened and the Bishop put it to me that he didn't think I could combine looking after Fiona with full-time ministry."

Strangely enough, he was thrown a lifeline by a local funeral director, who told him he could guarantee two funerals a week, which was enough to set him free. Mr Horseman is now...
On Anglican Mainstream, this becomes, in the brackets, only:

(His present work involves being) on the books of 20 funeral directors

The effect of this is to give the impression that Chris Horseman is well and truly still inside the Church of England; but when I read the original article including the gap it was quite clear to me that he was moving on. This is the essential bit truth-wise that upsets a good story.

Seven years ago he faced a dilemma, he recalls: "It wasn't with the job but with what I wasn't allowed to do because of church restrictions.

So for Anglican Mainstream to make a point, it may not tell exactly the whole story. It is not quite honest. This is typical of the Militant Tendency approach of the 1980s. If a half-truth will do, and it causes the necessary drip-drip damage, tell it.

Chris Horseman was well aware of his Church's limits regarding his own personal development, and the work from the funeral directors has allowed him to become independent. Funeral work is one way that a minister, priest or bishop can sustain an independent ministry. Many on the liberal end of the independents, sometimes called episcopi vagantes, are very able to cater for a pastoral need by making their ministry very personal and also flexible regarding the faith message.

So clearly Anglican Mainstream is setting out to cause damage to the Church of England. The truth is that the Church of England is not as it is being portrayed. Note that as of writing he is still on the Yatton Churches team ministry webpage, but without any description, unlike all other entries.

I kept a watch on Rev. Horseman, because these folks are of interest. On the 18 January the same newspaper reported developments, and I reproduce these key passages:

The Rev Chris Horseman agreed to resign his licence to officiate at church services as an Anglican priest following a meeting on Wednesday with the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Rev Peter Price.

The decision will mean that Mr Horseman will no longer be able to conduct services in any C of E church...

Mr Horseman said: "I am saddened but not surprised this has happened.

"I have parted with the bishop amicably and he assured me of his every good wish for the future."...

Mr Horseman, who is also training to be a druid and is a Reverend in the Church of Spiritual Humanism, said despite resigning from the Church of England he would continue to build his Rent-a-Rev business.

He said: "The only difference following my resignation is that I can no longer take services in Church of England churches.

"However, Rent-A-Rev will continue to go from strength to strength and my services will still be called upon from other faiths and many sections of the community."

Mr Horseman is on the books of 20 local funeral directors and conducts about 250 services each year.

He added: "I am very busy and some days have three services to officiate at.

"It is sad that I will no longer be able to work within the Church of England, but it was a decision that had to be made.

"I know that my diversification will lead to many other things and I am always busy."...

A spokesman for the Diocese of Bath and Wells said: "Mr Horseman has agreed his activities as a ceremonialist were incompatible with his Anglican orders.

"He offered his resignation, which the bishop is minded to accept, though the bishop has offered him a period of grace to consider the matter. Mr Horseman has agreed to cease acting as an Anglican priest immediately."

He offered his resignation. A process was being completed. He is still on the website because there is a period of grace, during which he has ceased operating. Here is what a comment adds to the original report of 12 January:

WHATEVER, I don't know or care about the rubbish you lot above are churning out. What I do know is that this man has more kindness and goodness in his little finger than most people walking around on this earth. He took my fathers funeral service today and I must say dealing with him has been an absolute pleasure. Yes he might not fit into the 'conventional box' but so what! He is a good man, an understanding man and a very christian man. What a refreshing change to meet someone like him rather than some 90 year old death as a stone vicar who's full of himself and his beliefs and calls the deceased by the wrong name. I don't understand why when someone trys to do so much good they are always beaten down like this. Shame on you. But then evil is always threatend by good isn't it.

Tracy, Bristol

On other words, for someone who has received his ministry, he is a good bloke doing an excellent job. In the end, this is what matters. He can relate to people and does.

What is says about the Church of England is nothing, nothing except that in Rev. Horseman caring for his wife the Church moved him from full time to Non-stipendiary ministry [see the comments on this], and it was at that time that the good man started providing for his own income. It is an interesting point, and recently I read Peter Owen Jones stating something similar.

I have long taken the view that a priest or minister is a kind of space and place for others and this needs time, and thus a stipend (not a wage) to be a person for others in a religious context. Someone from whom this idea came was in contact with me some weeks ago after a very long gap, and now he also largely provides his own income. Despite still being within the Church of England, he has the view that God has walked away from it and left it to the bibliolatrists in a way that, when I knew him twenty to twenty five years ago, he would never have thought possible. Such bibliolatrists include the likes of Anglican Mainstream, out to do damage.

Don't be surprised either if the bibliolatrists read the Bible like they read the news: it is what they want to read followed by extracting the particular passages to make the point and leaving the other passages conveniently unstated.

Update Friday 25 January: The Church Times report is pathetic. It has nothing about the pastoral and ideological development of this matter and misses out so much detail it is basic, bland, again exploitative and tells virtually nothing of importance about the situation.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Defending Celtic Christianity

Once again I found myself in a minority of one. In a course I was the one defender of Celtic Christianity. As in the Taste and See trial, we were introduced to the prayers of the highlanders as collected by Alexander Carmichael (called Carmina Gadelica). Everyone seemed to be against the turf based, romanticised spirituality. In the Taste and See Lent course trial one was sceptical about the collecting, and now we had scepticism about digging soil for the Three in One's sake - when it would be dug for the purposes of digging.

My response to this was that, with some superstition and felt need for protection, they were giving the task to the highest they know. It is like the Buddhist giving a task to the Dharma, the way. It is also, I thought, a fusing of the sacred and the profane, that nothing is done just for the task, and that the sacred is in everything. We have a rationalistic do it for the purpose of doing it purpose, but others may have had a basic holistic view of life and the sacred.

Then we got to Brother Lawrence and monastic The Practice of the Presence of God from the 1600s. God is with him in his tasks. Everyone was in favour of this, but I wanted to point out that it is the practice of the presence of God. It affects how you do things (and your whole outlook). It is not like you do the washing up and chuck the pots around and God is with you. You do the pots reverently and meaningfully with full awareness. So in the Venn diagram of these two approaches there is a huge overlap between the Celtic and this, and in the crescents I see it that in the Celtic approach God is in the job and the rhythm, whereas in the Brother Lawrence approach God is with him and affects the job.

Isn't it annoying? I said I have the book, and I did. I remember when I was given it, in the 1980s, thinking this isn't me. I kept it, as a gift, but I might have disposed of it. Yet I have an ethic about books which means I keep even those I hate, or those completely opposite to my viewpoints. I still have terrible rubbish by Maurice Wood and Graham Leonard. But can I find this? Then I discover material on the later English Presbyterians and more information about Lloyd Thomas (the Free Catholic) that I did not think I had, telling me, for example, that he fell out with W. E. Orchard. Oh!

People don't like the Celtic because they think of the pre-Christian Pagan. They also think of the post-Christian neo-Pagan. Romanticisation pops up in different places. It affects so much religion these days - and indeed will because of the difficulty of adding enchantment to ordinary life. If we have an unromanticised approach, then the secular and the sacred are united (in the Celtic) and you get to something like R. S. Thomas, described in the group as "Real Absence". So this time the stones, the place, the effort, has a twitch of God about if you are lucky to see it (you can do a lot of waiting). This is rather, then, where I am, either non-realist or a stark transcendence, if there is more to unite than just signals of transcendence (after Peter Berger). So my Celtic approval is rather, when it comes down to it, a mirror image version, or virtual, or a more postmodern, R. S. Thomas, rather like in simulacration, or the quantum world where in the process of time energy gets borrowed from what is not present and matter made, which is almost always annihilated. This is my God position.

Keep It Simple

A friend was telling me last night about the long term decline in shop takings. Over the ten years sales have fallen. So to maintain profits, fewer staff members have been employed as well as the family, down from seventeen to five. There are other matters to maintain trade too. Even if only one person shops between 9 am and 9:30, to not open means a loss of that sale. When the shop closed for his mother's funeral, people thought the shop was closing down. People are therefore such creatures of habit and appearances are everything. Today, although trade is reduced, the same space is needed (his shop underwent large expansion into neighbouring space) because today people need all the display options shown to them - no longer can you just stack items high and let people choose from what they know. Christmas lights, for example, had to be seen on and off. These days potential customers use mobile phones that show their indecision, and when they ask the shopkeeper what they might buy the shopkeeper should always give them a definite decision.

The relevance of this for this blog may not be obvious, but my reply in this conversation was about churches. We are talking about a public out there who is as indecisive and who does not know what goes on inside. The first rule must be to have services on every week at the same time. It is no good having them at 6 pm on three Sundays and 4 pm on another, or 9:30 am on three Sundays and 10 am on the other. I remember turning up in the evening on a number of occasions only to find the place shut, and indeed one time said to myself that I am not going to bother coming any more.

The second point is that you can change the content, within the same times of meeting, but it has to be assisted. One of my friends is a Methodist who found going to an Anglican church with its sung responses very strange, and that no direction was given. I said how this is the same where I go (there is some direction, but much is assumed - do members of the public know what an "extended preface" is?) and that whilst the Methodist minister's theology made me react almost violently (I said there are Anglicans who would agree with it, there are Methodists who would agree with the Anglican priest - so it's not about denomination), she did in her own church give constant direction (even when not needed) and the sound system was much better. A suggestion is floating around in the gossip area of having seasonal printed liturgies so that people can follow what is going on more readily than the confusing Common Worship, which takes people on a trip back and forward through the book or booklet and leaves people not knowing where the person taking the service is reading from (for example, choosing Eucharist Prayer A but then suddenly reading something that is not there).

The result of this "acquired taste" and need for a learning curve, never mind the habit of churches of opening on different times on different Sundays, is that people simply won't turn up who may do. Like the shop, everything ought to be laid out as simply as possible and explained. If not, then the drift downwards will go on.

Of course Christianity is a complex and deep tradition, and it requires learning, and there is a learning that never ends. However, there is no point building high walls to participation. If you do, you deny to the don't knows the chance to taste and see. Everyone starts at the bottom, and that's where the entrance should be. Many who have been around some time also appreciate the continued assistance.

Wreaking Havoc

Let's go back here, to the place where Dr Richard Turnbull gave a five minute lecture against the ever widening definition of evangelical. A very interesting comment has been added. It is worth highlighting, showing a dissenting voice:

...As a current student at Wycliffe Hall, I can tell you that he is wreaking havoc here. He has driven out tutors of real quality and ability by his bullying and heavy-handed management style. He has unfairly and illegally dismissed one who refused to go quietly. He has replaced them with some who are plainly not up to the job and who seem to have been appointed only because they have the same theological views as he does. He has re-ordered the curriculum to reflect his own obsession with the Reformation and Reformation issues. Lectures have become superficial and unacademic.

Rather interesting and additional information about the curriculum too, and its delivery.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Canterbury in Denial

The Lambeth Conference was launched on 21 January by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is about bishops preparing for mission. It is to be a jolly occasion and everyone is looking forward... Just a minute, there is something wrong here. It could be a very difficult situation and is it not all about the Advent Letter basis (or is that not so significant now?), the Covenant and giving some sort of clarity to the Instruments of Communion. Is it not all about the missing quarter (possibly) or fifth who will have been sunning themselves in Jerusalem? Isn't it about the fact that in Jerusalem there will have been an agenda already set that skews to some extent the Lambeth Conference that follows?

So what did the Archbishop say about that? Well, previously on the BBC Radio 5 Live Simon Mayo interview before Christmas he had said that this event in Jerusalem was nothing to do with the Anglican Communion and so people were free to attend it as they wished. Thinking Anglicans has highlighted the answer given by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Lambeth 2008 launch to a question about his response to GAFCON. This time he said:

I think it’s important to remember that before the last Lambeth, and indeed on other occasions, there have been major international gatherings — regionally or in other ways constructed — preparing for Lambeth, and I am very happy to see such regional events going forward. But I do have real concerns that in this case there are unresolved issues for the local Church, for the Church in Jerusalem, which has pinpointed some anxieties about having such a conference at this time in the Holy Land. I really hope they can be addressed.

This is denial. GAFCON is not a preparation for Lambeth 2008. Most of those (among the bishops) in Jerusalem are not going to Lambeth. It is not a preparation, it is an alternative.

Now back to the Militant Tendency analogy. Remember that the Militant strategy is to keep control, keep doing what you intend to do, and to bend and wriggle in whatever way necessary so long as the original intention stays on track. So Archbishop Peter Jensen went along and was terribly nice, and would take the message back (but no change), and then the real deal went along and said something on the lines of 'What are you complaining about?' and in true Militant style have now changed a pilgrimage and conference into a pilgrimage, sort of, because the other is not really about resolutions and the like. Ah right. I've added in square bracketed blue coloured comments to these minutes simultaneously leaked to Thinking Anglicans, The Guardian and Ruth Gledhill at The Times.

The Rev’d Canon Dr Chris Sugden then posed the question in what way the conference was imposing on the diocese?

[In other words, 'What are you complaining about?']

The Rev’d Canon Hosam answered that the conference was imposing the issue of homosexuality on the diocese.

[Answer - the specifics of the division, brought into a land full of divisions and a local ministry that seeks reconciliation]

The Rev’d Canon Dr Chris Sugden responded by saying that this conference was not about homosexuality.

[First wriggle then, a move of the chess piece, after an over-specific reply]

The Rev’d Canon Hosam replied by reminding Archbishop Akinola that he had referred to the split of the Anglican Communion in 2003.

[Reference back to history - your own words - so a counter-move, and addressed from the monkey to the nominal organ grinder. Or is that the other way around?]

Archbishop Akinola refrained from answering. Instead, he said that he could not understand how this conference would have all these impacts on the diocese.

[Stumped so shifts to another piece; like 'What's the big deal anyway?']

The Very Rev’d Michael Sellors highlighted that this could not be fully understood unless you lived in the Holy Land and experienced the sensitivity. He stressed that the Holy Land was a fishy ground for the media and for those who wanted to destroy or distract the peace process and the role that the Christian Church in general and the Anglican Church in particular plays in it.

[Local knowledge and coming close to a check-mate]

Archbishop Akinola then said, that this was a pilgrimage and wondered what the difference was to other pilgrimages.

[The devious play - a complete wriggle by changing the definitions - but no effective alteration on their part]

The Rev’d Canon Hosam responded by saying that this was not only a pilgrimage, since the Archbishop himself was talking about a conference with an agenda.

[The counter-move of back to history again and their own words played back to them]

Archbishop Akinola replied that he would be happy to change the terminology and refrain from calling it a conference, in which case he would call it a pilgrimage.

[A re-play of the last move, an alteration of the shop window that he is "happy" about, that of course is no concession as the goods on sale stay the same.]

Of course the bishop is no fool and he had a final offer that clarified reality from appearances but showed his lack of power, which is whether he will warmly welcome them or not.

Bishop Suheil closed the discussion by saying that for the sake of making progress in this discussion he would like to suggest that Archbishop Akinola either reconsiders the venue and time for the conference, or divides his program into two parts: to have the conference in Cyprus, and to have a pure pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

They will wriggle, Suheil will know it and he won't welcome them, because not one jot or tittle will alter. But so what? This is an alternative to Lambeth. This is to either take over or extract out parts of the Canterbury Communion. So if a bishop chooses to stick with Canterbury, he is then with "them" and not with "us", they'll take it (with the longer term aim of weakening "them").

It makes no difference. They are all still going, even if they receive a welcome card or not. They will, of course, welcome each other. What we have is the Sugden (and Minns) axis, and (the cost of all this travel!) then membership cards to Akinola and the African bunch who do the nominal overseeing. Now I always think that Peter Jensen is slightly different. He's like the chap who was always a Trotskyist from well before some upstarts set up Militant Tendency with all its flash characters who are so keen to get on with it. So although he too gets a membership card, and is in one of the driving seats, he is the more hardcore, even cold believer, sat behind the desk who will be on the more thoughtful wing but still send the thugs out when the rational decision comes to it.

So where is it all at the moment? There are now significant responses in from around the Anglican Communion that show that a Covenant based on the Advent Letter is a non-starter. It won't happen because many simply won't sign up to that. Then we have Fred Hiltz, the Archbishop of Canada, asking the Archbishop of Canterbury for support and assistance over the (will be) GAFCON based intervention in Canada from the Southern Cone via a retired Canadian bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury says sorry for the late reply, I was busy writing another letter, and I can only repeat what was in the other letter - that they should not do it, and I'll say that I cannot support or sanction what they are doing (but you weren't asking me to support them but I'll put my answer the wrong way around if you don't mind because I like to reverse argue). Anyway, as you know, I have no powers to do anything - Yours sincerely and where's me pillow.

Indeed that is it. The outcome of all this is - well not much, and everyone knows it. It is why the GAFCON crew will go ahead and why the split, a split and not a preparation, will come.

Just as, in each Church, the ordination of women causes a split amongst the Anglo-Catholics about authority in episcopacy, this issue (it's not about homosexuality, said Sugden to the bishop - no, but it is the core presenting issue and obsesses his website) is causing a split at a Communion level, that will then fissure into most Anglican Churches. Read how they regard the Archbishop of Canterbury (and York too, increasingly): they are coming to England, and they'll be coming to Wales, Scotland and Ireland too.

No Quitting After 110 Years

The Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, has written to The Guardian as a result of Theo Hobson's piece in the same newspaper. He points out that the Modern Churchpeople's Union has been running for 110 years, in which time it has moved the debate:

Liberal Anglicans are in for the long haul when it comes to promoting values and attitudes appropriate to the new way Jesus inaugurated. The Modern Churchpeople's Union is 110 years old this year, and during its time it has patiently promoted a liberal approach to doctrinal, moral and social issues so successfully that virtually all of those issues have resolved themselves into what is essentially a liberal consensus.

He sees sources of authority in Anglicanism to produce an inclusive Church, and where homophobia will be removed. It will come.

I like the reference to the "artlessly disguised" Father Giles, which everyone knows was Theo Hobson's crack at Giles Fraser of Putney, who recently has been arguing in the Church Times against the place of Plato in understanding Christianity - preferring the imperfect and actual to the idealised and heavenly as the latter produces sameness when we are diverse.

This is the point. People are diverse, and it is having that diversity valued and not undermined that is the essence of this whole matter. John Saxbee put it this way:

promoting values and attitudes appropriate to the new way Jesus inaugurated.

Monday 21 January 2008

Affirming Liberalism

The website has been set up, and the Conference is very soon. It is based in Oxford, ex-seat of Bishop Richard Harries and the diocese where fully chosen and fully eligible Dr Jeffrey John did not become Bishop of Reading due to Rowan Williams's first act of reversal to turn himself from who he was into "the job" man he is now.

The Affirming Liberalism Inaugural Day Conference is on Saturday 9th February 2008, at Trinity College, Oxford, from 10 am to 4.30 pm. Unlike Theo Hobson's latest output, Rev. Canon Prof. Keith Ward (Professor of Divinity, Gresham College) speaks on Why the Future Belongs to Liberal Religion. Keith Ward has long been a sparring partner of Don Cupitt's nihilistic atheology and so his liberalism (philosophical, like Cupitt) has long been a moderate one, but has radicalised in recent years. The Rev. Canon Prof Martyn Percy (Principal Ripon College, Cuddesdon) speaks on Why Liberal Churches are Growing, so this is obviously at an enormous remove from Richard Turnbull's direction down a few roads. Many people think liberal churches are not growing. What grows are churches in urban areas that are a) known and b) distinct. The cost is modest, as it is £25 including lunch in College Hall. The Rev. Dr Richard Warden is handling enquiries.

Obviously a problem for someone like me is cost and distance. Essentially it is a local gathering but with an eye to expansion. The issue is how it relates or does not to the Progressive Christian Network, which is developing local groups (and related to John Spong and Hugh Dawes) and Sea of Faith, that bobs along with a number of groups, that relates to Rev. Don Cupitt and Rev. Prof. Lloyd Geering). Well both of these are not specifically Church of England and, indeed, Sea of Faith is not specifically Christian. Affirming Liberalism, like Affirming Catholicism, is a Church of England pressure group.

This raises a subject on this blog before. What's the difference between a largely liberal group like Affirming Catholicism and Affirming Liberalism? It depends where you start. Presumably Affirming Catholicism is principally the Anglo-Catholic package with a critical approach - open therefore to female ordination and female bishops and gay equality. The liberal approach is more individualist, Protestant perhaps, theology-as-enquiry, and promotes reasoning, freedom and toleration. I suppose the issue is how much, as Theo Hobson identifies, that the Affirming bit means corporate. If it does then there is a huge overlap between it and Affirming Catholicism.

Think of it perhaps like this. Many folks who have expressed liberal or liberal-compatible views in my local church do a lot of crossing themselves and bowing - I'm talking lay folk as well as clerical - and have a high view of worship. I don't. I don't even like this turning towards the Gospel when it is read out in amongst the people. I've nothing against dramatics, but I'm not into the raising up of books towards which I have an investigative attitude, even if it has a normative status. I don't cross myself and I don't get on my knees in prayer or indeed clasp hands or perform any other gesture. I don't protest, unless I am made to, so I stand and sit as others do, unless I am with someone who cannot stand and then I show solidarity with them. My only kneeling is at the communion, and I do have a central view of communion. I am not a mad no-gesture Puritan, but nor do I go in for elaborate gestures. There is a coolness about the liberal approach and an awareness too, even when going with the flow (such as with the music). Christianity is a series of traditions to be opened, and we are not subservient. A "mystery tour", as Sunday's ordinand preacher put it, still has places of clarification: fog is for clearing rather than making into even more fog.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Hobson's End

In the Guardian's Face to Faith column Theo Hobson has written that The Church of England's Gay Crisis Makes [it] Clear That [] Liberal Anglicanism is Finished.

The Modern Churchpeople's Union blog Only Connect puts it that:

Theo Hobson is no friend to liberals, and I'm sure someone will answer him in the next Face to faith & letters - but does he have a point?

Well, Theo Hobson does in so far as we have seen a succession of conservative moves which continue to reverberate, and the Advent Letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury must be one of the most illiberal epistles coming from an Archbishop - of neo-Roman Catholic centralisation based on a narrow piece of Protestant dogma.

The problem is that the letter has not worked, or not worked sufficiently. The GAFCON announcement followed, and this is unaffected, but GAFCON will not be uneffecting. Liberals have simply sat. They have sat and waited, and in various Anglican Churches they have made some progress. There are important moves in some Provinces now towards inclusion and equality, and they are also reasserting diversity and localism with co-operation. Responses to the Covenant show real limits to the Covenant. In other words, the Advent Letter was a failure. It oversold itself, and the Covenant process cannot produce this conservative outcome. This is why GAFCON will set up its own measures and standards, and will realise (if it isn't already planned) that it can only apply them if it forms its own Communion.

Theo Hobson simply hasn't looked at all the pieces on the chess board, nor where they are positioned. Evangelicals are past masters at realising defeat out of their intended victory. They are now hopelessly divided, and liberals continue to sit there, watching, and nudging things along.

Watch for that chess piece that says to the Covenant a number of moves down the line - "check mate". There is some play in the board left; there may be the odd push at Lambeth to impress the GAFCON crowd, who won't be impressed, as they were not with the Advent Letter. Then the Archbishop's whole strategy will fall apart.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Core Spiritualities in Faiths

Television is so awful these days that I have stopped even looking at what may be on, and thus I miss what is interesting. It has happened with Peter Owen-Jones's programmes Extreme Pilgrim on BBC 2. I saw the first, the second sailed by and I watched all of the third by pure accident.

Peter Owen Jones is finding another career as a TV presenter. He has been on before (presented a programme on The Lost Gospels), and was spotted again by producers in Church of England: The Power and the Glory (he's the guy with the hat).

The biography is interesting. He has been a priest about fourteen years. He started as a farm labourer for eight years and ran a mobile disco, then was a messenger in advertising agency Wight Collins Rutherford Scott and ended up as Creative Director at Toys in the Attic, when he oversaw high-profile campaigns for the Green Party, Swiss Air and Ryvita. In 1991 he started two years at Ridley Hall Theological College, then became a curate near Wisbech on The Fens and has since moved to three parishes Sussex as a non-stipendary priest (that is, he gets his main income elsewhere). Indeed he is committed to being non-stipendary, and that beyond being paid for rites of passage he thinks priests should earn their living elsewhere if with a skill. He has used his advertising skills for the Church of England. He likes his garden and he is fit - necessary for the programme Extreme Pilgrim filmed when he was 49, for which he did extra training.

The sabbatical was a response to a felt lack of spirituality in the over brained under souled Church of England and a search about where to find soul spirituality. He already had this quest and bias (dated 2005) in a mobile home retreat on the North Norfolk coast - a place to just be. The programme seems to combine with something of a travelogue in The Times, which is obviously another source of income. I have spotted this angle in articles about China, India and about England.

What I warmed to was the solid investigation of spirituality. Obviously it was a programme idea of which the BBC approved (different cultures, places - visual interest - and another angle on religion). Such spirituality was across boundaries. So he participated in Buddhist activity, and in the Kumb Mehla, and in the harshest spirituality in the region of the oldest monastery in the world, in a cave for three weeks with father Lazarus, the only isolated monk there, nearby but neither him nor the camera crew visiting Peter Owen Jones for three weeks.

The Shaolin monastery did not impress the participant, but the monastery up the mountain did, run by a Buddhist master called Shidejian, who guides around 20 monks. There he realised that by letting go, a detachment, that a kind of love that was collectively orientated took over. In the third programme he enjoyed a kind of bonding with his camel train team, and then got worried about scary demons for the up and coming isolation of the cave, discovered at the time how the slightest noise was magnified in the utter silence and barrenness, and did show some stress, but then came to be with that silence. The middle programme (I have read about) had him spending five days being one of the twenty million massed at the Hindu Kumbh Mela, centred on one of a thousand ashrams there, with dressed and made up castrated sadhus and naked ones, and then he went to the snowline of the Himalayas where many of these sadhus live alone, in mountain caves or in shelters under holy trees on the outskirts of towns and villages. The Kumbh Mela was religion in technicolour, and the Haridwar experience was in Jagdish’s ashram with flower gardens going down to seven rivers going to make up the Ganges. There he spent a few nights in a Vasistha’s cave, just outside the village of Thadoga, where the wildlife came into sharper focus and people gathered. Dressed as a Sadhu, villagers knelt as he came in. He discovered that comfort is mental, that Indians know how to smile and about the strength in not killing a scorpion.

As someone who has spent some time going weekly to a Western Buddhist meditation and, in addition, to other Western Buddhist events, and reading their literature, and also going to a few Tibetan Buddhist meditations and a centre at York and then Kilnwick Percy (to where the York Centre moved) I could understand what Peter Owen Jones was discovering at the second temple (and what was amiss at the first). I have spent no more than a long weekend at a convent, but there was a silence and peace there that had a numinous quality.

What we are talking about here is some connection with what is called salvation. This means, for me, a kind of inner quality being released, and it is not via being comfortable. That inner quality may have some sort of greater existence beyond our own consciousness - who knows. Even if we just go the way of the worms, or up in smoke, there is a freedom of non-attachment while alive which is the opposite of selfishness, as discovered by those who get on with it.

These freedoms come in Christianity - letting the liturgy pass into and through oneself, and binding together in a ritual of gift, give and receive, and silent staring - but they come equally with other faiths and approaches, all of them tried, tested and valued - some severe and some a middling approach. They kind of tell us not to be too worried about tomorrow, even as it looms and threatens.

Friday 18 January 2008

We ARE Praying with You

What a difference. In a ceremony held at the chapel of Bishop Manogue Catholic High School, the new Bishop of Nevada the Right Reverend Dan Thomas Edwards was blessed by a variety of leaders across the religions. The same school and its students received a blessing - its interfaith work being important. The leaders who blessed the bishop were the Most Reverend Randolph Calvo, Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Reno; Buddhist priest Reverend William Bartlett; Jewish Rabbi Elizabeth Beyer; Hindu chaplain; Rajan Zed; Imam Abdul Barghouthi of the Northern Nevada Muslim Community; Bahai Trip Barthel; Reverend Onie Cooper of the Second Baptist Church and Native American faith leader Reynalda James. Also present and shaking hands were Father Charles Durante, Pastor of Saint Teresa of Avila Catholic Community of Carson City; Reverend William R. Millsap of Trinity Episcopal Church; Reverend Ruth Hanusa; and Reverend Rebecca with Reverend Rhys Andrews both of the International Community of Christ. Blessing the school and students were Reverend Jackie L. Leonard of St. John’s Presbyterian Church; Reverend Robert Petrovich of International Community of Christ; Brother Jeff Olsen of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Senior Pastor Carl F. Wilfrid of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd; Rabbi Myra Soifer of the Temple Sinai-Reform; Reverend Laurie Chappelle of St. Catherine of Siena Episcopal Church; and Reverend John J. Auer, Pastor of Reno First United Methodist Church. There was a Father Mark speaking too. Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed and Imam Abdul Barghouthi of the Northern Nevada Muslim Community were prominent in both bishop and school blessings, the latter ceremony involving candles brought from various places of worship and were lit in the school gymnasium.

The bishop and school students heard readings from various scriptures: Rabbi Myra Soifer read Hebrew texts, Imam Bargouthie read from the Qur'an, and Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed read shlokas from the Rig-Veda (for the bishop and the school) Also Reynalda James brought special water from Pyramid Lake to bless Bishop Edwards as part of native spirituality.

Good photos published include Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed reading and various religious leaders after the Service. These are best saved and viewed full screen in a program like Irfan View.

So all these could join, participate and support the new bishop, and bless this school and students, and yet down in a Lancashire town of Padiham a group of "trinitarianism" Christians could not even tolerate Unitarians in case they were polluted.

Some interfaith prayers at the school blessing:

"May God continue today the work of reconciliation begun by many great leaders of faith." Imam Barghouthi

"Break down the walls between us." Rev. Robert Petrovich of International Community of Christ

"Whatever divides us might be overcome through wisdom, love and truth." Chaplain Rajan Zed

"God of all Light may hear and respond to our constant prayers." Brother Jeff Olsen of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

"Let us seal our unity in prayer, in love and in the hope of one human race." Father Mark

"We pray for the forgiveness of all people of faith, that we may remove any barriers of prejudice or intolerance so that the world's religions may recognize the similarities and beliefs we share." Rev. John J. Auer, Pastor of Reno First United Methodist Church

Thursday 17 January 2008

We're Not Praying with YOU

It's the silly season again down in ecumenical areas. According to this report, once again no one will share with Unitarians when it comes to praying - this time in Padiham.

The Baptists for one are still fighting the battles of the past, when a number of their kind (for example in 1806) became Unitarian and the Baptists have never forgiven the Unitarians since. Lancashire had a grouping known as Cookite Methodists, and they became Unitarians, so some Methodists aren't such a happy bunch when it comes to Unitarians. The Church of England, well they had broad Church people who often had contact and empathy with Unitarian theologians, producing similar theological reflections.... (hang on, that means they should mix!).

Padiham is a Christian Unitarian church, so it might be feeling a bit lonely. One of my points when the General Assembly in 2001 adopted the Object that includes the intention to "uphold the liberal Christian tradition" was that this was against the unique pluralist offering Unitarians could give, and anyway it would not impress those like the neighbours at Padiham.


To promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all creation; and the upholding of the liberal Christian tradition.

Folks at the National Unitarian Fellowship - where they have discussions - have been saying how this Object frustrates new converts to Unitarianism, in that what they thought was treating many faiths equally turns out to privilege one. On the other hand those poor souls at the Unitarian Christian Association are thrashing away for an even greater promotion of Christianity amongst the Unitarians and with other ecumenical people. Incidentally, when it came to my friends at The Liberal Rite seeking association with the General Assembly, they were told they were too Christian, by which it must mean that the emergent Liberal Catholicism has been treated as outside the fold by Unitarians.

Good on the Roman Catholics. They feel secure in themselves, obviously. There might even be the odd local Roman Catholic modernist in the area.

Some of the folks at Padiham are more orthodox than many a liberal Anglican, liberal Methodist or, to use the old title, General Baptist. This is a pathetic division and does not reflect denominational realities. I have just enjoyed a reasonably liberal discussion in an Anglican setting.

As for upholding the Trinity, it didn't exist until it was formed doctrinally after the Bible; the Bible does not contain the doctrine. There is only a different late entry of the proto-trinitarian baptismal formula. I know ante-trinitarian worship when I see it, even when accidental.

When I take intercessions at the Anglican Church, I do not pray just for the ecumenical partners of the town. I include Barton Evangelical Church even if they do not include the one I am in - and indeed they shun ecumenical activity. One day I'll give it a visit. Plus I give prayers for people of faith and the leaders who serve them, as well as Christians specifically. Prayers exist in the realms of the gift, not in reciprocal exchange. Prayers are to and with people whoever they are, and without conditions attached. We say and do these for our own good, not because of any transmission that may do something or other we may (arrogantly) regard as harmful or beneficial to the other.

I hope the Unitarians give the Roman Catholics a warm welcome and also invite down people of different faiths. Best wishes to the folks at Padiham.

Some more news links:

Lancashire Telegraph: Reverend's plea for unity after snub By Samrana Hussain
Burnley Citizen: War of words over snub to Unitarians By Kate Turner