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.


Erika Baker said...

What is most shocking about this story is the Bishop suggesting that looking after a needy family member cannot be combined with full time ministry. This is the precise opposite of what the church should be doing. To release this man into nothing without pay goes against everything Christianity should be about.

Sadly, it happens more and more often round here. And if the poor man then still feels connected to the church and attached to his Ministry and searches for a way of continuing to serve in his community, he's called unorthodox and thrown out properly.
It's absolutely appalling.

MadPriest said...

Thanks. Erika flagged this up on a very short news item I did on his resignation. I will put a proper link to your blog in the actual editorial.

I often wonder what evangelicals would think about the Blessed C. S. Lewis if they actually knew what he believed (as revealed in his science fiction trilogy). I think they would have had him burnt. Not only are they trying to take control of the CofE but they are suppressing our history. There has been an element of natural religion in British Christianity since Celtic times. This priest is an extreme example of how it can come out but that's only because he is perhaps more honest than most.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I think you are right Erika. It looks like that there has been some bad handling here by the bishop (yet again this seems to have happened). My focus was on the distortion that Anglican Mainstream was making of it, exploiting the priest and his situation for their own ends to bash at the Church of England. Yet the Church of England has been zealous in this regard in guarding its boundaries, and quite different from the accusation made of it by Anglican Mainstream. One day the Church of England will leave be, and let the man continue. As you say, in transition he was perhaps forced to stretch his own ministry to others, though he is doing this ideological shift more willingly than just pastoral boundary-shifting.

It is making me think about my own position too as a lay person but a long time wonderer about ministry. My sympathies are as wide as Chris Horseman's, if in slightly different directions.

Erika Baker said...

I take your point that your intention had been to highlight the disingenious way in which Anglican Mainstream reported the story.

But I can't help thinking that your and my concern stem from the same phenomenon: an increasing tendency to codify views and to ensure that all Christians stay within an ever narrowing framework.

And who is to say that the appalling way in which he was treated when he needed the support of his own church most, hasn't hastened Chris Horseman's exit from traditional Christianity? The church really isn't helping itself with this kind of spiritual and practical neglect of those who serve it.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes, a sort of reciprocal effect. The practicality of the situation (need to meet a broader constituency) plus a response back by him in terms of his beliefs to being shifted away from full time ministry.

I don't want to make accusations beyond the available evidence - though it looks unsatisfactory. Anyway, to eject an NSM altogether is the Church cutting away a resource it might benefit from, at little cost, and just proves the point against Anglican Mainstream that this bishop has put dogma above everything and it seems like pastoral care has been low on priorities at every stage.

If this is needed then I would hope that Chris Horseman might find his way towards one of the networks of say independent sacramental communities that exist, and he will find a collection of people who maintain contact with one another forming geographically far-reaching but friendly support - for what the Church of England should have provided.

Anonymous said...

God have mercy! As far as I can see this man has left the faith, and the preaching of the gospel.

The bishop should be about loving him, and on his face before the Lord praying with tears.

And, what a sad situation to begin with.. He was cut off from ministry because of caring for his wife. Why weren't he and his wife supported by the church from the start?


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I think we can dispense with gestures about the bishop (I take it) getting on his face and praying before the Lord with tears. Also I have a broader definition of Christianity than this. I do not think that Chris Horseman has left the faith, he has expanded his faith.

As for lack of support, well as I'm saying with Erika, it looks that way but cannot be sure. Surely, yes, looking after his wife could have been combined with stipendiary ministry rather than forcing him to earn his living but we are not party to those discussions. The evidence I have been dealing with more closely is the deceptive writing of Anglican Mainstream and the importance of this when it comes to GAFCON and its treatment of the Church of England and all that.

Anonymous said...

Pluralist, congratulations on a good, thorough expose (should be an accent on that last 'e' but my WP skills are not up to providing one) of the deeply creepy St Lisa of the Lookout's piece on Anglican Mainstream. Yes, the CofE's response to Chris Horsman is very different from the picture given by AM - I think your post deserves wider attention. Have you sent it to St Lisa and asked her if she'd like to explain why she misrepresented the position?

That said, I'm afraid I do have a few problems both with Rev Horseman and with what other posters here have said and I guess they come down to what he actually believes. He's clearly a good man who gets on well with people, skilled at giving meaning to the lives of those whose funerals he takes and bringing comfort to families and friends. All of that is very commendable. But how does it differentiate him from, say, a good social worker or, even, a good funeral director? What purpose does his being ordained serve?

The thing is, and I really don't think there is a way around this, if Christianity is true, then all other belief systems cannot be. If you are Christ's man, you cannot at one and the same time be a pagan or white witch or practise shamanism or anything else because these, in essence, are a worship of creation and not the creator.

Surely, the purpose of the Church (capital 'C' for the Body of Christ and not any particular denomination) is the salvation of mankind through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, you may not believe that but I'd question the assumption that those who don't have an automatic right to remain within the church (small 'c' to denote denominations like the CofE).

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

He is more than a good social worker because he is offering funerals pregnant with religious meaning. Just because he has a Christian and Pagan and Humanist view of life does not turn him into a social worker or funeral director.

He is a non-dogmatic priest. Actually, is is right in the centre of what can be called Liberal Catholicism and I hope he can make connections with the patchwork of ordained Free Catholic and Liberal Catholic bishops and priests who provide similar services - he need not be alone.

In a postmodern understanding it is possible to hop between belief bubbles and even join a few up. We liberals have on our side a range of resources from biblical criticism to Church traditions and simple individualistic joining views together that allow these belief packages to be constructed.

Erika Baker said...

what makes you think that non Christians worship creation and not the creator?

Could it not be that, just as Christians find God primarily through the life and actions of Jesus, pagans find him through his creation?

It isn't a question of right or wrong belief systems, but of which aspects can bring you close to that ultimate truth that is so much greater than you or I can comprehend, that we can happily allow the druids to have found their own way towards it.

Each faith group is likely to have understood some truths the others have missed, so learning from each other and respecting each other should be of utmost importance.

Humility alone requires that we recognise that our limited human understanding means we all misunderstand some aspects. They to, but we too.

Anonymous said...

Pluralist and erika, thanks for your comments.

Erika, I'm afraid I do think it is very much a matter of right or wrong belief systems. When you write

"Each faith group is likely to have understood some truths the others have missed, so learning from each other and respecting each other should be of utmost importance.",

what did you have in mind? What truths, for example, has Islam picked up on that have been missed by Christianity? Or Hinduism with its pantheon of deities and its Untouchables?

People should always be respected but extend the same courtesy to belief systems? Nah, don't think so. You, presumably, think democracy is a better form of government than facism so if you can exercise discrimination in the political domain, why not in the religious?

If aspects of pretty much any belief system "can bring you close to that ultimate truth that is so much greater than you or I can comprehend", then why are Christians urged to make disciples of all nations? Why was Jesus here at all?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Jesus was here - the historical rabbi - because he was one of a number of end of time preachers in that eschatological form of Judaism in that part of the world. Other values placed on him, that lead to theologically loaded terms such as "Jesus came" are post-resurrection belief assessments of the Christian community. Jesus spoke to his own, set up 12 disciples for the 12 tribes, and was purely Jewish. All else is later. It is this sort of assessment, freely made, that allows other sorts of assessments to be freely made about Jesus, Judaism, Christianity and any faith critically understood.

Erika Baker said...

I would respect people who state categorically that there are right and wrong belief systems more if they had genuinely spent equal amounts of time studying 5-6 world religions and then decided which one was right.

We are Christian because we were born in a country where Christianity is culturally, historically and practically the most accessible form of faith. We then judge the little we know of other faiths by the yardstick of Christianity.

Muslims do the same with their faith, Buddhists with theirs, Hindus with theirs....

Or are you genuinely telling me that you have the same deep understanding of those faiths and can genuinely say that Christianity is absolutely and always superior?

It's about faith, not about certainties. It's not about being absolutely right, but about praying "keep us firm in the hope you have set before us".

It can be very strong, but it's also tentative. Any claim for absolutism must be rejected.

You probably heard about the 4 blind men being asked to describe an elephant through touching it. The first one describes the trunk, the second the belly, the third a leg, the last one the tail. Each one believes that he knows the elephant. Each one is right in the bit that they know, none of them has any comprehension of the whole animal.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I had some quite long conversations with Chris following the loss of my mother and husband. The one thing that really stuck in my mind was his statement that he "believed in love in whatever form it came".
As an aetheist I found this very moving and could relate to it in a way that was impossible if connected to a religion.