Sunday 28 February 2010

A Friend and a Friend and Hymns

It's good when a new person brings along a new person, as today. And there was another unseen face, but unfortunately (and city centre churches do get this) he decided to go into the kitchen, steal some money and go. I'm amazed how quietly such a disturbance gets handled, and how sad it is that some folks who are welcomed many times over as they sit with hymn book are clearly there just to jump at the main chance and run. We can guess what his theft was for.

The service was taken by the most influential of the small denomination's music people, who remarked on the pleasure of seeing faces unseen before. His service was on a variation of the idea that you sing your group's theology. The 'problem' of having diversity and difference as the basis of coming together is clearly a difficult one to get across to the outsider, however valued it may be and understood on the inside. Professing Freedom, Reason and Tolerance is limited in terms of content or behaviour. So he has had his small project of generating some sort of statement of values and principles that Unitarians profess, and do, as indeed the Yorkshire Unitarian Union wants to inject into the General Assembly Executive Committee's activity. Note that this is about values and principles rather than beliefs.

Hymns, he said, have a resonance still. People who approach Unitarian ministers for a "non-religious" funeral, because the deceased person wasn't religious and it feels wrong to then turn to religion, will ask for no prayers but yet may still ask for some hymns because the deceased knew and enjoyed hymns.

So he pointed out that principles and values can be found in the hymns we sing, and indeed produced a list of common themes in the hymn books readily used. The preacher and music maestro has himself been involved in producing the large new hymn book supplement Sing Your Faith and adding to its tunes. I didn't get to say that I have already bought my own copy, but he said it has since sold out and needs another print run - and this congregation has not bought copies (partly for music provision problems). I see that the book we have is available for sale in India!

He and I talked about recent controversies (for others) that made page three in The Times recently, when Unitarians should be able to extend the provision for rites of passage to fully registered gay partnerships.

By the way, the photo followed an extensive search. It's from the 1980s, at a General Assembly, is a zoomed-in detail of a group photo, rendered and textured, and the time I spent looking and diverted left me with no moments to do a cartoon likeness!


Asked by the priest in charge after the evening service about how I'd score - my life presently, like 1 to 10 - I said, "Oh, 4 out of ten." One thought "Oh dear," yet he how optimistic for me (probably true). But I said I thought the scoring was for his service (or sermon with prayers, and the curate who led it); but not so because the service done is tomorrow's chip paper. "Oh well I'll put my scorecards away then," I said, as I opened my car.

Saturday 27 February 2010

An Institution Let Down

I'm not so foolish to think that the developments at Fulcrum - and I include here not simply about some posters but also the conservatism shown by the likes of Andrew Goddard, for example - represent the whole of Christianity. What in the end has cut the rope for me is the silence of the other side. I live in the Lincoln diocese, and a 'policy' of mine has been not to 'shit in my own backyard', for example. But though I have met him, and he is very personable (which matters) and has said some significant thinks in local conversation (which matters), I see nothing but imbalance when it comes to wider comment by Church of England leaders - so that the increasingly conservative like Williams and Wright are like road blockages and foghorns, and then you have the more extreme noises making hay, whereas there is no balance from the other side unless they are retired or nearly retired. It constantly gives the argument over to those who emphasise rules, laws and imagined international authority.

The whole episcopal thing is stifling, suffocating and promotes a delusion. And down the line, those of a more liberal or radical view simply fail to come out. They would be noticed if they did, on a man bites dog media basis, if for no other reason, but they stay in their kennels as the evangelical dogs roam around looking for their next meat.

One reason religion is in such crisis in this country is because it has become this closed and deceptive book. People are not fooled by institutional double think and by institutional hiding. There is a sort of intellectual corruption - seen in Rowan Williams when he addresses institutional matters - that simply corrodes the institutional source of the misleading conversation.

The reason, recently, that some academics, retired and nearly retired, spoke out on this gay issue was because at root they don't want that corrosion to be spread beyond the vehicle that has it all over its body. The Anglicans must choose to discriminate within themselves and follow their own frustrated logic, including those who would have it otherwise.

I sometimes wonder (indeed I have recently): What if back in 1985 I'd pursued ordination with the Church of England (no one asked me to leave) and then they might have seen me as part of the mix. I can't imagine where I'd be now, perhaps on some liberal Catholic semi-delusion: but likely occupying some corner, somewhere, quiet as a mouse as the 'promises' were insisted upon by some bishop or his staff, or by sheer pressure, or by employment insecurity, while the other side were running around and making all the noise. The whole body would frustrate me as increasingly sectarian and cut off from the general population, never mind academic thought.

It wasn't that long ago that I thought of this yet again, as a kind of hangover, that survived the mildest of testing, but now the institution cannot be viewed other than sadly, at a distance, by a friend - but only if it can find again some sense of public breadth. It has been let down by its leaders and other significant people; very few now will, for example, go on TV like Colin Coward did (surely the very opposite of his surname) and say he wants a broad institution and find the public around him surprised at how narrow his Church has become by the expression of his opponents. For a healthy religious life, you just have to be elsewhere, if you can find it, even if it can never be frustration free. You have to be creative, expressive, and coherent: it has to reflect how you otherwise think, and what you are trying to be even when that is difficult. It has to be pro-humanity, flexible, and not about a set of rules, and whilst it should enchant as religion it also ought not to be any other form of the fantastical or self-deceptive.

Shut the Door

While I like to debate, the follow up to the last blog (below) has to be to self-discipline and to lay off Fulcrum. The most recent responses to me and to others are just getting nasty, that follows on from the narrowness; but, more than this, if I now really do not want the label of Christian at all - and I don't - then it follows that I ought to leave that house of strife to itself, and leave those who want the label to battle with these types or find their own ways of shutting some internal doors. So, well, time to exert some self-discipline, to go elsewhere, shut the door and shake the dust off my feet.

So, starting at Thursday 1 February 2007 - 03:47 pm, I have used my pasteboard to rapidly grab all 81 pages of entries since the first entry recorded, in order, and thus, with that record saved, I can wish them all goodbye.

Meanwhile, a problem is the lack of liberal discussion boards (I'll have to do more at the NUF's) and where there are liberal sites they are very occasional, so much so that items then get missed, such as these notes on why liberal churches grow appearing at the nearly dormant Anglican group Affirming Liberalism over two weeks ago.

Thursday 25 February 2010

The Decline of the Open Evangelical

Notice what is happening at the Fulcrum discussion boards?

It used to be a place where reasonable evangelicals (like Graham Kings) might debate with those like themselves and others, presumably to give credence to the notion that they have substance to their intellectual position and they can defend it.

Certainly people like myself have been able to post there, as an outsider, and its not something I have done or want to do on Conservative Christian blogs, and usually people like me are unwelcome there.

But Fulcrum has been captured by a small group of Conservative Evangelical posters, motivated by the gay issue, and because Open Evangelicalism compromises with them they have been neutered by the Conservative side.

Posters on this site of the restrictive kind go by the names of DaveW, Carl, Pageantmaster, Phil Almond and Nersen, the latter being Nersen Pillay or NP as once at Thinking Anglicans. They all have particular techniques of posting. Nersen is repetitive, and refers to the same touchstones as if they are factual set - such as "the mind of the communion", a phrase from Rowan Williams he uses at convenience. I knew when he first appeared that every argument would be forced into a sock of his own shape. All that matters for NP is that people obey the literalist rules: the silence of progressive bishops, regarding the recent House of Lords vote to prevent religious communities having registrars at gay partnership ceremonies, he sees as a good sign. Phil Almond treats Bible texts as given, and then quotes them as legal-like proofs of a stance in which most are condemned and few are saved according to a neo-Calvinist view, and in an argument with him he will refer back to a previous post made years ago if it is there. Pageantmaster (who posts similarly on Titus One Nine) insists that the Civil Partnership was not brought into law for the purpose the Quakers wish to put it, and he has stated:

A vicar or imam could bless Fido's dog tags and lead, and prayers could be said for the mutual fidelity of Fido and his owner, promises on the one party to provide tins of chum, and on the other part a commitment to bark at visitors. Similarly a service for the handing over of TV licences and tax returns could be held annually in the presence of the DVLA and tax inspectors.

Carl is simply a narrow literalist evangelical, and DaveW insists that there is but one Christian view on the whole gay blessings topic - his. He wrote, typically:

David Baker also makes a valuable observation about some of the tactics which spins the idea that when the individual poster is speaking about 2000 odd years of historic apostolic Christian belief its somehow just the individuals idea or a few crazy evangelicals. No, this is the Christian view, same sex sexual relations are error, there is no other Christian view.

There is, and other Christians make it. It is not for me to put the other view, but I have, adding my own extension:

the Bible says nearly nothing positively on same sex relationships - actual relationships - but it says a lot about relationships - about trust and faithfulness. But when the Bible is inadequate or wrong, it is to be said. It is both on this matter: it simply is inadequate regarding the breadth of human relationships, and wrong to equate gay sex with idolatry.

That these people are evangelicals, and are closing down debate with other evangelicals, shows how the ideology works. First it closes down an open evangelical position, second it goes after the liberal Christian view:

To Clare,

In an earlier post you wrote 'did Jesus say these thing, perhaps so of them'

What is your position then to discuss universalism when you cant be sure of scriptures what we base our trust and faith in. We know salvation is through faith in Christ according to the NT and yours is uncertainty in that respect. How can we discuss our faith compared to yours when they have such completely different worldviews and starting points.

I don't care what DaveW or anyone else calls my stance, which has moved on to a religious humanism. What I care about is how we think today, and why (it delivers results, sustains its arguments), and I ask how religious language as reflective and contemplative - asking ethical questions - can function among the ordinary understandings we have. Liberal Christian L Roberts has put it that it is:

Hard to equate the nasty posts here with true religion. But then that's satanic - right ?

That's the characteristic of this end of evangelicalism, as it comes on to a broader site. But it is on a mission, using the gay issue to crack eggs and force itself as 'the only view'.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Marriage Equality Day

Newington Green and Islington Unitarian Church is holding a Marriage Equality Day on 27 February 2010 between 10.30 and 13.30. It is a public meeting to explore the issues surrounding the inequality of marriage and Civil Partnership rights in the UK. Confirmed speakers include Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and interim pastor of Metropolitan Community Church North London, Peter Tatchell, winner of Observer's Campaigner of the Year 2009 Human Rights Campaigner, Professor Robert Wintemute, School of Law, King's College London and James Welch, Legal Director at Liberty.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Heard the Starting Gun?

Election time is upon us. I know because I was rung up today regarding my likely vote and opinion about our Member of Parliament Shona McIsaac. I said preferably I'd like to vote Liberal Democrat but in this constituency it is a Labour-Conservative marginal and thus a trap. It's why I support the Alternative Vote moves of the moment. Asked about our MP, I said she is hard working and good on the bread and butter issues (for example, she did a lot about anti-social behaviour which has been an issue in this part of the world). What I didn't say is that she is hopeless as a debater and comes across badly on TV in any discussion, and has never crossed the government on any principle (if she had one different from them - and she backed them all the way on Iraq): but she does actually represent constituents and follows the issues. As regards the Conservatives, I said that, for example, they've just come up with this bird-brain scheme to sell of bank shares cheap to the public, but that's not wanted because what government should do is wait until the shares go up in value, sell them off high and use the money for the State to shift the debt it's got into. He said Vince Cable (Lib-Dem) had suggested that originally. Yes. I also volunteered an opinion about Gordon Brown and bullying, that if it is at the tea-lady then it matters, but politics and government is such that if it is with a cabinet minister or, even, a senior civil servant then it doesn't really.

I wasn't canvassed previously, since 1997 anyway: and this change is because Labour is worried.

My view is that Cameron is a slight figure and Osborne (Shadow Chancellor) virtually pathetic. There's a great deal I dislike this government for, and can produce a list, but the Conservatives could be wreckless economically and I see nothing from them that is a positive. I also see Nick Clegg coming along slowly (he wasn't the flash media figure expected) and actually rather more solidly, and of course he is surrounded by some very competent people, whereas one wonders whether Cameron is any good or anyone around him.

He said I might have to hold my nose and vote for my own second choice. I might. On the other hand, if you don't vote for a third place party, they don't become second place and then capable of winning. After all, who'd have thought Liberal Democrats would have come through in places like Hull and Sheffield locally, where they replaced both a hollowed-out Blairite Labour Party nationally and a local Labour Party that had lost its direction.


Liberal Judaism, the Quakers, and the Unitarians all want the right to conduct Civil Partnerships with religious language in their meeting places. Actually, for Unitarians, it comes down to individual congregations, and I was involved in a congregational meeting that said yes to an enquiry about a necessarily 'private' partnership ceremony, but the (advisory) General Assembly has long taken a line against discrimination. Newington Green Unitarian church has taken a campaigning view about this imposed discrimination, such that it won't carry out weddings with registrars.

Some worthies have written to The Times in support of the three small bodies and their wishes, including the author of the fantastic History of Christianity Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, Oxford, who understands rather a lot about the earliest history of civic and religious pluralism from Transylvania to Lithuania as the left wing of the Reformation broke out before Roman Catholic reassertion. The Unitarianism and Socinianism of the early 1600s was a model for later Western society - toleration.

There are warmly tolerant comments on Thinking Anglicans on this issue. The Bishops of Winchester and Chichester have no grounds for telling the Unitarians or any other religious group what to do, on the spurious basis that Anglican independence is threatened. Yes, trample over others' independence while preserving their own privilege. All they are doing is making the argument for scrapping their place in the House of Lords, because this is indeed privilege and they have abused it. After all, having creedless Unitarians and Quakers, and progressive gatherings of Jews, might also put pressure on the observance of the Trinity and doctrine; are they going to legislate about that? Once they did.

The discrimination the Church of England applies to its ceremonies and ministry is itself being tolerated. It cannot discriminate when it comes to general public employment, just as no public house or club rules can say "no blacks". Even the racist British National Party has made that legal change. The legal toleration preserves discrimination for what it regards as sacred in its own sphere, and thus it will only be required to marry heterosexual couples where one person lives in a parish.

Of course it puts the Church of England out of step. But then the Church of England should not be required to marry any heterosexual couple in a parish - that should be for it to decide. If it wants to, then good. The idea that Church business is the business of national law ought to be cut out. It only ought to be within the law.

Thus the argument for continued establishment is very weak. This is magnified when only one serving bishop has put his name to the list (David Stancliffe). Where, for example, is the name of the so-called progressive Bishop of Lincoln, President of the Modern Churchpeople's Union? Once again: hiding. Well, collective bishops' responsibility is something that the Church of England can have for itself: it is nothing to do with other Churches or faith groups and all this does is spread the guilt. He should not be in the House of Lords either; none of them should be there.

This anomaly of establishment has been amply demonstrated by the bishops interfering by legislation in the wider religious life of the country.

Monday 22 February 2010

Changing Rooms Special

Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: Archbishop, what sort of room design would you want us to use here, for this one-off special revivial?
Anna Ryder Cleavageless: Looking down at what I've not got, can you think of something sexy, enticing, that enhances the palace, the Anglican Communion?
Rowan Tree: I think I am probably looking for something on the lines of a fortified box room for paranoiacs.
Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: Bully, I've not done that before, unless you count all my designs in purple with flowing pink fabrics.
Rowan Tree: I approve of purple.
Anna Ryder Cleavageless: I'm thinking then a purple padded cell as soft as breasts. What sort of influence are you considering, Archie?
Rowan Tree: A denial or lack of vision that comes about in a more or less non-society based on approximate self interest, on bureaucratic manipulation, on a sort of Herbert Spencer limited view of Darwinism, of people jockeying for position on a short term basis.
Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: And you want this inside Lambeth Palace?
Rowan Tree: I did not say otherwise.
Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: This is quite a challenge, a right one hundred and eighty. Could you give us some background to this, where it comes from?
Rowan Tree: As babies are dependent...
Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: Quite some background.
Rowan Tree: And we face a screaming environment that could possibly overwhelm and so need the support by which we can reach out and learn. That family support is but a small reflection on what God offers unconditionally. So the baby, unaware of God, depends on the family, and not God, in that God is an adult theoretical construct that children only learn at Sunday School, if they attend at all. Now like the child, the adult receives far more than they process in individualistic pursuit, but what makes them more fully human is the engagement in the otherwise unproductive, the development of the thoughtful and imaginative life from which a greater sense of empathy arises.
Anna Ryder Cleavageless: A bit like doing Changing Rooms: why it was cancelled. I was in some of them, but you just can't get the bras.
Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: I'm seeing vertical slashes and horizontal lines.
Rowan Tree: No, I am not saying that you need a religious faith for this enchantment, even if it might produce a reflective Lenten design; in any case, the point about a fortified box room for paranoiacs is that it should negate the enchanting and be the more Weberian depressive.
Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: I'm now getting the flow of body fluids, blood and gunge.
Rowan Tree: No, I am not saying that you need a religious faith in terms of, say, Good Friday in this. Desolation may be a part of this but again it is in the short term flow of fairly meaningless individual operations.
Anna Ryder Cleavageless: Soft breast like for me, still. Purple diagonal slashes, lifting and separating.
Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: Perhaps rapidly altering pointy light emitting diodes.
Rowan Tree: Could be if not otherwise. I would want to leave it to your discretion.

Three days later.

Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: Keep your hands over your specs, Archbishop, and now remove your hands and open your eyes.
Rowan Tree: I won't start crying. What is it?
Anna Ryder Cleavageless: It is a yack hair padded covered room that is in dayglo orange, a commode in the corner, with the window breezeblocked and whitewashed, with no view but an Anglican Commode logo on it, and the fluorescent light is on all the time.
Rowan Tree: This does seem to be a vision of the visionless. And it represents?
Lawrence Llewelyn Jim Bowen: Well, we read about your and other manipulations of the Anglican Commode, the short term jockeying for position, the individualism involved, and that got us going. The hair all around is your own public image, the lack of vision in a blocked up window with logo instead, the indoor light of the office, the dayglo that would drive anyone mad.
Rowan Tree: I think I will bring in my desk and computer, and work from here. It might even be the place to receive fellow Archbishops.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Qur'an and Flowers

I was pleased today to receive from the new (and regular) attender a thanks regarding the service last week, in that Ibn Sina is well known in Iran (and I had read a passage from the Qur'an). I was given a copy of some verses from the Qur'an. I'm quite honoured.

I then made the point to the former Chair of the congregation that, "I was thinking that in an ordinary church when someone new comes the idea is to conform them to the church."
"But we don't do that," he said in a rush.
I continued, "Whereas here the church is the one that changes to adopt the new person."
He said, "To be inclusive."

I said to an attender not there last week that I had tilted my service in the newcomer's direction, quite deliberately. Our new attender (six times so far, by my calculation, and four weekly) was also the recipient of the flowers that were on display in the service, to adorn the accommodation.

Apparently the choice of the church was almost random, just a look at the symbols outside (chalice and flame rather than a cross), and a desire "to go to somewhere holy".

The service was a well presented one on Hellen Keller, mixed with relevant meditation, prayers and hymns including as derived from authors she knew. So that was hopeful. I don't wish to incriminate by saying that this evening (Anglican) I could go along with much of the sermon, but the rest left me somewhat depressed. I must give up Lent for Lent. It was a Eucharist, much of which I sit out from, and that includes the creed and not standing at the gospel reading. But then I couldn't get a handle on the hymns either. The first one was O Jesus I have promised, which I haven't, didn't and won't, so that left me rather silent, and in others referring to "Jesus alone" (etc.) I just either change the words or leave them out. In any case, what a miserable bunch of lyrics all through. I appreciate the notion that we are comparatively miserable at times and then O Joy, because, after all, winter is like that, before the spring, but let's not heap it on in spades. I'll check to see if there is any comedy on TV tonight; they usually repeat something I've already seen. See, I'm still miserable.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Formula Christianity Reasserted

McLaren wants Christianity to be more like the Hungaroring and less like Monte Carlo, where its place in the season is sheer tradition but just about traps everyone in to a pre-race pecking order. The McLaren has been through a redesign, as it suggests a wider redesign of cars and circuits.

In 2009 the Hungarian Grand Prix was won by a McLaren car; at the time Archbishop Jensen of Australia had a championship lead for evangelicals, but the flashy McLaren is making another pitch for first place with his 2010 car called A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, built in London by HarperOne.

Certainly the McLaren laps the Williams several times in every race, although the boss Bernie Ecclescake has described the Williams driver as "Spectacularly useless and dangerous," and wonders instead if John Sendmehome, of the Eborgum Team, wouldn't be the better driver. But as the Williams car becomes more and more traditional and bureaucatic, isn't the McLaren car just turning into a liberal construction?

The car makes ten pit stops to pick up these questions:

  1. What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
  2. How should the Bible be understood?
  3. Is God violent?
  4. Who is Jesus and why is he important?
  5. What is the Gospel?
  6. What do we do about the church?
  7. Can we find a way to address sexuality without arguing about it?
  8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
  9. How should followers of Jesus relate to other religions?
  10. How can we translate our quest into action?

The McLaren doesn't motor on original sin, but Genesis 3 is a story of coming of age (presumably 930 laps before scrapping), and the car does not need to follow the track of substitutionary atonement. You won't find hell or heaven as places along the circuit. At no point does God deliberately cause any crashes, and to believe that a McLaren would rather be a bicycle in the Tour de France.

In terms of the original co-drivers, McLaren wants Paul's driving understood in the light of Jesus's technique, needing a new construction, rather than Jesus's driving understood according to Paul's technique, given how cars are normally constructed. This, though, gets more complicated (see below); however, a Chinese operative once suggested this at a quick pit stop during an unsuccessful race and so the whole car was redesigned. Otherwise even Protestant cars should have their teams located in Rome, using (as Protestants also do) the inheritance of Greco-Roman techniques in understanding basic car construction. Such was the way to a fixed manual of car understanding and repairs, what to exclude and the parts to use in any repair. McLaren's car is more Hebraic in design.

So is the McLaren different?

McLaren's car is deliberately lighter. It tries to avoid the heavy matanarrative power play of the racing authorities. This way the car emerges out of the pack to attempt to win, and is one reason why the Williams car is being dragged back and back, and wants a Covenant to slow down all other cars by taking account of how slowly the slowest runs and talking about the problem endlessly over the drivers' radios.

Some people see the McLaren car as trying to shut down the design of other Christian cars, that in its very flexibility it produces a new dogma of design.

But the biggest criticism is surely that the particularly liberal Christian cars have been there before. In other words, the design categories already exist, and so the McLaren design is less evangelical and more liberal. The Chalke was a car that went across the line in a similar manner, although these days it seems more interested in giving younger drivers a basic driving school education.

McLaren claim that the questions lying at the heart of the redesign are not dogmatic engineering solutions but means to provide space for contributions from other engineers. It's less of a race, that way, and more of a quest, despite claims to flexibility and fluidity for race handling. In any case, racers are free to draw on any designs they wish, although they are quick to shout about what is legitimate and what is not. What McLaren regards as space other makes regard as being divisive, which is why many think liberals ought to run their own races - yet the emerging car and its designs ought to be able to prod others.

The difficulty is that with the other races going on indeed some of the religious designers are becoming more dogmatic. The threat of being hammered easily engenders a fear of confronting, prodding, or simply questioning. Cars might be written off as if they become polluted by liberal designs and who they train with - but the McLaren car wants to retain its links with its old racing pals.

And this is the problem.

The car still goes to the racing circuits at Caesarea Philippi, Colossians (where Paul sang a lot) and Philippians, and affirms the Apostles and Nicene Manuals. So it is a clear case here of Jesus's driving understood not just according to Paul's (and others) techniques, but the whole Greco-Roman rulebook, and not the way around McLaren apparently recommends. To make this into a double contradiction, McLaren asserts that after the Damascus route Paul changed his techniques according to Jesus's driving. If so, what's the problem? Was or was not Paul the instructor adding formality to the more road-attached and fluid Hebraic driving school of Jesus? If the Greco-Roman approach so restricted car designs, why retain addiction to the manuals of hundreds of years later affirming the philosophical dogmatic approach? Perhaps because McLaren wants to keep 'in' with the existing designs and designers.

As for these contemporaries, McLaren wants to be friendly and distant from drivers Wright and Borg. It's still the Greco-Roman thought processes there too.

In other words, it is just a revisionist design, and in so far as it is Nicene and Apostles Manuals are asserted, this only represents a shift from evangelical to liberal Christian, as part of that particular race, remaining part of an increasingly argumentative set of garages and designers. Formula Christianity is reasserted: the flag is the same chequered appearance.

The problem with all Christian cars is that they are stuck with Bronze Age near Eastern standards and Greco-Roman power circuits, whereas the secular cars are evolving and produce efficient, sustainable answers in their own races. The Christian race, as a result, is becoming boring and increasingly ignored. The religious needs to come into the secular. McLaren's construction, that long ago started in a fundamentalist garage, wants to move on but has only added a few, limited, playful controls with lighter construction materials.

The flexibility of the Pluralist car, however, is that it runs in different conditions, takes account of modern thought, realises that indeed much knowledge is socially constructed, and that the rules have changed. The old manuals are nothing but inheritances.

Friday 19 February 2010

Celebrating Ash Wednesday

The social committee of a church in Uganda has organised a new line in entertainment. Social Affairs Secretary Mrs Trellis, of Idi Amin Street, Kampala, said:

We have never had such a popular response to one of our socials. We charged a modest fee at the door, so that we can carry on getting new material. We can go from strength to strength, with rippling muscles and pointing ahead firmly.

It is a unique line of Christian entertainment: gay porn that attracted some 300 people, as many as could fit into the room without getting the film on the back of their heads and annoying everyone else.

The first film was Dennis Does Kampala, in which a local man realises he can impregnate half of the city before the police gets to him. The second film was Gobble His Lolly, in which a man hooked on ice creams on a stick finds his vocation with an ice cream salesman and prefers his stick to his lollies.

Ugandans not used to this sort of thing were said to have left the screening full of conversation about techniques and one or two might have been traumatised. "I had no idea," said Billy, "but I have now." Bobby said, "I always thought Saturn Uranus were far out in our galaxy, not here in Kampala."

Mrs Trellis said:

We are showing these films for Lent, as a way of people self-sacrificing their sensitivities. Next week we will meditate and contemplate on a film about immigrants, Back Door for Nigerians: Coming in Uganda.

Pastor Martin Ssempa was present and even commentated through the screening, and then accused an unknown Mr Obama of America for wanting to sell him and other Ugandans this material, when Mrs Trellis can obtain it far more cheaply and easily. Pastor Ssempa said it would likely increase his notoriety further and increase the size of his congregation, although he admitted that 'congregation' might be a euphemism.

Meanwhile, the national television service in Uganda understood the meaning of Ash Wednesday literally, rather like some do the Bible. On NTV Uganda, an appropriately named Pastor Solomon Male said the Bible states that gay people who do not change should be killed and the audience applauded.

Christianity is said to be expanding in Uganda at present. No wonder, with this sort of entertainment on offer. Kilroy, never mind the explicitly religious The Big Questions, never managed this, and certainly the Mothers' Union has not put on such a film show for its Lenten reflections (well, not yet).

Thursday 18 February 2010

The Effect of New Holland

I'm getting confused lately. Apparently the government's Health Secretary Andy Burnham has been in New Holland hob-nobbing in the fashionable House of Elliot about how to bypass English Roman Catholic bishops told to be generous by the Pope, because he regards them as a bunch of lefties. New Holland is pictured with its nearly redundant evangelical Anglican church on the right, now used for secular community events.

It turns out that Andrew Burham is also a flying [around the world] [non-] bishop of Ebbsfleet between Gravesend and Dartford who indeed went to New Holland to do his skullduggery with Peter Elliot. Elliot, a Roman Catholic episcoped transfer manager, himself once an Anglican, has signed up Forward in Faith New Holland to join a little boat called an ordinariate crossing the waters of New Holland Dock. This means that Forward in Faith down under joins the Traditional Anglican Communion down under, one of those part of the Anglican family that the Church of England General Synod recognised and affirmed recently as wanting to be part of the Anglican family, when it is in America.

Meanwhile, a bishop, who once went into New Holland, as Bishop of Wanregretta, and Papua New Guinea before it, where he was made Bishop of Ali Bongo, has joined those who cannot see his magic dust sprinkled at his ordinations because he is now suddenly a layperson of the Roman Catholics. He was rumoured to be recently Assistant Bishop of Newcastle, the one up north beyond New Holland in England, and Anglo-Catholic commentator in the evangelical Church of England Newspaper, and it was said he innocently likes walking in Northumbria and Cumbria, but now is in urban London where he can use the tube to get to mass in Southwark. Following advice from the Anglican Archbishop Up North, he won't be getting ordinariated as the new Anglican home is likely to be as small, stuffy and insufficiently aerated with laypeople as are the altared garden sheds and garages used by episcope vagantes.

In Depth

The group with papers on knees opted to hear instead (while looking at the papers) my Sunday sermon to the Unitarians that I'd advertised was "simpler". This raised laughter afterwards, on the grounds if that was simpler... I said one reaction on Sunday was the argument was followed until I fired names about contemporary physics and maths and self-generating patterns. Personally I think sermons are a pretty ridiculous form of communication, and mine are necessarily available to be read (I cannot remember what was said this morning, where a normally extempore sermon was replaced by one read out for Ash Wednesday). It was interesting for me that I was asked to read again the last paragraph of mine, for the purposes of precision and comment, from one of the most deliberately liberal leaning and John Spong enjoying members, often grumbling at church doctrines and the public image of a Christian people within who believe the impossible...

As for Unitarianism, I have long argued for relativity, for questioning realism, and for seeing religion as more like art. Religion, I think, is about something more personal, deep, reflective and contemplative. It is not about doctrines that rely on proofs. The proofs are not there. Reason did break away from Aquinas's absorption, but reasoning went on even to dig the grave of its own founder Aristotle, as well as those like Aquinas and Ib Sina who used him.

This person was immediately keen to stress the mystery of and existence of divinity: the first time in my experience of jumping towards the defence of a position. Of course I did point to an earlier or even more general view, but it is not mine:

Unitarians were, of course, modernists. They evolved their beliefs, even if they also believed that truth is one and ultimately, if mysteriously, guaranteed by God. However, I want to tackle this.

My sermon was not a typical Unitarian sermon, as it was 'academic' and they usually are not, comparatively, but not exclusively. The discussion we had also, interestingly, moved more or less directly to science, that common perceptions are just ways people have to describe something most simply. For example, the expanding universe; it is expanding its space: what is it expanding into? I said that's like asking what comes before time: it is not expanding into space! It is like an inverted ball. As for the universe accelerating, so that eventually it ends up dark, distant and lifeless, and presumably time disintegrates or becomes meaningless: come back in fifty years and there'll be another theory - that is how science works.

I said we and our universe could be just characters in a hand-held virtual computer game, but then you have to ask about what and who made the being that holds the computer game; and that the God as first cause in all such chain reasoning is just a rules of the game to stop asking - but the rule-breaking was echoed in the room: where then did the so called eternal God come from (on the same basis of questions that cannot have answers will be asked).

Interesting then. Once religion had become flattened and part of ordinary scientific or social scientific discourse, then the discussion was less a complaint about religion and its construction and more an examination of its defence, more a questioning around the sciences and more a broader examination altogether.

There was one question about the Trinity and the Bible. There is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible, nor of Original Sin. I said after a charismatic leader and in the context of end-time expectation, beliefs change very rapidly, and the early Christians imported terms from the Old Testament [their scriptures] giving different twists of meanings, and so we get what some have called a late 'economic trinity' in a few Bible texts but no actual doctrine, not about being co-equal and co-eternal as a definition. Once reason Muhammad in the Qur'an got the Trinity wrong was that it was probably transmitted to him by a group like the Ebionites who were not trinitarian Christians. It's why a Jewish view of Christianity didn't entirely die at 70 CE [and even today there are small groups - beyond today's right wing political media-evangelical last days stealers - who have a Jewish view of Yeshua and a fulfilling in advance Messiah].

So it was interesting that the usual conversation didn't happen, which would have perhaps focused on the Renaissance and Enlightenment and the re-emergence of Reason alone. We did get on to local facts that evidence the decline of Christianity, being almost a melancholic reflection, and therefore the lack of traditions expressed now in education that did once insert the basics of Christian knowledge. I did, though, suggest, that an explanation underlying Christian decline is simply that people have an ordinary, practical, this-worldly view for problem solving that follows on from technology: that this has filtered down from a once intellectual stance.

And this melancholy moved seamlessly when someone mentioned the recent General Synod Methodist suggestion of its own demise. Again there was local reflection, such as regarding the chapel building. What was interesting was that local realities or a formal scheme to wind up the Methodist Church might have the same outcome - my thought of say an 11 o'clock Sunday service in the Methodist style held inside the Anglican church until it fades away - a better solution, it was thought, than in some local ecumenical sharing schemes of the Anglican way one fortnight and the Methodist way another fortnight. Even if so, a change of building would be enough to stop some Methodists attending. I made the point that as well as decline, the other aspect is the ending of the pure Oxford Movement traditionalism which had blocked the Methodist absorption into the Church of England in 1972. It is more possible as such Anglicans soon run away to Roman Catholic ordinariates or end up waiting in corners to claim a pension.

There would have been intense indigestion had I attempted, as once intended, to include a Protestant traditional side in this presentation, so next time we agreed that we will focus on the Puritans. Of course I will look for a few twists in the tale that have resonance for now, both as a Protestant traditionalism and as a liberal development.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Big Questions Much Heat

I watched The Big Questions for last Sunday by iplayer (series 3, programme 7) from some 42 minutes on (the link as underlined will have a very limited life).

It was one of those more heat than light type discussion programmes, the kind made infamous by the likes of Kilroy. Also, whenever I see any programme with Anne Atkins in it, I desperately want to switch off, as she is one of the usual wheeled-in rent-a-quotes who has built her career from the beginning with an anti-gay rant on Radio 4 and thus became notorious. From what I watched much was missed that might have gone into more depth by an across the table format.

Nevertheless the programme gave a snapshot of the current Anglican wars in its final section. Jonathan Clatworthy got excited, but perhaps he was in the right place for that excitement. Colin Coward I thought gave the whole thing more anchoring. And what became clear was just how purist are the evangelical extremists - and they showed themselves as extremists - and how motivated is Lorna Ashworth (Atkins therefore about to receive some competition: imagine Ashworth as a repeating television face).

The consensus seemed to be, better to split, but the public present would sympathise with the more generous Church proposed by Clatworthy and Coward. Also, what about Charles Raven there, because when inhibited by his then bishop Peter Selby he split away in any case. He made his decision and he is talking about the Anglican Communion from the outside.

The fact is that the C of E General Synod kicked Lorna Ashworth's intentions into touch. Many have commented, but whilst the motion eventually passed wasn't the first obvious wrecking amendment of the Bishop of Bristol, it did say nothing of any worth - a looks like something but actually is nothing other than a nearly meaningless long grass job.

I suppose I would like it if liberals who really do not believe the creeds in totality came to a denomination where they are freer to develop their beliefs (no one has to believe the Thirty-nine Articles now other than a head nod: that's what undermines the evangelicals like the shaven-faced lawyer who expressed some infantile views about "going to heaven"). However, the fact is that historically the liberals are not the ones who leave en masse. It's the other end. For example, the Puritans were kicked out after making their position impossible regarding the Prayer Book; the Methodists were kicked out after setting up parallel bodies and becoming culturally other. The fact is that the far right evangelicals, beginning to set up parallel bodies, will be the ones to leave, just as the inheritors of the Oxford Movement pure and simple are now on their way out.

The issue is this: are the evangelicals planning to so arrange themselves that they can set up institutions that can remove the socially inclusive and/ or theological liberals? The intention of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) is to remove the liberals: it goes back to the explanation in the Richard Turnbull of Wycliffe College Reform Lecture in 2006 in which the first target should be the blockage provided by Open Evangelicals and then the target becomes the Liberals.

The reality, more like, as demonstrated by General Synod last week, is that an evangelical like the Bishop of Bristol will produce a wrecking motion, that others do the same, that the business of ACNA and FCA and all that is distanced, and so the FCA most likely - if it has any success at all - will be in removing its own evangelicals. In a State Church where they cannot even pretend to take the property, the evangelicals will either have to become thoroughly disobedient and self-isolating, including against Open Evangelical bishops, or will have to rent or buy new plant and machinery and do a Charles Raven.

All Colin Coward and Jonathan Clatworthy have to do is sit. They go nowhere. There is a sense in which the boundaries have been coming inwards for some time, but if you don't budge and you show some bravery the boundaries stop coming inwards.

This is, though, also a weakness. It is that the conservatives, thanks to the efforts of Rowan Williams, can introduce and manipulate a Covenant that can be the means by which evangelicals start to remove those who are unacceptable. One strategy would be for the more liberal minded to join the Covenant and frustrate it into meaninglessness, as with the treatment given to Lorna Ashworth motion: the Covenant appears to be something but actually is nothing. It's a highly dangerous approach, because it still gives the means for having the tools to remove others. And there is no doubt that if this becomes effective at a high level it will penetrate into definitions and actions and restrictions at a lower level. If will set norms. That's why, in the end, the rightist evangelicals (and sufficient sympathisers) would use it, whilst keeping their parallel institutions. They want the Cof E on their side of the fence, whilst still penetrating it.

Clearly if the thing is passed by provinces then the liberal minded will have to frustrate it, and make it into the means of an endless talking shop, as Williams most lately suggests it will be, while actions get taken one way and another on the ground towards inclusivity. But it is better if it is not allowed into the ring. We know that New Zealand cannot sign up, nor Hong Kong, but others are holding fire: but they are not likely to sign with a good sniff that the Covenant is about excluding. Mouneer Anis's tactics about changing the Standing Committee make it less likely to pass.

I take the view that Colin Coward and company are a little bit optimistic, and quite self-sacrificial. However, he is right in one respect. By sitting where he is, he remains in the same Church as the extremists, where he wants to be, and then it is up to them to save their own self-assessed purity. After all, it is their purity at stake. Again, historically, the purists are the ones that depart from the apparent polluted. Personally I think we can go where we are better suited: otherwise the argument becomes a reason to be a Roman Catholic.

Bad news for the Unitarians, perhaps, that liberals stay put, but then the Unitarians as a mixed bag take in individuals from all over, and interesting just how wide that spectrum can be, for people who want to think for themselves and present their ideas into the pot. One day Unitarians and Quakers might receive many people at once - as I've hinted, there might have to be liberal-end Anglican-Catholic ordinariates (!), should history be different, but history has a habit of repeating itself.

Monday 15 February 2010

Sevenoaks Scandal - Archbishop

The scandal of Sevenoaks spreads as a number of churches are clearly in support, while others are not.

Aileen Over: We contacted the Archbishop of Anglicanism on what he understands about the Sevenoaks scandal. I put it to him that not every church sees the Bible in this way.

Archbishop Tree: Well clearly the biblical narrative has an openness to this form of faithful interpretation which we observe in Sevenoaks. Perhaps just as clearly it's not that there hasn't been a long-standing view that men have had the primary rational facility and women perhaps more of the emotional facility that is reflected in parts in the Bible, but nevertheless those with such a high view of the Bible regard it as revelation and which is indeed consistent with the Christian tradition, particularly from the Reformation.

Aileen Over: So you agree with the church and what it says about women?

Archbishop Tree: I clearly wish to apologise to women for any inconvenience caused from my words for which no offence is intended, but clearly Sevenoaks is one of our churches and this is not excluded as a legacy of a particular part of the Christian tradition beginning from after about the 1530s.

Aileen Over: Are you apologising for a church under you in Sevenoaks?

Archbishop Tree: I am apologising for the impact my words may have but are not intended to have.

Aileen Over: Should women stay silent in church?

Archbishop Tree: Clearly St Paul met women evangelists in charge of congregations in the earliest days of Christian expansion. How much this was a matter of contingency and necessity is not clear. However, St Paul also instructed women to be silent in church and keep their heads covered. Now there are some critical biblical issues here, on discerning the texts, but for those who cannot be selective, then the texts are taken together. In essence the more liberal texts are treated more liberally, because they are drawn upon by those who use the method of critical reasoning, whilst the less liberal texts are treated less liberally by those who use them and so present themselves more absolutely. There is clearly a paradox here, but the more illiberal texts are those that have more illiberal impact. And these present us with such that we see.

Aileen Over: So you agree with the conservatives?

Archbishop Tree: It is not simply a matter of disagreement or agreement. It is about being able to look that person in the eye. It is being able to say this man is my brother, and so this sister remains silent - in that context, whereas we look the liberal in the eye, for he is also my brother, and she is my sister, who does not remain silent. It is about encountering people eye to eye, for it is at a distance that violence takes place, and I think it goes without saying that violence is something that should not take place.

Aileen Over: Though apparently it does happen in the home, between a husband and a wife.

Archbishop Tree: That is because they are at a distance and he does not look her in the eye, and she does not look at him in the eye. In the evangelical household - I know they intend this for all households - she should look him in the eye and he look at her in the eye and he should tell her that he is the head of the household.

Aileen Over: Not a liberal view.

Archbishop Tree: Well, in the liberal household she should look him in the eye and he look at her in the eye and he should tell her that he is not the head of the household and she should tell him that she is not the head of the household. Or perhaps they could sign a Covenant for conflict resolution, to face each other with persistent questioning towards resolution. Or a have good shag, of course - that usually does the trick.

Aileen Over: What about the high Church household, as a matter of interest?

Archbishop Tree: Well, in the high Church household he should look him in the eye and he look at him in the eye and he should tell him that he is the head of the household and he should tell him that he is head of the household. Or perhaps they too could sign a Covenant for conflict resolution, to face each other with persistent questioning towards resolution. But celibacy is called for and sexual contact cannot be a means of resolution.

Aileen Over: What about the women at Sevenoaks? Should they protest? Should men be forcing their women to attend that church?

Archbishop Tree: I think the women should be patient. I think it is not beyond the wit of woman to find an accommodation by which there is space by which they can express themselves, perhaps together. It is after all only some 450 years after the Reformation began really to take hold, and considerably more recently when the Puritans were a factor to be removed from the Church of England in 1662.

Aileen Over: But not to remove them now?

Archbishop Tree: This is a different age. It is the age of dialogue. Look, I am arguably desperate to keep this Church together. There are people in it who just do not fundamentally disagree with each other, but there are many who fundamentally disagree with each other, so we need I think to find a means by which we begin or maintain the dialogue in perpituity if necessary otherwise the institution will crack up and so will I. And so what I want to say is, is it jelly and cream tonight or lots and lots of cake? I think I need to go back to watching Super Ted and see how he did it. I want my mummy!

Aileen Over: I'd better leave you to go and find your mummy.

Sevenoaks Reporter

News Report by Aileen Over

Sevenoaks has got its Saint Nickers in a twist! Curate god Marcus Odin and his Rector Angus MacCoatup have now achieved what many evangelical clergy want: women bowing down and swooning at their feet, in utter silence and with heads covered too!

Rector Angus, who wears a daring kilt despite his dismissal of elaborate Anglican frockery, has told women in a church leaflet to "submit to their husbands in everything".

It isn't just women bishops he doesn't want, but any woman who has the facility to rabbit rabbit rabbit. The church now has sticking plasters at the entrance, so that these can be placed across those lipstick adorned lips, which the curate called, "A filthy, filthy habit in this modern day and age."

The notice by the tins of plasters says:

God has ordered women's relationships to submit to their husbands and to shut up in church. Please apply these elastoplast and breath through your noses.

A leaflet distributed throughout the church says marriage needs the order that God has determined, and so women must submit. "As Christ is the head of the church, so the husband is the boss," it says. The leafleat continues:

It would seem that women should remain silent.... if their questions could legitimately be answered by their husbands at home.

In the church, the Rector or Curate never speaks to the women. They address their husbands even when wanting to ask the woman something, usually some sort of pleasantry. When they get home, the husband then asks the wife. The wife answers. The husband finally uses the telephone (for only he may use it in a Christian household) and tells the Rector the answer. A leading layperson in the church described how it works.

Rector: Isn't it a pleasant morning, Mrs Grosseteste?
Mrs Grosseteste: Mmm...
Mr Grosseteste: Mavis! Thank you for your question, Rector.

Later that day.

Mr Grosseteste: Mavis, was it a pleasant morning?
Mrs Grosseteste: Yes dear.
[Mr Grosseteste Rings the Rector]
Rector: Knobhead Rectory.
Mr Grosseteste: Hello Rector. My wife Mavis has told me that it was a pleasant morning.
Rector: Thank you very much for that and being such an observant Christian.
Mr Grosseteste: By the way, a very good sermon this morning, Rector. Goodbye [puts the phone down]. Mavis. Get your clothes off - I want sex.
Mrs Grosseteste: Yes dear, it will keep our marriage together - which orifice do you want me to present to you first?

The sermon referred to was from the curate, the god Odin (the women swoon around his mastery of authority). He said:

It's the way women behave these days, showing acres of flesh and hair in the streets, and even in this church. Why are you not wearing hats? One in four children have divorced parents, and three in four girls are not being trained in covering their heads or their bodies. Look at how they dance in night clubs these days, or parade themselves on beaches when it is hot. Wives, submit to your husbands. Do those dances and displays in their company only, and only one husband with one wife, preferably their own.

It is understood that many women who are Bible believers are now flocking to the church. Once called it a real place to submit to the male leadership in church as well as home. Indeed, some women are now being driven to that church by their evangelical husbands.

In later responses to this newspaper, the Rector and Curate have pointed out that neither of them said these things originally, but they are in the Bible. As a woman reporter on this newspaper I put my questions and received my answers through a male colleague by him using a telephone.

In an aside the Rector asked how many articles I had written, because he had thirty nine guiding him, and they told him how to regard the Bible, and he wasn't going to let women and modern culture tell him and his curate what to do.

He blamed the press from moving from its Christian moorings, and said that as a husband and rector he had bent over backwards.

He added that his message was that men are to also to bend over backwards in understanding their wives and women are to simply bend over backwards.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Service in the Morning

Much of volunteering for a Unitarian church is like doing tasks for any other church, but when it comes to services there is a difference. The aim, arguably, of any church when someone different comes through its doors is to nurture the people towards the faith of the church: however, in Unitarianism, the aim is to expand the range and definition of Unitarianism. I'll accept there is still inculturation that happens, and there are liberal values to out across, but in terms of content and background the church as much alters.

When someone asked where my usual display of candles and paraphernalia had gone I said well this was a much more Islamic service - something of a humorous response but with a serious side. There was, after all, more about Ibn Sina the Persian thinker who built upon Aristotle, there was a Qur'an reading (also an Upanishad), and Islam was one of the several themes winding in and out of a piece mainly to do with reason and Aquinas. My sermon's conclusion was rather different from the basic assumptions of Islam, however.

I'm not apologetic about a strongly academic sermon because we have a responsibility to raise our game (but sermons like lectures are a rotten way alone to communicate: I try to make mine as 'linear' as possible to maximise communication whilst having high-level content), and I am pleased that my prayers are well appreciated for what was called their breadth and inclusivity - especially as I wrote them. If anyone examines my prayers they can see what books might be open at the time that give the lines along which they run, but beyond that they are originals.

The CD jumped at one track along the running order, but fortunately I made a second and that went in the player and the rest continued without that habit reoccurring: I can only think it is like a kick between snooker balls in a snooker game and part of the chaos in reality I was itself addressing.

This material gets a second outing at the In Depth Group on Tuesday with a differently constructed paper. But I'll take the service with me as well: my method is to take it complete; I don't even need to use a hymn book.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Service on Aquinas etc. for Sunday

My service for Sunday is uploaded. I could have sent it across as a .PDF but .PDFs don't work the best for copying text from it (line endings get enforced, sometimes extra spaces are added - it needs text processing afterwards) and then I have issues with the sheer amount of coding Open Office produces for its web page output. So it is hand coded HTML from text, kept as simple as possible.

Both the service and the In Depth Group presentation for Tuesday 16 February are on the same topic: the insertion of reason into Christianity by Thomas Aquinas with was before and what followed. They are different: the sermon has to take a simpler form, more of a linear story and less detail, despite a still complicated argument, and it also adds a Unitarian position. In the end, a service is more than a sermon, and although the theme should be consistent throughout, the service ought to have space. Once again, all the prayer material is my own (but drawing from what exists elsewhere). There are also congregational considerations for content, and thus why the sermon has more about Ibn Sina and there is some Muslim material in the service. The service comes with a CD because there isn't an organist at present, and it has eight tracks for the service in the correct order in order to be efficient regarding the music.

Friday 12 February 2010

Methodists Speak to Anglicans



Let me first thank Archbishop Rowan Tree for his I assume generous words of introduction and welcome. And let me also thank both Archbishops for their invitation for us as a couple, myself David and Richard, to come and to address the General Synod today.

Perhaps many of you have not heard of the Methodist Church, so we thought we would tell you something about it.

I'm David and he is Richard. Hello Richard.


Hello David.


Richard, so many thank yous. The British Methodist Church has churches and circuits in England, Scotland, Wales, Shetland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Gibraltar and Malta. Because of this we thought that, like ECUSA having churches outside the United States that we might change our name to The Methodist Church, but unfortunately there are other Methodist Churches in the world, just as there are other Episcopalian Churches in the world.

In fact, some of our Methodist Churches in the world have bishops. But we don't. In fact we are missing ours, because as Methodists we don't really believe in two orders or three orders of ministry. That's why, if we merged with you, we would be able to accept bishops. However, it is very complicated because our founder, who was one of your people, was a very naughty boy, and as a priest consecrated a bishop, instead of finding someone else to do it, like The Epicopalian Church in America did. Our founder should have gone to Scotland, on his horse.

So instead of bishops we have a vice-President and a President which we do by a rigged election, and we elect them together so that the President is a presbyter and the Vice-President is a layperson or a deacon and as the person designated by the previous Conference you’re the only candidate – so you’ve got a pretty good chance you’ll get elected and it’s pretty devastating not to get in, to hold office for a year together, holding hands until you join the past Presidents and Vice Presidents.

So I can tell a joke now. As one of my predecessors described it, 'You spend a year being "It", a year being "Ex-it" and then you become "Past-it".’ In fact, before you get selected, on someone's computer you are a "Post-it", like a little yellow thing.

Now the danger is that we are running out of people to be "It", because we are in severe decline, although we have two for next year and they are both ladies. Some of you might not have heard of ladies in charge, one a minister and one a deacon.

We keep our old jobs at the same time, because a year goes past quickly, but as you know Methodist ministers hardly clear out the removal van in any one place before they have to fill another one up and move. And we are very poor, so our houses and expenses are provided for us. And as we go further into steep decline, many of our jobs and ministries are becoming part time so that we can spend some days of our week sitting in the street with a tin and a dog. In fact I have brought my tin today for you to put in your ten pences, and perhaps we will have a drink of tea each before we leave. Richard, though, makes sure I don't go home without putting something into my mouth.

Things are in such decline that we may move to a three year term - Richard and I would love that - and if we did what would that mean in terms of how we express the collaboration between presbyters, deacons and lay people in our Church. Love you Richard.


Thank you Reverend David. Love you David.

So the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference is the highest office within the Methodist Church in Britain that can be held by a lay person, and no I won't be President next year. So be partly reassured that a Presbyter is in charge, even though you might prefer a bishop. No I keep my job and a Vice-President is not full time. I am a children's programme presenter, although I could be a GP or a dustman or even unemployed, though they have funny rules about volunteering.

Because I am part time I am saying less than David. So David, it is back to you. Love you David.


Thank you ever so much Richard. Love you Richard too.

So where are our missing bishops? Well they are invisible, like the choir immemorial. They are in the Methodist Conference. The Methodist Conference keeps us doctrinally pure and is like a big committee that can respond to the spirit, but have you ever known a committee that responds to the spirit? It's not very personal, is it! The President and Vice-President are the people who preside at the Conference, so when it gets personal it gets lay and Presbyterish. Now we do similarly at the district, and sometimes we think that the Chair of the District is a bishop, and sometimes that idea goes to his or her head.

In between authority lies with the Methodist Council and then... Richard.


Yes David?


I think that the boys and girls here are beginning to fall asleep.


I think we are boring them, David. Many of them might know this already. Love you David.


Humm. Love you Richard. Better press on. So we are like ambassadors, really, and travel a lot and share in others' worship, and this is how we know we are in steep decline because, when they do a good turnout for us, the numbers ae declining, and we keep seeing the same people crossing over circuit boundaries.

I'm going to Pately Bridge soon. That will be nice. That will be with other churches. And Richard asked for time off presenting children's programmes because we are going abroad too, to see other Methodist Churches. Love you Richard.


Love you David. I've been to lots of early historical places, boys and girls. Did you know that after the Methodists left the Church of England, the Methodists divided up over and over and over again? We had to get them all back again, like into a sheep pen, in 1932. But now there aren't many sheep left, and we think we can come into your pen.

But if we did, what would happen to the Vice-President, like me? Primitive Methodists, called that because they were a bit simple, used to have a big place for little lay people. And then what about our women too, I mean you Church of England people really have to have women as leaders first before we can play in your pen.

Nowadays when our ministers cost so much, and have to go on the streets shaking a tin, lay people are taking a bigger role. But there are getting older and older, and we notice that there are at least some younger ones with you. So perhaps we can join you, but lay people do need to do more than make tea and do the flowers. David is hoping for a nice cup of tea today and I will look after him: make sure he takes something in today.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians makes it clear, we have different gifts, we can offer different services, but the body needs to be valued and filled up with a little bit of help from another.

I went to a major church in the north of Scotland the other week. They had 12 members and their church was literally falling down around them. They did some collecting and found some money, and now they have a better building, although some are elderly and have died. Then I went to a big church in Leeds that joined one of yours before it became a lot smaller. David, I will make sure you are loved and valued.


What would I do without Richard? He looks after me! Well, Richard has come with me today because we now want to think about how our big Churches, our denominations could join as one.


That's right David. Love you.


Love you Richard. Others could tell you far better than I where this committee or that has done this or what but then we are a bit short on travel expenses. I do know that they think this joining together is a good idea. And thank you for inviting us. Rowan.




Would you like to come to our conference next year?


Yes, I would. Thank you. Love you David?


No Rowan, you don't really love me. Thank you Rowan. Do you have someone who could come with you?


Do you mean a bishop or my wife?


We'll leave that to you, Rowan. And we do lots of Fresh Expressions together, don't we, because we have no idea what will bring in the punters anymore, as our congregations become ever more elderly.

Well we know that there are reservations about us coming together. But when I go around, and see the same faces making up a crowd, I have to tell them that the game is up. By 2050 the last person can switch off the light.

Forty years after 1932 we still had a number of congregations and quite a few ministers and could have completed our rounding up of the sheep by coming back. We could have joined you then, but you had nasty horrible Anglo-Catholics who wouldn't let us join. Now I understand they are going to be leaving to join the Pope, so perhaps if you lose these ministers and maybe a handful of lay people, you might like our ministers back and the handful of our lay people.


Can I hear hissing in that corner? The boys and girls must be more awake than we thought. It would be nice to come together. Love you David.


Love you Richard.


We can and do work together now, on all sorts of topics and projects. The President last year even lent Archbishop Rowan a pair of blue gloves so that he was appropriately dressed for doing the gardening at his Palace. What better sign of that covenant could there be? And David and I went on holiday to Israel/ Palestine, as we call it now. And we were ecumenical there too, in all the places that we visited and projects that we saw. Good too, because the night clubs were rubbish. Now Rowan is going to visit Israel...


Love you... Richard.


Now then Rowan! You are a sweetie! So we have a hat for you to wear this time, and perhaps you can decide whether you want mine or David's.

Well it is said that there are 70 million Christians world-wide who claim a Methodist heritage. Well they are not here! So we are prepared to make a big offer. Love you David.


Love you Richard. Richard and I think that we want to come into bed with all of you. No, not literally, not with you folks. But there are all sorts of questions about, so to speak, being in that ecumenical hotel room and shoving two single beds together. For example, how does a committee bishop relate to a personal bishop? And what about the other single beds in the hotel room, or indeed the ensuite bathroom?

But we are proposing that there will be a worldwide Methodism, and nothing in Britain! We can go out of business, before 2050! The beautifully named MAPUM (Methodist Anglican Panel for Unity in Mission) can become MUPPET (Methodist Undertaken Particular Project End Time) when we give up early. In John 17.21, Christ prays for the unity of his followers not because it’s financially a better use of scarce resources, but then that's not a bad idea. We know Rowan loves a Covenant - no Rowan, you do not love me - and many of you may have shared in our annual Covenant Service, with these powerful words, thank you ever so Richard:


Love you David. I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. Love you David.


Love you Richard, and such lovely words for the Civil Partnership. Humm. Methodists approach the Covenant with the Church of England in the spirituality of that Covenant prayer. So when we say to God “let me have all things let me have nothing”, we are prepared to go out of existence. Can we manage it before 2050?

Thank you so much for listening. Love you Richard.


Love you David. It's lovely to be here. The hotel room is very nice too; I hope you are all enjoying yours.