Monday 8 March 2010

Ecclesiastical Diversity and All That

The Unitarian service Sunday morning was followed by one of those necessary bimonthly congregational meetings, at which I was asked about hymns and the like (as I continue to volunteer my efforts around audio recordings). What do I think of Sing Your Faith (I even had my own copy with me), I was asked. I said a comment had come from Barton of all places about why the typeface is not larger or bolder than it is. I said, also, there is supposedly, though I don't understand why, a relationship between a preferred non-transferring of tunes and having, peculiarly, lower case letters at the start of lines. In my view, tunes should always be transferable (and, in fact, they still are). The book introduces a greater range of material, much of it very good, and has in it at the back some useful texts for chalice lightings, benedictions and the like. So the congregation decided to buy. In other discussion I argued for the producing of an equivalent to a Parish Profile used in the Church of England as the congregation considers the process of attracting a minister. Also I delivered my 'emergency liturgies' for the unusual occasion when an outside preacher does not turn up, or the weather turns foul, or someone due to take a service falls ill. There are two so far, delivered, but there will be more. The first two are like polar ends, Traditional style and Radical style (though they might be more my style!), and then more will be in between them and out on other axes. At the moment I have a similar service under construction that has some Eastern orientated material in it and another one that is actually traditional Unitarian in what is presently 'dumped' there but can be further Christianised. It is important that a Unitarian service represents the diversity of the people present and the people who could be there.

As my focus shifts somewhat institutionally I am less motivated to comment on more internal Anglican affairs. Nevertheless I do note the continued welcome signs of a shift in the perspective of James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, as he relates to the apparent diversity of viewpoints within his own diocese which, he claims, is moving in a direction similar to his own change. How he measures this impact I don't know. I have to say, from when I lived in Hull and he appeared in the local media, that I didn't develop a particularly high opinion of him: Hull seemed to be a stepping stone, and that here was someone on the move. Liverpool was a step up (well it is: one is suffragan and one is diocesan) and from a distance, in some contrast, he seems more of a Liverpool advocate. I remember spending a short time in Liverpool and Southport and tasting how different was the religious air, even among Unitarians. It's not so far from the culture of Northern Ireland.

Hull is utterly different: being one of the most secular places in England and resistant to organised religion. It's what makes the continued existence of the Hull Unitarians one of sheer longevity and resistance more than anything, and it is interesting that it remains one of the least traditional and more diverse in outlook of the Unitarian churches of the M62 corridor.

James Jones is obviously worried about Anglicanism and where it is going. One can surmise that the next Archbishop of Canterbury ought to be evangelical given the ongoing balance of forces, but such would have to be acceptable to the broad based and progressive-Catholic side, and more competent and safe than George Carey. But if James Jones is the 'acceptable evangelical' replacement for Rowan Williams, he would be less 'in the theological detail' than Rowan Williams; the present Archbishop tries to deal in the narrative that looks orthodox and also he is rule-bound as combined with a Catholic-interpretation centralising agenda. Should the Covenant fail, and it looks rocky as some evangelicals try to make it the disciplining method on the road to creating a believing doctrinal worldwide fellowship, Rowan Williams will have to go as his imposed project will have failed around him (should it do so).

Now it can be argued that Rowan Williams is a kind of liberal-end Neil Kinnock who has sort of reversed himself in the service of his party, the Anglican Communion, though the argument only runs so far (because he always was Catholic in a purple sense, and has pursued this project; and his theology was more conserving-postmodern than liberal, even if tolerant of social difference). However, James Jones would be a kind of evangelical-end Neil Kinnock, from that stable but attempting, without the same theological endeavour of his predecessor, to urge levels of 'live and let live' in Anglicanism as in the manner he is laying out now. Rowan Williams is institutional with the use of theology and ecclesiology, whereas James Jones is more directly institutional and perhaps prefers people over ideas.

I note the continued 'capture' of Fulcrum discussions by Conservative Evangelicals, though they have received some Open Evangelical replies now about their intolerance, against which the Conservative Evangelicals have responded with the Bible as a rule book (over and over again). Would a James Jones as Archbishop persuade them, when the blood of the kill drips from their lips? It's very doubtful, but the calculation has to be that the Conservative Evangelicals are a very small proportion of the Church of England, of Western Anglicanism and probably not as large as they think in much of the so-called Global South. James Jones's position and positioning still makes him appear to be the obvious candidate to replace Rowan Williams.


Erika Baker said...

How many conservative evangelicals are there - that's a fascinating question.
Enough to have stopped Jeffery John's appointment, enough at high level to block the Equality Bill, enough to push Fulcrum further and further to the right.

That they cannot win this battle is clear. But the fight could continue for quite a while and get bloodier still.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Compare this situation and how these folks comment' lay the law down with their Archbishop's recent Lincoln lecture. (This blog summarises it.)