Posted in Church of England, coronavirus

Keep calm and carry on? or Be afraid, be very afraid …?

How worried are you right now? Yes, about the new coronavirus and the disease it causes. Whatever your personal state of mind, this is a time to think about what it means for you – and in this post I’m talking to those who identify as Christians. As Christians we are called to follow the example of Jesus – Jesus who associated with the poor, the sick, the marginalised. We are people whose first calling is not to meet our own needs, but to the bear the burdens of others. So we can’t really think about what it means to respond to this outbreak without first thinking about what it also means for others, for our whole community.

So what do we do in the face of advice to self-isolate, to avoid contact, to reduce our contact with and exposure to others? In a world where enough people are lonely already, where many people go around the whole time with their guard up, suspicious of strangers, how do we continue to witness to the love of the God who breaks down barriers, who reaches out to embrace us, who heals and reconciles us by the gift of his own body, his own blood?

Those questions drive us back to the roots of our faith. They make us realise that our response to the coronavirus can’t be merely pragmatic, still less fearful – it must be informed by our faith in God. We come into God’s presence recognising our weakness, our sin and our fear – and opening ourselves to be filled again with God’s gifts of faith, hope and love. In the incarnation of Christ, God comes to share all our human state, including our desire to avoid suffering – ‘Father if this cup can pass from me’, he prayed in Gethsemane – but with complete trust and commitment to do whatever was the Father’s will. Because he has passed through death and defeated death, we too can approach whatever may come, knowing that God will be walking with us.

We live in uncertain times, in many ways, and none of us know how quickly or widely the coronavirus outbreak will spread. We do not come to God for a heavenly insurance policy, to exempt ourselves from what may happen to other people. Our faith does not prevent us getting ill. But it does mean that we know we are always profoundly healed – whether we live all the time with disability or illness, or whether we are afflicted in passing, at root we are whole in Christ. In the light of that wholeness and that promise we can live the life we are given with the joy that Christ gives, day by day, looking forward to the fullness of eternal life. How can we, then, healed and reconciled, continue to be agents of healing and reconciliation to our neighbours and communities?

Well, firstly, what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean ignoring government guidance, or deluding ourselves into believing that if we’re praying enough then we won’t be infected. The authorities in the UK have adopted a sensible and measured approach, and we are all well advised to follow it: to follow it in adopting sensible precautions, and also in not panicking ourselves or encouraging others to feel more anxious than they need.

As for what it does mean? – well, someone else has done the thinking for me, and I suggest you have a look. Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans, has suggested four golden rules – which if we can follow, will make this epidemic/pandemic into also an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the difference that Christ makes.

Posted in Church of England, Croydon, Poverty and Justice

Suffering – the little children

It’s been nearly a year, but this has provoked me to return to the keyboard …

In the last few weeks, OFSTED judged children’s services in the London Borough of Croydon to be inadequate – the lowest rating. Last year, the same thing happened in Wandsworth and the year before in Lambeth – and that’s just in the diocese of Southwark. Across the country, the services that local authorities offer to the most vulnerable children are buckling under the pressure of (rightly) increasing expectations coupled with decreasing resources.

The normal range of reactions have followed. Those who are sufficiently distant look on in alarm and anger; those who are more nearly involved, or who think they might be able to make something of it, begin to look for ways to cast or shed the blame. Among the many failings identified in the OFSTED report are suggestions that some people may have focused more on making the systems look better, rather than responding to the practices which were putting children at risk. When things go wrong it’s a natural though not a noble human reaction to try to cover your own back.

It’s a normal human reaction – and maybe one that we all share, particularly when we look on, and don’t think about how we might also be in some way responsible, or what we might do in response. There is more to it than being involved in the work of children’s services, in Croydon or anywhere else. We are all connected to one another in our society, so it doesn’t feel at all right to be angry at the conduct of others without asking the question ourselves about how we might need to answer for this state of affairs.

When something goes wrong so often, and so drastically, it asks a question of all of us, not just those of us in Croydon (or in Wandsworth, or Lambeth, or …). What is happening in children’s services is an effect of a wider phenomenon for which we are all responsible. As many commentators have said, UK voters demand Scandinavian standard services while only being willing to pay USA level taxes. That contradiction is now paying out in the lives of the poorest and most marginalised. At that national and political level, it is all our responsibility.

But in our local church communities as well, in our schools and chaplaincies, it is our responsibility actively to work for the wellbeing of our communities. It is at the heart of our mission as God’s people. Of the five marks of mission identified by the Anglican Communion, the third is ‘To respond to human need by loving service’; and the fourth
To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation’.

At a time when statutory authorities are struggling more and more, will we just criticise? Or will we take our part in mending a broken world?

Posted in Church of England

Singing new Songs: receiving the gifts of black and minority ethnic Anglicans

This is the sermon I preached last night at the farewell service for Ven Danny Kajumba, Archdeacon of Reigate 2001-2016:

God’s calling can take you in many unexpected directions. I would never have imagined, as a good evangelical boy going off to university, that I would end up who I am or where I am, still less in what I’m wearing (a cope, if you’re wondering). Still less could Danny have imagined the twists and turns, the opportunities and roles, that he has been called to undertake in God’s service.

Let me remind you of a little of his biography: Having been exiled to Britain during Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda, Danny worked at different times in a factory, as an auxiliary nurse, a youth officer, deputy warden of a Christian hostel and as proprietor of a home for the elderly before training for the ministry on the Southwark Ordination Course. He was ordained in 1985, serving a curacy in St Albans Diocese before returning to Uganda in 1987 where he served as a non-stipendiary minister whilst working as a senior executive in the Ugandan Government and later as the Secretary General of the Kingdom of Buganda, in what is now southern Uganda. He came back to this country and served as Team Vicar in the Horley Team for a couple of years, before becoming Archdeacon of Reigate in 2001. Since 2009 he has chaired the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns of the Archbishops’ Council. He is, of course, in the Ugandan context not merely Archdeacon but also Prince Danny. His other trusteeships and interests are too numerous to mention, though before the evening is out I will ask about Adonai Paintball in Kampala, which sounds fascinating – is it perhaps a Christian version of paintball where you compete to offer yourself most quickly to the others’ weapons?

Danny is a man of many gifts and talents, as that brief biography makes clear. I have benefitted often from his wisdom and canny business sense, and equally from his infectious joy and enthusiasm for the gospel. I know that many sitting here will have much to give thanks for in his ministry in the Reigate Archdeaconry, in the Diocese of Southwark, in the Church of England, in this nation, in Uganda … he has been a busy man. No wonder he’s needed so many mobile phones! But he has always used his gifts and talents for the benefit of others, not himself. Danny is a man of great generosity.

In particular, Danny has been an example and an encouragement to those called into the church’s ministry from black and minority ethnic communities, and among so many, it is that aspect of your calling, Danny, I would like to emphasise and reflect on tonight. The Church of England has wrestled for years with its failure to attract black and minority ethnic people into positions of leadership, and especially into the ordained ministry. The recent initiative entitled Turning up the Volume aims to double the number of minority ethnic clergy in senior positions by 2024 – we have long lead-in times in the Church of England. Given what I have seen of the calibre of many BAME people within the church, I can only applaud that target, and regret that we have set it to ourselves so late in the day. But I would also like to suggest what we can do more.

We definitely need to turn up the volume, to give conscious and deliberate attention to BAME representation in the church. To continue the analogy, we also need as a church to learn to sing some different tunes. I should make it clear that I’m not talking about hymn books here – I’m talking about our culture and patterns of working as a church. Being one myself, it is difficult at first to discern how many of the ways and customs of the church are specially adapted for middle-aged, middle-class white men. I swim in my own natural waters. But the less like that you are, the more unfamiliar are the cultural waters of the church. I speak not only of my work with Danny over the last four years, but my previous experience of multi-cultural church life in Islington and Hackney: I have seen how much those who don’t fit – and this applies to many women, and to white working-class people too – have to swim against the tide of the unspoken and often unconscious assumptions about how things are, or how things are done, of what’s proper.

We sing a particular song, if you like, which is familiar and comfortable. But it’s not the same song that many other members of our society sing. It’s not better, or worse, but it’s unfamiliar. And if we are to be the Church of England, and not just the Church of the middle-class English, we have to find ways in which all of those different songs can be woven together in one body of Christ.

That does not mean creating protected spaces in which minority activities can flourish. It’s far more radical than that. In Croydon where I live we are all ethnic minorities, because there is no one group which is in the majority. That’s certainly not the case in the Reigate Archdeaconry, or in most of the country, so it is all the more of a challenge to incorporate those songs of different cultures and ethnicities as equal partners into the church’s one hymn of praise which is its life together.

Today is the day when the church remembers Bishop Edward King. At the turn of the last century he was taken to court for un-Anglican innovations like mixing the water with the wine at the eucharist. That was a small concrete symbol of the new song of Catholic spirituality which he was helping to weave into the life of the Church of England. He is remembered now not for being a firebrand campaigner – because he was not – but for his holiness and his devotion to those he was called to lead and serve in ministry. The church in his time was renewed, despite the fears and anxieties of many, through the introduction of new ways of being that seemed deeply foreign.

Danny’s ministry has been a living reminder of a calling for the whole church – not just those who are BAME. I know that at times he has felt unable to offer his gifts fully in ministry, because the church has not been able to receive them or make use of them. But that very frustration has also been a sign of what we need to do – to learn new ways of working, new songs of faith for a new, more diverse people who are now in our churches – and for the very many more who do not see that their song could be sung in our space.

One of the joys of my time working with Danny was when he, the Archdeacon of Croydon and I went together to visit our brothers and sisters in the church in Zimbabwe. Even though none of his languages are supposed to be particularly closely related to Shona, he managed to make himself understood, and clearly felt right at home. I on the other hand was continually trying to work out what I was meant to do next. For all that I understood the liturgy perfectly well, it was enculturated in a different way of being, sung in a different song. I would be glad if I found that in more parts of the Church of England I was slightly out of my own comfort zone too.

There are many gifts given to the church, Paul tells us in the epistle reading; as we gather here to celebrate we do so as one part of Christ’s body the church, one body with many gifts. Tonight we recognise all that Danny has given to that body, the many ways in which he has enriched our lives and our discipleship. But this is a celebration of the gospel, not of one person. We are met here by our Lord in word and sacrament; in the eucharist Christ always invites us all to come and be transformed. If we are to give Danny the gift tonight he would most wish, we should go out to live our own lives of discipleship enlivened yes, by all we have received – and will continue to receive – from Danny, but most of all by the Spirit of God who lives in him and in us.

Danny as I said is a generous man – not someone to be jealous of others’ gifts. At this time of passing on of ministry, I know he shares with Moses the prayer, ‘Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets’ – let us all go out to proclaim and live the good news of Jesus Christ, and inspire others in their turn to do the same.

Posted in Church of England, Croydon, Poverty and Justice

A living wage you can actually live on

In case you’re wondering, that’s the difference between the real Living Wage, and the government’s rebranding of the minimum wage as the ‘National Living Wage’. The
genuine article is calculated to provide a basic income which will enable a family to live without needing to get extra jobs – which will enableparents to spend time with their children, and have some of the rest and recreation time we all need. It doesn’t give anyone a luxurious life, but it should enable people to live with dignity.

That’s why I don’t believe wages should be set purely according to what the market will pay. The market will always pay the least it can get away with and still obtain a decent product. That’s what markets do. To treat wages as purely an affair for market forces means thinking of people as no more than the work they do. I can’t think about people like that, and I don’t think any Christian can either.

Markets are powerful and effective at many things, but they should not dictate our beliefs about human beings or our decisions about how we live together in society. This morning’s reading from the prophet Isaiah at morning prayer reminds us what a society is like that forgets its purpose, and what is the remedy:

Cease to do evil, learn to do good;

seek justice, rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

I believe that the Living Wage is one of the ways we can do in contemporary society what Isaiah was telling the people of Judah God wanted of them. As simple as that.

It’s very encouraging to see that a good number of dioceses and other church bodies have taken the step of becoming Living Wage employers, and some big employers have signed up, which is great news for many many people. I’m very glad that the London Borough of Croydon has now become an accredited Living Wage employer. But there are still many many others who haven’t taken that step.

Many parishes and churches are also employers (have a look here for one story), even if only of very few people in many cases. And many may be paying the Living Wage anyway. But it would be a great witness to society at large, and to the many employers who are members of church congregations, if each church which can was to sign up, and display its commitment to a society which exists for a higher purpose than the market: which exists to ensure to all its members the dignity of a decent human life.

Posted in Church of England

Sheep and shepherds

I’ve just devoured James Rebanks‘ The Shepherd’s Life, which is a fascinating and brilliantly written account of his life as a shepherd on the Cumbrian fells (with a little international consultancy on the side to help with the bills). As near as I can reckon, it tells us non-farmers what it really means to live with that connection to a place and to a way of life which is almost completely foreign to a market society. Looking at it from the outside, why would anyone work so incredibly hard for such little reward? But that question only makes sense when you’re thinking of ‘work’ and ‘life’ as two different things. You contract for work in order to have enough money to get on with the things you really want to do.

But for farmers – or at least for Rebanks – it’s not like that. The life and the living are one and the same thing. You have to make enough money to survive, so you work as cannily as you can to maximise your return. But that’s not the heart of it. Rebooks begins by talking about the way sheep on the fells are ‘hefted’ to a specific area. Even though there aren’t any fences, they know their territory, and that’s where they stay. It’s their space. As a one-time walker on the Cumbrian fells, I can attest to the indignation of a Hardwick sheep when confronted by a stranger carrying a knapsack. One definitely gets the feeling that they’re thinking ‘if I had proper teeth, I’d be after you …’.

Rebooks leaves the reader to makes the connection with himself and his fellow farmers. But they too are hefted to their places. Not necessarily the individual farm, because people move from time to time. But to the area, the territory, they are inextricably linked. A lot of Church of England clergy feel just the same about their parishes.

Given the centuries of describing Christian ministry as ‘pastoral’ (pastor = shepherd), `i couldn’t help starting to think about the connections. Ito s an important part of our Anglican life that the normal way of ordaining or licensing any priest (or for that matter bishop) is to a specific place. We are not free-floating; our ministry is always to a place or to a community. Sometimes nowadays the community on question may be a non-geographical one, a virtual community, but there is a community nevertheless. And the great strength of the parish model is that it reminds clergy in the Anglican tradition (even those not licensed to geographical parishes) that our ministry is not just to the gathered congregation, but to all.

The parish system was set up for a pattern of ministry in which it was expected that the majority of people – in principle, all the people – would be connected to their parish church for at least the rituals of living and dying, and often much more. We no longer live in that world, and less so as the years go by. The reduction in the number of people identifying as ‘Anglican’ may not make much difference to church attendance (they mostly didn’t come anyway), but it does make a difference to baptisms, weddings and funerals. Parish priests (already in many places; increasingly so in the future) cannot expect to be have a key role in the lives of the families of the parish, just by virtue of their role.

Does that mean then that we give up on the parish as a unit of organisation? Not according to the clergy of the Church of England, for whom it remains a key and valued part of what our church means. That response rejoices my heart, but I’m also all too well aware of how stressful parish ministry is for many clergy. I want to see parish ministry continue and flourish, but parishes and their clergy can only do so if the patterns by which we have worked are transformed. In order to preserve what we have, we need to change it.

Firstly, we need to start thinking of the parish system not as a gift of an existing set of pastoral relationships, but as a specific and special field of mission. Parish clergy can’t expect the parish to come to them, but they know where the focus is for their reaching out with the good news of the gospel. (See my last post for some more of what I mean …). That doesn’t just provide a piece of territory: it sustains a particular view of the church’s mission, which is what maintains the continuity with the earlier model of the parish. There is the same care for the whole community, the same openness to all, the same rootedness in place – now offered to a wider community that does not any longer think of itself as belonging to the church, and which does not speak the language of faith. The worshipping community also is committed to its place and its parish, but also knows that it has something distinctive and different by virtue of being the church, which it offers to the parish of which it is also part.

Secondly – and this is really where I get back to James Rebanks – if the parish system is to thrive, it will only do so by re-thinking the messages that underlie our pastoral model of ministry. My perception of the Anglican ideal, at least as it has been expressed in many traditions within the church, is that the pastor should be continually, intimately involved with the life of his flock. He or she knows the details of their lives, is aware of all the different currents of joy and sorrow in the community, lives the life of the flock day by day and minute by minute. I suspect it’s always been a myth, but it was maybe once a myth with power to inspire and encourage. As the number of clergy decreases through retirement – and the number of worshipping communities remains very much the same – that vision can increasingly only be one which demoralises and defeats the clergy. And when it is also the expectation of the people of God in a local church, it can lead only to frustration and a sense of having been abandoned, when the clergy are no longer able even to aspire to such a form of ministry.

So we want to renew the parish system, with a vision for mission in each local place, and simultaneously to liberate both the lay people of the church and the clergy from an unsustainable ideal of pastoral ministry.

So, what about the sheep on the Cumbrian fells? Herdwicks live for months of the year on their fell – their place, their territory, even their parish – without seeing a shepherd at all. When times are all right, they fend for themselves. Rebanks talks about going onto the fells when the weather is bad, and finding that the older ewes, experienced in storms, have already led much of the flock into the most sheltered places. Does that mean that Rebanks is no longer their shepherd? Of course not – he searches out the sheep who haven’t made it to safety, he ensures that there is feed for the flock. And when the flock need to have closer care, especially at lambing time, he gathers them off the fell and is there night and day to take care of sheep and lambs.

The church’s model of the shepherd always there, always nudging and urging, correcting and caring, is not the only one. Being a shepherd can also mean equipping a flock to organise themselves, being there for the key moments of celebration or crisis. The sheep know who their shepherd is without needing to see him or her every day, and s/he knows the flock likewise.

Could we dare to think about pastoral ministry this way? For worshipping communities to become able to sustain and maintain their lives much more independently, knowing and loving their clergy, and being known and loved in return, but leaving behind the dream of an impossible intimacy? It wouldn’t just mean change for clergy, but for the whole people of God. But it might be what enables the renewal of parish ministry for the next generation of the church’s life.

Posted in Books, Church of England, Poverty and Justice

Parochial ministry: lessons from an unlikely teacher

Earlier this year, I spent a couple of weeks in the US and Canada, and rather to my surprise found myself learning from a true expert what parish ministry is all about. Churches in N America are all (stereotypically) gathered congregations of the like-minded and often the like-skinned – but amidst that there has been a return to the idea of “the parish” – driven not by the churches you might expect, but by a motley collection of Anabaptists, Presbyterians and – in particular for me – a Baptist minister.

Grandview Calvary Baptist Church doesn’t to UK ears sound like it’s going to be a place of radical hospitality, a rich and disciplined common life of prayer and service, and deep commitment to a local community in all its variety and diversity. I wasn’t expecting to see the Stations of the Cross either. But all of those things were there. I took the Skytrain over to what is now an increasingly trendy part of Vancouver, in the same way that Hackney is a trendy part of London. That is to say, there is an overlay of young professionals, but the majority of the people are poor and there is a great diversity of ethnicities and social groups. After fifteen years in Islington and then Stoke Newington, I felt right at home.

Tim Dickau has been the minister at GCBC since 1989. He describes the question that faced the church at the time he arrived this way:

We were at a crossroads that many churches at the end of Christendom have had to face. Would we continue on as a chaplaincy supporting the present members until their death? Or would we face this death, which after all is so entwined with the story of Jesus, and share in the larger mission of Christ by living out the gospel in our changing neighbourhood?

GCBC did face up to the death of Christendom, and it has found new life. And lest UK readers think “it’s OK for them, there are loads of Christians in N America” – this is an area which recorded 31% ‘no religion’ in the 1981 Census. I wonder what it’s up to now?

Tim took me for a walk around the neighbourhood. He knew pretty well everyone, and they knew him: it was like being with a parish priest in the CofE who really knows, loves and walks their patch. But for him and for his community, discovering a local, neighbourhood, ‘parish’ ministry has been a voyage of deliberate discovery and exploration. It has involved huge change and a commitment to keep going through significant downs as well as ups. It’s been no quick fix. Among other things, it has made me question the now-conventional wisdom that clergy ‘should’ move on after say, seven to ten years. I don’t think any of what I saw at GCBC would have taken root without Tim’s constancy of vision and commitment to that place.

As I left, Tim generously gave me a copy of his book Plunging into the Kingdom Way (from which the quotation above is taken). One of the joys of being on sabbatical is catching up on some of those books which accumulate unread; as I’ve been reading Tim’s book, I’ve been struck once again and even more, how he has a huge amount to teach us in the CofE about renewing our parish life in a post-Christendom setting. (I’ve also been reminded not to judge a book by its cover or title!)

Parishes, and all our structures around them, were constructed for a world in which the services of the church were a natural part of the life of the community. That just doesn’t apply any more in most places. In the parishes under my care, especially the suburban ones, Christendom church is now a living reality only for the older generation (though the part of my patch south of the M25 seems to be an exception). Last year’s Church Times survey found that parish clergy were, perhaps unsurprisingly, deeply committed to the parish system. So am I. But that doesn’t mean it will be the same in another generation as it is now. In fact, if it is to exist in another generation, it will have to be on the path to a radical transformation.

We need to be taught how to renew our parishes, and this word from someone who carries none of our baggage is I think hugely important. But don’t just take my word for it: read, mark, learn, inwardly digest.

Posted in Church of England, Roman Catholic Church

Karl Rahner, prophet

Karl Rahner, in 1974 (!) – some gems from The Shape of the Church to Come. Might it be coming now, in the UK?

The situation of Christians and the Church today is therefore one of transition from a people’s Church (Volkskirche), corresponding to the former homogeneous, secular society and culture, to  Church as that community of believers who critically disassociate themselves, in voter of a personal free decision in every case, from the current opinions and feelings of their social environment (23)

The smaller Christ’s flock becomes in the pluralism of modern society, so much the less can it afford the mentality of the ghetto or the sect, so much more open must it be to the outer world (30)

If in the immediate future we want to choose a capable parish priest or bishop … we ought to ask whether he [sic] has ever succeeded in getting a hearing form the ‘neopagans’ and made at least one or two of them into Christians (33)

… the fact must be accepted in teaching and in practice that in the one Church with her one Spirit there can and must be a variety of charisms whose ultimate harmony … is perceptible only to the one Lord of the Church and history; and he is not identical either with any sort of individual group or with the Church’s office-holders (36-7)

… we are going towards a future of the Church which is still hidden from us … neither a promised land nor a final catastrophe will soon take away from us the burden and the dignity of a continuing pilgrimage through history (45)

a declericalized Church [is] a Church in which the office-holders in joyous humility allow for the fact that the Spirit breathes where he will and that he has not arranged an exclusive and permanent tenancy with them (57)

the authority of office will be an authority of freedom … the Church is a declericalized Church in which the believers gladly concede to the office-holders in free obedience the special functions … which cannot be exercised by all at the same time … [The office-holder] will gain recognition for his office by being genuinely human and a Spirit-filled Christian (57-8)

If we are convinced that much injustice and tyranny prevail in a sinful world … we ought also really to be surprised how seldom the Church comes into conflict with those who hold power (62)

We talk too little about God in the Church … Only when the message of the living God is preached in the churches with all the power of the Spirit, will the impression disappear that the Church is merely an odd relic from the age of a society doomed to decline (87)

The Church of the future will be one built up from below (108)

When living Christian communities are formed by the Christians themselves, when they possess and attain a certain structure, solidity and permanence, they have just as much right as a territorial parish to be recognised as a basic element of the Church. Of course a basic community [has become] a local Church … only when it can really sustain the essential basic functions of the Church (organised proclamation of the gospel, administration of the sacraments, Christian charity and so on) (109)

(of bishops) The pastor should remain a pastor, but this certainly does not mean that he is to treat his flock as if they really were sheep (121)



Posted in Church of England, Uncategorized

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

A fascinating discussion on the Sunday programme today around the new book edited by the Archbishop of York, On Rock or Sand?

On the one hand, if the Church of England offers specific policies it is meddling and out of its depth. On the other hand if it offers statements of principle it’s being vague and wishy-washy.

All of which is a neat way of saying ‘keep off the public turf’ – religion is a private lifestyle issue and should keep in its place on Sunday mornings. It was summed up when Ed Stourton asked ‘where is the line (that the church shouldn’t cross)?’ To which I would want to say, ‘There is no line’! Christianity is a faith which looks for the new heaven and the new earth – a completely restored creation. Therefore we are concerned with everything, on our planet and beyond. If God is God at all, he is the God of the whole universe (or even, all the universes). So suggesting that Christians have nothing to say about something as near to home as poverty in our own country would be ludicrous, except that so many people do it. It acquires credibility by being repeated: but that doesn’t make it any less bizarre.
Of course I’m not expecting everyone to agree with a Christian critique – but as long as there are Christians we can do nothing else but offer our vision of the world for which we hope.

Posted in Anglican Communion, Church of England

lest we forget

Canada Hall, Merstham, Surrey

From the parish website:

On the evening of Saturday, the 19th April 1941, a German bomber dropped a landmine on parachute which exploded All Saints’ Church.  It killed five people waiting at a bus stop, an air-raid warden and messenger who were just going on duty.  It demolished half the church and wrecked the vicarage, houses and shops were devastated.  The vicar’s sister was also killed and the vicar, Henry Baker, and his other sister badly injured.

At the time, a Canadian field Ambulance Unit, the 9th, and some units of the Royal Canadian Engineers were stationed nearby.  In that Field Ambulance Unit was an Anglican Priest the Revd. George Hedley Wolfendale.  He had enlisted as a private soldier but later became an army chaplain.  He had a dream of building the people of All Saints’ a new church, using the materials from the ruined church and vicarage, and the voluntary labours of the Canadian Engineers to whom he now ministered.  On the 22nd March 1943 the work was begun.  In an incredible five weeks the church was completed, the only materials being paid for being the cement and the paint.  Eighteen Canadian Engineers did the work and the resulting church was consecrated by the Bishop of Southwark on Easter Day, the 25th April 1943.

In his address the Bishop “In the future, I hope that when the church is built again, this little building which you have, will still house some of the family life of the parish and all will be told the story of the Easter of 1943, that our Canadian kinsmen went out of their way to build a place in which our people might worship.  And when we have got over this business and together have cleared the course for the next bit of history ….we shall remember … ” (

In the week of the D Day 2014-06-07 11.05.29commemorations it seems appropriate too to remember this more local but still powerful memory. I was there this morning celebrating the work so far on building a link between the present All Saints Church and the Hall. it seems very appropriately symbolic that a building which in itself symbolises a link between people in Britain and in Canada should itself be linked to the church for which it was itself originally a replacement.

Canada Hall does look quite Canadian in its simplicity and straightforwardness. It’s also a reminder that the things we should not forget are not restricted to warfare and those who died. We should also remember, and treasure, our relationships and our benefactors. Canada Hall does that in the best way possible, by providing a space in which new relationships are formed through community activities of all kinds. It was built in response to destruction, but way beyond the plans of its original builders (I wonder if any are still alive?) it is still giving life.

Posted in Church of England

Welcoming Pilling

My heart lifted as I read the invitation in the Pilling Report (its second recommendation), that

The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views on both sides, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations or a similar process to which the Church of England needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level.

I couldn’t agree more. When I am asked about this – mostly by people who think they know what I’m going to say – I can only answer that we haven’t really yet begun the conversation. We have exchanged increasingly entrenched opinions between different camps, but we haven’t really talked – because we haven’t really listened.

The listening I’m talking about is the sort which is rooted in the process that the Pilling Group records of itself, that

As a group, we continue to seek the presence of Christ in one another. In the end, we are not prepared to say that our deeply held views render any of us un-Christian or put any of us outwith the Church of Christ. We commend to the wider Church a version of the process which we have found ourselves undergoing – attentive listening to brothers and sisters in Christ whose understanding of God’s demands and our responses is very different from our own. (Para 65)

The Report deliberately does not come to conclusions, and that will discredit it in the eyes of many. But I believe we are not yet ready for conclusions. I hope that we are now ready for a process: a process which will reflect our Anglican identity. I couldn’t agree more with the Group when it says

Anglican social ethics is characterized by listening to each other within the church. If one emphasis in theological ethics is allowed to dominate all others, the whole nature of Anglicanism, as a conciliar Church which holds together distinctive traditions, is lost.

The Anglican approach to social ethics is profoundly Christian in its refusal – in theory if not always in practice – to countenance premature foreclosure on matters where discerning the mind of the Church and the mind of Christ is elusive. In the flawed way of all institutions, that can be a counter-intuitive gift to a world fixated on immediacy, certainty and intolerance of difference. (Paras 307 & 308)

Not being ready for conclusions also means that we as a Church are not ready for changes (if we are to make them). We just haven’t reached the depth of mutual understanding of this issue which would enable us to move forward in love, even in loving disagreement.

The Report’s eleventh recommendation will be difficult for many – for some the first clause, for others the remainder

Whilst abiding by the Church’s traditional teaching on human sexuality, we encourage the Church to continue to engage openly and honestly and to reflect theologically on the circumstances in which we find ourselves to discern the mind of Christ and what the Spirit is saying to the Church now.

But as far as I can tell, for us in the Church of England, here and now, it is the most faithful response we can make.