Who's this then?

My photo
Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Monday, 21 July 2008


For the last three weeks its been non stop in this house. Now it is slowing down a little for the summer, which is good as we have all been at breaking point because the parish eventually just invades everything else, which makes us all a bit crabby with each other.

I am so looking forward to going to New Wine this week (although don't even think about breaking into my house if you are reading this with that intent as you will not want to mess with what's here while we are gone!)

I am getting the camper ready and planning our route, starting to think about who I might run into on the site (apart from God obviously!)

Still time to reflect a little about Lambeth etc. Seems the parable of the weeds was a pretty good choice of gospel reading for last Sunday - wonder if they fixed that on purpose or whether God really does work by his Spirit through the lectionary - I think the latter!

Probably won't be able to post from Shepton Mallett so see you next week.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Village Fun Day

I'm absolutely cream crackered, and have got to get up at dawn to walk the dogs then take the 8 o'clock, then the 9.30, but it is worth it cos we raised over £2000 for the school, in a joint venture between school PTA and the Church. Our aim as a church was to bless the community, and we were greatly aided in that by a large donation which allowed us to hire three big bouncy castles

I never want to see a gazebo again though, after having put up 7 yesterday. One blew down and several more had to be dismantled, as though the sun shone all day it was a tad breezy.

£2000 - I'm really chuffed and am also relieved to be able to stop stressing about the Fun day, which as it turned out, was in fact fun to run and fun to be at!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Women Bishops - bring it on!

I am in favour of women bishops; I am in favour of women priests and do not subscribe to Reform style "headship theology", (go here to read my take on all that) so it follows naturally that I support the consecration of women as bishops. Bishops are still priests (and deacons) - you do not surrender your letters of orders when you are consecrated (do you?)

I am not a liberal though. I have a high view of Scripture as the Word of God, don't have much time for a lot of of critical scholarship and function spiritually in a Charismatic Evangelical worldview. I'll happily admit to catholic tendencies, but not liberal, no siree!

I really hope that if nothing else, this summer's General Synod vote and Lambeth conference will be able to put to rest the idea that if you are in favour of women as priests and bishops you must also be in favour of the affirmation of homosexual physical relationships as biblically acceptable, and the ordination of active homosexuals.

There is a big difference. Being a woman is not a moral issue, but a matter of creation. No matter what you think about homosexuality, it is a question of morality - you either accept it as morally right or wrong. Someone's gender is not generally open to public discussion like that.

People who are more conservative than me and more liberal than me both say however that to support women's ordination will lead to a support for gay ordination (to be acceptable, instead of just done on the quiet.)

But I just don't think it follows. The conservatives will say, Oh well it's a slippery slope once you've let go of the authority of the Bible. I would say the liberals have let go of the authority of the Bible, even though you don't have to do that to arrive at a conclusion that women can be leaders.

The thing is, the person who invented the term "slippery slope" (Francis Schaeffer, for whom I otherwise have the greatest regard) lived up a mountain and saw things therefore from a mountain top perspective. I live in flat Essex, where things don't slip down, theologically or physically. That colours my approach, but what defines it is a marvellous book that was recommended by Bishop Graham Cray to the 2005 New Wine Leaders' Conference. It is Grove Booklet B16 "A Slippery Slope? the ordination of Women and Homosexual Practice - a case study in Biblical Interpretation" by RT France. Go here to order online.

The moment of it's recommendation sticks in my mind, as Charles Raven had just addressed the conference calling for support for Reform's campaigning against the church's (perceived) direction on these issues, treating them as a single matter. Bishop Graham stood up and said "it doesn't have to be like that". He also spoke favourably of Rowan Williams' orthodoxy. The conference were stunned, but in a good way.

I'll let you read the book (and check out Rosy Ashley's chapter in "the Call for Women Bishops") but basically the thing is that the interpretive processes that we use to come to a conclusion about women's ministry (and France leaves room for decisions either way on that) are not the same as those that are used in attempts to justify the inclusion of sexually active homosexuals in church leadership.

For me it is possible to conclude that women in leadership is a biblical thing; I can't say the same for homosexuals if they are in physical relationships, any more than I think it is alright for a straight priest to co-habit with a sexual partner if they are not married.

Why Rowan Williams should be like a dentist

I went to the dentist the other day and came away with a very sore mouth, yet I felt well looked after and at the time I seemed to have had more than satisfactory treatment, and I was happy with the plans for future treatments. Looking back the pain was as much as it would have been if someone had punched be in the mouth (or at least what I imagine that would be like as an adult, since the last time it happened to me I was 8).

The thing is, the dentist (actually that's a misnomer, it was a periodental specialist) was very kind and helpful and efficient and, well just nice to me, even as she stuck a 9mm spike down the gaps between my teeth and my gums - yes, ouch! Then she gave me some inter-dental brushes which are supposed to help the problem but actually make my gums bleed a lot. Yet I still feel that I was well looked after (even after I'd paid the bill).

So I reflected that Rowan Williams and the Anglican hierarchy need to use the same skill, of inflicting pain on people and giving them tough things to do in the future, while at the same time being able to convince them that the actions and decisions of the church are for the best, are right and will be beneficial in the long run, and making them feel part of the process and an important part at that.

Whether it is the issue of gay bishops or women bishops, there are going to be some people at the Lambeth conference who will be in pain, just as there were at General Synod last week. Decisions will apparently not be made at Lambeth but there will be lots of talking. The task of the Archbishop will be to be like these people's dentist - to acknowledge that it hurts but to be so loving and humble and well organised and presentable that those in pain (the patients I suppose we could say) still feel positively about being at Lambeth, and about being Anglican, and so will stay on board.

Bad dentists lose their patients, but Rowan Williams is not a bad Archbishop, so he needn't lose people over all this stuff. I hope that those who have apparently decided to "go private" at GAFCON might also see that the surgery they are thinking of leaving still has a place for them.

Good dentists usually have good receptionists. Perhaps the welcome team at Lambeth might be prevailed upon to ensure that Gene Robinson does let some other people get on the telly occasionally!

Of course the other parallel is that my teeth are in such a state for two reasons; one is genetic and the other is because I haven't looked after them as well as I might have done.

Where we are now in the Anglican communion, with traditionalist theology and bishops coming over from Africa and Asia and what used to be called "the colonies" surely results in part from the theology of the missionaries who went out to the colonies in the 19th century and planted churches. Some of their opinions about (for example) homosexuality arise from their own cultural and historical experience (what one might say is genetic) and some of it arises from the theology and ethics imparted by faithful missions over many decades.

But we didn't look after them very well over time, as now, back in the West liberal theology has come to the fore (not that there is no conservative theology there nor that there is no liberalism in (say) Africa), and so we are behaving like a dentist who says "Well, I told you to do that to look after your teeth then but now I have changed my mind and it doesn't matter any more, let them rot."

There used to be a dental hygiene campaign with the slogan "ignore them and they'll go away." (i.e. your teeth). It seems to me that cannot be said of any of the vocal groups making noises about the Communion, sexual morality or the historic decision of the Church of England to pave the way for Women in the episcopate.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Church Politics

There's tons of stuff in the media at the moment about the Church of England, because the Lambeth conference is about to start and there are Bishops from all over the world all over the TV news and papers.

One in particular - Gene Robinson, whom the papers are calling the world's first openly gay bishop. He hasn't been invited to Lambeth, but is going anyway and will surely take every media opportunity to rub the noses of his opponents in the mess that we are all making of the Anglican Church.

I have my own strong opinions about the ethical prerequisites for Christian leadership, which we won't get into right now. Let's just say they are founded on a high valuing of Christian marriage. Thing is, I'm in a cleft stick, since my ecclesiology tells me that the validity of a sacramental ministry is not dependant on the nature of the minister providing it (Article 26, the 39 Articles of Religion) whereas my (I guess relatively conservative)Biblical approach to morality tells me that the ECUSA (i.e. US Anglicans) should not have elected Gene, (an out, active gay man) as a bishop, given the storm they must have known it would cause. So in fact it ought to have been just his electors, not Gene himself who were dis invited to the Lambeth conference.

The worst thing about all this mess is that it is just a distraction from the task of parish ministry which I should be getting on with instead of blogging away on here.

Stuff on Women Bishops to come later.

Retrospective Leadership Programme Journal

I need to use my imagination today to write about events from the middle of May.

I went off to the Diocesan Clergy Leadership Programme in two minds as to whether it would be an enjoyable experience. It was in Ditchingham in a very pleasant retreat centre, and there were a lot of new people to meet, as well as a few familiar faces. Even after nearly two years here I still don't know that many other vicars, so in that respect alone it was going to be a worthwhile exercise, just making new connections.

The staff running the course were all very good at getting their teaching across, although for me just as there were lots of new people to meet, there was a lot of new teaching to take on board, sometimes 2 or 3 things in one day which was exhausting, but looking back, I think I have been able to let the appropriate stuff sink in, and the stuff that doesn't fit wash away.

Being a church leader has been a funny old game in many ways Not least, in the selection process, our leadership skills are observed and talked about, then we are told that we do have the potential to be selected, then we go and more interviews in which we talk about the same gifts of leadership. Then we get trained up and ordained and start being a leader (albeit a junior one as a curate). By this time in my case at least the stuff that first got me noticed had slipped into the recesses of my self - awareness. This is mostly due to a complete lack( in those days) of any approach to specific leadership training during my theological college course.

When filling out job applications (which even vicars have to do) I became a little more aware of strengths and weaknesses in my character and ministry, so I am able to approach CLP (Clergy Leadership Programme) with a view to fixing some of those things - like my strategic planning and my paperwork systems, both of which were pretty non-existent before CLP.

At this stage, some 2 months on, I wouldn't say I have been able to implement everything as per what was suggested on CLP but at the very least the intention is there. Time is the factor - there just isn't enough of it. I really enjoyed the chance to be out of the parish for a few days and be a bit more objective - thing is you then hit the ground running on your return and I haven't stopped since.

I guess my biggest issue was no one had said to me exactly what leadership actually is. Is it Management? There were certainly lots of patterns and models from industry to support that theme, but the presentations were always done from within the Christian tradition, and it was by no means a secular context - indeed I found the worship to be most refreshing and varied - a real tonic after some previous residentials in a former life!

I am supposed to be having lunch with someone else from the course, to see how things have gone since we came home. Perhaps I will post another few thoughts then.

Welcome to the Friends' Meeting House

This is my first posting.
I mean, I have put stuff on other people's blogs and forums - mostly Fulcrum.
Thing is, I like the idea of getting stuff off my chest, especially about the Church of England and the Anglican communion, but a blog like this is a little bit more discreet than something quite high profile like Fulcrum.
A few months back I started a Leadership programme for vicars in which we were encouraged to keep a journal, something that I find really difficult, so in a way this blog is the offspring of that challenge.

So anyway, I do church for a living, (if you want to see the churches I serve, go here) but I am in fact quite a normal bloke - a dad, a husband, a neighbour. I like to have the occasional beer or two in our local pub, The White Hart, which has it's own brewery. People sometimes say I find it hard to switch off work, but then since I am a professional Christian, I can't exactly stop my faith from surfacing in my conversations.

Our churches are all in small villages, but we love rural life and we enjoy the fact that (for example) in Lindsell this morning we had nearly 10% of the population of the community in church - around 15 people. It's just easier to do community in small places. When I go to London and walk down the street I look at everyone's face, with a view to smiling at them or even exchanging a greeting. Some people clearly think I am a loony, but the thing is, in a village, that is normal behaviour (even if you are not the vicar) because there is a greater degree of familiarity - people know lots of other people if not everyone in their village. that's how it's meant to be I think.

That'll do for now