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

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Spread my wings and touch the sky

Rachel tagged me to write a creed in 140 characters (not including spaces judging by her excellent shot at it.)

see http://lingamish.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/tweet-creed-meme/

Yahweh is three persons in one.
Father Son Spirit
Creator Redeemer Sustainer
The Awesome God
The Crucified God
The Intimate God
Who was and is and will be.
Amen Amen Amen

A bit of a rush as I am off to Dublin tomorrow
I tag Philip, Sam, David, Adrian and Peter

Friday, 28 November 2008

Come on Come on let's stick/work together

In a rare moment of leisure the other day I watched The Matrix Reloaded which is a strange but highly enjoyable mixture of kick-ass action and philosophy/theology.

A cracking line jumped out at me when I watched the scene of the council of war, where the sceptical (i.e. does not believe the prophecy about Neo (Keanu Reeves, on the left here) being "The One", a kind of Christ figure sent to save humanity) captain Jason Lock argues with the governing council about their strategy; he says he cannot comprehend why they are taking the course of action they have chosen (i.e. to put their faith in Neo), and the council replies in the mighty words

That is, you don't have to fully agree with, understand or be in control of a situation (think "the darkness comprehendeth it not" - means a lot more than "doesn't understand") in order to work together with others to fix it.

There are any number of ways this phrase could be applied to life today; the credit crunch, cross-party ecological strategy, ecumenism, even kicking racism out of football - I don't get Manchester United or Millwall but I support their efforts to get rid of racist chanting etc.

But of course I'm posting it because of the post-NEAC5 skirmishing between Anglican Mainstream and Fulcrum, and indeed between GAFCON and everybody else.

And, even though I'm a declared Fulcrumite, this has got to be a mutual thing. A way forward can only be found by looking at common ground, and setting aside differences, no matter how painful.
Update: "Comprehension is not a requisite for cooperation" might be a one sentence summary of the book of Job.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Following Yonder star

this was my astronomy picture of the day for today but deserves preservation; pretty amazing stuff.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

O friends rejoice ...

O Christian women, Christian men,
All the world over, seek again
the Way disciples followed then
Christ through all ages is the same:
Place the same hope in his great name,
with the same faith his word proclaim.
Let Love's unconquerable might
your scattered companies unite
in service to the Lord of light
So shall God's will on earth be done,
new lamps be lit, new tasks begun,
and the whole church at last be one.

GKA Bell 1883-1958(ccl1966)

The stanza in bold italics jumped off the page at me this morning.
Ain't nobody but God can fix this mess

Monday, 17 November 2008

As saints of old still line the way ...

Well, people are posting away furiously here there and everywhere about Saturday's NEAC5 consultation. Even Pluralist has had a couple of goes. But the Ugley vicar reduces his comments to a preamble to a wedding sermon that I dare not read for my blood pressure's sake.

As for me, well it was my first proper evangelical "assembly" (unless you count being in the student body at Wycliffe Hall), and my first impression was that there were too many grey haired gentlemen and not enough women or people under 45. The chair of the session, Canon Michael Walters, who otherwise did a very good job, betrayed the truth of my impression when, in inviting comments from the floor he could only invite men by name. The old boy network lives on!

The morning was fairly innocuous, and I was lifted by the opportunity to see face to face people I recognise 'cos they have their photo on Fulcrum, but have never met properly. It was also one of those occasions when one scans the room for familiar faces - there were a fair few, but not as many proportionally as I would find at New Wine. I guess that says something about my constituency.

Talks were OK - I like Paul Perkin and he genuinely seemed to be preaching a message of unity, but I wasn't really sure whether in wanting us to redefine inclusiveness he was talking about our attitude to ECUSA or the C of E evangelical movement. I suppose different people starting from different places may have found what they wanted to hear in his carefully (and no doubt prayerfully) chosen words. The Bishop of Birkenhead talked a lot of sense; I wish they'd given him longer as he was the only person who said anything in depth about Lambeth. Bishop Michael is a nice guy - he's the only Bishop whose house I've been to and heard New Wine worship on the stereo. I think he lost his place a bit at the lectern, and didn't really say much I hadn't already heard expressed elsewhere.

As for the afternoon, well Christina Baxter had me in tears in her plea to God (and CEEC) for more women on the platform. Pete Broadbent had some constructive things to say too, but Mike Ovey was talking way too fast for me to keep up, and I'm afraid Chris Sugden's slick powerpoint just put me to sleep.

I remember the NUS in the 80's, and it was like that a bit when it came to the motion - whether or not we would express our support for the Jerusalem Declaration - lots of people asked for the motion to be withdrawn, or for a procedural motion that it be "not put". The main force of the argument was that this was meant to be a consultation but we hadn't been consulted, and it was all a bit too sudden for some. I felt we needed to have spent more time talking about the thing before we voted on it, and as we saw there was not going to be the opportunity to amend the motion, well it had to go. The vote itself was very tense, and hard to judge - although I saw Colin Buchanan tidying up his papers so I knew we'd won the day - as if anyone can judge a vote from the floor, he can.

But it wasn't a pretty end. Richard Turnbull, about whom many column inches have been written over the last few years, refused to withdraw the motion, and seemed oblivious to the fact that he had been defeated as he closed proceedings. I suspect his claim that the CEEC will just vote on it anyway may mean he is in trouble with them too.

He gathered himself enough to have a pop at Graham Kings in his summing up, and much as I am sympathetic to Graham's analytical picture of evangelicalism (h/t Rachel) I now conclude that there are only two kinds of evangelical - those who agree with Richard Turnbull and those who do not!

For the record, I couldn't have voted to express support for the Jerusalem Declaration, so in a slightly cowardly way I guess I'm glad we didn't vote. It's not that I don't want to affirm the orthodox in the States and Canada - I signed the petition that Jim Packer is an authentic Anglican. It's just that I don't agree with paragraph 13 about rejecting the authority of churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith.

There are two reasons for my discomfort with that paragraph. First, who decides who "those churches and leaders" are? What if I end up being one one day? Sounds like something from the Cultural Revolution. We don't actually remove someone's authority just because we reject it - they still have it, and opinion counts for nothing in disabling it.

Second, and in a way related to that, Article 26 of the 39 Articles, from which GAFCON I guess got the force of para 13, speaks of "the discipline of the church" and "by just judgement" in relation to how the heterodox should be dealt with. Neither CEEC nor NEAC nor GAFCON are executive bodies of the Anglican Communion; they do not have the power or authority to hand down discipline of the type article 26 and para 13 imply (to my reading). This properly belongs in the Cof E to the processes of the clergy discipline measure, and I guess the buck stops with Rowan Williams when it comes to the wider communion. If he is reluctant to wade in (which I guess he mostly is), it is for the same reason that The Bishop of London didn't discipline Martin Dudley for blessing a civil partnership in his church - we are all just far too nice to each other! At least Richard Turnbull doesn't suffer from that!

For me then the Jerusalem Declaration (sorry Jody, JD will always be Jack Daniels for me) is a case of nice missiology and morality, shame about the ecclesiology.
I asked two people last week who'd been to NEAC4 whether they wanted my spare ticket; they both said their experience at Blackpol had put them off ever attending again. I can't say I'm thrilled with the idea, but it may be necessary, if the bullying is going to be truly stopped.

To end on a positive note I have as a result of Saturday resolved to get more invovled in the diocesan evangelical association. Dunno where I'll find the time but there you go.

Monday, 10 November 2008

There's no gas there's no barbed wire no guns firing out

We used this photo yesterday as part of the powerpoint for Remembrance Sunday. It was actually taken a couple of years ago in leafy South Bucks, but it evokes well "a soft summer breeze makes the red poppies dance."

Its quite low resolution but feel free to nick it - no copyright, it was taken by my mum!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Together we are beautiful

Hi Jody,
Lots to think about there. There was a Fulcrum thread a while back on which "feminisation of the church" came up, but I’m still not sure exactly what people mean by it.
I have to say, (though I'm still struggling through "Why men hate going to church" its like wading through molasses – would say treacle but its American!) that I mostly think about the church, rather than clergy, when on the subject of men and women. Since the first women priests in the C of E in 94 we can say obviously that there has been a feminisation of the clergy, if we mean an increase in the number of women, but I agree that this has not yet ironed out the institutional maleness of the Church (which we strangely and rather patronisingly refer to as “her” sometimes – “Mother church” etc.)

I agree too that men outside the church (especially those of my generation and younger) don’t have a problem with women in church or women clergy – that’s not keeping them away; in fact it might even be a reason to go along. So the relationship between men in or nearly in the pew and women (clergy) is not in my experience the problem.

Where it hits the fan for the blokes I worship with and go to the pub with is the old “Jesus is my boyfriend” style worship songs, the worst offender recently being “Here I am, A laid down lover...” and as for “Kiss it better father make the hurting stop”, particularly on a kids praise album, that’s just getting way out of your average bloke’s comfort zone when it comes to expressions of public emotion.

When was the last time you saw a man who did not have his own school age children in church and who was not the vicar, joining in enthusiastically with an action song? So they might want to be there with the women and kids, but some of the stuff they are expected to sing and say and do is very cringe making. This in itself though may not be enough justification for the numerous men’s ministries that we see around.

I think “segregated” is a bit of a strong word; after all, men can now join the Mothers’ Union (and girls can join the cubs). There are some churches where stuff like Bible study and prayer is all done in single sex groups; that’s just getting silly and over-protective, especially with students! I can see that I’m arguing myself into a bit of a corner; we try to be an all-age church here, so maybe we should also be trying harder to include men and women in everything instead of just doing things like prayer breakfasts and outreach events separately. If the church developed more of a culture of doing things for all ages and both genders all the time, one might argue that inclusion is easier to achieve, in a diverse congregation.

On the other hand, if I run a curry night for couples I know from school, they all have to get sitters; if I invite the blokes out, then my wife invites the women a different night, that’s a little easier. That’s a practical thing rather than a theological one, I will admit. Perhaps another issue is that men’s outreach groups tend to have as their aim the conversion of the men into church going Christians, instead of just letting them be themselves and find a place to belong in a group – even if that group never actually gets into the church and only ever meets in the pub. If we held forums for discussion of issues that engage men, like war or the economy or Dawkins etc, leaving space for a range of opinion and not aiming for an altar call, the men might be keener to stick around. They might even think the church is actually worth being part of, and so would be helped on the way of self-discovery.

Reality is after all relational - as Christians we understand the world, ourselves and each other in the light of Christ; humanuity was created for relationship with God and with each other. Thjat's who we are, so yes, isolation can restrict our identity.

This is all great in theory but I still feel there is value in groupings or even organisations that are single sex – religious communities are at their best in that pattern, and very few of them never actually allow members of the opposite sex to visit, worship eat and live with them.

Perhaps is we can reflect on Obama’s win; it was 45 years from MLK’s speech to a black president. Change we need, yes, but it takes time (“Like a mighty tortoise move the church of God” etc). I just watched Ratatouille with my daughter. There’s a great line when the rat hero is battling with his father who wants him to be a rat, and his own desires to be a chef; he says “Change IS nature”

Throughout the years since ‘63 there have been special campaigning or interest groups for black people, which will I’m sure, continue. When I was a student the Union had a black rights officer, but no one (to the left of Genghis Khan) asked for a white rights officer.

In the Evangelical world you will be aware that there is a support group for women evangelical clergy (and ordinands) AWESOME. There are no cries for a similar body for the men (unless that’s what Reform is and I’ve been missing the point all these years (joking!)).

What I’m saying is, in purely human terms, to precipitate change I think you need special interest/campaign/support groups to empower/encourage/inform the people who seek the change. Of course God is involved in it too; he does the changing, essentially.

As we’ve seen, the church has a problem in keeping men interested in Christianity, so on this model I feel we are justified in having special interest groups for men, or special outreach strategies for men. Not because they are oppressed, far from it, but because they are a minority in the pews. As you so rightly say, the church is meant to reflect the whole image of God, and “male and female he created them”, not just men or just women, but both together as equals.

Just as black rights campaigners have been (for the most part in the mainstream) careful not to say life is just about black people (isn’t that why Obama left his old church) and just as most feminists (again, in the “mainstream”) don’t claim that life is just about women, Christian ministry to and outreach among men must not be exclusive or misogynistic, for the reasons you have outlined - because dodgy theology, even underlying sound ideas, will always be dodgy theology, which on a practical level will never keep the blokes on board.

I think this is why the macho male bonding type rallies don’t work, because the church as a whole isn’t like that, and shouldn’t be, so those drawn in through that kind of approach will end up disappointed and leave – or go back to the terraces.

I first went to church because of a woman; in that church there were women up the front leading and preaching; it was quite a few years before I actually realised (coming as I did from a totally secular childhood) that there were no women priests. When I read the Bible I saw it was full of dynamic and holy women – who were visited by Angels and told the will of God, or who first witnessed the resurrection and first told others about it.

Only now some 22 years later am I beginning to see that the elephant in the room is sometimes a man

Who isn’t there.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing .....

Hi again Jody,

Well (cards on the table) I have now read the whole article properly several times and realised the identity of the writer and his context. I see this as a bloke writing for men, from the context of a church with a significant ministry to and outreach among men. It's a church not far from here, and I get on well with Steve's boss, and have even had one of his colleagues to preach here. That church also has on its staff one of the very few women priests who regularly speak at NW. So I guess my words are a bit guarded, but don't let that make you think I have moved on from the previous post - which I guess was really about your older post about women in leadership.

Now I am the kind of guy who reads his wife's Cosmo Eve or She, mostly because I can't stomach GQ and feel too old for Q and the NME, not fit enough for men's health and not nerdy enough for PC gamer (or whatever).

So the only magazine I read that is specifically for men is the one published by Christian Vision for Men, whom our Men's Group (known as BoB) subscribe to. It contains the kind of thing that Steve wrote, which, if you can look at it for the perspective of a ministry to men, in a culture where, as the book says (and I haven't finished reading it yet) "Men Hate Going to Church", is (for the most part) helpful - to men.

But my opening analogy doesn't work the other way round. My wife doesn't read men's magazines, and if she did she would probably find a lot of the content difficult to accept if not downright alien to her point of view. I do not think however, that it is wrong for there to be "niche" magazines in this sense, whether they are Christian (and therefore frankly likely to be cheesy) or secular (and therefore likely to be principally concerned with sex and physical appearance - but that doesn't always put me off reading them!)

And so I recognise Steve's article in NW mag as being appropriate for the context of a Christian magazine for men. If there was editorial error therefore on the part of NW, it was to assume that the readership of the NW mag and CVM mag are the same, or at least have a significant overlap. This I doubt. My reasoning is that there is always a page or article for women in the NW mag, but rarely a specific article for blokes - most of the readers, I deduce therefore, are women.

Most of the people in all of the churches I have ever been involved in (15 at the last count over the last 22 years) have been women. There is a problem with the church, that not enough men are part of it. I do not repeat do not think that the ordination of women has caused this. Its causes are much more long term and too complex to cover in just one post. I even understand that the bloke who wrote "Why men hate going to church" has now written another book in which the women of the church are challenged to bring the blokes in. This seems a refreshing approach, as even the Ugley Vicar has had enough of macho men's rallies.
The sentiment behind Steve's article, therefore, I pretty much agree with. We have a small men's group here which is aimed at the blokes on the fringe of church, and we do have a problem with a lack of blokes at the heart of the fellowship.

So, to the article itself. There was only one bit I thought was completely unacceptable - the paragraph you highlighted about people seeing the divine in men, as Pilate saw the divine in Jesus. This is indeed to elevate the status of the male above the female within redeemed humanity and therefore I don't think it is theologically acceptable - Christians are all called to reflect the glory of God in our lives, not just the blokes, even if you are writing for blokes (which I think Steve is).

Steve does say "for better or for worse, men still hold privileged positions of decision making authority ..." I read that as meaning he does not think that the status quo is what God wants, he is just saying that's how it is. So I guess we differ in that you have read him as meaning it is an acceptable status quo.

Some of the other quotations - such as the one from Marcus Tullius Cicero, or Proverbs 27 might be better applied to both men and women, in a TNIV or NRSV style, taking the old (say 1950's) "men" to mean both men and women. Today that usage is not usually editorially acceptable, but Steve is (appears to be) writing for men so I guess chose not to inclusivise his quotations.

Jane Morris's article on p48 of the same mag is about Esther - a woman leader writing about a woman hero. I've never edited a magazine like this but I wonder whether they figured Jane's article might provide a balance to Steve's.

So what do we do next? I am not one for stirring up trouble, but I might be prepared to email John Coles and Steve Clarke to ask for clarification. Until we have that, most of this discussion is just speculation.

You may not have liked a lot of this, but I do want to re-iterate that I support your call for a higher profile for Women in holy orders in NW leadership. I agree that a small part of Steve's article is out of order, but I urge you to consider his context when finalising your opinion of what he wrote. After all, even in an all age church like ours, if I put on an event or write a sermon that is aimed at old people or teenagers, those church members who are not part of the target audience do not feel insulted because they know from experience that there is something for them also on the agenda.

In 1981 as I walked across the quad at Harvard (age 15 on holiday), I heard two passing students talking. One said to the other, "If only Reagan or the Ayatollah had been a woman".

Monday, 3 November 2008

Here is healing and forgiveness ...?

This is a thing I've been thinking over for a while, following some stuff on The Radical Evangelical

Hi Jody,
I’ve been thinking about your post for quite a while, and thinking about the gender issue and new wine for ages too. I think we talked about it just after the conferences last summer. For a while my wife and I turned a blind eye, but since personal conversations with the Coles, and particularly since their seminar in 07 we feel more comfortable and accepted; that’s why rather than just sighing, I did a Homer Simpson forehead slapping D’oh! when I read your post.

I guessed the origin of your quotation straight away, even though I hadn’t read the mag itself. Possibly though this was because I know it’s one of your bugbears.

Dennis is right; we do just have to keep on going. I feel that the progress that has been made in recent years is partly down to the likes of yourself not being backward in coming forward at New Wine, but also partly because the Charismatic movement as a whole (cross-denominationally) tends not to think in terms of ordained leaders, but of leaders, per se, ordained or not. At the moment it happens that all the men on the leadership of New Wine are ordained, but not all of the women are. In one sense this could be seen as a good thing, that leadership roles are given to lay people. Too much power in the hands of male priests can also be counterbalanced by acknowledging the priesthood of all believers, not just by bringing in more women priests. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there should be more ordained women on the NW leadership or even the speakers list.

In a previous post on this subject you said, “being married to the bloke doesn’t count”. I think that’s a good point, if you are looking for ordained women in leadership. I’m not sure whether Jane Morriss, vicar of St Gabriel’s and on the leadership of the LSE week is married or not, but if she is we don’t see her husband in the mag or on the stage.

Looking at the history, I wasn’t around at the time but I do think that when the Pytches founded NW they did so as a couple, not as the vicar/bishop and his wife, almost in a parenting role – that is particularly true of their relationship with Soul Survivor. So it will have seemed natural to continue that couple thing, and at the time, say early to mid 90’s, the charismatic evangelical women priests we see today were all either curates or still in training, and the culture of the social grouping that makes up yer basic new wine church was both theologically and culturally conservative. I hope and pray their time will come soon.

That is to say, while they may not have theological objections to women in leadership, and while key charismatic texts like Joel 2 may have taken away the glass ceiling in theory (especially after Don Williams’ magisterial “Church, Wake Up!” call in the early noughties), in practice, your suburban upper middle class church, vicar and congregation are still going to be working on the social/cultural principle that it’s dad who gets up to get the train to London and mum who stays at home or works part time. In a sense this is divorced from the theology of charismata that affirms all believers as ministers in the Spirit. In low churches let’s not forget that ordination is not the be-all and end-all.

Anyway, NW is not a church it is a movement/network. It overlaps denominations, and even traditions within Anglicanism – let’s not forget that when he was in Wales, ++RW received a lot of prayerful support from NW types. Other than the fact that there is a communion at the conference, I wonder whether there need to be any priests on the leadership team, let alone more women priests. At least the situation is not as bad as the fire brigade where at one stage in the recent past following the introduction of equality policies of employment, it was hard to get a job as a fire fighter unless you were a black disabled woman.

To me New Wine is a family, and families aren’t led by priests, but by parents. I just don’t know if Marks Melluish and Bailey et al are in that place, or whether they do see themselves as the main “priestly” leaders with their wives as “helpers” (yuk), and I do know you need not fear the presence of Paul Perkin on the LSE leadership.

I don't know whether you're finding any of this helpful, and let me reassure you that I fervently hope that there will be more ordained women involved in leading NW soon.

Keep on going, and I pray things sort themselves out for you when it comes to your training.