Category Archives: Archbishop Justin

Resurrection People

Last week was not a good one for the Rochester Diocese.

One of the smaller dioceses of the Church of England, it does not make the news very often, yet it managed to do so last week in ways that make it almost emblematic of the Church of England as a whole.

First, the Archbishop Cranmer blog highlighted its financial difficulties. Like the national Church, Rochester is suffering from declining numbers of Church goers and with it declining revenues, yet as befits one of the nation’s oldest dioceses, it has its full measure of historic village churches whose small congregations have to struggle disproportionately to maintain our national heretage.

Unlike the church in France, whose revolution seized both the assets and the liabilities of the Church, the Established Church of England is fast becoming heritage liability with a missional church attached. Rochester tried to address the problem in two ways, both noble in themselves, but worth noting if only to draw lessons.

It held to its ideals, perhaps in retrospect for too long; Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali was committed to ” one priest- one Parrish” which is ideal -but meant that if the church numbers did not respond to the financial  needs of the diocese, the financial reserves -never great – were depleted quickly.

The Diocese has recently moved from a “Parish Share” system to one of local congregations making offers to address the published diocesan budget. Many, perhaps too many, who once struggled to meet their quota, may have taken this as the opportunity to ‘bid low’ with the promise to do more of they could. Where, in a harsher regime, they might have pulled more weight in order to ensure they kept their individual priest, under the twin influences of benignly assuring them that they would keep their priest anyway, whilst freeing them from a fixed figure contribution, such parishes probably relaxed in the early transitional period.

There is an  “elephant in the room” ;  some richer parishes, capable of paying their  full  share, for doctrinal reasons, choose not to do so, diverting the monies to projects of their preference, rather than supporting smaller churches outside of their tradition. Perceiving some churches as excessively liberal/inclusive/lax they preferred not to offer a subsidy.

The Rochester difficulty is not entirely a financial problem, but partly a fellowship issue. It emerges early in Rochester, it may may be seen elsewhere. The wider Church needs to take note.

If that were not enough, within the same week,  Rochester hit the news for all the wrong reasons with the publication of the independent report into the historic problems of a girls residential home, Kendall House in Gravesend, where the distinctive feature of the report was the misuse of powerful prescription drugs to render residents more compliant, with devastating effects. There was also some sexual abuse; it is worth highlighting that some adult females are abusers: that is easily overlooked.

If there is any ” good news ” in these stories, it  lies in the response.

Financial nettles are being grasped: a new financial regime has been adopted under the aegis of a former Local Authority Chief Executive , financial stringency is being embraced and some clergy posts may not be filled, as previously.

The Kendall House Report was published for all , in all its embarrassing detail.  The victims acknowledge and take comfort that anyone can read and understand what went wrong. Those in the town of Gravesend who know the woman who ran the home and respected her, are shocked, but not forming a committee to protect her memory: the reason is simple.

Rochester has been transparent.

You can read the story without identifying the victims. Chichester should learn the lesson as it continues to struggle with its handling of the  Bishop George Bell controversy.

In both these Rochester crises, transparency and accountability are at work. Knowing what must be addressed will enable us to do what is right.

Difficulties come to all peoples, and all institutions.

In an entirely different context, Archbishop Justin recently said ” truth is better than doubt”: St John wrote ” The truth will set you free”.

Rochester Diocese is facing some difficult truths at present but we are nothing if not the people of the resurrection.  We still have a mission “to put Christ in the centre of this country’s life where he rightfully belongs” as Canon John Spence has periodically and powerfully reminded General Synod.

We may have to go about things in different ways, we may be chastened by past failures but in a fundamental sense, nothing has changed. We have fallen but we are called to renewal. That is our hope, that is our mission, that is the task ahead

 

In what way do we “Belong”

Three story lines seem to be dominating the news headlines at the moment and each has the same underlying question.

Much of a recent “Today Programme” was devoted to the commitment of £20m of public funds to increase the capacity of Muslim women to speak English; a major story of last week, centred upon the issue of whether the Anglican Communion could hold together in any meaningful semblance of unity ( Hold the front page – it can! ) ; and it will not be long before the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European community returns to prominence in our news channels.

The underlying theme is that of “belonging”.

That may not surprise philosophers and theologians; in our secular age, many have cut themselves free from ties of connection which formerly answered their questions of identity, and unsurprisingly human beings, who are social animals, look for “people like us” with whom to associate.

Go to a comedy club, an art exhibition which “challenges” social mores, or any anti-Establishment demonstration, and you will find a collection of folk with remarkably uniformity in their collective attitudes proclaiming their counter cultural credentials. Individualism isn’t what it used to be.

Underneath all the three issues I have identified – and doubtless many more- lies the old questions “Who belongs?” and “How do we know?”,

The second question discloses an interesting divergence of discernment technique. One can draw up a collection of rules and demand allegiance and compliance; one can simplify them into a checklist of questions – a score of 95% and above gets you in the club. This is a very black and white technique – and yet encompasses an inherent weakness.

What if one plainly and strongly scores well on 94% of the criteria but weakly fails the final 1%?

A binary approach lacks any concept of “weight”.

Take the vexed and recurring issue of what it is to be “British”.

There are any number of criteria which could be suggested. We could invite nominations to add to a “basket” of matters to be evaluated. These might include, understanding of the complexities of our still largely unwritten Constitution, but also, inter alia, a love of sport, sentimentality towards animals, and an interest in Television soap operas and reality shows. Yet one who scores lowly on all of these factors might redeem themselves by the sheer weight of enthusiasm which they display towards gardening and the Royal Family.

On the European front we might test our commitment with a similar cultural comparison. Imagine a Football World Cup Final between a British Home Nation team and a South American opponent. There may be a few die hard fans of another Home Nation who would cheer for the opponents but wouldn’t most UK citizens instinctively identified with the British option? Now imagine the match is between a South American Team and an EU partner side. Would you assume a similar generalised identification? Probably not. In fact many of us have more in common with our American or Australian cousins than most of the EU population with whom we are nominally encompassed.

The gravitational pull of some identities are plainly stronger than others.

The more Brother Ivo reflected upon this the more he appreciated that the more incisive question is not “ What are British Values” “Why are we European” or “What are the rules of the Anglican Communion” but a rather more diffuse one.

“In what way does this person belong?

Posing the question in such a way allows the individual to offer up their case in personal and broader terms. You can hear and evaluate their choices of priority, their tone of voice and even more importantly, the warmth with which they advance their claim to belonging.

As the Archbishops depart from the 2016 Primates Meeting they can be judged by the content of their communiques and explanations; we might bring out our clipboards which may be annotated with our chosen questions, so that by their responses, we rule them in or out of association. We might even have a selection of preferred trigger words or phrases by which we label them as sheep or goats. “Inclusive” … “Bible believing”, “Inerrant” , “diverse” – you know the kind of thing.

Archbishop Justin has set the bar for inclusion into the Anglican Communion pretty low. If the Primates want to continue “walking together” they may freely do so; if they don’t, they are free to wander off. That is not weakness but a recognition of the reality of the institution, but it is more than that.

It is a permitting of each of the flock to determine whether there is enough of core identification present to enable them to continue that ‘walking together”.

Whilst many would have liked the meeting to have centred upon the principle points of division, the meeting explored their Catholicity which is not only a highbrow concept of what it means to be Church, but also enabled them to identify through prayer fasting and worship the many areas in which they are and remain very much a community which belongs together.

Brother Ivo does not know whether they specifically asked themselves to look across the room and ask “In what way does that brother belong?” but much of final position implies that they might thereby have assembled not only a lengthy list but one of considerable weight.

Jesus wished all his people to be as one; His is the voice of the Good Shepherd to which the flock individually and collectively responds. Even the lost sheep continues to belong, but we are surely united in our faith that the Master will not easily abandon them.

We may identify that we belong on a variety of levels; often that implies exclusion, but the ultimate test of belonging may be more generous than we realise.

Why I signed the Letter to the Archbishops

Today a letter has been publicly addressed to our Archbishops as they meet with other leaders of the Anglican Communion to address the divisions that painfully exist around our understanding of gender and sexuality.

The text of the letter is relatively short. Perhaps it needs to be in order to attract signatures from as wide a spectrum as possible: had a more detailed or nuanced letter been offered, the negotiations over amendments would have been prolonged and taken the process beyond the available deadline for publication.

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr spoke of the ” paralysis of analysis ” and sometimes the pressing needs of the times requires us to unite behind a less than perfect proposition.

Here is the letter in full

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

Your Graces

We the undersigned ask you, our Archbishops, to take an unequivocal message to your meeting of fellow Primates this week that the time has now come for:


Acknowledgement that we, the Church, have failed in our duty of care to LGBTI members of the Body of Christ around the world. We have not loved them as we should, and have treated them as a problem to be solved rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ to be embraced and celebrated. We have made them feel second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, often abandoned and alone.

Repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and for the pain and rejection that this has caused. We, the Church, need to apologise for our part in perpetuating rather than challenging ill-informed beliefs about LGBTI people, such as the slanderous view that homosexuals have a predisposition to prey on the young.
We understand that the Primates come from a variety of contexts with differing ways of interpreting the Scriptures, but we urge you to be prophetic in your action and Christ-like in your love towards our LGBTI sisters and brothers who have been ignored and even vilified for too long.

Please be assured of our prayers for you at this time, and that the world will know by our words and actions that everyone who is baptised into the faith is of equal value in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours sincerely

Brother Ivo was amongst the earliest oppponents of the redefinition of marriage; he is critical of many of the tactics adopted by some supporters of the wider LGBTI agenda. Yet when invited to join the initiative he felt it important to accept.

Being a great supporter of the institution of traditional marriage was never necessarily antagonistic to gay people; one can hold such a position whilst fully supportive of the need for our gay friends to enjoy legal rights and securities which Civil Partnership conferred – and more.

Brother Ivo shares the view of like-minded, much-loved, gay friends who say “we can never be married – we are not male and female”. Yet is perfectly possible to wish to uphold traditional marriage and to simultaneously to wish to embrace and celebrate gay relationships as they are, for what they are.

In parenthesis, Brother Ivo is not greatly enamoured of historic apologies: we have more than enough of our own deficiencies to repent, without donning second hand sackcloth and ashes.

Yet reading this text there is an important core of truth.

We as a Church are not always welcoming to those who are “different” in a variety of ways: we have prevaricated for too long on this subject probably out of cowardice: we are frequently insensitive to gay Christians as they seek to join in our worship of The Lord and offer service to the needy. We know that in some parts of the Communion, the Church remains complicit in some dreadful treatment of gay people legally and culturally and we ought to have been more active against it.

Brother Ivo knows from professional engagement that the confusion of homosexual orientation and paedophilia is mistaken,

These thoughts alone would probably have been sufficiently persuasive, but the sermon by the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa at the Westminster Abbey service at the opening of General Synod was decisively influential . The sermon was entitled “Rebuild my House”.

Set within the context of our leaving behind historic and unnecessary division, Fr. Raniero urged –

“We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than love for Jesus Christ unites us.”

Those words should be etched onto all our hearts.

In the spirit of this, bridge building is needed, and so it was that Brother Ivo reminded himself that if we are going to find a way forward, compromises will have to be made. If he presses compromises on others, it seemed incubent upon him to set an example and to accept “the good ” even if it is not “the nuanced best”, even if does not say all that he might wish in the way he would prefer.

Making that choice is not cost free. Asking Christians in other parts of the world to remain within a more gay friendly communion,  asks them to accept greater tension with Islam in areas where that is a hard ask- easier for us than them.

Yet it is the treatment of our gay brothers and sisters in Africa that also made a difference for this Christian. Even the firmest upholders of strict biblical interpretation within our own country are surely troubled by the oppressive legislation throughout much of the African continent

We must, however trust our leaders and allow them some “wiggle room” – not being too prescriptive in our expectations as to how they present and when they they raise these issues. Sometimes in negotiation, the timing is as important as the substance. What is agreed on the fourth day would often have been impossible at the outset

If the talks break down, as well they might, Archbishop Justin has already said that the door will remain open. That is good.

One might therefore ask, “Then why sign the letter” at all?

At the last General Synod, Brother Ivo attended the launch of the Church Army course on sharing the Gospel “Faith Pictures”, at which Archbishop Justin confided his own early embarrassment when asked to join in public evangelisation. Even today, he told us that his personal mantra immediately before engaging inevery interview is ” Don’t forget to mention Jesus”.

On that basis, one trusts he and Archbishop John will not take it amiss if they are invited to adopt a similar mantra as they enter these present discussions –

” Don’t forget the pain of our LBGTI brothers and sisters”.