Category Archives: Church of England

Chichester Diocese can learn from its own lessons

The Anglican Church has been considering the Elliott Review into its handling of child abuse matters,  hot on the heels of the Archbishop of Canterbury feeling obliged to issue an apology over such matters in Jersey. At the other end of the country, a victim of abuse has called for the Bishop of Durham -the Church’s lead Bishop in the field – to undergo retraining following mistakes in the North.

In Scotland a 2 the secular world, in Scotland  a 2 year old has suffered dreadfully through institutional Child Protection systemic weakness, and in Northern Ireland, the Kincora Inquiry is beginning its work into  accusations of State Agencies looking the other way to protect the abuser, who, it is suggested, was a security asset.

We never seem to get away from this terrible subject, and when stories come so quickly, one after another, it is easy to glaze over, switch off, and hope that lessons will be learned.

Only, they are not. They never have been, not since the dreadful case of Maria Colwell in 1973, and not following the dozens of case inquiries since.

Everytime we have these tragedies looked into,  the same problems are identified. Case files are neglected, social workers are changed too often, multiple reports are dismissed or not connected, neighbours speak once and when nothing happens assume all is well. The other side of the road is a well trodden path.

The Institutional Church is in just such a mode, even now, despite all the failures within the Church, and outside. Too easily we issue the apology, assert that “lessons have been learnt” , raise our eyes to higher things and move on.

“Moving on” includes a complacency about too many clergy who have avoided attending necessary training and only undertake it with astonishing self confidence in their own ability in this complex field,, despite the plain evidence that better trained and more experienced social work specialists, doctors, lawyers and Judges are constantly falling into error.

On the ground, too many Church folk still believe ” it couldn’t happen here “: in the hierarchy, too many subscribe to the belief that they know what they are doing;and yet, without in the least decrying their bona fides, it has to be said that the story of institutions in many fields across our culture is one of recurring amnesia in this difficult area.

There have been over 30 child protection Public Inquiries concerning child deaths, and the depressing theme that runs through all of them, is that they all say the same thing. Procedures are not complied with, files are transferred and continuitity lost, “dots are not connected” at the vital time, and yet in retrospect, once the tragedy has occurred, it is usually blindingly obvious that any halfway competent review would have seen where it was heading.

Heavens, even Brother Ivo’s writing tends to become repetitive when he returns to this theme!

A culture of complacency creeps back in, and those raising critical and discordant commentary are told to relax, they are assured that lessons have been learnt, and urged that it is unhelpful to draw attention to the Church having a poor history of managing child protection.

This is is why the campaign to review the case of Bishop Bell is so important.

It is of greater importance that simply restoring a historical legacy: in truth, it  is a challenge to the very culture of the church hierarchy, which is one of being instinctively opaque, deferential and unaccountable.

The fact that the Bell case seeks to question poor process in relation to the accused is irrelevant. A Church that can get it right in secrecy, can get it wrong in secrecy, and will have all the necessary tools with which to bury its mistakes

That cases has been made before, both here and elsewhere.

What is new,and that can be said now, is to highlight the amnesia.

We have ” got it right ” and then promptly forgotten the lesson, and this can be demonstrated in the very Diocese of Chichester in which the Bishop Bell controversy is playing out.

Whenever questions about the inquiry process surrounding Bishop Bell are asked, the official response is that nothing can be said because to answer any question would be to breach the right to confidentiality belonging to the complainant. It is deployed as a shield to silence  even those questions touching upon the actions of the institution rather than the circumstances of the accuser. Apparently the cloak of secrecy is drawn so tightly, that even members of the Cathedral Chapter are excluded and frustrated.

Yet there is a double absurdity.

Chichester Diocese is primly refusing to answer questions at the same time that a Public Inquiry into the Kincora Children Home is openly exploring the role (if any) of the security services in covering up abuse.

Victims testimony will be disclosed and agents of MI5, MI6, and Army Intelligence will have to account for their their actions and policies, and yet, according to the Church hierarchy, the Bell case is so impacted by the law of confidentiality, that we cannot even be told whether the accuser’s medical records were examined to determine if her own publicly acknowledged history of mental health fragility shed any light on the story. It is not the content of those records that is sought, but simply confirmation of the fact  that such evidence was considered by a suitably qualified expert ,capable of evaluating the relevance – if any.

That is not a matter of confidentiality; it is a matter of procedural competence.

Yet one does not need to reference the Northern Ireland Public Inquiry to flag up the contrasting absurdity.

On the Diocese of Chichester’s own website, one can read a 54 page report into a previous child protection scandal. Worried at what went wrong in the case of Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard  the Diocese commissioned a report from Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss, whose  report into Child Protection failures at Cleveland as long ago as 1987 set the benchmark for transparency and clarity about how such cases can be investigated and the conclusions put proportionately in the public domain.

On Chichester’s own website, Dame Elizabeth sets out a textbook template which shows how it is possible to balance the public interest in open justice, with due care for the privacy of the complainant. It can be done, it has been done. It can be read in all its transparent fullness here

Chichester  must revisit its own archive and draw suitable conclusions.

Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.

This is the lesson that must be drawn from all these past tragedies. We have short term memories but highly entrenched corporate instincts towards secrecy.

This matter will not go away. It will be raised at Question Time at the next General Synod in York. If transparency does not begin thereafter, we shall have to seek a full public debate about the Church’s instinct against openness, by which the default position of “Trust me I’m a Bishop’ is exposed for the absurd foolishness that it is.

 

 

 

 

 

The Church remains inadequately prepared for “Digital Evangelism”.

Brother Ivo is not – and should not be – privy to the secrets of the in-house discussions of the Church of England when it comes to the delicate financial and staffing discussions surrounding the creation of the Digital Church initiative.

He is an informed outsider.

He is also free to ask questions, raise awareness, make representations, provoke debate and draw conclusions from what is said and, equally importantly, what is not currently being said.

It is not difficult to draw agreement from the Church Institution about the need to engage with communication. It has ever been thus.

Early Churches did well not to economise on the costs of scribes to copy the early Pauline letters- they might have decided otherwise but did the right thing for us, investing in communication to the benefit of the Church of the future.

The creation of Illuminated manuscripts was costly, in training and implementation. Printing was a challenge, as was the advent of film; Brother Ivo once enjoyed a hilarious conversation with the woman who first secured access to catalogue the Vatican Film Archive, which was an unexpected treasure trove of important early material for the history of cinema. At an early stage, the 19th Century Popes recognised the importance of the new medium and engaged with it.

Social Media is older than we recall. The magisterial Archbishop Cranmer Blog recently celebrated its tenth Anniversary. It continues to be the benchmark for quality and sheer dogged determination to produce weighty and well considered material on a virtual daily basis. Those of us who have attempted to replicate such outreach know the impossibly high bar it sets. One suspects that only political prejudice has prevented the Government from honouring that blog’s founder for services to Christianity and the development of Social Media.

Amongst the other noteworthy exponents held in respectful affection by this blog are DigitalNun and Bishop Nick Baines, yet in this fast moving field we are seeing younger initiatives emerging.

The text based blog  is giving way to the “vlogger” – the digital blogger who shares short film. Brother Ivo must give a brief promotion to TGI Monday and the Virtual Pastor – both coming out of Lichfield Diocese. May Lichfield show the way!

At the February Anglican General Synod we had no scheduled report dedicated to this aspect of the programme called Renewal and Reform, to the newcomers and no illustrated presentation for those new Synod members who have no real notion of what can be done,  or how to conceptualise “Digital Church”.

That absence was nevertheless raised, with an early question to the Business Committee about the absence of a current budget and the fact that if that budget is not in place soon, it will be problematic to call the authorities to account quickly because the York Synod is already virtually closed to new business by reason of a continuation of the ” shared conversations”

The progressing of Renewal and Reform at that Synod focussed on spending £50 million on Ministerial Education; with the shared conversations and sexuality dominating the time on the next occasion, if there is no budget approved by July, the Issue of Digital Church may not pressed by the Church’s elected representatives until after next February.

That would not be a mistake it would be an outrage.

Canon John Spence is spearheading that initiative. Brother Ivo has confidence in him and his team. He did tell Synod that an 81 year old is 8 times more likely to attend Church than an 18 year old. Whilst discussing Evangelism we were told that most Christians have engagement with the Church before they are 25. After that, reaching the ” lost generation” becomes increasingly difficult and unlikely.

Yet our focus  last time was on examining the minutiae of spending £50m to train people to be Ministers who do not currently know that they have a calling; they cannot come ” on stream” for the best part of 8 years.How many young people will have been lost by then?

That budget would have financed a sophisticated professional Digital Media outreach to the young for over ONE HUNDRED years! Such a programme could be formed up and running within a year for an annual budget of £350- £500k per year.

Brother Ivo is not against training vicars, but the contrast in terms of money and focus is arresting.

Jesus taught ” Where your money is so shall your heart be”; he spoke of the Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to their own devices whilst he stakes all on the rescue of the lost. We seem to prioritise circling the wagons and doing what we know well, rather than embracing” the scary new” and heading off in search of engagement with those who, as yet have no idea of their need of Christ.

Synod was briefly reminded, this is not a ” budget for social media” – it is a “budget for the evangelisation of the un-churched young”. Yet a year after announcing it the budget is still not allocated.

We, as a wider church, do not seem to have understood that young people no longer obtain their news, opinion, culture or affirmation other than online, yet, when we were joined by young people in the pubic gallery for the debate on evangelisation, it was noticeable they were looking at their mobile devices throughout. Maybe, like Brother Ivo, they were following the parallel debate online amongst those not called by the Chair!

Yet actually doing something about this remains institutionally problematic and currently under addressed. The last Brother Ivo heard the all important budget consideration had been put back to later this month.

Canon Spence did assure us that all will be well, and that the powers that be will get this done, and Brother Ivo accepts his bona fides. No apology however should be made for flagging up the problematic delay that plainly has occurred. The Canon is a diplomat negotiating his way through the labyrinthine processes of Church House; fair enough, but do not assume that all is yet well in the development of this vital outreach.

It is important to set this strand of the Renewal and Reform agenda in its missionary context.

Currently the CofE has 58,689 Twitter followers. The KitKat chocolate bar has 310,401 twitter followers.

Strip out the CofE payroll vote and the story looks incredibly bleak.Yet ask some questions.

Both have a message; each is saying ” look at me” in a culture where every individual makes a daily choice to pay attention to a few of the myriad messages that comes his/her and to ignore the many.

When somebody invites us into their social media world it is an immense privilege. They are giving us permission to break into their world 24 hours a day and to offer our story. It is a preferential position, a great honour to be trusted to that degree. It says- “Your message / story / opinion is important to me and I allow you to tap me on the shoulder and share your thoughts in the midst of my busy day”.

Why would we not be interested in developing such relationships? Why would we not respond to that invitation by offering that person the best of our care love and intellect?

You may be sure that Kitkat employs a highly professional team to calibrate its message into simple and accessible terms. Do you sense that the Church “gets it”?

What does is it say about our attitude to mission that we are so meagrely   engaged in perfecting our skills in responding and developing that outreach. Yet if the person to whom we outreach likes what we say and how we say it, will they not share it with their  friends, cousins, yoga class, book club etc?

The crazy thing is how cheap and cost effective it is to make wider communication. It costs no more to communicate with 5 million people than 500 once the message has been devised and professionally executed.

Digital outreach is a highly professional industry; the Church would be mad to try and reinvent it when there are brilliant professionals out there ready to take away the stress of creative content, keeping up with new platforms, negotiating the licences for the necessary analytical software that underpins the cutting edge targeting of the best campaigns.

We cannot imagine how our message can be packaged for the unchurched young, but we can employ those who can.

There is another aspect to worry about. How many Bishops are “owning” this project? Are our leaders priming our Ministers to seek out evangelising content on the web and to share it with their congregations? There is a already a lot of good material out there, but we seem very poor at seeking it, recognising it and sharing it. We do not have to be good creators of suitable material but we can all be digital evangelists.,sharing the good news at the click of a button.

Brother Ivo closes with an industry story that needs to fire our hope and ambition.

A top advertising agency secured new business and sent the pitch document round its creative teams with the brief to find an angle to make a successful campaign. It was a rather dull prosaic product and many of the top creatives in the agency shook their heads and passed it on until it reached the team that always got the scraps off the table of the more established players. Nothing worked when they did the expected, then somebody had a mad idea.

In that moment “Compare the market” became “compare the meerkat”. The rest is marketing history.

Oh that we in the Church had a similar digital Damascene moment when we realised that our faith can be shared in new and attractive ways.

In the modern era we have the chance to reach many many more than our forebears; but do we have the imagination and drive to make it happen?

Might you, for example. share this amongst Church folk you know, might you raise the need to “click and share” so they too may appreciate the opportunities for evangelism that are slipping away every time we see something online and fail to pass it on?

 

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”.

Do we need a liturgy celebrating Companionship?

Companionship is one of the deepest of human needs.

When God contemplated the singular human being he made in Adam his first response was that “it is not good for man to be alone” and He immediately fashioned him a companion, one with whom he could break bread – for that is the derivation of the word.

Towards the end of his life,  Jesus seals his ongoing companionship, not only with his immediate companion-disciples,  but with all future followers, when he breaks bread and distributes it to future generations, so that we too are drawn into a relationship of special significance, we with Him and He with us.

Companionship takes many forms. Some describe themselves as “soulmates”, special people with whom similarities and differences can be shared with a special confidence, and with whom discord and loss is felt with particular acuteness. Other relationships may be less intimate but no less meaningful.

Companionship is important not least because both in its desire and fulfilment, it is God Given.

We might pick examples of companionship from a multitude of sources biblical, personal, even fictional.

In 1 Samuel 18;3 we are told “And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself”.

At John 21;20 we read  – ” Peter turned and saw following them the disciple that Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper”, a signifier of close companionship even by He who loved the whole world.

Close companions are not immune from discord. Consider, in a secular non-sexual context the songwriting partnership of  Lennon and McCartney; they are inseparably linked as the embodiment of an era; they became estranged, but who can doubt that the loss of John Lennon was felt especially deeply by his rival/companion Paul?

We could easily make a lengthy list, which might include inter alia Boswell and Johnson, Holmes and Watson, and then there was Grey Friars Bobby.

We almost define our humanity by the relationships and loyalties which we develop and sustain, and few of us would wish to experienced prolonged periods of loneliness, even if we had our eight favourite gramophone records to remind us of happier times.

The bond of marriage is a recognition of such companionship, though in practice that comes in a variety of forms. Few of us can know the interior lives of most marriages, but the well documented and unconventional relationship of Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville West was both challenging to most of our notions as to what a marriage should be, and yet touchingly human in its devotion.

Sexual relations may or may not feature in marriage or companionship; in the right context it is plainly a fortifying blessing. It can also be a stumbling block and a difficulty to be negotiated patiently and sensitively, sometimes with suffering, as with the marriage of Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard.

The more one thinks about this subject, the more textured and complex it becomes. Companionship is undoubtedly a blessing which is identifiable when seen, but difficult to define.

Last year, soon after his election to General Synod, and as he realised that he was going to have to address difficult issues of sexuality, Brother Ivo was recommended the book “Covenant and Calling” by Robert Song. It  has been one of those works to which one’s mind returns from time to time to reflect on events as they arise.

As a prelude to its exploration to the nature of non-procreating relationships,  Robert Song offered the interesting invitation to consider that, whilst marriage is an institutional good, it is, in Biblical Terms, a temporary state.  It may be the right context for the multiplying of humankind, yet our heavenly future lies in a relationship beyond marriage, with God, and within that relationship, all who can be will already be; there will be no reproductive imperative in heaven, and all need for companionship will be fulfilled in the restored relationship with God through the sacrifice of Christ.

This longer perspective matters. Marriage is not a sine qua non of salvation indeed Robert Song reminds us that initially, celibacy was the more recommended status for believers. Our needs for earthly companionship were recognised as strong and so the accommodation of human desire was acknowledged as the Church matured.

Not all good intimate relationships of trust and vulnerability are marriages; whether married or not, they may or may not have a sexual component.

When they are deep, meaningful, and defining of identity, should not the church not have a liturgy of blessing for them? We may debate the qualifying criteria, but in principle..?

Everyone in the Church knows we are going to have to look again at issues of human gender and sexuality, and many dread it because we cannot see a way through without pain and fracture, yet this book opens up the thinking on the subject without being dismissive either of traditional scriptural thinking or of the needs of those who suffer pain and rejection because of their minority orientation.

Is it  even possible to reconcile such diversity of views within a single institution? Many think not, but we do declare that with Christ, all things are possible, and exploring a liturgy for Companionship  may be part of the process by which we edge towards the seemingly impossible.

How we approach these issues obliquely without polarising the discussions immediately is, of course, the underlying question facing our Archbishops as they engage with the diversity of Primates from across the Communion in the coming days. It will also arise during the term of office of members of the newly elected General Synod.

Robert Song was a University tutor of Archbishop Justin. One suspects that the theological subtlety and integrity of “Covenant and Calling” will have informed the preparations for the meeting of Primates. Certainly the openness of our Archbishops in  not setting an agenda of their devising, but rather inviting the attenders to prayerfully construct their own,  is entirely congruent with the exploratory spirit of Robert Song’s writing.

In the last General Synod there was significant support for two Members motions; neither was debated whilst we awaited the outcome of the  “shared conversations”. One motion affirmed that marriage was between a man and woman, the other seeking to open it to gay people.

In a time when some are prepared to espouse the cause of “gender fluidity” it was interesting that there was not a motion to take us beyond thinking soley in binary terms.

Is this all we have to offer?

Will moving the needle of opinion from 49% /51% one way to 51%/49% the other way do anyone any good all – least of all the institutional Church?

Robert Song may help us to approach the subject from a very different angle.

Not all gay people want to get “married”. Indeed some share entirely the traditionalist view that ” we cannot be married – we are not male and female”. That cannot be the entirety of the discussion, unless we see early fracture of the Communion as a desirable outcome.

One only has to listen to the pain expressed by those who have tried to live lives of fidelity to traditional models of gender, and “failed” to reconfigure their orientation, to understand the peace we could confer upon them by celebrating “Companionship-Covenant Relationships” even without conceding the entire surrender to the redefinition of marriage.

Let us not ignore those in deep non-sexual relationships for whom such a liturgy might also be a blessing. A rite that was serious in intent, low key and inclusive might offer a useful contrast to the razzmatazz of some of the wedding parties we see using our Churches as a backdrop.

At the conclusion of the book, which is a prolonged invitation to think about these issues deeply and seriously, Robert Song writes as follows

“..we might make a start by pondering observations such as the following; people will be drawn to the good by beauty rather than forced to it by the law; romantic and erotic desire point us towards God rather than away from God: it is better to make goodness possible rather than condemn where it is absent; marriages and committed relationships exist for goods beyond themselves, not just for the mutual satisfaction of the parties, and so on.” 

Earlier, reflecting upon how we “seek emotional survival and retain a degree of persona integrity” he suggests

..part of this is looking for guidance and reassurance from sources of authority that make sense.. not those that lay oppressive burdens of moral rectitude, but those that manage to evoke in people some sense of personal meaningfulness and hope of a way forward’.

That sense of the discussion opening the way forward, to re-examine the importance of relationships – of all characters of seriousness and  meaningfulness- seems to Brother Ivo to be important.

If Synod were to consider developing a liturgy celebrating  companionship, a celebration of ” all this is, and all it may please God for it to be” it would be a “good” not only in and of itself, but also as a prelude to the discussion of what marriage is, whether we retain it in its traditional form or bow to the zeitgeist.

Brother Ivo has always been a defender of traditional marriage for a variety of reasons which he may re-state another time. Yet the contemplation of a liturgy which blesses companionship, for the Davids and the Jonathans, and many others, does not seem to him to be Biblically offensive.

Prioritising the debate of such a liturgy may even be profoundly beneficial to the restoration of marriage as “an Honourable Estate”, from which it has frankly slipped under the weight of secular redefinition.

That is not a reference to the re-definition of “marriage” for gay people, but rather by its morphing into a rather vulgar consumer fest of which this is but the latest rather gross example.

Such lavish extravagance  poses the question, which is the greater affront to the Institution of Matrimony; which treats it with more serious and God centred respect, the performance art of the celebrity bash, or the request for extended affirmation of the companionship of those who love God and seek to serve his Church within their calling?

“Covenant and Calling” does not take us to the promised land where all will be well; if we were to explore a liturgy to celebrate companionship, we will still have to touch upon issues of difference , but we would be doing so in a context in which the world can see that we are open to explore and celebrate goodness with a seriousness that often slips from the debate when it is is conducted in unsophisticated terms.

 

Legal Aid is vital to avoid transience within communities

Whilst visiting a local church in one of the poorest parishes in the Diocese, Brother Ivo enjoyed a conversation over coffee with a lady who was deeply involved in outreach to her local community.

The Church ran a cafe ensuring a good affordable hot meal on a daily basis in sociable surroundings. They were very supportive of debt counselling but struggling to find enough time and advisors to meet the need. There was good work offered to children and young people. They were perhaps the last stable institution staring in an impoverished areas and they were anxious to stay, and serve the poor the lonely and the outcast.

It is the kind of church which makes one proud to be. Christian.

They had built their presence thanks to the receipt of grants, including good support from the local Diocese, and the Local Council, yet therein lies the problems. All such grants are limited in scope and time. Having built a functioning project for the benefit of the poor, it was threatened by an approaching end to funding streams.

The church remained dedicated and optimistic and were praying for support.

Should they be forced to contract their activities, the church will join a long list of sectors to have withdrawn from the community.

Once, the parish had housed the skilled workers for a large local defence establishment. Decline in the areas began when that facility had been closed, sacrificed to sustain another community in another part of the country. Shops closed, mutual associations and friendly societies were raided by carpet baggers intent on short term profit; pubs disappeared, and with them, local sports and other voluntary organisations all of which ceased to be active. Little by little, the structures of society ebbed away, until only the Church remains.

It is not only the public infrastructure which has departed, so have traditional local families.

That had always been the case in a modest form. As families “got on” they tended to move up the hill to slightly better or bigger houses, and young people moved to other parts of the country after going to university, but this natural turnover became worse and accelerated faster.

When the local economy sunk into depression,  house prices dropped and were bought up by ” buy to let ” landlords. Their client group reflected demographic change. Set in an area close to London the community experienced a squeeze from two directions; from recent European immigrants arriving from the Channel ports, and from others moving out of London as rental costs continue to rise in the capital.

With a ready supply of poorer, socially disadvantaged, often unsophisticated renters available, absentee landlords have no difficulty letting sub-standard properties.  the Local Council has other pressing priorities and are slow to enforce the law. People don’t like living there and move when they can even though the “grass is not greener” in the next property.

It is in this context, that Brother Ivo draws attention to the recently published Theos report arguing that there is a need to restore Legal Aid. You may read the story here – http://www.solicitorsjournal.com/news/legal-profession/legal-aid/legal-aid-side-angels

It is precisely because tenants can no longer enforce the law relating to housing law, because Legal Aid is not available, that the quality of the housing stock has declined. If you cannot enforce rights and standards, your only recourse is to move on – if you can. you have no pride of place, few places of common ground, and frequently no common language or culture with those about you.

It is in transient communities that drug dealing, human trafficking, and many other anti-social activities can flourish.

In the 1990’s,  New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton pioneered policing methods which transformed first that city then Los Angeles, based upon the premise that dealing with the smaller problems of a local community paid huge dividends with the higher profile concerns. He famously demonstrated that by zero tolerance of petty crime, such as little , broken windows and graffiti, you established a social climate in which the murder rate markedly reduced.

Our Victorian forebears who founded such communities originally put it a different way. “Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves.’

The same principle applies with the building of community and Legal Aid has an important place which is easily overlooked in anti-lawyer rhetoric.

Stable community cannot be built out of transience, because so many other social problems flow from it.

This is not a party political issue. The savage cutting of Legal Aid happened under Labour after many years of persistent neglect. The Conservative/Liberal coalition has maintained that policy of deliberately ignoring the enforcement of the law by and on behalf of the poor.

Damage has already been done. Law firms have closed in such areas, as have Community Law Centres. The expertise which had been developed in earlier decades in specialist areas of law has already been lost.

In public finance terms, the savings are small but disproportionately harmful.

Community requires local identification because only if local people are cohesive and care for each other can they have the kind of society in which they demonstrate love for their neighbour by reporting the drug dealer, the violent partner, the neglected child or the exploited immigrant.

We need to identify transience as an important factor in righting these social problems, and whilst it is not popular to speak of the need for Legal Aid we probably cannot address many of the issues driving social exclusion adequately without it.

Enter the Bishop of Clacton?

The growing dispute over MP’s outside jobs and interests must surely be a suitable occasion to take up the challenge from our Anglican Bishops in their recent Pastoral Letter, in which they urged us to step aside from partisanship and to analyse exactly what it is that will best promote the public good.

Rarely can this be more important than when the free composition of our ancient Parliament is being considered, in the light of what may – or may not – be breaches of the rules by two senior Parliamentarians

The Bishops’ letter covers a range of issues but must be relevant in relation to this topical question about securing the best representatives and legislators to serve the nation. The Bishops encourage us, whether we be Christian or not, to engage in the conversation, so Brother Ivo takes up the challenge.

The exercise begins with the hope that at the end of the enquiry,  we shall be fearlessly represented by free men and women of character. competence, experience integrity  and dedication to the task. Ultimately securing that outcome can never be about the making of rules but the exercise of judgement by those choosing the representatives , whether for the candidates list or ultimately by the wider electorate.

How we shall best ensure that those representing us bring the necessary  qualities to their role is important. Breadth of representation by the most talented is also an important objective.

The exercise surely begins with personal responsibility, not of the would be politician but with the electorate. If we do not participate in political parties ourselves, not least in their selection committees and processes, then we can scarcely complain at the character of those in the House of Commons?

Jesus told us that “in my father’s house there are many mansions”, and there was a range of character and both his disciples and early followers so perhaps we should predispose ourselves to the idea that diversity has more to offer than uniformity of any kind.

Love them or loath them, Sir Nicholas Soames, Dennis Skinner, David Lammy, Sajid Javid, Nadine Dorries and Sarah Teather are vastly different characters, and yet each represents a part of British life that needs representing in the House of Commons. Some have outside interests or affiliations, some have independent means, others do not. All types of MP bring important perspectives to a variety of questions, social, economic constitutional, and religious. It is odd to outwardly promote diversity whilst simultaneously excluding those whose personal circumstances don’t match a 9-5 working mentality.

Flexible and creative minds are surely to be encouraged?

It is the function performed rather than the uniformity of the mould that best guarantees the availability of a multiplicity of skills from which the welfare of the nation may be formed.

Brother Ivo is frankly concerned that to restrictive a drawing of rules will compress the pool from which MP’s may be drawn. It is, after all, a bit rum, for the present Party Leadership to fulminate against those who have second jobs.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband are both wealthy and have high earning wives: second jobs were always irrelevant to them. Nick Clegg has been described as one of the few people who can make both look positively middle class, having both inherited wealth, and a rich wife. George Osborne, Harriett Harman and many others are similarly hardly dependent on Parliamentary salary; Gordon Brown and George Galloway have been amongst the richest of outside earners whilst advocating for the common man. Bans on outside work will not touch any of these but may deter political engagement by many ordinary folk considering putting their careers on hold to contest seats that may never offer job security for an income less than many secondary head teachers enjoy.

There was a time, paradoxically when the estimation of MP’s was higher than it is today; it was when we did not pay MP’s at all.

Even that had its merits: if a man owned half of Berwickshire he might not empathise much with the rat catcher of Romford ( a task once performed by Brother Ivo’s grandfather!) but at least one did not have to worry over much about his selling his opinion to the highest bidder.

On the other hand, the paying of MP’s enabled the curmudgeonly Mr Skinner to bring an entirely different approach to the steering of the ship of state.

Every solution to the conundrum of how to remunerate and constrain our legislators has pluses and minuses, but we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater just to satisfy political spitefulness or to solve a passing  problem of the moment.

An early question must surely be whether we want to promote a fully professionalised dedicated political class?

The polls suggest a public inconsistency, not to say immaturity.

At one and the same time. many of us seem to be simultaneously complaining that our MP’s are out of touch with ordinary life – whilst also insisting that they should spend all their time working in the Westminster bubble.

We need to flag up this weak thinking.

Neither do we seem to be entirely clear on what the task a “full time MP” might look like. Is it enough that they work 35 hours, 40 or 45 hours? If so, is it really so outrageous if they earn money outside of those times rather than say, watching Netflix? As Dt Jonson said, a man is never so innocently employed as when he is making money. This is, provided there is transparency. When that is missing, then impropriety arises soon after.

One of the prickly questions one might even ask is whether this ” full time commitment” is compatible with being the mother of young children? Brother Ivo accepts that it is, but wonders whether the pressures, distractions and crisis management inherent in the multi-tasking of such ladies is actually less of a distraction to them than a once a week Board Meeting of a family business?

The value of current and ongoing outside experiences brought by farmers, duty solicitors, GP’s and military reservists is surely much appreciated by the public when they hear their parliamentarians examining issues with real life understanding, rather than the reading of briefings from special advisors, time serving before their opportunity to step up another rung on the career ladder that began with the PPE degree at Oxford.

A Parliamentary salary is greater than many earn in the country. That is no reason to conclude that those of talent are grasping. exploitative, and “only in it for themselves”. The rules may need modification but ultimately does it not depend upon the character and caliber of those whom we ultimately have a responsibility to vet and hold to account?

It is transparency and accountability that was at the heart of Zac Goldsmith’s recall bill which was emasculated by the party hierarchies – the folk who are currently vying to occupy the moral high ground.

If the local electorate choose candidates in open primaries and can recall an MP via a by election triggered by a petition of 10% of the electorate, the behaviour of Messrs Straw and Rifkind are surely best judged in the court of their most local public opinion.

Brother Ivo finds the idea of artificially restricting outside activities deeply unattractive. Many of our best politicians have been polymaths, people of exceptional breadth organisational skills and energy.

A simple analogy to put before the electorate is that of professional football and the maximum wage.

Were we to return to the old days of the “maximum wage” and legislate that football players be paid only an MP’s salary with no International duties or outside sponsorships, can you imagine the uproar? Would not fans instantly see that it would result in an exit of talent, a “dumbing down” and a resulting mediocrity of journeyman without flair?

Brother Ivo does not want to be only represented by the very rich or those whose ambition is limited to holding onto a lifelong job on a respectable but not spectacular salary. He sees such MP’s as excessively prone to influence by the Whips Office: the model of those who have to hold onto their jobs through compliance, contrasted with those free from economic fear looks suspiciously like the old  “gentlemen and players” model of yesteryear: one we should be slow to go back to.

Nothing illustrates the distain of the patrician class for the ordinary folk more than the entry in the members Register of Interests, which records a gift to Andy Burnham of a day at the Wimbledon tennis from Harriet Harman. It cost £2000.

It may be a pretty gesture between wealthy friends, but it surely sits ill for them to then rail against the ambition of more workaday MP’s who want and can suitably work for their families to have what the richest MP’s can so easily take for granted. Think of that day, when criticising the MP who put 400 hours  at night and weekends as a duty solicitor on not much money for his firm

Brother Ivo wants representation by the businessman who knows whether regulation is ” just right” or holding back enterprise and job creation. He likes the awkward ex Union Official whose members may not be as monolithic – or PC – as the party hierarchy. He wants farmers to speak for the countryside. He wants the GP or that  duty solicitor who can talk to the drug addict, and Police Sergeant alike at 3 in the morning and encounter what it is like trying to get a bed for the mentally ill under those circumstances, rather than hearing a civil servant’s regurgitation of  statistics.

All this is applying the spirit of the Bishops’ letter to this current problem. They seem to be encouraging us to engage more, and put in another way, it reminds us that the real problem is not that MP’s are not paying enough attention to their job, but rather that it is the electorate which is sloppy, and under performing. WE should have been more outraged when the recall bill was defeated by party interests who wanted to keep their power over the people’s representatives and did not want the electorate to exercise the discipline over its MP’S

Surely Christians seeking to improve the body politic need to be saying -“get involved, vet your candidates before you elect them. Hold your MP to account for poor standards. If they let you down, don’t hold to tribal loyalty – ‘ throw the bums out!” -as our American friends say.

We soon reach one of Brother Ivo’s beloved paradoxes – or in this case, perhaps an irony.

In such encouragement to take responsibility for our democracy, the Bishops are aligning themselves intellectually with no one on the current political scene so much as Douglas Carswell of UKIP, who has written persuasively on the subject

Now, who would have thought that?

When Judges and Bishops “rebel”

Sir Nicholas Creighton is not a politician, neither is he a bishop. Brother Ivo does not know if he is a Christian, but as he discharges his duties as a District Judge in the specialist Drug and Alcohol Family Court in London, he demonstrates much that is similar in approach to that of the Anglicans Bishops whose recently published pastoral letter urges a fresh approach upon those about to contest the general election.

If you do not know about Sir Nicholas’ innovative work in resolving intractable family problems you can read about it here. http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/family-drug-and-alcohol-court-breaking-the-habit/5041570.fullarticle

In a nutshell the Court which he has created in a pilot scheme, targets the most complex and intractable of cases where parents have failed their children through misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Many of the parents will have been brought up by neglectful cruel or incompetent parents themselves, so the problems are compounded by emotional issues which would be difficult enough to resolve as stand alone problems, even before substance abuse and inevitable poverty potentiated the difficulties.

These “families” are characterised by lack of routine, multiple relationships, and state dependency, and having been neglected or actively subverted by societal messaging that drug use and single parenthood is perfectly capable of delivering ” good enough” parenting.

Such parents are shocked when State and its agents suddenly turn from being indulgent provider to aggressive accuser, giving such fragile parents just 6 months to turn around the habits of a lifetime,  with the penalty of losing their children forever should they be incapable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Sir Nicholas identifies the problem succinctly.

“A system that goes on removing children because of drug and alcohol issues, but does nothing about the core problem, is a ‘failing system’, he adds: ‘We know from experience that a mother who has a child removed deliberately goes out to get pregnant again because it is the only way she can heal the wound of the loss.’

They inevitably return , they cannot heal themselves : “if they knew better, they’d do better”.

These are people with tragic lives, often the product of poor decisions – many their own. Whilst we are enjoined not to be judgemental, they have almost invariably failed to follow the very simple basic rules for avoiding poverty, and family chaos.

1) Don’t drop out of school
2) Don’t have children under 21 years
3) Get married before having children
4) Don’t engage in substance abuse

Our societal failure to promulgate these simple basic rules is at the heart of many of tragedies that arrive in the family courts. Our Bishops could help in this regard but rarely do so with clarity.

Sir Nicholas  tired of seeing the pain of families being administered into heartbreaking separation, and of his part in letting it happen. Having seen the value of joined up thinking in the Courts of Santa Barbara California, he started a bold initiative to do things better in London. He convinced Government Departments and Local Authorities to give him enough free rein and funding – “peanuts” – to do things differently,

When Court proceedings are started, parents are brought to him quickly. He sets out a programme in consultation with independent social workers, therapists, child and adult psychiatrists, substance abuse experts and a clinical nurse. He talks plainly, offering failing parents a promise of a fair chance and real support in return for determined engagement and total honesty. If the parents agree, they enter a programme of intensive change, support and regular drug testing.

It is not perfect, it has many failures when even these efforts cannot rescue parents from deep habits and emotional fragility. The project has, however, markedly improved the prospects of success for families staying together- and when this happens the case ends with congratulations and applause for all the hard work – led by the Judge.

So what has this to do with our Bishop’s pastoral letter enjoining politicians to change their modus operandi?

The Judge, like the Bishops, recognised that standing imperiously above the process and passing judgement, was not enough. To achieve what was needed required him to re-define his role. Our Bishops seem of similar mind.

He engages the failing families with direct and refreshing honesty. One might say that he engages them with equality, and refreshing respect: he does not condescend or dissemble. He put the challenge bluntly, offered a hand up, but does not shirk from making a tough decision when the primary interest of the children required it.

He sees that the common good – of the families and the wider community – have a mutual interest in investing time effort and resources  to reverse the cycle of failure, which frequently cascades down through the generations.

He plainly believes that the failed families before him were worth the effort of redemption.

He recognises that the people he has spend years judging have a culture of failure; it is not, as our politically correct friends would have us believe, an equally valid life style choice. Nevertheless he offers them respect though a real choice: nobody can do this  for them, although if they accept the challenge they may succeed. Nothing is guaranteed, nobody can succeed for them, but the specialist Court gives them their best chance.

Neither the Judge, nor the bishops have got it all right. Both are venturing outside of their traditional roles. Both are motivated by a combination of compassion and informed practicality. We should welcome the good that can come out of it, yet this can only happen if we too fully engage with the process.

There is much to approve in the Bishop’s initiative, yet also a strand of paternalism and trust in the benefits State intervention that many find jarring, especially when they look at our own past and the French present.

Sir Nicholas seems to have struck the balance rather better.

Help is offered – but accompanied by realistic expectation.

Personal responsibility is not overlooked.

Bad destructive values are bluntly challenged.

Resources are targeted in a timely manner, but contractually based, and for carefully defined purpose.

There is compassion, but not indulgent sentimentality.

It is a blend of optimism, tempered by real world experience.

With a Judges talent for succinct communication Sir Nicholas can also encapsulate his thinking in considerably less than 52 pages, Our Bishops might do well to learn by this example.

50 Shades of Brother Ivo

It is very noticeable that Valentine’s Day this year is awash with reviews of the film of the EL James novel ” 50 Shades of Grey”.

Plainly the film’s distributors have chosen the time of release to coincide with the ncreasingly less romantic but more secular consumer festival, and the fact that the book has sold over 100 million copies, despite its execrable prose, suggests that as Louis B Meyer once famously observed “Nobody ever went bust underestimating the taste of the general public”.

There are many and various responses.

Some are warning that the 50 Shades story sends all the wrong messages about domestic abuse, and they are right. Whilst there are those whom have assert that “safe” (sic) sado-masochism can be gender equal, the reality is that a book like this, backed with much marketing, drive, publicity and money, will make it easier for some abusers to first cajole and then “pretend-bully” their way to the satisfactions of dominant power.

In a rather more English approach, others just greet it with hilarious disdain, like the fellow at the quiz, who, when asked the name of the author, replied ” EL Wisty” . Anyone who remembers the anarchic humour of the late Peter Cook must surely regret that he is not here to subvert this festival of amateur bondage.

Apparently, midwives are predicting a mini-baby boom in late November: Brother Ivo approves of babies being born. Maybe some good will inadvertently come out of this rather bathetic little novel after all.

Brother Ivo’s brief for his blog is to be interesting, to try to say something original in all this. To do so, he is helped by a recent visit to Venice where he engaged his own private passion – studying and enjoying renaissance art.

He sometimes teases his friends that he only looks at pictures painted before 1605, and Venice indulged him to the full.

He came away from La Serennissima having accidentally encountered a splendid but lesser known collection at the Church of San Polo. There he adored the Vivarini alterpiece but it was the Stations of the Cross by Tiepolo which surprised him. He has not much engaged with this artist before but spent some time entranced by how a master can present a familiar yet challenging story.

It is not disrespectful to either the painter, or the theology of such work to say that objectively speaking, there are some superficial similarities between what pleases Brother Ivo and what engages the 50 Shades audience.

If we were to ask Joe and Jo Public, it is likely that they could “read” the “philosophy” underlying the 50 Shades narrative.

The heroine, Ana is attracted to the billionaire Christian Grey ( is that Christian name significant?). He is apparently emotionally “damaged goods”. She submits to him, and by that self-sacrificial submission ultimately moves towards delivering him from his demons.

It is all rather Mills and Boon: yet that extraction of a “moral” would probably be within the capacity of most who read it, even if they don’t exactly read it for the moral uplift which it impliedly seeks credit for in the chosen happy ending.

Artistically, Christian Grey could have morphed into Fred West: yet that would be too close to real life. In this kind of fiction: there is a very controlled, safe danger. A better author might have redeemed the novel by taking it in that direction.

Now, imagine asking that same readership to “read”/ deconstruct the theology of the Stations of the Cross.

Is it fanciful to suggest that there would be some confusion in a modern viewer, whereas those of past centuries would have “seen” and “read” the painter’s mind easily and accurately?

The graphic portrayal of Christ’s degradation, beating and torture, which lies on the other side of Lent
will be repellant to many in the modern world. This is the real nature of cruelty which grows from detachment from God. The 50 Shades reader may empathise with Christ the victim, but, Brother Ivo suggests that, if asked where God is in the series of pictures, they would instantly identify Him as the malevolent force making the suffering happen.

The theology of the Incarnation is neither easy nor deeply appreciated.

It is extraordinary to Brother Ivo that what was plain to earlier generations will often be missed by the religiously illiterate.

The story of Chist’s passion begins with that incarnation; it is prefigured in the gifts of frankincense and myrrh offered to the new born. It is his destiny, which he accepts.

This generation will need to be taught again that in the superficially familiar story of Easter, God has laid aside his power and entitlement. The only thing he brings to the story of redemption, at that moment is his suffering. It is not a twisted God making the suffering happen, as Stelhen Fry might postulate, but humanity which has taken the freedoms presented by a liberating God, and used them perversely, hurting the One who loves them the most.

Put in the same perverse and superficial terms, the better to make it plain for modern readers, we may have to explain to people that God incarnated in Jesus “is” Ana” not “Christian”. We are “Christian” in Tiepolo’s telling of the story- the cruel damaged goods in need of redemption by love.

Above the Statiions of the Cross, Tiepolo has painted a panel celebrating the denouement of the story, Christ in victory, having transcended the earthly passage of betrayal suffering and death.

The depiction of the risen Christ is breathtakingly audacious. Seen from below, the perspective brilliantly captured, Christ is leaping heavenwards; his body, no longer broken, is young, beautiful and vigorous. The leap put Brother Ivo in mind of someone just taking off into a triumphant cosmic Fosbury Flop.

It was all very exhilarating.

So, we have passed from the ridiculous to the sublime, which is of course, to put things the wrong way round in the eyes of the world, but that, for a true Christian, is precisely what we should be doing,

It is right that the public be cautioned about the abuse of sexual power, and the dangers of tasting forbidden fruit. Instead of denouncing the novel however, we can and should be capable of engaging with it and desrcribing its context and values the better to put a lost people’s aright.

This in itself may upset some who prefer to simply condemn but ” getting alongside, the better to put on the right path is surely the best Christian response to a popular if rather inferior public.
phenomenon.

Brother Ivo will forgive you however. if you don’t attempt this at tomorrow’s All Age Service.

Synod must approach the Lord Green controversy proportionately.

General Synod will be meeting this week to discuss the future shape and direction of the Church and how it will fulfil its mission to spread the Gospel. Amongst the papers under discussion will be proposals which touch upon the selection of future senior leaders, which have been prepared by Lord Green who was the Head of the HSBC, and later a Trade Minister in the Coalition Government. He is now an Anglican priest.

The Green proposals are informed by modern business practice. Under them, future potential bishops may be spotted early and will have their leadership enhanced by ” MBA style” training: this injection of business training and performance standards is viewed with suspicion in certain quarters.

Nobody is suggesting that the future Church leadership should be solely shaped by modern business thinking, but neither is it unreasonable to examine these proposals with our own due diligence.

So far so good.

Already however, the politicised question of whether Lord Green was complicit in any legal impropriety is seeping into references to him and his report. That must be resisted by all Synod members as they fulfill their proper duties of deciding whether the Green proposals have merit or not.

Brother Ivo is disturbed at how the Green Issue is being presented by the BBC. It is speaking of whether HSBC helped its clients to “duck” or “dodge” UK taxes. Synod representatives must be astute enough not to allow such terms to intrude into its thinking. The issue of probity turns upon complicity in criminal evasion not lawful avoidance or tax planning.

We all “duck/dodge” tax when we shelter our savings in ISAs or make a lump sum payment into our pensions.

In business, tax breaks are offered by Governments to stimulate activity in approved but potentially risky activities such as the British Film Industry. The tainting of lawful activity by “Arthur Daley” terminology is more to the shame of our State broadcaster than anyone engaged in the lawful activity of the Banking Sector.

It does not help that episode after episode of BBC comedy has made the profession of Banker synonymous with “inappropriate behaviour”.

Brother Ivo does not know what Lorf Green did or did not know about the way in which a Swiss subsidiary conducted its business. He does know that that HSBC was one of the few Banking Institutions that was so well managed that it did not need and did not take public money, when many in the Banking World had gambled their way into precarious instability.

He also knows that virtually every Institution and profession in the UK has had its scandals; some politicians exploited expenses, some journalist hacked, some NHS managers neglected the elderly, some at the BBC presided over a culture of immunity for child molesters. In short, damning a proposal because of prejudice towards the entire sector of the community from which they come, is shallow and a betrayal of our responsibilities to seriously examine the question of developing our own future leaders.

We must play the ball, not the man.

Lord Green is currently declining to engage with journalistic attempts to “doorstep ” him. He may not rush to issue immediate statements as called for by politicians in an election year.

Brother Ivo is not surprised and will cast no stones. Apparently over 1000 people may be interviewed about what has happened and why. The areas of concern are currently diffuse. If criminality, corporate or personal, has occurred, it has not yet been formulated. It would be a highly imprudent former Chief Executive who engages too early in assuaging journalistic appetite or facilitating political exploitation.

When the Church has its scandals we expect our Archbishops and Bishops to ascertain the facts and understand the issues before opening their mouths. We should expect nothing different from those who have offered their skills to help us re-engineer the structures of our church.

The Green proposals need discussion because they offer a new perspective. We might adapt Gamaliel’s advice, accepting that if such recommendations have merit, they should be apparent regardless of provenance. Past association does not prevent us listening to St Paul – and his past
“inappropriate behaviour” was beyond question.

The Green Report may be good bad or “curate’s egg” Brother Ivo wants to hear the debate and make his mind up. He suggests thatSynod should leave the politics for another time and do its job of examining what is before it.

It’s time for Anglicans to become Lean Mean Mobile Agile and Hostile”!

In fulfilment of his pre-election promise to “get around and meet” those whom he nominally represents on General Synod, Brother Ivo went to spend time at a Deanery Synod at the weekend.

It was deliberately a very different encounter from the churches he has visited so far.

After All Age worship in a school based church, a Forward in Faith parish mass, and visiting a poor urban Evangelical project, his last encounter was very different.

The churches of that Deanery are very very different.

Most of their churches are rural, many 12th century. The congregations will be older and pretty comfortably off. Many lie within the affluent commuter belt of London They were hardly “stick in the mud” however.

Their Synod was open to outsiders. They attracted good numbers from the community having invited a speaker from ” Stop the Traffic” to raise awareness of human trafficking, and worship was enthusiastically offered despite the older attenders being accompanied by a vicar playing a Djembe drum!

Over breakfast, Brother Ivo heard of a newly established Saturday Messy Church which is attracting a largely new congregation of young families. It was very encouraging.

Brother Ivo  was there to talk about The General Synod which  may not have seemed an invigorating subject, and the latest plethora of policy papers could have all benefited from further editorial enthusiasm, nevertheless there are reasons to be cheerful buried within the crowded Synod agenda. It was how to get the wheat from the chaff that Brother Ivo put his mind

How to deliver that essence was a challenge to anyone who has to boil down and present a complex agenda to its bare essentials yet unexpectedly, an old idea came to the rescue.

Some readers may recall Brother Ivo having once embraced the sports mantra of the US college football team Alabama State who famously enjoyed sustained sucess. Their coach embodied their philosophy in five words.

The team was determined to be-

“Lean, mean, mobile, agile and hostile”!

Now Brother Ivo will concede that this seems an improbable strap line for mainstream Anglicanism – but bear with him a while.

What is the ” Simplification ” agenda advanced by Bishop Peter Broadbent and his colleagues about if not being ” Leaner” and fitter?

If our old legislative structures prevent our adapting to the fast moving modern world, should we not sweep them away?  If “offending eyes” should be ” plucked out” then how much more intolerant should we be of deadwood regulation. The 72 Disciples were sent on their way highly un-encumbered. Bishop Peter is surely pointing us towards Biblical leanness.

“Meanness” is not often considered a Christian virtue, and yet the wise virgins know that timely expenditure of resources are needed if purpose is to be achieved. So the paper from the Church Commissioners explaining that they will release capital to promote regeneration of the Church – but not indiscriminately, is both visionary – and yet a bit mean.  Projects will prioritise the poor, they will be be managed by more business savvy Bishops and only if there is a coherent plan with realistic resources and objectives will those funds be authorised. THere should be no flabby largesse but a carefully calculated drive for effectiveness.

Martin Luther King described power in positive terms, as the ” ability to active purpose”. The Church Commissioners fine initiative is both generous spirited and properly “mean”. You may have the power to grown but not freedom to be profligate.

“Mobile” is represented in various ways.

Bishop Stephen Croft’s paper on auditing Dioceses with benchmarks for developing Discipleship may seem rather managerial and his complementary thinking on Ministry is, as yet, concentrating on clergy,  yet plainly we are being invited to explore different solutions in different places.

If “church” is best developed by an informal church set temporarily in a school(as Brother Ivo has seen thriving) then go there. By implication, if one of Bishop Peter’s Semi-decommissioned “Festival Churches” can be returned to life with lay led services from time to time -sobeit.

“Agility” is more problematic. It’s not clear that Anglicans yet do “agility” , and if there is currently a weak point this must be it.

“Simplification” is part of it but more to the point we need speed of communication, speed of response. Brother Ivo reminded his Deanery audience that ISIL raised a conquering army in six months thanks to harnessing modern social media communication. Nevertheless agility sits with latent power amidst the other initiatives. We need to get up to speed with digital communication and probably secure outside expertise on how this can be done.

“Hostility” is less problematic than it seems.

Are we not already called to be ” hostile” towards  injustice, to exploitation of abused children,and sex workers ? Are we not “hostile to religious intolerance? Jesus was ” hostile” to the slavery of sin , and Archbishop Justin has already told us that there is sometimes too much bland niceness in our preaching. So maybe we can get away with importuning some hostility into our thinking.

Having sketched out the energy hidden within the dense paperwork of the General Synod Agenda, Brother Ivo offered the challenge to his superficially Conservative looking audience.

If we want to address People Trafficking, we need to address the context of transience within communities within which it can flourish. The comfortably off Churches may find resources re-directed towards on that front line. in transient communities it is often the Church that is the last link with mainstream society that remains after the shops, social services, pubs and police  have withdrawn.

The run down urban church that presented a Christmas Panto and fed 37 lonely people with a Chistmas Dinner might be strengthened by closing rural churches with small ( if faithful ) congregations and reallocating the resources. In short the “costs of discipleship” may be carried by Deaneries just like yours”.

And how was this received?

With enthusiasm!

They absolutely got it.

If we give our Christian Brothers and Sisters dry process, consultation, detail and partisanship they switch off. Yet give them a Gosel vision, give them a role on the team which they understand and much can be achieved.

A janitor at NASA was once asked what his job was and replied that his job was to help put a man on the moon.

People respond to vision, that’s what drives mission.

Synod must do its essential scrutinising job but after that, we need to prepare our own people and enthuse them. We cannot rouse the nation from spiritual sleep until we have embraced what one listener to Brither Ivo described as the “dangerousness” latent within these strategies.

Danger can be good. Risk taking can be good.

“Lean Mean Mobile Agile and Hostile” caught the imagination of a Rural Home Counties Deanery seemingly / superficially with much to lose, yet they saw that winning the Nation for Christ was a prize worth pursuing -a pearl of great price for those willing to risk what they have.

Anglicans – in all their unexpected unpredictable generous variety.

Don’t you just love” em?