Tag Archives: #Anglicanism

The Lord, St Thomas, and Bishop Bell

This morning we shall be celebrating the Apostle St Thomas, of whom little is known , but who is most famous for his displaying of doubt when told by the other apostles that Jesus has risen from the dead.

When they had told him of what they had seen, he found it inherently implausible and declares that unless he sees the evidence for himself, which he can test, by putting his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in the wound, he will not believe.

Jesus has pity on the doubting friend and makes an appearance especially for him, inviting him to do exactly as he declared he must in order to believe. ” Come, put your fingers in the holes in my hands, he says , put your hand in my side” he says.

Paradoxically, in proving that he was no wraith, no figment of their imagination, Jesus could not have been more “transparent”.

Later this coming week the Church of England General Synod will be meeting in York. Amazingly the vexed question of human sexuality to which half of its time will be devoted, may not prove to be its most heated issue.

Bishop George Bell will be defended, or perhaps more accurately the integrity of the Church will be defended. People will be asking that the Church explains openly the processes by which it came to believe that one of its 20th Century “saints” had let them down in a dreadful way, by abusing an innocent child.

It is a terrible thing to abuse a child; it is also a terrible thing to accuse somebody of the crime. To assert their guilt is hugely damaging, many would rather be accused of murder. It is not ignoble to publicly ask for proof.

The House of Lords considered the matter last Thursday, and in the course of the debate the Church’s handling of the case was described as ” slippery” and “disingenuous”. A former Archbishop, Lord Carey described the secret process that led to the conclusion as a “kangaroo court”.

In the course of the debate, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss reminded the Lords of a legal principle in such cases. The more implausible event, the more cogent will be the evidence needed to establish it.

Survival after crucifixion was inherently unbelievable. Resurrection from the dead was not credible. To believe such a thing required the most undeniable of evidence, so Jesus gave it to him, gave it to us, and today we celebrate the fact that Thomas doubted, that Jesus understood how very human it was to do that , and gave him the certainty that Thomas and we needed.

One hopes that the Church might relent in this most difficult of matters and provide as much transparency as may be consistent with protecting victim identity. It can be done and it can be done well by those who know what they are doing.

Doubt is human; it is not unreasonable where human institutions are concerned. It is especially justified in the case of a Church whose record of investigating such matters so dreadfully poor.

We need our doubting Thomas’s, for by their questions truth is revealed,

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.

Brother Ivo goes to General Synod

In the 19th Century Victor Hugo described the conditions of the prisoner Jean Valjean who was de-humanised by the assignment of the number 24601. In the mid-21st Century, Nelson Mandela became prisoner number 46664. In George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984, Winston Smith cries ” I am not a number!” Upon joining General Synod in the 21st century one is immediately allocated a number. There is no remission for good behaviour.

Despite that apparent anachronism, one of the striking things on entering the forum is a pleasing and genuine diversity. At early morning coffee on the first day Brother Ivo was warmly welcomed and assisted by a colleague with significant disability, an armed forces chaplain and a nun. In the chamber he sat behind the deaf representatives enjoying the expressiveness of the language of translation, especially the gesture for “angels” which we should surely all adopt whenever we use the word. Think descending fluttering hands- delightful.

The promulgation of Canon on Women Bishops was undertaken with dignity and the varied legislative agenda was well explained and frequently laced with bonhomie when a potentially dull subject needed enlivening.

Sincere conviction was never far beneath the surface. Discussing Clergy Discipline Guidance we heard heartfelt devotion to the integrity of the confessional, and no less determination to banish laxity from our safeguarding procedures.

Brother Ivo made an immediate maiden speech on this issue seeking to strengthen the guidance when Clergy think there “may” an exception to the usual rules on confidentiality.

Instead of stating that clergy “should” take the advice of Safeguarding Officers he proposed that they “must” take that advice. It does not of course require them to identify those under suspicion at that evaluation point, but where the safety of the vulnerable is concerned, Brother Ivo stressed ” This is no time for amateur hour”.

The need for disciplined prayer in clergy life was emphasised as was the sheer stress and volume of advice and regulation upon our clergy.

We are to be encouraged to go ” paperless” as the cost of our a Synod paperwork now exceeds £20,000 per session. As an apostle of systemic modernity, Brother Ivo was hoist with his own petard and has resolved to make the change. He has suggested that we need a fringe meeting at the next Synod with an on hand “techie” to help the less confident Synod members to download the materials and organise them for ready access. Many will worry about doing it themselves but an ounce of practice is worth any amount of exhortation.

The highlight of the first day was unquestionably the address by Archbishop Justin. If you have not read it, it is highly recommended.
( http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5443/archbishop-justins-presidential-address-to-the-general-synod-video)

To Brother Ivo, the key paragraph is the one in which he says

” the potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about. We need to hold on to that, there is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. The prize is visible unity in Christ despite functional diversity. It is a prize that is not only of infinite value, but also requires enormous sacrifice and struggle to achieve. Yet if we even get near it we can speak with authority to a world where over the last year we have seen more than ever an incapacity to deal with difference, and a desire to oversimplify the complex and diverse nature of human existence for no better reason than we cannot manage difference and dealing with The Other. Yet in Christ we are held together. In Christ the barriers are broken, peace is held out to us as a gift established, which needs living. In Christ there is hope of a life that provides hope of peace.”

The more he has considers these words, the more Brother Ivo is impressed with the boldness of that vision.

Is he not challenging us to review the very nature of Anglicanism?

For too long we have had doctrinal strivings, aimed at winning an inter-party struggle. Do we not need to step back from even attempting theological uniformity?

With the approval of women priests we created an enclave for our Anglo-Catholic friends. We shall soon be asked to ensure that other colleagues who hold to the “headship” principle shall have a guaranteed place in the House of Bishops. Having embarked upon that institutionalisation of difference, what possible reason can we advance for not reaching similar accommodations with other sections of the communion, not least those who wish to participate in gay “marriage”.

Brother Ivo opposed the redefinition of marriage: he is on record in that view. That debate was lost.

That law  is now in place and many liberal clergy would wish to conduct such services in accordance with it. We know their views, they are open and plain in their support, even as we share the bread and the cup together. They will want no less acceptance and respect for that approach, than they were asked to accept on behalf of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals for their issues of conscience and interpretation.

Given a vitally necessary strong defence on behalf of those who can never accept participation in such services, will this not be part of the “functional diversity” to which Archbishop Justin alludes?

To those worried about too much diversity in our gender views it is worth reflecting for a moment on the once unimaginable diversity in theology with which we currently live.

We have within the Communion, those who regard the Bible as the literal word of God, but there are others who regard it as the “inspired” word of God. Some are strongly for the historicity the Virgin birth whilst others see only an expressive truth. The reverence of some for the Virgin or Icons is for others but one step removed from idolatry. The literal body and blood of Christ for one,  is the “token of sacrifice”  another. One man’s altar is another woman’s table. To some, prayers for the dead are efficacious, for others a pointless exercise. There will be other examples.

In short, we have all swallowed so many theological camels to preserve unity, that choking on the gender gnat should be almost easy. If we are finding it hard, we need to look again at Archbishop Justin’s vision.

Of course our disagreements are a cause for repentance. Yet is that continued, and even additional, division enough for us to call it a day? Is this the time for some of us to walk away?

The reality is that we have become a federation of belief- a “federation of failure” if you like – but still with enough shared love for God to make it worth our while not to throw in our hands. There is still much we agree upon.

On Tuesday we looked at Middle Eastern issues. In that context we hoped that the protagonists will somehow, with the Grace of God, come together. Notwithstanding  the blood and rhetoric currently in evidence there,  if we can still conceive of reconciliation between Middle Eastern Jew, Muslim, and Christian , we surely cannot regard division from those currently in communion with each other whilst plainly of different gender views, just because we are approaching a decision point on gay marriage?

There will be more to say on Tuesday’s business which saw debates on the Middle East, the Methodist Covenant and the “Bedroom Subsidy” as well as a fringe meeting on Gaza. These will be the subject of the next post.

The Ecology of Political Institutions

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David Cameron’s attempts to build bridges with those parts of Christian community opposed to the re-definition of marriage by praising the faith has opened up another wound for him, as the monstrous regiment of the priggishly offended, duly lined up behind the writers of the oppositional letter to the Daily Telegraph, shrieking like maiden aunts at a Chipperfields Review.

Actually, Brother Ivo takes that back; some of the broadest minded, most tolerant people he has known have been somewhat severe looking ladies whose observations on the follies of the rest of us were acute incisive and instructive.

What is intriguing is that those who are complaining  about  the PM’s. assertion that Britain is a Christian country, would almost certainly be equally assertive that they are “friends of the earth” ( capitalised or uncapitalised). How strange it is that they do not apply their thinking logically and broadly across the disciplines. Only connect.

Let Brother Ivo explain through a seemingly divergent illustration.

Researchers in the United States were recently tasked with improving the flood risk in a part of the country which was suffering rather like our own West Country. After much study they reached the conclusion that things had started to go wrong when the wolf had been removed from the local ecology.

The wolf had predate on deer. In its absence the deer population had expanded. The growing population was no longer wary of grazing the riverbanks, and both ate and trampled young riverbank saplings. The absence of saplings had resulted in decline in the beaver population which no longer dammed the rivers and created flood plains.

In short, taking out the top predator had disastrous consequences downstream. The presence of a wolf population had its downsides not only for deer, but farmer’s livestock, and yet the costs of their absence to the ecology both near and far was devastating.

Those who signed the letter calling for the removal of Christianity from public life, decrying its historic naughtiness, would of course, be equally united in decrying the removal of wolf from its role as top predator in the ecological pyramid. Ask them to explain and protect the complex web of relationships in the natural world and they will have both energy and understanding,  protesting to maintain the smallest variant of of an obscure weed rather than give way to a road by-pass.

So why the blind spot?

Why the seemingly total incapacity to understand that the Constitution of Britain, and indeed all the Constitutions and Institutions of the Anglosphere and the other political environments which evolved from the Protestant Reformation,. are themselves illustrative of the much approved principle ” survival of the fittest”.

Those who seek to preserve the natural world in aspic are frequent the same people perversely cavalier in tearing down the finely tuned political ecosphere which is responsible for the happy free and once tolerant society in which they have lived.

In Britain, our Established Church is an amazingly successful coalition of Catholic, Liberal, Evangelical and Charismatic views. We frequently contend seriously and passionately on deeply held issues. We do not share, still less enforce, much doctrinal orthodoxy and yet a bloody history of contention has taught us much an this has passed by osmosis into the body politic.

The tolerance we learned to accord each other, based upon good Queen Elizabeth I ‘s disinclination to “open a window on men’s souls” influenced the political sphere so that we are greatly blessed that traditionally, our political leaders have been opponents not enemies.

That is currently under threat from the doctrinaire ” progressives” and other heirs to the more European forms of the “Enlightenment” – the wonderful folks that brought you the French Revolution, Marxism and Fascism, whilst dear old fashioned Britain stuck with a Constitutional settlement that bemuses the narrowly logical in the same way that an ant cannot appreciate what goes on beyond its programmed allegiance to its narrowly understood community.

It is should be a historical joy that somehow we have benefitted from this guided evolution. At many decision points, there has been intelligent design -and those intelligent values have been predominantly Christian.

Instead of scrapping the past and building afresh on atheist logic -the North Korean and Albanian model –  we have traditionally and pragmatically built upon our Reformation and Restoration past,

In this distinctly British political ecology, the Lion has learnt to live with the Unicorn, and the lambs have been happy to prosper in that same environment. It is why Ed Milliband’s father was able to find refuge here, though he did tend to ungraciously bite the hand that fed him.

Why did so many faiths find a home here if not because they could prosper under the penumbra of our Christian Establishment?

Once, there was strict legislation against Catholics, Jews, and Non-Conformists but isn’t the point that our Established Church and associated Institutions have demonstrated the capacity to both evolve and nurture that which is not itself?

What the Telegraph signatories do not seem to take into account ( or more worryingly not even to know) is that in an environment it matters who the top predator is.

Mouthing words about “diversity” whilst sawing the trunk of the tree under which you -and it -have flourished is simply crass.

Many of course are the same folk using their free speech to promote Government regulation of the press.

Diversity, of itself does not develop tolerance or peaceful co-existence. Syria is diverse, so is Lebanon. It is secular “liberal” France that has banned the veil, and secular America that hounds Christianity from the public space through litigation.

If you want to see what happens when you remove institutions in diversity rich countries you may go to any number of failed states which struggle to bring together suspicious factions.

Those willing to break the institutional eggs to make a diversity omelette actually have no idea how they will put Humpty together again.

Building a tolerant free country is a long slow process. Our country went through that difficult and costly centuries ago and whilst the architecture of its happy outcome is hardly characterised by its clean logical lines, it still manages to hold us together.

Those who believe that there is a functional alternative might usefully put their talents to the test by building some prototype institutions which demonstrate similar resilience and strength to that of Christian Britain. Good luck bringing the gay, the Islamic, the vegan and the tribal into your Ark.

In contrast, we already have within our Established Church, huge diversity. In our Christian Monarch we have a wise Queen welcomed as Head of State or Commonwealth across the largest network of family and political ties in the world. Our Parliament holds multi party, multi faith views: none of this was designed, but came about by the very natural selection that the National Secular Society is anxious to teach in our schools.

How strange therefore, that they and the Metro-liberals who distain the Established order never pause to reflect that this country remains amongst the best to live in precisely because the Christian faith, analogous to a ” top predator”,  has shaped the environment for the benefit of all, whether they know it or not.

To those who signed the Telegraph letter, Brother Ivo remembers and adapts the old First World War Bruce Bairnfather cartoon of the soldier Old Bill.

” If you know a better political ecology -go to it”!

New Music for Churches – the horror!

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Many priests will tell you that few issues cause ill-will within a congregation more than Church Music.

It is not a new phenomenon. There was bitter controversy when new fangled technology was introduced when the pipe organ displaced the motley group of instrumentalist who formerly held sway in the music loft, and many decamped to exercise their talents in the local pubs.

John Bunyan stole the tune for his much loved hymn ” To be a Pilgrim” from a popular Portsmouth drinking song, and later William Booth chose to “dumb down” by encouraging tunes in a popular vernacular to compete with the music halls. “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” was his philosophy, not that of some modern worship group leader.

Brother Ivo can enjoy worship incorporating music from a variety of sources, from the Wesleys to Handel, Taize and Iona, to Stuart Townsend and Maggi Dawn. Yet despite such catholic taste he is still being currently challenged. His Church has recently bought a new set of Hymn books and although he and others looked through the indexes to see that we had a readily available selection of hymns from a wide variety of courses, we missed quite a lot in the fine print.

Put simply, the words of some very familiar hymns have been subtly changed to the consternation of many singing on “autopilot”.

It is very easy to become irritated at such “interference”.

What is the point?

“Can’t they leave well alone?” is a natural enough response, and as one thinks of hymns, so one also thinks of liturgy.

There is a joke that the definition of a conservative is someone who thinks that nothing should be done for the first time and that in the Anglican Church once something has been done it becomes a tradition. So new hymn books will never arrive without comment.

At such times, Brother Ivo has the good fortune to have had a most helpful conversation with a retired Anglican priest who, at that time, was running a most welcoming Bed and Breakfast House in Montgomerie Alabama.

He was fascinating man to talk to, not least because he had been the priest to a Congregation during the Civil Rights years and spoke of the difficulties of ministering to a people split  between integrationists and segregationalists. Few Anglicans today will have to hold such tensions in check even over the vexed from of musical tastes.

It was not that political part of the conversation which has most usefully stuck with Brother Ivo however.

As we sat talking in his music room, we turned to the question of managing musical evolution, and he offered a most useful and interesting take on the subject.

Brother Ivo is devoted to sharing interesting views.

Mark Waldo Snr explained that whenever he encountered a hymn he did not like or understand, he would pause and ask himself a question: “What am I missing here?”

Instead of complaining at the innovation, he suggested one should reflect that somebody had been moved to write the words and music, perhaps studying a passage of scripture, praying over it, re-editing a line, honing a nuance. It may have taken a considerable time.

When the piece was completed it was offered to a publisher, who accepted it, offered it to vendors and they sold it to a Worship Leader who selected it for a particular service at a particular time.

With such a provenance, he suggested, such a piece of work surely deserves more than a moments dismissive attention?

 

If it is not communicating , perhaps we are not listening. “There must be something in it to have made it this far” he suggested.

This wisdom has lowered Brother Ivo’s blood pressure on more than one occasion

Even though one may still have favourite hymns, settings, versions, or genres, the giving of respect and consideration to that which is unfamiliar can be the occasion for stepping out of the comfort zone and learning from an appraisal of the new environment – taking a different point of view.

The unexpected has often been the start of a new line of thought.

Even in one’s artistic distaste or scepticism one should perhaps look on such temporary suffering as a spiritual gift.

Brother Ivo offers this to all clergy wrestling with such problems this week.

Baptism Liturgy – “What would Apple Do?”

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Brother Ivo recently heard of one of the UK’s leading Advertising “Gurus” who, whilst training  his staff, challenged them to nominate the most successful brand in the world.

The youngsters reflected and then began to offer suggestions; Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Google and Apple: all were discounted by the Guru , who eventually offered his view.

In marketing terms he declared, the most successful world “brand” was the Catholic Church.

Everybody across multiple cultures could identify its “logo” he argued; they knew who its “CEO” was: they had a fairly clear idea of its core values, and could readily identify its buildings and staff. Its “customers” were faithful and prioritised that loyalty to a very high degree. Nobody dies for customer loyalty to Sony or Mercedes.

As an orthodox Christian, Brother Ivo does not tell this story and draw the comparison for any other purpose than to offer an interesting perspective on how a sophisticated professional eye has looked upon the position of the Church in the world and judged the success of the faithful more favourably than many of us would judge our own efforts to relate to those with whom we live.

Brother Ivo called this story to mind in the context of the current  theological spat that is developing over some proposed experimental revisions to the Anglican Baptism service. The language of the liturgy is being changed in this version of the service and with it, there can be no doubt, the emphasis of the presentation has shifted.

”Archbishop Cranmer” was initially sanguine about the new text but has been mindful of the arguments presented, not least by the Bishop of Willesden,  and has changed his view. His explanation of the issue and the basis for altering his opinion is interesting, not least because he was open minded enough not to take fright at the first hint of change, and to acknowledge that liturgy has always mutated.

Brother Ivo is not sure that Cranmer has got this right. He is not sure he has got it wrong either, and is given particular reason to think carefully, because one of the earliest opponents of the new text is Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, for whom Brother Ivo has considerable respect.

Paradoxically, it was a day spent studying with Bishop Michael some time ago that gives him pause to think that the three much respected opposing  authorities quoted here may still be over reacting to what is, after all a pilot scheme which will be reviewed before being adopted, adjusted, or abandoned.

During an afternoon training session with Bishop Michael he invited questions,  and was asked about this problem of adapting to the modern world. As he worked through his thinking on the subject the phrase which Bishop Michael used and re-used was that of “working with the grain” of humanity.

It was a phrase that stuck in Brother Ivo’s mind and has informed his practice ever after. and it surely is the sub text of any liturgical change.

On a previous training day another speaker had pointed out the futility of seeking to engage an inner city hoodie with the opening statement “Jesus wants to wash you in the blood of the lamb”, and the contrast between that and Bishop Michael’s approach illustrates Cranmer’s point that sometimes one has to be relaxed about changing language that once resonated with a population whose ears were tuned to a different cultural wavelength.

ArchBishop Cranmer and Bishops Peter and Michael know this,  and may well be right that this is a revision too far.

Brother Ivo simply asks the question whether this is the right moment to make that call.

One appreciates that creeping incremental change can be insidious, undermining and eventually harmful. This might be the point to say “Thus far and no further”, but it may not be.

If one has a fear of watering down the Gospel message , that fear probably has a wider and deeper cause than any individual experiment. Make that case specifically, cite this in the evidential review by all means, but would it not be worth seeing the consequences of the revised liturgy first?

Brother Ivo might have a slightly different perspective than the more august commentators as he is a Baptism visitor. He takes the service sheet into the homes of parents seeking baptism for their child/ren and has the conversation on this subject on a regular basis. It was from such practical experience that the ”Liverpool Synod motion” advancing the case for this liturgical experiment  arose. Reading the explanation of how the Liverpool Synod came to reach its proposal Brother Ivo finds it very hard to conclude that they have advanced their ideas other than “reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God” – as a fine liturgist once put it!

Like the authors of the paper Brother Ivo deals with a wide range of baptism parents. What tends to happen is that he reads the old language , and then uses it as a teaching aid, re-interpreting it on the spot into language which  he judges the parents will best appreciate. He sometimes finds himself talking in not dissimilar terms to the revised text. Were the revised text before him, he would almost certainly use that as the starting point and then take the conversation in the other direction.

Without wishing to be unduly frivolous about a serious subject, it will probably  make little difference to what happens in the most important relationship/ discussion – that between Baptism preparer and parent – whether they are offered fish with chips or chips with fish! They will get both whatever may be on the menu.

Of course those in the wider congregation will not get that explanation, but they may engage better with the revised language. One seriously doubts that anyone has ever said – ” We’ll now you’ve set that in an Elizabethan paradigm it all makes proper sense”!

It will rightly be said that that Elizabethan or any other past language harkens back to Paul, clearly it does; but let us not necessarily assume that Paul is the textbook case for conversion. If Paul speaks passionately of the image of the risen Christ crucified it was only because everything else in his case had failed. He had heard the teachings of Jesus and was unconvinced. He would probably have been aware of Gamaliel’s view  that if the new teaching was blessed by God it would prosper and if not it would fail. Paul had been his student – but he ignored his mentor. He had seen the faith of Stephen as he laid down his life for Christ, and was totally unmoved. Fired up by his own self righteousness he was moving in for the kill towards the Damascus Christians.

The presentation of “Christ crucified” was the “nuclear option” for Jesus when he appeared  to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, for such was the pig headed obdurance of this persecutor of the Church, that nothing less would have convinced him. In conversion terms Saul of Tarsus was probably  as close to a basket case as one could possibly get. You would not want him on your Alpha course.

Kylie and Jason of Toxteth might be somewhat less recalcitrant, and considerably more biddable at a lower level of dramatic intervention.  It could be worth a try.

The Disciples had all been baptised; none of them had been baptised into the faith of “Christ crucified”.

Interestingly whilst accepting  “Christ crucified” is a foundational component of our faith, standing  alongside “God Incarnate” and “Christ’s Atonement”,  it is clearly not always guaranteed to hold one to faith.. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel after the great commission we read that there were still disciples who doubted, which, given that the risen Christ crucified  was standing with them, might give us pause for thought that any individual concept is always crucial in securing the acceptance of faith. Interestingly the equally important and unique concepts of “God Incarnate” ” and Atonement are equally absent from both the old and the new sections under discussion. Are their absences from the Baptism Service promises symptomatic of the Church going to hell in a handcart?

Brother Ivo provokes with his title by asking what would Apple do?

The answer is surely that every responsible “brand” needs to be very clear and jealous of its core values, whilst transmitting them to their customers and establishing loyalty..  When Coca-Cola altered its formula some years back its customer feedback quickly caused it to abandon the innovation. The decision was however “evidence based”.

Surely Apple or any other responsible commercial organisation jealous of its individual identity would approach any possible change touching an expression of its core value with a well planned trial. It would see if those who have one form of service had a differentiated response to faith than those who had the alternative approach. It would ask, itself, “Do we help or hinder loyalty by this change?”

Apple knows that the best advertisement it possesses is the enthusiastic way its consumers speak of its products. This is fostered by the knowledgeable welcoming staff in their stores who know their stuff and are always ready to address questions and solve problems. They avoid geek speak. Their products are meticulously engineered to be friendly; a three year old can work them as can a silver surfer.

None of this happened by accident. Nothing is assumed or left to chance, every  identified  glitch is celebrated as one more step on the way to achieving  perfection. They know that it pays to pay attention to detail, and to listen to customer feedback. That is how they have created the near evangelical customer loyalty which is the envy of most businesses and organisations and perhaps churches.

Does that sound like the modus operandi of a Church near you?

If not, why not?

The Liverpool Synod has  identified a problem. Wouldn’t Apple take that identification seriously and examine whether a better answer might be found? If their market share were falling do you think their response would be to simply assert that their products were always good enough for aunt Ethel in 1998?

Suppose one knew for a fact that those introduced more gently to the Church through this attempt at more accessible language were more likely to come to faith and stay within a Church as a result of this approach, would one not celebrate and adopt it?

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel the great commission is put in an interesting twofold form.

We are to baptise and teach. There is no element of “teach, examine, and only then baptise”.

Many of us know that baptism is often the start of the journey for both parents and child. We broadcast our seed widely, promiscuously even, and we know that some falls on stony ground, sometimes it takes root much later in changed circumstances. We can never predict.

Apple would not be content with rejection by subjective appraisal. They would test the ideas but identify set the parameters of success in advance, If this experiment of different liturgical language proceeds, it surely make sense to do so with a smaller but better resourced pilot, one that is followed up with a proper study of those within it so that we can understand if it improves understanding and subsequent engagement or not. We should also be looking at comparable congregations using the present unreformed version.

There ought to be a University Religious Studies faculty interested in researching the consequences of such initiatives, and able to construct suitable terms of reference for the study.

In an entirely different concept Brother Ivo was once counseled – ”If you can’t reach, you can’t teach” and this is a useful contribution to this debate.

We need to know how best to reach, and to use the modern jargon ,we need to rediscover how to build the kind of customer loyalty that put the Church into its pre-eminent position in brand recognition.

We might be making too easy an assumption that if only we speak the same language as those whom we hope to reach, we s will improve our chances of engagement. That is as yet unproven, either way but it is a feasible proposition nevertheless: if the Liverpool Synod have considered the idea, prayed about it, revised their thoughts and offer them in good fellowship for trialling then we ought not to lightly discount their experiences in a mission area where many opponents never go.

Of course we shall always want to talk of the deeper truths and teach the dramatic nature of the Gospel message of Christ crucified, but the entry level of our language probably is  important to that initial engagement and “working with the grain”.

What would Apple do?

Brother Ivo’s guess is :-

1 Test the proposition

2 Find the Facts

3 Only then, draw conclusions

Isn’t that the sensible way forward?

 

Welcome to the Tumbrel!

25WELCOME TO THE TUMBREL!

Brother Ivo first joined the world of the blog when he was invited to contribute to the cyber-pulpit of Archbishop Cranmer, where he has written on an eclectic range of topical issues for the past year.

He will alway be grateful to His Grace for his patience, generosity, and encouragement. It is however time to relieve him of the obligations of editorial responsibility and to extend the opportunities of the virtual consumer by offering another outlet for independent thought.

Brother Ivo has learnt much from the new media and is indebted to many of its leading exponents for their stimulating and original ideas. The best are not always the best known, but that is part of the attraction. Whilst thinking about those whom he reads regularly, it became apparent that this ought to be the subject for this first post.

Archbishop Cranmer is the High Tory Constitutionalist. One will always go to him for a well grounded perspective on issues of the day, and a carefully constructed analysis of matters relating to Parliament, the Church of England, the values of Monarchy and a full appreciation of the subtlety of the British Constitutional settlement.

Brother Ivo is indebted to Douglas Carswell for his original ideas about the possibilities of the new social media for improvements to our democracy. His book “The End of Politics and the birth of I-Democracy” celebrates the fact that the news agenda is no longer controlled by a coterie of News Editors in the mainstream press. He offers a framework to encourage our thinking  about how we can use our technological liberties for the good of our neighbours and the protection of our freedoms. Whilst a party politician, he is not only a party politician and that is why Brother Ivo finds him interesting.

Thomas Sowell is a remarkable black American academic and commentator. His career has great similarity to that of President Obama except he did it first,and is an unashamed conservative who asks sharp questions like “What exactly is your fair share of that which someone else worked hard to create?” He is the voice of responsibility and merit based equality but is not well known in the United Kingdom. If you are unfamiliar with him you are in for an intellectual treat – and challenge.

Guido Fawkes is the naughty boy, the joker in the pack; and yet every oyster needs the introduction of grit before a pearl is produced. Pearls of wisdom require a similar stimulus. Guido is not always wise, but he is always stimulating. The complacent, the hypocritical, the opportunist and the manufactured politician cannot sleep easy in their beds whilst Guido and his motley crew are around and so, like the vultures who keep the plains of Africa sanitised, we ought to recognise a place in the ecology of the internet for that which is necessary, even when it sometimes presents an image of grossness.

Ann Coulter is a feisty and aggressive columnist who will set the blood racing with either exhilaration or apoplexy. She enjoys applying Saul Alinsky’s approach of ridiculing opponents to ridicule Saul Alinsky followers – and they really don’t like it very much!  She is an acquired taste, more chilli than vanilla, but for anyone raised on the humour of the BBC’s “News Quiz” and “Now Show” she will prove an interesting and challenging culture shock.

On the other side of the Cyber Universe one finds the more amiable blogs of Nick Baines, Gillan Scott’s “God and Politics” and  Digitalnun D Catherine Wybourne.

Bishop Nick offers the human face of God’s bureaucrats, but more importantly he does not shy from theological complexity or the frailty of all humanity. He constantly reminds us of the Church’s international perspectives. He is generally sound when he strays into matters related to music, he is less so on the subject of football.

“God and Politics” is a go-to site for Anglicans and can be relied upon to examine current affairs from a balanced thorough and broad religious viewpoint. One of Brother Ivo’s great influences was a priest who taught that the Church of England is like a three strand rope, Catholic, Liberal and Evangelical, and that it would be weakened by the loss of any one of those components. The “God and Politics blog” exemplifies that approach as it sifts through the news and controversies of the day.

Digitalnun D. Catherine Wybourne presents  Brother Ivo’s with one of his much loved paradoxes.

She is, at one level, removed from the world and its priorities, whilst on another level, totally engaged both intellectually and practically, for it is as an IT provider that she has done much to help Brother Ivo begin his venture. Many thanks are offered for her professional advice – which is recommended!

No greater thanks are due to her, however, than for a constant internet presence reminding us that our daily concerns, outrages, anxieties and opinions are set within a greater whole, and that we are called to be better than our excitable topical comments usually reveal.

There are many others whom he might have referenced, but as Brother Ivo distilled the essence of those to whose to whose qualities he might wish to aspire, he thought a minimalist approach best in an opening post.

This is no Oscar speech; no Oscar has been won.

These bloggers, whom Brother Ivo consults on a daily basis, meet the criteria for anyone searching the internet looking for an interesting read and a refreshing perspective. They are all original, and above all counter cultural.

Nobody writes their talking points for them, they follow no strict party line. They are frequently unpredictable and thus intellectually stimulating, and what more can one ask?.

Their collective presence might make for a lively dinner party, but that is not why Brother Ivo seeks to join them, bringing his own life experiences and reflections to the party.

What moves him to emulation is a desire to help his readers make sense of what is going on in the world and above all to think outside of the commonplace cultural box.

That is the quality which seems to unite all those whose work in this genre he admires.

Seeking a unifying test by which to define those with whom he currently associates through this medium, it eventually came to him in a modest “eureka moment”.

We would all, almost certainly, have been guillotined during the French Revolution!

If you might be willing to risk similar disfavour in our modern world of over confident “rational” secularism, then you might consider adding Brother Ivo to your regular reading list.

If you do – ‘Welcome to the tumbrel”.