Tag Archives: Anglican

Learners

200px-learners_poster.jpg

We finally got around to watching Learners, the comedy drama featuring Jessica Hynes and David Tennant that the BBC showed a few weeks ago.

In the programme Tennant plays Chris, a Christian driving instructor, and Jessica Hynes his pupil. Jessica Hynes character falls in love with her instructor, but he has fallen for Fiona, the boss of the driving school. The scene where Tennant as the driving instructor declares his love to Fiona has probably the funniest line of the whole film (well for C of E viewers at least):

“But Chris, I can’t – I’m a Bhuddist!”

“It doesn’t matter, I’m Anglican and desperate.”

Affirming Liberalism

I’ve just spent the evening sorting out a website for a new venture being organised by Rev Richard, our Priest-in-Charge at St James’. Called Affirming Liberalism, the intention is to support people on the liberal wing of the Church of England, primarily in the Oxford Diocese, but certainly not limited to it.

The network is due to launch with a day long conference, being held at Trinity College Oxford on February 9th. The two keynote speakers will be Revd Canon Prof Keith Ward and Revd Canon Prof Martyn Percy.

The site itself is a bit bare bones, just the basic statement of the principles and a posting about the conference – hopefully as things start to come together, more content will be uploaded.

Oxford Diocese Young People – Meet the Bishop Afternoon

Ian Explaining Things

Almost eighteen months ago, when we were still helping with the running of the Youth Group, Beth and myself took three of our young people up to Church House in Oxford to participate in the consultation process to choose the new Bishop of Oxford. Although it was never a guarantee, Ian MacDonald the Diocesan Youth Officer, who arranged the original gathering had always been keen to get the young people together again to meet whoever was appointed.

John Pritchard was announced as the new Bishop somewhat later than expected in early December 2006, and eventually was inaugurated in early June. Despite a packed schedule he managed to free up an entire Sunday afternoon, between an engagement this morning, and another engagement this evening to come along and spend time talking to and listening to the young people of the Diocese. As a former Youth Chaplain in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, maybe it’s too be expected that he would have time for young people, but it’s still really great that he made the time to come and spend time with them, and certainly the two young people from St James we took along really enjoyed their afternoon.

The afternoon kicked off with a game of Call My Bluff as an ice breaker – the young people versus the Bishop and one of the leaders. The words alternated between theological words and youth words – although interestingly the Bishop got a goodly number of the youth words, and the young people got most of the theological words too.

After that we got onto the questions. The young people split into two groups and using a copy of the points that had been raised in the original consultation they asked the Bishop about a number of the points that they had been concerned about eighteen months ago. Ian was on hand to keep things on track, and to ensure that the Bishop didn’t fudge any of the answers – however he didn’t have very much to do. Bishop John gave really good answers to all the questions – and some of them were pretty deep and searching. Important things that came out were that the Bishop, much like anybody else struggles with his faith at times, and also his clear focus on servant leadership.

Having answered the questions from the young people, the Bishop then asked four questions of his own. Firstly he asked how they keep their faith focused, then about what it was like being a Christian at school, thirdly a question about what they felt about the Church and finally what they saw as the big issues facing the world in the next century. As before, the youth leaders were there as enablers, and not to express their own views, and again with a broad bunch, the ‘not a Liberal’ point came up again – not surprisingly from the same young person who brought it up last year. This time it had evolved somewhat into a comment about the ‘liberal-minded secularism’ in the Church of England.

I think the reason why, from my standpoint towards the liberal end of the Church, it is frustrating is that the way it has come across both times, whether intentional or not is that essentially that ‘liberal’ is somehow a dirty word – and you really want to say, not least to defend our young people in the room, “Hey, some of us are Liberal!”. First time around the underlying point this young person was talking about was press coverage, and I disagree pretty strongly with the idea that it is liberal Christians that get all the press coverage – it doesn’t take long to turn up a gem like this article from the Telegraph in July with several Bishops describing the recent floods as God’s judgement on society.

However, I think it struck a chord somewhat more this time as only yesterday I’d had a discussion with someone else about how they wanted to reclaim the word ‘liberal’ in the Church – Brian Mountford says much the same in the first line of his book Perfect Freedom (which is a good and easily readable introduction to liberal Christianity if you want one). It is also worth having a read of the official history of the Church on the Church of England website when considering this as it clearly highlights the strong liberal tradition in the Church alongside the Catholic and Evangelical traditions – certainly in the Church as a whole you are going to meet liberals, anglo-Catholics and evangelicals, and to my mind that is one of the defining characteristics of the Church, that we have such a breadth! Bishop John highlighted this at several points during the afternoon, talking about how one week he’d be at a service where he could barely see the congregation through the incense, then the next week he is in a cafe Church environment, and the next it is totally different again. The key thing being that all share a common core of belief even if we disagree on other aspects. As I said, this wasn’t a situation where I could get into a big debate, but certainly I do think that we need to make our young people aware that there is a breadth of traditions within the Church, and that as they move on, and get involved with things at a Diocesan level they are almost certainly going to encounter other Christians, even other Anglicans who do quite legitimately believe different things to them. As such it is important to respect the position the other holds, even if it differs from our own.

Certainly what is interesting though, is that when Bishop John questioned the point further, it wasn’t press coverage that was mentioned this time. It seems that the frustration with the ‘liberals’ from the young person is much the same with the frustration that many in the liberal Episcopal Church have with the conservatives, that all of the current political arguing is distracting from the major issues – ironically something in common!

Just to underline the point, in answer to the fourth question the young people listed the major issues as poverty, war and Global Warming – all external world issues. As Bishop John said in response, when you consider that tens of thousands of people are dying daily due to poverty, it does put things into perspective. Unfortunately it’s not going to stop the Lambeth Conference spending an interminable amount of time and resources discussing something else…

Anyway, I’ve diverged from the topic somewhat… All in all it was a great afternoon, and a fantastic opportunity for both young people, and new Churchwarden’s like me alike to get to know our new Bishop a lot better. We really felt that Bishop John had been both open about himself, and also open to listen to the concerns of the young people. Ian is going to write up notes from the afternoon, which are going to go to the Bishop, and hopefully will be discussed further. Having said that, it does seem that his next meeting with Ian is going to be devoted to an introduction to the Veggietales as Bishop John hadn’t come across them…

I took a load of pictures, although since the majority of them include young people, you’ll find that the public gallery is a little slim! The full set of twenty-five is as usual available through Flickr to those with the relevant access, and pictures may appear in Diocesan publications online and offline over the next few weeks.

Flame Bait or a Fair Point?

Last Saturday there was an opinion piece in the Guardian that has got a number of people talking.

The general gist of the argument is to lay the charge that falling numbers in the Church are to do with the move from a primarily Matins based service pattern to the weekly Eucharist model that the majority of Church of England churches now follow.

You only need look at the comments to see some of the reaction, and a quick look down my blog-roll finds reaction too – The Bishop of Buckingham is quite clear that it is flame bait, and quotes one of the comments saying as much. David Hodgson presents a pretty detailed rebuttal of the points made in the article, although the core point is summed up in his second paragraph:

Self raises some interesting issues, but I can’t help feeling here is another example of special pleading from a lover of the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible. The argument is familiar to all parish priests because they hear it so often from nostalgic older worshippers: the church used to be full on a Sunday, and a respected influence in the community – we used to have Matins and Evensong every Sunday, ergo, the abandonment of these servces is the cause of the decline in numbers and influence.

As you can see from the comments, I pretty broadly agree, and certainly you need look no further than our own Church in Finchampstead for evidence that David Self is wrong, since unlike most churches, St James retained the established monthly Eucharist/Matins pattern right up until the late 1990’s. At the point the service pattern started to change the numbers were low – and following the change the numbers did grow, but it wasn’t for the Matins services. Until Common Worship was brought in the pattern included a family Eucharist, a straight Rite A Eucharist (contemporary language), a traditional language Rite B Eucharist and Matins once or twice a month as a main service, and on the weeks with contemporary services sometimes placed before. The attendance figures are pretty clear – Matins was the most poorly attended.

Our current pattern still retains Matins in the pattern, but with a contemporary language Eucharist as the main service. It is worth mentioning that in terms of numbers, we do have a good attendance for Matins – we quite often have about sixty – it’s just that the Eucharist is pulling in up to 150 people for the monthly Family Eucharist, and more than 100 for the regular Eucharist when the Children are at Sunday School.

With those figures, it is quite easy to argue that Self is wrong – however if you look further into our attendance figures, maybe he is not totally wrong. Reading one particular paragraph, and then considering the changes that we at St James have made to our service pattern, maybe he does have a point.

Near the beginning, Self said this:

The neglected virtue of matins was that, although it required a half-decent choir, it demanded little emotional or theological commitment and minimal participation. Those attending merely had to sit or stand as required and mouth the words of the hymns. It was the ideal service for those who felt they should be seen “to do their duty� on Sunday mornings; a part of “being British�. But to take part in holy communion requires you to make a public profession of your faith by walking up to the altar rail to receive the sacrament.

One of the things we noticed about our numbers was that there was a quite significant difference between our attendance figures, and the numbers who went up for communion, sometimes as much as ten percent of the congregation wouldn’t be going up to the rail. This is exactly the point that Self is making, that people feel uncomfortable about the public profession of walking up to the altar rail – equally they also feel uncomfortable about being seen to be sat in the congregation.

Having said that, with a regular dose of Matins in our service pattern, these people weren’t going to those services – they may be uncomfortable with going up to the altar rail, but matins didn’t attract them either.

As a result we added another Family Service, but very much one that wasn’t a Eucharist. It was specifically targeted at those outside the Church, so the general idea was to be welcoming and inclusive. It generally targets the children so the hymns are much more in the chorus vein, and the messages and stories are often simple and easy to understand.

The new Family Service is now one of our main growth areas – to the point that we are now going to do it twice a month in an effort to try and reduce the numbers as we are regularly filling the Church.

So Self may be wrong about matins – but could he be absolutely right that we need to provide a simpler service to provide for those who are uncomfortable attending a Eucharist?

Bishop of Oxford Inauguration Video

The Diocese has posted edited highlights of the inauguration video online so people can get some idea of what went on. As a result of Oxford Diocese being one of the largest, but having one of the smallest cathedrals, there was very limited opportunity for people to attend the service, hence a video has been put together.

Unfortunately the video is not of exactly the best quality, with the sound levels way off, and some incredibly poor quality pictures at times. The main camera point is up adjacent to the organ (and to get an idea of how small the building is, the organ is over the main entrance), hence the music is loud, and other parts are barely audible. Other parts are filmed with hand held cameras, and in parts have serious colour problems too. The pictures here and here are a good deal better.

However you can get some idea of what went on though. Some random thoughts having watched it…

No sign of Ian’s processing in the video…

That’s the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, and he’s taking a part in the service too… There is a certain irony to that as a key part of the service is carried out by Rev Sheila Watson, who as Archdeacon of Canterbury represents the Archbishop of Canterbury during the enthronement, indeed the Bishops Chaplain for the new Bishop of Oxford during the service is a woman too…

Music wise the hymns are surprisingly modern – Be Still for the Presence of the Lord, I The Lord of Sea and Sky and The Servant King all featured – all of course played on the organ…

Clergy Against Laity

Last week I posted about the growing media interest in the goings on at St Mary and St Michael in Trumpington.

The Church Times this week carries a more detailed report, which gives a bit more insight into what is going on. Tom Ambrose, the vicar at the centre of the arguments is quoted as saying the following:

“In general, we pursue things without involving the PCC and live a normal parish life. People who have come to the parish recently have no inkling of what’s going on because it doesn’t affect the parish.â€?

“We operate just like a normal church, except that if I want to do something, I tell people what we’re about, we have a general meeting of ourselves, and then tell the PCC we’ve done it. Since they’ve chosen not to be involved, they get bypassed. It’s just so sad.â€?

He again complains that he has encountered opposition from “the old guard� to a number of innovations he sought to make in the interests of inclusivity.

However, looking at what he has said, he’s left himself in a difficult position, whether he likes it or not, the PCC is the legal body in the Church that represents the laity. The basis on which the minister and PCC is to work is clearly set out in the opening points of the Parochial Church Council (Powers) Measure:

(1) It shall be the duty of the [minister] and the parochial church council to consult together on matters of general concern and importance to the parish.

(2) The functions of parochial church councils shall include –

(a) co-operation with the [minister] in promoting in the parish the whole mission of the Church, pastoral, evangelistic, social and ecumenical;

I’d be interested to find out how his wife was elected Churchwarden, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he used the Churchwardens measure which gives the incumbent the ability to appoint a Churchwarden of his or her own choosing. However, ultimately even with one warden appointed, it can’t get over problems with the PCC. Both PCC and incumbent are vested with some powers, but ultimately one cannot operate without the co-operation of the other.

However, St Mary and St Michael in Trumpington is not alone in having publicised problems. The article then goes on to report on efforts of the Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish to calm problems at St Gregory the Great in Dawlish, a church well known to me as it was where my grandparents attended for many years, and in which they both sang in the choir. This story again made the national press.

The disagreements between the current priest-in-charge Rev Jerry Bird and the church focus on styles and times of worship and ministry style, and culminated in a walkout of the choir and organist before the sung Eucharist two weeks ago, and then a formal complaint. Unlike the situation in Trumpington though, things haven’t reached the point of highly expensive legal action, and it does seem that the bishop is encouraging both the incumbent and PCC to move forward.

In both cases the problems seem to centre on the incumbent wanting to grow the Church, and welcome new people by changing the main services. Giles Fraser also picks up on this theme in his column “Beware BNP Mentality in the Pews�. He highlights that all to often newcomers are “very subtly and nicely —put in a box and told to mind their place or keep their kids quiet�, and are expected to conform to the way things have always been done. He also highlights that most clergy are afraid of “the old guard� as Tom Ambrose described them, and more often than not do not have the stomach for a fight with them. Certainly if the current situations in Trumpington and Dawlish are anything to go by, you can well understand clergy who go for the status quo.

The classic problem is that in general most of the money and time committed to the church comes from long term members, newcomers quite obviously will take many years to become involved as deeply in the Church community. The long term members then feel that because they are giving the most money, and the most time, that it should be the kind of services that they like that should be most important, and that things should be run the way they want. The tension with this is that the way things are done currently, and the kind of services they like are often precisely the things that are putting off new members.

It would be fair to say that we have much the same kinds of people at St James, however as a community we’ve been through precisely these sorts of changes without ending up with the PCC and the incumbent at loggerheads. Over the last year our numbers have gone up by about 15% – primarily at the family services, but there is growth also at our traditional prayer book services too.

I think the key things that have happened at St James is that things have been a process of evolution rather than revolution. So initially the service pattern changed from entirely traditional language services to including contemporary language services once or twice a month. Over time the pattern has evolved again so we currently have a weekly contemporary language Eucharist, whilst maintaining a traditional language alternative on every week. There have been times where the incumbent at the time has wanted to move quicker, but through negotiation with the PCC has changed. A notable example of this is the second Matins during the month when our incumbent at the time wanted it reduced to one. There have also been concessions made to the requests of the traditional congregations, so for example Matins and Evensong have now reverted to using the King James bible for those services after a period when they used the same version as the contemporary services. There are frustrations of course, the big one being that the junior choir are often unwilling to attend both Matins and the Eucharist, but in general things are a lot better than the two Churches that are in the headlines.

It is also important to acknowledge that the so-called “old guard� have clearly shown that they understand that whilst they enjoy the traditional services, if the church is to grow we have to provide other services, and as part of that have shown a good deal of flexibility in having their services held at different times than what they had been used to. Indeed many will now say how proud they are of the diversity of services that we put on.

Ultimately it goes back to part of the Parochial Church Council (Powers) Measure, and the key work co-operation. If either the incumbent or the PCC tries to railroad or bully the other, you hit problems. Clergy need to realise that at times the parishioners will move a lot slower than they might like, and to understand their “BNP Mentalityâ€? as Giles Fraser puts it, but equally the laity need to realise that in order for their Church to survive, they need to change and grow. To move forward everybody needs to be part of, and support what is happening, otherwise it’s a recipe for disaster.

Is This a Good Use of £500,000?

Reading through “Of Course I Could Be Wrong…” I came across this story taken from the Cambridge Evening News about the parish of St Mary and St Michael in Trumpington who are trying to take their vicar, Rev Tom Ambrose to an Ecclesiastical Tribunal claiming that there has been a pastoral breakdown in the parish.

Unfortunately the article is rather one sided, as nobody in the parish who is backing the tribunal calls would talk to the newspaper. However Rev Ambrose and his backers don’t seem to think they have done anything radical. He was appointed to modernise and update the Church, something he had done elsewhere. From what he has described he seems to be trying to welcome in more families, so he moved the Harvest Supper to a Saturday evening from a Friday, removed four pews from the back of the Church to provide space for coffee to be served after the service, and the move that apparently provoked massive outrage – proposed to put toilets in the Church!

When you realise that the legal fees alone for the proposed tribunal would cost £150,000, with the full cost after appeals heading towards £500,000 it all seems like a stunning waste of money, and quite why the situation has been allowed to get this far I really don’t know. Certainly taking a browse around their church website the only real indication that there is anything amiss is the fact that one of the Churchwardens also resides at the Vicarage.

Really, with the volume of adverse publicity that this is generating, somebody needs to do something. There have been articles on the BBC News, in the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and a classic bit of Ruth Gledhill drama in the Times:

For more than 700 years the parishioners of Trumpington have worshipped in their church while the great crises of the Christian faith have blown about them.

The Crusades claimed the life of one lord of the manor while the building was damaged by reforming zealots during the Reformation.

Nothing in their long history however has frightened the parishioners like the arrival at St Mary and St Michael of a modernising vicar.

In eight years of disturbing radicalism, the Rev Tom Ambrose has moved the harvest festival supper back a day and removed four pews to clear a space for coffee meetings.

When he suggested adding new lavatories for the ageing congregation, the guardians of tradition snapped.

The feedback section after the article also includes a number of comments backing Rev Ambrose, and certainly with the other messages of support locally the people backing the tribunal unwilling to discuss their grievances – citing sub-judice as their reason – it is seemingly like they are proposing to waste a vast amount of money over what appears to be an argument over toilets. Worse than that the Diocese of Ely seems quite happy to back them in this, rather than calling for restraint and trying to get those involved to resolve matters locally. If there are serious accusations to be addressed, then the case should continue – but if it is only about the Harvest Supper, removing pews, and toilets, seriously there are better things to be doing…