Monday, 28 May 2012

Keep going on

I'm not usually a great fan of this kind of thing - but there are some good quotes on this and I don't think it tips too far into shmaltz and sentiment. So, for anyone needing encouragement...

WATCH to consult on Clause 5

The WATCH has issued a statement regarding the Clause 5 amendments made by the House of Bishops. It says that it is consulting on the matter but expresses concerns about, "the problems with process; the unforeseen legal effects; the institution of a permanent state of ‘reception’ for women; the consequences of qualifying ‘maleness’ and including taint on the face of the Measure. " It has also issued a "For and against" paper to help people understand the range of views and reactions to the amendments and is consulting its members further.
Jean Mayland has written a  letter to Times (exerpt only) outlining the concerns that these amendments enshrine in law a theology of taint. If parishes can (effectively) choose bishops that not only hold their theological convictions but also who have never been ordained by a woman bishop, or ordained by a man ordained by a woman bishop (multiply ad infinitum), this will create the concept of a "pure blood" priesthood untainted by contact with woman. The consequences of this are potentially divisive for the whole church and also would be difficult to manage. Priests and bishops might require a pedigree certificate confirming that there is no "taint" anywhere down the line!
The Rev’d Rachel Weir, Chair of WATCH said:
“We have not found anyone who thinks the Clause 5 amendment is helpful in substance. The Church Times poll currently shows 68% people consider it will not improve the chances of the legislation passing in July. This is a very serious situation and we need to consult more widely before deciding our response.”

Friday, 25 May 2012

Everyday counsel and comfort

I came home today and blogged on the women bishops legislation.  Given that it is Pentecost this weekend, I really wanted to blog on the much more refreshing subject of the Holy Spirit. Following the reading last Sunday, I've been thinking that one of the reassuring things about the disciples is that they were a well meaning but pretty clueless bunch really. Jesus always seemed to be explaining things to them, telling them to listen if they had ears. They weren't always the sharpest knives in the drawer. How on earth were they going to cope - practically, emotionally, spiritually, theologically- when he went away?
Seeing as this rather sorry group had been picked to spread the good news and to undertake a huge practical and spiritual endeavour that would require them to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves, it was a good job reinforcements were on their way! It's a good job for us because we are equally useless, clueless, and tied to the way of the world. I've been thinking about the role of the Holy Spirit in particular as counsellor - guiding us when we are perplexed, and as comforter - encouraging us when we might otherwise give up. The Holy Spirit is often seen as a bit of a crash-bang-wallop power house, this is a legitimate aspect, but can make us overlook the gentleness of the Spirit which guides us and keeps us atuned to God's wisdom and world view.
Anyhow, these two songs really spoke to me about the role of the Spirit. I particularly like the idea of an Everyday God,  of the spirit as an everyday, very ordinary and practical source of counsel and comfort.

Clarity or confusion?

The Archbishops have today issued an explanatory statement concerning the amendments to Clause 5 and Clause 8 of the Women Bishops legislation made earlier this week. They say that the amendments are not intended to alter the principles behind the legislation and these amendments have indeed been declared to not to substantially alter the legislation - and so conveniently not to require approval by dioceses - by the "group of six." These amendments, the Archishops claim, are more in the nature of clarifications than actual changes. There are two areas they wish to clarify, the first concerning the nature of delegation and the second concerning what  a parish may be able to require in the bishop to whom functions are being delegated. (Are you all following this...wake up at the back!)
 Firstly the Archbishops explain delegation:
"Delegation describes the giving of that authority. It does not take anything away from the diocesan bishop who delegates; it just allows another bishop to minister legally in the diocesan’s area of oversight."
So far, so good. Then they go on to the thornier issue of whether parishes can "choose" their episcopal oversight. The answer is that the Code of Practice will have to lay down guidance on what a diocesan would have to do to ensure that they get a bishop who can work constructively with such a parish but this does not give the right for a parish to "choose" that bishop.
 "It does not give parishes the right to ‘choose their own bishop’ or insist that their bishop has a particular set of beliefs. It allows them to ask for episcopal ministry, as spelled out in Clause 2 of the Measure, only on the grounds of theological conviction about women’s ordained ministry."
 I am sure I wasn't the only one who got a sense when reading the Forward in Faith statement, that the amendments would be pushed as far down the road to as possible towards that ability to "choose" a bishop.

"Forward in Faith welcomes the amendments to the draft legislation on women bishops passed by the House of Bishops on Monday.

The first amendment secures the provision of bishops for traditional catholics and conservative evangelicals who are not simply male, but who share the theological convictions of those to whom they will minister. For traditional catholics, that means bishops ordained into the historic episcopate as we understand it. The draft Measure now recognises that our position is one of legitimate theological conviction for which the Church of England must provide. This principle will be enshrined in law."(My emphasis)

FIF also picked up eagerly on the wording in the amendments about from whence a bishop's authority is derived. They write:
"The second amendment helpfully clarifies that the charism of episcopal ministry derives from the fact of a bishop's ordination, and is NOT by delegation from another bishop." (My emphasis)

So, can parishes choose or can they not? If they can't actively choose a candidate, will they be able to reject the ones they don't like until they get the one they do? And how is that different from choosing? Is the intention to give parishes choice by the back door? If it is and it is considered right and proper, why not just say so? And what of delegation? Will delegation just be delegation, or will some claim episcopal ministry (and authority) derives from ordination and delegation doesn't matter?
Is it just me- or are matters still a little confused?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Not at any cost

WATCH stall at York Synod last year
"There will be interventions" I wrote yesterday on the subject of the legislation being considered by the House of Bishops tomorrow and Tuesday, and this morning we woke up to the news that a petition has been organised  by a group called Proper Provision  which has the signatures of over 2,000 women who wish to see greater concessions to the opponents to women bishops in the draft measure which will go before Synod in July. My words yesterday were not actually that prophetic as I was stating what was pretty much a foregone conclusion. The names are drawn largely from the evangelical churches which have large numbers - both male and female - who believe in the idea of male headship.
However, WATCH has already stated its position and I hope and believe it will hold its ground. The provisions already seen within the draft measure are substantial concessions. To have women bishops on a wholly unequal basis to male bishops in the church is not just, but leaving that aside, it is not practicable and will create a legacy of division and the potential to undermine authority and callings which will damage the church  both in the immediate and long term. I was inspired at Synod in July to hear Bishop Victoria Matthews speak so intelligently and reassuringly about how she has worked productively in Christchurch with many who are deeply opposed to women's ministry - and that is without even so much as a Code of Practice.
I hope that Synod has the courage to continue on its course and implement legislation which has been discussed, debated and finally approved by 42 out of 44 dioceses. If it does not, I hope there will be the courage to say no. We want women bishops, that does not mean we want them at any cost.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

WATCH letter to House of Bishops

The House of Bishop is meeting this coming week and Rachel Weir has sent the following  letter on behalf of WATCH urging them to resist making any amendment to  the current draft Measure concerning women in the episcopate  which goes before Synod in July. The letter is worth reading.  Given the strength of the support for the measure in its current form - it was supported by 42 out of 44 diocese - I find it somewhat depressing that there is such a real fear that there will be further tinkerings, dilutions and last minute amendments.
However, there will be attempts to intervene, and this article looking at the developments in Southwark dioceses gives some indication of the lengths to which a small but influential group is prepared to go in their opposition to women's ministry, as well as to LGBT rights - if these can even be properly said to exist in the church- and general "liberalism", whatever that is.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Do dogs have souls? (Part nineteen)

One of the things I love about Bess is her relentless pursuit of the fundamental questions of doggie life - such as, "Is there a rabbit?" We took this picture yesterday on a walk through the lovely woods around Alderley Edge - a place that is close to doggie heaven. I am not sure this photo is evidence that Bessie has a soul, more evidence that she is getting rather broad in the beam (I was a bit worried that she might get stuck down the rabbit hole) but I think it's a cute picture and that you'd like to see it anyway.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Tallis -If ye love me

Tomorrow's gospel reading from John 15 is moving in the power and simplicity of its message - to remain in Christ's love and to obey his commandment to love one another. It is another of those deceptively simple things which we are instructed to do. Love is not something we easily achieve when we are to caught up with our own concerns and issues. The passage before stresses the need to abide in Christ,  to keep looking to him and to constantly draw from the vine if we are  are to bear fruit which will last. This beautiful piece above is well worth listening to as you think about this reading, although it is worth noting the words come from John 14 but are on the same theme : If ye love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father,and he shall give you another comforter, that he may bide with you for ever, ev’n the spirit of truth.
This music  gives me a sense of the sheer peace and joy of simply abiding when on our own we might be inclined to struggle and become absorbed with our own  thought processes, conflicts and concerns.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Sobering lessons from North Carolina

A few years ago, my attention was attracted by a commenter on another blog. She was from North Carolina and she was talking about the homophobia that exists there. Her brother, who I think was in his forties, had recently come out to her as gay. She was actually very gay affirming/ accepting but said her brother couldn't tell anyone, let alone other christians, for fear of the reaction. Someone commented that surely he could tell his pastor; her response was that she thought the pastor would "punch him in the face" and might tell others in the church and then the family "wouldn't be safe" (she meant physically unsafe.) To my shame, I thought at the time that this might be an over-reaction on her part. Now I think it was more likely a healthy realism. You only have to listen to the appalling violence advocated by Pastor Sean Harris in this clip - it is horrible, but also a sobering lesson in the abuse that can be endorsed in the name of the christian faith - to be convinced of that.
Today North Carolina voted to enshrine the ban on gay marriage, or any legal recognition of gay partnerships in its constitution. On the same day, in a potentially risky move, Barack Obama has said that he supports gay marriage  while in Britain the subject has been carefully dropped from the Queen's speech, some say because of Cameron's poor showing in the polls. North Carolina has been commended  by NOM (the National Organisation for Marriage)  for its stance, but  irrespective of our views, everyone should ask themselves  if it is cause for congratulation given the often hateful and violent attitudes to other human beings that at least partly underlie it?
What of this country? I know that some christians are strongly opposed to the idea of gay marriage. Not all of these people are "homophobic" - but some of them are.  Sean Harris has claimed his comments were a joke ( but violence is not "funny" and at whose "expense" is such a "joke" made anyhow?) He has now said he will be "more careful what he says in the future." People in this country, where we are rather more secular and liberal have often learnt to be careful in what they say - this does not mean that some people do not harbour hatred, revulsion, fear and animosity in their hearts. Homophobia can sit under a respectable veneer.I can't help feeling that, if much of an individual's thinking about their faith revolves around issues such as  deafeating gay marriage, then something has gone badly wrong.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The morality of money

I've blogged before about the issue of money, and how our behaviour regarding money is in some ways a much more pressing christian and biblical issue than many of the other things we waste our time squabbling about. Wealth and greed got a pretty bad press in the gospels and Jesus himself seemed to live a pretty hand to mouth life and advised us all to have no care for the morrow - which one might retort is fine for someone who can turn water into wine and feed five thousand out of a few loaves and fishes :) Speaking of living hand to mouth, I was rather intrigued by the post Living without money from the Life and Faith blog. A quick google soon revealed that we have our own British versions of Daniel Suelo (see below), there are a surprising amount of people who live without money. I suppose most of them are called "homeless", "tramps" or "down and outs" or "travellers" and attract pity or contempt in varying degrees. I wonder is it just when it is a presented as a radical statement that  the whole thing takes on a different perspective and we become rather reverential?

I am offering the experiences or experiment recounted above as interesting. I think they speak to our deepest fears about our basic survival and how our needs might be met. I am not sure that otherwise it says anything that worthwhile, nor that it is particularly laudable. It would not be realistic for most of us to opt out of society this way and, in any case, I cannot see that scavenging from supermarket skips is living independently from society (although I do deplore our stupid wasteful culture of must have, throwaway and best before dates.)
Most of us are living with less security in terms of jobs and finances than we have ever faced before. There is anxiety about how best to create economic recovery and anger about austerity measures as evidenced by the trouncing of the Coalition in the local elections (unless the anger is all about gay marriage as Anglican Mainstream seem to believe...) I am not sure that Labour should be celebrating their gains across the country because it doesn't seem that they have done that much to offer any viable alternatives and only one in three actually voted. Apathy, fear and anger , no real choice and no convincing solutions- it is a potentially disastrous combination.
I have been speaking all week to people who are worried, fearful and angry about their circumstances and the future. There has been some hopelessness as well. I wonder what message the Jesus who lived hand to mouth brings to our present political, social and economic climate? Well, I don't think that we are suppose to live in a caravan and forage from skips, but we are perhaps to remember to trust in God and to have other things at the centre of our lives than our personal security, hard as that may be. The most important message though is for those who do still have - a message not to hang on to every scrap but rather to give generously to others. The early church did this, we are told in Acts that:
         "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."
If none of us had money as a central concern in our lives and if we were all prepared to share with each other, money and lack of it would not be a problem.