Sunday, October 31, 2010

The point about synods

Our one day synod session for the Diocese of Christchurch is now over. It was the usual synodical mix of moments of high interest, medium interest, and low interest, punctuated by cherished moments of fellowship and food. One point of celebration was learning that the appeal for funds for Haiti earthquake recovery, aimed at $100,000 has raised $120,000!

Looking over the day I think of a conversation about the heavily structured character of the Anglican church as an institution in which the argument put to me was that we are badly structured for mission. That may be so; such conversations are ongoing in the life of any church with more than one congregation, let alone one with dioceses plural, and those dioceses having multiple parishes. But in my reflection on the day I juxtapose a contribution made by a member from one of the badly effected parishes following the earthquake. He praised the diocese for its excellent insurance cover for buildings, and cited business colleagues who were amazed at how good this insurance is. When that is compared with another speaker noting a non-Anglican church in the city which has discovered it has no copy of the original construction plans of its badly damaged building (and thus the reconstruction begins with an engineer configuring plans from scratch), the point is made that structures which enhance things such as insurance schemes and archival records enable mission in the long-term rather than impede it.

Since Synod is, among other functions, the AGM of a Diocese in which financial accounts are accounted for, budget plans approved, and decisions made which underpin the maintenance of archives and administration, despite appearances that it is a time consuming talkfest which (depending on the character of resolutions passed) may appear to achieve nothing, it is a vital cog in the gearing of a diocese for engaging with the mission of God.

In the end a church without structure is likely to end up an unaccountable dictatorship which for a time will forward the mission of God remade in the likeness of the dictator. Embracing structure, with all its costs in time and money for meetings, is likely to end in a true forwarding of God's mission over the long-term, a mission which is remade in the likeness of God's people as a body, and not of any one invdividual.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Just about off to our annual Synod which started with a service on Friday 3rd September, got hijacked on Saturday 4th September (by the earthquake), and is now released from captivity to resume business today (providing, according to episcopal guidance, no 5.5 or higher shake occurs before 8.30 am).

Several items catch the eye on a morning perambulation around the Anglican globe.

Preludium offers excellent levels of disclosure and revelation of the inner workings of TEC. In this post Mark Harris, with permission, offers a view on TEC finances by Del Glover, a member of the Executive Council, and chair of its Finances for Mission committee. It is a fascinating read.

While observing TEC (because it is a fascinating Anglican church in its own right; and if the Communion is going down in some way connected with TEC's progress through history, why not know what is going on rather than sleep in ignorance and awake in schism), head over to Titus One Nine which posts a 'dagger in the heart' resume of a concerted effort to kill the episcopal candidacy of Dan Martins, bishop-elect for Springfield. Is the dagger drawn because of canon law not being followed in the election? (No. As it was in New Hampshire in 2003 is not as it is in Springfield 2010). Is it because Martins lives in some manner at variance with Christian tradition? (No). Is it because he believes something at variance with creedal faith? (No). Is it because he believes that a diocese may leave a church? (Yes). And this belief is noted in tradition and canon law, to say nothing of Scripture itself, and thus constitutes a weighty canonical objection to his confirmation? Wait, no, there is no such note and so no such objection has weight ... except in this particular context it probably will have weight! The key question such objectors should be asking is not about belief but about intention: is he going to take Springfield out of TEC? Methinks he is neither stupid nor crazy! 

Finally, we can rely on ++Rowan to lead the C of E and the Communion into extraordinary places. Damian Thompson, having sneaked behind the Times paywall, alerts the world to the fact that George Pitcher, notable Anglican priest and journalist, is now working for Lambeth Palace as Secretary of Public Affairs AND writing in the Times that the BBC gave the Pope an easy ride during his recent visit to England and Scotland. Is George writing for himself as an individual pundit, or for Dear Leader? Extraordinary!

Friday, October 29, 2010

That would be a good thing wouldn't it?

Rapidly earning a gold medal for consistency, Thinking Anglicans once again brings us an anti-Covenant post. This time it is news of two groups in England combining as one in opposition to the Covenant. What I quite like about their announcement is the wonderful clarity and simplicity they bring to the explanation of their opposition:

"Each of the 38 Provinces in the Anglican Communion is being asked to sign it. By signing, it undertakes not to introduce any new development if another Anglican province anywhere in the world opposes it – unless granted prior permission from a new international body, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion."

Their actual case, to be advertised in the Church Times and Church of England Newspaper, is larger and longer and can be accessed here.

But let's focus here on the above two sentences, the first of which is unobjectionable. I leave it to others to say whether or not the second sentence is entirely accurate about the way the Covenant works (as currently circulated in its latest and supposedly final form). Suppose for now this is what will happen. It would be a good thing, would it not, to find that a proposal for a 'new development' needed not so much universal approval as no specific disapproval from one or more members of the Communion. That would mean that we would develop as a Communion in ways which fostered unity rather than division. There is quite a bit to like about that possibility.

Further, the process of development would have some benefit from a committee of the Communion contributing to the approval process. One stroppy member vetoing a proposal could be over-ridden by the Standing Committee (if I understand things correctly).

All in all, we may be grateful to the latest opponents of the Covenant for highlighting what will be brilliant about it. Cheers!

Assessing the future of Anglicanism

Some Anglicans are interested in the financial affairs of churches not their own. So recently we heard more news about the difficulties the Diocese of Sydney is facing through a loss of income of redundancy making proportions (though its assets remain substantial, $200m or so). Then in the last few days is the emerging story of the financial difficulties of TEC in respect of its corporate life, where it is looking to extend a $46m line of credit to a $60m mortgage. Naysayers do need to remember that this national difficulty is not in itself a guide to the financial health of individual dioceses (though it has been exacerbated by lower than expected diocesan contributions), and the difficulty is all about choice (sell some buildings and land and, puff, the debt goes away), Prognostications of demise are overwrought: TEC's annual budget is still an amazing-to-most-Anglican-churches mid $30 millions.

Also from faraway is the possibility of evaluating the situations and making calls from 'see I told you so' to 'if I were in charge I would never have made such and such a decision.' It is far from clear why anyone in Sydney or New York should pay any heed to such thoughts.

But what may be appropriate - in appropriate diplomatic language rather than in the language of schadenfreude - is to raise a 'Communion' point which goes like this. In different ways Sydney and TEC (arguably) have something in common: both have a vision for what Anglicanism is, and therefore what current Anglicanism should become. Sydney has a particular evangelical vision which is not shared by all evangelical Anglicans because it emphasises some aspects of Reformed theology to a point where the character of its Anglican life looks more like a Puritan character, familiar to historians of the late 16th and 17th centuries which the Church of England chose not to take. Let's call this 'Reformed Anglicanism' for now.

TEC has a particular progressive vision which is shared by many progressives around the Communion, though (in my limited knowledge) its application to the point of making decisions knowing that division will ensue as night follows day is not shared by all progressive admirers. Let's call this 'Progressive Anglicanism' for now.

In both cases I suggest that Anglicans outside of Sydney and outside of TEC hear a message, no doubt often implicit, that the future of the Communion either will be or should be Reformed or Progressive.  Some proponents of these views are more than capable of pointing out (say) that non-Reformed Anglicanism is collapsing, or that it is just a matter of time before we are all Progressive Anglicans because that is where history is inexorably taking us.

So for Anglicans looking at these 'laboratories' of ideal, if not also of future Anglicanism, it is appropriate to look at the whole package of life in the laboratory. How are congregations faring? Is the money following the vision? Are claims that theology X makes a difference to life supported by evidence?

The fact that all is not absolutely brilliant in Sydney or in TEC is fine - other Anglicans live less than absolutely brilliant lives. What is not so fine is the sense that we are being told how to be Anglican from these less than absolutely brilliant places.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

As we come to All Saints Day

we might consider that saints are God's holy people, not those who are invested with "St." before their name on the basis of dubious claims of miracles. Graham Kings makes a very good point at the start of an excellent reflection on John Henry Newman,

"If Thomas Aquinas was granted sainthood on account of his writings, why could not this method have been followed with Cardinal Newman? It seems to me that it would have been much more dignified than trying to dredge up a miracle or two. It is the writings which are miraculous in depth, wisdom and literary sparkle, even if some are mercurial and misguided."

Indeed, why not? If someone is worthy of being St. Someone then it is on the grounds of their extraordinary contribution to the saints on earth as one of the saints. Newman has as good a case as anyone on account of his writings, example (in some eyes), and, perhaps most of all, his theological influence (e.g. said to be writ large over Vatican 2).

Anyway do not worry about my thoughts, Graham Kings' thoughts are worth a read, right to the very end when he comes to an unexpected conclusion!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I am relieved

to find that some of the worst fears of supporters of the Diocese of South Carolina may be misplaced. In this report from the Executive Council of TEC's recent meeting is this gem:

"authorized a letter to be sent to the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, which had asked the council and the House of Bishops to investigate a series of actions which it said "are accelerating the process of alienation and disassociation" of the diocese from the Episcopal Church. The letter says that the council and the presiding bishop are "committed to doing what we can to help the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continue to participate fully in the life, work and mission of the Episcopal Church," but notes that "there are canonical limits to how her office and the Executive Council can intervene." Jennings told the council that those limits prevent the investigation that the forum requested. Council member Jim Simons, Diocese of Pittsburgh, offered any help he could by drawing upon his 25-year friendship with South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence. Jefferts Schori encouraged Simons to make informal, personal contact with Lawrence, saying "the more bridges we can build, the better." "

But do read the whole article as it makes for very interesting reading, not least a staggering amount (at least to little ol' me) of debt which TEC is carrying:

"By way of a related resolution proposed by FFM, the council approved borrowing of up to $60 million to refinance $46.1 million in debt that comes due at the end of this year. The $37 million renovation loan makes up the bulk of that amount. In addition, close to $10 million was spent on property in Austin, Texas, as a potential site for relocating the Archives of the Episcopal Church. The resolution said that the borrowing authority is also meant "to provide continuing working capital and liquidity."

The resolution requires that any refinancing agreements include a mandatory repayment schedule for the $37 million at a fixed interest rate. FFM chair Del Glover told his committee earlier in the meeting that because of past budget decisions, only about $500,000 of the principal has been paid off.

"To the extent that we are not paying debt, we are borrowing money to do the ministry of the church," he said.

The resolution calls for mortgaging the Episcopal Church Center in Manhattan and securing the rest of the borrowing with unrestricted endowment assets. The current debt is in the form of a line of credit."

The article conveys a clear sense of 'heated' difficulty in respect of this (and other 'suicide by governance') matters. But one thing the article says nothing about is the costs of litigation. Are they part of the debt?

PS Comment all over the web is starting to emerge re these news reports re the 'heated' parts of the meeting. Naturally one can expect a certain amount of glee from certain websites. So why not head to The Lead at Episcopal Cafe where there is no glee but there is some pretty serious critical reflection going down from one of the TEC-friendliest sites. Personally I am waiting to see what Mark Harris at Preludium might have to say (he is a member of the Executive Council). His one post so far is about an appeal for Haiti. The one comment on that post so far urges him to reflectively post on the meeting!

The It Spirit

"She told the council that "the Holy Spirit dwells among us, it dwells and presides in the councils of the church. What a council seeks to understand by its debates and votes is not the mind of the majority of its church members. We seek to understand the mind of the Holy Spirit." "

A theological question: can an 'it' or impersonal being have a 'mind'?

(I am not giving a link to the citation, though it is easy enough to find, because the issue here, for me, is not who said this or the ecclesial context in which it was said, but simply the question whether the delicate issue of how we address or refer to the Holy Spirit is assisted by avoiding both 'he' and 'she').

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Death and division can be infectious

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes truth is mysterious. Coming onto the internet are reports on the 'opening remarks' of ++Jefferts Schori to the most recent meeting of TEC's Executive Council. Like it or lump it, TEC and what it thinks, does and says is germane to the life of the Communion. It is the flashpoint church for many of our current consternations about the fate of the Communion. So when its Presiding Bishop speaks, it is worth taking note of what she says. In this latest speech, as reported by Episcopal Life Online I see honest appraisal of the overall situation of TEC:

"Jefferts Schori warned that "the trajectory of churchwide funding is downward" and that the trend is shared with all mainline denominations.

Some of the leaders of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and their equivalents in Canada have been discussing how they might share both churchwide mission and administration functions, she reported."

At this point nothing is stranger than fiction and nothing is mysterious: facts and figures about TEC life are published regularly, and critics of TEC have been observing decline for years.

But the Presiding Bishop, precisely from the vantage point of presidency, also says these things about the life of TEC and the character of its internal governance as it is worked out:

" "However, I think we're in some danger of committing suicide by governance by focusing internally rather than externally," she said. "Dying organisms pay most attention to survival. Our Haiti initiative is a positive counter-force to that. It's an example of what's possible when we turn outward rather than inward." "


"Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori said, there is what she called "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude" in the council that is the result of "confusion about roles."
"Sometimes committees try to do the work of staff," she said. "Council sometimes forgets that its job is about policy-making and accountability, and we live with the challenge of having 40 people challenged to make decisions together. There's a reason why Jesus called 12 disciples, it's a manageable group for conversation."

Jefferts Schori also described "an adversarial attitude between bishops and deputies," saying that bishops' vocation is "their ability to do big-picture work, care for the whole flock" and to invite others into the big-picture, long-term conversation. Deputies, she said, are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses.

"That does present tension," the presiding bishop said. "Our job here is to hold that tension and not resolve it to one end of the spectrum or the other." "

Truth is stranger than fiction here because the Presiding Bishop appears to fulfil her many critics' wildest allegations that she is presiding over a dying institution. But there is also mystery in what she says. Why use the term "suicide"? That is a very strong word in the context of recognition of decline. Is the governing role of the Executive Council really driving TEC to its death? (I am inclined not to think so, by the way). And the 'adversarial attitude' between bishops and deputies means what? Snarling at 12 paces in a duel at dawn? Surely not! But the greatest mystery is how any governance can occur when "tension" is something which is not resolved!

These are simply observations on my part. For criticism from within TEC itself, head to Episcopal Cafe's fisking and comments.

Here's the thing, from Down Under: why should the Communion be rent asunder in the near future (e.g. January 2011 when the Primates Meeting is due to occur) through division over the place of a dying and divided TEC in its midst? Would it be unreasonable to ask TEC to suspend its involvement in the Communion while it works out whether the course it is on as a church is towards life or death? Are we being infected as a Communion by the dis-ease of TEC which comes to expression in the Presiding Bishop's remarks?

If TEC's course turns out to be towards life (as some commenters here assert) then that should be obvious in, say, five years time, and its decision to reinvolve itself in the Communion could be celebrated. This would be in time for the next Lambeth Conference.

But if it is towards death (whether "suicide by governance" or otherwise), then I think - many Anglicans would think - the Communion deserves better than to be dragged down by a dying and divided church.

PS: ENS carries this report on further reductions in TEC's budget. What this report does not tell us is that in a time of stringency, the budget for litigation remains unabated. See Anglican Curmudgeon's analysis of the situation. Another ENS report, conveying the Executive Council's own report of its proceedings gets an A+ for sanguinity re finances,

"We then heard a report from the Joint Standing Committee for Finances for Mission (FFM) about issues related to the budget. Committee Chair Del Glover explained that FFM's work is to make sure we have the resources to do mission, and that the more clarity we have on mission, the better decisions we can make. Council adopted the budget."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Realignment, Anglican-style has its own way of being diverse

To speak of realignment in the Anglican Communion can mean Anglicans lining up this way and not that way (e.g. leaving TEC for ACNA), or an emergent new Anglican 'baby' from the rubble of a disintegrating Communion (cf. posts below re recent ++Orombi pronouncement). But it can also mean Anglicans realigning with something else, most likely Rome, but can we rule out Constantinople or Geneva?

Here is a parish aligning with Rome tout simple, that is, ignoring the Ordinariate invitation, as reported by Stand Firm:

"Mount Calvary voted on two resolutions today at a special meeting following 10:00 Mass:

1) That Mt. Calvary Church separate itself from The Episcopal Church, and

2) That Mt. Calvary Church seek admission to the Roman Catholic Church as an Anglican Use parish.

Both resolutions passed by majorities of almost 85%.

The ballots were counted by two disinterested outsiders: Dr. Daniel Page (a friend of many parishioners who lives nearby) and Sister Mary Joan of the All Saints' Sisters of the Poor.

The ballots were counted in the presence of the Rev. Scott Slater, Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Maryland."

Is this the beginning of the avalanche, or even trickle, or simply a one-off happening?

Perhaps one observation of relevance here is that there is not much news of parishes of other denominations choosing to come over to the Anglican Communion en bloc!

Round Up for Labour Day

It's the least reflected upon public holiday in NZ today. Oh, there is the odd piece in the media about the significance of this day in the history of improvements to society, but nothing like what we get for ANZAC Day or Christmas or Easter. Even Queen's Birthday weekend will be addressed with a list of honours for the great and good of our society.

But a holiday is pleasant, especially in the spring, so no one thinks this one is past its 'use by date'!

A cursory glance around the net offers somethings which catch my eye:

PJ O'Rourke on the forthcoming US elections will not at all amuse any Democratic leaning readers here, but he writes like the wind. Oh that some writers on politics had his flair to write sentences like these which sum up his argument, "This is not an election on November 2. This is a restraining order."

John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar posts a sermon which neatly reminds us that the Reformation was not a mistake but a necessary correction in the history of theology.

The 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible is coming up next year. An excellent opportunity for unadulterated fanzine writing, what with no one particularly organised into societies and promotional groups to remind us of the significance of (say) the Geneva Bible. Susan Elkin helpfully reminds us that the KJB was a point in evolution of contribution of biblical English to English life, not a 'creatio ex nihilo' to which we pay unrestrained cultural homage.

Thinking Anglicans, as always, can be relied upon to draw our attention to negative, critical, antagonistic writing about the Anglican Covenant. May I remind readers that the Anglican Covenant is a bit like the Reformation: it is possible to understand it as a mistake that should never (have) happen(ed), but there was and is a reason for each, and in both cases it flows from the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and recognition that there is only one gospel not two gospels.

If only a PJ O'Rourke was writing ++Rowan's speeches, we might have a better groundswell of support for the Covenant. It is not stick to beat people with, it is a restraining order on unchecked diversity being blessed by the name 'Anglican.'

PS Noticed later, thanks to Anglican Taonga:

Gile Fraser on Multiculturalism and Liberalism ... I wonder if Howard Pilgrim (a commenter here) will note Fraser's belief that liberalism emerged from the English Civil War, not 1000 years ago (as was recently argued here :) ).

A fairly deep reflection on 'global Christianity' at The Immanent Frame. Here is a teasing taster or tasty teaser:

"Drawing on Paul’s abrupt conversion, and on what they understand as his commitment to making Christianity a universal religion, these philosophers have put Christian categories back at the center of debates over how to think about society and its potential transformation. Although their relationships to the truth claims of Christianity are varied, they have made it possible for philosophers and other kinds of critical thinkers, not just to think about religion, but also, in important respects, to think with it, or at least with some of its conceptual, and sometimes its narrative, resources."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

We are not an ecclesial community :)

Interesting post from Damian Thompson, cited below, in which he quotes a statement on the site of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. It's not quite the same as a statement from B16, but it is the next best thing ... surely?!

"Answer: yes, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. A priest has just drawn my attention to the following explanation from their website:
'Like any family, the Church has several branches. Each is different (Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican to name but a few) but all share a common source: Jesus Christ.'
Actually, this view is explicitly rejected by the Roman Catholic Church – but Eccleston Square has a more relaxed attitude to these matters, it appears. My curiosity is aroused, however. If RCs, Methodists and Anglicans are “but a few” of the branches of the Church, what are the others? Methodists are in, so clearly you don’t need bishops. That would also make room for Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and the United Reformed Church. Quakers? They don’t explicitly accept the divinity of Christ – but on the other hand they don’t explicitly reject it, either, so we’ll stretch a point. The Salvation Army? Although they believe Jesus is God, they don’t have a sacrament of baptism, which is tricky, but… OK, we’ll let them in. Unitarians? Christadelphians? Um, there seem to be some Trinitarian problems, so we’ll get back to you on that. And then there are these funny people called “Anglo-Catholics” who want to leave the Anglican branch and hop over to the Roman branch to form an “Ordinariate”, whatever that is. Sorry, no branch-swapping. We have to draw the line somewhere."

Ta, Damian!


This 'stuff' going on ... new societies in the C of E (on which, see Cranmer's droll take) ... ++Orombi's 'well underway realignment ... South Carolina's recent decisions ... the beatification of Newman ... other matters: it all has something to do with 'change'.

Is change possible in the church? What kind of change? How much change? Who or what decides change may or should take place?

Am thinking a bit about these things. Also about the pace of change. They say even glass changes over time because it is a liquid. Glaciers move a little faster. Meandering streams faster still, and mountain torrents fastest of all! Is Communion anxieties about change about change per se, or about the pace of change?

Some of this thinking set in motion by reading a Tablet column the other day by Clifford Longley on some remarks of Arhcbishop Vincent Nicholls re homosexuality. The Archbishop, in the subtlest of remarks, indicated that he felt, in time, the Romans could change on this matter! If they can, we can. If we do so, what is the timeline which keeps us all together? If we divide because of change, will it be because of 'the issue', or the pace at which some are driving the change?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Can ++Rowan deliver a multi-tiered Communion?

Yesterday I said that the end of the Communion is nigh. Today I read this thinking of ++Rowan:

"I don't at all like, or want to encourage, the idea of a multi-tier organisation. But that would, in my mind, be preferable to complete chaos and fragmentation. It's about agreeing what we could do together." (as reported in the Daily Telegraph)

Reading the whole article ++Rowan is rattled by the Pope's Ordinariate offer (and trying to get some control on the process of secession) and and by prospects of "deeper divisions" in the Communion. In the citation he very clearly understands that "complete chaos and fragmentation" is a possibility for the future of the Communion.

Based on the citation he seems to have whittled down scenarios in which the Communion survives in something like its current form (i.e. much is wrong in our midst, but no one has officially left the building) to this: 'a multi-tier organisation.'

This is not a new conception. It has been part of the Covenant discussion that the Communion post-Covenant signing would be a Communion of Covenanters and of non-Covenanters. More recently it has been a feature of Communion "committee" life with changes of status ("member" to "consultant") for some people who belong to provinces breaking certain requests/recommendations stemming from the Windsor Report.

What may be interesting about ++Rowan's sentence here is that he speaks of 'multi-tier' rather than 'two-tier'. It was an interview not a pronouncement so we could read more in this than was intended, but it could be a sign of desperation in the face of 'complete chaos and fragmentation' that a multi-tier Communion is envisaged.

But the simple question, in the face of ++Orombi's strong hint of a new Anglican 'baby' being born, is this: can ++Rowan deliver a multi-tier Communion or are we well past the realistic chances of such an entity existing?

I think we are heading for a single tier remnant Communion.

Paradoxically, it could be that the new Anglican 'baby' (I am picking its name will have 'Global' and 'Anglican' in it, maybe 'Global Anglican Church'?) will be multi-tiered because (the more I think about it) I am sure it will find a way for individual dioceses such as Sydney and South Carolina to belong. But they could scarcely have the full voting power of a member province so, likely, would have an 'associate member' status.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The end is nigh, the Communion as we know it is over

I know lots of people diss David Virtue. But everything he writes cannot be wrong. In this report he sums up a message of ++Henry Orombi given at the Lausanne Conference in Capetown:

"Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi told several hundred Lausanne Congress participants at a special meeting on issues facing Anglicans that the Anglican Communion is torn at the deepest level with no hope of ever being repaired. A realignment is now well under way and will conclude with the birth of a new [Anglican] baby. It will be difficult, but all in good time."

A lot rings true about this. It fits with non-attendance of bishops at Lambeth, with GAFCON 2008, and with the recent CAPA meeting's communications.

It is not rocket science to suggest that this new 'baby' will consist of most of the Global South provinces (if not all of them) and ACNA. Nor is it rocket science to suggest that this new baby will be able to be joined by dioceses (and thus will include Sydney, whether or not the whole Australian province joins). It will, in short, be a rather large baby, with a membership by province and by individual Anglicans which is a majority of the current Communion.

The remainder or remnant Communion will not only be a minority of the current Communion, it will be mostly white, mostly aging, and mostly diminishing in numbers. It won't be poor, however, thank you America. So it will not meet any less nor make any less noise nor give up trying to be what it will no longer be, the dominant voice for global Anglicanism.

Incidentally, the new Anglican baby will have some teething troubles. In the same report Virtue notes this:

"Bishop Davies who stood in for Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas Okoh said there had been a manifest failure of the Communion's instruments to exercise discipline. "The Archbishop of Canterbury failed to have that steel in his body to exercise that discipline." Davies said that being Anglican meant being Biblical and that GAFCON was the only authentic witness to the Anglican Communion."

That is Bishop Glenn Davies of diaconal presidency Diocese of Sydney speaking. He speaks with absolute accuracy: there has been a manfest failure of discipline and no more glaring example exists than the failure concerning those parts of the Communion where diaconal presidency is permitted!!

In this new baby I do not expect any better discipline to be enacted than is currently the case. There will be inconsistencies in respect of ministry, theology, and ethics. But do not write this new baby off. That would be a silly mistake.

Who is the man?

According to this report on Thinking Anglicans, conservative catholics (not otherwise leaving the C of E for Rome) and conservative evangelicals in the C of E have assessed the new members of their GS re proposed legislation on women bishops. In a joint press release the statistical assessment is that 35.46% of laity will vote it down (only 34% is needed), and (thus far) 32.10% of clergy will vote it down. I assume a blockage from one house will be sufficient (?), but if the laity reality did not correspond to statistical prediction, then 1.8% further clergy votes are needed. Just one more clergyperson. Except all would agree, surely, that the extra clergyperson will not be female, so JUST one more man required.

Who will this man be?

I am sure Ruth Gledhill is investigatively searching for him even as you read this :).

There could be another thought here. A crisis of conscience could strike the putative lay and/or clergy voters. "Should this legislation fail on the basis that it fell short of a two-thirds majority by a whisker? Let me not be that whisker! I will vote in favour."

Have our press releasers thought of that, I wonder!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An ironic consequence of yesterday's quake

Not particularly oriented to the affairs of global Anglicanism today ... yesterday we had a 5.0 shake, felt by many as vigorous as the first great 7.1 shake on 4th September, but not lasting as long. Prior to yesterday's shake our daughter was looking forward, as many Canterbury teenagers were, to a day off school today. The projected day off being courtesy of a rolling series of strikes by secondary school teachers throughout our nation.

But wisdom prevailed immediately after the shake. "Too much disruption for students," the teachers union leaders decided. Canterbury teachers will work today instead of striking. And many hopes of a morning in bed and the afternoon at the mall were shattered :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A very small note on confessional unity

Reading through 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (the Pastoral Letters), one can hardly fail to be struck by the recurring emphasis on sound teaching, warnings against false and deceiving teachers, and one might notice that some forms of confession of faith seemed to be incorporated into the writing (e.g. 1 T 3:5-6; 2 T 2:11-13; and, just maybe, Titus 3:4-7). This is 'striking' because other Pauline letters have less overt emphasis on these things.

That raises the question about the 'occasion(s)' of the Pastorals. What kind of discussions, debates and dialogues (if not diatribes) were taking place in the churches being addressed through Timothy and Titus which occasioned this 'confessional' emphasis? What level of divisiveness had occurred, or had looked like being imminent, which provoked the need to talk about sound teaching and to warn about false teaching?

Two things can be deduced by considering the Pastorals against the background of the whole New Testament. (1) Concern for confessional unity (knowing and agreeing on the truth as basis for fellowship) is not always present. (2) Sometimes concern for confessional unity is very urgent.

In the Anglican Communion today some seemed unconcerned about confessional unity (indeed a few argue vigorously against any notion of confessional unity within Anglicanism) while others are urgently concerned about it. Is our situation an occasion for concern about confessional unity or not?

If it is such an occasion then it matters little that confessional unity may not have been a feature of the Anglican landscape in the past. The past is not always helpful in guiding us about present situations. We who live in Christchurch know all about that: the absence of locally generated earthquakes prior to 4th September led us to believe we would not be troubled by such an earthquake. But the past deluded us and we were rudely awoken to a new reality!

It is scarcely credible that the Anglican Communion in this first decade of the 21st century is not facing a new reality compared to the preceding centuries. The question before us is whether we are responding appropriately to the occasion or not. The fact that we can entertain the possibility of formally admitting we are no longer united in one Communion, that, indeed, we might even accept that unity is no longer worth working for, suggests that we are in such a situation that we cannot, and should not rule out reconsideration of the importance of confessional unity for our future fellowship in Christ.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Pope's strategy for Christian unity versus ours

In a post or two below I follow some aspects, slighty bizarre, of the present course of the Pope's offer for Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic church via a kind of adjunct entity being known as the Anglican Ordinariate (though strictly it is a 'Personal Ordinariate'). Beyond any 'smoke and mirrors' aspects of the Ordinariate, the following seems to be an accurate description of the Ordinariate: it offers no concession to the normal terms for Anglicans becoming Roman Catholics (sign up to RC doctrine, leave your 'Anglican orders' at the door, some may, once through the door, be accepted for ordination) but it does offer some space for a few aspects of being Anglican to be maintained, along with the quirk that former Anglican bishops can dress up as bishops while not being bishops of their new church ... you see, we quickly get back to 'smoke and mirrors'!)

The Ordinariate expresses a strategy for global Christian unity. (Other parts of that strategy include ongoing conversations with the Eastern Orthodox). At this stage the Ordinariate part of the strategy doesn't look much. It is absorbing the Traditional Anglican Communion (which seems eccentric in certain ways, and is not part of the Anglican Communion), and now looks like receiving a congregation or two in the northern hemisphere, along with a bishop or two from England (and at least one of those looks like the kind of shoot-from-the-hip-while-shoving-his-foot-in-his-mouth opinionator that will cause a little media embarrassment!). But it could be a door through which more go. Within a few months the Anglican Communion may be finally declared broken and unfixable, and within a year the Church of England may be much messier than it currently is, for by then it will have more clearly decided the terms by which opponents of women bishops must abide. Can we tell now what the full attractiveness of the Ordinariate looks like when the situation really turns to custard?

By contrast, if we Anglicans ask the question, 'What is our strategy for global Christian unity?', the answer looks very thin. As I understand that strategy, it is for representatives of the Anglican Communion to engage in dialogue with the great churches, federations, and communions of the world and to work on agreements - where possible - between them and us (e.g. the Roman Catholic church, the Lutheran churches, the Eastern Orthodox churches). But our own Communion is now so divided that it is becoming meaningless to say that we have 'representatives'. Representatives of what view of what it means to be Anglican? And it is even less meaningful to suggest that we understand how global Christian unity might work, since we seem to have no understanding of what Anglican global unity might mean. Unless we think this works: "This is what being Anglican means, you can like it or lump it, and if you lump it you can leave us."


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Out in the midday sun?

The news comes thick and fast out of the Church of England as ways round or simply to run away from the ordination of women as bishops is sought.

+Broadhurst (mentioned in a post below) seems a bit bitter about 'fascist' C of E treatment of traditionalists, according to this post of Damian Thompson.

Thinking Anglicans draws attention to a fascinating conclusion to a recent post of John Richardson of The Ugley Vicar in which a hint is given of a new conservative group called the St Augustine Society, and TA discovers it is linked to the irrepressible Chris Sugden. Having lost his place on General Synod is non-inhibitory to his crusade!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

English Bishops Branching Out

News in:

+Michael Nazir Ali to be an Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of South Carolina.

+John Broadhurst to accept the Pope's offer of service in the Anglican Ordinariate.

Neither ++Jefferts Schori nor ++Williams to be entirely comfortable about this news. [This sentence is my own interpretation!!]

Later comment: in response to a comment made below, let me expand a little on these announcements. First, they may be of no great importance in the great scheme of Anglican things (and I could be wrong about ++Jefferts Schori and ++Williams comfort levels). After all, some people in the blogosphere think +Nazir Ali a bit of a joke (South Carolina too), and others see the Ordinariate as a fuss about nothing (e.g. because Anglicans leave for Rome all the time, and vice versa: nothing to see here, move right along!)

Secondly, the downplayers here could be wrong! +Nazir Ali is a bit of a catch. He is one of the half dozen or so Anglican bishops around the world who can actually garner a media hearing when he pronounces. Prognosticating on the future and fate of South Carolina in relation to some TEC machinations will do everything to elicit global Anglican sympathy for the Diocese of South Carolina and runs the danger of also fuelling global Anglican scorn for any move TEC makes against SC.

+Broadhurst is also a bit of a catch. On any reckoning he is one of the leading 'catholic' bishops in the C of E. If the report is true, and he ends up in the Ordinariate, it will not really matter what his ordained status is according to the curia: in the English media he will be Bishop John Broadhurst, formerly of the C of E, now of the AO (Anglican Ordinariate). His newfound status (in media perception) - part renegade, part outlaw, part new hybrid species - will be good for many interviews. As the C of E gets further embroiled in its difficulties over women bishops and blessing of same sex relationships, he will be in the ideal position to feed the media machine with this sort of cheerful but attractive sounding nonsense ... "Well, it's all very difficult for the C of E because it has not got X, Y and Z sorted out; but over here, on the other side of the Tiber, the grass is green, the sun is shining, and all is well."

The potential for ++Rowan to lose sleep is over the possibility that +Broadhurst going might be an opening of floodgates many critics of the Anglican Ordinariate have said will remain shut. What if they are wrong, and wily old Benedict is correct?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Can we be a bigger something rather than lots of small somethings?

I appreciate very much that some correspondents here are committed to a pure Anglican Communion of churches. By 'pure' I mean being faithful to a particular vision, so the inclusive TEC which ++Jefferts Schori has recently been promoting could be as pure an Anglican church as, say, the AAC of Bishop David Anderson (recently cited here). Their commitment is so great that sometimes they comment to the effect that if the price of this purity is that some current members of the Anglican Communion cease active, meaningful membership then 'so be it,' or, alternatively, if those committed to a certain purity of church life must leave the AC, then 'so be it.'

On certain days, as I survey the Communion via the blogosphere, it seems much more likely than on other days that sometime soon - it could be as early as February 2011 - there will be a final confirmation that the Communion is irretrievably broken into several entities. Whether this brokenness is the Communion minus TEC but not including ACNA with the Anglican churches in Britain and Ireland in an uproar, or the Communion minus a block loosely matching Global South, with Australia and the Church of England (at least) in an uproar, or even a Communion without both TEC and Global South, and churches such as my own deeply confused, matters little. The general historical claim that the Church of England enlarged into a global communion is worthy of entering into dialogue with Rome and the Eastern Orthodox churches as a sister church, a solid branch in the great ecclesial trunk, will be in tatters.

Oh, yes, some Anglicans will be very happy with this situation. 'The Anglican Communion is not a church' crowd will be happy. As will be the 'Anglicanism stands for inclusivism' group, and the adherents of 'True Anglicanism means being faithful to, indeed furthering the unique vision for a reformed church of the English Reformers.' Yes, quite a few Anglicans will be comfortable with a Communion in disarray, so long as their vision for purity has been fostered, forwarded, and unfettered from the millstones and dragnets holding it back.

But there are some Anglicans - it might just be me and a couple of others!! - who are not at all happy with what (today at least) looks highly likely: a broken down Communion consigned to the wrecker's yard, never to emerge again! So, again, I ask, what would it take for us to stay together?

On my analysis here it might mean that we resolve to give up our small ambitions about fostering our vision of pure Anglicanism. That we seek, instead, to ask what does an episcopal church look like which incorporates global diversity without being constrained by a papal-topped hierarchy, which seeks to be faithful to Scripture and its teachings, consistent with the orthodox tradition of the early centuries and resistant to the accretions of those centuries which led to the Reformation, and which seeks to be liturgically true to its orthodox faith, respecting both the great ancient liturgical tradition of the undivided church and the particular English tradition expressed in the BCP (1662). Then, of course, we would have to be resolved to find a way forward from this common commitment which holds us together rather than drives us apart into insignificant fragments. That way forward is costly.

Might it be worth paying?

If we will not have a pope to direct us in that way, could we have a grand church council instead?

Consistent Communion?

Some Anglicans concerned about change in status of some TEC members of Communion committees, from 'member' to 'consultant' have wondered when the multiple consequences of non-adherence to Windsor might take effect. Specifically, when will members from parts of the Communion intervening in other parts also have their status changed? Wonder no longer, as ACNS reports,

"'At that time I wrote to the Primate of the Southern Cone, whose interventions in other provinces are referred to in the Windsor Continuation Group Report asking him for clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces. I have not received a response.

'Consequently, I have written to the person from the Province of the Southern Cone who is a member of the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Unity Faith and Order (IASCUFO), Bishop Tito Zavala, withdrawing his membership and inviting him to serve as a Consultant to that body.

'These decisions are not taken easily or lightly, but relate to the gracious restraint requested by successive meetings of the Instruments of Communion and the implications for Communion bodies when these requests are not honoured.' "

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Often when a financial crisis strikes the church it is deep breathe time: suck it up, absorb the pain, and wait for the better day to come. Last year's earnings went south, this year's are going north. But not so with the Diocese of Sydney. It must be a great shock to its Synod to find that last year's austerity measures are not enough. SMH reports,

"The Anglican Church in Sydney is in diabolical trouble. Already battered by the global financial crisis, the diocese is planning further savage spending cuts.

The archbishop, Peter Jensen, told the annual synod on Monday: "The financial issues are grave."
One of the biggest and richest dioceses in Australia, Sydney leveraged its huge investment portfolio in the boom and sold when the market hit rock bottom. After losing more than $100 million, it was forced to halve its expenditure. "There was considerable pain," the archbishop told the annual gathering of clergy and laity in Sydney. But it wasn't enough.

"In round terms, it seems possible that the amount of money available … to support diocesan works in the next few years is going to be reduced from the $7.5 million of 2010 to something like $4 million. Our major rethink of last year was only the beginning." "

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From Lausanne to Cape Town

David Virtue has an excellent article on the forthcoming Lausanne Conference in Cape Town (to which some NZers are going, including one of our local vicars, Malcolm Falloon). Here is an excerpt which mentions some of the leading personalities at the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization in 1974:

"Schaeffer has passed away. Paul Little, IVF evangelist and author, was killed in a car crash in Canada. Muggeridge too, is gone. Billy Graham and John Stott are in the final stages of their journey home, their mission accomplished.

Their legacies will live on in their spiritual sons and daughters.

There may be no more crusades. Those days are gone, but Leighton Ford, who served the Billy Graham organization as an evangelist for thirty years and is Graham's brother-in-law, has spent his later years focusing on raising up younger leaders to spread the message of Christ worldwide.

If I make any claims to a personal legacy, it is to old Muggs. Without him, I would not be where I am today. No journalist in the 20th Century wrote like him. I live in his shadow.

Graham and Ford have trained new generations of evangelists. Stott has left an incalculable legacy in future generations of Bible preachers and teachers, theologians and seminarians who will serve the church long after he has gone. His personal ministry and his books will last for generations.

It is quietly said that if England ever recovers the gospel, it will be through the legacy of John R.W. Stott, not any Archbishop of Canterbury, certainly not the present incumbent.

Now the torch is being passed on from the Global North to the Global South. Even as Christianity fades and the light of the gospel slowly dies in the West; Africa, Asia and Latin America are coming alive with millions (many of them Anglicans) of men, women and children discovering the Good News about Jesus for themselves. Is it any wonder that a tall, handsome Ugandan Anglican Archbishop in the person of Henry Luke Orombi is chairing this major event?

Truly, it is a happy yet sad moment. I am watching my world slowly die, the forces of greed, consumerism, pansexuality and cultural submission eating away at the vitals of a once powerful church. We are in the twilight zone. The darkness is descending all too rapidly.

In the Global South, the church is coming alive, millions are being borne anew and Cape Town will be a witness to this moment. I can but stand and watch. I will probably shed a tear for a time that has gone, but rejoice in what God is doing now and how His plan is unfolding as the gospel goes to the ends of the earth."

Muggeridge was an extraordinary man, and (as I recall my father, who was at Lausanne, telling me) his appearance at the conference was a surprise and his address a highlight. He could write like the wind!

David Virtue's whole article is here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Don't vote ++KJS off the island

There is something odd about some advice a leading Anglican bishop has given the Anglican primates. Thus Bishop David Anderson of the AAC writes,

"If asked my opinion, I would strongly advise the orthodox Primates to 1) organize before the Primates' meeting, and 2) attend and remove by force of numbers the Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church (not physically, but by either voting her off the "island," or recessing to another room and not letting her in). The meeting is a place to gather and potentially to settle some of the issues that are pulling the Anglican Communion apart, and to begin to restore health to a most wonderful communion.

In the above case, if Dr. Williams did not go along with Jefferts Schori's exclusion, then I would suggest having the next-door-meeting without him. I just don't believe staying home from the field of battle helps win a war over the truth and nature of Christianity within Anglicanism. The Christian Church needs a spiritually strong and muscular Anglicanism to re-evangelize the West; are we willing to make the sacrifices in order for this to happen?" (My italics)

I understand that when people are "voted off the island" on these survivor reality TV shows, the first thing they do is give interviews to glossy magazine journals who like nothing better than banner headlines like 'Chazza glad to leave: fellow contestants "spiteful" and "cruel",' or "Sasha's secret torment on island: crabs ate her little toes." No doubt with a little more style, and to a better quality rag, why should ++Jefferts Schori not speak to the media if dumped from the Primates' Meeting? She will look saintly, and wear the afterglow of martyrdom. They will look like ... well, frankly, twits. Even sillier would be making ++Williams a fellow sufferer for the world media to feed on.

As for a 'muscular Anglicanism' to re-evangelize the West, the West has been evangelised muscularly (Moody, Sunday, Graham, Campus Crusade for Christ, etc) and here we are the most secular hemisphere in the world! Such evangelists faithfully proclaimed the gospel, and many were converted to Christ. But other forces have been at work in the Western world which have led to the need for 're-evangelization.' We need to better understand those forces - the response to which is not 'muscular Anglicanism'. Actually, it is not any kind of Anglicanism that is going to re-evangelise the West, of course. The key lies in the work of the Spirit of God, not of our muscles.

Oh, and there might be that other thing, the thing which Jesus talked about, prayed about, and said it would help people to know God. Unity. Of course unity is helped by keeping people on the island, and the primates in the same room. Talking. And it will need to be smarter than the thinking being exhibited here by +Anderson. Whatever their critics think of them, ++Jefferts Schori and ++Williams are not lacking in the little grey cells.

I can agree with +Anderson that the primates should go to the meeting.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What to do?

Back from a three day Cursillo weekend (may blog on that soon) and catching up on things Anglican and global. Two things catch my eye.

(1) Boycott brewing: one Primate has announced he is not going to the January 2011 Primates' Meeting, and others, apparently, are contemplating joining him in absentia. Like many a political situation, the possibility of boycott is worth contemplating. In this case what are the pros and cons? The pros (I suggest) include that a large enough boycott would expose the folly of ++Rowan's continuing aversion to not inviting TEC bishops to any meeting of which he is in charge of the invitation list. Say the meeting consists only of the primates of TEC, Canada, Australia, Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia, Scotland, Wales, England, Ireland, Brazil, and Southern Africa: they would have to concede that the Communion was a Communion in name only and something needs to be done, not just talked about, to rectify the situation. (Rectification, incidentally, could include determining to stop calling ourselves a 'Communion' and coming up with a more accurate descriptor!). The cons include the boycott not being large enough to cause the primates who do meet together to face the facts of global Anglican life squarely, as well as the lost opportunity for the primates disagreeing with TEC losing the opportunity to address ++Jefferts Schori face-to-face.

(2) Conciliarity contemplated: George Conger reports a voice in favour of Anglican conciliarity which I had not previously noticed. He refers to a an August 2008 paper written by Dr. Kevin Donlon, an American priest of the AMiA, and a member of the Global South Anglican Theological Formation and Education Task Force, entitled "The Challenges of Covenant and Canons for the Future of a Ius Commune Anglicanae" which argues that "the Covenant was yesterday's solution to today's problem." Given my own interest in Anglican conciliarity I am intrigued by this point in the paper:

"Anglicanism abandoned a conciliar and canonical understanding of the church when Henry Tudor ascribed all legislative responsibility to the Parliament at the Reformation. A draft of a Covenant without a canonical and conciliar structure illustrates once again that Anglican leaders seem unable to grasp the conciliar nature of the Church."

Conciliarity is not compatible with boycotting ...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

No time

Racing from one thing to another! Time to post comments received while away, no time to respond. But thank you for comments made. Normal service resumes in a day or two.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reconciliation through conciliation

Can the mess in the Communion be sorted out? Yes.

We Anglicans do not need to be divided, but avoidance of division involves a commitment to finding unity together. Threats not to come to meetings, proposals to walk away from one another, and the like do not express a commitment to unity. A basic question to Anglican pundits, bishops and primates is this: are we committed to being one in Christ?

Christ, afterall, as long ago observed, is not divided!

Further, in the face of Roman overtures such as the offer of an Anglican Ordinariate, as well as the continuing testimony to Christian unity through decision to submit to Rome, Anglicans are being challenged to put up or shut up: if we belong to the true church of God (as I believe we claim to do ... but I could be wrong!), then we should have something to say about the unity of that church. If Rome is not the key to that unity (and on that point I find progressive and conservative Anglicans united [!]), then there is another key and we should be able to say what that is.

But we do not seem to be able to say what that key to Christian unity is. Oh, we talk about 'bonds of affection', but we now have no witness about that which is credible. Out of bonds of affection has come our current mess of disaffection: Anglicans are not reconciled to one another. On the face of it we have nothing to say to other Christians about how Christians may be united together without coming together under the authority of Rome.

This situation does not have to prevail. There is another way and it is the way of conciliation, by which I mean Christians seeking the mind of Christ and to be at one in their understanding of that mind, gather in council. This was the way of the ancient church, and to this day the unity of the Eastern Orthdox churches (such as it is, I am not claiming perfect unity among them!) is based on the common accord of the doctrinal agreements worked out through ecumenical councils.

For Anglicans, conciliarity must mean a willingness to meet, followed by an actuality of meeting. Primates meeting together and bishops meeting together would be a good starting point for finding a shared resolve to become a conciliar Communion - a Communion, that is, which abides by decisions reached in council. Currently I do not understand the Communion to be a conciliar Communion because none of the meetings of the Communion constitute the whole Communion coming together for the purpose of seeking the mind of Christ. The closest meeting to such a dream is the Lambeth Conference, but we are told ad nauseam that this conference is 'advisory' not 'authoritative'!

Is there another way?

If there is not then what concrete steps are we taking in the Communion towards reconciliation?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Keeping in touch

Thinking Anglicans is worth a look ... running post excerpts and links to Colin Coward claiming culture of secrecy is preventing gay primates and bishops from being honest about who they are etc ... as well as rounding up speculation and advice about the course of the Primates' Meeting in January. The mess continues is, perhaps, the most neutral description one can give of the Communion situation!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Innies and Outies

Listening to post-earthquake conversations is fascinating because various unexpected stories are emerging. One trend I have noticed is the way in which, initially, many stories re houses and the effects of the earthquake went "New houses built on concrete pads have done badly; good ol' wooden houses built on piles have been brilliant;' but now, a month and many aftershocks later, stories are emerging of older wooden houses faring badly. It all depends, it seems, on factors beyond the actual  general construction of a house: the specific character of the land beneath, the direction of waves of energy manipulating that land and so on.

Another story emerging seems to be some differences in approach to the future prospects of church buildings. The 'innies', we Christians who habituate church buildings can both entertain thoughts of rebuilding while envisioning that this might be a time for change. We are a pilgrim people, we have not always worshipped in buildings, we can worship God anywhere: let's be free to think outside the square and, if necessary, to break free from the past. But some 'outies', people at best irregular in church and at worst of the 'never step foot inside the doors' category, are saying, 'Our local church must be restored' or 'You must rebuild (emphasis on 'you').' What is going on?

I sense that church buildings are functioning in communities as symbols which are valued by local communities. Restoration of church buildings does not mean they are about to be repopulated by such observers. It means that the symbols need to be restored for the sake of the good health of the community. The earthquake is revealing a community commitment to this symbolism which active church members may not have understood previously.

What is being symbolised? Here I am guessing. This is my guess: churches represent values in our communities such as love of neighbour, being at peace with one another, life is meaningful rather than meaningless, the importance of knowing that somewhere in our community is a place of last resort which will reach out to the unloveliest among us, and, it is comforting to know that if I ever need to meet with God, there is a place to conduct the meeting.

I am sure a similar analysis of the symbolic value to the community can be done about other kinds of buildings in our city such as our Arts Centre (damaged), our Art Gallery and Museum (not damaged, as far as I know), and other heritage buildings, both commercial and residential.

A theology of buildings obviously needs to listen to the voice of God through Scripture. But there are other voices to take note of, and they may be channels also of divine speech.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Theology before Rebuild?

The quakes in Christchurch are not yet finished so not much is being repaired as that could be premature, though as much as possible is being made safe. We are a boy's wonderland of bits of wood and metal holding up fences and walls lest they fall never to rise again.

That gives the churches a bit of time for reflection on questions of rebuilding - and not only the churches because there are plenty of other public edifices to ponder the future thereof. Of course in the pondering sit an array of insurers, assessors, engineers, architects, heritage boffins, bankers and other financiers all with their bit to say. Owners of buildings may even get to put their views in! But perhaps theologians could elbow their way into such discussions.

In my mind some interesting questions are emerging.

What is the value of a building? What is the value of one building versus another? For instance, if a limited amount of restoration money is available and only one of two heritage buildings can be saved, which one gets priority? Alternatively, if there are homeless people in a great city such as Christchurch, is it more important to house them in functional accommodation than to restore the (expensive) glories of our finest stone-and-slate buildings?

For churches there are a number of questions to add to the mix. Is our obligation in providing buildings for worship to the future or to the past? Of course, in some cases buildings from the past serve us well: many couples love the fact that we have an amazing collection of beautiful churches in Canterbury in which they can have their wedding and lots of lovely photos as well! Certainly there are a number of churches which represent the greatness of church architecture's historical development and thus offer brilliant 'sacred spaces' in which to meet with God. But there are also considerations about comfort (generally our oldest churches are our coldest churches!), about ongoing costs of keeping historic buildings in good order, and about whether churches located on excellent locations in the 19th and early 20th centuries remain in good locations as the city changes with 21st century priorities for roading, housing, and shopping.

One final thought for today: in the Bible, God's people are no strangers to building, rebuilding, and rebuilding again. Think Temple, destruction, restoration and rebuilding. But there is also an interesting history of flexibility (Tabernacle) and adaptation (Christians meeting in homes, on river banks, and in public marketplaces).