Friday, May 27, 2011

How to destroy the Church of England (with NZ postscript)

Behold, though dead yet he speaketh, the late Colin Slee, recently Dean of Southwark, is having one last slash of the knife tearing the fabric of the Church of England. Andrew Brown writing in the Guardian reports on a memo written by Colin Slee outlining some of the communications, including some shouting, which attended various appointments and non-appointments of C of E bishops. An unexpected (not) chorus of denouncing of the ABC and ABY is faithfully linked at The Lead.

It is easy to get wound up over the appalling behaviour narrated by Colin Slee. Harder, of course, to refrain from judgment until the respective archbishops have given their version of events. But let us suppose that the archbishops were 'men behaving badly,' might it be worth asking why they would be so wound up as to vent anger in conversations, formal and informal, about appointing people who would excite controversy, if not division in the church? Indeed, might the unwelcome prospect of controversy, worse, of division, be unsettling for leaders whose role is to hold the church together, not to preside over its destruction? Slee seems to have no appreciation of the consequences of the archbishops benignly presiding over an appointment process which (they obviously felt) would lead to Armageddon and not the Garden of Eden.

If I were an English clergyperson I would be pleased to know that I belonged to a church whose archbishops cared so much for its unity. Whether I were also disappointed or pleased that I belonged to a church that blocked the appointment of gay men to the episcopacy, I think I would be pleased about the commitment to unity.

Clearly the Church of England has a lot of talking to do about how (and if) it can find a way forward so that (1) conservatives are happy, (2) liberals are happy, (3) the archbishops are not placed under so much strain. Whether the Slee memo will inspire that conversation to new levels of honesty and appreciation of the changes that need to take place for the 21st century diversity of the C of E to move forward harmoniously remains to be seen. Likely the memo will simply fire up new levels of anger all around the church.


The Slee memo is interesting Down Under because of this paragraph:

"In churches with an electoral system (which I do not advocate), not only are the candidates sent all the papers of themselves and of the other candidate and their references (as I was for two dioceses in New Zealand), but the entire electoral synod receives the papers. That obviates unnecessary confidentiality."

This is intriguing. It is well-known in our church that Colin Slee was a candidate in two elections. In one case the names of candidates were never officially published to the wider world, and thus should have been confidential to the process of that election. However shortly after the election a report in the Times (as I recall) named Slee as a candidate who did not succeed and named the successful candidate. In the other case, the Diocese of Auckland, they chose to publish the names on their diocesan website and Colin Slee's name was there for all the world to see. None of this is intriguing. Here is what is: Slee's claim that the candidates are sent the papers and references of the other candidates. Now, for all I know, that may have happened in the Auckland election as a courtesy acted on by the diocesan office. But as far as I know, in the other election papers were not officially distributed to the other candidates, which raises the interesting question of how those confidential papers came to be sent to Colin Slee. It is not as though he had a vote in the election himself ... :)


Father Ron Smith said...

"Whether I were also disappointed or pleased that I belonged to a church that blocked the appointment of gay men to the episcopacy, I think I would be pleased about the commitment to unity." - Peter Carrell -

'Unity before Justice' could well be your catch-cry, then Peter! I don't have such a subjective attitude towards unity myself. Certainly this is a well-known R.C. characteristic, where unity is seen as only possible through the See of Peter. That is the sort of unity I think you are talking about here.

And as for your dismissive remarks about Colin Slee - whom I happened to know personally - I think you are being a little disingenuous. There can be little doubt that his appointment in the N.Z. Church was probably inhibited by the vocal evangelical anti-gay fraternity - which is not surprising really. No doubt you would have been upset by Colin's preferment to Christchurch.

The appalling behaviour of the two C.of E. Archbishops at the Southwark Meeting has been noted by other authorities involved, but only Colin was brave enough to release a memo about it. But I can understand your point of view on this issue - it matches up with what I would have expected.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
The only way a person can be 'inhibited' from becoming a bishop in our church is if the house of bishops or the General Synod determined not to confirm the nomination made by a diocesan electoral college.

Colin Slee simply did not succeed to obtain enough votes to become the nomination of each electoral college which considered his candidacy. I do not think the situation can be described in terms of this or that group inhibiting his preferment. In contrast to the English system ...!

Kurt said...

Well said, Fr. Ron!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY