Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Liturgy of Cathedral Rebuilding

After Saturday's news of how badly damaged our Anglican cathedral is (by the way, the Roman catholic cathedral is basically as badly damaged), the 'liturgy of cathedral rebuilding' has begun to be written on the letter pages of the Press. By 'liturgy' I mean familiar, expected things said as part of a corporate expression of feeling about important things, wheeled out as the occasion suits as though the script was set down ages ago.

Yesterday there were letters about the rebuilt cathedral being an interdenominational ecumenical cathedral.

"Let there be a cathedral for all people to use as they see fit" chants half the congregation.

Today there is a letter urging - reminiscent of something said in the gospels - that the insurance money for both cathedrals be used for the poor. Graciously the writer allows that a small 'chapel' might be built once housing has been supplied for the poor and a rest-home built for the indigent elderly.

"Let not there be a cathedral built by anyone for everyone, but bless the poor with the largesse of insurance" chants the other half in antiphonal response :).

I expect the next letters will counter-tack:

"Let the Lord be glorified by rebuilding the cathedrals, for God is great and we can both worship God and assist the needy."

And so the foreordained script for a secular, liberal, democratic society built on Anglican foundations with strong Roman Catholic presence shall unfold, according to type!

On a very serious note, let nothing be rebuilt in Christchurch and its environs for a while. This report tells us what has been whispered around, but unaccountably not made the news till now: there is a high chance for a year or two of another major quake.

PS Offline for a bit. See you soon.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Is orthodoxy as elusive as a solution to the world's economic crisis?

Last night at Antioch, a model (familiar liturgy, contemporary songs, edgy feel) youth service in a local parish, one song featured the line 'in the waves of his mercy.' Yesterday had a number of merciful waves for me. A 9am Roman Mass which was full to overflowing - to answer the inevitable question as to what a good Anglican priest was doing there: I was supporting my wife whose school class was there as part of the cycle of school liturgies through the year. I love the fact that in our secular country there are full churches.

Then a drive in the country on a sunlit day without a cloud in the sky. Once I found St. Andrew's church at Little River, a village at the end of a lake in a valley which God may have copied from the English Lake District, I had terrible temptation to resist. Due to the earthquake disrupting some piles beneath its floor, this church is unusable, so we met in a foyer-come-hall at the end of the church which has a wall of windows looking out over a graveyard and a green valley-and-hills pastoral scene of spectacular beauty. Everytime I allowed my eyes to wander to gaze upon it I had to force them back to attend to the service itself. It was a scene worthy of Constable and Wordsworth. Another wave of mercy. Then there was a hospitable lunch to follow the service - for all God's mercies we give thanks.

Incidentally an odd thing featured that morning. I spent a large amount of the driving time to Little River listening to Chris Laidlaw interviewing Christopher Ward, author of And the Band Played On, a moving story of the death of his grandfather, a violinist on the Titanic, and its consequences for his family - a truth is stranger than fiction story if ever there was one. You may imagine my surprise when the sermon began (and continued) with the Titanic as the key illustration for the message!

On return home the day was too entrancing to remain indoors and a family walk ensued, with a merciful rest-stop at my parents' place. Sometimes God's mercy is 'a severe mercy' and one wave in the day was to return home from the evening service to find that the Crusaders (local rugby) team had lost 16-17 to the Reds (playing at their home in Brisbane). Is God preparing us Kiwis for catastrophe in October's World Cup?

Meanwhile the splendour of the day changed nothing about the world economic crisis which, arguably, has Titanicesque qualities to it: there is an iceberg just ahead of us, but few see it, and even less want to do anything serious about it, least of all the officers on the bridge. In defence of the officers, they might respond by saying that the iceberg is so big it doesn't matter which way they steer. But, my mind possibly working in strange ways, I am provoked by this Catholicity and Covenant post, to wonder if Christianity is in an analogous 'world orthodoxy crisis' in which the solution is as elusive as the solution to the global recession. Apparently a sure and certain orthodoxy cannot yet be found anywhere in the West since Aidan Nichols (as important a licensed Catholic theologian as there is in the world today) has recently noted the potential of the Anglican Ordinariate to save Roman Catholicism from its Vatican II self:

'They know of course that all is not well in the Roman communion they may be entering, that in some places they may need a special environment not just to preserve an Anglican Catholic ethos but to preserve orthodoxy and orthopraxis until the crisis of postconciliar Catholicism in the West has passed - an eventuality considerably aided and abetted, it can be said, by the election of Pope Benedict XVI.'

Where is orthodoxy to be found if Rome itself is hesitant about the direction to guide us in? It is early days to be confident that heading backwards to the Latin Mass, whether in Latin or in a strict English translation, is the best way to navigate the shoals of the 21st century. Is it not a bit of a worry that Anglicans fleeing the SS Communion may be the pilots to guide the SS Rome on the right path? Is Eastern Orthodoxy the solution? Possibly. On analogy to the world economic crisis, perhaps this question is like the question of returning to the gold standard. Underpinning currency with gold has some good supporting arguments, but it has yet to persuade us that it is 'the solution.' In the case of Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicans, Romans and Protestants might at least be united in wondering about the extent to which Orthodoxy is in cultural captivities (Greek, Russian, Romanian, etc), structurally prone to conflict with leadership, and weak on theological engagement with contemporary life.

As an Anglican I can find common accord with Aidan Nichols in one respect. Orthodoxy is found among the Anglicans. It might be more helpful to world Christianity if we Anglicans could agree on what orthodoxy is and where it is found among us! Meantime we must appear to many non-Anglicans as though our greatest skills are as deck-chair rearrangers on a sinking ship. Kyrie Eleison.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The odd calculus of ARCIC III's ecumenism

Don't you love the way 'official reports' say all the expected things in a pleasant way? Have you also found that even the expected things said in a pleasant way occasionally contain unexpected gems of English phrasing or nuanced barb's of subtle politicking or stuff which, if you ever served on a committee writing a report, you have to conclude were overlooked in the tiredness of the moment when yet another draft was being looked at while eyes anxiously hovered over watches, with planes to catch and loved ones to return home to?

ARCIC III has met and reported. Here is a paragraph of expected things said in a pleasant way:

'ARCIC III has decided that it will address the two principal topics together in a single document. It has drawn up a plan for its work that views the Church above all in the light of its rootedness in Christ through the Paschal Mystery. This focus on Jesus Christ, human and divine, gives the Commission a creative way to view the relationship between the local and universal in communion. The Commission will seek to develop a theological understanding of the human person, human society, and the new life of grace in Christ. This will provide a basis from which to explore how right ethical teaching is determined at universal and local levels. ARCIC will base this study firmly in scripture, tradition and reason, and draw on the previous work of the Commission. It will analyze some particular questions to elucidate how our two Communions approach moral decision making, and how areas of tension for Anglicans and Roman Catholics might be resolved by learning from the other. ARCIC III does this conscious of the fact that what unites us is greater than what divides us.'

Reserving the right to return to the matter, for now we will pass over the irony of ARCIC trying to work on how 'right ethical teaching is determined at universal and local levels' when the Anglican partners have no idea how we can do this among our own global family. No, here I am intrigued by this sentence:

'ARCIC III does this conscious of the fact that what unites us is greater than what divides us.'

What on earth does 'what unites us is greater than what divides us' mean? Let me hazard a guess. 'Greater than' means adding up things in common (say, baptism, Scripture, creeds, deacons and priests, sacraments, lectionary, episcopacy) and calculating they are more than things that differentiate us (say, pope, non-communion, ordained women, synodical governance).

But is such a calculation correct? From a Roman perspective, our orders are invalid as is one of our two sacraments (eucharist). Further, we are never officially welcome to share in full communion at a Roman mass. What kind of calculus is appropriate to estimate the value of these differences as we work out what 'unites' us? It is possible, I suggest, that the calculation actually works differently to the pleasant sentence in this report: what unites us is less than what divides us.

We have made zero progress, let us remember, through ARCIC I and II, on the basic question of recognition of orders and of sharing full communion together. Those are quite big divisions for two churches which otherwise have the appearance of many things held in common.

It is a good thing, which I wholeheartedly endorse, that Anglicans and Romans are talking together. It is in accordance with the will of Christ that we do so. But we must speak accurately of the reality of our relationship. Calculating the question of unity and division perhaps requires something more sophisticated than addition and subtraction.

No to General Synod in Fiji?

Tell me again why our church's 2012 General Synod should be held in Fiji ... I hope our Standing Committee meeting in July 2011 considers all the reasons for and against continuing with the plan to be in the land where all is not well.

Munted Christ Church Cathedral

Imagine my lack of surprise to open up this morning's Press to the headline, Damage to cathedral worse than first feared. Bit by bit since 22nd February the little I have been told about the cathedral has been of damage to all its major parts, and, crucially, to its stone pillars. I am very glad that this news is headlined today and the concerned citizens of Canterbury and members of the Diocese and all churches can engage with the questions which are now inevitable.* Do we want to rebuild it 'as it was' (albeit with new engineering to make it safe)? What to do if we want to rebuild it as it was but the engineers tell us something important will have to be different such as the tower not being as high, or the rebuilt walls being lower? Are funds from insurance and donations going to be enough to rebuild? What would it mean to go cap in hand to ratepayers and taxpayers for assistance (more letters in the paper today about public money meaning a multi-faith governance of the building)?

Or, big question, do we build a new building, according to funds available, with an eye on the needs of God's church for mission in the 21st century? Should we build such a building, even if a rebuild is possible?

O God, our help in ages past, guide us into the new age!

*Later clarification: informally we can now all talk about the cathedral as a badly damaged building for which no simple, speedy fix is going to take place. For formal processes of discussion about the future of the cathedral - to rebuild or to build a new cathedral - I presume we would need to wait for officially received engineering report(s) and insurance assessment(s).

Friday, May 27, 2011


The names of the candidates for the election of an assistant bishop for the Diocese of Auckland are published here (i.e. officially, on the Diocese of Auckland's own website).

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 ... :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Into the breach once more: the Covenant's excellent vision of Communion

Is there any other part of the current life of the Communion which publishes essays of consistently high quality than the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI)? Derided as four guys and a laptop, the ACI actually has more brains per letter of its abbreviation than any equivalent I am aware of. (Certainly lots more than ADU has!?).

Thier latest publication, "The Covenant: What is It All About?", an essay by Philip Turner, is a superb apologetic for the whole Covenant, even Section 4, which neatly pushes hard against both groups of Covenant opponents, the progressives emphasizing member church autonomy and conservatives pushing for confessionalism. Here is the money quote in my view:

"The Anglican Communion is not simply a federation of churches joined (voluntarily) in a common task. It is a communion of belief and worship as well as mission. Conversely, the Anglican Communion is not a confessional body that can be identified by common subscription to a series of assertions. It is a body bound in the communion of Christ by mutual “recognition”–recognition by each in the other of fidelity to the witness of Holy Scripture as mediated through the traditions of the church. Recognition arises out of honest exchange between partners committed to sustaining communion and arriving at a common mind. It involves not only determination of truth but also forms of relationship and the presence of graces through which truth can be discerned. According to this view communion involves both mutual adherence to the truth of God in Christ and mutual subjection in love."

There is lots more. Essentially Turner is expounding the excellence of the Covenant's internal vision of Communion for Anglicans. Read it there, comment here!

Philip Turner nails down a key question which is a threaded theme in my own reflections on the Communion: what does it mean to be a Communion? Consequential questions then are, Do we want to be a Communion or not? Will avoidance of the Covenant make us something other than a Communion? (I note the alternative of a 'federation' mentioned above).  Turner's own church, TEC, is in the gun in his essay. But my own church could just as easily be in the gun: we are quite keen on our own autonomy, on forging our own pioneering/prophetic path. The more we do so the less Communion means to us. Rhetorically we say we belong, practically we are unwilling to submit to others. God will be the judge of our reality.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The multi-faith future of Christ Church Cathedral, not.

One Brian Turner of Avonside, writing a letter in this morning's Christchurch Press (page A18), makes a sharp but reasonable case that if the rebuilding of our Anglican cathedral involves ratepayers' contributions then the Diocese should have 'primary guardianship of the cathedral on behalf of the city' while 'being open to a board of managers that represents the increasing multi-faith and multipurpose nature of Christchurch.' The conclusion of his argument is logical: 'If the Anglican Church is to retain exclusive control and use of the Christ Church Cathedral, as Dean Peter Beck appears to suggest (May 23), then perhaps the church should forgo ratepayers' money for rebuilding the cathedral.'

One or two things are missing from this letter, such as, should their contributions assist the rebuilding, how would we know ratepayers would require a multi-faith board of managers to run the cathedral? Would (say) Muslims wish to meet in a building called 'Christ Church Cathedral'? But letting these things go for the moment, the point is fair. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

My own (somewhat limited) soundings suggest that Brian Turner represents a view in this city: let's have a centre to the new spirituality of the 21st century, not specifically tied to the old time religion of Christianity, let alone such an exclusive and narrow version of it called Anglicanism. But there is another view out there: the cathedral must be rebuilt, exactly as it was. On this view it is the building which matters more than what activities might take place within it, let alone who would manage it.

As for the Diocese, our Bishop and Dean are quite clear and agreed that the ultimate decisions for the future of the cathedral are ours to make once all views have been made known. If there is a financial cost to that resolve, in the sense that we have less funds than we might otherwise have, then we will have to make do with what we have. (There will be a goodly insurance payout, and I am sure there will be benefactors comfortable with the future cathedral being thoroughly Anglican).

An intriguing question in the future could revolve around the commitment of the city and province to the second view represented above: what if we all agree on an exact rebuild (albeit reinforced to building codes etc) and there are insufficient funds to proceed?

It is not as though there will not be alternatives ... I notice advertisements and news articles informing us of forthcoming dramatic and musical shows being put on in tents and converted warehouses ... what is liturgy but a dramatic and musical performance to the glory of God!

Any which way, I cannot see our cathedral becoming a multi-faith centre run by a board of managers. It's not just the 'multi-faith' bit of the vision which goes against the Anglican grain, it's the thought of a 'board of managers' which is difficult for the Anglican throat to swallow :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How does tradition really work for Anglicans?

Observable on this and other sites are comments critical of 'sola scriptura' Anglicans (i.e. Anglicans who decided things solely on the basis of Scripture) and affirmative of 'tradition' (i.e. a number of things are important to Anglicans because they are part of the tradition of the universal church, or part of tradition of the Church of England, or of our own local church).

But how does 'tradition' work out for us? I read comments here which (in my own words) invoke 'tradition' as a kind of general authority: it's tradition so that settles it. In a way such invocation is very similar if not exactly the same as invoking Scripture as an authority: it's Scripture so that settles it.

But some commenters invoking tradition also espouse Anglicans making changes (e.g. in respect of blessing same sex relationships). One Anglican 'move' behind such espousal can be invoking yet another authority, 'reason' as in (again, my words characterizing the situation) 'Reason now tells us that Scripture and tradition are wrong on such and such a matter.'

Somewhere in here I think Anglicans are entitled to check in as to whether or not we are confused. How do we know (or 'know') that on matter X we can say 'X is right, tradition teaches it' but on matter Y we can say 'Y is right, reason tells us so (P.S. Scripture and tradition are wrong on this one)'?

Should baptism come before communion or is that an optional sequence?

The tradition is quite clear. For example in the Didache we read,

'5. But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptised in the Lord's Name. For concerning this also did the Lord say, "Give not that which is holy to the dogs." '

(There is also a strong Scriptural case for baptism then communion, though not one simple text to cite).

Andrew Reid a commenter here has pointed us to this George Conger article which highlights a member church of the Communion seeming somewhat ambiguous re sticking to the tradition and enforcing its own canons (canons, let us remember that are enforced stringently in respect of property and related issues re dissidents).

How does tradition really work for Anglicans? When may we invoke it to settle an issue, when may we set it aside to make progress on another issue?

On a very positive note I welcome our Dean here in Christchurch, Peter Beck, standing firm on tradition: our Cathedral is the Anglicans' Cathedral and not about to become a multi-faith centre.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What would you say?

Am sitting on a Non-confirmist question from a Non-conformist about eucharistic presidency - repeated mention of 'Non-conformist' to make it clear that I am not wading into intra-Anglican debate about lay presidency.

Why do we insist that only priests and bishops may preside? Does this square with Scripture?

I am not without ideas myself about how to respond. But thoughts from you would be appreciated.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Shouldn't we be more concerned about the end of Israel than the end of the world?

Back online, catching up with the news.

I cannot believe that so much attention is being paid to an obscure American radio preacher when he announces a date for the end of the world, having failed in his one previous attempt. Why has the media run with this story?
Perhaps the devil is in it all, eager to distract God's people from another alarming feature of the news of the last week. President Obama, wowed by his success in neutering Osama bin Laden, seems to think he can create a run of further success by neutering Israel. How naive is this man? A weak Israel is a dead Israel.

Shouldn't we Christians have been more concerned in the past few days about the real news? Not the prattling of an obscure preacher but the musings of the most famous American today. One portended mass humour. The other portends massacre. Shouldn't we pay attention to the latter and not the former? (Some Christian bloggers and e-news are attentive. Thankfully).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is Anglican worship in NZ chaotic and anarchic?

Bosco Peters has a challenging post re worship in our church. I have made comments there. No need for further comment here.

This will be my last post for a few days. Partly for technical reasons (some work required on the blogging machine to speed up its functioning and undo its malfunctioning) and partly for family celebration reasons I need to take a break from computing. Till Monday ...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Adoption urgently required for orphan child. Can you help?

I think even those who disagree with me on the Covenant would agree that if the Covenant is to have any kind of traction in the life of the Communion, let alone to "work" or be "effective" it needs to be adopted by member churches.

But what we have unfolding before our eyes is the Covenant being treated like an orphan child. You know, the awkward orphan child that prospective parents feel hesitant to commit to. "How about we foster the child for a while first and see if it works out?" Conditional adoption is not adoption and that's what we are getting. Let's not adopt the Covenant some churches are saying. Instead we will "accede" or "subscribe" to it. In a way these are synonyms for 'fostering'. Although 'accede' seems close to 'adoption' there are conditions attached, so I go for this being a version of fostering: if the child behaves, we will adopt.

Well, let's be clear, pro Covenanters: we need this child adopted not fostered!

PS. Plenty of discussion about these latest moves are going on. Thinking Anglicans has the links, but I note blogs I link to having their say here, here, and here. Tobias Haller is sort of (by my lights) an adopter, so check him out here.

A lovely earthquake story you may not ever read in the papers

Peter Collier tells a story here which you may not otherwise read. It involves a group of Christians who do not always get a great press, but my own contacts with them over the years mean I am not surprised by the story of loving service which Peter tells.

++Jefferts Schori's Potent Vision for Anglican catholicity

Speaking recently Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori set out a potent vision for Anglican catholicity:

" "The leadership of Christian bodies like ours, as well as all of the partners we can discover and nurture, are needed in order to transform the future," she said. "We must build networks for that transformed future, for that image of the reign of God … That future is only possible with the catholicity of relationships beyond our current understanding. We must reach beyond the bounds that divide us for the love of God and for the love of our neighbors. We can do no less; we can do nothing more important." "

This is precisely what the Anglican Communion needs in the present situation where our diversity is such that we need to "build networks for that transformed future" on the basis that the "future is only possible with the catholicity of relationships beyond our current understanding." In respect of the differences between TEC and ACNA it is indeed true that "We must reach beyond the bounds that divide us for the love of God and for the love of our neighbours. We can do no less ..."

Even more potent is that Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori expressed this vision precisely in a geographical location in which overlapping Anglican jurisdictions already exist and are working out the Anglicn future of that location together.

Over to you, Archbishop Bob Duncan, to return service with an equally potent vision, and for a joint declaration of cessation of legal actions within the shores of the USA!

Unfortunately, the reality of the Presiding Bishop's expression of catholicity is that it was made in the context of friendly overtures to European churches rather than friendly overtures to ACNA. But one can only live and pray in hope that one day we Anglicans might be as ecumenically minded towards ourselves as towards others.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Eleven dimensions to the universe, but heaven is not one of them

Don't believe me. I am a know nothing. But Stephen Hawking, he knows a thing or two. When he says there are eleven dimensions to the universe, trust him because he has done the maths. When he says there is no heaven (a twelfth dimension?), trust him because he has done the ... oh, well, never mind. But he is bound to be right. You can read it all here.

If I were the reporter here are two questions I would have asked him.

(1) On what basis does he believe that "should" statements are valid?

(2) Where do the tiny quantum fluctuations at the beginning of the universe come from?

Mason free episcopacy?

Archbishop Rowan Williams is comfortably the most interesting man to grace the office of Archbishop of Canterbury in recent times. Recently he was uncomfortable about the killing of Osama bib Laden. Now it appears he is comfortable with appointing Freemasons to the English episcopal bench, despite some earlier decisiveness about not doing just that. The Telegraph story is here and the Thinking Anglicans round up re ++Rowan on freemasonry here. The person concerned is Fr. Jonathan Baker and the story is clear that Fr. Baker has given up being a Freemason in order to be an undistracted by controversy bishop. In other words, the story of interest here is how ++Rowan came to go against his earlier commitment re Freemasonry. (I know, I know, some will say that change of mind is characteristically Rowanism at work).

++Rowan can speak for himself if he chooses to do so. Here I note with gladness that Fr Baker has given up his involvement in Freemasonry. We need bishops who live exemplary lives, especially in regard to Christian teaching so that by both word and deed they represent the Word of God to us. There are two fundamental objections to Christians being Freemasons, and the strength of those objections is heightened when we are considering a candidate for episcopal office.

The first objection is the secrecy inherent at the core of Freemasonry. The second objection is the nature of the vows made when becoming a Freemason. The secrecy walls off an area of life which contrasts to Christians being called to live transparent lives "in the light." The vows make invocations and threats to one's future well-being which are incompatible with worshipping one God only and offering our bodies as a living sacrifice to our God. Further, some of the clearest teaching of Jesus is on the taking of oaths and that teaching is incompatible with the taking of complex oaths such as Freemasonry involves. (Any Freemason commenting here is invited to offer citations of the oaths involved in order to disprove my point ... but I have seen the oaths (thanks to an unusually transparent Freemason) and feel confident that disproof will not be forthcoming).

I am well aware that in times past many bishops were Freemasons, including in my own Kiwi Anglican church. I have never understood how otherwise sane, thinking men could be teachers of God's Word and Freemasons. As far as I know, none of the bishops currently active as licensing bishops of our church here are Freemasons. But if we wanted absolute clarity we could replace the men with women!!

Postscript: There is no intention here to impute anything malign to the existence and charitable work of Freemasonry. Others elsewhere may wish to argue about secret business deals, promotions within a profession and the like. My concern here is simply to reflect on the difficulty which bishops as chief teachers of the church have when they are also Freemasons - a difficulty which all Christian Freemasons in theory share but in practice do not seem to be troubled about.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What does our General Synod think it is doing, meeting in Fiji in 2012?

The situation in Fiji, in which a somewhat strange, mystifying dictatorship is working out a form of madness, has taken a turn for the worse. A high-ranking Fijian Army officer has had to be rescued by the Tongan Navy in what appears to be a technical breach of Fijian sovereignty. This has raised the ire of Dictator Bainimarama. But the point is that Tonga should feel no need to be rescuing any member of the Fijian military if all were well in Fiji. Stuff has the story here.

I have raised the matter before on this blog: our General Synod is due to meet in Fiji in 2012. It is not appropriate that we seek to conduct the important business of our church in a land where there are no guarantees of the safe passage of people, or of the ability of media to report fearlessly, or that the dictatorship will not interfere in the process of Synod decision-making. We should review the 2010 decision to have General Synod in Fiji in 2012 before air tickets for members are purchased.

Fiji these days is not only a dictatorship, it is an unstable dictatorship.

What do readers think? Would you like the Anglican Covenant to be discussed with the Fijian military present among the assembled Synod? Would any guarantee given now that the Fijian military would not be present be worth the paper it was written on? Should we proceed with General Synod in Fiji if entry was denied to our Tongan members? Would our General Synod be free to make a resolution which expressed its concern about the situation in Fiji?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jesus blood never failed me yet

Readers may have noticed that Blogger was in "read only" mode for about twenty-four hours. This post is now a little dated!

Back from clergy conference (at Wainui for local Cantabrians, opposite Akaroa for Kiwis, and an autumnal paradise for overseas readers with no geographical idea of where we were). We had great food, drink, and conversations informal and formal (quite a bit of time talking about the "post quake" situation we face). Bible studies on Community Resilience and Community Resurrection (drawing on Isaiah 40-55). Talks from Charles Waldegrave (Director of the Family Centre, Diocese of Wellington) and a superb "Big Picture" address by Bishop Victoria Matthews (coming soon in text and video). Excellent worship morning and evening including two lovely eucharists.

One helpful point in the prayer life of the conference was  the playing of an extraordinary piece of music in which a very brief chorus sung by a homeless man is repeated over and over with the gradual addition of musical accompaniment. The actual CD rendition is some 70 minutes but a shorter version is available on You Tube here. (Stick with listening to it when it starts, initially the man's singing is very, very soft and gradually gets louder).

Some readers here will be interested in comings and goings here in the Diocese of Christchurch. At the conference we learned that the vicar-elect for St John's Latimer Square has been announced: it will be the Reverend James de Costabadie, currently Vicar of Sydenham-Beckenham, a neighbouring parish to St John's. James faces an extraordinary challenge as his new parish is in the process of having all its buildings demolished (church, hall, vicarage, an adjacent house). Still it is a transition to move from a vicarless church to a churchless vicar!

No break from blogging would be complete without something interesting happening elsewhere. In this case it is an announcement from GAFCON of progress towards setting up two international offices and having another global conference. You could link to Thinking Anglicans for the announcement (and follow through the unsurprisingly scratchy comments about it). Or you could read what Fr Ron Smith has to say on his Christchurch-based blog here and here. I wonder if notice of GAFCON's leadership will be taken by Anglican Communion powers and authorities (such as they are; we are constantly reminded that no one has authority in or over the Communion).

Here's the thing: GAFCON's further development through establishment of two international offices and plans for another global conference is sheeted home precisely to the discernment that Communion powers and authorities have done nothing for traditional Anglicans through recent Communion meetings. If something has been done, could the claim be refuted immediately please! Otherwise we are moving further in the direction of the Communion claiming it is Anglican business as usual while watching over half its members disappear into a new organisation.

It is no good claiming that the new organization is a "faux Communion" or that it is being formed by primates who do not consult their members. On what basis do we discern the true and false Anglicanisms of the world? This, surely, is a theological discernment, not a matter of who belongs to a formal institution and who does not. Rather than throw around the term "faux" it would be helpful if we could talk about the character of genuine Anglicanism, with rigorous attention to truth - the kind of attention which avoids sloppy claims about how pluralism and inclusivism have been our hallmarks for centuries. I call the Puritan emigrants to North America as my first witnesses ... Besides it is mighty strange for the formal institution known as 'the Anglican Communion' to espouse values today of pluralism and inclusivism while operating in a manner which leads to the exclusion of more than half its members.

I suggest that fairly soon Anglican leaders are going to wake up to the realisation that the assertion and promotion of agenda re "GLBT inclusion" as currently experienced in some Western Anglican churches is a tail wagging the dog. There has to be another way for Anglicans to respect and honour all people in its midst than the current way in which GLBT inclusion means exclusion of others. The question of GLBT inclusion within global Anglicanism is the question of inclusion in global Anglicanism, not the question of inclusion in less than half of global Anglicanism. One way forward could be for us to reflect on widespread opposition to Ugandan Anglican support for a draconian "anti-gay" bill being considered by Uganda's parliament. If we can find a global ethic both to deny such a local initiative is justified by local context and to condemn such a local initiative, could we not take time to find a global approach to how the Communion can hold both its traditional and progressive wings together?

If Communion stuff does not boil your billy today, an alternative could be to read Ruth Gledhill's commentary on +Richard Chartres' sermon at the recent royal wedding.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Diocese of Christchurch Clergy Conference

We meet this week for our annual conference but this time with a unique situation to consider: going forward from the earthquake and other disasters in the region of Canterbury and Westland. Please pray for us and especially for Bishop Victoria Matthews as she leads us.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Resurrection consistencies?

In a week when we have been treated to the spectacle of otherwise sane, sensible, well-educated men and women making quite a hash of telling us exactly what went on during an event less than seven days old (as I write - I speak of the ever-chaging story from the White House about how Osama bin Laden died), it is a good time to offer a few more thoughts about the resurrection narratives.

There is no doubt that reading all the gospel narratives together with Paul's handed down account in 1 Corinthians 15, we have either sufficient data to call the whole thing a confusing if not contradictory mish-mash or a genuine puzzle to work through. I prefer the latter - just to be clear about where I am coming from here.

Quite a lot about the coherence of the narratives when taken together hangs on whether what Paul says is consistent with 'raised from the dead' implies 'the body left the tomb'. If that is so then I am not sure that Paul not mentioning appearances to women is a big deal: the gospel narratives do not mention an appearance to 500, to James, and to all the apostles (distinguished from 'the twelve').

I am increasingly moving in my thinking towards trying not to make John's account fit historically with the others. So much in John's Gospel is a rewriting, reframing, and revising of what is in the other gospels, that I am not sure if we can distinguish what in John 20 and 21 is (1) John's theological understanding of the resurrection (2) John's reworking of material from the other gospels (3) historically reliable material known to John and not known to the other gospel writers. In short, working on consistency in the gospel narratives may work best if we agree to set John's gospel aside since where John is consistent with the others that may reflect their influence and where John is inconsistent with the others that may reflect John's intention to say what he wants to say whether or not it fits with others.

One final thought for now: suppose the tomb was not empty. Why then do the gospel writers make the empty tomb a key part of their reports. If this is wishful thinking on their part, why did they think that would help their cause? In testifying to something which even they must have been able to work out could be shown up as false witness ("Oy, Mark, your ending is dodgy. See that gravestone over there. It says, 'Here lies buried Jesus of Nazareth.") what was their motive and what was their goal? Clearly they think they are witnessing to something important about the raising of Jesus from the dead. If the tomb was empty, what propelled the initial momentum to the belief that Jesus rose from the dead and what later on drove the gospel writers to provide the narratives given to us?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Osama's Weird Legacy: Uniting US Anglicans

Osama bin Laden's death has created some wonderful jokes but discretion advises me to not to repeat them here save to say that some of the best I have heard verbally I have not found yet on the internet. His death has also led, inadvertantly, to a weird legacy in the form of common cause for Anglicans and Episcopalians in the USA: going by internet comments on diverse sites, they are all united in being singularly unimpressed by ++Wright's attempt to suggest that the US acted this week as though it were cowboys in a Hollywood Western (see previous post) and not terrifically impressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury's intervention in media debate either (e.g. here and here).

[Aside: As I think further about the matter I think the mistake ++Williams and ++Wright make their criticism of the USA is that they do not allow for the fact that the USA is involved in a war. It is not a war in the WW1 and WW2 sense of 'war' with formal declarations from one country to another followed up by (or immediately following) invasion by one country of another (or of an ally). But it is a war of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century: an international network of fighters engaged in periodic action against one country in particular and as well as allied countries in a manner which is not readily categorised in terms of "freedom fighting" or "internal rebellion" or "civil war." Rules of engagement are having to be made without precedent. Osama bin Laden was not a terrorist like IRA terrorists once were within Ireland and the United Kingdom, nor was he a mere criminal. His actions did not entitle him to treatment we accord to criminals or to (at least some) terrorists (where their actions occur within the ordinary legal framework of the nation in which they seek revolution). He was a combatant in a war. So, yes, there are questions about whether he was armed at the point when shot, whether he constituted a threat to the Navy Seals and so forth. But there is no question in the minds of US leaders that he was an enemy who needed to be overcome and neutralised if the war on terror is to be won. It is not clear to me that capturing him, treating him to the usual protections afforded by the law when trying criminals etc, would assist the war on terror, since the very fact of his continuing existence, consistently communicated by a relentless media, would constitute greater inspiration to his network than news of his death.]

Meantime life goes on and a sermon awaits tomorrow on the raising from the dead of one genuine fighter for freedom, Jesus Christ our Lord. Any help with this question on John's "third" appearance narrative of Jesus and his disciples would be appreciated (21:1-14): why do the disciples after two previous recognitions of the risen Jesus now not recognise their Lord on the shores of Galilee?

It strikes me that whether we understand John's gospel to be the most historically accurate or the least historically accurate (but theologically deepest in mining the resurrection for meaning), this question is quite a deep one. It might be too difficult to answer or its answer might yield tremendous theological fruit.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Rowan at less than his best (Tom too)

"Rowan at his best" was the title of a recent post by Bosco Peters on Liturgy. Quite right, too, on the matter of spiritual wisdom shown by ++Rowan. But now we have Archbishop Rowan Williams commenting on the death of Osama bin Laden. Thinking Anglicans has the quote and a range of reports about the view expressed in the quote. Here's what he said:

"Lambeth Palace press release: Archbishop on Osama Bin Laden
…Q: Do you believe that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is justice for the 9/11 attacks and indeed other attacks? And was the US morally justified in shooting him even though he was unarmed as the White House now admits?

A: I think that the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done, in those circumstances. I think it is also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help here. I don’t know the full details anymore than anyone else does but I do believe that in such circumstance when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a ‘war criminal’ as you might say in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed. "

Why is this ++Rowan at less than his best?

(1) He is commenting on something which requires no comment from him as ABC (and, by contrast, I see that his English RC counterpart is refraining from comment).

(2) He sets himself up to be taken down by the press. His first sentence is fine as far as it goes, for example, if he were having a conversation at the water cooler. But it permits the most minor of media distortion to make it into a "++Rowan uncomfortable at Osama's death" seller of newspapers.

(3) The last sentence is just awful. If someone is manifestly a war criminal how is justice not being seen to be done if he is killed? ++Rowan is imprecise here: what he means is that he thinks "legal justice" should be seen to be done. But where is the case for the requirement that this happens? Start thinking too much along these lines and you will be arraigning soldiers all over the place for being a little hasty with the trigger in war situations. Legal justice for manifest war criminals is a "nice to have" not a "must have." Further, what is said by ++Rowan is naive about how justice would be seen to be done in this situation. Any trial would be either a celebrity trial (with all that could go wrong over the celebration of the criminal as some kind of victim and thus perpetuating the suffering of the victims of 9/11 and other atrocities) or a secret military trial (with all that could go wrong about people like ++Rowan banging on about justice being "seen" to be done). What kind of punishment would be "just" if this had continued through the normal legal processes? Where would the trial take place (the Hague, New York or Guantanamo)? There are a host of very difficult questions here about the simple desire for justice to be seen to be done.

(4) When ++Rowan has such obvious signs in many other speeches and writings of original thought, why when he commenting on political matters such as this do we get responses which more or less could have been composed by a left-leaning robot? Here is an opportunity for a creative, Romans 13 based supportive comment for the leadership shown by President Obama. It gets missed all over the shop by church leaders. How hard would it be for some church leader somewhere to actually endorse what Obama has done here? It's not as though he's a Republican or anything impossible like that!

Fortunately a commenter at TA, Edward of Baltimore expresses a great deal of wisdom on the matter:

"The U.S. justice system is based on presumed innocence and a fair trial: I don't think Osama bin Laben could have counted on either of those today. Is the world better off without him? No doubt. Is the world a safer place without him? Likely. Was "justice done"? Not so sure. Was there an alternative? Can't think of one."

UPDATE: Following up on an alert by Steve in a comment below, I have to agree with Steve that now we find +Tom Wright at less than his best. As cited in Steve's comment and (fuller) in Ruth Gledhill's blog, +Tom Wright tries to come up with a parallel hypothetical situation in which Britain sends helicopters into the USA to shoot-to-kill a couple of terrorists. I don't think so. We are talking about a situation in which there is no doubt that Osama bin Laden was guilty of a succession of horrific war crimes against humanity and against the USA. I cannot think how such a parallel would arise between Britain and the USA. Why can we not have Christian leaders simply say, "It is a good thing that this evil man is dead"?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kiwi Anglicans should think about voting for Don Brash

With apologies to overseas readers for a momentary focus on a local matter, I have been thinking that it is unlikely that Kiwi Anglicans will seriously consider voting in November's election for the Don Brash-led ACT Party (which, in political spectrum terms, is far right cum monetarist). For the best of reasons - desiring to support people by supporting the most caring (or apparently caring) political party - Anglicans here will profess to voting for just about any party except the ACT Party. At times our synod resolutions resemble policies of the Labour, Maori and Green parties, but we can be pretty certain that, just quietly, many Anglicans do vote for the National Party.

But here's the thing about our church, how does it run in financial terms? If we "follow the money" in our church, where does the money come from that pays for ministries and missional initiatives? I suggest there are three significant sources. In no particular order of ministry priority or size of resource, first, we have a fair share of the chaplaincies which are funded by government money (health, military, prisons).

Secondly, we have some significant trust funds which pay for offices of the church. The main trust available to the church as a whole is the St John's College Trust which pays some $12 million annually to fund educational via St John's College and via episcopal units. There is also the General Church Trust which pays the bulk of administration costs for our whole church, includng costs of General Synod meetings. Then episcopal units have access to endowments and trust funds. Across seventeen episcopal units there is significant variation so that some bishoprics are completely endowed and others only partially so, some dioceses can pay substantial costs of curacies and others cannot. Finally, some parishes are endowed, and a few of those are well endowed.

Thirdly, there are offertories. In my understanding the majority of stipended parish positions, lay and ordained, rely on money paid through offertories. In general terms city parishes collect most offertories in the "better suburbs" which is more or less commensurate with the suburbs in which there is high employment of residences. In some dioceses a certain amount of socialism may occur in respect of this source of funds as better off parishes may be asked to contribute via their share of the diocese's costs to the subsidization of ministry and mission in the less financially viable parishes.

In short, the economy of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia relies on the overall NZ economy functioning well. Our Trust funds yield greatest returns to the church, along with increase in capital base, where the environment for investment is healthy. Our offertories tend to grow in response to the needs and visions of the church where people are in employment. The warmth of the government's affirmation of the chaplaincies it funds also seems to vary with the health of our economy.

The most important question facing any democratic country in a general election is the question of its future economic well-being under its next government. All the desires in the world for better health systems, improvements in education, appropriate targeting of needs with welfare and so forth are whistles in the wind if the economy is malfunctioning.

Unfortunately in NZ we have often not understood this most important question. We often fool ourselves that the most important question is who is most fit to distribute our wealth, or who offers the most care to the most needy. Prior to those sorts of questions are more important questions such as how is wealth being created in our country? Allied with that is this question, what economic policy over the long term will sustain the creation of wealth in our country?

If I am right, then Anglicans (and others, of course!!) should take seriously what a Don Brash-led ACT Party has to offer our economy. I realise ACT will propose some social and political policies around principles of choice and equality which, however important they may be, tend to put people off voting for ACT. But on the matter of the economy, Don Brash is committed to our economy growing, developing, and rising in wealth but with the catch that his policies will not yield immediate gains. In fact, probably the opposite - a yield of immediate pains.

Now I can almost imagine the comments which may come in response to pressing this challenge. But I wonder if commenters tempted to protest might help us all by offering their recipe for the future prosperity of our country! After all, we Anglicans know the value of being the church which sticks around through all the ups and downs of history. If we still want to be here in 2050, what kind of economy will best serve the financial resourcing of our church through the next 40 years? Our instincts are to vote for wealth distribution, but some careful thinking might suggest we vote for wealth creation instead.

[Disclosure: I have never voted for the ACT Party, or, in his previous political life, for Don Brash].

Being a democracy we have alternatives. Anglicans might also consider voting for the Mana Party whose leader thinks that Osama bin Laden was a freedom fighter.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How not to respond to a significant political event

Barely time for even a brief post today. So, unashamedly drawing on Cranmer, I point you to this article about the death of Osama bin Laden in Ekklesia (which styles itself Britain's premier religious think tank). A few days ago I pointed out the grizzling at Ekklesia over the royal wedding. Now we have grizzling over the death of Osama with loaded language ("murdered by the United States of America"). Some readers here will be unsurprised by such language if they start at the end of the article and see that the author is a specialist in 'post-colonial studies'.

Is Ekklesia becoming Britian's premier site in taking a contrary religious view on matters of the day?

More importantly here on this site, I raise the question whether the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is well served by this kind of response to a significant political event (for that is what Osama's death is). In the premier epistle on the gospel as the fulcrum on which the history of the world turns, Paul's Epistle to the Romans, we find that its 13th chapter - as pointed out by Bryden Black commenting below - includes affirmation of the role of the state in bearing the sword. Could Christians do better than cavil at the execution of an evil leader? I think we can. I think we could honour our good leaders by affirming that they have acted properly in these kinds of instances. Obama has done good. Let's have the grace to congratulate him. In the end the gospel is a message that evil shall not triumph in the long-haul of history. In specific instances where evil is vanquished these actions are flowing with the grain of salvation history.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I rejoice when justice is done, don't you?

It is a matter of great joy that Osama bin Laden is dead. There is no reason for a man so callous and persistent in disregard of the sanctity of human life to remain alive; to say nothing of being so unrepentant of his crimes against humanity as to spend years in hiding from those seeking to bring him to justice.

But not all Anglicans are quite as clear as this. Look around the internet, you will find them wringing their hands wondering how to react.

Funnily enough such Anglicans may have a lot in common with the present Pope who seems to have been unable to find a way to prevent Mugabe from joining him in the beatification service for John Paul II. I am mostly a great admirer of the current Pope - a man of luminous intelligence and learning. But on this occasion, has he lost the plot?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I can put off going to church, cos I'll live forever?

Interesting article about lowering stats re belief in God and church attendance, based on research making a link with living longer. But my bishop, Bishop Victoria Matthews has a robust response, as reported here:

"But the Anglican bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, is not convinced our longer life expectancy is to blame for the diminished role of religion in our society.

"The reason for a demise in church attendance is due to what else goes on every weekend and also the lure of power and financial advancement over the call to serve the living God and our neighbour," Matthews said.

She believes faith has as much to do with learning how to live in the here and now as it does with preparing for the afterlife: "Indeed, Jesus spent most of his teaching on our relationship with our neighbours.

"So after we come to faith, we learn how to express our faith in daily living." "

What was good about the royal wedding?

Some internet grumpiness about the royal wedding can be found at Ekklesia: grrr, growl, grizzle, grinch (H/T Clayboy and EChurch Blog both of whom direct us to good things in the wedding). One of the Ekklesia grumps is by a Kiwi correspondent, Sande Ramage. Well, each makes a point, and each point is part of needed ongoing debate in any democratic society where church and state collide, whether in formal establishment mode or otherwise. But are some points being missed by these e-correspondents?

It's all very well having a bash at monied, titled people, for example, especially if in military attire, but has any society ever escaped having an elite and a portion of that elite tied up in its armed forces? I do not recall Soviet Russia getting on top of the problem (remember those special shops for Communist Party hierarchy and the dachas ("second homes") the leadership class enjoyed?). My understanding of Mao's China is that he attempted to get on top of the problem with periodic purges ("class cleansing" we could call it) which involving slaughtering the odd million or three of real live human beings. But, the reply might be made, couldn't the UK be more egalitarian like, say the USA or Australia or New Zealand? To which the answer is 'Yes, of course, come and join us!' Lots of people have left the UK to forge a new and egalitarian life in new lands. Presumably most of those who have not left are comfortable with the class structure in the UK. Certainly the great throng of flag waving Brits who crowded the Mall and pressed against the gates of Buckingham Palace did not look like they were uncomfortable with the nature of British society (let alone forced to offer mass support for the current regime by state apparatchiks)!

It is possible, is it not, that it is a good thing if the very top of the social tree of a society is tied into the church, embued with an ethic of community service, and constrained by constitutional law to exercise power with gentle discretion? Even better if that social tree tip is wealthy enough not to be tempted by bribery and corruption?

The wedding in one aspect was a re-visioning of the tie between sovereign and God. The power of the sovereign (such as it is in a constitutional monarchy) is not absolute power but a gift from God. To that same God the future sovereign came with his future wife (and, conversely, an ordinary citizen of a state with an established church but no compulsion to worship came with her future husband) to seek God's blessing, not to command it. The splendour of the occasion was tinged with humility, not tainted with tyranny.

The way this re-visioning took place happened also to be a marvellous witness to the word and power of Christ expressed through the genius of Anglican liturgy. In a truly egalitarian society in a republican state there would never be a wedding broadcast to two billion people. Would Christ be pleased with this event as a testimony to him?

Would Christ be disappointed that it has turned out that the plainness of Cranmer's approach to liturgy is particularly well suited to colourful pageantry, the varied tonality of English accents, and the splendour of English musical composition (Parry, Rutter, etc)?

(And, noticing this post at Cranmer's Curate, would St Paul be disappointed?)

You be the judge!