Saturday, March 30, 2013

Like the poor, we will always have the Pharisees with us

Disclaimer: I am sure on some issues people think I am a Pharisee. They are everywhere ...!

I really like what is emerging with Pope Francis. A pope who is determined - if various actions these past weeks are anything to go by - to transform his role as 'Vicar of Christ' into one in which the emphasis is on genuine, gospel Christ-likeness rather than conformity to rules, regulations and rubrics.

Notably, Papa Francis, traditionally washing the feet of twelve people on Holy Thursday, washed the feet of two women (one of whom is a Muslim). WAIT the rules say the action is intended to be Christ-like in the sense that Christ washed the feet of twelve apostles so the Pope must wash the feet of twelve men (I think I may even have  read somewhere that they are twelve ordained men). NO the pope has said. The Christ-likeness is exemplified in foot-washing as a service to humanity; and women are human. CUE coughing and spluttering into liturgical and canonical "traddies" teacups. As Stuff reports here, the fact that it is the Pope breaking the rules has drawn somewhat casuistical responses. So we read of " canon lawyer Edward Peters, an adviser to the Vatican's high court,

"If someone is washing the feet of any females ... he is in violation of the Holy Thursday rubrics," Peters wrote in a 2006 article that he reposted earlier this month on his blog.

In the face of the pope doing that very thing, Peters - like many conservative and traditionalist commentators - have found themselves trying to put the best face on a situation they don't like lest they be openly voicing dissent with the pope.
By Thursday evening, Peters was saying that Francis had merely "disregarded" the law - not violated it."

But is this not the response one expects of (modern equivalents) of Pharisees? Damian Thompson seems to think so!

Papa Francis is challenging his church, and by extension all Christians watching and listening to him, to find the true heart of the gospel in order to live faithfully to Christ. Sometimes church rules, regulations and rubrics assist that faithful living. Sometimes they do not. At risk of being accused of soppy subjectivism I cannot conceive that Christ living in our world today (that is, a multi-cultural, inclusive, anti-hierarchical, non-racist world) would restrict foot-washing in 2013 to male "types" of the apostles. Francis has spoken, infallibly I suggest: the rules are out of date, this is how Christ would act.

Good on him!

Damian Thompson is right (for those who do not know of his writings, a very traditional and conservative Catholic, strongly in favour of Benedict's high church reformist agenda).

Here's the thing: no one needs to be a Pharisee. Those of us who fall into the modern version of the role need challenging as to what is Christ-like and what is not!

For the record: the following observations are made with no attempt to speculate further about (say) the Pope's attitude to the ordination of women; they are also made with the thought in mind that if we understand John's Gospel carefully, then there is no great reason to think that the foot-washing of John 13 was actually restricted to the Twelve, since the Beloved Disciple was in the group and he has strong arguments in favour of his not being part of the Twelve.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The flesh became the Word

If the gospels tell the story of Jesus forwards from his beginning, our reading forwards may be enhanced by recalling that the beginning of Jesus is told with hindsight because only through the resurrection is light cast on the true meaning of Jesus.

In a certain sense then, John's great gospel claim, that the Word became flesh (1:14) is only revealed to us because the initial revelation after the resurrection was that the flesh (Jesus of Nazareth) was more than who he seemed, more than the One who spoke God's words as a prophet and teacher: the flesh was, in reality, the Word of God. The flesh became (that is, was revealed to be) the Word. This was not understood before the resurrection.

Everything then turns on the resurrection and those theologians among us who have played fast and loose since the Enlightenment with the resurrection have done a lot of damage to the credibility of Christianity.

Fortunately many have remained faithful and have not bowed to Baal. One example is brought to us today by the Sydney Morning Herald, the tiny Assyrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

May your commemorations and celebrations through these great holy days disclose new depth to the love of God in Christ for you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No cross without resurrection

The resurrection forced the first Christians to think hard about the cross. Yesterday near the end of the post I noted:

Conversely, the resurrection of Jesus triggered a flood of reflection on what happened on the cross. To be sure, the risen Jesus before ascension may have contributed to this flood (Luke at least hints at this). Why does Jesus die only to be raised from the dead?

On the surface of things Jesus was crucified partly through tragic accident (innocent man in wrong place at wrong time as crazy leaders whipped up mass hysteria) and partly through some provocative action on Jesus' part (cleansing the Temple, raising Lazarus from the dead), albeit engendering a grossly disproportionate reaction from the authorities. But being raised from the dead raised larger questions. 

What was God up to?  Was there a significance to Jesus' person and work which had escaped them? 

Had the disciples missed something as they observed the surface of things rather than pressed to understand what was really going on? 

There were some clues, even without the resurrection, let alone the risen Jesus explaining things to them. 

One of those clues occurred when they were literally asleep. Indeed we probably have Jesus himself to thank for the knowledge of this clue, reference to 'this cup' in his final prayers. Citing a Lenten study I have co-authored with Lynda Paterson, published by Theology House Publications this year, we can think of the cup in this way:

‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.’ 
‘This cup’ is an image of wrath and of suffering, when read against the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 11:6; Jeremiah 25:15-16; Ezekiel 23:31-34), and other references to ‘cup’ in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 20:22-23; Mark 10:38-39 [strangely, Luke has no parallel to these passages]; Revelation 14:9-10; 16:19).
 Why does Jesus face ‘this cup’?  
Space does not permit a full discussion of the significance of Jesus’ death but we do not do justice to the full witness of the New Testament if we downplay the cross as the place on which sacrifice for sin was made, victory over evil was secured, the depths of God’s love for us was demonstrated, and an example of righteous martyrdom was shown.  
‘This cup’ particularly points to the cross as the place on which the wrath of God against sin was borne by Jesus as the final and full sacrifice for the sin of the world. For Jesus to receive this cup was to receive the cup of unimaginable suffering. 
So we read on about ‘agony’ and ‘sweat … like great drops of blood falling down to the ground’ (22:44).[i]  
We may be prompted to ask why Jesus as Son of God needs an angel to help strengthen him. (Surely it was not because of the frailty of Jesus but because of the magnitude of the suffering he faced).
If Jesus were not raised then we would not know whether God's wrath was satisfied. That Jesus was raised demonstrated that God's wrath was satisfied. The cup had been drained by Jesus.

The resurrection, when the suffering of Jesus had been completed, enabled the disciples to understand what was really going on, that the cross was not just unimaginable physical suffering but also unimaginable spiritual suffering.

Incidentally, in our day many Christians are uncomfortable thinking about the wrath of God being visited on Jesus. But the Psalm set down for this Sunday is pretty clear, 

'The Lord has punished me severely' (118:18).

But the use of passages such as this (a commenter yesterday noted Psalms  2, 10, 116, 118, and Dt 18 as figuring in apostolic hermeneutic of the cross and resurrection) would not have taken place if Jesus were not raised from the dead.

When we talk about 'the cross' we engage in an act of remembering the painful death of Jesus as an innocent man (legally innocent before human authority, wholly innocent before divine authority) and we acclaim that something significant happened in that event. It is the only ancient crucifixion people talk about! And we only talk about it because that crucifixion was not the end of Jesus, and his burial was not the beginning of forgetting who he was. Without the resurrection there would be no cross.

PS There was no great win for the NZ cricket team yesterday. A small shadow was cast over the sunny uplit days of late summer :(

[i] Not all ancient manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel have verses 43 and 44.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Zero to hero

Without the resurrection, Jesus and his movement would have incurred no more than a paragraph and maybe as little as a footnote in the history of Judaism. On what we now call Holy Saturday Jesus was a zero. Dead, buried and all but forgotten. That Jesus was raised from the dead is as certain as the existence of Christianity itself. Working from the objective fact of the empty tomb and the subjective experiences of eating and drinking with the risen Jesus, the followers of Jesus knew he was the Christ, the hero sent from God, and told that to everyone they met. We know that because they were named Christians (not Jesusians).

There was a story to tell about Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and the resurrection impacted on the telling of the story. A good kind of mayhem was caused by this foxy fact in the chicken coop of sayings and deeds of Jesus. Each New Testament writing in its own way probes the real significance of Jesus of Nazareth in the light of being raised from zero to hero. The four gospels are especially interesting because we read them naturally forwards from beginning to end and it takes a certain amount of educated effort (e.g. through biblical studies) to read them as stories which have been revised backwards, from resurrection to beginning.

One simple example illustrates this, the example of what the gospel writers actually say about the beginning of Jesus. Mark presents Jesus from his baptism. Matthew gives us Jesus from his conception and birth contextualised with a genealogy going back as far as Abraham. Luke similarly but offers a genealogy going back to Adam the son of God. John - if it were a competition, he wins by an eternity - goes back before time: as the Word, Jesus existed before the beginning of creation. Where does the not zero but hero, not dead but raised One come from? The gospel writers do not disagree with one another in their respective answers: rather they outdo one another in how far back they can see in the light of the resurrection.

Then, as they move forward in telling the story, perhaps here telling it as they have heard it (revisions having occurred, perhaps, in the prior handing down through Christians sharing stories about Jesus) and maybe there retelling it as they strain to make certain points to the audience they have in mind as their readers, the gospel writers tell the story insightfully in the light of the resurrection as its significance dawns on them. I suggest we particularly see this as readers today as we appreciate the presentation of Jesus through the whole of a gospel as a certain kind of heroic figure.

Thus Matthew marshals his material about Jesus to present Jesus as the New Moses, who gives the law of the kingdom both authoritatively and in five Torah-like blocks of preaching. Mark more than any of his evangelical colleagues presents Jesus as a  'hero', a divine man who heroically stands up to Satan, releasing people from Satan's grip of illness and possession, and establishes a new power in the world, the kingdom of God. Luke takes a huge risk in simultaneously presenting Jesus as a non-threatening do gooder comfortable with Roman imperialism who is also the real Caesar of the whole world establishing a rival kingdom on a global scale. John, perhaps with the most time lapse from resurrection to composition, accepts the insights of his gospel predecessors and pushes them further: Jesus is the Word who was God, became flesh and dwelt among us, that is, the Son of God both one with the Father and sent by the Father to transform the world.

What is then fascinating is to read the gospels as these forward-yet-backwards documents which effectively are theological histories of Jesus of Nazareth. Just when we might expect that more of the impact of the resurrection would be worked into the history of Jesus, we do not find it. The resurrection, for instance, provoked mayhem on the question of identity: did a Gentile believing in this Jewish rabbi need to adopt identification as a Jew through circumcision? The controversy over circumcision rumbles through the early life of the Christian church, but it is never woven backwards into the life of Jesus. Chalk one up for the reliability of these theological histories as histories.

Approaching Good Friday we observe that the theological meaning of the death of Jesus, elucidated through Paul's writings and the Epistle to the Hebrews, scarcely impacts on the gospel narrative. Presumably the historical Jesus said very little about the meaning of his death and, remarkably, the gospels are faithful to Jesus when it must have been tempting to put words in his mouth.

Conversely, the resurrection of Jesus triggered a flood of reflection on what happened on the cross. To be sure, the risen Jesus before ascension may have contributed to this flood (Luke at least hints at this). Why does Jesus die only to be raised from the dead? Couldn't the victory and vindication of the hero be expressed through a rescue operation which prevented Jesus' death (cf. Isaac/Abraham)? Effectively the early Christians said 'Yes' to the latter question and furrowed their brows to find the answer to the former. The former question faced the reality of what actually happened to Jesus. The latter question was hypothetical (though, later, Islam would teach that it was so).

PS. Following on from yesterday, like the glory days of my youth, when the NZ cricket team beat Australia and England for the first time, NZ stands on the verge of a great win. England are 90 for 4 chasing 481 to win.

On the ongoing matter of gay marriage in NZ, Dan Dolejs of Nelson has a few words to say.

Interesting claim here that Diana's death ended the English Reformation. Er, maybe.

Monday, March 25, 2013

35 for 3 but the lead is only 274 runs and the fox got into the chicken coop

Today the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch is a bit like the overnight situation in the third test between NZ and England. NZ is 35 runs for 3 wickets in its second innings but has an overall lead of 274 runs. The innings score is challenging, the overall lead is pretty good but the fate of the match is in the balance. Yesterday parishes facing change through recommendations of the Structural Review Group heard what those recommendations are. For some parishes the recommendations might feel challenging, like 35 for 3. Overall the recommendations across many parishes are like NZ's overall lead, pretty good - see here from 25 March - but the fate of the Diocese, as a Diocese embracing change or refusing to change is in the balance. What will be our collective response to the recommendations?

We have a new Archbishop for the NZ Dioceses (= Tikanga Pakeha), Philip Richardson. A comment made here yesterday pointed to the possibility of theological disagreement with ++Philip. Well, yes, he is an archbishop not a pope! Now in this morning's Fairfax papers, who else but Glynn Cardy is talking up ++Philip as champion of the progressive cause of the day. Talk about the fox getting into the chicken coop. It is a kind of mayhem to have elected an archbishop one day only to talk him up the next in a manner likely to send the church into schism. I wonder if it ever crosses Glynn's mind that his speculations out loud in the public media might destabilize the confidence of our church in its leaders? I have sufficient regard for ++Philip to wish him a decent honeymoon in his new role as the wider church gets to know him. Now he will not be free of the tags Glynn has placed upon him!

An very interesting reflection on the situation before another archbishop, the new ABC, is posted by Brother Ivo on Cranmer. We should not underestimate ++Justin capabilities!

Meanwhile this is Holy Week and time once again to reflect on the sacred mysteries of this week. I suggest we work backwards from the Resurrection. If Jesus had died on the cross and that was the end of his life, what would his legacy have been? Not much, I suggest. A paragraph, perhaps, in the history of impact-making rabbis of Israel under the Romans mentioning some notable healings and memorable insights into the rule of God in the world. Maybe today scholars of Judaism would produce a monograph or two on ancient magicians among the rabbis, notably Jeshua ben Joseph. Perhaps there would be a brief headline making news item that the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran had been identified by an unusually radical scholar as that same Jeshua ben Joseph.

It is the resurrection which makes the difference here, which sets the Jesus movement on a trajectory apart from Judaism and which drives the leaders of that movement to see in Jesus things which were not obvious to them when they walked the dusty roads of Palestine with him. We read the gospels forwards from Jesus' beginnings to his end because that is the way the narrative is told, but theologically we should begin with the resurrection and read backwards. What was it about the resurrection which led to the telling of the story of Jesus in the way that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John  and, yes, Paul told it?

That is why, to offer a first reflection this Holy Week, the question of the witness to the resurrection is vital to Christianity. Deny the resurrection and everything about our claims to truth falls over. Personally I find the variations between the gospels, 1 Corinthians 15 and, say, Acts 10:34-43 puzzling. Why isn't the account of that witness more consistent? Modern skeptics have driven a horse and cart full of doubts through the lack of consistency (even, some might say, inconsistency). Yet closer inspection yields more consistency than some are prepared to allow. At the bedrock of each gospel narrative is the empty tomb. They are consistent on the fact that the crucified body of Jesus was placed in the tomb, on the third day the tomb was empty, and thereafter the risen (i.e. raised up from the tomb) Jesus appeared to people.

This, further, is consistent with two accounts which do not explicitly mention the emptiness of the tomb, Acts 10:34-43 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. What is 'raised on the third day' phrasing in these passages about but an act of raising from the dead, a physical raising which leaves the tomb empty. Acts 10:40 beautifully distinguishes between the raising and the subsequent appearances, 'God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear.' So also 1 Corinthians 15:4-5, 'he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve'. If the tomb was not empty why mention the act of raising from the dead and not proceed straight to the accounts of the appearances of Jesus?

Running these accounts together, with all their variations, I suggest we can account for the variations in a couple of ways. First and foremost, we get the impression that Jesus appeared on a number of occasions to a range of witnesses. Between the four gospel writers and Paul's 'tradition' account in 1 Corinthians 15 we receive a set of accounts with heavy selection at work. Paul's tradition is focused on the appearances to the leadership of the Jesus movement, with the exception of the appearance to 'more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time'. The four gospels uniformly emphasise the immediate witnesses to the resurrection, women. Matthew, Mark and Luke (distinct from Acts 1) move quickly from the immediate experience of the risen Jesus to his departure (albeit somewhat implicitly in Mark). Only Acts 1 and John 21 imply a period of more than a few days or weeks in which Jesus remained with his disciples. Together these witnesses to the variety of Jesus' appearances do not provide anything like a coherent account of the history of Jesus between resurrection and ascension. That, perhaps, leads us to a second reason for the variations between accounts.

Secondly, we get the impression that the gospel writers in their gospels are focused on providing for their readers an account of the ordinary human life of Jesus, prior to death. The continuing presence of the risen Jesus via the Holy Spirit in the movement perhaps made unnecessary a prolonged account of the period between resurrection and ascension. (Luke, in his 'sequel' to the life of Jesus unveils in Acts many ways in which the risen Jesus post-ascension continues to engage with the movement). What their accounts needed was a wrap up and what we find is that the accounts of the resurrection are overlaid with conclusions to the gospels as a whole (or, in the case of Mark 16:1-8, we might say, denuded of a conclusion via intentional abruptness in the closing of the account - a kind of anti-conclusion).

Thus Matthew draws us rapidly to the Great Commission and Luke does so similarly, but in a challenging manner because in Luke 24 he almost conveys the impression that a long day (of about 25 hours?) elapses from raising to commissioning-and-ascending whereas Acts 1 is explicit that the period was 40 days. (Luke also manages the most flagrant rewriting of gospel tradition when he converts Mark's "you will see him in Galilee" into "as he said in Galilee", Mark 16:7//Luke 24:6, in the cause of confining the resurrected Jesus to Jerusalem and its environs).

John works in a different manner, having proposed through his gospel that everything is going on all at once ("my hour"): death and departure, cross and glory, descent and ascent. Thus his Pentecost occurs on the day of Resurrection but there is a epilogue or two as a week elapses before the appearance to Thomas and further time before the appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. But like his evangelical colleagues, John is all the 'resurrection' time wrapping up his gospel: this is a word to skeptics among the believers, this is a word to rival claimants for leadership of the church.

In the end, then, I am arguing that the accounts of the resurrection, between the gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians have a coherency when we dig beneath the varied ways of wrapping up the narratives of Jesus' earthly life, acknowledge the basic facts which are shared (principally the emptiness of the tomb and the sheer multiplicity of appearances), and allow that different things mattered to different writers.

We need not doubt that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. That is the witness of the apostles. But what was the impact of the resurrection on understanding who Jesus was prior to death and is after resurrection? Jesus rising from the dead in the midst of ancient Judaism in Israel in the first century AD was like a fox in a chicken coop. A certain theological mayhem ensued. The epistles effectively tell us about the mayhem and that it was a good kind of mayhem!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What a twisted and bitter man

There is not much hope for the improvement of Anglicanism when some of its more influential commenters are as misinformed as Giles Fraser is about evangelicals. Have we ever been more insulted in our history than by this column?

Evangelicals are not perfect and we get many things wrong. But ++Justin is not the only one among us to have experienced tragedy. And only a few of us do not understand Good Friday to be a dark and solemn day in which Christ died at the hands of bitter and twisted men, actually, at our hands because we are sinners and it was because of our sin that Christ suffered.

If the Anglican Communion is to hold together then it will do so on the basis of truth and love, not fantasies and hatred.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Can the post-churchmanship ABC lead into a post-gay future?

Damian Thompson, writing about the enthronement of ++Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, makes a couple of astute points for Anglicans worldwide to ponder.

Reflecting on ++Justin's own journey in things spiritual and ministerial, he observes,

"Archbishop Welby comes from the evangelical wing of the Church, but he strikes me as someone very close to the Anglican centre of gravity. His evangelicalism is enriched by Catholic spirituality; he would be happy in any church setting – you might call him a post-churchmanship Anglican."

I think that is pretty good. Better than a silly Guardian assertion that ++JW represents a takeover of the C of E by HTB! The future Anglican church - emerging from the present - needs to be 'post-churchmanship'. It is no insult on the anniversary of Cranmer (21 March) to propose that Anglicanism in the 21st century will express its Cranmerian heritage if it continues to refresh what is 'common' to us by moving beyond our familiar divisions in churchmanship.

But Damian Thompson's blogpost headline makes another point re the future of Anglicanism.

"The new Archbishop of Canterbury, enthroned today, must wish the gay issue would go away. But it won't."

I interpret Damian to mean that despite various attempts to find a way for the issue to "go away", including wishful thinking that it would simply cease to be an issue, it isn't going anywhere. Whether it is the continued pressing from within the church for the acceptance of same sex partnerships or the continued pressing from without the church by governments/parliaments for socio-political change to relationship status, Anglican churches, at least in Western countries are not able to (bad pun coming up) put this issue to bed.

In other words, is it time for Anglicans who wish the issue would go away (I number myself among their ranks) to

(1) acknowledge that the issue is not going to go away

(2)  address the question of whether we are at peace within if we continue with divisions for the foreseeable future,

and if we are not at peace about that,

(3) work on a way for the issue to go away, an Anglican accommodation which draws inspiration from all previous Anglican accommodations.

I assume, from comments here previously, that:-

some readers are at peace with continuing to live with division/tension on the matter,

some readers would like the issue to go away because a way is found for other Anglicans to accept their totalising solution (such as full acceptance of gay marriage or full and final rejection of all talk of blessing of same sex partnerships), 

some readers in their hearts feel the only eventual way forward to get beyond the issue is separation/division/schism,

and, perhaps, only a very tiny minority of readers are keen to find an accommodation (perhaps daunted by the belief that a much larger majority are not so much averse to accommodation as utterly sceptical that it can be found).

My reflection here is that whatever we feel we would like to happen there is an inexorable logic in the situation: if we wish to remain in an Anglican church (and an Anglican Communion) with some breadth of theology in societies embracing acceptance of gay partnerships we cannot make the issue "go away" without an accommodation. We may hate that thought because it smells of 'appeasement' or 'compromise'. But do we need to get over such feeling? Could we help ourselves by analysing accommodation here in terms other than appeasement and compromise?

What if we thought of accommodation as 'making space' for sincerely held but opposing views? As we have done since the 19th century divide over "Anglo-Catholic" and "Evangelical".

Or, if we imagined accommodation here as offering 'hospitality' to those who are different to us (or, if you prefer, 'us')? As we have done in the late 20th century to charismatic Anglicans (but weren't able to do in the 18th century to Methodists).

Or, could we envisage accommodation as providing 'opportunity' to those exploring church in different ways? As we are doing for Fresh Expressions of church - a provision which carries with it lots of questions and scepticism but not, finally, rejection.

Just to head off a 'red herring' here: the depths of theological objection to the blessing of same-sex partnerships let alone to gay marriage are very deep just as the heights of theological approval of the same for those who approve are very high and there is not necessarily a straight-line analogy from the specific gulf here to the examples of division-overcome-by-accommodation above. The point to consider is not whether this is a division no worse than other divisions (if you like, a second-order division, like others, rather than a first-order division) but whether this specific, even unique division can be accommodated. Or not.

And if not, are we reconciled to a very long future of division, or are we going to separate?

There are not, as I understand the logic of the situation, an infinite number of options. ++Justin may or may not be on the right track with his talk of 'reconciliation' but he could help us with his tidy mind by asking whether we understand the limited options and whether we understand the implications of each and, in particular, do we have any strong ambition to move beyond the "gay issue" or not?

Epilogue: I have no great ideas at this stage on what an accommodation might look like. I also suggest that accommodation would not necessarily be weighted in a 'liberal' direction. Part of where my posts have been going in the last few days and weeks has been to underscore that the strength of the church at large rests on conservative congregations in a "post-Christendom" West (Shawn's astute comment yesterday about this acknowledged), and even more so in parts of the world which never enjoyed the blessings of Christendom.

[Publishing comments over the next 30 hours may be spasmodic].

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The new church, appearing in your neighbourhood

We don't have to resist creeping godlessness, at least not by confronting it head on. We do have to proclaim the gospel in word and deed and to nurture the disciples we make through gospel ministry. That is the way to respond to godlessness!

Some interesting statistics have emerged about church life in Christchurch, statistics which demonstrate gospel ministry is doing, well, better than one might expect in a world of creeping godlessness.

These statistics were presented at a meeting of church leaders on Tuesday morning this week by Ken Shelley (for web access head to Te Raranga, notes from the meeting,  and click on the link there to the Powerpoint presentation, also from that site one can access a Directory of all churches in Chch). Key points (taken from the Powerpoint presentation from Te Raranga, copyright acknowledged):

290 churches

37,629 people attending church on any given Sunday

= 10% proportion of city population

Thus, 15+% of city in church regularly

Attendance by denomination (main players): 21% Catholic, Other 17%, Pentecostal 16%, Anglican 15%, Baptist 13%.*

Other highlights: 60% of churches serve 20% of church attendance; 10% of church attendees go to churches with 800+ worshippers; mean attendance is 130, median attendance is 70; 202/290 have children's ministry; 260/290 have a community facing ministry; 160/290 have a youth ministry; 79/290 churches are damaged.

There is a lot to ponder here. 290 churches means there are plenty of churches in every neighbourhood. Stats re 'Other' and 'Pentecostal' means there are plenty of 'new' churches making their appearances in recent years, yet the largest church, Roman Catholic, is the 'oldest' church in our midst. Anglicans have a few challenges, but nothing to despair about. Overall we are moving into a new church era. One of our challenges is how we work together. The meeting of church leaders on Tuesday, with the development of Te Raranga as the 'forum' through which fellowship in ministry/mission will develop is a good sign that we can work together.

Incidentally, against a backdrop of 290 churches in Christchurch, we do not see where the general liberal or modernist approach to church life has achieved any dominance. If we exclude the Anglican 15% (because difficult to work out which bits conform to that approach and which bits don't) we are still left with Catholic, Other (we can assume that is not liberal/modernist), Pentecostal and Baptist contributing 67% of active Christians in our city. But that does not mean that a conservative approach is what is predominating. It may mean that. But it is also worth thinking about the ways in which a new path is being forged as churches grow and develop in the 21st century.

In the week in which we have seen a new pope inaugurated and a new ABC enthroned (what a terrible word!), Charles Moore, writing in the Telegraph, offers a fascinating interpretation of what the combination of Francis and Justin means (two great names from church history, we might note in passing): a new Christianity,

"Once one understands that this new unity is emerging, it makes the conventional split between liberals and conservatives in the Church seem very out of date. The liberals have lost, because their acceptance of so many non-religious ideas has debilitated their faith and therefore prevented their renewal. But the conservatives have lost too, if by “conservative” one means the old warriors of the Counter-Reformation. The people who are winning are those who share the desire to bring the story of Jesus to what Pope Francis, in his first speech from the balcony of St Peter’s, called “the end of the earth”. He knows a bit about that, because it is where he comes from."

It is good to be in Christchurch (one of the ends of the earth!) at this time, bringing the story of Jesus to people who have never heard it.

*To highlight why our Diocese is considering a structural review of churches in Christchurch city, our 15% is spread across 57 churches, the Baptists 13% across 24 churches, the Catholic 21% across 31 churches while the Other 17% is spread across 65 churches.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Creeping Godlessness

A fascinating post on Time's site, entitled 'New Pope, Same Wandering Flock.' Funnily enough the writer is Mary Eberstadt, whom I quarrel with in Monday's post!! Pertinently she observes (with me emboldening key phrases for readers short of time),

 "In reality, though, and despite the hopes in some precincts for a radically overhauled Church, these departures amount to mere atmospherics. That’s because the chief conundrum facing the new Pope is the same as it was for the exceedingly aware emeritus Pope before him. It is a problem as vexatious for Rome whether in the Global South or in the affluent West, and more than any other earthly force it will decide the fate of all the churches: namely, the secularization of large parts of the formerly Christian world. Evidence abounds that creeping godlessness is not just some European thing. According to Baylor University’s Philip Jenkins, one of the foremost authorities on these numbers, across Latin America “signs of secularization appear that would have been unthinkable not long ago.” Nine percent of Brazilians now report themselves “nones,” for instance, as in “none of the religious above,” and as with the “nones” in America, the number is higher among the young. Forty percent of Uruguayans now profess no religious affiliation. Nor is the new Pope’s home country exempt from the trend – quite the contrary. Political dictatorship may be over, but the “dictatorship of relativism” deplored by emeritus Pope Benedict is alive and kicking in an increasingly secular Argentina. Then there is state-of-the-art god-forsaking Western Europe. Across the Continent, elderly altar servers shuffle in empty, childless churches; monasteries and chapels are remade into spas, apartments, or mosques; protests, including violent protests, now regularly greet any Pope who leaves Rome. Yes, there are remarkable renewal movements here and there, for the sheer ferocity of aggressive secularism has inadvertently energized a Christian counter-culture. But the secular forest still grows faster than the religious trees. One recent British survey found that about 20 percent of respondents could not say what event was commemorated by Easter. As for the United States, it remains true that Americans are more religiously inclined than Europeans. Even so, here too the trend is clear. To judge by statistics on items like attendance and affiliation and out-of-wedlock births, say, America’s religious tomorrow is just Denmark’s yesterday."

 Then Mary astutely notes that trying to fathom the puzzles here is to dive into depths in which murkiness remains:

 "So what’s a Pope to do? He can start by understanding one critical truth that has not been well understood so far: the puzzle of secularization is not only his to solve. Secular sociology has written the intellectual script about how godlessness happens but has gotten it wrong. Secularization is not, for example, the inevitable result of affluence, as many have said; statistically, men and women who are better-off in the United States today, for example, are more likely to believe and practice faith than are those further down the economic ladder. The same was true of Victorian England, as the British historian Hugh McLeod has painstakingly shown. Mammon alone does not necessarily drive out God. Is secularization then the inevitable result of increased rationality and enlightenment, as the new atheists and other theorists claim? Here again, the empirical fact that the well-educated Mormon, say, is more likely to be someone of faith would appear to confound that theory. Is secularization then the result of the world wars, as still others have supposed? If so, it is hard to see how countries with different experiences of those wars – neutral Switzerland, vanquished Germany, victorious Great Britain — should all lose their religions in tandem, let alone why countries untouched by the wars should follow suit. And on it goes. Modern sociology can tell us many things, but about the elemental question of why people stop going to church — or for that matter, why they start — the going theories have all come up short. Contrary to what secular soothsayers have believed, evidence suggests that secularization is not inevitable, and neither is it a linear process according to which decline is an arrow pointing ever downward. Rather, and crucially, religion waxes and wanes in the world — strong one moment, weaker the next — for reasons that still demand to be understood."

I say 'Amen' to Mary Eberstadt.

Here in Christchurch, reflecting primarily out of an Anglican context, but keeping an eye on other churches, the situation is remarkably (or unremarkably) similar to the picture Mary paints of other parts of the world. Churches with elderly congregations in severe decline. Many people who will have filled in our recent census forms with the Kiwi equivalent of 'nones'. Lively and large congregations in areas associated with Mammon ... and in areas definitely not associated with Mammon. Generally Mary's brilliant imagery 'the secular forest still grows faster than the religious trees' applies here (as far as I can tell - happy to be proved wrong).

I like her point that there is a puzzle about church adherence and active attendance which is not yet fathomed by the sociologists. It is currently my privilege to be associated with two churches with growing, lively congregations (10 am at St Aidan's, 7 pm Antioch at Fendalton, since you are bound to ask). But why are they growing? I could proffer great music, relevant preaching, warm hospitality as reasons, but those reasons have applied through seasons when the same congregations have been numerically static. In other words, one can observe certain things about a church because visible things are observable. But the invisible features of church growth are the reasons (say) why a whole bunch of new people turn up at a church simultaneously or why newcomers make a decision to stay rather than keep looking around or why new converts are made today rather than yesterday (when the same gospel was being proclaimed). Taking a wider view of church life in Christchurch, why are Roman Catholic, 'biblical preaching' and Pentecostal churches all experiencing dynamic congregational life? Why does no single church 'style' have the monopoly on resisting creeping godlessness? Answers from sociologists on the back of a postcard please!

Nevertheless I think it worth persevering with investigations into what makes churches tick as far as we can take them. I guess one response to Eberstadt's article would be to continue doing what we have always been doing leaving the waxing of churches to the mysteries of God and sociology. Personally I prefer to try to learn from successful congregational life, to see whether transferable lessons can be applied to situations for which I have some responsibility.

Tonight the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Christchurch receives the report and recommendations of the Structural Review Group. I have no idea what is in the report and await its findings as anxiously and excitedly as everyone else. But I am hopeful that it will reflect careful consideration of the challenging times in which we live, the possibilities which lie before us for resisting creeping godlessness and for developing great congregations to the glory of God.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Our man in Rome to attend inauguration of Francis

Archbishop David Moxon will be present with other Anglican leaders at the inauguration of Papa Francis today.

I imagine he will keep going, further north to Canterbury Cathedral for the enthronement of ++Justin Welby as ++Justin Cantuar.

Speaking of both events, we Anglicans could do with some serious prayer for ++Justin. He inherits a C of E and a Communion as divided as ever. (Well, maybe the former was more divided in the 1540s!)

Monday, March 18, 2013

O Little Town of Wellington

A bit of a round up of some weekend reading ...

Apparently God has got one or two things wrong in the course of salvation history. So thinks Jeremy Top Gear Clarkson as he praises New Zealand. We won't burn him at the stake for questioning God's wisdom, just send him on holiday to ... well, people read this blog from all over these islands so I won't offend anyone living in certain parts of NZ which are not as nice as other parts :).

Views on gay marriage/blessing of civil unions rumble on here (cf. comments over the weekend), there and everywhere. A few thoughts today:

- a possible candidate for best speech in favour of gay marriage goes to Chris Auchinvole MP speaking in favour of the proposed changes in our parliament recently. There is something worth thinking about when he offers penetrative elucidation of catechetical teaching about being made in the image of God.

- a very interesting presidential address has been given by Bishop James Jones of Liverpool as he moves into retirement. In the course of it he says, "if the Church now recognises Civil Partnerships to be a just response to the needs of gay people then surely the Church now has to ask the question whether or not it can deny the blessing of God to that which is just". But that way of putting things raises many questions about the authority of the church. Accepting that we have the authority to bless what God blesses, and to deny blessing that which God blesses, do we have the authority to bless what is 'just' (in our eyes) or to bless what we have no assurance is blessed by God? I am struck in relation to such questions by John 4 and Jesus' attitude to the Samaritan woman and her 'domestic situation': he neither condemns her nor blesses the situation. Are we facing a changing social acceptance of domestic relationships with an either we condemn or we bless them approach? Might the 'what would Jesus do' question be answered by 'Neither'?

To be orthodox is to know Jesus Christ. That is all. Thus I have no time for the following approach to 'orthodoxy' (in an NPR interview):

"SIMON: Before Pope Francis was selected, you wrote that you'd hoped to see the new pope deploy doctrinal orthodoxy. What do you mean by that?

EBERSTADT: Well, what I meant is that if you study the history of churches, over time the churches that have tried to lighten up the Christian moral code and put forth sort of kindler, gentler version of Christian as they see it, have not done well. They haven't done well demographically and they haven't done well financially.

Churches that stick to orthodoxy do better over time, in part because it's only those kinds of churches that tend to create families that can be of size and carry on the Christian tradition. So, in saying that the pope would do best to stick to orthodoxy, I was talking in part about what it would take to strengthen the Catholic Church.

SIMON: So if I were to remind you about some of these polls we've all seen in recent days showing 66 percent of U.S. Catholics favor allowing women to become priests, 79 percent favor the use of artificial birth control measures, what does that mean to you?

EBERSTADT: Well, it means in part that you have to be careful about what you are calling Catholic. In other words, are you Catholic if you say you're Catholic? Are you Catholic if you were baptized Catholic? Are you Catholic if you haven't been in church in five years? What you tend to find is that the more observant people are, the more orthodox their opinions tend to be. That's one point.

But the other point is that for Catholics like that, for Catholics who want married priests, women priests, who want again to lighten up the Christian moral code, there is a place for people like that. The place is called the mainline Protestantism. And the point is that mainline Protestantism is in serious disarray. The pews are graying, they have few children in them.

By contrast, the Protestant churches that have hued closest to a sort of strict Christian moral code have done best. Those would be the evangelical churches and churches like the Pentecostals are thriving, and not only in the United States but around the world.

SIMON: So you don't accept the premise that part of why the Roman Catholic Church seems to be losing some strength in the United States and Western Europe is because of positions like priestly celibacy or prohibiting birth control measures.

EBERSTADT: Well, the Catholic Church is not in the best shape and I'm certainly not saying that. Obviously, we've had 10-plus years of sex scandals. We've had problems in the Curia. And I'm not saying that the church is in the best position.

What I am saying is that it will do best over time to stick to orthodoxy. And the fact is, the pope doesn't have a choice in this arena. Americans often don't understand. We tend to think because we are such a self-created people that the pope has someone like a CEO or someone who is a master of his own fate.

This isn't true and the pope sees himself as the divinely appointed custodian of the truth - capital T. Truth that's been hammered out over 2,000 years. And the kinds of teachings that modern people most dislike about the Catholic Church are actually teachings that were hammered out from the earliest church fathers on up."

(Tobias Haller adroitly sticks the critical knife into this dog's breakfast of an argument).

Orthodoxy is simply right believing about Jesus Christ. For Christians, orthodoxy is knowing Jesus Christ (or, knowing Jesus Christ truly). Adding extras such as priestly celibacy or not ordaining women as priests or a strict moral code into what we assert orthodoxy to be is either traditionalism or conservatism. There may be very good reasons for promoting traditionalism or conservatism but it is nonsense to equate orthodoxy with either.

Yesterday's gospel reading, John 12:1-8, poignantly underscores that orthodoxy is knowing Jesus Christ. The woman, Mary, scorned by the dinner party guests is affirmed by Jesus. Morally she wasted money which could have been used for the poor. Her presence and her actions (casting an eye back to Luke 7:36-50) may have offended righteous men as they ate. But Jesus affirms her because God's plan is all about him: 'you will not always have me'! Mary got it. She was orthodox!

The minimal requirement for Christians to be orthodox is believing the Nicene Creed because that creed, summing up centuries of debate about the meaning of revelation in Scripture, guides our right understanding of who Jesus Christ is. Slagging off 'Protestants' or (for that matter) Catholics who think women could be ordained priests for not being 'orthodox' confuses orthodoxy for something else.

(Incidentally, speaking of Roman Catholicism and its character, Theo Hobson offers a brilliant insight into what makes the inner heart of Catholicism tick. Even when many Romans are unhappy with their church, they will not leave for the obvious alt.Catholic church. I hasten to say that relics still leave me unmoved in the direction of festal celebration. Though icons are another matter ...)

I am moved to write about orthodoxy in this way, not only because my attention has been drawn to the interview cited above, but also because here on ADU there are occasions when comments from a Reformed theological quarter give the impression (to me of unsound mind, at least) that orthodoxy is believing a set of propositions only made clear by God with the teaching of Calvin. No. The only thing required for orthodoxy is knowing Jesus Christ. The thief on the cross was not promised paradise by the Lord because he both absorbed and agreed with the Institutes. It was because he knew Jesus. Many people across all churches know Jesus. The orthodox are everywhere!

To return to Wellington, should anyone have read this far, the pakeha bishops of this church are meeting there today (Monday 18 March), in a church near to the airport, in order to prayerfully discern who the next pakeha archbishop of our church will be. Some of us think that person has already been discerned so we trust the bishops praying together will cement their unity around God's disclosed will for the church. Ditto the Inter Diocesan Conference when it meets on Saturday to receive the bishops' nomination.

As a blessing to those who persevere to the end, here is my current favourite worship song:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Just another local bishop! And a whinge. Or two.

A nice point is made by +Christopher Hill here.

My whinge: I have just taken delivery of a new computer which has Windows 8. Is this operating system the worst idea Microsoft has ever had?

Otherwise today is Saturday. The mighty Bulls play the possibly-once-were-mighty-Crusaders tonight (rugby) and I have an invite to a corporate box. How good is that! (Later: it was a corporate occasion, but not in a corporate box. The Crusaders were back to their mighty best, blowing the Bulls off the park, 41-19, six tries to one!)

While rounding up on a Saturday, there is an interesting story unfolding in Virginia. Short version: Anglican departure from Episcopal church, friendship between departing vicarBaucum and his former bishop Johnston, both speak at a reconciliation conference arranged by ++Justin at Coventry about their friendship, Johnston invites John Dominic (there was no resurrection because Jesus was eaten by dogs) Crossan to speak to his colleagues, end of friendship.

The Living Church has a responsible report here. Embedded there is a fascinating example of 'lack of logic' which (in my view) verges on 'self-deceit': +Johnston protests that Crossan's beliefs run contrary to his own yet, "Nonetheless, I will not be a censor of ideas, a roadblock to inquiry that is grounded in a search for ‘God with us.’" Er, Bishop, to not be a censor is not equivalent to I must invite John Dominic Crossan to speak to my clergy. "Censor" here would be, "forbidding my clergy to read Crossan's works". I sense that at the heart of the turmoil in TEC which we who are far away observe and misunderstand in respect of 'But why do parishioners and clergy feel they need to leave such a church?' is the sheer frustration of this kind of lack of logic and sleight of hand thinking.

(I like John Dominic Crossan whom I have heard in person and whose substantive works on historical Jesus and historical beginnings of Christianity I have read. He is a charming Irishman. Completely wrong about Jesus. And about the beginnings of Christianity. Ergo, no point in inviting him to disseminate his errors and heresies to clergy. Wrong, by the way and briefly, because his version of Jesus' life is "nothing to see here" which begs the question how and why the gospel of nothing spread and the movement of a nobody eaten by dogs continued after Holy Saturday!)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Parliament paints Anglican church into corner over gay marriage

[POSTSCRIPT: ++Justin makes important points in this interview. Apropos of the last part of the post below, conservative Christians need (or, I need) to work out how we uphold the doctrine of marriage without doing harm to people in our society, especially in our churches who constantly are liable to exclusion, vilification and to thoughts of self-harm as a way out of ostracism. Conservative Christianity is distancing itself from the general secular proposal of Western society to open marriage equally to all in order to complete a (so to speak) grand project of normalisation. But in doing so conservative Christianity appears generally to be failing to offer a grand proposal for how we include gays and lesbians in everyday society. Increasingly I find comments here from conservatives to presume the world is made of 'us' and 'them' as though the 'them' are not the sons and daughters of loving parents, or the sisters and brothers of caring people, or the friends of people who want to continue to be their friends. Indeed, the 'them' might be our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and friends. If we cannot find a bridge between the 'us' and 'them' we are guilty of fostering a ghettoization of the 'them'. ++Justin is clearly working on the bridge.]

There are three groups in our Anglican church on the matter of same sex relationships. (In no particular order of merit) group one cannot bless what God does not bless, that is neither agrees with the blessing of same-sex partnerships nor with gay marriage. (I distinguish here between the former as something the church might promote without change to its doctrine of marriage and the latter as involving a change to its doctrine of marriage, specifically the understanding that marriage involves a man and a woman). Group two can bless a same-sex partnership but cannot agree to change to the doctrine of marriage. As some in my hearing would say, marriage is different to a same-sex partnership. Group three will bless same-sex partnerships, supports gay marriage including change to our doctrine of marriage.

Currently our church is in a process of considering its theology of marriage, including setting up a doctrinal commission on the matter. As an aside, a Theology House contribution to the exploration of the theology of marriage will be a conference here in Christchurch 16-17 August, more details later. But is this exploration in vain because our parliament has essentially decided for us that there will be no change to our doctrine on marriage?

Let me explain. I will try to be as clear as possible!

(1) Previously I have pointed out that the select committee on the bill on gay marriage before parliament (which is moving ahead) has recommended a clause which permits ministers to refuse to perform a gay marriage ceremony, without fear of being taken to court for discrimination, where the beliefs of the religion to which the minister belongs do not accept gay marriage.

(2) This recommendation only protects ministers (or celebrants) belonging to such an organisation but not ministers or celebrants who do not belong to such an organisation, no matter what their beliefs. This is well addressed on M and M. A lay Catholic celebrant may believe the same things about gay marriage as a Catholic priest but only the latter is protected by the legislation as the former would be operating as an individual celebrant not as a celebrant belonging to an organisation.

(3) Consequently, once the legislation has completed all its legislative stages, it will mean that any church which changes its beliefs on marriage to include acceptance of gay marriage, will expose its ministers who disagree to the possibility of being taken to court.

(4) In the case of our Anglican church, noting my division of the church into three groups, two of which oppose gay marriage, this would expose somewhere between 40 and 70% of its ministers to the potential for prosecution.

(5) I cannot see our General Synod making a decision with such effect on the ministers of our church. (Or, in other words, even if the mind of General synod were leaning towards embracing change to our doctrine of marriage, it would not give expression to that because of the turmoil it would create for the ministers licensed under its authority in relation to the civil Marriage Act of NZ).


(6) We will not change our doctrine of marriage (though we may authorise blessings of same-sex partnerships).


(7) the commission on the blessing of same-sex partnerships which seems to also have a brief to look at the doctrine of marriage, if it is purposed to support reform of the latter, may be a waste of time of otherwise busy people.

Parliament has painted our church into a corner!!

POSTSCRIPT. I acknowledge that these matters are not easy. To analyse as I have done above could be construed as adding to the 'hate' which envelopes gay and lesbian people today. Derek Flood makes a pertinent point when he notes that Jesus made no contribution to increasing hatred of people, neither one hating another, nor someone hating themselves.

"Regardless of where we stand on the rightness or the wrongness of being gay, none of that matters much when people are dying [through suicide]. We can argue over what the Bible says about homosexuality, but one thing is utterly clear: Jesus clearly teaches us to love people, not to hate them, not to make them feel hated, and not to stand by while that is happening. From the perspective of the New Testament there simply is no room for doubt on this. We know exactly where Jesus stands. He stands on the side of the least, the condemned, the vulnerable. ...

What this all comes down to is we, as Christians, acting like Jesus. It's about discerning what Jesus would want us to do right now, and the answer is clear: We need to change our priorities and focus on the critical issue of communicating love and acceptance to people -- especially the very people our society so often ostracizes, condemns and rejects. Because that is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus was known for hanging out with "sinners" and was frequently accused of being a sinner himself because of it. But that did not stop him because he cared more about those people than he cared about being judged.

If we want to follow Jesus, then we need to have that same reputation of loving to a fault. We need to be so radically accepting that we are misunderstood and judged like Jesus. If we really do love Jesus, then we need to love like he did, so much so that it seems "scandalous" in the eyes the religious folks of our day, just like it did in his day.
Now you may have noticed that I didn't ever say what I thought about whether homosexuality was wrong or right. I didn't say because this is not about me and what I think. It's about us as Christians learning to care about what Jesus cares about. This is not about gay rights. It is about about human rights, and that starts with the least. It is about us having the courage to stand with those who are vulnerable. It is about us saying "no" to hate, even when it is done in the name of God -- no,especially when it is done in the name of God. It's about having the guts to draw that line in the sand like Jesus did. Even when that means facing that mob ourselves.
So let's stand alongside of LGBT individuals. Let's let them know they are loved, they are welcomed, they are not alone. I think when we do, we will find that Jesus has been there with them for a long time now. It's time we joined him."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Anglican Assessment of Papa Francis

Archbishop Gregory Venables has this to say of Papa Francis:

"Many are asking me what Jorge Bergoglio is really like. He is much more of a Christian, Christ centered and Spirit filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written. I have been with him on many occasions and he always makes me sit next to him and invariably makes me take part and often do what he as Cardinal should have done. He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary. He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans. I consider this to be an inspired appointment not because he is a close and personal friend but because of who he is In Christ. Pray for him."

Interesting about the Ordinariate!

I like the sound of this bloke. Great choice of name. But he has one heck of a job before him if we concur with Damian Thompson who is thoroughly cheesed off with the Curia.

Postscript: let's be frank about Frank. At 76 he represents a Roman hierarchy in deep doo dah. The single most important job of leadership in the church, after proclaiming the gospel, is to train up the next generation of leaders. The current set up is not doing that for Rome. Papa Francis may, like his elderly predecessor John XXIII, unleash a new wave of change. If he does and his successor is aged around 60 then well and good. But if at 76 he has limited energies, like Benedict XVI, then Rome is doomed to further years of a divided Curia, unfortunate responses to scandals, and failure to get on top of its shortage of priests.

I may like the sound of this bloke, even as I recognise the larger story into which he fits is something of a tragedy for global Christianity, a tragedy because the vision of Vatican 2 for ongoing reform is being undone. For someone who does not like the sound of this bloke, who already thinks he is a disaster within a tragic story of modern Catholicism going wrong at each step, with Vatican 2 being the worst step of all, read here. Also interesting is Tim Stanley, alert to various nuances in the situation.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

God calling

Within the Diocese of Christchurch
The Diocese of Christchurch is seeking
a Dean of the ChristChurch Cathedral
Expressions of interest are invited, and a Cathedral Profile
will be available in mid April.

REVISED Application Deadline: Tuesday, 4 June 2013

ChristChurch Cathedral has attracted world attention in recent years and is now looking for a mission-focused and visionary leader. Excellence in communication skills and particularly the proclamation of the word are priorities. The ability to direct and inspire the mission of the Cathedral for the next decade and beyond will be essential, as is the ability to form a relationship with the local and global community, as the ChristChurch Cathedral continues to work towards re-establishing herself in Cathedral Square.

The new Dean will preside in the post-earthquake Transitional Cathedral (opening Easter 2013) for up to ten years, and will possess a comprehensive knowledge of, and commitment to, Anglican liturgy and church music. Strong people skills and a love for the Gospel are of top importance. The Cathedral anticipates the new Dean will begin the appointment in the
latter part of 2013.

Interested inquirers should read the Cathedral webpages found at and .

Expressions of interest and request for further details should be sent to:
Bishop Victoria Matthews, Anglican Diocese of Christchurch,
Anglican Centre, PO Box 4438,
Christchurch, New Zealand 8140
email: or ring 03-348-6960

The Anglican Centre, Diocese of Christchurch, is seeking a
Full-time Communications and Media Officer
Application Deadline: Friday, 19 April 2013
The Anglican Centre is an umbrella organisation which includes:
• The Diocese of Christchurch including 69 parishes with 200 churches,
a number of Anglican schools and other institutions
• Anglican Care, the Social Services Council of the Diocese of
Christchurch and a member of a national network which is the largest
NGO in New Zealand
• Church Property Trustees (CPT) which holds in trust the property and assets of the Diocese.

The Communications & Media Officer’s role includes overall responsibility,
in consultation with the Bishop and/or senior staff, for media/risk management, website, print management and internal communications for the three entities listed above.

The ideal candidate will have skills in key areas including understanding the mission of the Church; writing and photographic skills; competency in public relations especially media releases, understanding of branding; well-developed IT and graphic skills and the ability to establish and maintain excellent internal and external communications.

He/she will have ability to write original material, edit and produce print and electronic publications and record key events in the life of the Church. He/she will be responsible for the continuing development of an effective Communications Strategy.

He/she will work with the senior management of the three entities and as time permits assist and advise on parish communication issues.

The position is full-time. Some flexibility in work hours will be required.
A job description and application form is available from:
The Diocesan Manager
Anglican Centre
PO Box 4438
Christchurch 8140
phone 03-348-6960 or e-mail:

Clergy Vacancies Within the Diocese of Christchurch:
The following parishes in the Diocese of Christchurch
will be coming vacant in the foreseeable future:

Avonside (full time)
Ashburton (full time)
Burwood (full time)
St Albans (full time)
South West Christchurch (St Nicholas)
Timaru( St Mary’s)
Oxford-Cust (50%)
Rakaia (part time)
Te Ngawai (part time)
Temuka (part time)
Tinwald (part time)
Woolston (part time)

Vacancies and searches for new Vicars may be affected by the Draft Proposal of the Structural Review Group that will be presented at pre-Synod Regional Meetings and Synod in April.

Our situation is challenging, the rewards are great in kingdom investments, is God calling you?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Too many nudes in one church?

You probably wouldn't be here if the word "nudes" wasn't in the title :) Anyway, it is just not right that one church has so much nudity in it. It would be awfully difficult if I was in this church for any reason at all to concentrate on what I was doing. Of course, I would be admiring the art for art's sake. And knowing me, I would probably spend quite a bit of time wondering how the nudes got to be there. Ladder? Or scaffold?

PS For a great analysis of the issues before the conclave read this.

Tony is the man but further change needed!

Watchers of St John's College, Auckland, our one and only residential Anglican theological college under the governance of representatives of the whole of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, finally learned yesterday who the new Principal or Manukura will be: Tony Gerritsen. A full and warm article about the appointee is on Taonga.

I say 'finally' because the move from having the College led by three principals (of each of the three tikanga-based constituent colleges) to leadership by a single principal was mooted in the Reeves report to General Synod in 2010. That General Synod suspended the current canon governing the affairs of the College which permitted a Commissioner, Gail Thomson, to be appointed as a 'proto-principal' with a view to canonical change occurring at the GS of 2012 and a new principal appointed promptly thereafter. In fact GS 2012 failed to agree on canonical change but did permit the Governors of the College to proceed to appoint a principal. After advertising in November last year, NZ summer holidays slowing all life processes down, and the usual mysterious ways of our church occurring, we finally have, in mid-March 2013, an announcement :)

For me personally 'finally' has an added touch of satisfaction. Around 2004-5 I was part of a small team of three which reviewed the College on behalf of the church, a review which led to the establishment of the current Anglican Studies Programme (i.e. the review was listened to on one matter)! At that time I argued forcefully for a change from three principals to one principal. The vices of three principals (e.g. lack of clear leadership of the College in the development of programmes and appropriate staffing for those programmes) outweighed the virtues of multiple leadership (e.g. equal contribution from each tikanga to decision-making). I nearly persuaded the other two members of the team. Consultation with our respective tikanga threw up - expectedly - resistance to such change. But it was needed then, and it is finally happening now.

I commend Tony to our church, having worked with him for many years in ministry education (he has held roughly equivalent positions in the Diocese of Wellington while I have worked in the Nelson and Christchurch Dioceses).

I also commend to our church FURTHER CHANGE AT ST JOHN'S COLLEGE. 

Are those capitals 'shouting'? YES, INDEED.

We now need to change the governance of the College, not least so that Tony has effective and efficient support as the new principal in a newly structured College. Bear with me, if you will, through the details of the current set up and the change I propose.

The current Governors of the College are a body known as Te Kotahitanga (TK). This body has multiple responsibilities for all education in our church which is funded through the St John's College Trust Board to which it acts as an advisory Board. TK sends out all application papers for funding by the Board and receives all those papers, works through them, and makes decisions about what funding is to be recommended to the Board. Besides St John's College (as number one priority applicant), major applicants included thirteen episcopal units. In the process considerable time is spent in making policy, debating the merits of possible changes to the way funding is distributed, and considering the complex weaving which is life at St John's College. No one but the members of TK know how much time and energy is spent on these matters (normally by people who otherwise hold down full-time positions in the life of our church).

I suggest it is neither fair on TK itself nor on the College for this body to continue to be the Board of Governors of the College. It is time for a new and separate Board of Governors. It is time to go forward to a new body. We should not go back to a former model whereby TK delegated its responsibilities to a Board of Oversight. No. If anything we should go further back to a time when the bishops of our church constituted (so I believe) the Governors of the College. After all, the bishops are far and away the most important stakeholders in the College as they are the authorities who send people to the College for training and they are the ones who see 'on the ground' how effective the training is when their ordinands return to their episcopal units. Thus I propose:

(1) A new Board of Governors for the College is canonically formed at the next GS.

(2) The Board consists largely of bishops of our church, two from each tikanga* with three further positions for specialists drawn from areas of education (tertiary, theological, ministry formation, etc) to make nine voting members of the Board in total. From their numbers a chair would be chosen.

(3) No member of the Board except the Principal/Manukura (and, possibly, the 'financial executive officer' of the College), may be a member of the College whether as staff or student. The Principal (and financial executive officer) would be speaking but not voting members of the Board. (*This is a heavy requirement on Polynesia which has less bishops than the other tikanga, so some variation might be required such as 'an appointee of the bishop').

(4) This Board is responsible for governance of the College, including signing off the annual application for funding from the Trust Board via TK receiving, reviewing and recommending the application.

(5) The principal is accountable to the Board for the management of the College. The Board is accountable to General Synod for the governance of the College (e.g. via some or all its positions being elected at GS).

(6) The principal is expected to manage the College in such a manner (e.g. with an excellent locally formed management committee) that the Board of Governors only needs to meet quarterly. Ditto the Trust Board and TK are expected to support the College financially so the Board is required to focus on the sound expenditure of the funds, not on shortfalls in funding. (It is the first priority of the Trust Board to fund the College so funding constraints should not be an intrinsic problem for a soundly run College).

The least this church can do now that our College has a new principal is to ensure that Tony as the incumbent and the position itself, as a keystone of the College, is well supported.