Monday, June 27, 2022

Matariki, Constantine, Christmas

We'll get to Constantine and to Christmas before the end of the post. Bear with.

Last Wednesday (22 June) in our weekly Diocesan e-letter, I wrote:

We are on something of adventure as a nation as we make significant steps forward in the 2020s (compared to any other decade I recall) to becoming a bicultural and bilingual society. So, this Friday is our first ever public holiday which acknowledges something of importance in Te Ao Maori: Matariki.

In this holiday we are invited to share together in celebrating the appearance of the astronomical sign which heralds the turn of the year and to remember with thanksgiving those who have gone before us. Matariki refers to both the cluster of stars called Pleiades in ancient Greece (and continued as a term in modern English) and to one of those stars. Potentially we can see seven stars, though one may be hidden. The Bible refers explicitly to “Pleiades” (e.g. NRSV) or Matariki (Te Paipera Tapu) on three occasions: Job 9:9; Job 38:31; Amos 5:8.

There is an intriguing possibility of an implicit reference to Matariki in the Book of Revelation where reference is made to the exalted Jesus holding in his right hand “the seven stars” (1:16; also 2:1; 3:1). For further intrigue on this reference and its possible connection to the geographical location of the seven churches of Revelation, see this blogpost https://kingdom777.wordpress.com/2018/06/21/the-mystery-of-the-seven-stars/ .

This cluster of stars (about which you can read more on Wikipedia and for our local Kiwi flavour, here) consists of many more stars than seven (it has been named "The Seven Sisters") or nine or even fourteen potentially viewable to the naked eye (depending on your location and atmospheric conditions).

This picture gives us both a picture of Matariki (the cluster, but one of the stars is also called Matariki):


Matariki (as an event or festival) signals with the reappearance of the Matariki, which disappears from sight before the winter solstice and reappears soon after (this year, 24 June (also "John the Baptist"), but next year 14 July, etc), the beginning of the Maori new year, and thus a time for remembering what has gone before and for looking forward to what lies ahead.

As a celebrated festival, Matariki fell away by the 1940s but since the 2000s has been revived, and now to the point where we will have an annual holiday each year to mark this important calendrical event.

I was intrigued to hear in a report on TV One news last night (though it is not actually mentioned here in a written version of the item) that an offering of food was part of the pre dawn ceremony. A Stuff report confirms this,

"Lee Johnson (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kuia) was charged with preparing the food that will be offered at the pre-dawn hautapu. “If the food is cooked then that’s a good sign, so I’ll be putting my best foot forward to make sure it’s cooked, if not overcooked.”"

Now I do not mention this to get into a debate about whether such ceremony takes us away from the God of Jesus Christ and closer to the traditional gods of Te Ao Maori - that is a complex and nuanced matter which involves understanding of Te Ao Maori (the worldview of Maori, including the use of personifications and metaphors in the connections made between the natural world and human life and its cycles of planting and harvesting, of life and death), that I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about to engage in discussion.

But the reference to the offering of food got me thinking that here in real time, Christians in Aotearoa New Zealand are experiencing a moment of cultural and religious change which is challenging (how will we respond?) and opportunistic (can we respond well?). 

There is no doubt that Matariki is a revival of an ancient and pre Christianity (as conveyed through the first missionaries) set of incantations and rituals, as well as a contemporary bicultural, local recognition that matters of calendar, celebration of seasonal/annual change need not be exclusive to the Christian world of our ancestors in the northern hemisphere (perhaps, notably, Christimas as a festival close to the northern hemisphere Winter solstice and New Year close after that; as well as Easter as a festival near the beginning of Spring). 

Further, as my comments cited above recognise, Matariki as a star cluster is a familar part of the night sky around the whole world, and features in many cultures, including the culture of the Bible world itself.

A moment of cultural and religious change?

Yes, and one which Christianity in our blessed islands has a choice to:

- ignore and do nothing about, save to enjoy a new public holiday weekend;

- embrace, and fuse ancient and present ideas and beliefs into a new (or renewed) Christian celebration of the cycles of God's creation, so that no part of life in this locality is beyond the prayers and thanksgivings of God's people.

Thus Constantine and Christmas!

There is a critique of Christianity in relation to Constantine which says that lot of things about Christianity have been perfectly dreadful since Christianity became the faith of the Roman Empire and Christendom arose out of that fusion. The radical vision of Jesus for a new, egalitarian kingdom died with the bishops harnessed to the needs of "the establishment", etc.

Yet, reflecting from our local cultural and religious moment which - to be clear - I think we should embrace and not ignore, did Christianity have any reasonable, viable choice than to take the road of Constantinian fusion?

There is a critique of Christmas (from within and without Christianity!) that it is pretty much a Christianization of a pagan festival, conveniently attached to celebrating the birth of Jesus. (I am aware that there are various arguments about how accurate this is, etc, etc.) But, here's the thing: assuming that Christianity saw a need to transform and not ignore pagan celebrations of the Winter solstice, was there much choice, in reality. To ignore and hope such pagan festivities would go away, not be attractive to Christians, and so forth: would that have worked? 

I think not. Better to embrace and transform, surely.

In our case, bearing in mind the biblical texts cited above, we have much to embrace (aspects of the starry heavens and the earth beneath) and much to transform (an ancient celebration of life, death and new life in which we are inspired to offer thanks and praise to the God of all life, in sea, earth and sky).

Perhaps you think otherwise. Discuss!

Postscript: here Down Under we are not unaware that this weekend is also a cultural, religious, political and (for millions of women) personal moment in the USA as Roe v Wade is swept away and the legal status of abortion now varies from state to state. So far, my reading of Twitter and other responses is less than inspiring, other than to inspire me to make no further comment from afar.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Obviously, it is time to post on ... demons

So, the gospel reading for Ordinary 12 was Luke 8:26-39, The Deliverance of Legion.

A familiar story, notable in our memories for the man living in a local cemetery, the legion of demons, the swineherd, and the destruction of the pigs (2000 according to Mark 5:13), neverthless raises some questions, one of which for me I do not recall previously seeing!

That question (before the other ones) is, 

Why does Luke describe the man as being possessed both by a singular demon and by plural demons?

He introduces the man as having "demons" (27) but then reports that Jesus had "commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man" (29) and talks about the man being "driven by the demon into the desert" (29) before the remainder of the story focusing on the man (or the demon(s) within him) as being named "Legion" and described in plurality (30, 31, 32, 33). 

A possible answer is that Luke is wrestling with Mark's version of this incident. Mark 5:2 introduces the man as "a man with an unclean spirit" and describes Jesus as commanding "you unclean spirit" to come out of him (8) before the dialogue in which Jesus asks the man his name, with the reply "My name is Legion: for we are many" (9) and the remainder of demonic references being about plural demons.

Luke (on this hypothesis) both wishes to correct Mark a little (so his verse 27 describes the man as having demons plural, rather than having an unclean spirit, in keeping with how the story unfolds later on), yet also be faithful to Mark, and especially to Mark's report of what Jesus says and does (Luke 8:29 becomes a report on Mark 5:7, referencing "unclean spirit" as Mark does. 

A further correction, or, at least, restraint on repeating a detail of Mark, is that when Mark says the man (or his demon(s)) is called "Legion" which could imply as many demons as there were soldiers in a Roman legion, about 5000) but describes the number of pigs killed as "2000" (which, if there was one demon per pig, is well short of 5000), Luke adroitly repeats that the man is called "Legion" but omits the number of pigs that are killed.

Other questions?

In a Western world somewhat wary of talk of demons/unclean spirits (unless they appear in a horror movie), how do we understand this story today? Is it, for instance, speaking to a phenomenon in our world that we are not willing to engage with? Or, (somewhat comfortingly for 21st century people more used to talking about psychiatry and mental health), was Jesus - unique Son of God - especially provocative of the demonic world, so that they (the demons) showed their faces (so to speak) when Jesus came along, but now that he is ascended, they work in a more hidden way, ergo we don't need to worry about them or talk about them?

Acknowledging that the questions in the paragraph above deserve a very long discussion, and that there are other questions related to these ones, neverthless I want to observe that, whatever else this story might mean, it is part of Luke setting out the case that no power was able to defeat Jesus: not illness, not death, not shortage of food, not storms and, here, not demonic "anti-God" spiritual forces.

Yet, in our world today, we see forces at work against God, the church and, more generally, the flourishing of humanity (e.g. Russian aggression in Ukraine), which Jesus does not seem to be defeating?

What might we say about the seeming victory of evil in our world today?

One thought I had is that we should read about our world (and the presence of the ascended Jesus within it) with the whole of Luke-Acts in mind.

Acts, after all, tells us much about what the mission of Jesus looks like when he is no longer on earth as a flesh-and-blood human being. What do we find there? Certainly, demons are delivered (e.g. Acts 16:16-18). But the world is a brutal world. In that particular deliverance story, the apostles concerned are hounded into jail as a consequence (though later rescued). Some key figures in the mission are executed (Stephen, James). Paul ends the story in a sanguine position, as a well-treated prisoner in Rome, but we know from later histories that he will die as a martyr.

To a degree, evil wins, at least in a limited way, in the history of Christianity in our world.

But, Acts might steer us in another direction, re evil in our world. Acts is also the story of the followers of Jesus doing something rather than nothing about the state of the world. There is a better news story to share with the world, in word and in deed, than the current news story of the Roman Empire. The apostles and other disciples get out and about telling the gospel and doing the gospel through healings and deliverances.

In our world today, we may feel powerless, but there is always something gospelling we can do and say.

Finally:

Luke's narrative has a very, very neat ending (which, again, I do not recall previously noting, but some commentaries have helped me out).

In Luke 8:39, Jesus commands the man to return to his home and "declare how much God has done for you."

But what he actually does is to proclaim "throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him."

A lovely identification between God and Jesus. Cracking Lukan theology!

Monday, June 13, 2022

Quicunque vult and a coupla other things

It is Trinity (as I start writing this post) so it's time to remind ourselves of Quicunque vult or "The Creed of Athanasius" (which may not have actually been written by him). In the lingo of the BCP:

"Whosoever will be saved : before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith

Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled : without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the Catholick Faith is this : That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.

..."

Now this is discomforting for those of us, including myself, who worry about a "propositional" approach to faith because we do not see much in the NT which says we will be judged for what beliefs we hold, other than a basic belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Except in the last words of the last sentence is a clue as to why this creed is correct in what it says: if we believe that Jesus is more, much more than a teacher or prophet or even both, that in his divinity-and-humanity lies our salvation - Jesus is the One who identifies with us as humans and who as God in flesh is able to redeem us from our sinfulness, then not only are we saved, but we also incipiently believe what the "Catholick faith" is about, as spelled out in precise and comprehensive terms by this creed.

xxx

I see a debate is breaking out for the umpteenth time in TEC over baptism in relation to communion, or, Can an unbaptized person receive communion? Bosco Peters has the wrap here.

My own contribution is to cite three sentences from an Anglican hero I haven't mentioned here for a while.

Richard Hooker. Who else?!

"The grace which we have by the holy Eucharist doth not begin but continue life. No man therefore receiveth this sacrament before Baptism, because no dead thing is capable of nourishment. That which groweth must of necessity first live." (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity Book V Section LXVII (1)).

I think that's a No.

xxx

While with Hooker, my eyes doth (see how influential the man is on my writing) glance a little further on in the above section LXVII to see what he says about the eucharist.

I really, really like the way in which he eschews getting stuck on either consubstantiation or transubstantiation while, naturally, avoiding Zwinglianism. A few sentences ... 

(re Zwingli) "... that men should account of this sacrament but only as a shadow, destitute , empty and void of Christ." [ LXVII (2)]

(re an overview of the "contentions" about where Christ is) "... I can see on all sides at the length to a general agreement concerning that which alone is material, namely the real participation of Christ and of life in his body and blood by means of this sacrament" [ LXVII (2)]

"I wish that men would more give themselves to meditate with silence what we have by the sacrament, and less to dispute of the manner how?" [ LXVII (3)]

"The bread and the cup are his body and blood because they are causes instrumental upon the receipt whereof the participation of his body and blood ensueth." [ LXVII (5)]

"The real presence of Christ's most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament." [ LXVII (6)]

This last point, incidentally, very much drives forward one of our own (ACANZP) key statements in our most frequently used eucharistic prayer (NZPB, 423):

"Send your Holy Spirit that these gifts of bread and wine which we receive may be to us the body and blood of Christ ..." (my bold).

Also (NZPB, 467):

"By your Holy Spirit this bread and wine will be for us the body and blood of Christ" (my bold).

Now, I have previously, in line with others, thought of Hooker as promoting a "receptionist" view of the eucharist: the bread and the wine of eucharist become the body and blood of Christ when received by us. And, above, we do find the word "receipt" and "receiver" used (the citations from LXVII (5) and (6) respectively). 

But, I wonder if a better description of Hooker's approach would be "participationist" (LXVII (2) and (5) above respectively)?

That is, through the sacrament of communion, we who believe in Jesus and receive the sacrament, participate in the life of Christ, in the body and blood of Christ, the emphasis falling not on what we receive (i.e. ingest and digest material food and drink) but on the connection that food and drink make with the life of Christ. It is that life, the real life of Christ, which nurtures our life in Christ.

Does this make 1 Corinthians 10:16 the most important New Testament verse for our understanding of the sacrament of the eucharist? (NRSV=REB=NJB: "sharing"; NIV "participation".)

Monday, June 6, 2022

The church of God will live, but its shape may be interesting!

Let's keep thinking about the future of the church (at least Down Under) - a future which may or may not have a strong inclusion of things Anglican. This week I'll offer a few thoughts on some of the many insightful if not challenging comments made to last week's post which focused on Anglicanism itself. With a couple of other comments from further afield noted at the end.

(1) There must be converts to Christ in the future of the church. This is a point underlined in the comment below (and by the comment further below, at 3), which also raises the question of what we might do differently. 

(My point) whatever we do today as church is different to what was happening in Cranmer's day. And that was different to what was happening in (say) Lydia's church in Philippi. What could or should tomorrow look like? 

Back to the need for converts:

BW - May 31, 2022 at 4:45 AM: "A math point: when individual conversion has a network effect, it grows at a steadily increasing rate (eg the Roman Empire). Those accustomed to relying on weddings and baptisms as a church growth strategy miss the importance of the network effect and can inadvertently tolerate or foster an ethos hostile to it.

When church shrink comes up, as it has off and on for thirty years, some hear this as a source problem ("we need a new gospel") and others as a distribution problem ("we need to try new ways of reaching people"). Those who want to fix the former are ignored by those who want to fix the latter, and vice versa. Those who want to fix both are ignored by everybody. Can we do better?

Clayton Christenson's Innovator's Dilemma was discovered in business, but may have some application here: to do what can thrive in the future, an organization must often pivot away from offerings that are still popular today toward others only beginning to build a following. Few Americans buy electric cars, but that is so clearly the wave of the future that automakers here up yonder no longer have engineers to design and test any new internal combustion engines. Like most organizations, churches seem unable to bear the strain of that sort of decision. Look, for example, at how hard it is for dioceses to close parishes." 

(2) Are we going to win converts to a narrow form of Christianity (or a series of narrow forms of Christianities)? Yes, Jesus spoke about the narrow gate but he did unleash on the world a movement which came up with four versions of the gospel reports of Jesus, as well as Paul's take, James' take, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation. Can we affirm the following comment as we engage with the question of evangelism in the 21st century? 

MM - May 31, 2022 at 5:50 PM: "The ocean of grace has many shores.

Gosh, we spend a lot of time arguing which boats should enter which harbour."

Speaking of arguing about boats and harbours, I note across the Tasman that we have two further contribtions post-General Synod: first by Matthew Anstey and then a rejoinder by Mark Thompson. I cannot help but think that a comprehensive Anglicanism finds - should find - a way to draw on the best of what both offer!

(3) In reflecting on our life together as Anglicans, bound as we are by a liturgical tradition (even if held to very lightly here and there), we must reckon with what worship means for us, how we are to worship God both faithfully and fruitfully. In the comments to last week Bosco Peters offers an important observation re worship and the five marks of mission. Then there is this comment, reminding us that we can be experienced as something of a "mixed bag":

M - June 3, 2022 at 8:23 PM: "Why do Anglicans keep going to church? I have two faithful Anglican friends. One loves the weekly communion as a special connection with her Lord. The other loves joining in the sense of tradition and history through the liturgy though she has all sorts of theological questions. I go because I am strengthened in spirit by joining in worship regularly. However a young woman, an unchurched believer, strayed into a liturgical service and commented that it seemed as if she had come into the middle of a history book and hadn’t read the first half! Our church has both positives and negatives and will never be more than a small part of the universal Church, but nonetheless precious."

(4) If there is a question of a zeitgeist sweeping all before us, so the decline of the church seems to be beyond our control, then there is, as the comment below reminds us, a counter-question of what the gospel itself looks like when it is the zeitgeist. And another way of talking about "beyond our control" is to talk about "not thinking at the scale of the question posed."

How, indeed, do we nurture our dreamers and prophets?

Back to BW - June 6, 2022 at 3:36 AM : "Before + Peter moves on to the next topic, a final thought that should have been my initial thought: the gospel is spread at grand scale when it is generating cultural capital where it goes, and so, although we do need to know our scales and arpeggios to play, the music is improvised from some larger sense of what cultural capital God wants some people somewhere to have. Jesus himself models this in a way one can only call divine.

From another perspective, Graham Kings was able to write about *missionary spirituality* because evangelism is cultural work that requires an alive spirit. It can be done disastrously when religion is pushed as a human work, but there is no higher vocation than to participate in the Spirit's inculturation of the gospel. The present impasse is not that the numbers are bad, but that churches are not nurturing sons who dream dreams and daughters who prophesy.

We are not thinking at the scale of the question posed."

(5) Speaking of Anglican decline, a very acerbic column by NZ's own Damien Grant, this Sunday past, of the Platinum Jubilee weekend, manages to sheet all sorts of worldly ills of decline at the Queen's feet AND spiritual decline as well. But is the Queen, a model Christian, really responsible? Methinks Damien is having some fun at her expense:

"Yet let us not forget that the role of Her Majesty is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England; she is the Defender of the Faith.

It escapes my limited comprehension why anyone would want to belong to a religion founded by a man who beheaded two of his wives, one merely a teenager at the time, and is one of the most morally repellent successors to King Alfred. Yet, that is a task that befalls the British Monarch and is yet another example of failure.

When she was anointed with consecrated oil, the Anglican Faith was a powerhouse of the Christian community. Now it is in terminal decline.

It is projected to collapse entirely in the United States and merely 3% of British youth consider themselves Anglican; at this rate the Druids are set to overtake Anglicism by the end of this century.

(6) Let's end this pot pouri on a much brighter note!

It is "Thy Kingdom Come" time in 2022 and on Twitter I noticed this lovely and inspiring thought by Archbishop Angaelos (Coptic Archbishop of London). 

"Adoring God is something we are called to do. Not because He requires us… but because when you look at His attributes, His love, His sacrificial nature, you can do nothing but adore.

Beautiful reflection on 'Adore' from

for #ThyKingdomCome2022."

Is there any future for the Anglican church here and everywhere which is not a future of praise and adoration? 

Monday, May 30, 2022

The death of Anglicanism in certain places?

The dreaded "R" number signals good or bad news, <1 or >1, in respect of contagions in pandemic times. In a Church Times article this week R, with respect to church attendance, (could) signal the imminent death of various churches within the lifetimes of some readers here.

But on Twitter Madeleine Davies (responding to a Times paywalled article) questions this bleak outlook:

"Not a statistician but isn’t this model flawed? In 40 years there will obviously still be *some* people going to CofE churches?"

One reply is from Down Under's own Bosco Peters:

"Do most people know about Christianity in Asia? Which was where Christianity used to have the majority of the church. No. Because it died. And in North Africa? Well, that’s the history we are heading towards."

(There are a number of interesting things in the thread to the Davies' Tweet, including an ACANZP sets of points and counterpoints. However this post is not about each and every aspect of our statistical situation (or lack of) and discussion thereof (or lack of).)

Having enjoyed three excellent services through this weekend past, two of which were re-openings of churches repaired after our 2010/11 earthquakes, and one of which was an "ordinary" Sunday morning service, and an excellent Diocesan clergy conference during the week, I have been reflecting in the light of the Twitter thread on the situation we face, as Anglicans primarily, but with a nod to other churches, here in our Blessed Isles.

In no particular order of importance ...

1. While there are problems collecting statistics on attendance in our churches (for a variety of reasons), I don't think, I cannot think of anyone in our leadership, at diocesan or national level, who is unaware of our decline in numbers, increase in age profile, dearth of baptisms/confirmations/weddings/funerals. What we see with our eyes is as important as what our imperfectly collected statistics tell us.

2. It is possible to take a quite bleak view of the whole of our NZ church situation: our mainstream churches are in decline; the Catholic church (the bright statistical exception to the mainstream churches) is struggling to grow its numbers of priests; recently our "megachurches" (the bright statistical exception to Protestant decline) have been in the news for "all the wrong reasons", the most alarming of which, arguably, is that their growth in numbers has been at the expense of fair expectations re the involvement of interns and volunteers; and so forth.

Below, I give some specific statistics about the Diocese of Christchurch, recently shared by me at our Clergy Conference. (Our attendance figures are not particularly fit for analysis, partly because of difficulty in collecting them in recent years - some parishes, despite entreaties, are not sending them in. Then  Covid has played with our numbers through 2020 and 2021. So the stats I give are another way of measuring change in our Diocese.)

3. I personally take a much brighter view: in a time of social and spiritual upheaval, in which all verities of former times are being questioned, and in which indifference or hostility to religion (except non-Christian religions of immigrants) is strong, I see across our churches a strong quest for being church relateable to the (ever) changing circumstances we encounter. Mainstream churches are engaging with different ways of being church; the Catholic church is drawing in priests and seminarians from other parts of the world; the megachurches will learn from present difficulties and reconfigure themselves. 

4. I have no prediction as to which churches/denominations will survive the "R" factor in their current statistics, and I do not understand the God of Jesus Christ to have a secret codicil to the New Covenant which ensures the survival of the Church of England or the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia :). I know that sometimes Anglicans act as though that codicil exists!

5. I think we should be cautious about fastening on shortcomings of churches relevant to our current age and contemporary culture in such away that we may (even if unintentionally) imply that fixing the shortcomings will lead to a turnaround in our situation. There are shortcomings and they should be fixed. We (Anglicans, at least), for example, are not strong (across all our ministry units and episcopal units) on excellence in web presence and social media communication. We should do something about that. As a matter of fact, in my Diocese, this year, we are doing something about that as our new Archdeacon for Regeneration and Mission, Mark Chamberlain, leads a process of improvement in our parish web communications. But ...

6. It's my conviction that the "big fix" is something we (individual leaders, ministry units, episcopal units, regional presbyteries, national denominations) have little control over because what we are grappling with here (and, as best I understand other Western, English-as-first-language speaking countries: the UK, Ireland, Canada, USA, Australia) is a zeitgeist which blows across our lands: 

- a material improvement to life, including lengthening of life expectancy, which undermines our talk of the promise and hope of resurrection; 

- a diminution of any sense that we are wrong-doers and are accountable to God for those wrongs;

- an approach within our cultures to religion which is both dismissive of Christian faith and commitment and respectful of all other faiths;

- an amazing array of opportunities to do interesting, exciting and fulfilling activities on Sundays, from sports to shopping, from brunch at the local cafe to lunching in a far off winery (so, even when Christians are involved in Sunday church life, pastors lament that attendance 1 in 5 Sundays is the "new regular.")

7. Might the zeitgeist change in our lifetimes?

8. Nevertheless, in these strange and challenging times for Western Christianity, and Western Anglicanism in particular, it is worthwhile continuing to reflect - every day, every Sunday, every season of the church's year - What is the gospel? What is Anglicanism's distinctive "angle" on the gospel and on what it means to be a follower of Jesus? And, to adjust and adapt accordingly what we did last week as we engage with this week!

9. All is NOT bleak. We have some churches doing well, fighting against zeitgeist. What might we learn from them?

Some interesting stats from the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch

In 1989 we had 73 ministry units (including 3 added to our numbers from the Diocese of Nelson that year). In all but two of the units we would have had (I think) fully stipended ministers, and in one or two parishes there would have been at least two fully stipended clergy). (Ministry unit here = Cathedral and our parishes but not our schools or other places with chaplains).

In 2010, the year I returned to the Diocese (having left in 1990), and the last full year before our most damaging quake in 2011, we had 67 ministry units. By 2022 this has become 55 ministry units. It is not rocket science to discern that by 2030 we likely will be 50 ministry units.

Currently, by my count, we have 38 fully stipended ordained ministers and 28 ministers on part stipends (ranging from 0.8 FTE down to 0.4 FTE). We have a number of ministers serving significant roles in our ministry units who are non-stipendiary.

In 2010, before the quakes, we had 46 churches in the greater Christchurch city area. Today we have 36.




Monday, May 23, 2022

Lambeth Expectations: Much or Not so much?

So, this is the year of the Lambeth Conference for this decade (26 July to 8 August, 2022). The last one was in 2008. There should have been one in 2018. Contretemps in the Communion postponed it to 2020. Covid postponed 2020 to 2022. It's been a big deal for bishops since the first one in 1867. It's been controversial, none more so than 1998 with its resolution 1.10 which at the time seemed to settle the Communion on the matter of homosexuality, but it turned out that was far from the case. (It is not the purpose of this post to review that particular historical narrative). 

Subsequently Lambeth 2008 assiduously turned itself away from the making of resolutions as far as possible and was a big talk fest (indaba) which my then bishop, Richard Ellena of the Diocese of Nelson, described in the following terms: "I believe (at this stage – and there are still two days to go) that this has been the most expensive exercise in futility that I have ever been to". (Again, it is not the purpose of this post to review the worthwhileness of that Lambeth Conference, but clearly not all found it a profitable exercise).

So, what are the prospects for this year's Conference? Will it not be an exercise in futility? What is the purpose of the Conference and does it have a "big thing" it is trying to achieve?

In the end, I can't offer a pre-Conference answer to these questions. There is a "big thing" inasmuch as there will be foci in the Conference in the troubles that beset our world today and what we as bishops might say in response to them - and presumably any formal Conference statement will encourage our dioceses to continuing engagement in the tackling of these troubles. The theme of the Conference is "God's church for God's world" and I like the note that the church is "for" the world.

On the main Conference webpage we read this:

"Convened by The Archbishop of Canterbury in 2022, the Lambeth Conference is a gathering of bishops from across the Anglican Communion for prayer and reflection, fellowship and dialogue on church and world affairs.

With the theme of ‘God’s Church for God’s World - walking, listening and witnessing together,’ the conference will explore what it means for the Anglican Communion to be responsive to the needs of a 21st Century world.

The journey to the conference starts during 2021, where there will be opportunities for prayer, dialogue and reflection, involving the conference community – and wider Anglican World."

It looks like our reflection and dialogue will focus on matters such as the conflictual nature of our world, and the threat of environmental disaster and the diminishment of life through poverty and inequality.

Mind you, a world faced with environmental disaster doesn't quite cut it for some bishops as a "big thing." Thus:

Three Afican Primates (Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda) have issued an open letter, reported by The Living Church, in which they explain why they are boycotting Lambeth:

"The Communique issued after the Primates’ Meeting of March 2022 in Lambeth Palace, London, was silent on the agenda of the proposed Lambeth 2022, which is a ploy to evade the crucial issue of human sexuality. The conclusions reached by the Primates suggest that the subject of human sexuality is not on the agenda at the next Lambeth Conference, as if the problems generated by the admission of homosexuality as a normal way of life as opposed to Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998 could be swept under the carpet. 

Instead, Lambeth 2022 is to focus on peripheral matters about the environment and difficulties experienced by disadvantaged communities. Their focus on the environment should be rooted in biblical theology within an authentic salvation message and must not abandon that for any social cause.

Human sexuality is not a moral issue to be wrapped in the garment of human rights which allows for distortion of fundamental biblical truth."

The planet is burning up, but that is "peripheral"!

Well, let's see what happens. I would be a bit surprised if nothing is said about human sexuality. Conversely, I have no personal desire to go to a conference which has nothing to talk about except the well worn conversational grooves of Anglican differences over homosexuality (1998-2022 edition).

I would love to find through the Conference how much we have in common as members of a global church when our globe is facing so many common challenges! That would be a "big thing" ...

In the meantime, apparently if we don't get Covid, or Covid-again, then monkeypox is spreading.



Monday, May 16, 2022

Clearly (Down Under and Up Yonder version(s)) - updated

Last week the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia met. Some sense of the big issues can be gained here and here (via the multiple links there). Has our neighbouring church come closer to a massive schism, or has it managed to find a way to not do so? I feel a little unclear about that!

Following debates, and ruminating on the particular shock to the Synod of the bishops not agreeing with the houses of clergy and laity on a statement about marriage, it has struck me that quite a lot depends in modern Anglicanism on what the word "clearly" means, whether we are agreed on what is "clear" and what is not, and whether we are minded to live together with those who are not as clear as we are on a matter or matters.

For what it is worth, I think the bishops got it right when the voted against a statement which said this:

"Marriage as the union of a man and a woman.  Pursuant to the authority recognised in s.4 and s.26 of the Constitution to make statements as to the faith, ritual, ceremonial or discipline of this Church, and in accordance with the procedures set out in Rule V, the General Synod hereby states:  

1. The faith, ritual, ceremonial and discipline of this Church reflect and uphold marriage as it was ordained from the beginning, being the exclusive union of one man and one woman arising from mutual promises of lifelong faithfulness, which is in accordance with the teaching of Christ that, “from the beginning the Creator made them male and female”, and in marriage, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matt 19:4-5).  

2. The solemnisation of a marriage between a same-sex couple is contrary to the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.  

3. Any rite or ceremony that purports to bless a same-sex marriage is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.  "

Why do I think that? Because (a) accepting (1) above is true when discussion concerns marriage between a man and a woman, does not entail that (2) and (3) are true without further reflection about the relationship between what Christ taught (as recorded in our Gospels) and what Christ did not teach (because no one asked a question of Christ about same-sex relationships, and certainly not in the context of modern states making civil provision for marriage between two people of the same sex). It is the case that "further reflection" in churches today both yields conclusions in which (2) and (3) above are held to be true (and thus the houses of clergy and laity voted in favour) and conclusions in which neither (2) and (3) are held to be true, or only (3) is not held to be true (and thus there were significant minorities against the statement).

And, thus, (b) the bishops got it right (I am interpreting their decision here), because they felt the ACA should be a church in which continuing exploration of two (or more views) on these matters is possible.*see further below

Or, more simply, those voting against the statement felt that things are not quite as clear as the statement's promoters and supporters make them out to be.

Incidentally, readers here, like me ignorant until last week of a specific requirement of the Diocese of Sydney, may be interested to know that the issue of commitment to marriage (in line with the statement proposed to the GS) in that Diocese is such that all new principals of Anglican schools there, along with new school board members, are required to sign a statement of support for marriage being only between a man and a woman.

Yet, let's be clear, it is also the case that clarity can be fervently held on the other side of this particular ledger. Over the weekend I noticed some discussion about an interview with Wesley Hill, a celibate, gay (wait for it) Episcopalian priest and theologian, who is interviewed here.

Wesley is a fascinating bloke, because a lot about his theological approach to being gay in the church would sit very satisfactorily inside ACNA. Yet he is coolly and calmly convinced that his place is in The Episcopal Church, promoting what he calls a "Side B" approach to being a gay Christian: commitment to being celibate while boldly being out.

But here's the thing.

If you follow the comments in this thread on Twitter, you get a lot of support for Wesley.

But if you follow the comments in this thread on Twitter, you get a lot of clarity that there is no place for Wesley and his views in The Episcopal Church.

Speaking personally, I would struggle to be part of either an ACA or a TEC which (finally) got to a position of shutting down all possibility of exploring aspects of human sexuality, respecting the fact that some lack of clarity attends the discussion.

Back to the General Synod across The Ditch.

There was also some controversy over a motion to celebrate 30 years of women in ordained ministry, that controversy reflecting the difference between dioceses in ACA over whether women may be priests or bishops.

If we put both controversies together, over marriage and over women being ordained to positions of authority such as priest or bishop, we highlight an arguably deeper question for Anglicans than one about clarity or lack of clarity, that question concerns whether anything in our understanding of Scripture may change as life changes.

Is that the great question for global Anglicanism in the 21st century? (Actually, it is the great question for global Christianity!)

But if it is the great question, then it is closely associated with the question whether global Anglicanism, and the Anglican provinces around the globe, can live with some answers to the great question being less than as clear as those of us who love clarity would like.

Updates:

1. Australian Primate warns against going it alone on SSB.

2. Case is made here (re who is or isn't Anglican in Australia) that the General Synod only narrowly avoided effectively determining that ACA is not a comprehensive church but "a narrow, even Calvinistic, confessional church".

3. On what the bishops' vote signifies, see this The Living Church article, and note this excerpt:

Bishop Garry Weatherill of Ballarat opposed the marriage motion, saying he was aware of only two same-sex blessings which had occurred in the church since the Appellate Tribunal’s decision.

“That is not a tsunami. People have been saying this is a tear in the fabric of the church, and drawing a line in the sand. It’s not,” he told TLC. “The reason the bishops voted against the motion was to leave the space open for discussion, not to make hard line edicts.”

The church’s primate, Archbishop of Adelaide Geoffrey Smith, told The Australian newspaper last week that the scriptures and church clearly understood marriage as between a man and woman.

“I am not aware of any proposal to alter that,” Smith said. “The current discussion is really about the ‘therefore’ part. Is it the case that therefore blessing a marriage that is not between a man and a woman is inappropriate or impossible to be done?

“Or is it the case that yes, the doctrine of the church is that marriage is between a man and a woman but actually we are living in a culture and society where lawful marriage is possible between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, and there might be good that comes from that relationship and it might reflect something of God’s love and therefore it’s appropriate for some kind of blessing or recognition.”

Archbishop Smith's statement/question, as expressed above, is pretty much aligned with my own position as a bishop in ACANZP: affirming marriage traditionally understood AND making room for exploration of what it means to be church in a changed society.