Thursday, June 2, 2011

Occasionally, I have been known to be wrong

One of the great experiences of my life, and a very privileged one at that, was to live in Durham, England for three and a half years (1990-93). Among other things I soaked in the experience of belonging to the Church of England, the one true mother church of all Anglican churches, and imbibed its sometimes heady atmosphere. David Jenkins was the Bishop of Durham in those days. He had already reached the apex or nadir of his controversial remarks about the resurrection, so it was an education for me to hear him speak on a couple of occasions and find that he made perfectly good sense. A sermon he preached in St Nicholas' Church was among the half dozen or so best sermons I have ever heard. Since those days I have had a special interest in who the Bishop of Durham is. Until recently the office was held by a man as luminous in intelligence as David Jenkins and, arguably, as controversial in public life as he was, one Tom Wright!

Thinking Anglicans carries the announcement that Bishop Tom's successor has been announced and I have been very pleasantly surprised to see that it is Justin Welby, currently Dean of Liverpool. My surprise involves me admitting that I have been wrong about an aspect of life in the C of E: I had formulated a theory that deans never become bishops there. Tom Wright was Dean of Lichfield, so that was strike one against the theory. Now strike two (to my limited knowledge) has taken place. My theory is in tatters - I was wrong. The pleasant part of the surprise is that Justin was an ordinand at Cranmer Hall when I was in Durham. He was impressively looking like a future bishop then, and now he will be one.

Postscript: How well connected in English society can a man be ... the future +Durham is described thus in a comment on Thinking Anglicans: "Interesting choice. Probably a smoother operator and a "safer pair of hands" than N T Wright although without his academic distinction.

Educated Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge. A strong interest in the ethics of the financial and business world, about which he has published a number of books. A former oil company executive.

Grandson of Rab Butler's daughter, son of Winston Churchill's private secretary (Welby's mother) and also son of an old flame of Vanessa Redgrave (his father), step-son of a Labour life peer.

Before he was ordained he was very active at Holy Trinity Brompton, a fierce evangelical church much favoured by the upper middle classes.

My impression is that he is something of a centrist.". The next ABC?


Father Ron Smith said...

The prospective Bishop of Durham has also some experience of the real world - in the Oil Industry! However, his experience in both Coventry and Liverpool will have helped his perspective in different ways.

I must confess., I'm just a tad concerned about his time at Holy Trinity, Brompton. His 'oratory' might include rather a lot of the trendy, gung-ho philosophy of the Alpha Course. (Instant Holy Ghost!)

Peter Carrell said...

"Instant Holy Ghost", Ron?

What do you make of Acts 2? :)

Hogster said...

Pentecost next week. Bring it on.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I am speaking rather of the institutionalisation of the delivery of the gifting of the Holy Spirit on the 5th session of the Alpha Course. If you don't actually speak in tongues on that occasion, you may not be accounted as 'saved' or baptized in the Holy Spirit - a very dangerous assumption, I think.

In the original idea of the Holy Spirit Seminars via the charismatic movement; there was not the same emphasis on 'tongues' as THE sign of being Baptised in The Spirit.

Alpha has, sadly, systematised this particular experience as being 'de rigeur'. This, in my opinion, is taking the process too far. Saint Paul warned the Early Church that 'Tongues' was only one of the Gifts of the Spirit, and not necessarily given to all. We cannot 'order' the giving of gifts, which is solely the prerogative of the Holy Spirit.

Paul Powers said...

"Peter, I am speaking rather of the institutionalisation of the delivery of the gifting of the Holy Spirit on the 5th session of the Alpha Course. If you don't actually speak in tongues on that occasion, you may not be accounted as 'saved' or baptized in the Holy Spirit - a very dangerous assumption, I think."

When I took the Alpha course several years ago, towards the end we had a "Holy Spirit" weekend. While the gift of tongues was discussed during the weekend, there was never any suggestion that not receiving it was a sign that you weren't really saved or anything like that. Nor was that the experience of anyone else I know who took the course.

Lucy said...

Father Ron I am often perplexed as to why you write in such a disparaging fashion about the family of God when each one of us is precious to Christ. In the case of Alpha, your comments are both ignorant and unfounded. I found your response to Rosemary most ungracious.

Father Ron Smith said...

Lucy, my response to Rosemary's comments were purely situational. If she really is living in Sydney, surely she has no problem with her negative opinion on women clergy. The ABP. of Sydney is well-known for his not wanting women in charge of parish congregations of his diocese. I would imagine he wouldn't like women preachers either.

It isn't that he has a real problem with their presiding at the Eucharist - after all, he allows deacons to do that. He doesn't want women in charge - but I guess this wouldn't please Rosemary either.

Regarding you dismay at my remarks in other contexts. I am speaking only of my own experience of Alpha, which may have changed since I was involved in it - many years ago. My experience of the charismatic movement also goes back a long way, and I will always be grateful for it's effect on my own life. I recall the H.S. Seminars as being less didactic than Alpha, and perhaps having a rather deeper and olng-lasting influence.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lucy -- I think the answer to your question is that Alpha is *conservative* and has influence and power. That's incredibly disturbing for revisionists.

Thus -- Father Ron Smith's "disparaging" comments.

Over here in TEC the libs hate Alpha with a passion. They tried to tout a substitute for Alpha - in my diocese they called it "American Alpha" -- heh -- but thankfully the bizarre mix of Spongian revisionism they created has largely failed to take hold. A few revisionist priests launch it periodically in their parishes -- to very little interest.

Take the words from revisionists as a badge of honor for Alpha.


James said...

I spent years as an "Alpha skeptic" when it first appeared in my parish. The "evangelical enthusiasm" of those promoting it seemed to me a bit over-the-top.

Over the years, I've met a number of people who not only came to Christ via the Alpha Course, but also received substantial training in the Scriptures and church doctrine, and began hearing of Catholic churches in the area using it. The ecumenical aspect, and large number of churches where the Alpha Course is used is very impressive. It's simply "Trinitarian" - probably the most successful Anglican project of the last century.

There is a lot to be enthusiastic about the Alpha Course. But that said, some of its promoters do exaggerate and make it into something it's not.

Though it has been an integral part of major church growth in many parishes, it's also no "miracle drug" either. It's a rather "expensive" formula - calling for church staff to teach for many weeks, and course goers to continue for as many weeks. An acquaintance using the course said that in general things don't tend to "take off" until after the seventh week or so, a period of time after which many groups will have given up. That it is not cheap - no simple altar call, or quick means of packing people into church - I also appreciate. It's rather robust, and emphasizes durable church membership.

I'd say: it's not difficult to be put off by the "hype" surrounding the Alpha Course, from those who have heard of it but don't quite know how it works. When it's treated as a kind of church growth wonder drug or such - these accounts do deserve to be criticized.

As for Fr. Ron's remarks on the Holy Spirit: Alpha depends to a large degree on its leaders. This is probably why his experience was so different from that of Paul's. I've never known Alpha to be used by charismatics who are as intent on tongues as those who led Fr. Ron's course; on the other hand, I'm happy that these charismatics have something as structured as the Alpha Course to work with.

Father Ron Smith said...

Good to see you back on site, Sarah. Are you still a contributor to the virtueonline blog? I've missed your own brand of invective about the TEC Presiding Bishop. "Pot & Kettle"!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,

Sarah does not contribute at virtueonline.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Sarah,
I am not going to publish comments with as much speculation in them as your two recent comments, rejected by me, have contained.

Please comment on issues not people.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter Carrell -- I don't have an email address for you so I'm putting this in the comment section so you can read it.

I commented on actual facts -- facts that I can show you on your blog, as you well know -- and thus did not speculate. Actual things that are said are simply facts -- and of course you chose to publish "Father" Ron Smith's comments which were knowingly false as he has been corrected on your very blog.

Nevertheless, your rules, your blog. You don't need to explain anything to me about whether you publish or do not publish comments -- I don't take any of it personally, just as I do not attempt to go by your commenting standards when I comment. I go by my own standards, submit my comments, and understand that you make whatever decision you like, whether arbitrary or reasoned, consistent or not, and I move on.

I have fun at your blog and enjoy it.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Sarah

I am glad you have fun here.

I am not the best moderator in the world and I acknowledge that I let a comment from Fr Ron pass which contained an error of fact.

I am happy to converse further by email re moderation issues and can be contacted at "director" "@" "", or there is a contact function on Theology House's website.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter and 'Anonymous Sarah'; I must apologise if I have the wrong 'Sarah' in mind when I spoke of one Sarah Hey's appearance on the vitriolic blog virtueonline.

I obviously mistook 'anonymous Sarah' for 'Sarah Hey' who has definitely written for David Virtue, and whose remarks have been very like yours, 'Anonymous Sarah', on the subject of TEC and the P.B.

Anyway, my apologies for a wrong assumption. I wouldn't want to dub you with Sarah Hey's reputation if you were not that person.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,

I think it important that we try once and for all to clear up a confusion re Sarah commenting here and Sarah writing elsewhere (as far as I know the same person).

(1) David Virtue is a magpie who collects pieces up from here and there and (re)publishes them on his site. The fact that a piece is published by VirtueOnline does NOT mean that person has 'written for virtueonline'. From memory even my own writings have occasionally been republished there.
(2) Sarah's claim is that she has not written for VirtueOnline. I think you should accept that claim.
(3) Sarah has written for other sites, Stand Firm and Titus One Nine. You may or may not have a comment to make about that. But in my view those sites are not 'vitriolic.'

Brother David said...

Sarah has written for other sites, Stand Firm and Titus One Nine. You may or may not have a comment to make about that. But in my view those sites are not 'vitriolic.'

You obviously have not read much there by way of the comments then. There are times one needs a hazmat suit.

James said...

Fr. Ron,

Here's one of Sarah's posts that I think you might like: What does it mean to say "Give me Jesus"? - it's one of my favorites.

James said...

Hermano David,

I shall always remember with a smile your explaining to me on Fr. Harris's blog why you prefer to use the terms "fundigelical" and "orthodite."

I think it's fair to say that a goodly amount of spttile flies in commenting at both ends of the Anglican spectrum.

Brother David said...

I got tired of the slurs that Little Stone Bridges slings so freely James. I try not to use those terms anymore.

James said...

Hermano David,

"I try not to use those terms anymore."

I'm glad to hear this, for you. So important to learn better communication with opponents when we're at war. We save everyone traumas that way, and it's one of the things we can do to God's glory even when we are at war - learn how to love one another even when it seems so terribly difficult or impossible.