Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Gospels in the Communion?

I think talk about 'two gospels' in the Communion is something which bears some careful scrutiny.

First, we need to take into account that 'the gospel' (as told and taught in the New Testament) is a gospel told in different versions (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul ... the writer to the Hebrews, James, John the seer as well?). These variations are not insignificant. It has been observed (though I cannot recall by whom) that the Roman Catholic understanding of the gospel rests more on Matthew than on Paul with much argument and conflict ensuing through the centuries. With respect to the Communion, a claim that there are 'two gospels' needs to check carefully that we are not talking about two versions of the one gospel rather than two gospels.

Secondly, we need to ask when differences in the understanding of the gospel affect fellowship and when they do not. Over the years I have had concerns about what fellow Christians believe to be the content of the gospel - sometimes in Anglican contexts, sometimes in ecumenical evangelical contexts (we use to have lots of vigorous discussion in the Christian Unions when I was a student at uni), sometimes in ministers' fellowships - but I haven't broken fellowship. In hindsight I think this was a very good thing not to do because with patience and listening I have come to new realisations about what the gospel is, including the realisation that my understanding can be improved and that others' understanding can be interpreted differently from my first reactive response. In other words, some differences which at first sight might look like "fellowship breakers" may at second sight not be so, so much care is needed.

Thirdly, we need to keep a sense of proportion. Over in England at the moment the Church of England via its flagship St Paul's Cathedral is taking a huge hit because the authorities in the cathedral (as best I can make out) lost a sense of proportion. In upholding the rules of health and safety they have allowed themselves to look to all the world like the moneychangers in the Temple rather than like Jesus. If our greatest concern about 'two gospels' is (i.e. boils down to) a concern about homosexuals, and if that concern is going to divide a church or the Communion, have we lost our sense of proportion? I think I share most concerns conservatives have about +Gene Robinson's consecration, the blessing of same sex partnerships, and the ordination of people in those relationships, but I (seem to) differ from some (many?) conservative Anglicans in my unwillingness to leave the Anglican church over these matters. For the life of me, I cannot see a good sense of proportion being worked out if I find myself in a new church which is largely defined in its distinctiveness because of what it does not approve about homosexuals.

Now I am pretty sure that some readers here will read all the above and say, Nevertheless, there are two gospels in the Communion today and unless something is done about this, the Communion will divide formally and (eventually) completely.

Yet there is still something to think about in respect of claims about two gospels ... to be continued.

As big a Communion tent as can be?

In the end, as I re-read some comments posted this past week when I posted about the Communion and the risks some groups are posing to it, I am unconvinced that these matters rending the Communion are sharply binary: what has Sydney to do with TEC? The Communion must become liberal or conservative, not a mixture. Opposing views on (e.g.) homosexuality or the ordination of women are impossible to contain within the the one Communion tent. Our problems are about two gospels defining the Communion when Communion can only be based on one gospel.

Here are the facts of Anglican life, experienced previously and currently: we have great differences contained in our tent, partly because they are contained in smaller tents within the larger tent (so Sydney lives first within the diverse Anglican Church of Australia, and then in the Communion which also includes TEC); opposing views are possible among Anglican groups (there are those who ordain women and those who do not in Global South; people who think divorce equates to adultery (and thus remarriage is blessing sin) and people who think oppositely live within the same churches, even in the same NZ dioceses!); the Communion and many of its member churches have always had two or more camps within  and lived to tell the tale - they just haven't always been called 'liberals' and 'conservatives'; and the problem of perceptions of two gospels at work in Anglican life is something which has also been lived with for a long time.

The last issue, two gospels, is, in the end, the sharpest and most important matter before us. But here, I suggest, are several issues which need to be worked through before I, you, or both of us make a definitive pronouncement that there are two gospels and thus there must be two Communions.

... to be continued (I accidentally published this in incomplete form, but not to worry, it can be completed another day!)

Saturday, October 29, 2011


This morning's Press continues the unfolding now public story of the future possibilities for our Anglican cathedral here in Christchurch (i.e. another story of unfolding future possibilities re our Roman Catholic cathedral is yet to come).

In today's chapter (told here) of what I can assure you will be a long-running saga,we find this 'technical' section re figures,

"Once the cathedral has been stabilised, cathedral leaders will consider four options for the future of the building. One involves the complete demolition and rebuilding, which is not favoured by Matthews and Dean Peter Beck.

The other three options retain between 20 and 70 per cent of the building.

The funding shortfall for the options range from $30m to $50m on top of any insurance claim.

Matthews declined to reveal the value of the insurance coverage, but the building is insured for only 70 per cent of the rebuild cost. "
Put like that, the rebuild sounds like going to the supermarket and standing in front of the bread section contemplating whether to buy a loaf at $1.67, or $2.10, or $3.50.

In reality it will not be like that at all. $30m - $50m is money our diocese does not have. The choices before us include another set of choices about how the funds for the option chosen are raised, and logically the decision-making process must include the possibility that eventually we may need to choose to build a building within the insurance funds available to us. That is we face a large and complex range of inter-related choices which are nothing like wondering how much to spend on a loaf of bread! Of course the choices could be reduced quickly if donors stepped forward and offered (say) $40m without any fund-raising strategy needing to be considered. That could happen: there are wealthy people and businesses in Canterbury committed to making Christchurch great again.But we need to plan as though that isn't going to happen.

In a word, what lies before the diocese in relation to the cathedral is 'huge'; and that 'huge' is in an equation with another 'huge', what to do re all the other broken buildings, and another 'huge', the impact of insurance premiums on our parishes (as on all NZ churches). Three x huge = huge to the power of huge?

Brothers and sisters, pray for wisdom for us!

PS I am working on a response to as yet unaddressed comments made earlier in the week re the Communion as a big tent. But Timaru and a seminar on 'Preaching Mark's and John's Gospels' beckons and I shall go there first ...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Partialization of Christchurch Cathedral

From a letter from Bishop Victoria Matthews, Diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand, to her clergy this morning:

"The Cathedral, as you are aware, suffered grave damage in the Christchurch earthquakes of 26 December 2010; 22 February, 2011; and 13 June 2011. It has now been determined that in order to make the Cathedral safe for an interim period of time, for the retrieval and retention of some of the heritage aspects of the Cathedral, we have to order a controlled demolition for parts of the building. I am very aware it has been a difficult time for us all and it saddens me that I have to make this announcement. On the other hand it does mean that there will be the saving of some of the precious heritage, and also that the future Cathedral will incorporate that which is both old and new.

One consequence of this decision is that I will de-consecrate the Cathedral and return it to secular use prior to the controlled demolition. That service of de-consecration will take place on Wednesday, 9 November at at 10.00 am at the Cathedral. As the Cathedral stands in the restricted red zone, with very limited entry, we hope to air the service of de-consecration on television for those who wish to witness the de-consecration.

In closing let me say that, in God's good time, we again will have a wonderful Cathedral that is the heart of both the city and the Diocese. Until then, let me again remind all Christians that we are the church, the Body of Christ, and the Gospel we carry on our lips and in our hearts is the only Gospel many folks will ever encounter. Let us never forget that we have Good News to share. May our lives and words proclaim Christ's love and redemption where ever we go."

This announcement was due to be made to the world via the media at 11 am today, Friday 28th October, 2011.

Please read here for a stimulating, and somewhat challenging report in the Press re future options, citizen opinion, etc.

POSTSCRIPT On the other side of the world another Cathedral has had a chequered week, with good comment from Lord Carey here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

TEC on path to isolation?

TEC's Executive Council will propose to GC 2012 that TEC does not adopt the Covenant. Read Mark Harris here at Preludium.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dear Commenters

Sorry. Dodgy, intermittent internet connection tonight, maybe tomorrow too. Intermittency permits posting comments, not so good on writing replies. So won't attempt to reply to many, varied and challenging comments until more secure, consistent connection obtainable.

Do the people putting the Anglican Communion at risk ...

... know what they are doing?

Interesting to me that Michael Poon's article published at Fulcrum, noted two posts below, has generated less than heart-warming comments here. Could be a sign that no one from Fulcrum visits here!

My own thinking has been that Poon is putting his finger on something very important when viewed from the perspective of 'risk': who and what is putting the Communion at risk?

Let's start at the beginning with two simple propositions. (1) The Anglican way of being Christian is worth living and dying for - it is the way of catholic Christianity without a papal hierarchy, the way of protestant Christianity with bishops, a way of being orthodox that incorporates the voice of laity, a worshipping Christianity committed to the developing liturgical tradition of ancient Christianity. (2) The Anglican Communion is the attempt to hold all Anglicans in the largest (widest diversity, most global geographically) organisation possible - if you like, the Communion is the 'big tent' for global Anglicanism (and the Covenant is the door into the tent!).

This blog is about these propositions: Anglican Christianity is good, the Anglican Communion is worth fighting for as the means of both associating Anglican Christians in global fellowship and of maintaining the distinctive character of Anglican Christianity, steering it away from reabsorption into Roman Catholicism and from evolution into other forms of Protestantism.

Poon reminds me that various forces within global Anglicanism are putting this great vision for Anglican Christianity at risk. Here are the risk-takers (in no particular order of demerit):

(1) GAFCON and its local expressions in national churches

(2) TEC (and to a lesser extent, ACCan)

(3) Nigerian, Ugandan, Rwandan, and Kenyan Anglican churches These churches, in my view, have demonstrated capability be disruptive of Communion life apart from organisations such as GAFCON.

(4) Global South

Each of the above offers some argumentation in favour of their approach to pan Anglican life on this planet. But none of the above has demonstrated that it is reasonable to view their approach as having the full width of the Anglican Communion.

Does anyone really imagine that (for instance) the future of global Anglicanism is along the pathway of excluding women from ordination, or of the full inclusion of the GLBT community in ordination and blessings of relationships, or via an Anglicanism in which one national church takes it upon itself to remedy perceived deficiencies in another national church, or that a 'South' Communion can have true global reach without the 'North' as well?

I suggest we who love and value Anglican Christianity, yet have strong commitments to certain matters, might think about the possibility that a many splintered Anglican Christianity is not a future worth fighting for. Sure, within my 'splinter' I might feel good that I have a space to pursue what I think is right and true, to see the fulfilment of 'my vision'. But what if 'my vision' is just that, a vision limited by my own limitations as a theologian?

The point of 'big tent' Anglicanism is that it allows for many 'my visions' to jostle together, out of which emerges a larger vision for the present and future of Christianity.

A commenter here rightly noted the future of Christianity is heading in a Chinese direction and raised the question whether current Communion life is geared to welcome that new future. Probably it is not so geared. But it could be. If we can get over our ghettoes, mend the fractures, and reconstitute ourselves.

Too big an 'if'?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Common Prayer Developing in Sydney

With a tip of the hat to Andrew Reid, head here for a report in a newly developed draft of Common Prayer in the Diocese of Sydney and here for the website with these draft resources for perusal, use, and comment.

Here is a question: if Oz win the RWC in four years time, will anything among these resources help put together a celebratory service? With a side theme in lament ... for cuzziebros across the Tasman not retaining it?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

By 1 (I was completely wrong, but who cares)

So much for predicting the mighty All Blacks would beat the French by 25 points or more in the final of the Rugby World Cup. The bumbling-at-times but still reasonably mighty Blacks won over the relentlessly disciplined French by 1 point. 1 point. Just 1 point. 8-7. To make matters worse the 'stadium of four million' had to endure that scoreline for (I cannot remember) thirty minutes or so.

But we won. We won. After 24 years of failing to win the World Cup we finally won. By just 1 point.

And really, the French scored 7 points as a result of a sloppy All Black play. We spectators were made to feel this win was very hard work. Much harder work than we had thought possible. So hard that it looked like deja-vu, that the French would win ... again. Non, ce n'est pas possible! Yet, in the end, the All Blacks also were relentlessly disciplined, giving away few penalties, and their bumbles, though almost crucial, were few.

But here is the majesty of sport: its unpredictability. So many games at this tournament were won by just one point (two pool games, one semi-final, the final; and one quarter-final was won by only two points). Who predicted that?

And no one, just no one in the four million of us predicted that Stephen Donald would play in the final and kick the goal which won the match!

By 2018

By 2018 some things about the Communion will, believe it or not, have become clearer than they are today. The shape and substance of the Lambeth Conference (presuming it even happens) and the Who's Who on the attendance register will tell us a lot about the future of the Communion. As will the "GAFCON 2" which surely will have taken place by then.

Michael Poon of Singapore has just written a brief summary of the present situation and its challenges, entitled "Undercurrents in the Anglican Communion." Percipiently he asks whether the different blocs in the Communion will take up some lurking questions which he enunciates:

"1.To church leaders in sub-Sahara Africa, does the strong protest against Western decadence in fact reveal a deep anxiety on your ecclesial identity? Jean-François Bayert in his seminal essay "Africa in the world: A history of extraversion" pointed out that African leaders are disposed to mobilise resources from their relationship with the external environment in order to legitimise their own authority and enhance their social status. [See African Affairs, No. 395 (2000): 231-237.] External connections, therefore, are indispensable to African societies. The Church of England and the Episcopal Church have acted as chief reference points for African churches. Does not then the perceived Western decadence provoke a deep identity crisis? Can African churches in fact use the present crisis as an opportunity to rediscover the sources of their inner security? Which means African churches need to develop a more coherent understanding of their ecclesiology

2.Is GAFCON the only valid expression of Anglican evangelicalism, especially the only way to keep faith to John Stott's legacy in today's world? Arguably, John Stott created evangelical structures and helped to shape most of the present leadership in the southern continents. The formation of many top Anglican leaders worldwide can be traced to EFAC, Langham Trust and related networks. GAFCON organisers Chris Sugden, Michael Nazir-Ali and Vinay Samuel merely inherited the infrastructures that John Stott left behind. At the same time, does not John Stott offer a more generous ecclesial vision, and a more charitable way to speak the truth in love, than what GAFCON offers? The deeply-divided evangelical Anglican fraternity worldwide –across the GAFCON and Global South networks – needs to come together to sort out their internal wars. They owe this to their fellow Anglicans – and to John Stott.

3.Is American Christianity in fact using the churches worldwide to be theatres for its domestic religious wars? In what ways should American Christians moderate their imperialist ambitions to set standards and offer solutions to the rest of the world? From the end of the 1940s, American Christianity has been exporting their religious quarrels overseas. The conflict between two Princetonians in the 1940s and 1950s – Carl McIntire of the International Council of Christian Churches and John McKay of the World Council of Churches – is a case in point. Since then, ecumenicals and evangelicals have fought turf wars in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Do patriotic American Christians – with huge suspicion on what is 'un-American' – really want to come under foreign church leadership? Or are many of the present ecclesiastical arrangements matters of marriage of convenience?"
That should keep us all busy! Importantly, Poon directs us to questions which between them challenge all the main blocs in the Communion's present struggles, questions which could be answered in such a manner as to keep us all drawn towards the love of God which empowers our love for one another in Communion. We have until 2018, I suggest, to answer these questions in such a manner that Lambeth 2018 will represent a Communion on the mend. If not, Lambeth 2018 will likely be the last hurrah of the broken Communion.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

By 25

Our nation is counting down. It's been twenty-four years since Captain (David) Kirk held the Rugby World Cup aloft on behalf of the All Blacks and the nation. Tomorrow night, at the blessed time of 9 pm (blessed because after all Sunday services are finished), the All Blacks will run on to Eden Park, field of dreams, to play the French, the most challenging of all our possible opponents because they can win when least expected to. Tomorrow night could be very challenging because the French go into the final having lost two pool games which no finalist has ever done before, indeed no team has ever won the World Cup having lost any of its pool games.

However I think we are quietly confident. We have some real strength upfront in our scrum, some tall timber in our lineout, and, quite possibly, the best backline we have ever fielded in over one hundred years of playing test rugby: not one weak link, and some real stars who can slip past their opposite with silky skills.

It would be icing on the cake if we could win well, not just win. In fact a repeat of the pool game we played against France would be very good. The pundits paid to write about these things are predicting a close game with the All Blacks winning by a dozen or so points. I am predicting a win by 25 points or more. Allez les Blacks!

So, just a wee holiday from things Anglicana coming up. The Anglican Communion is not the only interest of mine which has its birth in England!

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's becoming transparently obvious there has to be a better way

ADU is one guy and a laptop so you will understand my admiration for the Anglican Communion Institute which is fabled (or derided, depending on who you are) as four guys and a laptop: such resources. Besides which, the ACI guys which I have met are way brighter and more learned than I am. Anyway, they are on the case in respect of the plot thickening in respect of TEC's move against the Diocese of South Carolina.
Here, in a very recent post (H/T two commenters to a recent post of mine) the ACI step by step outlines the events in the plot, with appropriate referencing to verifiable statements, conjoined to dates. There is nothing here which looks good: it does not look good for TEC as a transparent organisation innocently going about its business until one day, out of the blue, a set of complaints against +Mark arrive. No it looks a bit different to that. It certainly does not look good for +Mark: it looks like the plan is to accuse, try, and sentence him for abandonment in a process which looks like he does not have the right to appeal the judgement.

Of course, objectors here can object that the ACI is spinning this like a top. OK: let's have the facts in their case which are wrong?

My interest in the matter from far away: let's remember that the theology of +Mark Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina is pretty much the theology of the moderate conservatives of the Communion, of people such as myself, of fellow evangelicals in ACANZP, in Australia, in the C of E, and in countless places in Africa, South-East Asia and so forth. If TEC cannot find a way to live with this theology in harmonious conversation but is going to resort to law to deny its existence to whom is our allegiance as fellow Anglicans? With those who share our faith and practice, or with those who resort to law to squeeze that faith and practice out of existence?

There has to be a better way to deal with this situation than through canons - as the Bishop of Upper South Carolina, Andrew Waldo, has suggested.

There is also a mystery here: are there no other bishops in TEC going to come forth to support +Mark and the Diocese of South Carolina?

UPDATE: Wow. Curmudgeon is the researcher par excellence on the nuances and details caught up in the imbroglio that is unfolding. Read here and weep for the number of bishops and laity who will sit in contradiction over +Mark. It's like the Sadducees making up the jury for someone who is on trial for believing in the resurrection!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A word to my critics

Apparently even though one observes things faraway from little islands of isolation, one can share in wonderment. Here is the Bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, Andrew Waldo, on the situation surrounding the proceedings against +Mark Lawrence:

"I do not intend to prejudge the matters being considered by the review board; however, it is hard for me to see how the actions complained of against Bishop Lawrence rise to the level of an intentional abandonment of the communion of this church, as is charged. I have difficulty understanding why matters that are arguably legislative and constitutional in nature should be dealt with in a disciplinary context. I await the report and yet hope the review board shares my difficulty."
You can read all this wise man has to say here (H/T Thinking Anglicans, Titus One Nine).

Reflections on two anniversaries

George Weigel, a Catholic theologian specialising in ethics and public policy, is about to hit the shores of NZ in a series of speaking engagements. Recently he gave a talk on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 which happens to be the fifth anniversary since Pope Benedict XVI gave a profound lecture at Regensburg which also generated a spot of controversy (or should that be a "spat of controversy"?). Weigel reflects on that lecture here. An excerpt of which is this:

"What hit the United States on 9/11 was not a "tragedy," despite the ubiquitous and virtually universal misuse of that word in the tenth anniversary commentary. What hit New York and Washington was evil unleashed from within an intra-Islamic civil war that had been going on for decades. And at the center of that civil war is a contest over whether Islam can embrace such modern political ideas as inalienable human rights (that can be known by reason, and thus by everyone) and the separation of powers within governments.

If the answer to that question is "No," then the cycle of war between Islam and "the rest" that has ebbed and flowed since the 7th century will continue. If the answer is "yes," then that answer will have to come from within Islam, not by a process in which Islamic societies radically secularize. Pope Benedict XVI was insightful enough, and courageous enough, to say this at Regensburg. It's about time the world paid attention."
This week I had an interesting experience, flying to another diocese to take part in making a DVD presentation about Scripture, same sex partnerships, and our church. In all these discussions about religion and modern life, a common theme is the nature of our embrace as believers with the realities of life today, with an eye on yesterday and tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

So you sit on some charges against a fellow Christian for a year ...

... and do nothing, absolutely nothing about reconciliation.

What kind of Christian grace and freedom is it that refuses to dialogue and to converse over a grievance and instead waits, and waits, and waits until the full force of the law can be brought against a fellow Christian with whom one is out of sorts?

Is there a need to call out the emperor's lack of gospel clothing here? To all intents and purposes, this seems to be folly by TEC. Is this approach, weighted in terms of recourse to the law and not to the gospel, fully compatible with the nature of our fellowship in Christ, a fellowship which is the heart of being an Anglican Communion?

In case you are wondering what this is all about, then read the Living Church here, and for detailed comment, read Anglican Curmudgeon here.

Bishop John Harrower of Tasmania has come out in support of +Mark Lawrence in a published letter here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Has another NZ diocese decided in favour of the Covenant?

Possibly. Hint in a text tonight. Will keep you posted when more info comes to hand.

CONFIRMED here by Anglican Taonga. Waikato and Taranaki join Nelson and Wellington as three of six dioceses so far to make a formal synodical decision for or against the Covenant (albeit with some nuances here and there as to what 'for' and 'against' mean). My own diocese will consider the matter in a synod in March. No pressure then on our fourth vote for one side or the other among the NZ dioceses. The whole picture for our church becomes complete as the Maori hui amorangi and Diocese of Polynesia make their decisions.

Intriguingly, it seems possible that we could go into our General Synod next year with the episcopal unit signals giving a 50:50 (-ish) indication of how the debate and voting might go in General Synod.

Hmm. 90:10 would be sweeter!

In the midst of controversy, just about anywhere in the world, there you will find a Kiwi, and a few other Saturday notes

Ha! In the midst of the unfolding controversy in the Church of Ireland, I see, in Thinking Anglicans, that one half of the catalyzing partnership is ... a New Zealander. Reminds me of the time I was having a meal in a very obscure village in the middle of Nowhere in Particular in Middle England and the waitress serving us was a ... New Zealander :). ADU apologises for only tardily making this salient observation about Down Under Anglicans and their global spread.

Speaking of civil partnerships/gay marriage, I see that the man every New Zealander hopes is pinged off the field* around 9 pm - 10.45 pm Kiwi time tomorrow night, David Pocock, has an interesting personal protest as a Christian re gay marriage (H/T Anglican Taonga). I imagine some commenters here will not be objecting to me mentioning this particular news item!

Since Anglican Taonga has drawn my attention to it, here is a commentary on Occupying Wall Street. It is worth going to it for the brilliant picture it includes, which neatly lampoons occupier life on Wall Street (and, around now, heading to NZ). I do not think much of the commentary here about the picture. The fact is, we have consumer choices for many items in life and do not have to kowtow to various corporations by buying or using their products. As a matter of fact, your friendly poster here does not own an iPhone, rarely drinks at Starbucks, and owns no item of clothing made by J.Crew. Though that may have something to do with parsimony :)

*For those unfamiliar with the game of Rugby, and perhaps bemused by Kiwi Rugbyspeak, I simply mean that we hope the referee finds all of David Pocock's rule breaking activities when he infringes the rules concerning attempts to retrieve the ball after an All Black is tackled and falls to the ground, blows the whistle on them,  and gives him a yellow card (10 minutes off the field) or even a red card (out of the game altogether). Allegations have been swirling out of South Africa this past week that the referee last Sunday night, when Australia won 11-9 against South Africa, was either blinder than a bat, or an amnesiac as far as certain laws of the game are concerned, in respect of Pocock's marauding activities!

On sin, heresy, and why I do not comment here on Wall Street and its occupiers

It is Saturday morning, the sun is shining, and today has the genuine appearance of being a a Day Off.

Perhaps time to write less about Anglicanland and its territorial fights, and more about myself and the wider world.

It is a sin to worry, we say, so I am quite a sinner at the moment. I am worried about tomorrow night's Rugby World Cup semi-final between New Zealand and Australia. I am worried that our captain Richie McCaw's injured foot is going to let him, the team and the nation down. I read yesterday that he has not been running at training this week. Shouldn't we be putting a fully fit No 7 out on the field against the very fit and healthy Australians?

It is heresy to deviate from orthodoxy. Orthodox thinking says that Australia rarely wins at Eden Park (it's last victory there over the All Blacks was in 1986). But orthodox thinking also says that the All Blacks crash out of World Cup tournaments (our record since first winning the trophy in 1987 is: losses in semi-final, final, semi-final, semi-final, quarter-final). One heresy will triumph over another tomorrow night. But which heresy?

Kurt in a comment below takes writers here to task for not commenting on the Occupy Wall Street movement. I cannot speak for commenters here, but speaking for myself, I would love to write about politics, national and international. I follow American, British, and, of course, Kiwi politics quite closely. However, if this blog is to have much of a life I think it needs a distinctive focus and so most of what I write is about Anglican things, and when I don't write about those things I write about closely related things, such as Bible passages, or what a distinguished theologian has written, etc.

For what it is worth, this is my thinking: the real battle over Wall Street needs to be fought in Washington, and it is noticeable how over the years the battle has been so lightly fought by successive generations of politicians. Does that mean most of the American people are reasonably comfortable with Wall Street's collusion with whomever is in power, and vice versa?

Friday, October 14, 2011

If you play with canons, you may get burnt

It is good to know that the Diocese of South Carolina is in good hands, legally speaking.

As the Diocese is being pursued from on high in respect of whether they have been keeping the canons of TEC or not, it is intriguing to notice that those pursuing them seem to lack the very highest and best understanding of the canons with which they pursue the Diocese. [See UPDATE below] (H/T Titus One Nine, Stand firm).

Here is the Chancellor of the Diocese of South Carolina in a letter dated 7 October 2011 querying whether the Church Attorney representing TEC is also on the Disciplinary Board for Bishops of TEC, since that is not allowed by TEC's own canons.

And here is a comparative list of membership of the Disciplinary Board as posted on 8 October 2011 and 13 October 2011. The Church Attorney, Josephine Hicks, has dropped off the membership list.

If TEC is going to play with their canons as a means to bring order to their church, then they will need to be at the top of their game.

Of course there is another way to order the church, and that is by communication, dialogue, conversation, also known as 'talking to each other.'

In this case my humble suggestion, based on the experience of the two Down Under Anglican churches in Australia, and Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, is that the presupposition of the talking is the intention to hold together despite great diversity. If Australia can hold the Diocese of Sydney in its midst, surely TEC can retain South Carolina ...

UPDATE: The Living Church has a report in which Bishop Henderson says that it was a mistake that Church Attorney Hicks' name was listed on the Disciplinary Board for Bishops (as well as a mistake that one bishop was listed who is not a membr). So that's all right then ... justice is in the hands of people who make simple mistakes with lists!

UPDATED UPDATE: The Living Church now has a report in which Bishop Henderson says that Hicks has recused herself from the role of Church Attorney to the Board because of a potential conflict of interest in respect of her law firm and the process of discipline involving +Lawrence and the Diocese. This is all working out rather well for those who remain cool, calm and collected, and could end badly for those who cannot escape shambolic process.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

As South Carolina and Sydney goes, so will the Communion

The future of the Anglican Communion is in a real mess as I look around Anglicanland today. It is quite like a disaster happening close to one of NZ's most beautiful beachlands where the Rena, a large container ship having sailed off-course onto a reef, is breaking up, leaking oil and dropping containers with hazardous chemicals over its side. Prior to hitting the reef the container ship was successfully sailing across the ocean holding together a large number of containers with different cargoes in them. Something went wrong on the bridge, some inattention to the map which would have guided the ship away from danger if the map was followed. So too the Anglican Communion.

I agree with all critics of the Covenant (see comments to post below) who argue that the Covenant will no more repair the damage to the Communion than putting duct tape over the gash in the sides of the Rena will hold it in one piece. That repair to the Communion will take a new attitude, a new willingness, and a new engagement with one another in order to restore relationships to a point where the Covenant would be a new map for the Communion moving into a new future.

But the signs today are not at all good that there is much in the way of a new attitude, willingness or engagement with one another emerging in the Communion.

In North America, we have the emergence of a what appears to be a full scale attempt to depose +Mark Lawrence, the Bishop of South Carolina, by a panel of bishops using the canons at their disposal to fire their salvo at one who has done nothing other than steer his diocese in the direction of orthodox, traditional, Scriptural Anglican Christianity. Here in the attempt to depose is Anglicanism at its very worst: an episcopal hierarchy which harbours in its midst a diversity of theologies, some straying a long way from creedal orthodoxy uniting to impose canon law on a colleague. There are no signs I can detect in this move of a willingness to restore relationships within TEC. Perhaps worse, there are no signs detectable of TEC's episcopal hierarchy engaging with the question, 'What have we done that South Carolina should have decided not to accede to our constitution etc?'

But down here in Down Under territory, we also have notice of the Diocese of Sydney rejecting the Anglican Covenant. Now there are many opposed to the Covenant (again, see comments to post below, to find Anglicans from a variety of theological commitments united in opposition to the Covenant) so it is scarcely news that Sydney is in the ranks of the opposers. (Though it might be news to those who equate both the Covenant and Sydney with opposition to progress on issues concerned with homosexuality and women in ministry). But what is noteworthy are the reasons for opposition given in the article linked to above. These reasons are seriously confused about what it means to be Anglican. If this confusion is representative of wider thinking across the Communion, then the Communion is doomed. A 'communion' by definition is an entity with beliefs and practices held in common. But if we are confused about the commonalities of Anglicans then Anglican 'communion' is impossible. Even this supporter of the Covenant recognises that some common starting ground is needed for the Covenant to be helpful to the common life of the future Communion.

Here, incidentally, are my reasons why I think the article linked to above expresses serious confusion about what it means to be Anglican:

The article includes the following five theological objections to the Covenant, drawn from a report the Sydney motion adopts, with my observations added in italics below each objection:

"a) Failure to give sufficient attention to historic Anglican formularies: This final text of the Covenant fails to give sufficient attention to the place of the formularies (the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Ordinal and the Book of Common Prayer) in Anglican theology and practice. These ‘historic formularies of the Church of England’, while bearing authentic witness to the catholic and apostolic faith, are only ‘acknowledged and appropriated in various ways in the Anglican Communion’. While it is simply a matter of constitutional reality that the Articles do not have the same place or function in all the provinces of the Communion, the doctrine they espouse remains the doctrine of the Anglican churches. In other words they are not just further authentic witnesses to the catholic and apostolic faith; they exercise a particular function in the structure of our doctrine and life together (whether acknowledged or not). It is beyond dispute that the Articles (which, it should be noted, enjoin the reading of the Homilies) arose in a particular historical location and bear the marks of that location. England in the sixteenth century is very different from Africa or Asia in the twenty-first century. However, the few articles which are specific to that original situation (e.g. Article 37) can easily be distinguished from those articles treating biblical doctrine.

Given that this objection recognises that the 39A etc are influential in varying ways across the Communion, the Covenant gives sufficient attention to them. It cannot be expected that the Covenant gives more attention than realistically possible for a Communion of 38 member churches.

(b) Confused ecclesiology: The Covenant continues to operate with a confused ecclesiology. What is the basic unit of the denomination which would be able to enter into such a Covenant? Section 4 seems to rely upon the notion of Anglican provinces committing their member churches to this arrangement. However, such a notion of the nature and function of a province is quite novel and flies in the face of the two most enduring theological views: that the diocese and its bishop is the basic unit of ‘church’; or that the local congregation is the basic unit of ‘church’. The theological questions raised by giving provinces such a role in maintaining discipline are immense and yet this is assumed rather than established on the basis of Scripture.

This objection is itself confused. The Covenant is not a document for the church in general, but for the Anglican Communion which is an organisation of member churches. That is the basic units of the Communion are member churches and so the Covenant is for member churches to sign to, or not to sign to.

(c) Inflated view of the Anglican bishop: The final text contains a highly inflated view of the Anglican bishop. Why, for instance is the teaching of bishops highlighted in §1.2.4? They are authorised teachers within our polity but so is every priest or presbyter and even each deacon. Neither the Ordinal or the Articles presupposes a distinction between them at this point. The teaching of all is to be tested by the Scriptures themselves. Similarly, to suggest that ‘Churches of the Anglican Communion are bound together … by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of bishops in conference’ (§3.1.2) is problematic, notwithstanding the fact that this was the language of the Lambeth Conference of 1930.2 In contrast to the trend in some circles to elevate the Anglican bishop, recent history and the current crisis make clear the need to highlight the accountability of bishops to live and teach according to the Scriptures rather than to suggest they (or anyone else) stand over the Scriptures as in some way privileged interpreters.

It is not an inflated view of the Anglican bishop to emphasise the special role of the bishop in Anglican polity. The objection (b) above has precisely defined the basic unit of the universal church as the diocese, which places extraordinary specialness on the human leader of that unit! Priests and deacons are licensed by their bishop; dioceses are units because they are about a grouping of God's people bound together around an office, united by fellowship with the holder of that office, the bishop. Thus on a bishop is a special teaching responsibility because the doctrine taught by the bishop will aid, or undermine, the unity of the diocese as the basic unit of the church at large. Priests or presbyters and deacons share in that responsibility, the standard of teaching within which responsibility is determined by the bishop. (If I preach the bodily resurrection of our Lord while my bishop is headlined in the media as denying the resurrection, guess which teacher has set the standard!?). All that is to say nothing of what this objection says nothing, that the eucharistic presidency of priests/presbyters is a collegial responsibility flowing out from the role of the bishop.

(d) Inordinate power given to the Archbishop of Canterbury: This document involves ratifying an authority structure which gives an inordinate amount of power to the Archbishop of Canterbury. As mentioned above, he plays a significant role in each of the other three ‘Instruments of Communion’ which therefore cannot operate as effective counterbalances if he should himself be part of the problem at any point. His role in issuing invitations to Lambeth, chairing the ACC and also the Standing Committee, and convening the Primates Meeting raises serious questions about whether there are in reality four ‘Instruments of Communion’ or one.

There is no 'inordinate' power given to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The power of the ABC is the power of influence, not of rule. The Archbishop of Canterbury first and foremost has ordinate power according to the order of the Church of England, bound by canon and civil law of that church and of the United Kingdom, and in those interconnected domains, the power of the ABC is of influence, not of rule. Within the Communion the power of the Archbishop of Canterbury is the power of 'host' and 'chair', not the power of a ruler (i.e. an 'Anglican Pope.')

(e) Failure to give due weight to the teaching of Scripture: Perhaps most serious of all, the Covenant does not differentiate – and has no mechanism for differentiating – between those actions which are a departure from the teaching of Scripture and others which involve no such departure. The Covenant’s focus on maintaining institutional unity blurs this most significant distinction. The abandonment of biblical teaching on human sexuality is of an entirely different character to the exercise of extra-diocesan jurisdiction for the sake of those faithful men and women who are suffering at the hands of an errant leadership. Neither the search for faithful episcopal oversight outside of the normal structures nor the approval of administration of the Holy Communion by persons other than presbyters are contrary to Scripture. On the other hand, both a public denial of the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation and an endorsement of homosexual activity are manifestly contrary to Scripture."

This is very seriously confused. The Covenant's role is precisely to maintain the unity of an institution, because it is a Covenant designed for a specific institution, the Anglican Communion. That institution is not a general Christian institution (for which one might make claim that the key standard of all faith and practice was Scripture and only Scripture), but an institution with a specific character, namely, the character of being Anglican.

An Anglican institution inevitably mixes general Christian teaching and practice (e.g. creedal orthodoxy, love one another) with specific Anglican teaching and practice (e.g. permissability of breadth of eucharistic understanding, bishops and priests/presbyters preside at communion, non-subservience to Rome, acknowledgement of heritage in the Church of England through communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury).

The Covenant, with inexorable logic, is precisely a Covenant which guides the Anglican institution of the Communion on what it means to be Anglican and on what it means to be Communion. Thus the Covenant potentially speaks both to things which are a departure from Scripture and to things which involve no departure from Scripture but do depart from Anglican tradition. This is not different to the canons and constitutions of Anglican churches which both spell out the Christian doctrine of these churches and prescribe what is and is not ordered in the life of these churches.

If the Communion is not to break up, like the stricken Rena on the Astrolabe Reef, then it needs within its midst some greater tolerance than is being afforded the Diocese of South Carolina and its bishop, and some clearer thinking than is going on in Sydney at the moment.

I have to say, today, that the future of the Anglican Communion as an Anglican Communion and as an Anglican Communion, looks particularly bleak. That the Covenant looks like it will not save it, on either score, is because it seems we lack within ourselves good understanding of what it means to be Anglican, and what it means for Communion to be viable.

Oh, well, for a brighter future I can look forward to the All Blacks winning on Sunday night. It just requires mentally blacking out the fact that when we last played Australia we lost, as well as ignoring all news reports that Richie McCaw's injured foot is deeply troubling him, the team, and the nation.

Err, on second thoughts, perhaps salvaging the Rena would be the easier task to face.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Arguments for the Covenant

Paul Avis is a name to reckon with if you are looking to recommend a theologically sound, recently published book on Anglicanism to a newcomer to Anglicanism. Recently he has written on and for the Covenant. He adduces several arguments. The whole apology is here at Fulcrum. Two arguments which catch my eye are,

"Second, the Covenant is an embodiment of mutual commitment. The Covenant is not perfect and it is not completely clear to me how the ‘Consequences’ aspect of it will be worked out, if it comes to that. But I don’t think that that is the most important thing about the Covenant. The key, for me, is that by subscribing to the Covenant, Anglican Churches will signal in a serious way their intention to remain together. They will signal this to them- selves, to all the other Anglican Churches throughout the world, and to other Christian world communions, who are watching anxiously and do not want to see the Anglican Communion fail as a world-wide fellowship of Churches. Such a failure would indicate a serious weakening of Christianity and its wit- ness on the world stage. It would also bring grief and heartbreak to millions of Anglican Christians around the world."

"Fourth, the Covenant is orientated to the common good of the Communion. From mediaeval times, through the Reformation and right up to the present day, churches have used the language of the common good and applied it not only to the wider society, but to the Church as an institution[ii]. As Churches that exist in a relationship of interdependence, it seems not too much to ask of us that we consider the common good of the Christian Church as a whole and of the Anglican Communion as a part of that whole. This takes us to the heart of what is meant by catholicity. The word ‘catholic’ is from the Greek kat’ holon, ‘according to the whole’. To be catholic means to be deeply conscious of being part of a wider whole and to act accordingly. The virtues of forbearance, patience, restraint, willingness to consult and to accept a degree of accountability to others come into play here. As St Paul says, ‘Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6.2)."
What do you think?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sydney's confidence rising from gospel foundations

Archbishop Peter Jensen is always worth listening to, or reading. He mixes subtlety and diplomacy with forthrightness and robustness in exposition of the gospel. As good an example of this mix as any is his recent presidential address to the Diocesan Synod. You can read a report here, or the full address here.

I like the manner in which ++Peter engages with many concerning features of Australian society without blaming Kiwi immigration for them and connecting the gospel and its transformative power  to that society.

Inter alia, it is interesting to also read of rising Diocesan confidence in restored financial health. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the address from a Communion perspective is the strong argument ++Peter mounts for the federalist nature of the Australian Anglican Church and Sydney's role in that - glad to belong to larger structures (the Province of NSW, the whole Australian church) and even happier to be free to forge a largely local understanding of how its gospel mission is to be worked out. I have never gotten a clear picture of whether Sydney is 'for' or 'against' the Anglican Covenant, but it strikes me as I read this address that Sydney is likely ambivalent about the Covenant, asking the question of it, whether it is driving forward a Communion more or less like the Australian Anglican Church!

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Dean for Bishopdale Theological College

With the present Dean of Bishopdale Theological College (BTC) in the Diocese of Nelson, Rev. Dr. Tim Harris on transfer (so to speak) to Adelaide to become Bishop for Mission and Evangelism, a new Dean has been looked for. In the end the looking has not had to extend to the ends of the earth as the new Dean will be the Rev. Dr. Andrew Burgess, Vicar of All Saints, Nelson and already on the staff of BTC.

Andrew has an Oxford D. Phil. on the theology of Barth, and will have been vicar in his parish for just over nine years when he takes up his new role in early 2012. This is a great appointment which will ensure the vision for BTC continues to shine strongly.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The robe of orthodox righteousness?

Today's Gospel, Matthew 22:1-14 is a bit irksome, is it not, for those among us who secretly or openly harbour hopes for salvation to be inclusively universal and universally inclusive?

The story as told by Jesus rides along straightforward inclusivist, universal tracks almost to the end. Those known to God reject God which only fires God to reach out wider into the world until the wedding feast is filled with people from the highways and the byways. Amazingly the story very specifically details that those gathered are 'the good and the bad.' That is everyone, isn't it?

But then the quirk in the tracks, the sting in the tail of the tale. God looks around the gathered throng and spies one guest unfit for the feast, devoid of his wedding robe. Out he goes, into the darkness, to wailing and teeth gnashing. No second change. No purgatory.

Wearing the robe matters. So the answer to the question, What is the robe, matters. Jesus, unnervingly, fails to give the answer. But the parable itself gives a clue: it is the robe which a wedding guest would have worn, a robe to cover or replace the dirty clothes of the journey to the wedding. In Matthew's gospel this means a robe of righteousness: only the righteous may enter the kingdom of heaven. The running argument through Matthew's Gospel concerns where righteousness comes from. Strict obedience to Mosaic Law, as interpreted by the rabbis? Or, through following Jesus and living under his rule?

But, in turn, this raises questions against the backdrop of the whole New Testament of the meaning of the gospel and what a saving response consists of: Matthew's understanding of righteousness versus Paul's understanding of righteousness? The answer to that question is Christian orthodoxy - an answer which may involve holding the two understandings together, not promoting one over the other.

The robe we need to wear to remain at God's wedding feast has, then, an interesting texture, and made from a very fine thread.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

May our discipline be consistent

A letter in the Press this morning refers to the news item I commented on below and raises the prospect of the jailed priest being defrocked. That is a fair point to raise inasmuch as our church has disciplinary canons and these, following due and fair process, could lead to such an outcome for any of us who offends in such a serious manner. I hope our bishops (obviously, particularly the bishops of the diocese concerned) take up this possibility carefully and work through judiciously how they might or might not proceed.

My reason for expressing this hope is that if our church eventually finds itself in a situation akin to that unfolding in TEC and Canada (i.e. a situation in which priests, even bishops are feeling pressed into becoming dissidents in order to remain orthodox in faith and in practice) someone is sure to raise the matter of disciplining any dissident priests and bishops here in our lovely and peaceful islands.

At that point it would be very important that we were a church which was consistently rigorous in the application of its own rules and regulations.

For myself I lean towards mercy and hope that whether a priest is fraudulent or dissident our church can be merciful.

I will only publish comments on this matter which are general in the character of their discussion of the discipline canons of our church, or which particularly discuss the hypothetical situation of future dissidence in our church, or which refer to dissidence elsewhere in the Communion. I will not publish any comment which in part or in full discusses the particular case referred to below.

Friday, October 7, 2011


One Anglican down under story, right here in NZ, which I have not covered concerns a priestly colleague who has been arrested on charges of fraud to which he pleaded guilty. Today we read in our newspapers of his sentencing which is not a light one, because it is a prison term. For all of us who know Jonathan this is a very sad story, without a happy ending to date. At this point in the story as publicly reported in our media, and on Taonga, I want to acknowledge the story and the sadness it brings to those reading it who know its central figure. We are a church of imperfect people in these islands.

I will not publish comments on this matter.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

These days this blog writes itself ... with breaking news

Begin local, end global:

Locally we have a stunning report in Taonga about further news re insurance of churches and the possibility that insurance (extremely high premiums) or lack of insurance (especially for earthquake damage) could drive churches in NZ into the most radical changes seen since the 1950s/60s (when lots of new churches were built in our burgeoning suburbs) and the 1850s/60s (when lots of churches were built in our burgeoning colonial settlements).

Globally we have the expected but nevertheless shocking news that TEC is bringing a canonical charge against [updated: responding to complaints made against] Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina. Rather than try to explain what is going on there, read this link first to Titus One Nine (which is based in South Carolina) and then this and this. There is going to be [updated: could be] one almighty stink about this.

First, because +Mark Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina have huge support around the globe. A move against +Mark and the Diocese will seal once and for all in many Anglican minds the view that TEC is fundamentally unsympathetic to any shade or expression of conservative Anglicanism.

Secondly,  my reading of the situation over many years suggests that South Carolina has been very careful in its legal basis for its actions and (in the case of not pursuing a departing church for its property) inactions. [Updated: were] TEC is taking on  [to move from investigating the complaint to bringing a presentment against +Mark, it would be entering into] a risky legal venture in bringing suit against + Mark. This will drag on for years in the courts doing no one any good at all.

Incidentally when you read this material at a link noted above, do you form an impression, as I do, that this presentment is being driven by Episcopalians within the Diocese of South Carolina?

[Updated: actually that impression is confirmed in this important clarifying report and enclosed memo from The Lead.

Further comment here and here]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Covenant and its chilly reception

Bishop Victoria Matthews and I agree on certain matters, which is a good thing what with me being on her staff and all that! One of those matters is a warm reception to the idea of the Anglican Covenant being an important next step in the evolving life of our Communion.

Out of that warm reception +Victoria has written about the Covenant as part of a series of articles on the Covenant for the US-based magazine The Living Church. You can read what she has to say here. But other Anglican/Episcopalian receivers of the Covenant are not at all warm in their reception of the Covenant. One who is very critical, and very critical of +Victoria's article is Lionel Deimel who occasionally comments here.

Another is a Kiwi lay leader in the Diocese of Dunedin, Tony Fitchett. You can read his recent synodical speech criticizing the Covenant here. As you read it you might join with me in being fascinated by the fact that Tony is a member of the Communion's Standing Committee, the very body charged with upholding and administering the Covenant (should any matter of controversy in the Communion, framed by Section 4's process, be brought to that Committee's attention).

What about +Victoria's argument in her article? Here is the argument in her own words:

"The real question to consider, as we weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed Anglican Covenant, is whether it would help or hinder inter-Anglican communication. ...  as I consider the possibility of the Anglican Covenant, I ask if this document might just assist us in re-establishing rules of engagement as a Communion. ... What if the requirement of the Covenant actually enforced listening and being in relationship? I imagine you cringe at the word enforce, and so do I. But will it happen otherwise? Section 4 of the Covenant exists precisely to ensure the kind of listening, communication, and relationship that is presently missing in the Anglican Communion. ...  the Anglican Covenant will act as a midwife for the delivery of a new Anglican Communion, a Communion that has its gestation in relationship and deep listening."

In my words, +Victoria is arguing that Communion communication is broken down, broken down communication is affecting our fellowship as a communion, the Covenant provides a way for communication to be renewed, that way is to force those who claim to be in Communion to actually listen to one another and thus to be in relationship with one another (that is, an actual working relationship). Some member churches will choose not to be placed in the position of having to listen to others (i.e. continue according to the present status quo). Those who choose to commit to real (i.e. actual listening to each other) fellowship will form a new Anglican Communion. The Covenant is the founding document of a (re)newed Anglican Communion. In offering this interpretation, I am speaking as a fellow supporter of the Covenant, keen to reflect on arguments for and against the Covenant. But I am not speaking as someone who has had opportunity to extensively discuss the Covenant with +Victoria. We have other things to talk about these days as we work on rebuilding the faith of our city and province!

If I am correctly interpreting +Victoria's argument, then the Covenant is a sheep-and-goats moment for global Anglicanism. To one side will be those member churches who choose to not commit in this new way, churches which will not stop listening to others, but which will always listen when it suits and not when it does not. We already see those churches in our midst, churches some view as very conservative and churches some view as very progressive. These churches make a play of belonging to the Communion and upholding its ideals, but those ideals always include the freedom to act independently when it suits. The signs are present that my own church is one of these churches and will choose to continue to be so.

To the other side will be those member churches who choose to commit in this new way. A few have already made that choice. It is quite unknown as I write whether a Covenanted Anglican Communion will consist of a subtantial majority of the present Communion or not, though it does seem possible that the Church of England will be part of the Covenanted Communion which would be an important matter of historical continuity for global Anglicanism.

If I am correct (perhaps one might also add, if I am correct in the particular matter of understanding these words, "the Anglican Covenant will act as a midwife for the delivery of a new Anglican Communion"), then it is possible that the initial Covenanted Communion might be quite small, but nevertheless it would be a viable small Communion in which members had made a significant new commitment to one another. Hitherto I have argued that the Covenant will not have effect on the present Communion if a significant majority of member churches do not sign up to it. Here in this post I am reckoning with the possibility raised by this Living Church article that the effect of the Covenant lies in who it draws together into deeper fellowship, not in how many sign it.

Unanswered in the article are questions of what happens over time to the members of the present Communion who do not sign the Covenant. Unaddressed is the possibility that some messy confusion would exist for the foreseeable future in respect of Anglican churches saying they belonged to the Anglican Communion whether or not they had signed the Covenant. But I think that could clarify over time. Once, for example, the Covenanted members started to meet together, or a future ABC invited only Covenanted bishops to a Lambeth conciliar meeting, the Communion as we know it today would become two Communions in a more formal manner than we are currently seeing as some go to some meetings from which others stay away.

The key thing to note is that the dividing point for the Communion from the Covenant perspective is not (say) in respect of progressives and conservatives, or North and South, or Western and non-Western, but in terms of the Covenant, which currently has supporters and detractors across theological and geographical lines. The future Covenanted Communion will consist of member churches willing to set aside independence on matters that Covenanted Communion wishes to move forward on as an interdependent body.

Of course the option exists for all non-Covenanting Anglican churches to meet together to listen to one another in a non-binding manner. It will be interesting to see how many turn up!

Speaking personally I would regret our church not being part of the Covenanted Communion, should that be our decision, but I would not be sorrowful for long. If we do not want to be in a binding relationship with other churches we should not pretend otherwise. Honesty is a good policy in all relationships, even those in which we wish to keep the other at arms length.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Follow the money

One of the the lovely things about being the church is that we dream dreams and run with ideals, and have a lot of exciting discussions in the process. But somewhere in all the envisioning, the crashing reality of money constrains the actuality of what happens. When I was in the Diocese of Nelson we dreamed a dream about Bishopdale Theological College, but something I hope future historians acknowledge when telling the College's story is that the dream only became a reality when a couple of financial factors kicked in: some long-standing debts within the Diocese's accounts were paid off, and a new inheritance was received. On many matters about how and why things take place in the church I suggest we need to 'follow the money' in order to tell our story.

Now in Canterbury, indeed the whole of New Zealand, we face an extraordinary financial reality, that the mixture of an inability to insure buildings as we would wish and the sheer cost of insurance premiums will drive wholesale rearrangements of parish boundaries, size of church buildings and maximization of church building usage.

Yes, it is true that a new insurance relationship in theory could be taken up with an insurer which has outstanding capital funding and reinsurance contracts. Find that insurer and the questions I raise below may never need to be asked.

These questions, I suggest, are going to need to be courageously faced by many churches in New Zealand as insurance premiums sky rocket and/or earthquake coverage is denied. To give just one example of an increased insurance, I heard the other day of an independent church whose premium will increase from $40000 p.a. to $150000 p.a. and its excess will go out to 10% of the valuation of the property.

In one report on the situation we read the following which is slightly bizarre while putting the issues in a blunt manner:

"Anglican Insurance Board chairman Don Baskerville said the move to refuse any new earthquake cover, and to renew existing cover only until December 1, could lead to some churches being sold to private investors.

"If it is a small town and there are three churches, we may have to speak to the other two denominations and work out which one we would use.

"The other ones could be sold to become a restaurant," he said.

At-risk churches that sat unused and could not be sold could face demolition.

"But the issue is whether churches can afford to insure their building. If they can't, then they wouldn't be able to rebuild should it come down in an earthquake."

Mr Baskerville estimated 300 Anglican, 150 Presbyterian, and 50 Methodist churches would be affected, along with those of other denominations, including all Catholic churches in the South Island."
The bizarre aspect of this article is that it reads as though the Anglican Insurance Board will be making decisions about which churches survive and which don't, and about whether one denomination will continue in a town when the others won't!! The blunt reality, however, is that whoever makes the decisions, according to whatever appropriate decision-making process, the outcome could be pretty much as Don Baskerville says, where there are three church buildings now, there will be one in the future.

So, to some questions which arise about the way in which basic financial considerations - nothing to do with strategic planning or dreaming dreams - will force change to churches in NZ:

Will 'sacred space' be affordable? That is, will we be able to justify having sacred spaces used for a few hours on a Sunday and as required for weddings and funerals during the week? Will flexible spaces, utilized seven days a week, be the only affordable way for a church to consider ownership of a building?

Will denominations need to radically revise arrangements in regions so that they have less churches? For churches used to boundaried divisions of regions (i.e. "parishes"), will we need to rearrange boundaries so that we have fewer-but-equal-sized parishes?

Will some or many of our buildings be uninsured?
In the future of our churches and halls, the most radical changes may be led by the colour of our money, or lack of it, not by our dreams and hopes. But that may be a good thing, leading to a church lighter and nimbler on its feet as journeys into the future. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Good news, bad news

The bad news: Dan Carter out of the World Cup with a groin injury, [insert your team's misfortunes if on the next flight home], oh, and on Friday, five minutes before leaving home for a Diocesan Discernment Weekend I learned that the engineers have recalculated the 'strength' of Theology House/St Mary's Church Hall and determined it is less than the 33.33% of full earthquake resistance required for a building to be occupied, so we are out of the building ... but not out of action!

The good news: we had a profitable day at a Theology and Church Architecture conference last Wednesday (reported by me at Taonga), the All Blacks are rocking along, the Diocesan Discernment Weekend went very well (and the drive through Hororata and Rakaia Gorge to Pudding Hill on Friday and back today was superb), and some decisions about the future of Theology House are actually going to be simplified by the decision of the engineers.

But overall, reflecting on the news of insurers not offering earthquake insurance on church buildings, we are in for some very choppy waters, the 'we' being all churches in New Zealand. Thank you for your prayers.

Postscript: for readers who use Theology House, we are still contactable via phone (leave a message), email, and news will be posted on the web. We will be able to retrieve our books, but cannot be sure when we will be able to resume full library services from a new location. We intend to run our advertised courses between now and the end of the year.