Thursday, November 3, 2011

Golden guilds: Milbank challenges Williams

For the really sharp thinking in the stratosphere of Anglican theology, listen out for John Milbank. Wait, what do I hear? The voice has spoken. This is the finish,

"However, it is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, so far uncontaminated by muddle and fluster over this issue, who alone can still seize a golden opportunity to put his church centre-stage in the debate we now need about the long-term implications of the English and London polity, not to mention the place of the English established Church in the current toils of extreme capitalism."
How he gets to there, you had better read here (H/T Episcopal Cafe).

You will notice in the space of a few lines a whopping criticism of a host of cathedrals (just around England or around the globe?), and a very neat piece of marketing of a new Dean for St Paul's:

"The failing cathedrals are the ones stuck in an outdated liberalism or anti-ritualistic evangelicalism. And, indeed, one can assume that the more successful cathedrals - like St Albans, led by the highly creative (and otherwise famous) Jeffrey John - would have responded much more successfully to the unprecedented events now unfolding on the steps of St Paul's."
What a clever man Milbank is!


Rosemary Behan said...

Hmm, I can't myself see any references whatsoever to any Anglican Cathedral outside the UK Peter. Am I blind? So I'm left with the impression that you are criticising Sydney once again, and this time without knowing or understanding at all the ethos of the present Dean of that Cathedral who held special services for Christchurch after the earthquakes, who vigorously collected money for the suffering folk of Christchurch, who are surrounded by the 'poor' of the city, care for them and love them. I'm disappointed in these remarks Peter .. very.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
My difficulty with what Milbank says is that I cannot think of any cathedrals in England that have become noted for their anti-ritualistic evangelicalism, but I think Sydney's St Ansdrew's Cathedral has become noted for its 'anti-ritualism', symbolised by its communion table 'on wheels'.

It is Milbank who makes the remark. I do not think in making such remarks, whatever cathedrals he has in mind (including one might observe many other cathedrals than those few around the English-speaking world of distinctive evangelical flavour) he is denying that the cathedrals he is slating are not doing good, helpful, and caring things - as St Andrew's is doing and has done.

The key question is whether by his standards of cathedral 'success' in mission and ministry, he has unfairly slated cathedrals which meet those standards, unknown to himself as the maker of such sweeping remarks.

However you are making a good point that I could have characterised the matter better, which I am pleased to do in a small edit of the post.

Anonymous said...

"The failing cathedrals are the ones stuck in an outdated liberalism or anti-ritualistic evangelicalism."

If this is indeed a reference to Sydney, I don't know how it is "failing", not least because it is engaged in outreach to urban youth, as well as East Asians and South Asians.

"And, indeed, one can assume that the more successful cathedrals - like St Albans, led by the highly creative (and otherwise famous) Jeffrey John - would have responded much more successfully to the unprecedented events now unfolding on the steps of St Paul's."

A complete non sequitur. One can "assume" anything by making monstrous leaps of logic - assuming, also, we knew what Milbank means by "success". Attendance? money? conversions of heathen? highbrow ceremonial?


Rosemary Behan said...

Thank you for making that change Peter. However you are still taking digs at St. Andrews, which I find highly inappropriate coming from Christchurch. As to your first point, I can’t think of ANY evangelical cathedrals in the UK, but I don’t know the scene at all well, so that may be why. I know that All Souls is considered by thousands of evangelicals world wide to be the evangelical ‘cathedral’ they most want to visit if they go to London, because that church supported their ministers through their training, paid for some of it too. Would Milbank’s accusation fit there?

As for a communion table on wheels!!! We all know that the trunk of the tree we’re branches of, celebrates a yearly Festival known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. For ten days families live in huts or tents in the gardens, they eat there too .. in order to remember the impermanence of everything. We in Christchurch have had a HUGE reminder of the impermanence of buildings, how many churches have we lost Peter .. and yet you want a fixed table presumably. Makes me wonder whether it’s the table you consider permanent, or the giver of that communion, Jesus Christ.

I’m sorry if I seem harsh Peter, but I attended a service at St. Andrews, organised by the Dean in less than 48 hours, attended by the State Premier, the New Zealand Ambassador and hundreds of clergy from throughout Sydney, gathered to pray for their brothers and sisters so close by in Christchurch. I for one am very grateful for the prayers and financial support Sydney have given us.

Father Ron Smith said...

In direct response to Rosemary's accusation of unfairness - against our Host on this thread: What Peter Carrell said is true about Sydney Cathedral. It is a pre-eminently Evangelical citadel of the Anglican Communion, and is celebrated as such!

It also happens to be preaching-oriented in its worship style - rather than Eucharistically-centred around the presence of Jesus at the altar. This is the reality.

Sydney Cathedral at one time had a wonderful record of ecumenical relationship with other Sydney Anglican churches - mainly through the charismatic ministry of Canon Jim Glennon, whose shepherding of a Ministry of Healing demonstrated the Cathedral as being at the heart of diocesan outreach to many people in the Sydney area. I'm not sure that this ministry continues today.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
When my daughter plays the piano, if I notice a mistake in her scales and mention it, no criticism is thereby implied of her pieces! No matter how many supportive and loving acts St Andrew's Cathedral undertakes, I find it very strange that the communion table is on wheels and often kept at the side of the cathedral.

I understand that sometimes in churches we move the Lord's table in order (e.g.) for a drama to take place in the sanctuary, so I am not arguing for any table to be bolted to the floor. But the permanance of the table in the sanctuary has nothing to do with arguments about the need to be reminded of the impermanence of earthly things and earthly life, and everything to do with being reminded of the importance of the Dominical sacrament and the Gospel command to enact that sacrament.

In similar vein I object to fonts being kept out of sight, baptism being the other Dominical sacrament.

Rosemary Behan said...

I apologise if I didn’t understand just how important these things are to you Peter, I suspect this often happens between those who have a deep church background, and those like me who don’t. I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years, and yet have no idea about the importance of tables and fonts etc., my lack obviously!

However, some consideration perhaps should be given to those like me with no idea about the historical importance of such things. I say historical, because I haven’t come across such instructions in my bible. Over many years we have seen many adults coming to Jesus who don’t wish to be baptised in a font, so we repair to the nearest large bit of water. A swimming pool, a river, it hasn’t seemed important what the water was contained in. I’ve also shared the Lord’s Supper, which I consider to be VERY important, in all sorts of places [as I’m sure you have] where there has been no heavy stone table and wasn’t aware of any lack.

The earthquakes in Christchurch also raise the importance of these questions I suppose. What is it? 25 churches now worshipping together in schools and halls around the city? Not sacred spaces, no fixed table or font. Are they somehow ‘less’ than those worshipping within spaces set aside for the use of the church only? Are they opportunities to ‘gather’ in folk who know nothing of these things and educate them as to their importance? I think we’re back to the question, what IS the church? What is a cathedral? Why are such places set apart? If the people of Christchurch .. not the Christians, but the people of Christchurch .. don’t know why something is placed here or there, or indeed why it is there at all, then perhaps the first order of the day is to educate them so that they have some appreciation. I have certainly been given no such instruction.

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, there it is. There are people who, like me, have been in the Church all our lives (82 years in my case). To whom the Church was our mother's milk, our challenge and our joy; our hope and our salvation - in Christ, of course.

We just learned about our journey along the Way, humbly: The Way of Scripture, but also, the way of Sacred Tradition and Sweet Reason. We rock and roll with the waves, and yet, by the grace of God we survive - without questioning the authority of Christ in our lives.

We are though, STILL OPEN to the voice of God's Spirit; ever open to see Christ in others. Not judging them (as we see that to be God's prerogative), but trying to love them. That's the Gospel!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
When worshipping in (say) a school hall so the accoutrements of worship need putting away in a cupboard each week, none of what I said above applies.

But when worshipping in that school hall on a Sunday, when worshipping in a dedicated worship ('sacred') space, that space, in my experience, is normally filled with objects relating to worship. Chairs, for instance, hymnboards, projector screens, etc. What we put in our worship space tells us something about what is important to us when worshipping.

Some churches do not have chairs because people stand the whole time, but in all the churches I have worshipped in here, US, England, Egypt, Fiji, the comfort of the worshippers seems to have mattered so chairs have been provided!

In the Anglican church we have a tradition of valuing 'Word' and valuing 'Sacrament' so we have normally provided a lectern (and, less often today, a pulpit), a table and a font. Whether the service is communion or not, whether a baptism takes place or not, the presence of those symbols among the objects placed in the worship space are important signs of the values we hold. These values are, I suggest, gospel values. They are not absolutely necessary, but I would argue that if we are going to have one of the three we should have all of the three!

Anonymous said...

All very interesting, I'm sure. But my question was: Is St Andrew's Cathedral "failing" and if so, in what?

Its outreach and diverse ethnic congregations look tolerably "successful" to me, whether or not you share their style in furniture.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin
I am not aware that John Milbank reads here so I am not expecting him to answer the question you pose.

I imagine that St Andrew's is doing fine in all sorts of ways.

Father Ron Smith said...

Martin here speaks of 'success' when speaking of Sydney's outreach to the community. What impresses me most about Jesus' own spirituality is that it involved the necessity for what could be perceived as an horrific 'failure' - his self-offering on the Cross - for the sake of others - "God forgive them"

Trumpeting the 'success' of one's efforts to propagate the Good News of God's love for ALL humanity - and indeed for ALL creation - can be counter-effective in mission.
This was Paul's counsel on the subject: "God forbid that I should glory - save in the Cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.

Is that a proclamation of success, I wonder@ Or is it rather the humility of acknowledging one's failings in worldly terms? Kenosis is the only viable Gospel answer!