Monday, August 31, 2020

Let me Level With You ... My Concerns about Church in Level 2

 Every country is dealing with the Pandemic in slightly different ways, so what follows may make most sense to Kiwis.

Until 11.59 pm last night, most of NZ by area was in Level 2, and our largest population centre, Auckland city (c. 1/3rd of total population) was at Level 3. Today Auckland is at Level 2.5 and the rest of NZ is at Level 2. By the end of Sunday 6 September the Government will have clarified what level or levels we are in after that. Some of us are predicting that we will remain in Level 2, across the whole country, for a few more weeks.

Explanation: Level 2 means congregations up to 100 people can meet. Level 3 congregations of up to 10 people can meet. (Level 2.5 has same meeting numbers as Level 3, except (from memory) funerals can have up to 50 people). Level 3 meant Aucklanders were restricted from travelling outside their city, unless they had an exemption.

So, from a Diocese of Christchurch point of view, yesterday we were in Level 2 without Aucklanders or recent travellers from Auckland present but next Sunday we will be in Level 2, potentially with Aucklanders or recent travellers from Auckland present.

Should we change our Level 2 Guidelines to our parishes before next Sunday?

I am not going to answer that question here. Any answer needs to be communicated to the Diocese via normal channels!

But what I am happy to observe here (accumulating observations from a number of services in different locations across the last three Sundays, as well as some funerals) is that it is very challenging to follow all Level 2 Guidelines scrupulously. We are giving it our best shot but it is very difficult (say) to remain 1m, let alone 2m, from someone we talk to after church!!

Let's put that another way: to be as scrupulous as the Pharisees, let alone the Essenes, in following "ALL the requirements of the Law/Guidelines" raises the question: is it actually possible to be church (gathering physically within a building) in Level 2?

Now, it could be that by next Monday 7 September, NZ is back in Level 1 and we all relax ecclesiastically speaking.

But if we do remain in Level 2 for some weeks, even months ahead, what are we to do in order to be safe and in order to not be a church congregation which is a "cluster" maker?

Personally, I wonder if the Government would help us out if it were to extend its current regulation making facemask wearing compulsory on public transport to include all public gatherings such as church services.

There are no easy answers (that I can see) to the dilemmas Level 2 raises, and my sense is that if we remain in Level 2, then the churches of NZ (not just of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch) are going to need to take a phrase within the epistle reading yesterday (Romans 12:9-21) to heart:

"Be patient in suffering."

Monday, August 24, 2020

Messy Anglicanism?

Mark Chapman is a leading Anglican historian (Cuddesdon, Oxford University) so when he writes I do not dismiss him. Indeed his article in a recent Church Times makes for disturbing reading, in the sense of disturbing sanguine thoughts about Anglican growth and development in its understanding of itself.

Entitled "Lambeth Conference: Early Steps on the Path to Unity", the article opens with this arresting thought for this evangelical-come-I-am-not-ashamed-to-call-myself-Protestant Anglican:

"THE 1920 Lambeth Conference’s “Appeal to All Christian People” is justly famous as a landmark in ecumenical history: it is a bold invitation by the “Bishops of the Holy Catholic Church in full communion with the Church of England” to other Churches to forget “the things which are behind and reaching out towards the goal of a reunited Catholic Church”. This would require them to absorb episcopacy into their systems.


The Appeal, which paved the way for the great United Churches of the Indian sub-continent, was also significant for another reason: it redefines Anglicanism as something that was at its heart both un-Protestant and un-English. The form of religious life which had emerged in England from the 16th century was fundamentally transformed by the Lambeth Appeal: Anglicanism was finally freed from the Protestant religion of the English State and had mutated into a form of non-Roman Catholicism detached from its Reformation roots. 

In the whole 1920 Appeal, there is nothing at all about the Book of Common Prayer or the Thirty-Nine Articles. Instead, the Anglicanism expressed in the Appeal is a kind of inclusive Catholic Church without a pope, which seeks to expand its networks in the name of wider unity or Catholicity. This seemed particularly suited to the post-First World War world, which the Appeal called a “new age with a new outlook”. "

This raises the question how 16th century Protestant Anglicanism became early 20th century Catholic Anglicanism. Chapman poses and answers the question:

"SO, HOW is it that a clearly Protestant Church could mutate into something defined by the portentous Catholicity of the Lambeth Appeal? Crucial is the idea of the via media which became increasingly part of Anglican self-definition from the 17th century. Initially used to portray the English Church as filling “in the gapp against Puritanisme and Popery, the Scilla and Charybdis of antient piety”, as Richard Montago put it in 1624, a few centuries later the idea had mutated into a reconceiving of Anglicanism as something opposed to Protestantism altogether.

In 1813, for example, the Irish lay theologian Alexander Knox declared that the “nick-name protestant” had had a “perverse influence” on our Church: Anglicanism thus stood between the two extremes of Protestantism and Papism.

The leaders of the Oxford Movement agreed: their desire to return to the Early Church was part of a more general desire to rid the Church of England of Protestantism: a form of Anglicanism established on the Early Church, which was the central thrust of the Tracts for the Times, left little space for the Reformation or Protestantism."

Chapman then develops this explanation, bringing into the picture the history and development of the US Episcopal church's self-understanding as a form of Anglicanism, the shattering effects of Vatican 1 on Tractarian hopes of reunion with Rome and the reaction to Vatican 1 which steered some Anglican leaders to rapprochement with the Old Catholics, the shock of WW1 and, finally, openness to dialogue with Eastern Orthodox. Each of these topics is interesting in its own right but I am not worried about them here.

It is Chapman's concluding paragraphs which I want to reflect on this week on ADU:

"The Lambeth Appeal of 1920 was a response to another industrial war, and helped to reshape Anglicanism for the rest of the 20th century: Anglican identity no longer required adherence to anything English or to any Protestant formularies. Instead, it was defined in the most minimal way possible around scripture, creeds, the two dominical sacraments, and the “historic episcopate”. Lambeth 1920 marks the culmination of the “un-Protestantising” and “un-Englishing” of Anglicanism.

The Anglican Communion has lived with the consequences of such a minimal definition ever since. Whether an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism has a future in today’s crises, only time will tell. What is clear is that many Anglicans have already given up on the idea and want something quite different."

I am unclear what his last sentence means. On the one hand there are certainly Anglicans in the world today (centred on movements such as GAFCON) which do not understand being Anglican as "an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism" but many such Anglicans have never had that idea and thus are not "given up on the idea and want something different." On the other hand, where there are Anglicans in the world today who have given up on "an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism", it is not at all clear to me what the "something quite different" is that they want.

That is, I wonder if Chapman's article would come to a clearer conclusion if it acknowledged along the way that strand of Anglicanism which never moved far away from its Protestant heritage from the 16th century - the Anglicanism which included in subsequent centuries the founding of CMS, the inspiring examples of Simeon, Newton and Henry Martyn, the founding of influential seminaries such as Wycliffe Hall and Ridley Hall, the development of "CMS dioceses" in Africa and the influence of the Diocese of Sydney on global Anglicanism?

But, be that criticism as it may, Chapman nevertheless raises the intriguing question whether much of current Anglicanism is well explained as:

"an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism".

What do you think?

Of course there is a redundancy, actually two, in Chapman's description: to emphasise "Catholicism" is "un-Protestant" and we are talking about Catholic Anglicanism so it is likely to be "non-Roman".

Does his argument boil down to a loss of English character to Catholic Anglicanism?

Not quite, because we need to come back to the word "inclusive," but to the extent that he has brought in the history of the Episcopal church in America, I wonder if he has over cooked his argument re loss of "English" character. Down here in the ex colony of Aotearoa New Zealand, it seems like the Catholic influence on our Anglicanism is very English!

Perhaps the description should read "an inclusive version of a mixed English and American Anglican Catholicism"?

And, about "inclusive"? What does "inclusion" mean in a context of a specific Anglican "party" or "movement" which is advocating for a specific character to be the dominant if not comprehensive character of Anglicanism? Of course, "inclusion" means "all welcome" in Catholic Anglican churches as in people walking through the door but does it also mean "all Anglican styles of liturgical practice" welcome here? Of course not!

There is also, we should observe, an unfortunate description here of the positive force of Anglicanism in mostly negative terms: not Roman, not Protestant, not English!

Again, be that as such verbal particulars may be, Chapman's larger point across both concluding paragraphs is that 20th and 21st century Anglicanism has widest agreement on the minimalist of self-understandings at the expense of a loss of historical moorings into the 16th century - the critical turning point when a church in the Western tradition determined its identity would no longer be Roman in character. And the price being paid, I infer from Chapman's article, is that global Anglicanism is muddled about its future direction. And a final inference is that in that muddle space has been created for an Anglicanism which offers clarity about its self-understanding and continuity in its history with the 16th century: GAFCON and Global South.

If my final inference is correct then Chapman unaccountably leaves out of his account of post 1920 Anglicanism that the majority of global Anglicans are not at all described by "an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism." At best this is a description of the majority of Anglicans in Western provinces such as those in the UK, North America and Down Under.

Conversely, my own plea through the years of blogging here at ADU is for an Anglicanism that is confident in its own life as a church of God, understanding what it affirms is more than what it negates, building on rather than embarrassingly denying its peculiar history, and constantly evaluating what it thinks is fixed and what is flexible in its ecclesiology.

Further, the Anglicanism I seek to influence - somewhat in line with 1920 currents Chapman highlights - is that which yearns for unity in Christ and consistently acknowledges its unique placement within diverse ecclesiologies to bridge Catholic and Protestant, and even East and West.

Dreams are free!


If you want something less challenging for the Anglican grey matter this week, then bask in the blessing of "The Blessing: Aotearoa"!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Lockdown Life: Let's Look Again At Eucharists Online

 For overseas readers, NZ having enjoyed a few months of Level 1 (more or less normal life), is back up a level or two. Auckland (our largest city, about 1/3rd of our population) is in Level 3 (stay at home, church for 10 or fewer people, etc) and the rest of us at Level 2 (work from home if possible, schools open, church for 100 ir fewer people).

Natch it is time on ADU for another look at eucharists online.

Our guide is none other than Thomas O'Loughlin (previously featured here on ADU) who has had a few things to say in a YouTube post about eucharists in the time of Covid-19, reported here by the Catholic Herald.

The YouTube post is provocatively titled, Can you send an apple by email?

Note that we should presume O'Loughlin in a Catholic context is talking about viewing eucharistic services online, without domestic consumption of bread and wine; and not about "Zoom eucharists" meaning eucharists viewers participate in using their own bread and wine

According to the report, there are several lines of critique:

1. Online eucharists are not real experiences:

"The Catholic Church is selling “the Eucharist” and people short and is making a mistake by turning Mass into a YouTube experience.

The comments are from Thomas O’Loughlin, emeritus professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham and Director of Studia Traditionis Theologiae.

“There are some things Zoom and YouTube just won’t do because real experiences are whole human experiences,” O’Loughlin said."

2. Communion is about community and an online experience is not a community experience:

"People wanting to have Mass on their TV or computer at home and priests supplying it sounds a warning about the real nature of the community, he said.

“Eucharist makes little sense without a community.”

Challenging the meeting, O’Loughlin posed the question as to whether the Church had stopped being a real community and is being reduced to religious ideology."

3. In a note that could also apply to "Zoom eucharists", O'Loughline observes:

"He sounded a warning that we may be reducing the Eucharist to just getting communion, almost makes it a commodity!"

4. There are better ways of praying and worshipping virtually:

"O’Loughlin said that the Liturgy of the Hours, shared prayer, Lectio Divina, prayer together and scripture study we just some of the examples from the Church’s spiritual tradition that respects the characteristics of the liturgy and that are easily adapted to a virtual environment.

“Why did we pick on something so physical such as eating and drinking?” O’Loughlin asked."

5. Spiritual Communion is dangerous re-emergence of Jansenism (!!):

"Questioned on whether it was appropriate to use the readings of the day and make a “spiritual communion,” O’Loughlin sounded a stern warning.

He observed that spiritual communion came from the time when only priests received communion and was developed by the heretical Jansenists to a point were nuns were not seen as worthy of physically receiving communion.

Spiritual communion “is tied up with notions of unworthiness and impurity” and it is a part of a moral theology we left long ago, he said."

6. It's clericalism!! Bonus critique from an NZ Catholic liturgical leader:

"Host of the conversation, Dr Joseph Grayland, Director of Liturgy in the Palmerston North Diocese, New Zealand, says the idea for “Let’s Talk Liturgy” came about due to the disruption to worship brought about through the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Grayland says the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted laity and clergy alike.

“For many people, the online Mass, viewed from the living room was sufficient, they didn’t have to go out and it fulfilled the need for Sunday Mass.”

“The priests also liked doing this because it was readily identifiable as part of their mission”.

Labelling online video Mass as a form of clericalism, Grayland says there are real concerns around the passive, observer approach and the personal nature of the “priest’s Mass.”"

Well. What do you think?

I have some thoughts but let's have your comments!

Monday, August 10, 2020

The cult of the individual

 Rolling Stones, I understand, may have had more than its fair share of brilliant writers over the years.

This article (with H/T to a couple of clerical colleagues in the Chch Dio) mourns and explains the passing of the American era.

From a Christian perspective it implicitly poses the sharp question: how could US Christianity not contribute to the development of a US welfare state in the way that Christianity has done elsewhere (including in NZ)?

From a human perspective it is alarming that the new imperial game in town is China which is a dictatorship - ruthless (its treatment of Uighur Muslims, Christians), heartless (Hong Kong) and impervious to shame (it has a chilling influence on life in a faraway country such as NZ).

Monday, August 3, 2020

This is how we should vote in the coming Election!

NZ has a General Election coming up and, frankly, the result looks to be a foregone conclusion: we will have another Labour-led government.

The USA has a General Election coming up and, frankly, the result looks to be a foregone conclusion: President Biden will lead a Democrat majority in Senate and House.

But foregone electoral conclusions do not take away from Christian voters the decision(s) we need to make when we mark our ballot papers.

(Here in NZ we will have four decisions: our local electorate MP, the party we wish to see in government and two referenda questions, on "End of Life" choice and on legalising marijuana.)

How should we vote?

I suggest yesterday's RCL gospel reading helps us - Matthew 14:13-21, The Feeding of the Five Thousand, could be our guide.

In this reading we have a vision of the Kingdom of God - a kingdom in which there is compassion (exemplified by Jesus), concern for need (with conspicuous rejection, as it happens, of a "user pays" or "send them off to buy their own dinner" approach by the disciples), inclusion and welcome (all present got fed, there were no tests to pass), service (the disciples distributed the food made available by Jesus) and care of creation (all waste was gathered up in a responsible manner).

Why would a Christian vote for any politician and/or political party which did not offer an approximation to this vision for human society?

I can think of at least one reason!

While this passage offers a vision of human society which is compassionate and which satisfies needs, it is also a miracle story and thus not a guide to the economics of a compassionate, welfare-oriented society. That is, the passage is not a guide to how we might best construct and develop a society in which (e.g.) food is produced, distributed throughout the land and made available to all, rich and poor alike.

Cue the reality that some politicians promise more on the delivery of  compassionate care for the needy and less on the funding of that delivery and other politicians focus more on the cost of production and distribution and who will pay for it.

But, important though it is in making our political choices in the ballot box that we have a grasp of economic realities, could a Christian who follows the compassionate Christ of this gospel reading ever vote for that which decreases compassion in society and increases hard-heartedness?

With respect to the country I know best, Aotearoa New Zealand, I am glad to report that there are several parties we can choose from as we exercise our Christian minds in making our choices!

Of course, to ward off the obvious observation, each of those parties will have a policy or three which means we as Christians need to swallow a dead rat if we vote for them.

Politics in the Kingdom of Humanity is always, ahem, "the art of the deal"!