Monday, May 30, 2022

The death of Anglicanism in certain places?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In no particular order of importance ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Might the zeitgeist change in our lifetimes?

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

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

Some interesting stats from the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 23, 2022

Lambeth Expectations: Much or Not so much?

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

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

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

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

On the main Conference webpage we read this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 16, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here's the thing.

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

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

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

Back to the General Synod across The Ditch.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 9, 2022

John 10:30 and current Anglican currents

So, in yesterday's Gospel reading, the last words were:

The Father and I are one (John 10:30).

The unity of the Father and the Son is one of the great themes of John's Gospel, if not the greatest theme of them all.

The mission of the Son in Johannine thought is the unification of humanity with God.

The church sort of understands that (e.g. when Paul in Ephesians writes about God's universal plan, "to gather up all things in [Christ]", 1:10) and sort of doesn't (e.g. when it has lots of factions such as Paul tackles in chapter after chapter of 1 Corinthians).

Division among churches at best is a handbrake on our participation in God's mission (we get distracted by issues internal to Christian life) and at worst it is a barrier to hearing the Good News  (non-Christians are turned off the purse gospel by the confusion of versions of Christianity). (

Aside: I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry yesterday driving down a street in one of our towns in which the Baptist Church is next door to the Catholic Church and Catholic School which is next door to the Union Church!

A special interest of this blog through its zillions of posts is unity among Anglicans. Putting the Union back into Anglican Communion!

On the good news front, I hear that more bishops than expected are planning to go to the Lambeth Conference in July this year. Cool!

On the what's going to happen front is the question of this week's Australian Anglican church's General Synod (here and here), where That Topic will be discussed.

This is my best understanding of what could happen - happy to be corrected by any Australian readers.

1. No particular change to the current situation which is somewhat unsettled (and looking forward to this GS settling one way or another).

2. An affirmation that various moves in a few dioceses in favour of blessing of same sex marriages are good to continue (but this may lead to disaffiliations from dioceses by some parishes; and even to some kind of separation by some dioceses from the national Anglican church).

3. An affirmation that any moves anywhere to bless any relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman is wrong (unconstitutional, heretical, and the like) - unlikely to lead to disaffiliations by those who disagree; would there by rebellion against such an affirmation?

I have no particular insight or information which leads to a prediction.

But I do want to say a few things about the framing of the differences and divisions in Anglicanlands about That Topic. 

Reading around the traps I see some conservative commentary which sees these matters as binary: light versus darkness, holiness versus sinfulness and consequently as matters over which people should leave the church to reform around what they believe. (Some talk, for instance, that the progressives should have the courage of their convictions and leave to form a church better suited to their view of Anglicanism).

My own preference is to see these matters as matters on which Anglicans have reasonable grounds for reasonable difference. 

At the heart of debates over homosexuality in 21st century life are two (or more views) on homosexuality as a phenomenon of human life. 

Some Anglicans view homosexuality as a result of the Fall and thus all strictures against blessing same sex marriages are logical extensions of a view that only sexual commitment in line with creation's intention itself can be blessed. 

Some Anglicans view homosexuality as a longstanding variation within human sexuality, likely present since the emergence of humanity (homo sapiens) from the evolutionary process and thus a state of life which is within nature rather than against nature, with a consequential hesitancy to interpret Scripture as constraining two homosexuals from committing to each other in lifelong, faithful love.

Given that no definitive statement of Anglicanism found in the BCP or the 39A determines that it is unreasonable for Anglicans to hold to either view of homosexuality, is it not within the bounds of Anglicanism for there to be differences of view on how our church might respond to two homosexuals seeking ecclesiastical blessing for a legal state of life? (We might note that there are statements within Anglicanism about the respected role of the magistrate in civil life ...!).

If such debate is framed in this way, then isn't it incumbent within Anglicanlands to find ways to accommodate our differences on such matters rather than to divide over such matters?

Monday, May 2, 2022

The explosion of the resurrection across the pages of the New Testament (with an exception)

Preaching yesterday morning (Easter 3), when the readings were Acts 9:1-6 (the Conversion of St. Paul), Revelation 5:11-14 (the worship of the Lamb in heaven) and John 21:1-19 (Fishing on the Sea of Tiberias) got me thinking ...

The resurrection is like an explosion with a massive rippling effect across the pages of the New Testament.

Sure, most of the four gospels could have been written without the resurrection (which takes up just the last chapters of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the last two chapters of John). But without the resurrection there is no conversion of Saul to become Paul and no history of the first Christians which is Acts. No epistles of Paul, no other epistles, except may be the Epistle of James. And no Revelation with its vision of a heaven transformed through the presence of the once slain, now resurrected Lamb.

Which makes it all the more intriguing that the Gospel passage yesterday begins with no sign at all of an explosive resurrection impacting the main disciples of Jesus:

Simon Peter said to [the other disciples with him at the Sea of Tiberias], "I am going fishing." (21:3)

Simon and his fishing mates seem to be at a loose end! Now, sure, to be a bit anachronistic, workers for God need a day off, annual leave, team building exercises, and, within the 40 days (per Luke's account in Acts 1), there could have been a lull in activity in Galilee (though, per Luke the disciples do not go to Galilee, in contrast to Matthew, Luke and John).

Yes, the historical accounts of the appearances of the risen Jesus, especially in relationship to the commissioning-by-Jesus-and-what-happens-next, are intriguing as we note tension across the accounts between Jerusalem and Galilee and, in John 20 and 21, between Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, to say nothing of the tension between the explosive character of the resurrection and this exceptional lull at the beginning of John 21.

Perhaps that might keep us humble as readers many centuries later - humble in the sense of not being too sure and certain about exactly what happened, even as (through the witness of the apostles, embedded in the pages of the New Testament) we have high and joyful confidence that the Lord is risen and lives among us, as he did in the heady days of the expanding Christian church in the first century AD.

There are other things to keep us humble these days - or they ought to. Globally we have the continuing scandal of the Russian Orthodox Church showing not one scintilla of compassion for Ukraine and Ukrainians from its top leadership. Locally, Down Under, we have media stories about serious misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct in churches in Australia and New Zealand. Even when it is only a few named churches which feature in the headlines, it seems to me that all churches are tarred with the same reputational damaging brush.

I have been delighted, nevertheless, to read recently one heartwarming media story about a Down Under church - it concerns Curate Church in Tauranga and can be read here. (That's "curate" in a non-Anglican sense of the word "curate" - an active noun versus a role description!!)

Of course bad stories about churches do nothing to create, let alone enhance some kind of warm, questing space in people's minds re the existence of God and the possibility that God has revealed God's self to be compassionate and merciful. Secularism (in the sense of a society and its cultural expectations excluding the possibility of God's existence and interest in our world) grows apace hereabouts.

Interestingly, in this morning's Christchurch Press a local scientific commentator, Peter Griffin, has a column about the origins of life. As far as it goes it is an informative column, informing us of the possible role of meteorites (as carriers of DNA etc) in the development of life here. But its last sentence highlights the contrast between a questing science which knows not of God's revelation and a questing Christian (i.e. someone interested in meteorites) who knows of Genesis 1:

"Our origin story is still to be fully understood and written. But it will eventually make for one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of life itself."

(Incidentally, the thread of comments below the column is delightful!) 

These are challenging times. A person with no acceptance of the role of God as Creator is unlikely to be open to the thought that the power of the Creator has resurrected our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The pathway along which we hope the good news travels into people's hearts is beset with blocking landslides and unbridgeable chasms.

Yesterday Psalm 8 was read in a service. It struck me that verse 4 is the question which all of Scripture answers:

"what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

But the question presupposes the Being to whom the question may be addressed and from whom an answer has come. We live in a world, many of us on this planet, in which it is denied that there is anyone who minds us!