Friday, December 30, 2022

Last Post for 2022

Nearly time for the annual blog holiday (hope to resume on Monday 16 January 2023) so one last post in 2022 to ruminate a little on a things Anglican and otherwise. A pot pouri not an essay.

Different perspectives within the same history

Having posted recently about differing perspectives in the gospel birth-infancy narratives, it has been an interesting Christmas for me and my family. We've had a very pleasant Christmas, with lots of good family time, amazing food, and, in an inclement summer, some gorgeous weather on Christmas Day itself. That's one perspective. In another perspective, particularly if I was of a gloomy cast of mind, I could focus on a telling in which I emphasised that the run up to Christmas was more stressful than usual, one family member had to isolate because of Covid, another has been in hospital, and nearly every day I have thought about a swim at the beach, the weather has been unsuitably cold ... and thus make our Christmas narrative sound very dark and depressing! Life is a mixture, a series of complications, of challenges and inspirations, of difficulties to overcome which are also opportunities to demonstrate love and compassion.

Why are fundamentalist followers of religions so mean and nasty (at least on Twitter)?

My rumination here builds on a foundation of seeing numerous instances on Twitter where, say, on "Catholic Twitter", a Catholic tweets something favourable about the Pope [let me repeat, the Pope, who is, after all, Catholic) and then the thread of comments following is a pile on against the tweeter and/or the Pope, lamenting the reality of Vatican 2, bewailing papal persecution of [ultra] conservative Catholics, alleging this heresy and that apostasy (of current Catholic leaders). And so on.

Protestant Twitter is equally problematic. Just the other day popular singer Amy Grant announced that she was hosting her niece's same-sex wedding on her ranch. A pile on of tweets and comments ensued. Mostly along the lines of "She's no longer a Christian." No less a figure than Franklin Graham publicly bewailed her iniquity.

Intriguingly, around Christmas Day, I saw a tweet by a senior Islamic figure in the UK, wishing the church leaders such as ++Welby and Cardinal Nichols a happy Christmas. The pile on of comments to this pleasant tweet came straight from the (ultra) conservative Catholic and/or Protestant playbook!! How could this man not know that the Qu'ran specifically forbade wishing the infidel greetings on their festivals etc.

Commonly, across such threads of bile, is a fundamentalism of the form, "Since our sacred text(s) say ABC, your proposing DEF is wrong and thus you (and/or the person you defend) are apostate/unfaithful/infidel."

This approach to defending the faith is just mean and nasty. 

The  greater difficulty is that in a world tired of religion and its tropes, the God behind such adherence to fundamentals comes across as a being not particularly kind or cheerful enought to spend eternity with!

How resilient is Anglicanism?

There is an argument that the genius of Anglicanism lies in its ability to accommodate. An outbreak of evangelical revival? No problem. A series of tracts which gain traction towards a retrieval of things Catholic from before the English Reformation: there is room in the inn! A bishop exploring the edges of theological sanity with wonderings as to the physical nature of the resurrection? Let's see where this goes (while keeping fingers crossed that just one or two bishops will be so minded as to publicly share their musings). We're good, in other words, at finding ways to keep people in, rather than drive them out. (Yes, I know what you know, that there have been exceptions to this rule, notably our failure to accommodate Wesleyanism.)

Another way of thinking about what it means to accommodate differences within the Anglican house is that we have an ability (with limits) to adapt what we do to flow with needs of the hour, changes in local communities, and developments in socialization (i.e. the ways we prefer to gather as social beings). Thus, in this parish, an 8 am service is different to a 10 am service is different to a 4 pm Messy Church on a Saturday, and many difference groups within the parish are catered for re tastes in styles of worship. Or, in that parish, a penchant for social justice activism or for charismatic prayer and praise or for silent contemplation is catered for by adapting current small groups meeting on weekday nights. Then, beyond the territorial confines of parish boundaries, the bishop permits gatherings variously styled as "Fresh Expression" or "Pioneer church" or Something Catchy, meeting in a pub or a library or a surf club, as possible ways and means of connecting the gospel with people unlikely to ever cross the threshold of a classic church building. 

It is not difficult, surveying Anglicanism around the globe, to see that a lot of accommodation of adaptation is going on (as well as corollaries, such as intense debate in the CofE about "the future of the parish"). In a time of ebbing numbers for Western Anglican churches, we simply have to try new things in a fast changing set of societies united by a rapidly evolving culture.

I suggest this is Anglicanism also showing another characteristic: resilience.

The way 2023 is shaping up (e.g. numbers at classic or traditional Sunday worship services generally lower after the ravages of Covid lockdowns) we will need to be resilient as never we have had to be for a long time before.

Looking back on Lambeth 2022

That was a really good time!

Happy New Year for 2023 :)

Monday, December 19, 2022

Matthew, Luke but not Q on the first Christmas [Updated]

Prompted by a nifty Venn diagram I saw on Twitter, I thought about composing a Venn diagram to illustrate this post. But they turn out to be a bit time consuming to draw and to type text into, so I will stick to text only!

So, here's a thing about the canonical gospels, they are very interesting on the origin of Jesus Christ.

Mark simply introduces Jesus as a fully adult person.

Matthew begins with a genealogy (which (likely) later Luke will only partially replicate when he gives his own genealogy) and that genealogy goes all the way back to Abraham.

Luke begins with the story of the conception of John the Baptist, as a preluded to the story of the conception of Jesus. Only later, chapter 3, does his genealogy appear, and that goes all the way back to Adam.

The origin of Jesus is pushed even further back in John's Gospel, to the time before time (1:1-3). John shows no interest in telling the story of Jesus birth as an historical, personal, familial stort. Nevertheless, John shows great interest in the theology of the birth: the Word became flesh (1:14).

So, noting these major differences across the four accounts, we are left with observations about the minor differences and similarities between Matthew and Luke's accounts of the birth of Jesus.

One way to set down our observations, prompted by the Venn diagram I saw, is this:

What do Matthew, Luke and the cultural Christmas of the West have in common?

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem

What do Matthew and the cultural Christmas of the West have in common?

Sages from the East, a guiding star, gifts.

What do Luke and the cultural Christmas of the West have in common?

Inn [not actually an inn, but a lodging, possibly with relative], stable [not actually mentioned in Luke], manger, shepherds from nearby fields, angels.

What does the cultural Christmas of the West have which Luke does not have?

Innkeeper [so, update, add here "inn" and "stable"]

What do John and the cultural Christmas of the West have in common?

Nothing. Not even the innkeeper :)

What do Matthew and Luke have in common?

Jesus, Mary as his mother who conceives him through the power of God and not through male sperm, Joseph as her husband or husband to be but is not Jesus' biological father, Bethlehem as place of birth, Nazareth as place of upbringing.

What are key differences between Matthew and Luke?


Matthew locates the birth historically in the reign of King Herod over Palestine (a province of Rome).

Luke locates the birth historically in the reign of Caesar Augustus over the whole Roman empire.

Perspective and divine communication

Matthew tells the story from Joseph's point of view, and God communicates with Joseph through dreams.

Luke tells the story from Mary's point of view, and God communicates with Mary (and other figures in the story) through angels.


 Matthew tells us that the chief act of visitation of the newborn baby is a group of Eastern sages who are guided astrologically to the birthplace. Symbolically, this group represent the world beyond the Jews, an expanded world which Jesus has come to save.

Luke tells us that the chief act of visitation of the newborn baby is a group of shepherds, from nearby, aroused from slumber and alerted to the birth by an angelic choir. Symbolically, this group represents the harmony and normality of the world Jesus enters. While Jesus will disrupt the world somewhat, essentially his coming as "Saviour, Messiah and Lord" (2:11) is not a threat to the peace of the Roman empire (and nor is the movement he inspires).


Matthew has no account of Jesus being presented in the Temple in Jerusalem as a baby, or making a pilgrimage there as a near pubescent boy.

Luke accounts for both visits (2:22-51).

Geography: resolution of a conundrum

Matthew and Luke agree on two geographical facts of Jesus' life: he is born in Bethlehem, he grows up in Nazareth. How to account for being in one place and then in another?

Matthew explains the relationship of Nazareth to Bethlehem in terms of a need to flee to Egypt, and, on return to Palestine, a need to be in a different town to Bethlehem, so Nazareth is where the Holy Family settles.

Luke explains the relationship of Nazareth to Bethlehem in terms of Nazareth as home to Joseph and Mary but a journey to Bethlehem is required by virtue of a census. There is no need to flee Herod's troops in Luke's telling so, instead of Matthew's urgent escape to Egypt, the Holy Family return in quietness to Nazareth.

Now there are many intriguing things here in this verbalised Venn diagram of overlaps and differences, and I am not going to cover them all!

One is that, when New Testament scholars talk abou a document called Q (short for Quelle, or "source"), they refer to a hypothetical document which included all the common material between Matthew and Luke which is not also found in Mark's Gospel; except, if you look up what scholars propose as the contents of Q, you will rarely, if ever, find the Lukan-Matthean common elements in the birth story of Jesus listed or cited.

There is no Christmas in Q but there ought to be.

Another intriguing element is whether Luke knew Matthew or Matthew knew Luke or each is independent of one another.

In favout of independence are the significant variations in the stories each tells. It certainly looks like, with both knowing bare facts such as Mary, Joseph, Mary a virgin, birth in Bethlehem, upbringing in Nazareth, each tells a story of the birth of Jesus and immediate and subsequent events independently of each other. One would have to favour the hypothesis of independence.

Yet, and yet ... (here only discussing the possibility of Luke knowing Matthew's Gospel), is it possible that the differences arise precisely because Luke both knows Matthew and for apologetic and theological reasons wants to tell the story differently?

Consider, for example, the "coincidence" that Matthew and Luke both have a significant visitation to the baby. Sages are different to shepherds but both turn up prompted by communication from beyond themselves. There are theological reasons (alluded to above) for one telling of sages and the other of shepherds.

Consider also the "coincidence" that both Matthew and Luke have to work hard to explain the discrepancy between Bethlehem as the place of birth and Nazareth as the place of upbringing. Matthew gets the Holy Family from Bethlehem to Nazareth both plausibly (to avoid Herodian danger that won't go away) and circuitously (via Egypt, but in accordance with prophecy). 

If Luke knows Matthew, and does not want to bother with the Herodian threats to Jesus' in his early life, then his story tackles the geographical discrepancy from a reverse perspective. Joseph and Mary are residents of Nazareth so there is a need to explain how they ended up in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. 

So Luke tells of a census and its requirements for Joseph to register in Bethlehem - but look up any decent sized commentary on the early verses of Luke 2 and you will see considerable stretching and straining to align what Luke says (e.g. about Quirinius) with what we think we know about censuses and Syrian governors  and registration requirements around the 4 BC (+/-) time of Jesus' birth.

Does Luke know Matthew's story of the birth of Jesus and choose to tell it differently rather than independently?

Likely we will never know this side of glory!

Postscript: if Matthew and Luke are different, are they also contradictory? Obviously there is a long answer to this question which discusses each and every detail of difference and then draws a conclusion. A short answer is "not necessarily" because we could posit that Luke tells a story in Luke 2:1-40 which takes place before the sages visit (and omits any reference to the trip to Egypt which is consequential on their encounter with Herod) and Matthew 2 on the sages and the trip to Egypt, despite being the next verses after the birth at the end of Matthew 1, is a later set of events rather than something that takes place in the first weeks after the birth.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Enlightenment - the meaning of Christmas? And, what about water?

What is the meaning of Christmas?

A classic question posed by many preachers and asked, I suggest, by every Christian when confronted by reindeer and santas, mistletoe and green trees, to say nothing of Christmas movies in which the plot is "by one means or another I am going to get home for Christmas".

When feeling sympathetic about the (now quite) secular (whatever Christian past they had) symbols of Christmas, our answers about the meaning of Christmas may include finding common cause between the Matthean or Lukan stories and the paraphanalia of contemporary Christmases. Reindeer and santas speak to us of gifts: at Christmas God gave us the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ. Getting home for Christmas speaks to us of the depth of human love: measured by our aspiration to reunite as family; but an even greater love is the love of God which seeks to bring all of us home to God, through the sacrificial love of Jesus.

Of course we may not feel sympathetic and thus we may be tempted to rail against the "commercialization" of Christmas or against its deep cleavage from its roots as a festival of the birth of Christ. With a side swipe at all people who talk at this time about "Happy Holidays" rather than "Happy Christmas" (the former being something, interestingly, I am noticing this year, and not previously, here in NZ.)

Noting that it is not a competition to see which is the truest, bestest meaning of Christmas - a multitude of wonderful sermons will be preached this Christmas - I want to mention something simple, often overlooked and deeply profound which John says about the meaning of Christmas in his justly famous and proclaimed-each-Christmas Prologue (John 1:1-14 or 1:1-18).

"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." (verse 9)

Isn't this a fascinating claim, especially given that the next few verses declare that when Jesus came into the world, he was not known and not accepted by all? Is this a theoretical claim: the light has come, all could benefit from it, but not all want to see this light? Or, is the light which comes into the world going to, in the end, enlighten everyone, even if there is initial rejection?

Certainly, with a book such as Tom Holland's Dominion in mind, we can look back on two thousand years of human history and see many ways in which the coming of Jesus Christ into the world has enlightened the world - opened up new and lasting understandings, for example, of the worth of individual people.

Of course, verse 9 is a restatement of something already said in verse 4:

"in him was life, and the life was the light of all people."

Whether Jesus is rejected or not by those he comes to give life and to enlighten, he is available for all people, for Jews and Greeks, for the whole of humanity.

Further, as the enlightenment of the world, Jesus will never be diminished or destroyed. Thus, verse 5:

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

Walter Moberly, in a book on the theology of Genesis, has a footnote about John 1:5 which bears citation:

"The Gospel of John, in its profound reworking of Genesis 1 in light of Jesus Christ, reflects on the fact that although darkness is not abolished by light, and thus endures, it does not have the ability to abolish the light. [then quotes John 1:5]. The way in which light overcomes the darkness is then expanded in the rest of the gospel as a whole." (p. 45 n10, Old Testament Theology: The Theology of the Book of Genesis (Cambridge, UK; New York, USA: CUP, 2009).

Jesus is the light of the world who enlightens everyone, but darkness - in the human heart, shadows cast over human society by tragedy and by tyrrany - endures. Disciples of Jesus continue the work of enlightenment. 

Or, should do! 

As Jesus was sent by the Father, so are those who read the Johannine Gospel and share the ideal discipleship of the Johannine community. Some of us will be Mary Magdalenes, others Andrews or Simon Peters or Thomases or Beloved Disciples. In our diversity we enlighten when we demonstrate unity (John 17).

The great gift of Christmas, then, in Johannine theology, is that the light of the world has come into the world and we all benefit from this enlightenment even if currently we live in darkness.

What about water?

Changing themes, I was struck recently by reading Isaiah 35, which figures prominently in the lectionary around about now. The prophet looks ahead to the coming of the Messiah and forecasts the eyes of the blind being opened and so forth (verses 5-6a), a passage which is embedded in assuaging John the Baptist's doubts about Jesus' messianic qualities in Matthew 11:2-11 (yesterday's Advent 3 Year A gospel reading). But Matthew's account of this conversation between John and Jesus pays no attention to a significant aspect of Isaiah's prophecy:

"For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water." (Isaiah 35:6)

Now, John does pay attention to various healings (roughly similar to those found in the Synoptics) but (if we allow that he might know the Synoptics), does he forage in Isaiah 35:6 for something missed by his gospel colleagues? 

That something being less able to be illustrated by a specific miracle story such as a blind person being healed, but nevertheless is about real transformation of human lives: that the dry deserts of human life might be watered and from thirsty souls might come forth life giving water for others to drink.

Consider John's Jesus on water in language invoking springs and rivers: 

"Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life'." (John 4:13-14)

"... he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.' (John 7:-37-38)

Yes, other Scriptures than Isaiah 35:6 can be said to influence what is said in these statements. My point is not that John is only drawing on Isaiah 35:6, but that John (assuming some knowledge of the Synoptics and some intention to probe more deeply into the meaning of the (hi)story of Jesus) takes a second look at a text such as Isaiah 35 in relation to Jesus. 

More simply: John the Evangelist asks, "Where is the transforming water of Isaiah 35?" and Jesus in John's Gospel answers "Here it is. I have the water. I give it to those who believe and they become the springs and rivers of Isaiah's prophecy."

Times are tough this year, speaking economically. A bottle of water or a candle could be a wonderful, symbolically potent gift!

Monday, December 5, 2022

Tough Anglican times England, Oz, NZ

With apologies to North American readers - your statistics are important too in the story of global Anglicanism, but the past week or so has highlighted the statistical realities of England and Australia ...

Continuing on from last week's post, but this time with an eye on statistics rather than on an argument re loss of influence, and focusing on Anglican churches in England, Australia and here in the Blessed Isles, there is sobering news to continue to ponder.


@austanglican whom I follow on Twitter, and who mostly keeps TwAnglicans up to date on anniversaries of bishops and deans, has done some statistical analysis and published the table below on his@austanglican thread

The point of the table being that every one of the Australia's 23 dioceses have lost Anglicans through the past few censuses, and Anglicans in every diocese are a smaller percentage of the general population of thir diocesan area. 

New Zealand

There is no reason to think NZ Anglicans are any different.


England has been in the news because recently published census data shows that for the first time, census-identifying Christians are a minority and not a majority of the population.

"On census day, 21 March 2021, 46.2% of people identified themselves as Christians, compared with 59.3% of the population in the 2011 census, a 13-percentage point drop in a decade.

A key finding from the census helps to explain this: the significant rise in people identifying as of no particular faith at all."

Cue much hand-wringing re CofE bishops remaining in the House of Lords and much delight in dusting off the longest word in the English language from the shelf of unused dictionaries: antidisestablishmentarianism. Of course, the word being used by the pundits gleeful at the demise of English Christianity generally and of the CofE particularly is "disestablishment"! This issue is not the concern of Anglican Down Under.

But, also, cue some hand-wringing on social media about "if only" the CofE had in 19XY changed its mind about Z then "things would've been different"!

Maybe, maybe not.

The Guardian published an interesting article in which several people said why they had lost their faith. I suggest it is far too simple to say that "if only" the church had done this or done that then things would have been different. Life is complex. Bad things happen, for instance, to people who have faith and doubts about the love of God understandably rise up and overwhelm faith. Alternative explanations for life and its meaning become more plausible as culture changes. Even when a brilliant book such as Tom Holland's Dominion shows that much of what non-Christians treasure in Western culture is deeply Christian, that doesn't mean that "nones" scurry back to such theological roots and declare a new found Christian allegiance in census box ticks.

Actual Church Life

Of course there is another story to tell in Australia, England and New Zealand. That is the story of actual church attendance, of children and adults' participation in the life of faith communities. There will be in the other two countries, as also here, a mixed bag of growing and declining church congregations, of shifts in allegiance from Anglican churches to, say, Pentecostal churches, and back again. As the general population grows in a district, region or country, Anglican allegiance may decline percentage wise but be relatively stable numbers-in-pews-on-Sundays wise.

But, let's not fool ourselves, even within this "other story" of actual church life, there are perceptible signs of the decline of general Christianity (e.g. church buildings being sold and becoming restaurants or being demolished and houses built on the land) and signs that we are in tough Anglican times because, despite many encouragements, and lovely stories of new people joining congregations, some even because they do so as a result of brand new faith in Christ, there is diminishment in the overall attendance numbers.

It is not rocket science that if I am the vicar of a parish which this year has counted 15 new people into the regular congregational life and I have taken 20 funerals of regular attendees, then the sober reality is that decline has occurred, despite the joy of welcoming those 15 newcomers.

Comments to last week's post made some good points, which are worth keeping in mind at all times, though tough Anglican times sharpen our minds. 

Two stand out for me. 

One is that we should keep questioning what we believe, asking whether a belief (an example was penal substitutionary atonement) is fit for purpose in the times we live in. 

Two is that we should keep focused on Jesus and the basics of his gospel message in word and in deed.

Tough times call for faithfulness rather than fear.

As we head towards the end of this year, I want to celebrate the faithfulness of Christians, and of Anglican Christians in particular. Wonderfully, we have many faithful believers in the Diocese of Christchurch. In the middle of this year, when Teresa and I travelled to and from the Lambeth Conference, along the way, and, of course, at the conference itself, we met many faithful believers from other countries.

Who knows where our times are heading. One startling aspect of the statistical decline of Christianity in Western countries is that it is not giving way to another (more vibrant, more exciting, more plausible, more ...) religion. Going on the English stats, it is giving way to people making their way through life preferring to avoid any explicit religious commitment, to live with either uncertainty about the reality of God or with certainty that there is no God.

There is room in the course of this century for a new wave of believers, converts who turn from being "nones" to being convinced that in Christ all fulfilment of life is found.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

NZ churches sliding, sliding, in bewilderment, into irrelevancy?

My former and very brilliant church history professor (when at Knox Theological Hall in the mid 1980s), Peter Matheson, has written a stirring column for the Otago Daily Times. (H/T Anglican Taonga for notice of the article).

Its heading is "Churches Must Rise to the Challenges of the Modern World."

He begins with a description of our sad state:

"It's an interesting experience being a churchgoer these days. We’ve been nudged to the periphery of society and lost out in numbers and influence.

Countless revelations about sexual misconduct by clergy have shaken public confidence. The accumulation of negative publicity in very recent times has been remarkable: Dilworth School, Gloriavale, Destiny Church’s antics, Arise Church’s leadership woes. The list seems endless, the latest issue being Simon O’Connor lauding the US Supreme Court’s verdict on Roe v Wade.

To any neutral observer it might well seem that the Christian churches stand for utterly regressive social and gender policies and all too often for the scandalous abuse of power.

So it’s been quite a turnaround for us churchgoers. In my student days at Otago the churches were at the forefront of radical action. The first anti-nuclear march in Dunedin was largely church-led."

He ends with some helpful suggestions:

"When talking with my non-Christian friends I often pose the question: where are we to get our values as a post-Christian nation?

The celebration of Matariki highlights a welcome awareness of what matauranga (Maori knowledge) has to offer us. We cannot, however, expect Maoridom to offer solutions to all the problems created by Pakeha: the stubborn indifference of suburbia to environmental meltdown, the worrying addiction of young people to social media

Maybe we need to pause, and think again about the rich resources that the Christian tradition of spirituality, theology and creative action has to offer.

As compassion fatigue looms, the churches’ discipline of daily and communal prayer for others is a crucial corrective.

The tough challenge, for sure, to the churches is to get their house in order, to package their transcendent message to meet the needs of the world of today. Reformata reformanda!"

Can any NZ reader here (or overseas observer) disagree with the thrust of what Peter is saying here, that "We’ve been nudged to the periphery of society and lost out in numbers and influence"?

To the degree that we have been nudged (or, indeed, nudged ourselves) to the periphery of society, there are definitely elements of (i) we deserve it (because of our failings), and (ii) we are bewildered - on which I offer some reflection in the next paragraph - and some timeout at the periphery could be valuable for sorting ourselves out.

A bewildered NZ church?

When Peter Matheson recalls church leaders at the forefront of (e.g.) anti-nuclear marches, the church in NZ was a simpler network of churches than today: the classic mainstream Protestant denominations, the Catholic church and some fledgling Pentecostal churches. And there was some good organisation of most of these churches, through the National Council of Churches. Church leaders could speak up and, more or less, profess to speak for the NZ church of God. Today, the NZ church is a varied, diverse bunches of churches, including not only many more Pentecostal churches, but also variants of the classic denominations (e.g. alternative Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches). This makes it harder to say, "I the leader of church X speak for all churches when I say Y." Not least, this is so, because in the expanding array of churches in our nation, there has been a growth in the conservative character of the NZ church, so the chances are remote that where social or political change is desired by society as a whole, then the church here would see itself as at the vanguard of change rather than at the forefront of resistance to change. Notably, during the Covid years, churches here found themselves internally stricken with division over vaccination.

There is one issue on which, just possibly, we are open to taking a lead, resistance to climate change, but this is a big, complex issue, and, apart from general messages about how we ought to resist climate change, coming up with particular initiatives is proving bewilderingly difficult.

How might we rise again?

To be frank, I do not know. 

But I like, very much, Peter's final point. In a post-Christian society which emphasises the "Christian" character of our nation by many beautiful acts of compassion, churches still have something to contribute by way of our spiritual treasures so that compassion fatigue is relieved and new vigour is given to the values widely espoused across our communities.

We are not finished yet!

But we will need to work on our relevancy rather than assume it.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Apocalyptic Anglicanism in Advent?

I have noticed recently, in the run up to Advent, the odd grizzle or two on Anglican social media about the lectionary providing readings for Morning Prayer from Daniel and from Revelation: "It's a bit too much," is the gist of the grizzles.

Naturally that gets me thinking, perhaps you too, about the role of apocalyptic literature such as Daniel and Revelation in Christian life generally, in Anglican life particularly, and in the last days [that was a subtle joke] before Advent and during Advent itself when we are invited by various readings to think about "the End" and "the Second Coming."

Some Anglicans might think talk of the Second Coming is not very Anglican, more the concern of certain fundamentalists from a certain northern continent. In which case, let me remind you of the collect for the Third Sunday in Advent from the Book of Common Prayer:

O Lord Jesu Christ, who at they first coming didst send they messenger to prepare the way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of they mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready they way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignst with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

OK, so may be Anglicans do not talk about the Second Coming with capital letters, but we do talk about the second coming of Christ!

Anyhoo, back to Daniel and Revelation.

I think it a very good idea that the lectionary exposes us to the full breadth of Scripture, from Genesis to, er, Revelation, and thus we are confronted with what the message or messages of Daniel, Revelation and all similar apocalyptic (i.e. revealing, disclosing, unveiling) literature in Scripture is or are.

Apocalyptic literature is literature of stress and duress. 

Israel (of Maccabean times, c. 167 BC) stressed by the invasion of Greece, draws on the memories of the duress experienced when Jerusalem was sacked (597/587 BC) and Judah went into exile in Babylon, and produces Daniel, a set of tales of a faithful Jew which include visions which give insight into the hidden powers of darkness which work through the imperial forces focused against God's holy people and reveal the stronger powers of God's angelic rulers in order to strengthen Judah's resolve to be faithful.

Revelation, composed at the end of the first century AD, draws heavily on Daniel (and to a lesser degree on Ezekiel, Zechariah and Isaiah), to update for the followers of Jesus under stress (primarily a threat of imminent persecution) the kind of insights Daniel provided: hidden behind the activities of Rome and its local supporters and henchman throughout the empire are satanic forces; powerful though they are, the angels of God and the spirits of God, and, most importantly, Jesus Christ the risen, exalted Word and Lamb of God have got them covered and are about to swipe them off the face of the earth.

So, point (1): We may grizzle at the apocalyptic overload of reading both Daniel and Revelation on the same morning for a week or two because we are unstressed, but in our day, there are plenty of Christians under stress, particularly the threat of persecution and the challenge of being faithful when threatened with violence and loss of livelihood. Let's read Daniel and Revelation in solidarity with them.

Apocalyptic literature is literature of resistance

Both Daniel and Revelation call out imperial powers - human attempts to orchestrate people to submit against their better judgement to the arbitrary ambitions of despots and tyrants - and show them up for what they are: expressions of evil, idolatries rebelling against the rule of the Creator and Redeemer God of Israel. In doing so, like all apocalyptic literature, they ask of their readers that they stand firm in their faith in God and thus resist the encroachment of the evil powers.

So, point 2: We read Daniel and Revelation as a double dose of fortifying resolution to be godly people who resist imperialism wherever we find it, and in whatever guise we find it in today's world.

Apocalyptic literature is literature of disruption

Both Daniel and Revelation (and material in the gospels and in the epistles) propose that history is not endless: the story of human life is coming to an end. History as a tale of people marrying and producing offspring who marry and produce offspring etcetera is denied by apocalyptic literature which tells us God will disrupt life as we know it and dramatically turn the tables on the forces of evil and rescue God's people from complete destruction and annihilation.

So, point 3: We read Daniel and Revelation as alternative narratives to the stories we generally tell ourselves about studying, embarking on a career, finding a life partner to marry and raise a family, wisely setting aside money for later life, for a long, active and happy retirement, all premised on dying in our sleep at a very grand old age. Tomorrow the world may end. Am I ready? Tomorrow the axe of oppression may fall on me and my congregation. Are we prepared? Tomorrow I may be thrown to the lions? Will that be the end or does God have another future in store? Disruption is a part of history. We should not be surprised when it comes.

Of course, in a world in which some of us are growing old steadily (I had my 60-something birthday the other day), there are plenty of possibilities for disruption, even when we are not living in Ukraine or Iran. North Korea is firing off practice missiles. The world economy could tank. Twitter may fall over. Climate change may disrupt life in ways not even imaginable after the disruptive storms, floods, and fires of the past few years.

To be honest, of all ways of being Christian, being Anglican is not the best way to be ready for disruption.

We do steady state complacency rather well! We have often been on the side of empires rather than resisting their growth and standing against their rapaciousness.

In the run up to and the run through Advent, how will we Anglicans read Daniel and Revelation and those gospel passages speaking of the End?

Not with grizzles, I hope.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Lambeth 2022 wasn't a failure, was it?

Whether Lambeth 2022 was a failure or a success, on some definition of each, may or may not matter in the great scheme of God's plan for the unity of all things (Ephesian 1:9-10), but I am interested in the "lesser scheme" of God's work within that part of the Christian world described as "Anglican", and the contribution Lambeth 2022 may be judged - short, medium or long term - to have made to that work.

Thus in recent days my eyes have alighted on the following articles, some of which have only appeared in the past week.

+George Sumner  (TEC), writing back in August 2022, offers a nuanced, hopeful, Global South-oriented view of the Communion's future, and looks forward to Lambeth 2032.

Andrew Goddard (England), writing as recently as 9 November 2022, offers a significant, detailed critique of what was said at Lambeth 2022, principally by ++Welby, in relation to matters of dispute and decision-making for the Communion as a body variously filled with provincial autonomies and interdependence aspirations. He concludes, in the end, somewhat bleakly:

"Elements of the Archbishop’s contributions, particularly in his final address, give hope for some degree of continuity with the Communion’s historic self-understanding and vision. Other elements, however, raise a number of serious questions and concerns particularly concerning autonomy and subsidiarity. These apparently represent a major break with the received account of these key concepts. This then results in drawing dangerous implications for ordering the Communion’s life. If these features are embraced as the fruit of the Conference’s “intense ecclesiological development” or simply allowed to stand by default (rather than being subject to further scrutiny and refinement, such as that implicit in the Global South’s communiqué) then sadly Ephraim Radner will be proved right and we have just witnessed, despite all the good it has accomplished relationally, “The Last Lambeth Conference.”"

So, what did Ephraim Radner (Canada) make of Lambeth 2022 in the article Goddard references? Writing in First Things in October this year, Radner opens with this paragraph:

"July’s was probably the last recognizable assembly of the Lambeth Conference we shall see in this generation (and perhaps the next). No longer will “all” the bishops of the Anglican Communion gather, but only some, and only from some places. No longer will the deliberation of the Communion’s bishops give rise to common teaching on matters of doctrine and morals. No longer will Anglicans around the world see themselves as engaged in a common evangelical mission."

His analysis of the situation, borne along by his resolute view that the threads which we hold in common are devoid of any substantial common agreements, leads to this - frankly bizarre - estimation of the Communion's common theology and mission:

"To judge by the words of its most public leaders, the Anglican Communion has come to represent a progressive version of the works of mercy: addressing injustice, fighting corruption, combating climate change. The time has come to admit that works of mercy provide the only framework for the current Anglican vocation."

On the other hand, there is the Lambeth 2022 conference I actually attended which highlighted our common commitment to discipleship - to following Jesus as the giver of divine life and embodiment of divine love.

Back to Radner: his final paragraphs about the future of the Communion could be summed up by the word "bleak." 

Is there hope?

Thankfully +Joseph Wandera (Kenya) offers some hope for the Communion's future. Before we get to that expression of hope, I love the observation Wandera makes in this paragraph about a phenomenon I saw myself (and felt a bit guilty about not myself making videos for consumption back in my diocese):

"It was quite common during the breaks to see a number of bishops, especially from the West, rushing to set up in a corner and convey news of the conference back to their home dioceses, using their digital devices. At one point, I was invited by an American bishop to be interviewed for his home diocese. How was I to communicate the deliberations at Lambeth back home to my largely rural congregations, where our infrastructure is limited, and smart phones are a luxury they cannot afford?"

The crucial and critical observation Wandera brings to this post's set of articles is Lambeth 2022's failure to engage with damaging, longstanding issues in economic injustice (such as the crippling effects of national debts), not least because we First World bishops only superficially connected with Third World bishops. Fair point.

But Wandera's conclusion is hopeful that Lambeth conferences will continue and will learn from shortcomings of the past:

"The Christian story is woven around the event of the Incarnation, and so embodiment such as what we experienced at Lambeth was an experience of a lifetime. However, such embodiment ought to be extended to our communities in real ways if it is going to have impact.

There is need for a new orientation around Lambeth, making it more relational, and sustainable around our common issues.

Thankfully, we are all on a pilgrimage, and Lambeth remains a powerful reminder of our connectedness as followers of Jesus."

A specific transition to a new future for the conference proposed by Wandera would be for it to take place away from England, say, in Nairobi. Why not?

Lurking in all the articles linked to above is the question of "who" is actually in rather than out of the Communion. If we bewail the lack of communion for the Communion, what is the Communion that suffers this lack?

++Linda Nicholls (Canada) opines in an article that Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda have effectively separated from the Communion by not turning up to Lambeth 2022. (Others quoted in the article take different views).

Interstingly, at this point in time we can reasonably ask an important question of the Anglican province with the most Anglicans and most bishops in it.

What is Nigeria up to? It's with GAFCON rather than with the Communion isn't it? Well, "you be the judge" after reading this report in which Nigeria is busy establishing a Nigerian Anglican church in North America which is not part of ACNA (the GAFCON-alternative to TEC and ACCanada) - a move which has led a Nigerian bishop in the States, with his Diocese, to choose alignment with ACNA and not with Nigeria.

In the ten years between now and 2032, assuming there will be a Lambeth conference that year, what changes to global Anglicanism will we see take place? 

Will a blogpost in 2031 be reflecting on how Nigeria's global aspirations for its ruthlessly pure form of Anglicanism relate to GAFCON's more conciliarity global aspirations for pure Anglicanism relate to the Anglican Communion's bold faith that 90% of all provinces are represented at Lambeth 2032?

If there is one thing missing from the most critical articles above, it is the failure to recognise that the Communion consists of 42 provinces and only three failed to have representative bishops show up.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Can we ever change anything of substance in the life of the church?

A question thrown up by English events of the past few days,* is represented in the contents of a tweet which I copy here:

"Bishop of Oxford says he no longer believes in the Church of England teaching which he took an oath to uphold and protect.

If he had any integrity he would therefore resign his position."

That is, the question this post is concerned with is: How might the teaching of the church change? 

When we who are officers of the church (i.e. those who sign up to the teaching of the church) begin to think that something could or should be different, are we bound to suppress those thoughts, or to resign? What is the process by which the church changes its minds on a matter if its official leaders are bound to express no thoughts out loud about the possibility of change?

In other words, it is absurd to equate a commitment to the teaching of the church with a resolve to never, ever question it.

Sure, there are better ways and means to raise questions than others (think of the bishops through the years who have publicly questioned the resurrection and caused dismay and despair in the pews), but when there are issues which involve significant differences among members, and big questions over the church's relationship to society, it is appropriate to raise questions and consider changes and revisions.

On the content of the tweet cited above, rigorously enforced since, say, 1559, we would not have women ordained as clergy, there would be no remarriage in churches of divorced persons, the Book of Common Prayer would not be revised into a new prayer book which captured changes in Anglican eucharistic theology, and, noting the anti-Papalism of the 39A, there would be no ARCIC conversations.

(A Roman Catholic - Thomas Moore? - might go further, and say, that is precisely why the English Reformation is both wrong and bad: clergy forsook their vows!).

In what way may we who vowed to uphold the teaching of the church also be permitted to review it, develop it or even change it?

Historians of theology here will recall the great irony that John Newman forsook his vows to uphold the CofE's doctrines by leaving it, only to then, as a Roman Catholic, begin a long influence of his new church via the notion of "development" of doctrine, an influence which, arguably, is behind (or underneath) present day turmoil in the Roman Catholic church.

Current English turmoil

Following immediately on the heels of the departure of CofE bishops from a meeting about their response to the CofE process called Living in Faith and Love, the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft last week wrote a response to recent deliberations within the CofE. (The actual book he has written is purchaseable etc rather than available for free view or download). See also these articles in Church Times: an extract from the book here and a report here.

I wonder if the key question in this new phase of debate in the CofE is this (in the extract linked to above):

"The more the Church commends the goods of permanent, stable, and faithful relationships for heterosexual people in marriage, the more difficult it becomes to justify denying those goods and blessings to people who happen to be homosexual."

Do the rejoinders actually tackle this question? That could be a question for the CofE and its debates!

Speaking of rejoinders, there is:

A prompt rejoinder by Ian Paul at Psephizo.

And another by Vaughan Roberts, a vicar in the city of Oxford (download his pdf from this link).

CEEC statement here.

Perhaps most helpful of all, Angela Tilby, inspired by John Milbank, on a needed third way.

Except, in response to Tilby-Milbank's "third way", a friend on Twitter has tweeted that "second class" is not for him.

If on Twitter, you may see various back and forth, some very supportive tweets, and some disagreeing strongly. Unfortunately, social media responses not seen by me include, according to a tweet I have seen, abusive, hateful responses to +Steven.

Any how, this post is not intended to be a further foray into argument, but a note that the mother church of our Communion is moving into a new phase in its own journey on these matters. 

Having waited for Lambeth 2022 to be concluded, the relatively united front of their bishops (i.e. to refrain from much comment, one way or another), has now moved to a phase in which bishops such as +Steven (and a few others who have signalled public agreeement) are voicing their views.

The CofE bishops are meeting again before Christmas, and there is a next session of their General Synod in February 2023. What change might be proposed? What might be agreed to?

Nothing less than the unity of the CofE is at stake, even as nothing less than a "better deal" for the gay members of the CofE is also at stake.

Watch this space. It is critical to the way in which the future of the Communion itself will be shaped.

please comment on the question at the beginning of this post and not on That Topic ... and please take great care about any ad hominen comments. They will not be published, even if they are 1% of an otherwise 99% fine comment. Am too busy to moderate otherwise.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Ways Forward: General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui 2022

The thing about Anglican synods is that we may spend time on the past (reports, accounts) and get stuck in details about the future (budgets, promises to take action on some issue of the day), but the real measure of a synod's significance, over the long term, is whether it offers a way or ways forward to a better future (formally through legislative change or resolutions, or informally through (say) the mood of participants, key appointments/elections to committees and boards).

So, last week we held our General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui in Nelson ...*

What happened? With the help of reports, of course, in Taonga, we can note:

The opening;

The Presidential Address;

The opening eucharist;

A  day of being informed/educated/formed (i.e. wānanga) about knowledge in Maori culture (mātauranga);

Debate and decisions about St. John's College;

As usual, something about our common prayer;

Appropriately, quite a bit of our conversation concerned the submissions to, recommendations to date of the Royal Commission on Abuse, and our responses to them;

It was a good occasion, of course, for meeting people. I met Dean Jay Ruka, a representative of the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki, for instance, for the first time. Already familiar colleagues and friends were there as well - Bishop Justin Duckworth, for instance, is another member of General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui to have a recent article about his ministry! One special guest was Archbishop Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne - Philip helped us out by chairing the key debate on St. John's College (due to our archbishops and other bishops being conflicted about various elements in the story of what has unfolded re changes to the governance of the College in the past year or so. Having gotten to know ++Philip during the recent Lambeth Conference it was lovely to spend time with him again.

I have discovered there is a not too bad photo of me on the Taonga site :)

Back to the key question posed above: did our meeting together chart some ways forward for our church? Here are three ways forward:

1. Our wānanga day on mātauranga charted a way forward for our church to develop a deeper, wider, better understanding of Māori culture and within that culture, what matters and why it matters, how the world is understood and how the world is engaged with by Māori.

2. Our debate about St John's College opens the door for our church to finally cease a regular cycle of reviews of the College and to begin a period of stability and calm for the College through many years ahead.

3. Our recognition of the impact of the Royal Commission on Abuse offers the possibility of a new future as the safe church we should have been but have not been.

BUT: what was not charted as a way forward was engagement with the future of our church as a church in statistical decline while being a church with an amazing potential future (for example, as a church positioned for the future of our bicultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic country).

I enjoyed this Synod. Despite some disagreements, we were in good spirits (marked, e.g. by some good humour) and it was noticeable that we kept talking to each other outside of the main sessions. Living with difference is key to visible, on the ground of this earth and this life, unity. I think we left Nelson for our home corners of God's vineyard in a good place.

*Incidentally, as we cycle through different hosts: Tikanga Pakeha (seven dioceses), Tikanga Maori (about every third synod), and Tikanga Polynesia (about every 10 - 12 years), it takes a while to return to a venue. The last time that General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui was held in Nelson was in 1994. I was not a member of the synod then but recall visiting it - I was then working in the Parish of Stoke, Nelson.

Monday, October 24, 2022

New Methodism-Brethrenism is True Anglicanism?

Continuing to reflect on the question of Anglican unity in a fractured world, divided global Christianity, net-torn Anglican Communion, I note, looking over my ecumenical shoulder, that there are amazing stirrings of difference and dissent within Roman Catholicism, spurring Pope Francis to remark with concern about polarization on the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council in 1962.

In this report by Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter (H/T Ron Smith), the opening paragraph could have applied to the Anglican Communion any time since 1998!

"Pope Francis on Oct. 11 marked the opening of the 60th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council — a three-year period that launched landmark reforms in the Catholic Church's relationship to the world around it and the church's own liturgy and practices — by pleading for the church to "overcome all polarization and preserve our communion.""

What to do with our own Anglican "polarizations" and attempts to "preserve our communion"?

Well, I've been thinking about two previous challenges to Anglican polity which, unfortunately, did not end in unity but in a division, with a twist, as I shall attempt to explain.

Those two divisions (or, perhaps better, separations) occurred as Methodism found itself unwelcome in the Church of England and then a century or so later as Plymouth Brethrenism was established. In both cases (seeking here to comment as objectively as possible) there was aspiration to develop church life freed of the then structures and protocols of Anglican ways and means of being church. 

But there was a notable twist: no longer were there bishops (at least not initially for the Methodists) nor communion with Canterbury. Nor, for that matter, was there any attempt (so far as I am aware) to continue with the word “Anglican” (or similar) in the naming of the new churches which resulted. Thus there was separation and no confusion about the nature of each new church (or set of churches).

Fast forward to today’s world. While there are similarities in concerns today, for a purer, more biblical, more faithful-to-Jesus church to be formed, the disaffiliation of members of Anglican Communion provinces today is leading to a confused state of global Anglicanism. 

First, churches (which includes CCAANZ hereabouts and the Diocese of the Southern Cross in Australia) are being formed which have bishops. Just this past weekend, in the polity known as AMiE, three new "bishops for Britain" were ordained in Hull. 

Secondly, the word “Anglican” often features in the new names of such entities. In turn this means there is claim and counter-claim about who the “true” or “legitimate” Anglicans are today, around the globe. There is, so to speak, a sharp question whether a new “21st century Methodism-Brethrenism” is the true Anglicanism?

Now, this is where things get a little (if not a lot) interesting because there is a degree of arguing past one another on the matter of true/false Anglicanism.

I am exploring certain questions here framed by “true” versus “false” but, mostly, I do not like making claims about true Anglicans and false Anglicans. My preference is that we simply talk about what it means to be Anglican and what we agree or disagree about this matter.

For instance, I want to argue that there is an historic, personal component to being Anglican which means that Anglicans are Christians in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But there are Anglicans in the world today who clearly disagree with me because they call themselves Anglicans when they are not in communion with the ABC.

On this line of argument, Anglicans hold to a set of beliefs (e.g., as expressed in the 39A and the BCP) and determine that communion with other Anglicans is based on sharing those beliefs rather than on a fellowship relationship with the ABC. Yes, such talk also involves considerations of polity: that Anglicans hold to certain beliefs-and-have bishops. And, with respect to “history” the claim here is that Anglicans today are in fellowship with Anglicans of yesterday because each generation shares the same beliefs.

I want to suggest that there is a bit more to the situation of 21st century Anglicanism and who may reasonably or legitimately claim to be "Anglican" than the above paragraphs. 

The point of our mother church, "the Church of England" is that it was "the Church of England." That church sought (and still seeks) to be a church of all England, both in the sense of potentially engaging with everyone in England and in the sense of reflecting a range of theological views (Catholic and Protestant, evangelical, broad and Anglo-Catholic, more recently, for and against the ordination of women). By implication, an Anglican church in the tradition of the Church of England, the 21st century CofE in the tradition of the CofE of previous centuries, is a church which is broad, inclusive, tolerant and intent on engaging all citizens of the nation.

Along the way of such intention, Anglican churches have adjusted ways of doing things and understandings of Scripture: women are being ordained, once they were not; artificial contraception was opposed by the Lambeth Conference in 1920 and then not so in 1930; remarriage after divorce is better accepted than it once was. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we have restructured ourselves to better reflect the cultural diversity of our church for a bicultural nation and for a set of nations (we include, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa).

Of course such adjustments can be dismissed as some kind of sell out of the gospel to culture but they can also be robustly supported and advanced as the church understanding that the relationship between gospel and culture involves adjustments from time to time. Jesus spoke Aramaic but our four written gospels are in Greek. There was only one Jesus but we have four written gospels which are each shaped by different cultural contexts within which they were written and for which they were written and disseminated. On a matter such as divorce and remarriage, it is a simple fact that differences emerge between Luke/Mark, Matthew and 1 Corinthians. Under different circumstance, NT documents provide different responses to the power of the state (Romans 13 and Revelation 13). There is no one pristine, pure model of the first church replete with a set of infallible doctrines. This does not mean that 20 centuries later "anything goes" but it does mean that it is reasonable for Anglican churches to aspire to be either  a national church (CofE) or a church for the whole nation (many Anglican churches in many nations), that is, a church which is broad rather than narrow, inclusive rather than exclusive.

Consequently, alongside my argument that what matters in being Anglican is being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, I also place the argument that being Anglican is being intentional about breadth and inclusivity of views and approaches to being Anglican.

Now, rather than jump up and down re (say) the latest development for AMiE in Britain as being "un Anglican" or similar, a more diplomatic conclusion to this post is, I suggest, to end with a question:

As we who say we are Anglican journey through the next decades of the 21st century, are we shaping ourselves to be a church which in its potentiality is for the whole nation or only for part thereof?

Sunday, October 16, 2022

They do things differently across the Ditch ... don't they?

This post is about "The Essendon Saga" - a story from Melbourne, Australia, featuring:

- an Aussie Rules football club, Essendon, which prides itself on its "inclusive" character.

- their need for a CEO.

- finding that CEO, Andrew Thorburn, a man with a distinguished track record as a CEO.

- some bright-eyed and bushy-tailed reporters digging into Thorburn's background and discovering that (1) he has a lay leadership role in a group of churches, City on a Hill,* and (2) a preacher at that church back in 2013 preached something considered objectionable by a majority of 2022's secular population.

- furore (not particularly focused on what Andrew Thorburn himself believes).

- Andrew Thorburn choosing to resign a day after being appointed but expressing regret that a Christian appears unwelcome in Australia's public space.

- quite a few views then being expressed about values, what Christians ought to believe, what Christians actually believe, whether people of faith are welcome in public life in Australia, etc --- see below.

- (We should note that on the views which were objected to a large number of Catholics, Muslims could be ousted from public life on the grounds of what a priest or imam preached in 2013!!).

-*City on a Hill is interesting in its own right as an Anglican-aligned group of churches.


Not much to add to what I have read but:

1. Not sure that our NZ cultural/political space is quite as vicious as Oz seems to be.

2. I worry that what happened to Andrew Thorburn happens because he is not Catholic or Muslim, i.e. that Protestants/Pentecostals are easy pickings for a media intent on finding fault(lines). Is it fair to pick on one group and not others?

3. Dan Andrews, Victoria's premier, is, at least to a degree, an illustration of 2. He is Catholic and sends his children to Catholic schools. Catholic teaching has not changed one iota on the matters which deconstructed Thorburn's brief tenure as CEO. Yet he can adroitly distance himself from the church to which he professes allegiance by claiming "my Catholicism" is not like ... whatever he doesn't agree with.

4. I really admire Archbishops Freier and Comensoli for standing up for the right to be Christian, including "Christian" meaning: having beliefs not all agree with, and to have a place in public life. If you like, their Christianity is my Christianity in a way that Dan Andrews' Christianity is not.


A view here

A report here

Michael Bird here.

Archbishop Philip Freier statement tweeted here.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli has also put out a statement here.

Dan Andrews, Premier of the state of Victoria has spoken here about "my Catholicism."

Another view here.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Further thoughts - good thoughts - on Lambeth 2022 and the continuing Anglican Communion

Bishop Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, writes about Lambeth 2022 (having been to Lambeth 2008) here.

Catherine Fox (among several notable roles in life is a bishop's spouse and was also at Lambeth 2022) writes about Lambeth 2022 here as part of her "Diary" for a recent Church Times.

+Christopher writes this about the overall sense of the conference as a significant moment in the history of the Anglican Communion, albeit from an episcopal perspective:

"As well as being taken deeper into what it means to be a bishop in the Church of God, I also learned more of what the Lambeth Conference means to the life of the Anglican Communion. Essentially, the Church is relational. The Conference was that part of the Church manifested as the Anglican Communion being the Communion — or, rather, becoming more fully the Communion, because our being is always in the process of becoming. I saw more clearly how the relationality of the Communion involves relationship with the physical space of Canterbury Cathedral (as some sort of maternal home, awesome in its proportions and history); with the actual person of the Archbishop of Canterbury (as a generous and loving host, gifted in this case with an extraordinary energy); with each other (as called and sent by God to our people and places, gathered together now in this place and with this person for the building up of our common life); with brothers and sisters from other churches and communions (whose fellowship and wisdom beckoned us beyond ourselves into a bigger vision of the church); with Jesus Christ, in the Spirit, and his relationship with the Father (greatly helped by some wonderful liturgies and inspired music)."

He also has some critiques to offer, one of which is expressed thus:

"What the Conference was not so good at was enabling the proper episcopal oversight and leadership of the Communion that, at least until 2008, belonged to the character if not necessarily the constitution of the Lambeth Conference. That incapacity showed itself in the process for drafting, refining, and affirming the Lambeth Calls. We were presented with immature texts. I do not mean that they were of poor quality (though some were certainly better than others); rather that they had not been through the sort of maturation process that such agreed statements require. There was certainly no credible process for developing them during the Conference, and the appeal to a third stage of the Conference after the residential period felt like a missed opportunity.

It may well be that, given the size of the Communion and the constraints of time and language on the Conference itself, the Lambeth Conference cannot be expected to fulfill both the relational-educational role and the discussing, deliberating, deciding function that belongs to the ministry of bishops if they are to be used by God to form the church (again in the words of the Church of England Ordinal) “into a single communion of faith and love.” I hope that work is beginning now on a new structure and shape of the Lambeth Conference that allows both roles to be fulfilled."

Catherine writes this about the mood at the end of the conference:

"I wished, fleetingly, that I’d applied for a press pass as a reporter on the Lindfordshire Chronicle. But I was there in good faith, minus any ironic shield, experiencing everything raw. At times, this hurt. What I sensed by the end was not (as the BBC reported) an “air of self-congratulation” that we’d managed not to split the Communion in half. It felt more like being tipped out of the wash cycle into a wholly new landscape, beyond a preoccupation with being right. Being right necessitates others’ being wrong. This new space gestured towards the possibility of our all being in the right, baptised into it, and raised up on the other side.

I’d say that everyone seemed almost stunned. Stunned and tender — in both senses of that word. We were bruised (stone-washed, blood-washed), and yet full of love for one another. Despite the screaming panic of gulls, maybe the wood pigeons get the final word."

To what Catherine Fox says about how we ended up, I simply say, Amen.

To what Christopher Cocksworth says I also say Amen about what he observes about the “relationality” of the Communion, both personal relationships and locational (historio-geographical) relationships.

To what he says by way of critique of the conference insofar as it engaged with issues and didn’t come to much in the way of decision-making, I say we should follow through and work on how we do make Communion-wide, Communion-authoritative decisions.

This might or might not involve an “old style” Lambeth Conference: all bishops together, for several weeks, synodically, methodically working towards decisions.

My own preference for exploration would be for regional decision-making conferences to work on matters and for a smaller “council” of primates, bishops, perhaps chancellors as well, to then convert the regional decisions into a Communion decision (perhaps subject to ratification by the whole Lambeth Conference or the, possible, Anglican Congress). ACC could figure in the mix also - perhaps proposing the matters that need decisions made.

There is a future for the Anglican Communion. It is a future for those who turn up to gatherings and not for those who do not. What is a question du jour is what gatherings best enable us to be what we want to be.

Finally, a voice from England, currently in Australia: the SMH has an article featuring an interview with the ABC here and this opening sentence:

"The Archbishop of Canterbury says a schism in Australian Anglicanism is dangerous for the church because it looks to outsiders like any other institution that struggles to overcome differences."

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Fascinating exchange … exploring life in a neighbouring diocese

It is a wee bit cheeky to talk about the Diocese of Sydney as a "neighbouring" diocese to the Diocese of Christchurch, but our diocese includes a portion of the West Coast of the South Island, and from there is only a stretch of water between us and the east coast of the Diocese of Sydney!

If the concern of this blog most generally is Anglicanism then the more specific concern is Anglicanism "Down Under" and that region of the planet refers to both New Zealand and Australia.

Within Down Under, for better or for worse, depending on where one sits geographically and/or theologically, the Diocese of Sydney is a "player". It is highly, numerically influential in the Anglican Church of Australia, it has played a significant role in the history and present of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (noting, e.g., three Bishops of Nelson in succession in the 20th century drawn from the ranks of Sydney clergy, and the influential role in the 2018 disaffiliation from ACANZP of a number of congregations), and it is critical to the life of GAFCON.

In this year, 2022, the Diocese of Sydney is asserting its influence as the Australian Anglican church works on its understanding of marriage and blessings of civil marriages. Where the assertion of that influence ends is a matter of concern to many Australian and New Zealand Anglicans, not least becasue Sydney has lent its support to the creation of a new Diocese of the Southern Cross.

Enough from me by way of setting the scene for noting a fascinating exchange of views on Sydney Anglicanism by Martyn Percy (an English visitor to Sydney) and John Sandeman (a local participant in the Diocese of Sydney, and sometimes commenter here at ADU).

Percy has written "Deconstructing Sydney Anglicanism: Past, Present and Futures: A Tetralogy" which can be read here.

Sandeman has responded with two posts on his blog The Other Cheek. First, "Martyn Percy takes on Sydney Anglicanism", then, "More Sydney Anglican Criticism, and a Response". In the first post he makes an acute observation, 

"[Percy's] piece is curiously fuzzy at points and sharply accurate at others."

There is also a related exchange in the comments to a Thinking Anglicans post (but they are inter alia among some 90 comments when I originally drafted this post).

There is much to ponder in the paper and in the response (and much to appreciate about the respectful conversation they conduct between themselves).

The following are simply some things which strike me - by no means are they a guided tour of the main points or the deepest insights to be found in the exchange.

1. Percy reports this hitherto unknown dissension in the ranks of Sydney young adults:

"For example, the largest university church in the city (St. Barnabas Broadway) saw the students threaten revolt and secession over the stance of the Diocese on same-sex unions. They compelled the Rector to make their views known, and he (reluctantly?) obliged."

2. A Percy description of reading the Bible is a moment to think about how evangelicals read the Bible around the world, not just in Sydney:

"the attitude to scripture that is a form of pseudo-science.  Or, is perhaps better understood as a specific mode of congregational engineering. The Bible is read as a ‘manual’, and applied to the breakdowns, repairs and maintenance in the life of a Christian. Thus, if facing the prospect of a divorce (family or friend), you may hear “turn to chapter X and verse Y of Book Z” as the answer and the means of resolution. The Bible is therefore akin to some car-repair manual."

Relatedly, there is also a challenge to all evangelicals about how we understand the authority of the Bible in its parts as well as in its whole:

"Treating scripture as one equivalent text, in which every single chapter and verse is equally authoritative, is a bizarre approach to the Bible, and not one that it ever asks of its readers.  The Bible has no self-conscious identity – the title of this scared book being applied long, long after its (disputed) component parts were assembled and broadly agreed.  (Though please note, ‘broadly’, not definitively).  Treating each verse of scripture as comparatively, equally and absolutely authoritative is a strange approach to take to texts that are variegated in origin, genre and intention."

3. Percy almost makes a point but doesn't quite - let me attempt to explain. He notes in several places sentiments such as, 

"To understand Sydney Anglicanism, one needs to appreciate its similarities to the Exclusive Brethren.

Alternatively, he speaks along these lines, 

"Sydney Anglicanism is sectarian, for sure. But the roots of this stem from antagonisms locked into early Irish Brethren secession, and a complex spaghetti of class-related issues.

That not quite made point is this: whatever the roots of Sydney Anglicanism as we experience it today (Irish Protestantism, history of marriages between Anglicans and Brethren, etc, as outlined by him), there are exclusionary if not sectarian ways in which Sydney Anglicanism acts.

We see such acts in the support it gives to GAFCON (i.e. to member provinces of GAFCON which have more or less formally seceded from provinces of the Anglican Communion or directly from the Anglican Communion), and now, in 2022, to the formation of a new Diocese of the Southern Cross.

We also see such acts in the unwillingness to accept a female presbyter or bishop from outside the Diocese of Sydney as having the status of presbyter or bishop inside the Diocese. 

Conversely, the Diocese of Sydney struggles to understand that the church could be broad (a both/and church) rather than narrow (an either/or church): cue the previous Archbishop of Sydney's urging those who wished to see change re marriage to leave the Anglican Church of Australia. Asking people to leave the church over disagreement is something the Exclusive Brethren do! A sect cannot cope with multiple views on a matter deemed critical to the identity of the sect.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is about to tour Australia. He will visit at least one ministry in Sydney city. Will there be a formal meeting between the Archbishop of Sydney and the Archbishop of Canterbury? [UPDATE: 9 October. I see some Tweets which say there are at least two or three events for the ABC in Sydney, and a dinner with the Archbishop of Sydney.]

In some ways the exchange between Percy and Sandeman is a discussion of how things are within Sydney and raises the question whether all critiques of the actual reality of Sydney Anglican church life made by Percy are valid. 

My elucidation of Percy's not quite made point offers consideration of how things are when Sydney faces outside of itself: to the wider Australian Anglican church and to the Anglican Communion as a whole.

We can genuinely wish Sydney Anglicanism well as it engages in ministry and mission with the people of Sydney. Sandeman helpfully sets out challenging realities of being a gospel church in a growing, diversifying city.

We can also reasonably worry about Sydney Anglicanism's engagement with Anglicans outside of itself. if such engagement is driven by exclusionary, sectarian characteristics then is it an "Anglican" engagement with Anglicans?

If Sydney is an exclusionary sect, and it continues to seek for the Australian Anglican church to be remade in the image of Sydney, it is not possible to see this having a happy, peaceful, unitary ending.