Monday, August 28, 2023

New Dean for Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch, NZ

I've been busy ... among other things working on a new appointment - a new dean for our cathedral.

Please read about the appointment of the Reverend Canon Ben Truman (Vicar of Opawa-St. Martins and Chaplain of St. Mark's School) to be our next dean here. With an article in this morning's Press here.

There is also, thinking of busy days, preparation for our Diocesan Synod on my and a number of other people's plates (7-9 September).

In other news, the All Blacks got thrashed yesterday by South Africa. Perhaps my concerns in the post below about Rugby World Cup clashes re Sunday services [NZ times] through the finals weekends won't be realised! Whomever we play in the quarter-finals (Ireland or South Africa) could be too tough for us, and so, out we go!

Finally, it is not often one can read that "Sydney Anglicans" back down on anything, but I read a small item in this morning's paper Press, likely derived from SMH (but that is behind a paywall) but here is another link. Reality meets ideology! (The issue: "However, the diocese will no longer insist principals attest they believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. Instead, principals will be required to show they are of Christian faith and character, and actively involved in a Bible-based church. They will also need to sign a commitment to ‘organisational faithfulness’. The diocese faced a backlash from parents at several schools over the clause.")

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Watch World Cup Final[s] or Go To Church? [Update]

Update: Not for the last time, a post elsewhere is relevant: This time it is by Ian Paul, based in England, and reflecting on the approach taken last Sunday re the clash between church services there and the Women's Football World Cup final. At the foot of the original post I have added some citations from Ian's post.

Original Post: Over the weekend I noticed on Twitter a bit of CofE controversy: The Women's Football World Cup Final (featuring England v Spain) was going to be shown at a time clashing with many church service times in England. Cue a newspaper article about changes to service times, setting up TV screens in church halls and that sort of thing ... and some Twitter comment about perfidious, feckless church leaders giving into the spirit of the times etc etc.

Now, as one able to watch the match at the non-problematic-ecclesiastical time of 10 pm in NZ, I have no comment to make about what CofE bishops, vicars, parishioners should or should not have been doing. BUT I have been alerted to a leetle problem looming on our ecclesiastical horizons ...

Very soon the 2023 Rugby World Cup kicks off in France and the All Blacks as always are going to win it, by winning semifinal and then final matches. (This time around they are very unlikely to lose a quarter-final match - it did happen in 2007 - but never before or since, so we will only worry about the ecclesiastical impact of the semi-finals and final matches.)

Yes, yes, of course I understand that since it is a foregone conclusion that the All Blacks will win there is no need to bother with watching them, but, there is just the slightest sliver of a chance that they won't so we should work out whether we can watch them play or not. Actually, that sentence is just a bit of journalistic bravado: there is quite a big chance they won't win because some very good teams - Ireland and/or France stand in their way. Possibly South Africa too.

So, to the reality of the timetable:

Semi-finals, NZ time: 8 am Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 October

Final, NZ time: 8 am Sunday 29 October.

ABs in first semi-final, no probs; ABs in second semi-final and/or in final, a bit of a challenge ...

Obviously an 8 am match clashes with every 8 am service in our churches.

And, given the length of time matches of this importance take, matches will finish hard up against the start of 10 am service and cross-over 9 am and 9.30 am services.

What to do?

In what follows I am trying to explore the matter and intentionally not come to a definitive judgment (which I may need to do as a bishop to my diocese, and, if I do, I won't be publishing it here before communicating it to our parish leaders).

Possibilities appear to include:

- no episcopal direction, leave matters to local choice [by statute vicars have right to set service times] and local creativity (e.g. setting up a screen in the church hall so people can quickly move to church for the beginning of the 10 am service);

- (with or without episcopal direction) staunchly offer all services of worship as usual and leave it to parishioners to choose ... and, always remembering, not everyone is a rugby fan! Matches can be recorded, watched later in the day, etc.

- cancel the 8 am service but stick with the 10 am service (where that is the morning programme) or, if say, a 9.30 am service is the service for the morning, start it at 10.30 am ... etc re changes to usual programmes. The frisson here is the possibility of needing to do this for two Sundays in a row.

- wake up on the Sundays concerned and say, "You know what, I think I'll go to Evensong tonight"!

What about the theology of whatever we might do?

That is where things get a little interesting (IMHO).

Absolutely, there is a theology of commitment to Christ being understood as commitment without distractions or deviations. You go to church at [say] 10 am on a Sunday morning. You go every Sunday (save for illness and snowstorms) and certainly go if something as ephemeral as sport proposes an alternative. A Twitter correspondent, Fr George Reeves expresses one aspect of this theology of commitment with a well made point for clergy to consider:

I'm a football fan, but honestly - if those of us who are clergy don't think that going to church should take priority over watching the game live, how on earth can we expect anyone to ever prioritise getting up on a Sunday morning for worship?

But, is there not also a theology of well, I am not sure what to call it, but along the lines of "living in the world, sharing the joys and sorrows of society, enjoying the gifts of creation, one of which is the joy and pleasure of sport, and serving a God who never actually laid down a rule that being a disciple means choosing one and only one regular time of worship and whatever happens (apart from illness and snowstorms) sticking to it"? More technically, might we invoke theologies of creation and of incarnation?

To which, of course, a reply might be, "And does not a theology of creation imply a theology of Sabbath - of commitment to rest from the ordinary things of life and to using the "restfulness" of the Sabbath to worship the Lord without distraction?"

(Let's be honest, racing from the glories of a might AB victory concluded at 9.55 am or the despair of a disgraceful loss at 9.54 am, to worship God at 10 am, is not to arrive in church in an undistracted frame of mind!)

Somewhere in a theology of commitment to Christ intersecting with a theology of Sabbath, there is a call to us to consider what it means to live a holy life, one which stands apart from society and lives distinctively and differently to its drum beat.

In short, before we determine "what to do", we should focus on "what to think": I look forward to your comments ...

Postscript, after the Women's Football Final: It is, after all, just a game!

Back to update, words from Ian Paul's post:

"This then leads us to the issue at the heart of this discussion: does Christian discipleship make demands of us, and should weekly attendance at gathered worship in our local faith communities take priority over other interests? My favourite comment on this came from someone in quite a different ‘tradition’ from me, but made the point eloquently:

Our principal act of worship takes place at 10.30am…For those wishing to watch the match without turning down the lavish invitation the Lord makes to share communion at his table, there’ll also be a celebration of the Holy Communion at 8am lasting around 45 minutes. All are welcome, and there’s no charge to enter. And we’ll warmly cheer on England in the World Cup Final once our obligations to the bread of life and the cup of salvation are honoured.

As Niall Gooch notes:

It’s easy to roll one’s eyes at these stories, but there is perhaps a serious point to be made about how British Christianity—not just the Church of England—so often appears to be apologising for making any demands at all on its adherents.

In fact, the statement about Sunday worship on the C of E website is rather good, and it includes this quotation from William Temple:

The fundamental business of life is worship. At the root of all your being, your intellectual studies, the games you play, whatever it is, the impulse to do them well is and ought to be understood as being an impulse towards God, the source of all that is excellent. All life ought to be worship; and we know quite well there is no chance it will be worship unless we have times when we have worship and nothing else."

"Even a cursory glance at the gospels makes it clear that Jesus was unafraid to make demands of those who would follow him. Matthew gathers together some of his most challenging statements in Matt 8.18–22, but in fact they are threaded all through the gospel, from start to finish.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt 7.13–14).

His invitation is sometimes quoted as telling us that ‘my yoke is easy’ (Matt 11.29) but the word here is χρηστός, which has the sense of kind, the yoke put on an animal by a kind master, enabling the animal to work well and effectively. It is a yoke that does not chaff as we go about the hard work of being a disciple of Jesus.

We don’t want to put unnecessary obstacles in the way of those who are on the fringes of faith, or wanting to explore, or who are at critical junctures in their transition in both life and faith. That is why it is sensible to have a flexible approach to ensure, for example, that teenagers with sports interests are still able to be part of Christian fellowship as they grow in faith. And Jesus never tells us that we must ‘come to church’ at a particular time!"

Monday, August 14, 2023

Keys to Anglican unity in a fractious age: ecclesiology for Anglicans qua Anglicans

The genesis of this post is not division within the Communion or in ACANZP over homosexuality. There are - believe it or not - other faultlines in the Communion and in our church and it is the general, longstanding aspiration of this blog to argue for Anglican unity and away from division, so the concern here is that we look again at the theological "why" of  always working collaboratively to bridge faultlines and thus prevent them from becoming chasms.

What is church? Just about any answer you or I read in a book on "ecclesiology" (study of church) is more or less going to be along these lines: that church is people gathered together in response to the call ("klesia") of the God of Jesus Christ to meet for prayer, praise, proclamation and participation in the eucharist, and from such meeting together, to engage in practices of pastoral care and provision for the needy.

Critical to understanding what it means to be church is: 

(1) God forms the church - God, not us, is in charge - Jesus Christ, God's Son has been appointed Lord of the church; 

(2) church is people bound together, united as one body of people by virtue of God calling all to come together - yes, each individual is called by God to respond to Jesus Christ as a matter of "personal" salvation, but a series of discrete saved individuals is not "church". Church in the NT is always associated with cooperation, collaboration, community and communion of the saved ones.

More, of course, can then be said about "one body of people" because Paul develops the notion of such a body (= group, community, association) as a visible, physical representation of the body of Christ on earth: body of Christ means the association of people is (should be?) a union of people knit together like organs and muscles and bones in a human body, held together by ligaments etc and contained within one skin.

Unity of the church, in Pauline theology, is not a slogan but a reality of understanding who we are in relation to Christ through whom God has called us into being the church: a communion, a union, a body of people actually like a human body which is both "in Christ" (Christ is our Lord, our life together as communion/union/body is life within the very life of Christ) and "Christ in us" (Christ through the Spirit lives within the church, empowering us to be what we are called to be as church).

Put in different words, we should not, when faced with faultlines, let alone church-chasms, resort to pleas to be "united" or "more united", as though obeying a command to be united is more important than living out the reality of union. 

We should, instead, talk about what it means to be church, to live out what God has called us to be, to work together on how we either overcome our differences (an NT example is found in Acts 15) and/or live with our differences (an NT example is found in Romans 14) and/or respect our differences (an NT example is Paul's exposition of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12: we cannot all be toes or ears or hearts).

"Talk about what it means to be church" means we gather at the table of discussion - we do not stay away from it - even if we are struggling with gathering at the table of the eucharist!

All this, of course, can be approached in similar but not exactly the same way, via Johannine theology of church, because in that theology, unity of disciples of Jesus is paramount (John 17), and (com)union of disciples together in Christ and indwelt by Christ is Christ's vision for the future of his mission (e.g. John 6); and John 21 specifically envisions the church of difference and different personalities remaining the one church of Christ, of those who obey the command, Follow me.

Although I write as  Pākehā , everything here relates to important Māori concepts and life-practices of whanaunatanga (relationship, kinship, connection, unity) and manaakitanga (hospitality, generosity, respect, support).

So far, so "church" in general. Church understood biblically and theologically means staying together, being present to one another, and resisting temptations to walk apart on different pathways.

There is a specifically Anglican aspect to church staying together and not letting faultlines develop into chasms. It goes like this.

Rightly (so Catholics, Orthodox, some Lutherans and Methodists might say) or wrongly (so others might say), we Anglicans have a settled on being an episcopally-led, synodically-governed church, bound together in various ways (so dioceses (are) compact(ed)/contract(ed) together to form a province/national/international church;* so provinces/national/international Anglican churches voluntarily come together in bonds of love and affection to form the Anglican Communion).

Our commitment, both in love (in Christ, for one another, for God's church) and in specific promises made when (e.g.) being ordained, being licensed to a lay or ordained position, accepting office such as churchwarden or synodsperson, as Anglicans, is then to abide by the lawful authority of our bishops (and archbishops) and of our General Synod/Convention/like and of our local synods.

As Christian Anglicans we should, of course, go above and beyond any mere duty ascribed by canon or statute or liturgical rubric, so "to abide by the lawful authority etc" is not only about obeying the rules but also living into them - growing and developing relationships with one another in Christ, including those in authority over us, whether an individual such as a vicar or bishop or archbishop, or a committee/synod/council whom otherwise we might be tempted to cast aside as a bunch of faceless bureaucrats! [A temptation, I must confess, I have not always resisted through my lifetime!]

Put more simply, Anglican church members are members of the body of Christ and members of a specific body or association of people with agreed rules, procedures, officers and governance groups, and thus as both kinds of members, have obligations to the well-being and good order of the church, and the well-being and good order of the church is always about our union/communion with one another in Christ.

Faultlines may develop, chasms should not.

*ACANZP is an international church, covering the jurisdictions of NZ, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa; likewise TEC is an international church, including a few countries other than the USA; etc.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Who to vote for at the coming General Election (14 Oct 2023)?

Some critical votes around the world loom - the Voice referendum in Australia, the Presidential election in the States (ok, in dates, a long way off, but in candidates gearing up to trump one another, it is all happening now) - and here in NZ our triennial General Election.

Why "critical" here in the Blessed Isles?

My concern is the direction of travel our economy is travelling in. We don't seem to be in great shape. Perhaps we cannot do any better - it is always the case that we are somewhat subject to global winds etc (if so, let's vote for the incumbents). Perhaps we can - we are not completely powerless (if so, let's vote for change).

In my understanding of modern, Western, liberal democracies, the economy matters for any aspiration we have: improving housing, health, education, defence capabilities, welfare for the vulnerable, superannuation for the, ahem, older persons [I may be biased on this one!!] - all need $$$. And the basic question for any election is not whether Christchurch will host the Commonwealth Games in 2026 [nuts!!] or whether the Government should provide free (basic) dental care for all [actually a meritable, Green Party proposal], but how we produce $$$, how we should tax those $$$, and what is a wise, fair and fruitful distribution of those $$$ (i.e. when we cannot do everything we conceivably would like to do with taxed $$$, what is highest and best use for them)?

Should we change the Government? If so, to what party or combo of parties?

I don't want to answer that question here since that then becomes quite directive. But I am happy to make a few observations :)

1. I find each party has a policy or policies I could vote for AND a policy or policies I would prefer not to vote for [but I will vote, so I may have to swallow a dead policy rat].

Now, sure, that could be said pretty much every election, but this election my own assessment is that some policies are very objectional!

2. I am concerned about talk of a "wealth tax" (Greens, Te Pati Maori). In principle we who are not wealthy could warmly vote for such a policy. In practice, what would the effects of such a policy be? For example, if it drove wealthy NZers overseas, or to at least re-locate the headquarters of their businesses overseas (i.e. in a more friendly tax environment), would we damage our economy, not only resulting in fewer tax dollars than anticipated but also in fewer jobs?

For non-Down Under readers: there are always possibilities for Kiwis to re-locate to Australia when we don't like how things are here. We cannot operate an economy here which ignores Australian realities such as their housing affordability, wage rates and tax rates.

3. Shouldn't we put more (political) energy into growing our economy so the tax take grows with it in a natural way? Everyone benefits from a growing economy (even though, acknowledged, people will benefit in different ways and to different degrees).

4. Which party both addresses fundamental questions of education - we seem to have decreasing rather than increasing rates of literacy and numeracy - and proposes achievable answers to the questions?

Again, "it's the economy!" Economies grow with better education.

5. Is war looming in the Pacific? If so, which party is best geared to respond, whatever "respond" means or should mean? Are we too dependent economically on China? (The answer pretty much is "yes"!) Can we change that? What value do we place on human rights and freedom of speech - in China right now, and here if  (or, as) China's influence grows? 

It is not clear to me that any of our political parties is willing to engage with these questions with boldness and frankness.

6. In the plethora of talk about bicultural life here, and longings for or fears of "co-governance", we need to find a way to honour the Treaty of Waitangi, to improve the well-being of Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand today, and to work for justice. 

All parties have something to say on this, but all parties are not united in what they are saying ...

For Christians, there are a number of issues touched on above (and other issues not touched on here) which invite us to consider what it means to be a society with each member a human being made in the image of God, with resources available to meet our material needs, and possibilities for providing opportunities for the flourishing of the human spirit.

Lord, guide us!