Who has pottered by this way, then?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Looking to St. Hild for Guidance on Women Bishops?

WATCH has asked for feedback about what its supporters think it ought to do next. Is it better to accept the current legislation which its supporters find not only imperfect, but which many believe is storing up bigger problems for the future? Or perhaps would it be better to stop such an obvious schism-in-waiting to be passed now, even at the cost of putting female bishops back many more years, for the sake of taking the longer view? Janet Henderson sums up the options facing the church very succinctly in her blog. 

With this is mind, and having read Lay Anglicana's thoughts on this, I started to think about where to look for a model of a woman grappling with schism, hurt and dissent in the Church, and my thoughts and research took me in the direction of St. Hild, abbess of the double monastery at Whitby. Hild hosted a hugely significant synod which determined the future of the Church in these islands. 

Now.... the weird thing is.... the following was not what I intended to write when I started writing. My heart, my every instinct and all my thinking on this in the last couple of weeks really was leading me to believe that it would be better to avoid the pig's ear on offer outright and not have female bishops for the foreseeable future than to institutionally split the episcopacy and hard-wire a schism which should have been lanced in 1993. The best outcome would be a swift cut somewhere in the future where women bishops were accepted by the church, full-stop with no faffy opt-outs, then on with the actual business of taking the Gospel into our communities and beyond. That was my gut-feeling on this. This legislation seems weak and bound to doom the CofE to worse heartache down the line, no matter how brilliant any actual women bishops may transpire to be. However... I find myself now strangely challenged by my own words which leads me to suspect all sorts of Holy Spirit type of things are involved. See what you reckon...

An edited version of my reply on the Lay Anglicana site:
St. Hild was Abbess of an amazing centre of ministry, the double monastery at
Whitby. It was not the same building as this one: hers was destroyed by Vikings.

I can’t help thinking that an appropriate female role model to look to here might be St. Hild. She oversaw a deep division in the church between the Celtic and Roman traditions. The divisions seemed similarly insurmountable at the time, I am sure. The main issues were the date of Easter and the style of monastic haircut (tonsure). To us this sounds a daft reason for schism, just as surely as future generations will view our current palaver with head-scratching bewilderment.

What can we learn from Hild? 
Well, in her case, she argued on the side of Celtic traditions and lost. Her kinsman St. Wilfrid successfully argued that the Roman traditions came from St. Peter whilst the Celtic traditions came via St. Columba who was said to have followed the tradition of St. John the Evangelist. Wilfrid successfully debunked the claim that St. John calculated the date of easter the Celtic way and, in all other matters under discussion, by referring to St. Peter (as holder of the keys of heaven) as the authority followed by Rome, successfully argued that this could trump all other traditions which could only be traced as far as Columba.
Whereas her bishop, Colman, resigned the See of Lindisfarne and left for Iona, Hild accepted defeat graciously and accepted the Roman protocols for her double monastery.

What happened next is interesting. How did accepting a decision she disagreed with affect her ministry?
Hild remained Abbess of Whitby. She used the power she had achieved well. The monastery became the foremost centre of learning in the Christian world of its time. She continued to oppose Wilfrid very effectively, in later life helping ensure that his diocese was split up (and his political power therefore curtailed) by sending an ambassador to the Pope in support of the Archbishop’s decision to carve it up. She advised the great and the good. She nurtured the talents of Caedmon, the first recognised English poet who adapted folk-songs and traditional tales for evangelistic use. Whitby Abbey became a centre of evangelism, using Caedmon’s words and songs to spread the Gospel throughout the north and sending out many very significant bishops.

Hild accepted what seemed to her an imperfect reality. She had strongly supported the Celtic traditions yet went along with an outcome she did not want, but used the power which came with adopting the new status quo to achieve a lot. Many great things which furthered the Kingdom of God in this land may not have happened were it not for her wise, and clearly ordained, leadership.

A cautionary note: 
Her monastery was destroyed by vikings 187 years after her death.

Depends which longer view you choose to take, perhaps?

P.S. Interestingly... 
When I look at this issue with my evangelical head on and have Jesus as revealed in the Bible as my frame of reference (as in my previous blog post), I seem to come to a pretty firm conviction that women bishops are not only the right way forward but that it is so blindingly obvious that to fart around with amendments seems obscenely wrong.
Then when I take something approaching an Anglo-Catholic "lives of the saints" approach in this post, I come up with this more accommodating approach which does seem to lack the ire, bitterness and heat of much of the current debate expressed on both sides. Interesting that it is my internal challenge from a tradition not of my own which brings a sense of peace transcending imperfect realities. This is no reflection on evangelicals or Anglo-Catholics you understand, merely a reflection of the inner discussion I am having. I do not believe I am alone in being pulled in several directions at once in this matter.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pentecost - a little musical interlude

The Holy Spirit, a rushing wind that pushes us out of the door and out into the world , taking the  Gospel with us.
I put together this setting of the Pentecost hymn 'Veni Creator Spiritus' as a rather upbeat processional a year or two ago. Musically, it nods towards the Indian subcontinent in its use of sitar and includes clear themes of wind, water and, towards the end, fire. If anyone wants to use this liturgically, please do.
There is an interlude of music (equivalent to 8 lines of verse) between each verse. This gives time to allow the procession to move on, or to allow for other things to happen (such as dance, ribbon waving, lighting effects, open prayer etc.).
It's a bit different anyway and will not suit everyone but may well fill a niche for someone's service planning! If you try to sing along, note that it is at a very brisk tempo.

 Veni Creator Spiritus

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire;
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost Thy sev’nfold gifts impart.

Thy blessèd unction from above
Is comfort, life, and fire of love;
Enable with perpetual light
The dullness of our blinded sight.

Anoint and cheer our soilèd face
With the abundance of Thy grace;
Keep far our foes, give peace at home;
Where Thou art Guide, no ill can come.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And Thee, of both, to be but One;
That through the ages all along
This, this may be our endless song.

Praise to Thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Sheep Thinks About Women Bishops

David Keen has put together a good set of links which are by way of a round-up of reaction to the C of E press release on the House of Bishops' decision on Women Bishops, as translated in my previous blog. I commend anyone interested in following the story to access these over at David's site. 

As my posting on this subject was merely a translation, and so many people have read my impression of what had been agreed, I thought I ought to pin my colours to the mast and share some thoughts. Here is a comment I made in a Facebook status thread which sums this up well:

"The whole thing is stupidly unAnglican, but the groundwork for this was Resolution C back in the day. This sets up a two-stream episcopacy which can't be sustainable in the long run. My position, for what it's worth, is that once you've accepted that women are fully human (which, daft as that sounds to modern ears, hasn't always been accepted historically), I can't see how you cannot ordain them on an equal basis as men. And if ordained as priest, then consecration as Bishop or Archbishop can have no barrier either. To me this is all about the incarnation: Jesus is the Word made flesh, God as human. If he died for the sins of the whole world, it is his being human that counts, otherwise he is an exemplar of men only and no women are saved. Simples (adopts meerkat pose)"

I also think that deciding only to serve under the authority of a Bishop with whom you pretty much agree is not an Anglican practice either. Frankly, it's all part of our broad church that we generally do not have whole Dioceses whose churches all represent one expression of Anglicanism. It's not always comfortable, not always entirely satisfactory, but it's generally an approach which has served us well and one which I value. I categorically refuse to be only in communion with those with whom I entirely agree. And by being so cussedly embracing of disagreement, I believe that I, along with all for whom this picture of Anglicanism rings true, am heeding the fact that Jesus' prayed that his followers should be forever one.

and so...

A Reflection
To be human is to be made in the image of God. 
To be a member of the Church is to be part of the Body of Christ. 
Christ is the Word Made Flesh who dwelt among us. 
In his resurrection, Jesus was revealed as a new creation; ground zero of humanity.
This new creation, this resurrected reality of humanity is what we are called to in Christ.

Put these statements together 
And still tell me that Christ's maleness is key to all this.
Put these statements together 
And tell me that Christ died as a representative only of men.


Christ died for the sins of the whole of humanity. 
Women's sins as well as men's,
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Even so, in Christ shall all be made alive.

Aside from the priesthood of all believers,
A separately ordained priesthood and episcopacy
Can only be legitimate
If that ordination comes from God.

Vocation, not gender is the issue.
Mission and ministry 
And how God chooses to equip His Church,
And whom he calls to lead and inspire
Is what we should listen to.

Listen then:
I hear a roaring still small voice
Explaining patiently yet firmly
That Christ died for all,
And among all for whom he died
Will the work of His kingdom be shared
According to gifts and vocation.
Not according to gender,
Not according to race, class or culture;
Not according to anything other
Than the humanity we share with our Saviour
And those aspects of his image and nature which,
Reflected in us, in the power of the Holy Spirit
Equip us to serve, lead,
And find our role among his Church.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Sheep Unpicks The Worst Press Release Ever

The Church of England made a press release today which was really quite difficult to understand. Ruthie Gledhill dubbed it 'the worst-written press release since the Reformation'. I have had a go at translating it. It related to the House of Bishops meeting today which considered the legislation which, if implemented, will enable people who lack a Y chromosome to become bishops in the Church of England.

I include the text of the press release with my own comments / translation into commonly-spoken human English in blue italics.

NEWS from the Church of England
PR 62.1221/5/2012For immediate release

House of Bishops approves Women Bishops Legislation

The House of Bishops of the Church of England today concluded its consideration of the draft legislation to enable women to be consecrated as bishops. It agreed that the legislation should be returned to the General Synod for final approval.

I can understand this bit.

The House of Bishops had power to amend the draft legislation in such manner “as it thinks fit”. It made two amendments to the draft Measure.

A reminder that the Bishops could have done what they wanted to the legislation, but they have only made two amendments. The tone so far suggests they want to give the impression that they have substantively passed the legislation as it was presented to them.

The House accepted an amendment making it clear that the use of the word “delegation” (in Clause 2 of the draft Measure) relates to the legal authority which a male bishop acting under a diocesan scheme would have and was distinct from the authority to exercise the functions of the office of bishop that that person derived from his ordination.

This relates to powers given to a male bishop to act for parishes which will not recognise a female bishop. This is to make it clear that he is a proper, full bishop, with power to ordain in his own right, and not merely given the power to ordain as a secondary-level functionary of the diocesan bishop.

For example, when another bishop ordains someone to the priesthood he needs permission to do from the bishop of the diocese (“delegation”), but the power to ordain derives from his consecration as a bishop. The amendment also makes clear that delegation should not be taken as divesting the diocesan bishop of any of his or her authority or functions.

Yeah, what I said above, plus clarification that, in being empowered to ordain in this way, the male bishop acting under this arrangement is not taking any authority away from the diocesan bishop. Essentially, all this seems to be an attempt at ensuring that neither bishop is seen as a second-class of bishop because of the working out of this set of arrangements when it comes to ordinations. Both types of bishop is equally able to ordain because they are empowered to do so as bishops. Their power to ordain is not subject to the power of the other type of bishop. It's a mutual respect pact - both must be seen to hold equally the status of bishop. The legal mechanism, however, is that the diocesan bishop must give the alternative bishop permission to ordain within the diocese, but the ordination itself will be under the alternative bishop's own authority as a bishop in his own right.

The House also accepted an amendment to express in the Measure one of the three principles which the House had agreed in December (see notes).

There are notes? Blimey, I hope they're easier to wade through...

This amendment adds to the list of matters on which guidance will need to be given in the Code of Practice that the House of Bishops will be required to draw up and promulgate under the Measure. It will now need to include guidance on the selection by the diocesan bishop of the male bishops and priests who will minister in parishes whose parochial church council (PCC) has issued a Letter of Request under the Measure. That guidance will be directed at ensuring that the exercise of ministry by those bishops and priests will be consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women which prompted the issuing of the Letter of Request. Thus, the legislation now addresses the fact that for some parishes a male bishop or male priest is necessary but not sufficient.

I was a little stumped here at first reading and really am not sure what this actually means as it is so badly written. Unpicking it, I think it goes like this...
Being a male priest or male bishop is not sufficient in itself to satisfy some parishes. It is proposed that the Code of Practice includes guidance on exactly what these male bishops and priests will have to sign up to in order to fit in with the theological thinking behind the PCCs' requests to be overseen by male bishops. In essence, this will probably mean that there will emerge some kind of "statement" to which these male bishops and priests will have to sign up in order to show that they will provide Proper Provision of oversight for these parishes.

The House rejected more far-reaching amendments that would have changed the legal basis on which bishops would exercise authority when ministering to parishes unable to receive the ministry of female bishops.

I'm not sure of the wording or even the exact nature of the amendments they mean, but again, I think this relates to the House of Bishops wishing to avoid having any sense of a two-tier episcopacy - first and second division bishops.

It also rejected amendments giving statutory expression to the other two principles (see notes) that it agreed in December, judging that it would be better to leave them to be addressed in the Code of Practice or in other ways rather than referring to them in the Measure.

This Code of Practice will need keeping an eye on by the looks of things. This will essentially be the handbook which gives guidance on how everyone is supposed to behave and the procedures to be followed. Now, who was it who was supposed to be in the detail, again?

Now that the legislation has been amended the six Officers of the Synod (the ‘Group of Six’) - the Archbishops, the Prolocutors of the Lower Houses of the Convocations of Canterbury and York and the Chair and Vice-Chair of the House of Laity - will need to meet later this week to determine whether the amendments constitute a change to the substance of the proposals embodied in the draft Measure as approved by 42 of the 44 dioceses last year.

The House of Bishops is not the body who actually decides this. Based on today's decisions, the Officers of the Synod will look at today's decisions.

If the Group of Six determines that no such change has been made - an announcement will be made after their deliberations - the way will be clear for the legislation to come to the Synod for final approval in York in July.

If the Officers of the Synod decide that the amendments don't change the whole nature of the legislation, it will be allowed to go on to the final stage which is the July meeting of Synod.

This is subject to the possibility of the Convocations and the House of Laity asking for the draft legislation to be referred to them for approval before it is returned to the Synod. If they were to exercise this right, their meetings would take place in York immediately before the July meeting of General Synod, and the legislation would need to be approved by each of those bodies by simple majorities before the General Synod as a whole could consider it at the Final Approval Stage (at which two-thirds majorities in each House of the General Synod will be required).

There is still scope for the House of Laity to assert their right to look at it again before this meeting of the full Synod in July.

Summary - in the words of the Sheep:
The House of Bishops have passed the legislation which would allow women to be ordained Bishop in the Church of England.

They passed two amendments which seem to be clarifying in nature:
i) to clarify that both the diocesan Bishop and any male Bishop providing alternative oversight of parishes who cannot accept a female Bishop are equally Bishops, of equal episcopacy.
ii) to clarify that the Code of Practice will need to codify how these alternative bishops (and alternative priests not ordained by female Bishops) will be selected: not only must they have the correct arrangement of chromosomes, they must also be theologically in sympathy with the whole "not ordaining women" thing in a way which keeps such parishes who feel they need such oversight happy.

The House of Laity can still request another go at approving what was agreed today, but failing that, the whole Synod will be asked to approve the whole thing, including today's amendments in July.

The Code of Practice could still provide scope for division, upset or flouncing out if badly drafted.

I hope that helps. If I am wrong about any of the above, please comment to clarify!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A breathless swim through the New Testament

Hurling yourself into a flowing river gets you much wetter than merely dipping a toe in. Reading whole books of the Bible rather than dipping into passages immerses you in a way which can similarly take your breath away.

Easter reading challenge
During Holy Week this year, I decided to start to read all the books of the New Testament. I'd realised that, while daily reading of the Lectionary makes for completeness of reading the content of the Bible, there is something to be said for reading each of the component books as a self-contained piece. It's a different way of engaging. I also wanted to read these books of the Bible one after the other, to get some sense of the broader flow of the New Testament. Rather than being drawn to the most deliciously-worded, thought-provoking or challenging verses or ideas and studying those in depth, reading a book (or letter) gets you into the world of the author, keeps some sense of the bigger picture and throws up wider themes.
So, having finished this self-set task a few weeks ago and having had time to let my brain digest a little, what did I get out of it?

The Gospels
Holy Week and Easter Week is a fantastic time to read the Gospels, I found. As the over-arching story of the life of Jesus was repeated four times with different voices, emphases and differing selections of what was important to include, it was brought home to me how wonderful it must have been to spend time in Jesus's company. Confusing at times, yes, but wonderful. What came to me afresh was how eager the authors each were to communicate something amazing with their readers, to try to distil that first-hand experience into something which explained what had changed them - indeed, what had changed everything.

Having the same tale told by different authors is much more than taking different oral traditions within the early Church and setting them down. It's a nuanced explanation of who Jesus is, what the nature of his ministry was, what people expected of him and records Jesus's teaching. Whoever decided to put John's gospel last played a blinder in my opinion. Having read the other Gospels so closely beforehand, John seemed to perform an act of summing up for me, reinforcing as a close eye-witness the events surrounding Jesus's death and resurrection in a very personal and vivid way. Immediately after reading this, I read through Kit Widdows' excellent 'Fourth Witness' , an imaginative retelling of John's Gospel which helped focus my reflections post-Easter.

Acts and Letters
Should the Bible have similar
warning signs on the cover?
Reading the Acts of the Apostles straight after the Gospels continued the theme of excitement and action, and of explanation. This came across as a wonderful testimony of "how we got here" to the early Church. And then the wonderful letters to the early Christian communities in all their variety, addressing doctrinal and organisational issues, again brought home to me the very human nature of scripture. These were all documents written - and saved and held dear - for a purpose. I'm not at all wishing to play down the inspired nature of scripture here, but the Holy Spirit really does use the personalities of people with all their individuality and imperfections to convey truth. Indeed, were scripture less human, it would be less able to communicate the divine. Remember, God did not merely send a manual, a vision or inspirational art (though He did all of that as well) but sent  a human: His only begotten Son, Jesus. As the Church grew, people continued to be people. That is to say, they got it wrong, disagreed with how best to live as Christians, how to engage with the social and political situations they found themselves operating in and how to understand and express the full implications of the Gospel. It is very reassuring to read about the early Church and realise that God is faithful and doesn't just leave us to get on with it as we see best. Tradition, scripture and reason are all called upon in these books and offer a model of how best to seek God's guidance in living our lives, developing our ministries and responding to what is going on around us.

Some bits of the Bible can appear a bit off-putting, or
even dangerous! Ask for the Holy Spirit to help navigate,
and ask someone who's been that way before... chances

are, others have given it some thought too.
And right at the end of the New Testament, with all that had gone before it, the Book of Revelation seemed to make sense in a new way. Now, I don't mean I made sense of all the imagery, or even understood the half of it, and it still looked like a dangerous book to include in the canon of scripture to me (it seems uniquely crafted to be quoted out of context to justify all sorts of quite mind-bending nonsense). However, in the Book of Revelation I sensed an inspired, prophetic call to God's people, to those same people I'd met in the Gospels as they met with and engaged with Jesus, to the same wonderfully inspired apostles and early followers of the risen Christ of the Acts of the Apostles, and to the same beleaguered communities of saints scattered around the Mediterranean to whom letters were written. In Revelation I sensed a call to remember that the world looks very different through God's eyes. His perspective is bewildering to us if we get bogged down in our social and cultural concerns. But instead of being bewildered by the rather overwhelming imagery of this book, for the first time I got a sense of the wonder of what St. John the Divine was grappling with. A sense of the wonder of our Creator God which made perfect sense in the context of the Gospel of the Word Made Flesh - God With Us - the dead and risen Christ, and seen through the eyes of a Church inspired and equipped by the Holy Spirit, the means of the Kingdom of God being prepared for, enabled and lived. To a persecuted Church, these writings represented a call to keep their eyes on the bigger picture.

It's worth saying that, along the way I did indeed get distracted (in the best possible way) by the odd deliciously-crafted, thought-provoking and challenging passage - some of which made it into blog entries in the meantime - but I would certainly recommend that, if it is not already your practice, the reading of complete books of the Bible in "one chunk" (not necessarily in one sitting for the longer books, but in a fairly restricted period of time so you can keep a train of thought going) is something worth considering.

Try reading one book of the New Testament as one chunk. The Acts of the Apostles is a good one to start with.

Where might you look for help in navigating the Bible?

What positive benefits are there in dipping into scripture rather than this more immersive approach?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Eden Moon

Tonight sees the appearance of a so-called Supermoon. I'm not sure exactly how much this will be visible in the UK as the clouds are drawing into my corner of North Yorkshire at the time of typing, but it has already been visible in New Zealand as these excellent photos taken by Available Light Photography show.

A few years ago I wrote the following poem after witnessing a really clear, full moon. It occurred to me that the way we witness the phases of the moon is all a question of perspective.

Eden Moon

On a clear night when the moon is full
And the chickens gossip softly till late,
Unsure whether to sleep or not,
And sheep murmur as if discussing
Their plans for the following day,
The silvery glow which casts around
Outlines each leaf, each blade of grass
And seems to caress the very outline
Of creation itself.

And as the days pass
And the full moon gives way
To a half moon and then
To ever-diminishing crescents,
She knows that her waning
Is simply our shadow:
It is we who cast our darkness onto her.

On a clear night when the moon is full,
Eden is glimpsed:
A reflected, glorious light:
Light without our shadow.

Grimston, North Yorkshire April 2008

Where do you 'cast a shadow'?

How could you reflect 'light'?

Who needs prayer right now for something overshadowing them?

The current phase of the moon can be seen below - bookmark this page if you want a constantly updated lunar phase calendar!