Wednesday, 28 January 2015

In Communion with Canterbury or the Church Commisioners

The Church of England now has its first female Bishop.  This is a source of great joy for most of its members and of much grief for a significant minority.  The major kerfuffle has oddly not been over the consecration of Libby Lane but over the forthcoming consecration of Philip North as Bishop of Burnley.  The proposed service has the unusual innovation of the consecration not being performed by the relevant Metropolitan (in this case the Archbishop of York) but by Bishops to whom he has delegated the task. While this is absolutely York's prerogative, it is being seen as enshrining a "theology of taint" in as much as only bishops opposed to the ordination of women will actually lay hands on Philip North.

As someone who was Fulham Jurisdiction/FiF at one point, I have to say this is a description of conservative Anglo-Catholic theology I don't recognise. The objection was never phrased in terms of taint but of broken communion. Stuff about "taint" so prevalent on "liberal" websites is as far as I can see fairly hysterical and mainly American.  I think the proposed arrangements are deeply peculiar and un-catholic.  Flying bishops (Provincial Episcopal Visitors) have been ordained in the C of E before but the Archbishop in whose Province they will serve always led the laying on of hands.  This new "hands off" approach seems to solidify the reality of there being a Church within a Church that has been hinted about for years but never before explicitly acknowledged.  References within Anglo-Catholic to things like "the See of Ebbsfleet" or "Apostolic Districts" have built his up, ignoring the legal position of the PEV's as Suffragans of the Archbishop.  That I find un-catholic and a bad idea.  If a portion of the Church is allowed to function with a totally parallel structure of bishops deeply disconnected from their metropolitan, then it is not so much being in communion with Canterbury as being in Communion with the Church Commissioners who pay stipend and pensions.  It's not so much ecclesial communion as administrative communion. And that is a sad state of affairs.

It also begs the question of who are we as Scottish Episcopalians in Communion with in England? The whole C of E or just most of it?

Monday, 19 January 2015


It's been almost a year since I last blogged!! I think it fell off during the busy-ness of the vacancy at Church and then in April I moved to a different post within the company and have found my hours rather  less regular and more flexible.  However, lets try again and see if this time I can keep up the habit! Our new Incumbent is settled in and some am I so a wee reboot seems appropriate.

Some thing are pretty much the same. The Church is still in a muddle over same sex relationships. Despite the law changing we still have an ill defined mess. We have had some "guidance" from the bishops and some reaction from the clergy  Shall we say I'm one of those less than impressed by the College's mind on this one.  I appreciate the clarification of the legal situation but the line taken on Canonical subscription seems unduly rigid.  I rather think that saying it's OK to have a Civil Partnership but not a marriage is dubious.  Given that they are so similar in legal content regarding rights, it smacks of a sop to the theological right wing to come over so heavy handed.  Anyway, plenty of clergy over the years have assented to the Canons without agreeing with every jot and tittle of them (like on Intercommunion) and have indeed ignored the Rules and got off with it. To pick this one out for potential "enforcement" seems more political than sensible.  It's also perhaps worth noting that over 30 of the 50 signatories are clergy of the Diocese of Edinburgh, so it might be rather fiercely debated at our next Synod with a view to accelerating changes to the Canons - which I suspect is not what the Bishops wanted. I suspect they want the much vaunted "Cascade" process to keep that contentious ball in the long grass for a bit longer.

If the Bishops fancy that Cascade is a solution to this issue, then I've some bad news: all it did was make me incredibly angry and utterly determined to change the Canons. Our "Cascade" at Synod was almost as unpleasant as a Forward in Faith conference I attended nearly 20 years ago which passed a motion in favour of a statement from Singapore condemning Same Sex Relationships.  My anger at that that and the hypocrisy involved switched me from Conservative Anglo-Catholicism and brought me back to Scotland on a journey that included accepting the ordination of Women, speaking at Synod in favour of Women Bishops and generally becoming a  lot more radical.  It strikes me as bizarre that an SEC sponsored and designed process should do the same. Bilge was spouted piously and the process did not enable it to be challenged.  If that's what they call an improvement, give me the old fashioned bloodshed of a Synod debate any day.

Anyway, it feels sort of therapeutic to be back

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

To the Bishops of the Church of England: thanks for nothing guys!

The Church of England badge is copyright  The Archbishops' Council, 2000.

The English Bishop's have got themselves in a fine old mess haven't they?  Having (just about) recovered their reputation after the fiasco over women bishop's legislation and their resounding defeat in the House of Lords over same sex marriage, they seemed to doing OK with Archbishop Welby pointing out that their attitude to LGBT people is being seen as morally equivalent to racism and the Pilling Report suggesting very gently that some form of service to celebrate a Same Sex Marriage might be a half-decent idea.  Then they lost it.

It is never a good idea to issue a press release at 2am in the morning.  It looks as if you're trying to bury bad news or sneak something in "under the radar.  You look shifty and duplicitous.  The restating of pretty much the line of "Issues in Human Sexuality" (1991) was a disaster.  It was widely critiqued at the time as a sop to vocal  Conservative Evangelicals, especially following the suppression of the Osborne Report (I remember it well, I was at Theological College at the time).  20 years on and social and public attitudes have moved on massively, so recycling "The Laity can have partners, but the clergy can't" is deeply stupid as more people then than now see it as inconsistent, cruel and unfair.  Which it is.  It is pure stupidity to tell your clergy that the laws says they can marry but they can't unless you have a long establish tradition of compulsory clerical celibacy like the Roman Catholic Church.  It has boomeranged badly, especially as 1 Conservative Evangelical Bishop has already called in his civilly partnered clergy for "a chat", sparking fears of witch hunts in dioceses with Evangelical leadership.

I'm glad I'm in Scotland.  But also hope we don't get too much of a flood of refugee clergy job hunting up here.  We already have a fairly high proportion of imports who don't know the province or it's unique style.  Too many is not good for our identity.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Free at Last?

Getty Images

Now that the funeral's done (and all went well TBTG), I can muse a wee bit on the recent passing of an Act in Scotland to permit Same Sex Marriage.  I'm glad it's happened and particularly so as it more or less completes the Agenda a wee group of us drew up in 1990 as a White paper for YSLD (Young Scottish Liberal Democrats) whose Vice Convenor I then was.  Equal Age of Consent? Check.  Anti-discrimination legislation? Check.  Legal recognition of relationships? Check in two stages.  Recommendation that the State not compel religious bodies to act against their conscience? Check.  So that's it all done and dusted? 

No, not really.  Now the Church has to start thinking about how it intends to respond to the legal changes. And by Church I mean the Scottish Episcopal Church.  What the rest do is their business, not mine.  Our submission to the Parliament during the consultation process was something of a "cop out".  It more or less said that as Canon Law currently stands we define marriage as being between a man and a woman and consequently we would not be able to conduct weddings for Same Sex Couples.  It really didn't point out that we can, following due Synodical process, change Canon Law and would be able to be in a position to conduct Same Sex marriages 3 years from when we started the ball rolling.  We did no ball rolling before the Bill went through, so we'll be at least 3 years behind the rest of Scottish Society were we to start at this years General Synod.  Which is actually pretty speedy for the Church, which any well taught sociologist will tell you is an essentially conservative social institution in function and operation.  I'd rather we'd been proactive in getting ready for this but am not at all surprised that we haven't been.

Currently, as Canon Law stands, I won't be able to do a Same Sex Wedding like I can a mixed sex one.  I'm perfectly happy so to do but the Law requires that Churches as bodies opt in and not just individual clergy.  I tend to agree that that's right and certainly for us Pisky clergy, who claim to be part of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, that's how it ought to be.  We are a college of Bishops, Priests and Deacons and not a Cocktail of Congregationalists (if that's the right collective noun - and if it's not, it should be!).  As far as I am concerned the next step for us is to amend Canon law, opt in as a Church and then allow those clergy who in all conscience cannot conduct such marriages to opt out, as is their legal right enshrined in the new legislation.  So, having changed the World, let us now change the Church!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Not in sole control.

I went to a meeting last night as this upcoming funeral has been weighing on my mind a bit.  What a good thing it was that I did.  Somebody spoke about their experience of going to see an elderly friend who is dying of cancer but who has the most marvellous acceptance and serenity in the face of their approaching death.  Far from being a negative experience, the visit proved to be a very inspiring one for our group member.  Equally, another member shared their recent unsettledness and realised it was because they were probably going to be promoted into a people managing job.  They'd done something like it before but had not been very good at it.  The difference was then they were on the booze and now they're sober.  It was their sense of being back in an uncomfortable place and the loss of power and control over their situation that was disturbing them.  That made sense to me, as I think it's the lack of being sole person in charge that in some ways is unsettling me.  I'm not the one pulling it all together but am part of a team.  This actually seems to be producing a very sensitively constructed service and ritual which is far better that what I could have done alone, but it's quite uncomfortable for me in the sense that I am not the "Actor/manager" running the production.

What I am re-learning is that  I am not all powerful in my own life but powerless in some respects and that I need to hand over my powerlessness and fear to the Higher Power that I experience as God.  When I do that, it all works out and works out well.  Back to Ignatius of Loyola methinks:

Suscipe (St. Ignatius of Loyola)

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.