Eccentric and Anarchic


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How to save the Church in Wales


If I had been in a certain Cardiff church yesterday morning I would have heard the preacher say: “If God’s measures are eccentric and anarchic in the extreme, how can we be sure of our invitation?” My feeling is we can’t be sure of anything until we become eccentric and anarchic ourselves.

Many years ago I read a book called, ‘Weird, because normal isn’t working,’ by Craig Groeschel. I seem to remember it got very weird and I gave up, but since then I’ve often thought of the words of the title.

How long have our clergy been doing normal? By normal I mean the stupid tinkering little changes intended to make church increasingly friendly by becoming increasingly secular. This includes:-

  1. Pastors in chapel being sacked for quoting Corinthians and upsetting the prisoners.
  2. Embracing the latest fad and jumping on the newest bandwagon, such as introducing Zen Buddhism to York Minster, as though Christian meditation is too old fashioned.
  3. Abandoning clerical clothes and dressing down, presumably in the hope more people will flock to church if the vicar wears jeans and the bishops wear sweaters and anoraks.
  4. Swapping prayer books for bits of paper and re-writing the liturgy so that even the long serving congregation don’t know what’s going on.
  5. Dumbing down by using the Apostles’ Creed in place of the Nicene Creed and skipping confession because the word sin puts people off.

I used to wonder how long it was going to be before Bishops worked out that ‘secular’not only is not working but is actively putting people off. The answer isn’t going to be found in 2020 Vision – Unlocking Your Potential, Toolkit Part 2.

For those who have been lucky enough to miss this blundering step forward in organising a church let me give a bit of history. This particular Vision applies to the Anglicans in Wales, but something like it could well be coming to a church near you soon. The Bishops decided to get three experts to review the situation, tell them why so many people were leaving the church and suggest what should be done about it. We all know what Experts are, don’t we? Ex-has-been; spurt-a drip under pressure. The experts they chose were a former bishop from the dreaming spires of Oxford, a former professor of the London Business School and a former Chair of the Scottish Episcopal Church Standing Committee.

To get information for the Review they had a jolly around Wales, looking at various churches—I hope they took in a few castles as well; that might have given them food for thought—and talking to senior clergy, bishops’ advisers and staff from the Welsh theological college of St Michael’s, which was threatened with closure two years later. They also met 1,000 people in public meetings, which is the worst possible environment for voicing your deepest worries and fears. They then went away and produced a Review, published in September, 2012 which lead to 2020 Vision.

When Toolkit Part 1 of this Vision landed in my lap in 2014 I was secretary to my Parochial Church Council so I had to struggle with it. The Bishop of St Asaph, when promoting this ‘Vision’ several times mentioned the word ‘radical’. Even then my over-riding thought was, ‘Radical is not enough. Revolution is what’s needed.’

Now here is Toolkit 2 – still trying to unlock the potential of the remaining few.

Toolkit 2 is written in trivial management speak. Somewhere there are ‘Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ but if you are hoping for something worthy of St Paul you’ll be disappointed. This kit is definitely modern, secular, of this world worldly.

Here’s an example. “A SAMPLE Mission Area Decree with annotations attached explaining its purpose and effects.”  That’s eight pages (without the notes) of jargon. Skip it. The Seven Steps to a Mission Area has a bizarre fascination. The good news of Jesus Christ is mentioned, just in case we’ve forgotten that all this is happening in an attempt to revitalise His Church. I’ll reproduce Step Four to show what I mean.

A strategic Mission Area Executive (MAE) is formed to look at recommendations and devise a development plan for the first five years. The MAE is accountable to the MA Conference (MAC) and led by a potential Mission Area Leader (MAL) or elected Lay Chair. The Shared Ministry Team (SMT) will represent those who offer a range of ministries. MAs need to be aware of existing training and how to access more specific and effective training to meet the needs of their MA.

The bit of the toolkit I found most fascinating is this Organogram. (The spell checker accepts it quite readily so it must be a real word).

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For a start I can’t work out what’s important here. With Flow Charts you start at the top and things flow down. And there are Venn diagrams and Pie charts, where size matters. With MindMaps you put the most important thing, the reason for everything else that you want to say, very big and bright in the middle.

I can see the circle for congregation but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It looks as though they are to be told what to do by the Church Committee (CC) and the Mission Area Conference (MAC), which may or may not include any ordained clergy, while collections of multi coloured conferences, groups, boards and teams float around doing – what exactly?

Toolkit Part 1 had plenty of photos to jolly things up. However, most of the people sitting around tables consulting about their unlocked potential looked a lot like me. My age, my shape, my look of bewilderment. At my time of life I can’t cope with organograms, or MACs, or EMAs or modern toolkits that don’t even include a spanner to throw into the works.

After I’d written the rough draft of this blog I started to wonder what would happen if the Bishops and the Deans and their Chapters (DCs), and the Archdeacons and the Area Deans (AADs) and the Chaplains and the Licensed Ministers (LCs) and the members of the Nurturing Steering Group (NSGs) and all the other people in those circles, were to put on their cassocks and robes, best suits and smartest clothes and go into town centres and up and down village streets telling people about the simple rules for a good life in that little book called the New Testament. Of course they would all be arrested. That’s the point! Can you imagine the headlines? The list of broken laws would be long, beginning with breaching the peace for preaching it.

That would be eccentric and anarchic and it might just work.

Anniversary Thoughts

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It’s a year ago this month that an article in the St Asaph Diocesan magazine, ‘Teulu Asaph’, caused me so much grief and fury that instead of ranting at my one-and-only husband I began blogging. Since then the decisions that started me raving and raging have become worse and the diocese of St Asaph has become a clique I’m glad to have left.

In May this year Reverend Sarah Hildreth Osborn, Rector of the Benefice of Eglwysbach, Llanrwst and Llansanffraid Glan Conwy, was appointed as Bishop Gregory’s Chaplain to the LGBT community in the Diocese. The latest edition of Teulu Asaph includes an interview with her about her new role. Bishop Gregory has the reputation of being a micro manager and I therefore assume he has vetted and approved the views of his new Chaplain, though I admit I find some of her words and ideas definitely dodgy.

The interviewer’s first question asks what an LGBT chaplaincy is and it turns out to be ‘a safe sacred space where LGBT people can gather to explore their spirituality and be affirmed as created in the image of God.’ Leave out the word safe and that’s a pretty good description of a church. That little word “safe” is another matter; an un-safe word. Attach the word safe to the word space and it means a place for totally mindless, banal, inconsequential chit chat, where free speech is muzzled and any disagreement is promptly labelled hurtful, offensive, racist, homophobic, et cetera.

Clergy colleagues will be able to refer people to her, especially those seeking information about marriage and blessings. I wonder what she’ll tell them. The Church of England is prevented by law from conducting weddings for people of the same sex and the English Bishops have asked clergy to respect their agreed position of not offering a service of blessing in church to same sex couples.

Asked what support and services she will provide Sarah said she will hold a Eucharist specifically for the LGBT community at least once a month. I’ve done some rough sums and estimate there are about 80 people in the diocese who may be LGBT Anglicans. Given the three line whips used by the organizers of Gay Pride marches that should ensure a massive congregation in St Grwst’s Church, Llanrwst at the first service on Monday, September 12th, 2016. I’m surprised that’s what LGBT Anglicans want, since it might be seen to further victimize them by emphasizing the fact they are different.

The advert for this service says all will be welcome. I’m not convinced about that, given Sarah’s reply to the question ‘What do you say to those who will struggle to support this?’ She answers, ‘To those who aren’t supportive, I’d say, “If you’re judging people, you have no time to love them! We need to stop using scripture to hurt people.”’ Does that sound warm and welcoming to you? In any case, it’s rubbish. In the confessional the priest sits as judge of sins committed, while exercising love to the penitent. If that’s too technical read any Gospel story where Jesus heals someone with love and then tells them to go and sin no more.

To the question will she be working alone Sarah replies that it’s just her at the moment because ‘In these early stages, I think it’s important that those leading services are themselves members of the LGBT community.’ Presumably modern clergy no longer subscribe to the Thirty Nine Articles. If she were to read the following she would realise that one’s sexual orientation is totally irrelevant, as is skin colour or even the state of one’s soul.

26 The sacraments are not rendered ineffectual by the unworthiness of the minister
Although in the visible church the evil are always mingled with the good and sometimes evil people possess the highest rank in the ministry of the Word and sacraments, nevertheless since they do not do these things in their own name but in Christ’s and minister by his commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing God’s Word and in receiving the sacraments. The effect of Christ’s institution is not taken away by the wickedness of these people, nor is the grace of God’s gifts diminished, so long as the sacraments are received by faith and rightly. The sacraments are effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, even though they may be administered by evil men.

Finally, we are told that Sarah has now learnt ‘that God is so much bigger, wiser and kinder than the church.’ Which brings me back to my very first blog where I complained that a story on the front of ‘Teulu Asaph’ made it sound as if God were a sort of Father Christmas figure in a toy shop dolling out whatever a child demands. Bigger? Wiser? Kinder? Is this the message the Bishop wants to spread? These are our ordained clergy, for heaven’s sake. It makes me wonder if they ever bother to listen to the words they say daily?Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 14.57.37.png

“For the Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth and the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it and his hands have moulded the dry land. Come let us worship and bow down and kneel before the Lord our Maker.”