Bishops: Are they on another planet?

Bishop Olivia Graham (right) with the great and the good at her consecration as Bishop of Reading

Sometimes, though not often enough, I read something that makes me think, “Oh joy! There’s a bishop doing – or saying – the right thing.”  So I was delighted when I read that Bishop Olivia of Reading was making a series of four teaching videos.  I have been bemoaning the lack of any real teaching in the Anglican church for many years now.  Sermons telling me, week after week, that God loves me are no help at all.  I know God loves me.  That’s why I’m there. (To be honest, that is why I was there.)

I did think it would have been better to make them ten minutes long rather than just six. These days you have to allow for a woeful lack of even the most basic knowledge in most people because Christian theology isn’t taught anywhere now.  How on earth are children meant to make sense of anything when all they get, religiously speaking, is a quick canter through every known world religion, along with a lecture by Mermaids.

In addition, they pretty soon learn that their ideas and beliefs are as valid as anyone else’s and they can also just pick out the bits they like.  Mind you, I know plenty of long-time Anglicans who do that,too.

However, as soon as I looked at the Bishop’s video I was puzzled?  The Incarnation and the Environment?  And in six minutes?  And in the middle of increasing pandemic panic? I wasn’t the only one. All sorts of what I think of as ‘quality’ theologians weighed in to question the truth of what the Bishop was teaching.*

What she said seemed more than a little strange.  The word, Incarnation, relates to Jesus, the Word made flesh.  If you wanted to teach about the environment I think it would be better to start with Genesis and the Garden of Eden and God’s instruction to Adam to look after his world. 

And if that wasn’t odd enough Bishop Olivia wandered off down a way that quite definitly smacked of heresy.  In my eighties I have forgotten probably more than I now know but I do remember Pantheism.  At one time, in my youth I spent some time studying different heresies.  By learning what was wrong seemed a good way to help me understand what is right.  It’s actually not that complicated.  Human Beings are made in the image of God.  God made trees, but as trees, not in His own image.  Pantheism believes God is creation: Anglicans believe God is the Creator of the Universe. 

‘Godself’ is not a word I know, but at the present time, with everyone trying desperately to be one’s own self, to take the perfect “selfie” for example, I think it’s a most inappropriate word to use of God.

Do Bishop’s actually talk to each other, I wonder?  Bishop Olivia is a suffregan bishop to Bishop Stephen of Oxford.  Not long ago he had a plenty to say about listening and also how vital it was, not to preach, but to get along side people.  That is what people have been doing in the most amazing way since the start of the pandemic.  Some of the stories told about the recipients of the Birthday Honours were absolutely awe-inspiring.  Teaching where people are is much more effective.  Quote Scriptures** which describe what people have been doing as a matter of course and they can recognise themselves.  And while they are listening and you have their attention you can go on to explain what this Christ-like behaviour can lead to if you have faith.

Too simple?  Too naive?  If you have only got six minutes take an engineer’s advice.  KISS. (Keep it simple, stupid!)

  • *Archbishop Cramner and Psephizo, for example
  • **Matthew 25 vv35-40 eg

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” Bishop Love

“Rage, raged against the dying of the light.” Dylan Thomas

I posted a blog in January 2019 with the title “I love curry . . .”  In it, I ranted on about the inadequacy of the  English word ‘love’.

I also explained why Bishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the USA didn’t love Bishop William Love of the Diocese of Albany in the USA.  The issue was Same Sex Marriages, which Bishop Love does not believe in.

William Love, Bishop of Albany

Bishop Love’s problem is that the General Convention (the TEC equivalent of General Synod) has moved the goalposts since he promised in his Ordination Vows to respect the Discipline and Worship of the Church. They have re-written the Prayer Book to include the marriage of a couple of the same sex. The crafty Convention, suspecting there might be some dissent, put in a get-out clause – Resolution B012.  This lets a progressive bishop move in and cope with SSMs in a diocese where the orthodox bishop disagrees. They clearly think they have bent over backwards to accommodate any bigoted bishops there may be. There were a few but they have either knuckled down or left.  Therefore, Bishop Curry has been intensely irritated by Bishop Love’s intransigence.

I hoped the final outcome would demonstrate that “good disagreement” was a genuine, honest concept and that it was possible for the ‘new ideas’ and the ‘traditional’ to continue to exist in the broad, Anglican Church. However, I didn’t hold out much hope.Now it has been made abundantly clear. ‘Good Disagreement’ means you don’t have to do something which you know is wrong but you have to stand by while someone does it in your place.

It’s taken TEC nearly two years to judge Bishop Love guilty as charged, and he now awaits the verdict. I expect they were hoping, maybe even praying, that he would go over to the ACNA. Better still, that he would give in after a token fight.  But Bishop Love is made of sterner stuff and lives up to his name. No Jayne Ozanne “Just Love” for him. He believes that “marriage” is between a man and woman — just like it says in the Bible; in the Gospels; in Lambeth 1.10; and in the American 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the equivalent of C of E Common Worship. All of which he believes in.

I don’t know what punishment Bishop Love will receive nor what he will do in the future, but I pray for him. He is a brave and honest man.

Does it matter to us, over here? Of course it does. The wily Archbishop Welby is a firm supporter of the Episcopal Church in the US. He was over there quite recently preaching in one of their great cathedrals, and he has no intention of having Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church of North America anywhere near the next Lambeth Conference.

I checked with a wise clerical friend: “Could Synod re-write the book of Common Worship over here?”

“Of course they could. They could abolish the Nicene Creed if they felt like it.”

You have been warned.

Bishops. Lukewarm, Apathetic or Missing the Point?

I always seem to be ranting about bishops, but I also complain about shoddy service, low standards and a ‘whatever’ attitude. I’m sure, since that catastrophic decision to lock all churches, the bishops have been scurrying around, wondering how to pick up the shattered pieces. They have certainly succeeded in turning many of their clergy into successful on-line technocrats though some of the more meditative and spiritual priests may be finding it hard to cope.

Perhaps, rejecting modern methods, those have been reaching their parishioners by that good old fashioned gadget — the telephone. A voice-to-voice call could be every bit as effective as screeds of written pious thoughts.

Of course they’ve gone on working in as weird a world as we are all living in and I’m not blaming them when they appear to be less than firing on all cylinders. That’s the way it is.No matter how much we train or practice some of us rarely come first and ‘I did my best’ sadly, may rarely be ‘good enough’.

The bishop of my diocese wrote in his last newsletter about “Patient Endurance”, an attitude of faith which is described in several places in the New Testament. 

He quoted verses from Psalm 46.  “God is our refuge and strength, and a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”

I have been hanging on to those words through thick and thin although, in my case it wasn’t so much the earth being moved that worried as me, I myself, being moved! I was turned, every three hours, day and night, to save me from pressure sores, from the moment I got on to Ward 227. Initially it took five nurses to move me, without causing any damage to my spine but after a while one nurse and I could manage together. I used to complain that I felt like a sausage being turned to brown nicely on all sides. 

The Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, took a similar line when he spoke at his diocesan conference last month. He didn’t mention ‘patient endurance’ but he focussed on the humility and gentleness of Christ. The only sort of Christ who appeals to the Woke Brigade.

“This is the kind of leadership which draws alongside people . . . liberates the gifts of others. . which does not overwhelm. . . the leadership of gentleness and tenderness and patience.

The Bishop of Oxford

“The humility of Christ is not weakness, finally, but strength, tenacity and determination to effect change for the sake of the kingdom of God, stepping into difficulties to seek to resolve them, not stepping away. But that strength, determination and power will need to be mediated through humility as we face the challenges ahead.There will need to be a great deal of listening as we explore how best to re-open our churchesThere will need to be a great deal of listening, especially, as we seek to rebuild our ministries. 

I’m sorry, Bishop Steven, but in the present state of our nation that is nowhere nearly good enough. 

For five long weeks in Stoke I watched what was going on around me. 

Outside the NHS I doubt you’ll find that amount of getting alongside people anywhere. Everything from high tech procedures and highly skilled techniques to the most fundamental care. There are amazing machines that can detect everything going on in your inner body but only a person, male or female, black or white, young or old, can get right alongside you to cope, with complete empathy, with a ‘below the waist waste’ problem. The same people will grip your hand and breathe deeply with you when pain becomes intolerable and get together to make you laugh when you’re feeling blue.

That’s how NHS staff are. That’s how the Bishop of Oxford wants us to be. That’s how, as Christians, we’d all like to be within our own talents. 

Sadly, gentleness and humility are NOT enough. Nothing like enough anymore, because the Christian foundations of our country have been destroyed.  As well as love and understanding and commitment NHS staff have years of training. Do we? Do we read our Bibles, study theology, and discuss our beliefs? When we do get alongside someone do we know what to say? Do we dare to say it? Would Christ’s miracles have been enough without his words.

Royal Stoke University Hospital

In my weeks in hospital I had plenty of time to think and pray. But there was one person missing.

On the first Sunday I was at pretty low ebb. I was alert and fully conscious but a bit befuddled with drugs and I couldn’t remember my prayers. I even had to have several goes at the Lord’s Prayer before I got through it without getting muddled. So I asked if I could see the Chaplain, but s/he didn’t come. When I asked again a week later one of the nurses told me a chaplain might be able to pop up on Wednesday. They didn’t. There was something called a Faith Centre — I saw on a trip to X ray — but there was no clue as to what it might really be. Three more Sundays went by, plus all the other days in a week, but I never saw sight or sound of anyone claiming to be a cleric.

They are scared of Covid19 of course. Probably all the rest of the staff were, too, though I never heard the word mentioned. I had a broken neck not a virus. In any case, as a hospital Chaplain — a paid appointment, not a volunteer job — shouldn’t they try to rise above their fears of the virus, don the necessary PPE and trust in the Lord for the sake of the sick?