Golly, what a lot of Jolly Lolly!

There’s a lot of lolly floating around the church in Wales these days. Of course, there’s been a lot of comment, too, about the spending sprees and the jaunts and about those who know the right pockets to pick. These comments have been going on for a long time. Too long. I  wish the Bench of Bishops had reacted sooner and also been a bit more effective in their support of the needy people in the pews.

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Back in March these six Welsh bishops went to Rome for the week of Christian Unity

Bishop Joanna of St Davids and Bishop June of Llandaff also flew to the United States, apparently, for some mentoring by Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori.

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I presume +June and +Joanna were seeking instruction in how NOT to do things

+Katharine, you remember, was the Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church of America before +Michael Curry. She certainly knows all about spending money, having used up $30 million in legal fees suing any Bishop or church congregation that dared to challenge her definitely dodgy theology.

The senior clergy from Llandaff, pictured below, went to Devon for a retreat in May.  Later, +June announced her first Clergy School — a five day “pilgrimage” to Santiago de Compostela in May, 2019.  This will be for any clergy from the diocese who wish to take part (possibly 100) but, instead of walking, the pilgrims will be flown out on a chartered plane.

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Senior Llandaff clergy enjoying spiritual refreshment.

The Diocesan Secretary of St Asaph, the Youth Officer and one of the Archdeacons went to Helsinki recently. Helsinki, in Finland? Yes, indeed. It’s supposed to be a fascinating city in the midst of most beautiful scenery.

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Helsinki, capital of Finland

The Church of Finland isn’t actually Anglican; it’s Evangelical Lutheran, but it’s undeniably successful.  More than 80% of Finns, some 4.4 million people, are members of the Church of Finland. Those numbers must have made Bishop Gregory’s eyes water!

There’s also plenty of money sloshing around for new appointments, like several more Archdeacons and, most recently, an Education Director. Mrs Elizabeth Thomas, formerly head of Bassaleg School in Newport, will have 150 schools and 26,000 pupils, though it wasn’t clear from the notice of this appointment whether it was the schools, the children or the Bishops she was educating.

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Finally, and most wonderfully, the Bishops have announced an Evangelism Fund of £10 million for Mission. Ten million pounds to “grow” Christians across Wales “in vibrant and exciting ways”. +Andy was given the job of announcing the news at Pentecost. No wonder he is smiling.

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Andy John, Bishop of Bangor

Recently, a gentleman called John Pocket wrote a letter to the “Western Mail” complaining, as I have been doing, about all the jolly jaunts and other expenditure. It must have struck a raw nerve because a spokeswoman for the Church in Wales issued a statement. First she gives a short paraphrase of what she says are Mr Pocket’s views.

“Mr Pocket’s complaint seems to be: We shouldn’t be spending more on organisation. We shouldn’t invest in the resourcing and development of our leaders. We shouldn’t treat our people well. Failing to invest in our people and facilities would be an indication that we have no expectation for the Church in Wales.”

I’ve read the whole letter and I don’t think that’s quite the right tone; he certainly never suggested that long suffering clergy should be treated badly. And the “our people” she talks about are “them” not “us”, the pew sitters. She goes on to explain why the CiW is spending all this money.

“We believe in effective support for hard-working clergy. We believe that effective Christian leadership is resourced by times of spiritual refreshment — hence the retreats. We want to attract and retain exceptional staff, work efficiently and effectively and gain all the team-working benefits that an open-plan office brings. We are organising ourselves with an expectation of growth.”

The fund will provide grants of between £250,000 and £3 million, for diocesan projects that “will focus on people rather than buildings,” the Church in Wales said.

It’s time I confessed to something. I haven’t been blogging for over three months. It’s hard to blog positively when you are indulging the vices of envy and greed and the truth is I just hadn’t appreciated the worth of all these jollies and other initiatives.

I have been much more aware of how desperately the Faithful Few of pewsitters need money. I had equated the bishops and the senior clergy, who have been benefitting from all this largesse, with the Pharisees. There they were, I thought, self importantly going on retreats to learn how to do church better, seeking to appoint more and more people as directors of this and that while tiny congregations struggled on apparently disregarded.

The village church to which I have recently returned has 19 people on the electoral roll, only two of whom are in paid employment. Those 19 people have to fund a Parish  Mission Share of £15,000 per annum. That’s before we can begin any repairs or maintenance on our listed building.

Our Vicar is on indefinite leave. The Mission Area has the task of organising substitutes, but, for all their committees and organograms  that doesn’t always work out well.

Sometimes we have a Priest and Communion and sometimes we have a Lay Reader and Morning Prayer. Sometimes we prepare for Communion and only a Lay Reader turns up, and sometimes a Priest turns up unexpectedly and then we have to rush around preparing for a Eucharist. Sometimes we get a Priest and a Lay Reader, which is overkill, and sometimes no one turns up at all.

Actually, when that happens it’s fine. We organise an excellent Matins left to ourselves. In place of the sermon we have plenty to talk about; mainly how on earth are we going to raise enough money to pay our Share, let alone find anything extra for outreach, or attracting teenagers, or restarting something for children; to say nothing of funding a loo. The loo in the car park of the pub across the road is rather too far away.

So, it seems that all this effort and the £10 million is actually for us.

Or is it?

The announcement sounds more like management speak than Holy Spirit. Once again the bishops  are in danger of letting advisers and “experts” decide how the money should be spent — on expensive projects that will sound good and make great photos for the same old snouts. I hope I’m wrong.

Our village church doesn’t need anything like £250,000, let alone up to £3 million at one go. We need modest amounts of funding and some informed enthusiasm, advice and support.

Then we and the Holy Spirit can work miracles.

 

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The Time is Now

 

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The Holy Family by Murillo

Just before Christmas my son and his family moved in to live with us, so, instead of making New Year resolutions I’ve been meditating on the world in which my two granddaughters, aged four and six, will be growing up. They were not entirely happy thoughts; there is too much in the media that I find confusing and alien.

Curled up in an ancient armchair reading Beatrix Potter to the granddaughters is a timeless experience although I’m surprised Potter’s books haven’t been banned yet. “The Tale of Two Bad Mice” involves a story of theft and vandalism and there is surely too much cruelty to animals in the “Tale of Peter Rabbit” to be tolerated by the snowflake generation. Sitting on the floor playing with Elsa and Anna from “Frozen” isn’t quite so nostalgic; these “dolls” are more like dolly birds, with their sexy outlines and enormous Disney eyes. Fortunately, the elder one actually prefers Lego, the younger is animal mad and both seem healthily ignorant of sex and gender.

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Elsa from Frozen

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Peter Rabbit and his family

In such an idyllic family scene what can there be to worry me?

I am worried because the two pillars of my world are the two things that are now so under threat that they could well disappear before the girls reach adulthood. Those two fundamental ‘pillars’ are the Anglican church and the Family which have formed the bedrock on which I have built my life.

Way back in November, 2014 the Welsh bishops held a conference in Llandudno, called ‘The Time is Now’ to announce the great reformation that would result in 2020 Vision. (2020 Vision is intended to celebrate the 100 years since the Church in Wales broke away from the Church of England.) It was designed to ‘revitalise churches’ and provide ‘a place where ministry and mission would be done in new and creative ways.’

We can all see what these ‘new and creative ways’ are doing to our revitalised churches, can’t we?  Parishes have been abolished (though I doubt many parishioners know that) and the newly created Mission Areas are driving to depression and despair the few valiant souls who are trying desperately to keep open their moribund churches.

At the time of the conference three years ago I already had grave doubts about it. Why Llandudno? Nearby St Asaph and Bangor both have cathedrals on sites dedicated to Christianity since the sixth century. However, this conference was to be held in a theatre. Not just any theatre but an aggressively secular concrete box with nothing remotely spiritual about it. And in keeping with the surroundings an altar was built out of empty cardboard boxes. Honestly! I couldn’t make it up.

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Altar of Empty Boxes

However, the time is truly Now if we want to save the two fundamental institutions of church and family. There are many strands woven together that have caused this disaster but at its heart are hubris, hypocrisy, LGBT+ and the fuss made about Same Sex Marriage.

Christian Marriage has to be between a man and a woman.

I believe marriage serves a purpose—nothing less than the continuation of the human race. Creating and nurturing a new human being is not only the most important thing we do but is the only completely, utterly creative thing we do.

Very early on, homo sapiens discovered that the best way to care for the next generation was within a close knit family unit, with a mother and a father who were prepared to commit to each other and their children until death—not divorce—divided them.

That is what marriage is. That is what it is for. That is its purpose.

Since we are fallen, finite human beings we make a mess of it over and over again, but that is no reason to abandon the ideal. I could list endless studies that prove that children brought up by a father and a mother who are married and who stay married to each other are given the best possible start in life. Nothing else does the job as well.

Unfortunately, even the Archbishop of Canterbury seems happy to accept second best.

During a visit to Christian leaders in Moscow he warned that churches must learn to live with a world in which families are no longer led only by married couples.

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Archbishop Welby meets His Holiness Kirill in Moscow on  21st November 2017

He went on to say, ‘in the last 40 years there has been a great shift in the understanding and the reality of family life’.

There has certainly been a great shift in the reality of family life and a universal acceptance of what my generation quaintly called ‘living in sin.’ Which wouldn’t matter except for the fact that only one in three children born to co-habitating parents remains in a stable family until the age of 12, compared to three out of four children born to married parents. That’s quite a significant difference, no matter how good a job single mums and assorted step parents are doing.

            He ended up by saying ‘The family, however it is experienced, is the place where we can be at our strongest and most secure.’ True, but why tag it on the end of his speech, without emphasising its crucial importance. I think he was cowardly not to  make it crystal clear that Christian marriage is the best option.

If the Archbishop won’t stand up for marriage and all the benefits that accrue from it, including to the state, then we, us, you and me, will have to.

The Time is is NOW.

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How to entertain two small girls on a cold wet Saturday afternoon. Nor are these boxes empty. They have been beautified in order to keep special treasures in them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s no need for Jonathan Pryke. MALs have the answers.

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A Church with everything one needs. An altar, pews and an atmosphere of sacred stillness

We don’t need Bishops parachuted in from Africa to sort out the Anglican Church in Britain. We don’t even need Jonathan Pryke. We already have MALs!

As the Archbishops told us after ‘that’ vote in Synod,

“The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.”

Who could possibly object to that? As one of the excluded I certainly wouldn’t.

“We need to work together” the Archbishops said “ – not just the bishops but the whole Church, not excluding anyone – to move forward with confidence.”

We can. We really can. The Mission Area Leaders are already in place and primed to do the job. I have been studying their qualifications and the Area structures. (see my blog of October 18th, last year.) To be an MAL you have to be exceptionally able with just the right qualities to bring

“about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity” and “a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.”

One of the things the Re-organisation—20:20 Vision or whatever it’s called—has done is abolish Parishes. I haven’t yet met a single churchgoer who thinks that is actually a good idea but the Early Christians weren’t organised into parishes and look what they started. Mission Area Leaders now have a unique opportunity to re-organise their areas in such a way that all the different needs of the present Anglican Church here in Britain can live together in Godly Love and give up all this nonsense about good disagreement. That is clearly not working and is never going to work, given it involves people who insist on not just thinking but believing and feeling and yelling as well.

A better world could be achieved very simply. The structures are already in place.

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Blueprint for ending disagreement

All you need to make this initiative work are a minimum of four churches in a Mission Area to serve four different congregations. If you look closely on the left of the above diagram you will see that they are already in place. The first group, (Church St A) are obviously those who are still worshipping in their local ‘parish’ church, either because they love it the way it is, or through tradition and loyalty. And, of course, they will be the most difficult for the MALs to cope with because they have been Faithful and they will NOT want to be moved.

That leaves three other main groups, who have already left the church. These people will be much more accommodating because, after years in the wilderness, they will be only too thankful to have a church to go to that believes what they believe. So Church St B will become St AC (to accommodate Anglo-Catholics) and church St C will become Church St E for the Evangelicals.

Finally, there is the last group, Church of St D, to which I belong. We are the easiest of all to provide for. We accept women priests. We can even cope with women bishops if they’re not too stridently feminist. Our sticking point, the red line that is being crossed over and over again, is our simple belief that Christian Marriage is between one man and one woman.

That is really all we want, although the list of things we do not want is quite lengthy. We want a bog standard Anglican service, lead with respect and dignity, and—when it’s a Eucharist—with solemnity.

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Not necessary in Church St D

We don’t want fancy dressed vegetables, rainbow flags, dancing round paper fires, walls of cardboard bricks, altars made of tatty boxes, or arts and crafts with yogurt pots and sticky paper, all of which have featured in modern churches recently. And positively no Imans and no Koran readings.

The clergy allotted to this sort of church will be overjoyed. Just a prayer book and a bible will be all they will need. They will be able to devote the time saved to preparing a thoughtful, theologically based sermon.

It will make life so much simpler for the Mission Area Leaders, too. This bit of re-organisation should be a doddle since they’ve already got a blue print. All they will have to do is find four different sorts of clergy, for the different strands of Anglicanism required. There may have to be a bit of juggling once the system has been in place for a while. Some churches may be more popular than others and may need a bigger building, for example.

Here in Wales, Welsh language Anglican churches would probably also be most welcome. In the St Asaph Diocese, and possibly in others, the LGBTQ+ Chaplain may well choose to serve a predominantly Gay congregation. Of course, it does mean that the Bishops have got to play fair, too. Much as they may want SSM despite Lambeth 1:10 (1998) they will have to recognise that those congregations that can’t believe in SSM are neither homophobic nor bigoted.

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Empty boxes looking for a home

The great benefit of this arrangement is that it would do away with disagreement—good or bad—in the churches themselves. We could stop wasting time listening to people with whom we cannot possibly agree. Instead we could go to church knowing exactly what to expect and then, when we returned to our villages, or communities, Christians, of whatever shape and form could get on happily with doing God’s work at the local level.

Of course, since all congregations are made up of human beings of the fallen, finite variety there will always be some who will complain that their specific needs aren’t met. Well, that’s something the MALs will have to wrestle with, because, once these new, belief-specific churches are up and running, there won’t be much else for them to do.

Go for it, MALs.

Binary Bishop for St David’s?

Any bets on the soon-to-retire Archbishop of Wales achieving a final glory?

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As so often I am indebted to Ancient Briton, this time for his latest blog, Deception. This has both informed and inspired me and also given me some small seeds of hope.

Screen Shot 2016-11-01 at 10.25.00.pngHow encouraging to find the Governing Body of the Church in Wales at last confessing to “a heavy heart.” It’s a pity they’ve taken so long to appreciate what the rest of us, both in and out of the church, have been suffering for years. I do wonder, though, whether the Standing Committee will take note “as a matter of urgency”. There might have been some hope if they had stuck their collective fingers in the holes in the dyke when they first appeared. Instead of which they stuck their fingers up at those who advised caution on the subject of SSM and the whole mad 2020 Vision fiasco. Now, I’m afraid, all they can do is man the lifeboats. Secularism, the LGBT brigade and the “read the Bible anyway you like” theology have inundated the Church in Wales.

If Jayne Ozanne has her way it will wash away the Church of England as well. (We talk a lot about washing away sins—we just never thought it meant our churches.) By following the links in Ancient Briton’s blog I now know much more about her and have watched the video of her interview with Ruth Gledhill. Well, she’s certainly a name dropper! She seems to number as her mates most of the great and good among the most senior clergy. When she ‘came out’ she had lovely letters from them, reassuring her that she was a child of God. What did she expect? I was taught that in Sunday School. What’s more it was at a time when Hitler was still alive. I realise now that my two Sunday school teachers must have had an extraordinarily firm faith to take that on the chin and explain it to five year olds, to remember and hang on to more than 70 years later.

There are two things that immediately worry me about Ms Ozanne. First her YouGov poll which, she claimed, showed 45% of the 1500+ Anglicans surveyed supported same sex marriage. Unfortunately, a goodly number of those same Anglicans also think pornography and adultery are all right.

My other worry is this. She says she came out when she “fell madly in love” and entered into a relationship with another woman which lasted six years.

In my book, if she had been heterosexual, she would either have been living in sin, as we so quaintly used to put it, or she would now be divorced. Either way, I don’t think that’s anything to boast about.