Congratulations!

My hearty congratulations to the United Methodist Church in the United States. I congratulate them for their integrity, courage and sheer common sense. At least, I congratulate half of them, and only wish we in the Church in Wales could soon follow suit. 

There are around 13 million members of the United Methodist Church world-wide and half of those, living outside the States, maintain doctrinal clarity and honesty. The situation has been very different for the six to seven millions living in America.

I would prefer not to have to sit and face this

Those millions sound pretty much like the few hundred thousand Anglicans who cling to life in Britain. It has taken the American Methodists a long time to make the break because, like many of us, those who hold true to the gospel teaching on marriage, didn’t want to be the ones to divide the church. Like them we listen to our bishops who accuse us of bigotry and homophobia and lack of compassion. If the Archbishop of York designate knew my views on Same Sex Marriage he would consider me “immoral” and suggest I leave. 

I would, if there was anywhere else to go. 

I would like to go to a church which didn’t mix the Gospel with Star Wars and knew the difference between Jesus Christ and Darth Vader

Unlike the American Methodists we haven’t yet got the courage. We are still anxious to be oh, so nice. We don’t lack compassion, we are ever so polite and patient and we love our gentle Jesus, meek and mild. 

The other side are not like us and we don’t really understand what we are up against. The progressive modernists are aggressive, tough and determined never to give up. And they have managed to convince the moderates, who do politeness, compassion and niceness as a matter of course, that they must judge not, that they be not judged.

We’ve endured years of “good disagreement” which has got us nowhere. We already have same sex “married” bishops. How much more of this are the orthodox, conservative, traditionalists going to put up with, while still trying to be true Anglicans? We have no hope of beating them and I’m fed up being joined with them. 

What would happen if we left? If Bishop Gregory of St Asaph is right, the place for the modern church is in a shopping mall. Well, Debenhams are closing lots of stores over the next couple of years which the modern church could move in to. Which means there will be a lot of empty churches we could use. 

There is just one very big problem. Money. The Anglican church is quite indecently wealthy but would it be willing to give any to people who do not toe the line? Perhaps these words from the 2020 Vision Toolkit should give us encouragement.

“Although many parishes are feeling the strain of raising the parish share, money is not the real problem for the Church in Wales. 

It is not enough simply to cover the costs of ministry for one’s own church or area. Provision has to be made for those areas that at the moment, and for good reason, are not in a position to cover their ministry costs. Support for such areas should be ungrudging.” 

Yes, indeed. Surely ‘good disagreement’ should acknowledge this and support those of us disagreeing in the nicest possible way.

"Eccentric and Anarchic" again

After I had posted yesterday’s blog my brain was still buzzing with one particular word. Organogram. So I went searching for it and now I make no apologies for re-posting this slightly edited post from 2016.

I reason that if I could forget so completely, after studying Toolkit Two so assiduously, perhaps this repeat may help all the young, and not so young, clergy struggling with MAs and MALs and other horrors, which were created before they were even ordained. 

So here is some of what I posted under the title “Eccentric and Anarchic” on August 29th, 2016. But first I thought I’d add this selection of ‘Brand Images’. They will make the page look pretty and it seems a waste not to use them since they must have cost a lot to get designed.**

“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.

“It 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.

“However, “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.)” It takes up a lot of space but if I make it any smaller you won’t be able to read the bottom line which I think represents the individual church Treasurers. They are the people, apparently at the bottom of the heap, who undoubtedly have the hardest row to hoe.

[I’m sorry this image is cock-eyed but perhaps that’s appropriate.]

What isn’t clear to me is exactly to what or to whom the middle arrow on the left is pointing. Possibly no one knows, which would explain a lot.

“Here is another organogram.

“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 Mind Maps 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?

“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.”

**The Brand Images may have come free. Bishop Gregory designs coins and it has just struck me these are reminiscent of the ‘Thrupenny piece.’

20:20 VISION

Here we are at last. 

This is the year that the Vision for the great revitalisation of the Church in Wales finally comes to fruition.

We have climbed the steep slopes to the top of the mountain and now we can stand and admire the view.

Trouble is, when I think about standing on a mountain peak I remember my New Zealand sister-in-law. On one occasion, while visiting us, she took the train up Snowdon. It was beautifully sunny when she left us but by the time the train reached the summit the weather had closed in and she could see little through the mist and cloud. She wondered if she could get her money back. Apparently, if you go whale watching in New Zealand you get your money back if you don’t see any whales.

I think I would like my money back from the Church in Wales!

Way back in 2012 the bishops announced an in-depth review of the state of the church in Wales on the run up to its centenary in 2020 as an independent church. The Chairman of the Review was the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, together with Professor Charles Handy, a former professor at the London Business School and Professor Patricia Peakes, a former Chair of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. (We all know what has happened there.)

At the time I remember thinking that the ivory tower of All Souls College, Oxford, home to Lord Harries, was not an obvious place to begin a review of churches in impoverished mining villages in the south of Wales or the dwindling rural communities in the north. Anyway, this threesome interviewed over 1000 people throughout the Principality and 2020 Vision was the result of their investigations, cogitations and, I hope, their prayers and meditations.

The Review reminded us that “the church is a great institution designed to carry the Gospel message through the ages.” No disagreement there.

It also challenged us on the need for “urgent” change, particularly in the way our churches were set up. The biggest change was the decision to ditch (the Review said “move beyond our system of”) parishes and deaneries and create Mission Areas. (I’m always on my guard when people use five words when one will do.) The fact that many of the clergy now refer to Misery Areas tells you all you need to know. This change would lead to a group of church communities no longer being “inward looking” but would go out into the communities they served. I hope this is true for big towns but it has had the reverse effect in the great, wide, magnificent countryside which makes up most of North Wales.

I only know what is happening in the Diocese of St Asaph, where we have been ‘Unlocking our Potential’ for the last eight years. In Wrexham, for example, Bishop Gregory has spent £2 million of the £10 million given to the Church in Wales, on buying the old Burtons/Dorothy Perkins store on, can you believe, Hope Street. It was clearly meant!

A “brand image” as recommended by the Bishop for use with 20:20 vision. A keyhole. Get it?

One of the things the Review pointed out was that people no longer have to go to church on a Sunday morning for a coffee and to meet people because shopping is the new leisure activity. So it makes every kind of sense to open a “Church/Shop” in the middle of a Mall. Also, an old department store will feel much more welcoming and normal than any of the eight churches in the Rectorial Benefice of Wrexham with their odours of sanctity, overtones of religion and sense of a sacred space.

In my Mission Area things haven’t worked out quite so well. The congregation has halved in number from 40 to 20 and three of those remaining members turn 80 this year! We don’t complain. We struggle on with amazing fund raising efforts and we still manage the occasional community event for the village. But we do it alone without the support of either the Vicar or the wider Mission Area, who, nevertheless, want us to hand over any money we make for the benefit of the wider community. I’m sorry if this sounds selfish. I am not alone in giving very happily to something tangible like more tiles for the church roof or dealing with the damp. Once my groat reaches the MAL who knows where it ends up! Administration? Support for a bishop’s jolly? Money for roof tiles for a church who has failed to fund raise adequately? 

I’m afraid the bishops are asking a lot and giving very little in return. The changes they identified to “re-energise and re-invigorate our life and ministry across the country” are not happening here — but the bishops are doing OK.

Lots more brand images the bishops would like you to use.

Twisted Truth

I saw this on the blog of Rebel Priest, also known as the Revd Dr Jules Gomes. He is a wise man, full of common sense and to be trusted.

A 15-year-old Polish boy is being hailed as a Catholic “hero” after daring to block an LGBT pride march with a raised crucifix and rosary in his hand.

After reading the whole story I was reminded of these lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”. 

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”

I expect it’s one of many poems that have been banned now, having been written by what must obviously be a “homophobic, racist, colonialist bigot.” Quoting Rudyard Kipling probably makes me an HRCB too.

This brave lad, Jakub Baryła, was inspired by “a similar gesture by Fr. Ignacy Skorupko during the Warsaw battle with the Bolsheviks in 1920. Father Skorupko was a Polish army chaplain who was killed on Aug. 14 1920, at the battle of Ossów during the Polish counter-attack. Standing with soldiers leading a charge on the front lines, the priest was holding a cross to encourage Polish soldiers.

Jakob was, of course, removed from the scene. He must have known that would happen and he says the police behaved “impeccably.” Since he describes himself as “Catholic, traditionalist, conservative and patriotic” on Twitter, the other side are out to get him. Here’s where the truth gets twisted. 

The Monitoring Center on Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour, Warsaw, has issued a statement calling Baryła’s action “another example of nationalists using children for political struggle.”“Irresponsible parents have jeopardised the life and health of their 15-year-old child by sending him to a riot to intentionally hinder the police. The lost boy stood in the middle of the road clutching the cross. The child was confused and completely deprived of care by adult caregivers,” the statement said, insisting that Baryła was a child and no one had the right to send him to fight the police. “It seems that the parents have been indoctrinating their child for a long time,” the statement added, accusing Baryła of being “seen at meetings with racists and homophobes.”

The Monitoring Center on Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour said it intends to notify the prosecutor’s office of a “crime committed by parents who sent a child against police officers,” and will provide the Family Court in Płock with information “about a boy who, unaccompanied, hindered police operations.”

I’ve looked at those two pictures again and again and I can see neither ‘a lost boy’ nor a ‘confused child’. On the contrary. There has been plenty of praise for him on social media where people have remarked on his courage and his quiet confidence in his faith.

Please don’t ignore this because it happened in Poland. Think about it and about why it couldn’t happen here in Britain.

Why couldn’t it happen here?
Because the Bishops have already gone over to the other side

I love curry . . .

There’s nothing like a good takeaway curry on a Friday night for rounding off the week and giving a spicy start to the weekend. I also love reading and knitting and a good straight malt.

And I “love” God. For that reason I think the English word love is one of the weakest, niggardly, most pathetic words in the English language.

However, over in America there’s a Curry that doesn’t love Love and a Love that doesn’t love Curry! Which is awkward because both Curry and Love are Bishops in the Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) church.

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“Love” says Bishop Michael Curry

Over here in Britain millions more people now know about the Right Reverend Michael B Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church thanks to the impassioned sermon he preached at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, all about love. Not at all the sort of sermon we’re used to in your usual society wedding but certainly memorable.

This same Bishop Curry is now at odds with one American bishop – ironically with the name of “love”! The problem is simple. Bishop William Love is the only bishop in the Episcopal Church who believes, deeply and sincerely, that marriage is between a man and a woman. (There may be other bishops who don’t much like SSM but Bishop Love is the only one who is prepared to stand up and be counted.)

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Bishop William Love of Albany, USA

Bishop Love cannot support something called resolution BO12, which basically says if you won’t allow same-sex marriages in your diocese nor allow other bishops to come in and oversee them for you then you have to go. So much for good disagreement and embracing diversity.

Type ‘love’ into the thesaurus and you get dozens of synonyms, from ‘affection’ and ‘adoration’ to ‘mad for’ and ‘soft spot’! ‘Lust’ is also included but it’s interesting that the word ‘charity’ doesn’t appear. Perhaps wisely. Charity doesn’t always show itself in the best light these days. There have been too many charity workers who have clearly mistaken lust for love.

The Greeks had six words for genuine love, but Christians are usually happy with three. When we use love, and we don’t just mean “I very much like . . .” we mean eros, romantic love; passionate, over the moon love.

Romantic love is wonderful. Even thinking about it sends shivers up my spine! But, it has its limitations.

Imagine five years down the romantic line and you and your wife have three children. The youngest has a stinking cold, which she has given to you, a stuffed up nose so she can’t breathe and it’s three in the morning. Number one son has an ear infection and is screaming with pain.  Your wife has fallen and sprained her wrist. Half way through a full wash load yesterday evening the washing machine died.

I know, from long experience, that memories of candle light dinners, watching fireworks while drifting along on a boat on the Seine or tumbling abandoned in the hay, will be no help whatsoever in that scenario. If all you’ve got is Eros one or other of you will walk out at first light.

What you need – what we all need all through life – are masses of Agape and Philia.

Agape was a word we used to hear often in church years ago although Bishop Curry didn’t mention it and I never hear it in the church I now attend.

Agape is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. After five years of marriage and three children, don’t forget Eros, but Agape is the love that will get you all through. Marriages thrive on romantic moments but only Agape will get you through the inevitable grim bits.

Then there’s Philia. This describes brotherly love and true friendship and in family life you need a lot of this—shown by loving friends and neighbours who will rally around in a crisis.

However, the addition of Agape and Philia will more than see you through. Because by now your love will have deepened to such an extent that you have compassion and tolerance and generosity which has not only enriched your own lives but those of your friends and neighbours. You are no longer alone living in an exciting erotic bubble.

This is why I thought Bishop Curry’s wedding sermon was inadequate. This is why I don’t trust Jayne Osanne and her Just Love slogan. That’s why I think love is the most inadequate word unless it’s attached to Bishop William Love who is a brave man.

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And I just love Milly!

What am I Missing Here?

Please can someone tell me what is going on here.

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Darth Vader I know but who are the rest of the front row?

 

And who are these?

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I know I’m old but I am not senile. Yesterday I went to church. I have enough long term memory to say much of the service by heart and I have enough short term memory to remember the sermon. It was very good and with a fresh slant* on the gospel reading – Mark 5. (Two wonderful stories of the woman with the haemorrhage and the raising of Jairius’s daughter.)

I think, in this ordination photoshoot, the things that aren’t clergy are from Star Wars but I don’t understand why? There’s something in Star Wars about the Force being with you but if you’ve just been ordained shouldn’t a very different kind of Force have just been bestowed on you.

This sort of thing makes me feel that I’m mis-fitting more than usual. If anyone can explain the significance of all this I will be most grateful and will publish the comments to aid other old-timers who grew up believing ordination was a very serious, spiritual commitment.

*It was a bi-lingual service – English and Welsh – and the preacher brought in the fact that Jesus was probably tri-lingual and that Mark very deliberately used the Aramaic for Jesus’ command to the child.

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.