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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Hypocrisy and Humbug

When I took a break from blogging in the summer, I hoped, over the holidays, to be able to update my blog page. I wanted to add all sorts of whistles and bells and links and side bars and . . . . Well, as you know (“May You Live in Interesting Times” —blog Oct 2nd)  things didn’t work out quite like that. I haven’t even been producing my more pedestrian blog very often, either, but please don’t think I have succumbed to the sin of sloth. It’s just that life has become different and, at times, rather more complex, with some very odd problems.

Apart from visually brightening up my blog I had also intended to widen its scope and broaden its horizon. since I was thoroughly fed up with the mediocre shower making up so much of the Moronarchy which is the Church in Wales.

Now, a whole avalanche of news has proved a spur. Much of it makes me think surely this can’t be true? I don’t know how much is ‘fake’ news, but I do believe quite a lot is sensationalised into ‘news’ by the media, especially if it involves Sex, or the C of E, or both—which it so often does.

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Danny La Rue

Archbishop Welby says boys should be allowed to wear tiaras to help stop bullying. (No, sorry. I must have misread that! Since when was cross dressing news worthy!)

In Shakespeare’s day all the girls parts were played by boys. One of the best Lady Macbeth’s I ever saw was a strapping six-foot lad who made no effort to feminise himself. No high voice. No mincing walk. No pretty gestures. He was just so completely in the part that he was totally convincing. I don’t know what has happened to him but I doubt he’s on hormones to give him boobs.

 

 

I was fortunate enough to go to an all girls’ school so when we did Shakespeare we got to play all the male parts. My best friend Judy was a particularly convincing Shylock although I don’t remember any mention of sex or gender.

 

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Glenda Jackson as Lear

Another subject I’ve found jaw-dropping concerns Church maintained schools. Why do they still exist? What on earth is the point of them? One in Birmingham has 80% Muslim children—surely that makes it more of a Madrassa—so why is the C of E maintaining it? They are, of course, exceptionally good schools, which is why so many parents lie and cheat to get their children into them. Presumably Muslim parents and children are deemed ‘Christian’ enough to qualify because they acknowledge Jesus as a prophet. What seems to me ironic and pathetic is that those parents who attend a church in order to “prove” their children are suitable for admission to a C of E school are rarely converted to Christianity by their church-going experiences! I suspect that once they get their child safely “in” no church will hear of them again. But, if a Christian Group is found to be teaching shocking subjects like sin and forgiveness, then the bullying starts, the headmaster sacks the Christian group and the Bishop nods her/his mitre in agreement.

There is always something going on in the Church in Wales to depress one’s spirits still further. It’s gone quiet in the church down south in Llandaff and St David’s but there are things going on up here in St Asaph that reveal how deeply unpleasant “church” people—both clerical and lay—can be. The sheer nastiness occurring in some of the Mission Areas beggars belief. They display all the most notable aspects of the Pharisees. Perhaps that’s why the Bishop of St Asaph has been finding forums away from home.

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Members of the Anglican Oriental–Orthodox International Commission with local Fathers and the Egyptian Ambassador to Ireland in St Maximus and St Domatius Coptic Church in Drumcondra.

The man in red is the Rt Revd Bishop Gregory. The other men include representatives from the following churches: the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church,  the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

+Gregory was Chairman of this Commission which met in Dublin last month. It has been struggling for years to reach agreement on some obscure bit of deep theology. What puzzles me is what is Gregory doing there. The other men all belong to churches which do not admit women as priests. Yet the St Asaph bishop has spent the last few years supporting women bishops, homosexuals, priests in civil partnerships, “proud to be gay” films, innumerable lectures and meetings with speakers like Jayne Osanne and “open tables” dedicated to LGBT+ activities and people. Talk about hypocrisy and humbug!  At least, I hope he left his LGBTQUIA+ chaplain at home.

This month, further demonstrating the breadth of his ecumenism, +Gregory attended a service in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Cardiff to commemorate Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Here he was observed turning to face the altar so that he could take a Selfie with the congregation.

Most of the people I meet now on an almost daily basis—medics and paramedics—display the Christian virtues of sympathy, tolerance, generosity and a quite amazing compassion. They laugh at me when I comment on this. “You couldn’t do this job if you didn’t care about people,” they say.

That attitude contrasts starkly with many of the clergy in the Anglican Church, all the way up to the Bishops, who seem perfectly happy to collect their stipends, wear the robes and strut the strut, without giving a second thought to all those of us who still believe in the Bible. We are totally ignored, if we’re lucky; labelled and excoriated if we speak out.

 

 

 

 

If it ain’t broke . . .

After Brexit—Grammar Schools.

The papers are full of it! Grammar School Revolution intones The Times; May’s School Revolution yells the Daily Mail; May Opens Floodgates on Grammars says The Guardian, always striving to be different.

All of which seems to mean that every school will have the opportunity to select their pupils and become Grammar Schools. Heaven help us all, in that case. The last time all schools were Grammar Schools most children didn’t go to school.

The original Grammar Schools took boys from the middle and working classes and taught them Latin and Greek so that they could become lawyers, teachers, administrators and civil servants. Useful to the ruling and upper classes, who couldn’t or wouldn’t do those jobs themselves. The pupils could be poor but they had to be bright and it could certainly lead to social mobility. Think Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Many of those Grammar schools are still going strong five hundred years later, having adapted and modernised and evolved.

In the main, those are not the Grammar Schools we are talking about now. The ones in the news at the moment are the schools created under the Education Act of 1944 as free schools, for any child able to pass the Eleven Plus. Any engineer will tell you if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. How ironic that it was those schools, which did so well, which were scrapped. The Secondary Modern schools did much less well, because they had never been properly designed and quickly developed a reputation of being for losers and yet they developed into the  Comprehensives we have today.

I went to a Grammar school in September 1948 because my father couldn’t have afforded private school fees and fortunately I was bright enough to pass the exam. I think I had as good an education as I could have had anywhere at any time. Highly qualified and dedicated staff instilled in us great expectations and those British values about which we seem to have such hazy ideas these days.

For all the enthusiasm and hype of their supporters now, and despite the excellence of a Grammar school education in the past, most of those Grammars lasted only for around 20 years.

What went wrong? Right from the start the Secondary Modern schools were seen as second best, rather than as a genuine alternative. The teaching they provided should have been as good as that in the Grammars, as enterprising, as exciting and as rewarding, so that children had a real choice of where to go. The educationalists were preparing for a post war future  that would be challenging and often tough but it should have been hopeful. Instead, those schools were allowed to become uninspiring, a place for duffers.

I taught in a Secondary Modern School and I know that the pupils there were far from being losers. I had mainly D streamers so we took things more slowly, concentrated more on reading and writing accurately, and had plenty of scope to spend time doing things which seemed important to us at the time.

By all means create new Grammar schools for pupils who will benefit from that sort of education—the academic, the bookish and the nerdy—at the same time as we create new schools with a new name for all the rest of our children who have important, though different, skills, qualities, and needs, like the D streamers who taught me so much.