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.

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

We still live in interesting times.

I more or less gave up blogging last Autumn. I had a little flurry of activity in August when I posted four blogs in quick succession, and a re-post. Then nothing.

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The first of the August blogs recorded my difficulties in trying to spend some of the £10 million that the Church in Wales was giving to us for evangelism.

This is Allan Coote, a London bus driver, reading the Bible outside St Paul’s Cathedral last summer. But only for half an hour a week. The Dean and Chapter can’t cope with more than that.

 

In the second blog, among other things, I was expressing amused disbelief that the Freemasons had voted to include women—but only if they had first joined as men! The third blog, entitled ‘The Absurdity Goes On’ and posted on the same day, was inspired by a row over a wall plaque in York. It was to honour somebody called Anne Lister who was apparently the first famous English lesbian. The row erupted because the word lesbian did not appear on the plaque for fear of causing offence.

The fourth one, Storm in a Teacup appeared on August 11. It concerned the furore caused by Boris Johnson’s comment that a woman in a burqa looks like a letterbox. Actually he wasn’t completely correct. He meant the niqab – the burqa doesn’t have a slit in it.

Well, it was the silly season. So I decided to enjoy the summer and write again when I felt inspired. I re-posted one more blog – Tommy Tubby Again – on 28thSeptemeber as a tribute to my father. On September 28, 1918 he won the DSO. It was also his 25th birthday. After that nothing inspired me at all.

Three things have brought me back.

The first was checking my blog site for the first time in three months and discovering that people were still reading me. December 21st was the only day when I didn’t have a single visitor. Sometimes, someone obviously settled down to read many blogs one after the other. And when I counted I discovered I have readers far from the boundaries of Wales—in 28 different countries, in fact.

Well, I thought, perhaps I have still got something worth saying.

Secondly, serendipity. Several times in the last couple of weeks I have come across words and phrases, especially in the psalms, that seem to be nudging me to stand up and be counted.

And thirdly, the nudges and winks from my dear friends in Cardiff.

However, to be honest, I have nothing new to say. I still have just three things that I think are of fundamental importance.

The love of God as revealed in the Scriptures

The Anglican Church as it used to be but is no longer

Traditional marriage between a man and woman for the sake of family life which is the bedrock of a civilised society.

So while I’m wondering where to begin I am going to re-post my most read blog by far, from April 9th 2016. If I knew what there was about this particular blog that made it so popular I would do the same thing again and again. I suppose it must strike a chord with all the old Anglicans still sitting listening to meaningless words through empty services.

In any case, I suspect I shan’t be short of subject matter. Welby’s representative in Rome doesn’t believe in the Resurrection. Welby doesn’t want a lorry park in his Kent back yard. Curry is trying to silence Love. I’m sure I’ll find something to say.

Empty boxes, empty gestures, empty words

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“You Cubes” in a Welsh Cathedral-November 2014

When you leave something, whether it’s the Front Bench, a job, a marriage or a church, it may seem to onlookers that you have left after a row. When it becomes clear that it was a relatively small straw that broke the camel’s back, it may be thought that you left in a fit of pique, or on a whim, and that you’re too stubborn or too proud to apologise and return.

In fact, in almost every case, the small straw comes along after months, or years. In my case I came to the conclusion that I must sadly cut my ties to the Church of Wales after a couple of years of increasing frustration, irritation and hopelessness. After a Diocesan Conference in October 2014 which had left me feeling utterly disillusioned, the scales began to fall from my eyes the following month. That’s when I became convinced that the C in W was bumbling along a road I didn’t want to take, to a place I didn’t want to go.

Do you remember these boxes? The trendily labelled You Cubes.

For many years, in our village church, we used to fill old shoe boxes—at Christmas, or for Water Aid, or in response to a disaster like an earthquake. Some boxes were filled with baby clothes, others with small toys, games and crayons, and still others with toiletries—toothbrushes and toothpaste, scented soap, face cream and after shave. (In a crisis it’s important to restore self esteem and nothing does that better than a bit of luxury.)

The boxes in these photos are different. They are empty. Covered with shiny paper and all sorts of bits and bobs, they are supposed to tell the story of individual spiritual journeys. They seemed to me to be a perfect illustration of the saying “Fur coat and no knickers;” the complete antithesis of what our Lord Jesus Christ is all about. The more I looked at them the more I felt shock, puzzlement and finally outrage. Could no one, from Bishops, through Archdeacons, down to Area Deans, see the symbolism of the empty boxes, particularly just a few weeks before Christmas? Did no one in a lowly post in a Diocesan office dare say, what many must have thought, “this is a daft idea”?

Matthew 7:9-10 “Or which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?”

These empty boxes summed up what I thought of the Church in Wales. Empty boxes, empty gestures, empty words.

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An altar of empty boxes. This says it all.

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.