EHRC Consultation – re Religion v. Secularism

This attempt to redefine religious bias marks a shift from hard secularism

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s consultation does not seek the functional re-establishment of Christianity – it’s prompted by the rising importance of IslamShare1
Peter and Hazelmary Bull with Christian demonstrators
Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the B&B owners who attempted to deny a gay couple a double bed, with Christian demonstrators outside Bristol county court. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has launched a consultation on whether it is handling religious equality appropriately. This marks a significant unease with the way in which equality law has dealt with Christians, in particular since 2010. The central question is whether there is anything more to Christian discontent than whingeing about the progress of gay rights.

The Evangelical Alliance sees this move as a triumph. Don Horrocks, a Baptist minister who is its head of public affairs, says the commission has “failed religion and belief totally”.

“Evangelical Christians have absolutely no confidence in the commission whatsoever. People of faith are generally quiet. Now the commission wants to know how many xians and others are being bullied.”

In a reference to the case of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who attempted to deny a civilly partnered gay couple a double bed because they do not believe in sex outside marriage, Horrocks said: “Look at the B&B couple who just wanted the freedom to run their house on Christian principles. What about the Christians who are told their faith should be left at the door when they enter the workplace? What about all the organisations who wish to maintain a Christian ethos and are told they must actively promote things they don’t believe in?”

So the Evangelical Alliance, which claims to represent 2 million Christians, is asking its followers to write to the EHRC about their concerns. Given the strength of evangelical feeling against homosexuality, this could result in a lot of letters. The difficulty is that most of the alliance’s cases appear to the outside world to be Christians claiming that unless they can discriminate against gay people, they are themselves the victims of discrimination. This is not a view with wide appeal.

Mark Hammond, chief executive of the EHRC, points out that of the four cases on religious liberty that have gone to Strasbourg in the past three years, his organisation has sided with the Christians in two and against them in two. The commission took the view that Christians were not allowed to discriminate against gay people, however sincerely they want to, but it backed their right to wear crosses at work even when the secular courts disagreed.

For the EHRC, this is no more than a slight adjustment of course: a check that it is interpreting the law as it is supposed to be. But I think it is rather more than that and represents the start of a swing of the pendulum away from the kind of hard secularism that regards all forms of religion in public life with suspicion. Examples of that would be attempts to ban prayer before council meetings.

This is not a move towards the functional re-establishment of Christianity, which has been effectively disestablished over the past 30 years. If anything, it is prompted by the rising importance of Islam. It is obviously dangerous to social cohesion if the idea gets around that Muslims can get away with things that Christians can’t, and there is some basis for that kind of reasoning. Christians who preach homophobia are sometimes harassed by the police in a way that Muslims who do the same aren’t; if Muslims come to the attention of the police for their beliefs, it is in connection with terrorism rather than crimes against liberal sexual orthodoxy.

What the law suggests is a position inimical to both sides in last century’s debates about secularism – those who imagined it was about preserving the privileged position of the Church of England and those who supposed that it was all about driving the church out of the state. A state largely neutral between religious faiths, as the Equality Act presupposes, will please neither of those sides. Christians will get their rights as religious believers, rather than as possessors of the truth. But the rights of the religious are to be protected where they do not infringe on others.

This places a kind of enlightened secularism in the position the established church once enjoyed, of being the arbiter of what kinds of belief are needed to enjoy full participation in English life. It’s difficult to see how else we can manage a plural and largely post-Christian society. The assumption that religion would wither and die is clearly false. It may be that even the C of E will survive. Last year, churchgoers gave £969m to keep it going: this is more than 10 times the declared income of all the political parties put together. Religion is a force that no government can ignore.


Andrew Brown’s ‘Comment is Free’ article here, from the ‘Guardian’ U.K. newspaper poses a conundrum that faces certain Evangelical Christian interests with a possible problem, if the European Human Rights Commissio, amends its legislation to include rights for other than Christian Faith Communities. Here is a typical paragraph from A.B.’s  summation:

“So the Evangelical Alliance, which claims to represent 2 million Christians, is asking its followers to write to the EHRC about their concerns. Given the strength of evangelical feeling against homosexuality, this could result in a lot of letters. The difficulty is that most of the alliance’s cases appear to the outside world to be Christians claiming that unless they can discriminate against gay people, they are themselves the victims of discrimination. This is not a view with wide appeal.”

There is no doubt that some conservative Christians in ther U.K. – including the ex Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey – feel that Christians are being persecuted in Britain. however, any new legislation, which might be enjoined upon other Faith Communities, may actually even up any perceived prejudice by the Human Rights Commission!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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‘Diplomat’ Article on Church Diplomacy


Cover Story 400 250


Michael Binyon says church leaders are now using their moral authority to persuade leaders in conflict situations to look again at proposals for peace

Are Christian church leaders becoming the world’s most active peacemakers? Only a week after President Peres of Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the Pope’s invitation to pray together with him in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a dramatic flight toNigeria to pray with President Goodluck Jonathan and encourage him to make every effort to find the schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.

The Archbishop’s impromptu trip came hard on the heels of a visit to Pakistan, where he visited a small embattled Christian community and praised their efforts to forge closer links with the wider Muslim community, despite regular attacks by militants, the threats of mob violence and the increasing use of the notorious blasphemy laws to force Christians from their land and property.

The two men,  both new in their jobs and  both with fresh agendas that place considerable emphasis on peace and reconciliation, have been increasingly active in tackling conflicts that have defied the efforts of the world’s political leaders to resolve. While insisting they are not taking on political roles, and cautious of wading into the thickets of global diplomacy, both Pope Francis and the Most Revd Justin Welby have shown themselves skilled at using their huge moral authority to improve the political climate and persuade leaders in conflict situations to look again at proposals for peace.

This was dramatically demonstrated in Rome at the beginning of June, when President Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, arrived at the Vatican for a formal ceremony to plant olive trees – the ancient symbols of peace. With the world’s cameras watching, both men greeted and kissed each other before shovelling earth around the roots of the trees. Coming after the breakdown of formal Israeli-Palestinian political talks on peace, the gestures were almost as astonishing as the famous handshake 21 years ago between Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin of the White House lawn as President Clinton sealed the agreement of the Oslo Accords.

The Pope may not be a politician. But over the past year he has demonstrated an extraordinarily deft touch in his use of gestures and symbols to underline the messages he wants to convey. This was particularly evident during his visit to the Holy Land. In an image that will define his papacy, he paused to bow his head in prayer and pressed his hand against the graffiti-covered concrete of Israel’s formidable ‘separation wall’ – the barrier built to seal Israel off from the occupied West Bank. As his aides later conceded, it was a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict.

  The Palestinians were delighted, feeling that the Pontiff had drawn attention to their plight in a way that Israel was obliged to recognise. The Israeli government was visibly irked, but responded diplomatically. But the gesture then made it impossible for either side to refuse his invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to join him in Rome to pray for peace.

At the very moment the Pope was in Jerusalem, the Archbishop was in Lahore, meeting bishops and leaders of other minority faith communities in Pakistan. His visit, part of his plan to meet the primates of all 38 provinces of the Anglican Church around the world early on in his time in office, was also laden with symbolism. It came only months after a devastating attack by two suicide bombers on a church in Peshawar, which killed and wounded more than 230 worshippers, and amid tensions over the increasing threats by Islamist militants against the Pakistani state and especially the small non-Muslim communities.

At a joyous morning service in the imposing Gothic Anglican cathedral in Lahore, he praised Pakistan’s Christians for their steadfastness in the face of these threats. He said the work they did in running colleges, health clinics and even a special school for children with learning difficulties (a provision not offered by the state), open to all and overwhelmingly attended by Muslim students, was an example of Christian service in action.

There was no doubt of the political risk he ran in making the visit. By ghastly coincidence, the Archbishop was listening to impassioned pleas by Pakistan’s bishops for the right to worship in freedom and safety at the very moment when, only streets away, a pregnant young woman lay dying in the dust outside Lahore’s High Court, her face and head smashed by bricks hurled at her by her family.

The woman and her husband had gone to court to swear an oath that they had married of their own free will, despite the opposition of her father. Every year there are around 900 ‘honour’ killings of women by their families. There could have been no more dreadful example of the dangers of hatred, ignorance and fanaticism that are now gripping Pakistan.

Security was extraordinarily tight for the Archbishop’s visit: armoured cars were used to move him and his wife around. It was a precaution that only a week later was shown to have been justified. In Karachi, where the small group from Lambeth Palace stayed a night, riots broke out a few days later, following the arrest in London of an exiled political leader who controls powerful militias in the sprawling city. The British High Commission building there, where the Archbishop stayed, was closed and evacuated. Three days later, militants stormed Karachi airport, from where he had earlier flown on to Bangladesh, killing officials and forcing the airport to close.

Peacemaking and reconciliation – within the Anglican Church and between the world’s main faith groups – were the declared priority for Justin Welby from the moment he became Archbishop. He is well qualified for the role. As an oil executive who visited Nigeria often before his ordination, he has seen at first-hand the conflict raging between Christians and Muslims in Central Nigeria that is now taking a deadly toll. As a former head of Coventry Cathedral’s Centre for Reconciliation, he has himself conducted delicate negotiations between militant groups in an effort to free hostages, often risking his own life.

On reaching Lambeth Palace he appointed Canon David Porter, an Ulsterman who succeeded him at Coventry, as his Director of Reconciliation. And together they have focused on many of the world’s more intractable conflicts. The machinery and strategies for reconciliation are now in place at Lambeth Palace.

The Pope, too, has made reaching out, especially to the poor, a focus of his papacy, and has spoken out strongly in favour of greater justice and opportunity for the downtrodden in the world’s slums. He, too, has reorganised the Vatican bureaucracy, appointing cardinals whom he trusts to carry out the priorities he has laid down.

Both men, with influence over vast numbers of nominal Christians and their political leaders, now look set to make the running in peace-making. Both are determined to halt the deterioration in Christian-Muslim relations around the world. And both are not afraid to speak out, unambiguously, in condemning violence and prejudice. The Most Revd Justin Welby called the stoning of the woman in Lahore a “revolting lynching” and said he had been “utterly horrified.” He has also called the abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls an “atrocious and inexcusable act.”

The Church leaders are not attempting to supplant United Nations negotiators or politicians with responsibility for maintaining global security. But at a time when the world’s leaders seem paralysed in the face of its more intractable problems – poverty, injustice, ethnic conflict and civil wars – maybe the Church is rediscovering a role that could make it a formidable political as well as moral force: the role of championing humanitarian causes and chastising those who fail to take a stand against war, conflict and violence.   

This is a refreshing commentary, from the web-site ‘Diplomat’, on the perceived value of current Church Leaders – Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, ++ Justin Welby – emerging as intentional peace-makers on the world stage.
At a time when international organisations seem hamstrung, because of competing political views about the necessity (or desirability) of joint intervention in local political situations, it seems only the Churches, and other religious organisations that are intent on peace-making, are free to act as negotiators for peace and cooperation between conflicting parties.
That Christian Leaders must be involved – from the point of view of the call of the Gospel – in this important ministry should be obvious to all who are called to follow Christ, it is equally important that individuals in the various Churches add our prayers to theirs – in a combined effort to succeed where other, more worldy, efforts have failed:
“Lord, make us instruments of your peace; where there is hatred, let us show love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where is darkness may we shed light, where there is sadness, bring Joy.”
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand 
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Why Vicky Beeching coming out matters

Long admired by conservative evangelicals, Vicky Beeching can hopefully bring about an acceptance of homosexuality among Christians

Vicky Beeching
The singer and songwriter Vicky Beeching, who has come out as gay, ‘has been a star of the Bible belt and a mainstay of the British evangelical scene’

The silence was awkward for him and beautiful for me. It happened at a conference last year run by a group from Holy Trinity Brompton, an influential evangelical Anglican church that counts the Archbishop of Canterbury among its supporters. And yet, surely knowing that the audience weren’t exactly Westboro Baptists, the speaker expected us to be noisily complicit with his rabid homophobia.

The preacher spoke of the “darkness” in our nation and with incredulity gave as an example the fact that schools in Northern Ireland teach that homosexuality is acceptable. “Are they doing that here?” he inquired of the hundreds assembled. But the assembly, hitherto effusive with their applause and amens, made no sound. The preacher was peeved and as silent second followed silent second, facetiously asked: “Shall we hold hands and contact the living?”

This moment seemed significant. The evangelical wing of the Church of England was standing up to homophobia. But it was doing so by sitting down and saying nothing.

This is part of the complex backdrop against which last week a woman named Vicky Beeching came out as gay. In 2014, this shouldn’t be a story. But since it may lead to change in Britain’s constitution and save lives, everyone should pay attention.

With 45,000 Twitter followers and a regular slot on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, Beeching is arguably the most influential Christian of her generation. She is, among other things, a singer and songwriter, and has long been admired by conservative evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic. She has been a star of the Bible belt and a mainstay of the British evangelical scene, from where she hails.

A perception remains that the C of E’s only relevant contribution to national life is as an organiser of village fetes and purveyor of cake. But it also has a confident and thriving evangelical wing. This often does good in the areas it serves but is part of the barrier to gay people who want to marry in their local Anglican church. Opinions within it vary widely and many evangelicals abhor homophobia. But two truths apply almost invariably to its churches: that they are members of the Evangelical Alliance, which appears equivocal on whether homosexuality is inherently sinful, and that they view Beeching as one of their own. Since knowing a gay person often changes people’s minds on the issue, there can be hope that Beeching coming out can help shift the centre of gravity and end an institutional and constitutional injustice.

But this issue extends beyond the C of E. Beeching’s experience of homophobia among Christians has left her literally scarred: her forehead is marked by a disease resulting from her turmoil. Some have fared even worse – a young gay American killed himself following an alleged “exorcism”, while concerns have been expressed about the effect of homophobic preaching on others who have taken their lives.

Today in Britain, the US and elsewhere, gay young people are being told by men and women in whom they place their trust that their feelings result from demonic possession and can be prayed away. Beeching tells of being “exorcised” at a festival for young Christians. I know gay Christians who speak of similarly scarring experiences. Emotional and spiritual abuse has been and is being perpetrated against gay young people. It must stop.

Church leaders understandably don’t want to appear obsessed with sex but this is a matter of life and death. Festivals for young Christians, such as Soul Survivor, must be explicit about their acceptance of homosexuality, and the wider church’s words on the issue must be matched with actions. The campaign against homophobic bullying in C of E schools is welcome, but when the church itself fails to treat gay relationships as equal to heterosexual relationships, its message is undermined.

Three years ago, the Christian activist Symon Hill embarked on a pilgrimage of repentance for his former homophobia. It’s now time for the church as a whole to follow in his footsteps. As a means of opposing injustice, sitting down and saying nothing may be polite but it’s not what Jesus did, and it’s not what Beeching’s story demands.


For me, the most telling paragraphs in Singer-Songwriter Vicky Beecham’s ‘Coming-Out’ testimony were these words, which describe the reaction to a homophobic speakers tirade at a Conference run by Holy Trinity Church, Brompton:

“The preacher spoke of the “darkness” in our nation and with incredulity gave as an example the fact that schools in Northern Ireland teach that homosexuality is acceptable. “Are they doing that here?” he inquired of the hundreds assembled. But the assembly, hitherto effusive with their applause and amens, made no sound. The preacher was peeved and as silent second followed silent second, facetiously asked: “Shall we hold hands and contact the living?”

“This moment seemed significant. The evangelical wing of the Church of England was standing up to homophobia. But it was doing so by sitting down and saying nothing.”

This experience of the latest in the Evangelical Anglican world to admit to her innate attraction to people of the same-sex would seem to be a word of hope – for all those evangelical Anglicans who have been taught that same-sex attraction is evil – or, at least, not compatible with Biblical Faith. It is people like Vicky, who have found they can no longer live a lie concerning their intimate inner sexual-orientation – and who have a high profile in the Anglican Church – that will help our Church to come to terms with the fact that God’s human creation is infinitely more varied than some might care to believe.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Evangelical Support for Vicky Beeching – (Singer Song-Writer)

Press Release – 16th August 2014

for immediate use

Evangelical support for Vicky Beeching

Following Vicky Beeching’s public announcement that she is gay, Accepting Evangelicals is proud to fully support her and salutes her courage and openness in talking about her sexuality.

Vicky is a Patron of Accepting Evangelicals, which is working towards the acceptance of same-sex relationships and LGBT people at every level of church life.

Accepting Evangelicals Director Benny Hazlehurst said:

“It is hard enough to ‘come out’ to your family and close friends – so how hard must it have been for Vicky Beeching to talk publicly about being a lesbian for the first time?  Her Twitter following alone is 50,000 strong, many of whom are conservative evangelical Christians from the American Bible belt.  I know her public stance is already giving hope to many LGB&T Christians who have felt unable to be themselves in church.”

Her fellow Patrons have been quick to back her and to draw attention to implications for the Church which has caused her and others such pain and isolation.

Fellow Patron, Rev Steve Chalke said,

 “Vicky’s bold and brave statement – filled with courage, honesty and vulnerability – asks deep questions of our churches, at the same time as pointing the path to the future. How have so many of us ended up as another dimension of people’s exclusion rather than a deliverance from it? We need to find new ways of offering the always-given welcome and embrace of God to all.”

Bishop David Gillett has also drawn attention to the hurt and pain which many LGBT people face in church,

“Vicky Beeching has done an enormous favour to the Church by stating so winsomely and convincingly that to be gay is OK because that is how God made her. Many LGBT people who have been hurt by attitudes within the Church will be greatly encouraged by her stand. For the rest of us, I hope it will more quickly spur us on to journey together to accept and celebrate the presence and relationships of LGBT people within our congregations.”

Vicky Beeching will be speaking about faith and sexuality at our 10th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday 18th October at St John’s Church Waterloo.  The event starts at 2pm.


Note for Editors:

Accepting Evangelicals is an open network of Evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Vicky Beeching is a well known broadcaster, songwriter, and writer on religion and ethics. She studied theology at Oxford and is currently doing doctoral research at Durham with a focus on Christianity, gender and sexuality. Appearing on national TV and radio several times a week, she comments on religious and current affairs and regularly presents Radio 4′s Thought For The Day.
Rev Steve Chalke is a Baptist minister, Founder of Oasis Global & Stop The Traffik, and a United Nations Special Advisor on Community Action Against Human Trafficking.  He is Church Leader at Oasis Waterloo and was awarded the MBE in 2004 for services to social inclusion.
The Rt Rev David Gillett was Bishop of Bolton until his retirement in 2008. David has huge experience in evangelical theological education having been Principal of Trinity Theological College in Bristol for 11 years, and the first Director of Extension Studies at St John’s Nottingham. He trained for the ministry at Oak Hill, and has also been a travelling secretary for Pathfinders and CYFA. He is now honorary assistant Bishop and interfaith advisor in the Diocese of Norwich.
Accepting Evangelicals 10th Anniversary Celebration – for more information visit
For further comment and enquiries, please contact:
Rev Benny Hazlehurst, Director, Accepting Evangelicals 07788 426090

Other connections:

Letter in the Church Times – 11th February 2011 – Ex-gay Therapy
Anglican Coalition Press Release – 20th October 2010 
 Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury 
Right Direction – Wrong Turn – Archbishop’s Pentecost Letter 2010
Letter in the Church Times – 14th March 2010 – Bishop James Jones
            For those Evangelical Christians in New Zealand who accept the fact that Christians of the LGBTI Community have a right to our respect as fellow members of the Body of Christ, this article spells out the sort of support that has been given in the U.K. for the recent ‘coming-out’ of Singer-Songwriter, Vicky Beecham.
            Vicky’sGospel music is well known in the Bible Belt of the United States, so that one hopes her honesty in publicly revealing her Gay orientation will not have the unintentional result of getting her music banned in Evangelical churches there.
            Vicky is a personal friend of the daughter of The Right Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and one can be grateful for the fact that there is at least one openly-Gay person so near to that ‘throne of grace’ in Canterbury, U.K.
            Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Sermon for the Feast of Our Lady @ SMAA, Christchurch


17 AUGUST 2014 – S.M.A.A. – 8AM & 10AM MASSES – Father Ron Smith

The Lord Himself will give you a Sign -

In an earlier section from the Prophecy of Isaiah, we find that Ahaz was given a sign as to the destiny of the House and lineage of David, and its importance for the coming of the promised Messiah: “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanu-el – a word which means ‘God is with us’.

In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians today, we heard the story of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: of how “God’s Son, (was) born of a woman, born as a Jew and under the Law – in order to redeem those who were under the Law, so that they might receive adoption as children.”. This was a new situation, where not only Jews, but all who would come to accept Jesus as the Son of God would become the children of God, enabled by the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism to call God their Father.

Today, when we commemorate the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady into Heaven – a day when our Orthodox Brothers and Sisters commemorate what they are pleased to called the Dormition, or the Falling Asleep of Our Lady; the Church lectionary draws our attention – first – to the prophecies about her role in the coming of the Messiah; and secondly, to the vital part that Mary’s humble obedience actually played in the Incarnation of Jesus, as Messiah and Redeemer of the world.

Over a year ago, while we were in Assisi, my wife, Diana and I were privileged to visit the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, a great cathedral-type structure built over the remains of the tiny chapel of the Portiuncula, a word meaning ‘Little Portion’, where Saint Francis of Assisi lived with his friars and ministered to the local lepers – and where he later greeted Saint Clare when she escaped her family to join in the mission of the Brothers, before forming her own Order of Poor Clares later on. On entering the Basilica, one’s attention is immediately drawn to the queue of pilgrims lining up to pray in the tiny jewel of a chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and All the Angels; for whom Francis, Clare, and all Franciscans down the ages, have maintained a very special devotion.

As the closest human being to the person of Jesus, Mary was seen to be the touchstone between God and all humanity, and thus worthy of special love and devotion.

Later on our journeying in Europe, we took a special train out of the Spanish City of Barcelona to join the pilgrims to the mountain Monastery of Montserrat, where a re-discovered ancient statue of the Blessed Virgin and Child has been placed in a small chapel above the High Altar in the sanctuary of the monastery church. To get to the statue, we had to queue for 1 and 3/4 hours, making our way through the many side-chapels of the monastery building – which afforded us the view of many works of ecclesiastical art, and a reminder of the illustrious stream of visitors from various religious orders in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches that have made their own pilgrimage to Our Lady of Montserrat.

In the queue in front of us were a lovely young English couple who, though they admitted to no particular religious affiliation, still found themselves seeking out the religious shrines of Europe because of what they described as the thrill of the atmosphere of such places. They were quite willing to spend 1.3/4 hours to see the statue, and no doubt would gain something for their trouble. It made us think how God might just be able to work through the curiosity of this young couple to teach them something about the faith of other people, and thereby, perhaps ignite a spark of faith in their own hearts for having taken the trouble to make their pilgrimage.

On this day, 17 August, 2014, there will be Pilgrims processing through the Village of Walsingham (England’s Nazareth) to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, the site of a appearance of Christ’s Mother to the Lady Richeldis. The Anglican Shrine was renewed after the Reformation and occupies the original site. The former Slipper Chapel – so-named because of its location near the Shrine, was the place where people started their official pilgrimage by removing their shoes and walking barefoot to the shrine proper.

The Slipper Chapel has now been re-built as a large church, and has become the location of the Roman Catholic Shrine pilgrimage – although there is still a small chapel used by the Roman Catholics  within the premises of the original, Anglican Shrine. Also, in the Anglican Shrine, there is a small chapel used by the Orthodox – though they, too, have their own separate Shrine in the village of Walsingham.

My belief in the relevance of Our Lady in my own faith journey took a new direction when I was a Franciscan Brother in Brisbane, attending a charismatic Mass in a small Roman Catholic Church in the suburbs. The Preacher was a Roman Catholic Sister who, during the course of her homily, asked if any of us in the congregation had never known their birth mother. Immediately my ears pricked up. My mother had been ill of a heart complaint when I was born, so that I was delivered by Caesarean Section, and although my mother lived for another 18 months, she was an invalid and unable to take care of me and I was fostered out to another family. Consequently, I had no recollection of my own mother – so what the sister was saying had relevance to me. “Close your eyes”, she said, “and imagine the mother of Jesus standing right in front of you and holding out her arms towards you”, After a few moments, during which the congregation was silent, I had the distinct impression of someone picking me up and enfolding me in their arms. From that moment on, I felt that the Mother of Jesus had become my substitute mother. I had no doubt that the Blessed Virgin Mary was now a factor in my life, and therefore, worthy of my special devotion.

Today’s Gospel at Mass follows on from St. Luke’s description of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, whose miraculous pregnancy with John the Baptist had been revealed to Mary at the Annunciation. Luke tells us that Elizabeth greeted Mary with the word’s “Blessed are you among women, and blest is the fruit of your womb.” One has to wonder how on earth Elizabeth could have known of Mary’s situation – except that, as the Gospel tells us: Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, informing her of what was going on. And, as if to corroborate this amazing revelation, we are told the “The child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy” at meeting his cousin – who would become his Saviour – in the womb of Mary. This meeting of the two children, in utero must have been a defining moment for both Mary and Elizabeth – when Mary’s conception of Jesus was actually confirmed.

Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting, as we now know, was spelled out in the words of the Magnificat. “All generations shall call me blest.” So our honouring of Mary and of her Assumption into Heaven can be seen as her due reward for providing the human frame for God’s Son at the Incarnation.

Some Christians have a problem with the thought of Mary being assumed into heaven. However, if it was good enough for the Old Testament Prophet, Elijah, to be taken up into heaven on a whirlwind; would God not be prepared for the Mother of God’s Son to be given a like reward for her faithfulness? Mary is often called the ‘Queen of Heaven’ in Roman Catholic and Orthodox circles, so it behoves us to accord to her the honour she has been given by the universal Church. And so we petition, with all generations of the Church, for the prayers of Our Lady for ourselves and those others who are promised salvation through the sacrifice of her Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” Our heartfelt response might be:

“Holy Mary, Mother of God; pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen. Pray for us, O Great Mother of God, Saint Michael and all you God’s Saints, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

Father Ron Smith, St. Michael & All Angels, Christchurch, New Zealand


Below, see the link to the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham:,d.dGc

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‘Questions of Authority’ – Dr. Emma Percy – for Jesuit ‘Thinking Faith’

Thinking Faith – A journal of the Jesuit Society in the UK

The Church of England and Women Bishops: Questions of authority

Posted on: 15th August 2014  |

Author: Rev Dr Emma Percy

The legislation passed last month to allow the consecration of women bishops in the Church of England, and the lengthy discussions which preceded this, brought to the fore many questions about decision-making in the established Church. Thinking Faith asked Rev Dr Emma Percy to give an account of the structures of authority within the Church of England and explain how she sees the workings of the Spirit therein.

On 14 July 2014, the General Synod of the Church of England passed legislation to allow a woman, suitably qualified, to be consecrated as a bishop.  It brings to an end decades of debate during which the orders of deacon, priest and bishop have been gradually opened to women.   This article explores the nature of decision-making in the Church of England around this issue and how this reflects the ambiguous nature of authority within our Church.  I write as one of the women who was selected as a deaconess, ordained as a deacon and then waited four years for ordination as a priest.  I have campaigned for the opening of all orders to women, so my position is inevitably partial.

Trying to square a circle

The Church of England is a complex mix of catholic and protestant ecclesiology.  We are episcopally led, synodically governed and ‘by-law-established’.  Thus, there is a mixture of democracy and hierarchy, of lay and clergy leadership.  For most Anglicans in England, it is assumed that the Holy Spirit works in and through the processes that have evolved over time.  A recent report on the structures for shaping episcopal appointments (2001) had no trouble titling itself Working with the Spirit: Choosing Diocesan Bishops.  The Church of England generally assumes that its structures – even quite recent ones – are ‘ordained’.  Thus pragmatic and expedient decisions will be narrated as the leading of the Spirit. As such, many Anglicans gradually come to believe that the changes we make to our structures are, in some respects, also God’s direction for the Church. 

However, some Anglicans believe that the Church of England does not have authority to make changes that have not been made by the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Churches that make up the majority of Christians in the world. We do not, for example, have the authority to ordain or consecrate women; authority for such changes lies beyond our Church.  Others still believe that all decisions must be measured against a particular way of reading scripture; while the majority may interpret the bible in ways that can accommodate women in authority, this group cannot understand the texts in this way.  For them, all authority is subject to the test of their scriptural reading.  This includes the authority of a bishop or of synod.

The tradition of the Church of England is to look, where possible, for consensus, and to try to maintain a broad Church where differences are tolerated.  In the debates over the admission of women to Holy orders, this has often meant trying to square a circle: can a Church which claims the authority to ordain women, respect and honour those who do not believe that these ordinations are valid? Thus, the debates over these last decades have not simply been about the theology of women’s ordination, but about how to hold together contradictory ideas about authority.  In moving to open all orders to women, legislation has been prepared which has needed to be approved by the House of Bishops, the General Synod and the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament.  It is a process full of revision and scrutiny that inevitably leads to compromises.  Frequently, this means that those looking from the outside accuse the Church of fudging issues and sitting on the fence.

The legacy of 1992: Two integrities

In preparing legislation to allow women to be consecrated as bishops, the Church had to deal with the legacy of decisions made when women were admitted to the priesthood. The 1992 legislation that allowed women to be ordained to the priesthood made provisions for clergy and parishes that could not in conscience accept the ministry of a woman priest. They could pass resolutions to prevent either a woman presiding at the Eucharist in their parish (Resolution A) or becoming an Incumbent (Resolution B). These resolutions reflected the different concerns of those opposed to the ordination of women: some questioned a woman’s sacramental integrity as a priest, whilst others were concerned about women in leadership roles.

This legislation, like all major changes, had gone through drafts and revisions.  It had been passed by the dioceses and came to Synod in November 1992, where it needed a two thirds majority in each of the houses: Bishops, Clergy and Laity. It received the necessary majority with an extremely tight vote in the House of Laity.  There was much jubilation from those in support, alongside concern for those who were opposed. It was suggested that Parliament, which contained a number of prominent MP’s opposed to the change, might not ratify the legislation if better provision was not provided for opponents.  So the House of Bishops decided to act and strengthen the provision for those opposed.  They produced a paper called The Bonds of Peace, which became the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, 1993. It was passed by Synod in an attempt to hold the Church together.  This was a piece of legislation which had not gone through all of the revisions, amendments and diocesan scrutiny of the main legislation.

This Act of Synod specifically allowed parishes and clergy to request the ministry of a bishop who had not participated in any ordinations of women; this became Resolution C.  It allowed for the creation of three Provincial Episcopal Visiting Bishops, soon to be known as the ‘Flying Bishops’, to care for those opposed to the admission of women to the priesthood.  Whilst the legislation had ensured that people could opt out of the ministry of a woman priest, this Act went further.  It meant that parishes and clergy could choose their bishop on the grounds of his stance on one aspect of church practice.  A diocesan male bishop, duly ordained and consecrated by the Church, could be declared, at some level, unsatisfactory because he had participated in the ordination of women.  The Act also led to the principle of ‘two integrities’ within the Church and thus a resistance to the original idea of reception of women’s ministry.  Those who opposed could live and work in a church within the Church, protected from the priestly ministry of women and the episcopal ministry of those who ordained them.

Understanding the effect of this Act helps to comprehend the difficulty of the discussions around the consecration of women bishops.  The major provision in the Act of Synod was for the wing of the Church worried about sacramental assurance; those who had concerns about women’s authority over men were provided for in the original legislation.  However, as the years have passed and parishes have encountered issues where they are in disagreement with their diocesan bishops, they have begun to call for their own episcopal provision. The Act of Synod had unwittingly opened the door to the suggestion that clergy and parishes should be able to call on a bishop of similar views to conduct episcopal ministry within their churches.  Parishes could judge whether or not their bishop was in tune with their theology. And the idea that this bishop might be a woman raises theological issues for those concerned about sacramental assurance and those who object to the authority of women over men.

In the bulk of the Church, the reception of women priests has been overwhelmingly positive.  Many who were troubled by the idea or actively campaigned against the change have found that the reality is fine.  The wider population whose relationship to the established Church is more tenuous have, by and large, come to see women clergy as normal and thus have been bemused by the fact that bishops still had to be male. Numbers training for the ministry have moved close to 50:50 men and women, and thus it has become increasingly difficult to justify why talented women clergy should not be selected as bishops.  For most of the Church, if women can be priests it makes no theological sense to say they cannot be bishops.

Yet, the policy of two integrities meant that those strongly opposed have been able to create areas of the Church which are women-free. If you do not accept that the Church had the authority to ordain women priests, then it definitely does not have the authority to consecrate them as bishops.  If women should not be in positions of authority over men, then they certainly should not be bishops, a role which requires male clergy to take an oath of canonical obedience.  Thus, the Church has faced a dilemma.  How do you create safe places for those who are opposed to women’s ordination, or consecration, whilst ensuring that a woman bishop has the full authority of a bishop?

The road to the new legislation

The first attempt to pass legislation to allow for the consecration of women to the episcopate was drawn up by a steering committee that had been tasked with holding together these two integrities.  It was a lengthy process of discussion and revision.  Compromise was expected from all sides.  When the measure eventually came for its initial approval by Synod, before being sent out for diocesan approval, the Archbishops intervened with an amendment to increase the provisions for those opposed.  Synod defeated this amendment as unworkable.  This was a difficult experience for many, as it meant defying the authority of the Archbishops.  The measure was then passed by all but three of the dioceses and was due for final approval in Synod in July 2012.  The House of Bishops, in an unusual intervention, amended the legislation (clause 5.1c).  The House of Clergy in Synod defeated this amendment, as it would have placed in law the right of a parish to choose their bishop according to their ‘theological conviction’.  No definition of the limits or discernment process of such theological conviction was given.  The final vote on the legislation was moved to November.

In November, the legislation returned to Synod with a new amendment, which it was hoped would satisfy all parties.  It did not, and the measure failed to get two thirds majority in the House of Laity.  The consequent distress within and beyond the Church came as a shock to many, especially those who had been caught up in the minutiae of legislative amendments.  Synod seemed out of step with the mind of the majority of the Church, and definitely out of step with the State.  Questions were raised in Parliament about a State Church which continued to discriminate legally against women.  Questions were raised in churches about the make up of synod.  The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury knew that this could not simply be left to the standard legislative procedure, which would have meant that the matter was closed for the next five years.

A new way of looking at the issue was initiated by the Archbishop.  There was a move away from a legislative solution in which all provisions would be enshrined in the law of the land.  Facilitated conversations between those with opposing views were held, and a new simpler legislation was presented.  Alongside the measure, all were asked to trust the House of Bishops and their declaration, which outlines the principles and conflict resolution procedures that will come into play when women are consecrated as bishops.  Part of this declaration is the statement that the Church has reached a clear decision on opening up all orders to women.  Yet, there is still a desire to find a way for those who cannot accept this decision to flourish within the Church.  The measure was passed with substantial majorities in all three Houses in July 2014.  It has now also been passed by the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. Part of the narrative in the July Synod was that the Holy Spirit had stopped us making poor legislation in November and brought us to a better place.

A public struggle

At its best, this whole process has been described as a way of living well with disagreement and difference.  At its worst it has been an attempt to hold together opposing views without seeking to discern where the truth lies. It has highlighted the diffuse and contested nature of authority within the Church.  This has been an argument about the authority of bishops, coming from those who wish to be able to question that authority when it does not conform to their own understanding of the truth.  It has been an argument about what authority the Church of England has to discern God’s leading for itself. It has been an argument about what role individual conscience plays for those who are representatives of a wider constituency.  It has been an argument about the authority of scripture, and how it is interpreted. And, in the midst of all of that, it has been an argument about gender, about how far changes in society should be reflected in the Church and whether the mission of the Church is best served by allowing all those called into ministry to feel affirmed and valued.  All of these arguments will rumble on and the Church of England will continue to do its theology in this pragmatic, diffuse – and, at times, incoherent – way. 

Those of us who find our spiritual home in this Church can be frustrated at times by the lack of clarity. I am not alone in finding it hard to live and work in a Church whose House of Bishops has declared that those who do not think I am a priest must be enabled to flourish.  However, I am committed to the breadth the Church represents and to an ecclesiology which allows for the uncovering of truth rather than its imposition. There is a sense in which all of our truths are partial and, even when I believe passionately that I am right, the process of debating, praying and campaigning for the truth as I see it becomes a means to hone my own understanding. I have had to deepen my knowledge of scripture and theology as I have wrestled with the ideas of others. This, though uncomfortable, has strengthened my voice and enabled me to speak well in other places of discrimination. The Church’s public struggle over issues of gender highlights continuing problems in gender relations, which are often unstated, in the wider world.

I am, though, concerned that we are, as a Church, less theologically literate than we were.  We are not immune to the spirit of the age and are tempted by soundbites, strap lines and neat answers. Yet, in this decision, where I might like a neat answer, we have a compromised one.  Women can be bishops but somehow we must honour the minorities who hold different views. Uncomfortable as it is, I know that this allows people to take their time in changing their opinions.  Many gradually altered their once stridently-held opinions against women priests once they had begun to experience the reality. I expect it will also be the case, in time, over women bishops; many will simply become accustomed to this new reality and their thinking will catch up.

Anglicans are clear that the Church is a fallible human institution through which God works.  In reading the bible stories we see time and again how God works in and through compromised individuals and communities.  Often the direction can only be understood when looking back. So as we prepare to discuss more uncomfortable issues around sexuality I hope that we can draw on good theology and reasoned debate. I fear, though, that it will be messy and painful, and the outside world will find much of it unedifying. In it all, I and others will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit can guide us, despite our failings, so that by the grace of God we may stumble towards the truth and the gospel of the Kingdom may be lived and taught.

 Rev Dr Emma Percy is Chaplain to Trinity College, Oxford.


An American academic friend of mine – a former Jesuit student, now living in Christchurch – has drawn this article to my attention. Published in the English Jesuit journal ‘Thinking Faith’, this response was made by Oxford academic, the Revd. Dr. Emma Percy to an invitation to offer her understanding of the  situation in the Church of England in the run-up to the Ordination of Women Bishops in the C.of E.

What Dr. Percy points out is the undoubted fact that the Church of England, in its desire to accommodate those in the Church who cannot accept Women Ordination, either as priests or bishops, has had to accept a compromise in the way it deals with the paradox of a situation of ‘Two Integrities’ that is now emerging as the only way to allow dissenters on the issue of Women’s Ordination as Bishops to remain within the Church.

That this implies two conflicting understandings of the theological process involved is something that has already occurred in the Church of England. With the Ordination of Women Priests Measure that was brought into use twenty years ago, a special category of ordaining Bishop, who did not agree with the legislation, was authorised to carry out episcopal functions in those parishes and situations that did not accept women clergy. These parishes became a ‘no-go’ area for women clergy. allowing only male clergy and bishops to function within their boundaries.

The 3 bishops given this special license to operate in ‘no women clergy’ parishes were called ‘Flying Bishops’ on account of their geographical mobility. This system has worked for the twenty years in which Women have been ordained Priests in the Church of England Those clergy who declined to be a part of the ‘2 Integrities’, were allowed to leave clerical posts with full pension rights. Many of them later became clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, those that were married being given special dispensation as married clergy – but with no right to become Bishops in that Church. The later-constituted ‘R.C. Ordinariate’, was able to accommodate both clergy and laity who wanted to retain their special ‘Anglican’ tradition (without Women Clergy, on grounds of conscientious objection), but under the authority of the R.C. Church. 

However, with the prospect of Women becoming Bishops, the situation has become more complicated. Bishops have a special authority in the Church – above that of priests – having themselves the authority to confirm and ordain, which, for those concerned with traditional patriarchal authority (some Anglo-Catholics and some Conservative Evangelicals) would seem a step too far, undermining their independence of Women as the confirming and ordaining authority in a diocese.

As Dr. Percy here states, the first attempt to accommodate the needs of those against Women Bishops failed. However, the General Synod of the Church of England in July of this year, negotiated a way through the impasse, by ensuring a way of allowing the 2 Integrities system to operate. This still needs the approval of the British Parliament and of the next Meeting of the C.of E. General Synod, which seems fairly assured.

The Jesuits in the Roman Catholic Church have always seemed to take a much more pragmatic line on issues of dogmatics and Church ethical issues than some other religious orders. So that this publication by ‘Thinking Faith’, in the English Province of that Order, might possibly signal the beginning of some dialogue on the Ministry of Women in that Church. An interesting fact is that the new Pope, Francis, is a Jesuit, with a leaning towards Franciscanism – a hopeful alliance!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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ABC’s Visit to Australia and New Zealand – (Church Times)

Welby in Australia

by Muriel Porter, Australia Correspondent – Posted: 15 Aug 2014 @ 12:10

Click to enlarge

EXPLORING possible changes that needed to be made to the Anglican Communion was the purpose of his visit to all 37 provinces of the Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in Melbourne last week.

Archbishop Welby’s Australian visit was the 29th in his programme of provincial visits; he was in the country for just one day.

Decisions about any changes were best made by the Communion as a whole, not in one place – and that included the next Lambeth Conference, “whenever that might be”, Archbishop Welby said.

“There is nothing magic about the number eight”, he said, meaning that the next Lambeth Conference was unlikely to be held in 2018, the year when it would be held according to the Lambeth timetable in place since 1948.              

His crowded Australian schedule included talks with the new Australian Primate, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, and a meeting with the Australian bishops. He also preached at the service of inauguration for Dr Freier’s term as Primate, held in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

Supporting Dr Freier’s call to the Australian government to offer asylum to the Christians from northern Iraq who were facing either forced conversion or death, Archbishop Welby said that what was happening there was “off the scale of human horror”.

What was happening in northern Iraq and Syria was “especially savage”, he said, but it was also part of  a “rising and increasingly serious persecution of Christians and other groups in many countries”.


This report from Australian correspondent, Muriel Porter, to the U.K. ‘Church Times’ reflects the uncertainty about when, or if, the next Lambeth Conference will take place.:

“Decisions about any changes were best made by the Communion as a whole, not in one place – and that included the next Lambeth Conference, “whenever that might be”, Archbishop Welby said.”

In implying that there was “nothing magic about the number 8′, the Archbishop of Canterbury was certainly discounting any strong expectation that the next Lambeth Conference would take place in 2018 – which would normally have been the expected date for the next Lambeth.

Also, in his intimation that Communion affairs decisions might not be limited to future Lambeth Conferences,  one cannot escape the importance of the ABC’s current round of talks with all of the Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion – the Australian and New Zealand visits being the latest of 30 Provincial Visits by Archbishop Welby.

In a new era of Internet Conferencing, it certainly would save an awful lot of expense – but at some inconvenience, it must be admitted – for the Bishops of the Communion to carry out a series of regional tele-conferences, which could then be followed by a conference of provincial Archbishops, which, given the state of a reluctance on the part of some Provinces to attend Lambeth, might just be the best way of conducting future Communion business.

On the other hand, it could be that a series of regional Bishops could set up their very own meetings, to reflect their own constituent concerns. In this way, perhaps GAFCON Bishops could carry out their own doctrinal and pastoral development, leaving other regions/Provinces of the Communion free to pursue the implementation of their regional priorities. In that way, perhaps a loose federation of local Anglican Churches could co-exist – without the demands of a Covenant-type relationship that was previously envisaged, but which has failed because of pastoral and doctrinal differences.

An example of such ‘living together with difference’ might be that of the Anglican Church in Australia, where the Sydney Archdiocese (at least, at this point in time) is allowed to co-exist with the rest of the Archdioceses of the Australian Province

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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