BREXIT and the Church of England in Europe

On Wednesday, as MPs began debating the different options, the Archbishop of Canterbury called for unity and for the referendum result to be respected. He wrote on Twitter: “It’s easy to tell MPs how badly they are doing, easy to abuse and threaten. But they have to decide for us and deserve respect. Let us pray for them . . . for a decision that has widespread support and for a process that brings national agreement

On Wednesday, as MPs began debating the different options, the Archbishop of Canterbury called for unity and for the referendum result to be respected. He wrote on Twitter: “It’s easy to tell MPs how badly they are doing, easy to abuse and threaten. But they have to decide for us and deserve respect. Let us pray for them . . . for a decision that has widespread support and for a process that brings national agreement.

OTHER STORIES: Not packing up, says Bishop in Europe as Britain begins EU exit HOPES and fears have been expressed on the formal commencement of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union

“Reconciliation is less about agreeing than about finding out how to disagree well. We must respect the vote of the people and unite our country.”

Archbishop Welby has previously stated that a second referendum should only take place “if Parliament has failed in its responsibilities” (News, 7 December).

Speaking in the House of Lords on Monday, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, said: “It is deeply disturbing to see that a routine part of the daily working life of an MP is that they and their staff endure verbal assaults, attacks and threats. It cannot be right that carrying a panic alarm is now a necessity for some MPs and that constituency offices and homes are considered as places of risk for them. . .

“Whatever happens next, approximately half of us will be unhappy and angry. We will need the kind of democracy that protects our freedoms and the values we hold dear.

“For democracy to be exercised, the space where it is practised — whether in the real world or online — must be kept safe, and those who are called to serve must be protected. This is not someone else’s job: it falls to all of us to call out hatred, abuse, intimidation and threat wherever we see it happening.”

BERLINER MISSIONSWERK/G. HERZOG –The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, with the Protestant Bishop of Berlin, Dr Markus Dröge (second from left), at Berlin Cathedral, on Sunday

In a sermon delivered at Berlin Cathedral on Sunday, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, called for solidarity between Christians in Europe.

She said: “We find ourselves in turbulent times. The ongoing discussions around Brexit mean that many of us are living with a profound feeling of uncertainty. Deep divisions in our society have been exposed, and now we are faced with an ongoing political process which risks deepening them still further.

“Our challenge in this time is not to pretend that we are all alike. We clearly are not. But to recognise, and hopefully learn in some small way to overcome our intrinsic nature which pushes away others and tries to carve out territory only for ourselves.”

This weekend, parish churches are being asked by the Archbishops to hold “tea and prayer drop-ins” to encourage reconciliation over Brexit (News, 22 March). The initiative, “Together”, is supported by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, told BBC Radio Essex on Sunday: “It’s not a big heavy agenda, but if you care about and are concerned about our cohesion as a community; if you have been troubled by some of the language and division that we’ve experienced over this issue . . . this is the first little step towards saying let’s put this behind us, even though right now, we don’t know how or why this is going to end.”

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This weekend’s edition of the U.K. ‘CHURCH TIMES’ has a variety of messages from Bishops of the Church of England – including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman; the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally; and the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell. These spoken concerns from the C.of E. hierarchy reflect the fact that the Church is seen by many in the U.K. and in Europe as an important element in the ongoing political and social fabric of Britain’s interaction with Europe.

Quite rightly (IMHO) these respective spokes-persons for the Church of England are pointing to the need for social cohesion and a respect for one another in the conflict that continues to unfold – now more desperately than ever in the light of the U.K. Parliament’s failure to come up with a common mind on the possible outcomes.

My own feeling – not living there but being a former citizen of the U.K. – is that Britain should never have left the European Union. However, I do recognise the difficulties some people there have with the fact that, with the E.U., determining the common economic and legal proprieties of each partner of the Union, Britain – along with all the other members – loses her prior right to determine local economic and justice issues that are special to her own particular interests and culture.

What is being exposed of course in all of this is the need to recognise that not only countries but individuals around the world – not only in Europe – are different from one another in their hopes, aspirations and capabilities, while yet retaining a common human nature that needs to be recognised and catered for. The ‘Common Good’ is something much more than the individual preference model – something that the Church itself has come to recognise in its dealing with ethical and social distinctions that make up the complexities of the human race.

As we here in New Zealand have suddenly discovered in our own little patch, since the horrific devastation suffered by our local Muslim population in Christchurch; we are ALL HUMAN BEINGS, created in the ‘Image and Likeness of The Creator’, which gives us a commonality that ought to be perceived as greater than our social, religious, economic, ethnic or social background.

Europe’s problems are different from those of us in New Zealand. However, what we all need to understand is that, as human beings, we are all equal in the sight of God. Each of us needs to respect and be respected by, the other – without fear or prejudice, which are negative qualities destined to divide and conquer us all. We Christians have to do our part in unifying, rather than separating ourselves from others and from one another. This was clearly the purpose of ‘true religion’ which recognises the value and worth of God’s intrinsic presence in all of God’s children. As we approach the great Christain Festival of Holy Week and Easter, we need to step back and re-discover the redemptive power of the death and resurrection of Jesus, who died for ALL, ‘that sins might be forgiven’. Deo Gratias!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

P.S. I am very interested in this Anglican Taonga link to the new book by Franciscan Friar Richard OFM, whose writing on the ‘Cosmic Christ’ alerts us to the distinct possibility of the universal nature of Christ’s redemption of the whole world:

Finding the 'Universal Christ'

https://religionnews.com/2019/03/29/in-new-book-richard-rohr-says-the-universal-christ-changes-everything/

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The evolution of episcopal ministry

Dear colleagues,

One essay question I like to pose to students in the Anglican History and Theology class is this: In the Anglican tradition, why are bishops seen as important? In other words, what are bishops good for? Alas, most students, perhaps wary of the essay ending up in the hands of an ordaining bishop, choose to write on another question.

Bishops are central to the Anglican tradition. But we often forget that the nature of episcopal ministry has changed many times over the course of church history. If St. Peter was the first pope, his ministry was a far cry from that of the regal popes of the medieval period or even bishops of the Church of England who today sit in the House of Lords. Augustine of Hippo was a bishop, but he had a ministry that was deeply local and contextual and tied to a relatively narrow geographic area.  Approaches to vestments have changed too. It is only relatively recently, for instance, that Anglican bishops began to default to wearing mitres. Today, our expectations of episcopal ministry are such that we expect bishops to be supported by staffs, offices, and all manner of other accoutrements—but this is a relatively recent understanding of what it means to be a bishop. Indeed, some would argue quite compellingly that the outsize focus on bishops in the church today is a detriment to building a culture of lay leadership in ministry across the church.

All of this came to mind as I read about the Diocese of the Arctic’s decision to elect three new suffragen bishops: one to replace a resignation and two new posts. (On Thursday last week, the Diocese of Montreal’s own Annie Ittoshat was elected to one of these posts.) The occupants of the two new posts will also serve as incumbents of parishes. In one way, this makes sense: the Arctic is a large, sparsely-populated, and not terribly wealthy diocese. Combining parish ministry and episcopal ministry makes good financial sense. Plus, it might helpfully lower the profile of bishops and allow “regular” Christians to live out the fullness of their calling. In another way, it’s more confusing: is the person a rector or a bishop? If the bishop is primarily the rector of a church, on what grounds is she or he granted a role in the larger councils of the church? ? (It’s not only in the Arctic that this happens, mind you: in the Diocese of Western Kansas, the bishop is not only bishop but also vicar of two parishes and a municipal prosecutor.)

As we think about the future shape of the church, the nature of episcopal ministry and the role of bishops in leading the church needs to be part of that conversation. Among much else, bishops offer leadership in mission, continuity with tradition, oversight of the church, a connection between the local church and the church universal, teaching for discipleship, and embody the church in the public square. Are the current structures of episcopal ministry best suited to the reality of the church today? Perhaps in some places they are. But perhaps in others, the role of bishop needs to continue its ongoing evolution so that the church can reach the fullness God is calling it to.

Faithfully yours, 
Jesse Zink 
Principal

This message was written by College Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. 

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Posted on the Anglican Church of Canada’s web-site, this article, by College Principal Jesse Zink of the University of Montreal, challenges his students with the perrennial question of the need for, and relevance of, bishops in today’s Church.

While the origin of the episcopal ministry is scripturally referred to in the call of Jesus to Peter, to “Feed my sheep”; the modern calling of a bishop is much more than just an active pastoral role. The Pope is referred to in the Roman Catholic Tradition as the ‘Pastor Pastorum’ – the purely pastoral role of caring for the other pastors under his jurisdiction. This should lead us to the obvious answer to the question: “Who pastors the Chief Pastor?”, that it is Christ himself. However, one would like to think that all pastors – at whatever level, whether archbishop, bishop, priest, deacon or lay-leader – would want to resort to a life of prayer and sacramental activity that would connect him or her to the Christ they have vowed to serve.

Today’s administrative climate in the Church has different and perhaps more demanding calls upon the life of a bishop – whether diocesan or suffragan. The modern call for safeguarding, for instance, is becoming more demanding by the day – especially as the Church begins to look into its failed responsibility to the welfare of women and young people in its parochial and institutional activities.

The problem with all of this enlarged administrative responsibility is that the bishop can become regarded as more of a ‘gate-keeper’ than an enabler of the ministries that ought to be carried out by the clergy and the laity who make up the total Body of Christ in the local diocese. Perhaps there is still a need for bishops to be earthed in the local parish ministry – as is happening in Canada and North America. However, there would need to be a radical devolution of the responsibility today’s bishops are now expected to carry for the administration of a diocese.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Pope Francis on ‘Religious Liberty’

Conversion not your mission Pope tells Morocco Catholics

Monday, April 1st, 2019 – CATHNEWS.NZ

Pope Francis’s meetings in Morocco have underlined the importance of religious liberty and its connection to the dignity and rights owed to every person, regardless of their religion.

On Saturday, the first day of a two-day trip, he told Morocco’s Catholic community they should avoid attempting to convert Muslims. Instead, he suggested they should seek to have good ties with people of all faiths.

“Christians are a small minority in this country. Yet, to my mind, this is not a problem, even though I realize that at times it can be difficult for some of you,” he said at a meeting with Catholic community leaders in Rabat’s cathedral.

“The Church grows not through proselytism but by attraction,” Francis said to applause. “This means, dear friends, that our mission as baptised persons, priests and consecrated men and women, is not really determined by the number or size of spaces that we occupy, but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion,” he said.

Francis backs Morocco’s efforts to promote a moderate version of Islam.

“We believe that God created human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and he calls them to live as brothers and sisters and to spread the values of goodness, love and peace,” he said. “That is why freedom of conscience and religious freedom, which is not limited to freedom of worship alone, but allows all to live in accordance with their religious convictions, are inseparably linked to human dignity.”

In response, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI underlined the importance of education to tackle radicalism. He said the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) were created “to open up to one another and to know one another.”

Religions offer venues to fight against radicalism through knowing one another, which will help rise to the challenges of our tormented times through education, the king said. “To tackle radicalism, the solution is neither military nor financial; that solution has but one name: Education.”

The monarch noted that in the face of ideology-linked violence and extremism prevailing in many parts of the world today, “it is clear the dialogue between the Abrahamic religions is insufficient.”

He pleaded for rethinking the role of education in the struggle against extremism. The king says ignorance, or erroneous interpretation of the peaceful and humanity-celebrating messages of religions, is the primary source of many of the problems facing the world.

“My plea for education is an indictment of ignorance. It is binary conceptions and the fact of not knowing one another well enough that are threatening our civilisations; it is certainly not religion.” When taught, understood, and practised as recommended in the scriptures, religion can be a source of blossoming relations between people and countries, he said.

On Sunday when celebrating Mass, Francis told the congregation that he encourages them “to continue to let the culture of mercy grow, a culture in which no one looks at others with indifference, or averts his eyes in the face of their suffering.”

The languages used at the Mass reflected the fact that the Catholic community in Morocco is made up almost entirely of foreigners. The readings were in Spanish, Arabic and French; English, Portuguese and Italian were added for the prayers of the faithful.

More than a dozen Muslim leaders attended the Mass in a sign of friendship and were given seats near the front of the arena.

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In our country’s recent confrontation with the massacre of 50 Muslims at worship in their Christchurch mosques, we who are Christians have suddenly been confronted with the FACT that Muslims, though different in their approach to God from ourselves (who recognise Jesus as the source of our redemption); are also ‘children of Abraham’. Their shared inheritance of the Abrahamic Line (through Abram’s son, Ishmael) gives them a share in the life of The One we Christians worship as “The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ”.

All three Abrahamic Faith traditions – including that of our Jewish sisters and brothers – recognise that, for each one of us, there is only “One True God”.

The study of what is called ‘Comparative Religion’ has enabled some of us to see the connection between us which, sadly, has been blinded by acts of terrorism and disrespect by one side or the other in historical acts of aggressive behaviour. There are, as we know, other religious communities of people all seeking spiritual enlightenment like ourselves. We need to allow them to seek God in their own way, ‘without let or hindrance’. Only God has the power to ‘convert’. Our task is to witness to that power within us, that enables us to ‘Love our Neighbour’, as Jesus taught us to do – as Jesus said: “They will know you’re my disciples by your love”.

At the time of Saint Francis of Assisi, marauding armies of the Moslem Caliph were still carrying out acts of terrorism in Europe. However, this had been as a result of the provocation caused by the effects of the Christian ‘Crusades’. There is a story in the ‘Legenda of Saint Francis’ about him meeting up with the Caliph, and impressing this fierce warrior with his peaceful approach – which so entranced the Caliph, that he invited Francis to eat a meal with him before sending him on his way unharmed.

It is surely in this Spirit that Pope Francis has approached his Muslim counterparts on his recent visit to Morocco, where Christianity – like Islam in New Zealand – is largely the faith of a small foreign community. Peaceful co-existence is certainly the ‘Way’ of Francis of Assisi. This is one reason why Pope Francis feels the need to recognise the good that is in the hearts of peace-loving Muslims – a factor that is often not understood by Christians.

Jesus’ willingness to meet with people different from his own faith community – and to speak of their innate goodness, despite their obvious difference; commending them for what is commendable in their attitude toward God and their neighbours; should be an object lesson for all of us.

“We are all human beings” has been a common response to questions of our inter-Faith communities here in New Zealand – a reminder that Jesus Christ, whom we Christians recognise as our Saviour and Redeemer – “Came into the world to save Sinners”. And that’s every one of us!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

P.S. In complete contrast to this eirenic post; see, here, what is happening in Brunei:

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Toronto Bishops Response to ABC’s Lambeth Decision

College of Bishops’ Statement – Diocese of Toronto

Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 2019

Dear Friends in Christ,

As is publicly known, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, has invited all active bishops in the Anglican Communion to attend the Lambeth Conference in the summer of 2020. We are pleased that all active bishops have been invited to participate fully in Lambeth 2020, a reality that was not made possible at Lambeth 2008, when Bishop Gene Robinson was not invited.

It has been a long tradition for bishops’ spouses to be invited to attend Lambeth as well. However, this bidding has not been extended to same-gender spouses, including Bishop Kevin Robertson’s spouse, Mr. Mohan Sharma. This act of exclusion is troubling to us. While we recognize that the issues involved in a decision of this nature are many-faceted, we wish to express our dismay and sadness at the pain that this causes all of us within the College of Bishops, but in particular Bishop Kevin and Mohan as our friends and co-labourers in the gospel. St. Paul expressed it well in 1 Corinthians 12:26, If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…

We also acknowledge that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision not only touches Bishop Kevin and Mohan directly, but also sends ripples of sorrow, both locally and globally, especially within the LGBTQ community. Our diocese is strengthened, inspired and deepened by the faith and witness of our LGBTQ clergy and laity. As St. Paul continues in verse 26, …if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

The Diocese of Toronto is richly diverse in culture and language, seeking to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ. In many ways our diocese is the Anglican Communion in microcosm, and we strive, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to make room for a breadth of theological understandings, including on the nature of Christian marriage. And while we sometimes stumble, and do not always agree with each other, we pledge to continue to pray together, to serve the world together, and to seek always to walk together, only by the abundant grace of God.

The National House of Bishops will be gathering for the annual spring meeting this coming week. We anticipate that this matter will occupy some time on our agenda. And while we do not know the mind of the House, we think it is important to share how we as a College have been wrestling with this issue. First, we are united and stand in solidarity as sister and brother bishops in care and love for Bishop Kevin and Mohan. Second, all of the Toronto bishops will be accepting the invitation to be present at Lambeth. We believe that our participation in the conference is crucially important because it provides us with a significant opportunity to witness to the grace and mercy of Christ being expressed in our local context.

Our presence also gives us an opportunity to listen with humility to, and learn from, the rich and diverse voices and experiences of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Third, all of our spouses, including Mohan, will be going to England in 2020 in the spirit of mutual support and love. The degree to which each will participate in the conference is yet to be determined. Our spouses have walked together in ministry with us here in our diocese and continue to respond with supportive witness of each other within the worldwide Anglican community.
The theme of the Lambeth conference in 2020 is God’s Church for God’s World: walking, listening and witnessing together.

We hope that all of our sister and brother bishops from around the Communion will join us at Lambeth 2020. We ask for prayers for the Anglican Communion, and in particular for Archbishop Welby as he strives to gather the bishops of the Communion and seeks to be a faithful shepherd.

Please pray for the National House of Bishops as we gather this week, and pray for the College of Bishops as we uphold each other, and seek to be found faithful by the Good Shepherd on the last day.

Yours in Christ,
The College of Bishops

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
The Rt. Rev. Peter Fenty
The Rt. Rev. Riscylla Shaw
The Rt. Rev. Kevin Robertson
The Rt. Rev. Jenny Andison

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Having already posted an article from the Chair of the Council of Kent University in Canterbury – the site of the next Lambeth Conference – questioning the exclusion of the partners of same-sex married bishops; this new item, from the Anglican Diocese of Toronto’s College of Bishops, clearly shows their disappointment at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to exclude the partners of such bishops while inviting the bishops themselves.

This protest, when considered together with the official statement by the Episcopal Church in the U.S. (TEC’s) National Convention, of their profound disappointment with the exclusion of their own same-sex partnered bishops’ spouses; is echoed by many other Anglican around the world who do not approve of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s obvious attempt to accommodate the institutional homophobia of the GAFCON Prelates, who have refused to sit at the table with homosexual bishops. The irony here, of course, is that such bishops have been invited to Lambeth. It is only their spouses who have been left out. But will this appease GAFCON?

From my previous post, which shows the University of Kent’s unwillingness to go along with the exclusivist policy of the ABC, which impinges on the University’s charter of inclusion; it will be seen that the University is offering to accommodate those same-sex spouses who would otherwise be left out by the ABS’s decision.

If the ABC goes ahead with his original decision – which he is clearly convinced could dissuade the GAFCON bishops from absenting themselves from Lambeth 2020 (even though most of the GAFCON bishops have declared their lack of interest in attending a conference that includes same-sex partnered bishops) – there could be a distinct ‘moment of truth‘, when he is made to realise that his plan did not work.

This could then accelerate the process of division that the GAFCON bishops Separatists have already initiated by holding their own conferences and by continuing their policy of planting their own Churches in other parts of the Anglican Communion. Some think that this is, in any case, almost inevitable, and that the ABC should reverse his decision, allowing same-sex partners to attend Lambeth.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Kent University questions Lambeth Conference policy

University of Kent to ‘raise concerns’ with Archbishop of Canterbury over conference banning gay partners

 | Updated: 11:25, 25 March 2019

University of Kent bosses are seeking a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury to raise “concerns” over a conference banning same-sex partners.

Its Canterbury campus will be the venue for the 2020 Lambeth Conference, a meeting of Anglican bishops and their spouses from around the world which takes place once a decade.

But the university, which has hosted the conference since 1978, came under fire last week after it emerged that the partners of gay bishops, who are taking part for the first time, have not been invited.

University Vice Chancellor Karen Cox. Picture: Beth Roo
University Vice Chancellor Karen Cox. Picture: Beth Roo

The decision has sparked widespread criticism from staff, students and members of the public, who called the decision “spineless” and “shocking”.

In a statement, Vice Chancellor Professor Karen Cox, and Sir David Warren, Chair of Council, have since conceded that “exclusion of same sex spouses, on grounds of orientation, would be contrary to the values of the university”.

They added: “The University of Kent is an organisation that is proud of its progressive values, philosophy and record of diversity and inclusion. “We are committed to the creation and support of a balanced, inclusive and diverse community. “We welcome – whether as staff, students, stakeholders or visitors – people of all backgrounds, orientations and communities. Welcome and inclusion are key to who we are.”

The University of Kent has received widespread criticism for hosting the Lambeth Conference
The University of Kent has received widespread criticism for hosting the Lambeth Conference
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

It comes days after KentOnline publicised concerns from students that the university was putting “commercial interests above their moral values.”

It had previously said that the conference, which costs £4,950 per person to attend, is lawful because of a loophole in the Equality Act applying to religious organisations and that while it would not “apply such a prohibition to any event we were running directly”, it had to respect its clients’ wishes.

However, it now says “we also believe there are significant ethical concerns raised”, which were discussed at meeting of the University Council, its highest governing body, on Friday.

The university’s management says it will be seeking a meeting with Lambeth Conference organisers, including the Archbishop, to “bring council’s concerns to their attention and discuss the issues.”

It has also guaranteed that accommodation will be made available on campus to any spouses affected by the decision who wish to stay in Canterbury during the conference.

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After complaints made by staff, students and others concerned about the reputation of the University of Kent as an inclusive institution; the Vice Chancellor and the Chair of the University Council have decided to re-consider their decision to host the next Lambeth Conference on the Kent University campus.

This does present a real problem for the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose personal invitations have already been sent out to accredited bishops of the Anglican Communion and their spouses – invitations that do not include the spouses of same-sex partnered bishops.

In fact, the ABC – or his representatives – have already advised those same-sex partnered bishops (a distinct minority in the whole communion) that their partners will definitely not be welcome at the conference – even though the partners of their heterosexually-partnered bishop-colleagues have been invited.

This distinction in hospitality is seen – by students staff and members of the public in the U.K., as a blow against the University’s charter of inclusivity, and therefore, an affront to the minority of bishops concerned and their legal spouses.

It will be interesting to see whether – in the light of this public protest – the ABC and the organisers of the Lambeth Conference will react in a way that would satisfy the University’s (and the general public’s) reaction to what is perceived as homophobic attitudes on the part of the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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C. of E. Ambivalence on S/S Marriage Blessings

MARCH 22, 2019 BY ALIGHTBOWN

Speaking of sexual irony.

Earlier this week I was privileged to take the funeral of a lovely man, let’s call him Frank. The funeral took place in a crematorium and was extremely well attended. Frank had spent much of his adult life living in a rural part of Oxfordshire but originally hailed from Birmingham. I reckon that just over 100 people attended the funeral including Frank’s civil partner, let’s call him Jim.

Everyone at the funeral was asked to wear a rainbow emblem, which they did without shame or embarrassment. I wore one on my stole. Frank had an old fashioned Anglo Catholic faith and Jim asked me to make sure that this was reflected in the service. I was asked, no instructed, to make sure that I wore a purple stole (which I would have done in any case) over my cassock and surplice.

I don’t know this for sure but I suspect that the majority of the congregation were heterosexual, and yet they sported their rainbow emblems with pride. Their love for Frank and their delight in his civil partnership with Jim was clear and manifest. The beauty and dignity of their forty year relationship was honoured through the tributes. As far as I can tell everyone was thrilled that Frank had been able to enjoy a long-term, monogamous, faithful and latterly covenanted relationship with Jim. The love and support for Jim was both heart-felt and genuine. It was a beautiful service. As I say: to officiate was a privilege.

And yet driving home from the funeral I felt a real sense of sadness and, to some extent – well a considerable extent – shame; shame that we, the Church of England, were able to speak well of Frank in death when we couldn’t bring ourselves to do so in life.

Shame that we could speak well of Frank and Jim’s relationship in death, when we couldn’t formally, liturgically, affirm it in life.

Shame that the funeral liturgy makes it clear that ‘you (Jesus) offered eternal life to those who believe,’ whilst so often the Church of England wants to add ‘but terms and conditions apply.’ It’s a shameful irony that so many of those who would count themselves as true heirs to the reformation seem so insistent on a theology of salvation through (sexual) works.

Shame that I was able to ask God to ‘remember for good your servant Frank as we also remember him,’ in the expectation that God will ‘bring all who rest in Christ into the fullness of your kingdom where sins have been forgiven and death is no more,’ when a very significant constituency in the Church of England continue to insist that homosexuality is the unforgivable sin.

Frank and Jim’s civil partnership was, by all accounts, a beautiful ceremony, followed by a wonderful ‘wedding banquet.’  I know that they both enjoyed their big day, but the shame and sadness is this: Frank wanted his relationship, his long-term, faithful and monogamous relationship, to be formally and liturgically affirmed, signed, sealed and delivered by the Church and, in a church.

I am grateful that I was able to do for Frank in death that which the church wouldn’t do in life, but at the same time I felt a deep sense of sadness and shame.

The fact that the Church of England liturgically enables her ministers to speak well of an individual and their relationship at death, but not in life, is the cruelty, the hypocrisy, the irony, the sadness and the shame.

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One of my very favourite blogs is this one – ‘Theoreo’ – hosted by Fr. Andrew Lightbown, a Church of England priest, whose family ties do not prevent him from championing the cause of the LGBTI+ Community in the U.K.

The Church of England has not yet officially offered any service of the Blessing of a Same-Sex Union in their churches – despite the fact that there are many S/S couples worshipping in the C. of E. whose monogamous relationship is already recognised by most of their fellow congregants in their parish. The irony here, as Fr. Andrew points out, is that there is nothing to prevent the Church from celebrating the funeral of a partner in a Same-Sex Relationship. The fact that this can be publicly celebrated with dignity and loving remembrance of the person concerned, seems to ignore the crucial fact of their participation in a relationship that the Church is not yet ready or willing to officially recognise as faithful and wholesome!

When the Church can recognise and celebrate the Christian Marriage of a couple – one of whom at least has been married and divorced previously – in a public ceremony, without requiring the explicit permission of the local bishop; thus contravening the stricter biblical understanding of one man and one woman marriage; it does seem to outsiders at least that the Church is being hypocritical in its refusal to publicly recognise the faithful and loving relationship of a same-sex couple whose faith is able to sustain their own understanding of their monogamous committed partnership.

I thank God that our Anglican Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand (ACANZP) has made the decision to allow for the Church Blessing of a Same-Sex Couple whose union has been recognised by the State. The religious requirement is that this Blessing be agreeable to the local Anglican bishop and to the priest and congregation of the church where the ceremony is to take place. In this decision, it is taken for granted that the Couple are making a commitment for life and that they understand the spiritual nature of the Blessing they are asking for.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Same Sex Marriage & Scripture: Affirming Evangelical Response (Part 1)

Posted on October 16, 2018by Jayne Ozanne

by Rt Revd David Gillett, Principal of Trinity Theological College, Bristol (1989-1999) and is the former Bishop of Bolton

David Gillett

A group of evangelical bishops have recently written a letter asking for no change or development in our understanding of marriage in the forthcoming Bishops’ “Living in Love and Faith” document (aka the Teaching document).  They recognise both that we face many challenges today about sexuality and marriage and also that, over the years, the way we express the tradition in various other areas has developed.  In this instance, however, they call for there to be no development because the teaching of Scripture, as traditionally understood, has to be preserved.

At one time I would have agreed with them but, while still holding wholeheartedly to the fundamental importance and authority of Scripture, I believe we should be looking to expand our understanding of marriage in the light of the questions asked of those Scriptures by our understanding of sexuality and gender today.

At the outset, however, I happily concur with the fundamental point they make about the process we face: ‘As God’s people carefully re-read Scripture together, allowing it to teach us, we may be challenged where we are wrong and be led into deep learning, serious intellectual persuasion, and heart-felt repentance for past errors.’ Amen to that!

For many evangelicals the Bible has one clear meaning which concludes that the will of God can be read straight off from the pages of Scripture so that there is a correct answer to most major questions of ethics. Over the years many evangelicals have added what I believe is a deeper and more nuanced understanding to this starting point.

One major influence has been the approach of the American theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, and his championing of Narrative Theology. This reminds us that the Bible is first and foremost a story, the story of God’s involvement with humanity. It is the story which provides the framework for the whole of our understanding and way of life. Its authority is transformative, not just in the truths it reveals at first glance, but in the way it invites us to inhabit the story and to discover its life transforming power in our daily lives.

Walter Brueggemann, the renowned Old Testament scholar, also counsels us to believe that there is often more than one appropriate answer to an issue when we consider a particular verse or passage of the Bible. He asks us to see that many texts can rightly be interpreted in a variety of ways to offer different approaches which are valid for different people in different situations. He criticizes ‘the pervasive Western, Christian propensity to flatten, to refuse ambiguity, to lose density, and to give universalizing closure… Classical Western theological discourse, wants to overcome all ambiguity and give closure in the interest of certitude (‘Theology of the Old Testament’ 1997, page 81 & 82).

This more patient approach to the Scriptures adds a greater degree of humility to our theology. While believing in the authority and power of the bible no less, we are cautious not to use an all-too-certain interpretation of a bible verse or passage as a way of exercising power over others.

Many people, and in particular our LGBTI+ brothers and sisters have often experienced being silenced and excluded by a lack of such an approach. The traditional use of the six or so verses in the Bible, which in some way or another refer to same-sex activity, can be experienced as one group of Christians exercising power over LGBTI+ people and forbidding to them what God wills for the whole of humanity. This approach means we are careful not to censor another Christian who has arrived at a different way of following Christ. I may be wrong, or they may be wrong, however we need to hold in faith the fact that we may both be right! This approach fosters a greater generosity – in line with our all-generous God

As the 11 evangelical bishops say in their letter, ‘We recognise that the teaching of the church affects LGBTI+ people personally and deeply.’ My plea is that we allow for readings of the bible that respect LGBTI+ experience and how they are made in the image of God. As one gay friend of mine wrote, We are all created by God to be who we are, including gays and lesbians. It’s just as natural and spiritually correct to be gay as it is to be left-handed.’ No doubt some LGBTI+ Christians will feel called to remain single as their way of following Christ, but some will feel called to be in a faithful loving intimate relationship as part of how they live out their Christian discipleship.

My LGBTI+ friends and I both read the same bible and are called to inhabit the same stories as we consider God’s will for our lives. We both, for instance, approach the paradigmatic story in Genesis 2 which describes the wonder of discovering our life’s partner, and we both feel drawn to the divine announcement, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’ Central to the story is the need to find a life partner who will be fully suitable to the needs of both and sustain them as they launch out on life together. At first there comes the almost comical process of looking around at different possible partners, and for some of us that can take a long time in reality – though all the ‘possibles’ in our list will be human!

As I read this story for myself, I am presented with a range of possible partners – as was Adam – and I am unsatisfied until I see the other human being – the one who became my wife – and I exclaim, ‘this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!’ For me, and for most others whom I know this encounter has been one of the most thrilling of all life’s discoveries.

This story invites us to is find someone who is equal to our needs, the same as me, not someone who is different (like the animals) but of the same stuff as Adam. The animals will not do – because they are different. For most of us this deepest fulfilment will be in a human of the opposite sex – but that is not so for all….

So, I listened as one of my gay friends told how he inhabits God’s story for himself and, like me, he is there in the garden asking God to find a partner who is fully equal to his needs. He wishes to discover mutual support that will sustain them both as a couple through the whole of their life’s journey together and with God. To begin with, God presents various possible partners to him – as in the original drama – and he sees all of these as inadequate for his deepest needs. He does not recognize one who will be a soul mate in whom depths of sexual intimacy can be found. Then after a while a man is presented to him who evokes a totally different level of recognition and response. This for him is what he has been longing for and he exclaims, ‘This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!’ They can become one. And, of course, the story is inhabited in their own way by other LGBTI+ people.

My prayer is that increasingly we will see that there are various ways to inhabit God’s story in the Bible. As this happens we can reach out to our LGBTI+ sisters and brothers in a wholly new way.

While preserving the tradition that marriage is a commitment to a faithful, life-long and intimate relationship between two people, we will now be able to see the tradition in a fully inclusive way – or, at the very least, hope that others who disagree will allow blessings of same sex marriages – thus leaving a variety of ways of living God’s story that recognizes the full humanity and equality of our LGBTI+ brothers and sisters.

END

This is part of a three-part series by Affirming Evangelicals.

Part 2 is by Rt Revd David Atkinson, former lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and former Bishop of Thetford 

Part 3 is by the Revd David Runcorn, former lecturer at Trinity College, Bristol

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For my New Zealand conservative Evangelical friends, this article by the Rt Revd David Gillett, Principal of Trinity Theological College, Bristol (1989-1999) and is the former Bishop of Bolton, may come as a surprise. Trinity has long been considered the hunting ground for those in the Church who conform to the theology of the more conservative parts of the Church of England.

However, in this case, Bishop David Gillett urges us to look beyond the accepted ‘Sola Scriptura’ method of engaging with the texts of Scripture that are concerned with matters of sexuality and gender – into an environment where modern understandings of these important matters might be weighed and balanced against what, formerly, seems to have been a negativity towards anything other than the binary mindset of conservative hermeneutic.

What Bishop David has to say does not fly in the face of traditional biblical studies. Rather it cautions us to be open to what “The Holy Spirit is saying to the Church” in an age different from the actual formation of the biblical canon. A more open attitude towards the deeper meaning of the scriptural passages relating to intimate human relationships may just conclude that Same-Sex Marriage is not antithetical to the will and purpose of God that the writers of the original article by 10 Evangelical Bishops considered to be the ‘sine qua non’ for permissible human relationships.

Father Ron SDmith, Christchurch, New Zealanmd

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