GAFCON Challenges Church of England

GAFCON chair slams CofE transgender guidance as ‘false teaching’

The chairman of GAFCON, the global conservative Anglican grouping, has hit out at the Church of England over guidance for services to mark transitions for transgender people.

In a message for Epiphany, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of Nigeria, contrasted the ‘revealed wisdom of God’ and ‘the wisdom claimed by secular ideologies’. He said calls for ‘dialogue’ masked the continuing spread of ‘false teaching’.

Nicholas Okoh
GafconThe Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh

Guidance issued by the House of Bishops commends the rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith as a template for recognising a person’s gender transition. Okoh said: ‘A form of service which is intended to mark a renewed commitment to Christ and the new life we receive through him is instead used to celebrate an identity which contradicts our God-given identity as male and female (as affirmed by Jesus himself in Matthew 19:4) and is still controversial even in secular society.’

The CofE, he said, was ‘rejecting biblical authority’ in line with the US Episcopal Church and other ‘revisionist’ provinces.

He said: ‘So, much as we thank God for the rich history represented by the See of Canterbury, we cannot avoid the sad truth that insistence on full communion with Canterbury as an essential mark of belonging to the Anglican Communion now risks jeopardising the apostolic faith itself. Let us pray that there will be repentance and that God will give courage and boldness to those who remain faithful.’

GAFCON argues that the Church of England has become too theologically liberal to act as a unifying force in global Anglicanism, and seeks to provide an alternative framework for what it describes as ‘biblically faithful’ Anglicans to relate together.


The Chair of the conservative Anglican Provinces known as GAFCON – Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, has challenged the Church of England’s recent determination to include Trans-Gender Christians as part of its local Anglican community’s mission and ministry.

Having already set themselves apart from the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion of Churches – by the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’, a Statement of Faith that excludes LGBT+ people from its mission and ministry – GAFCON and its Global South Archbishops and Bishops are now setting another barrier between themselves and the more liberal parts of the Communion, by this diatribe against the Mother Church of the Communion, the Founding Church of England.

What is needed now is for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to disassociate themselves from this hateful rhetoric of the Archbishop of Nigeria, by issuing a statement to the effect that the Bishops of the Anglican Communion will be gathering a Lambeth in 202o in order to proclaim the decision of the Anglican Provinces (non-Gafcon) loyal to Canterbury in a pastoral determination to open up the ‘Kingdom of Heaven to ALL believers – regardless of sexual or gender differences.

This moralising statement by Okoh can only serve to further stress the boundaries of classical Anglicanism – which has distanced itself (and not before time) from a judgemental Biblical literalism; sexism and homophobia, which denies the love and mercy of God-in-Christ.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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C. of E. Sexuality Review

Sexuality review will not pronounce on the rights or wrongs of same-sex marriage

04 JANUARY 2019

The process for 2019 (see below for 2020 plan)

THE group commissioned by the Archbishops to look into sexuality will not pronounce on the rights or wrongs of same-sex marriage. But neither is it engaged merely on a mapping exercise of the different views that exist, or burying the issue in the long grass.

“Perhaps what we’re doing has never been done before,” the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, said shortly before Christmas, speaking in his office in Coventry. Dr Cocksworth chairs the coordinating group that oversees the 40-odd scholars working in thematic teams covering theology, history, biblical studies, and science.

UK PARLIAMENT – The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth

The project was announced in June 2017 (News, 30 June 2017), shortly after an earlier report from the House of Bishops was given a hostile reception in the General Synod (News, 15 February 2017). A significant shift came early on, when the title of the project became “Living in Love and Faith: Christian teaching about human identity, sexuality and marriage”.

For a project that has sexuality at its heart, those involved use very unsexy language. “The intention of the Archbishops,” Dr Cocksworth said, “and that which the bishops need and that which the teams of people involved are most able to supply, is what I have described as a pedagogical process — in other words, it is helping people to learn how to think, and how to better understand.

“I think it would be fair to say that this has wrong-footed some people. It is not in itself a decision-making process. It will rather be a pedagogical process that will help to put the Church, and the Bishops in particular, in the sort of position by which they can develop whatever answers to particular questions are needed. And if we do it well, some of those answers may begin to emerge through this learning process itself.

“It’s very easy for everybody to think this is just about ‘Can I marry my partner, or, if we can’t marry, will you bless us?’ . . . And there’s another set of practical questions around bisexuality, transgender, intersex, and gender fluidity, some of them highly contested.

“What we’re trying to say is that those questions are deeply important, and they really do affect people’s lives — and they are to do with the character and mission of the Church.”

“But what underlies those questions are much bigger questions that affect us all, which are, effectively, to do with anthropology: What does it mean to be human, in relationship, in society? And what good news do we have to share about the art of human living with a world seriously in need of grace and truth?”

“So the project”, he said, “is as much to do with heterosexuality, where people within the Church and beyond it are in need of wisdom to order their loving and ‘sexing’ well, as it is with matters to the fore of contemporary debate.”

Dr Cocksworth recognised that questions about same-sex relations would remain to the fore. “Of course, they will be addressed — but it’s just that they might be framed in a new way, or seen in a new light as part of a much bigger picture.

“We’re also conscious that they bring with them the further complication of how we relate to the State. So we’re not shying away from them, not kicking them into the long grass.

“[But] we’re wondering, given the Church has been divided for so long, is there something we’re missing, is there something we’re not getting, is there truth that we can only find together through this sort of deep engagement?”

THE project is roughly at its halfway mark. For the past year, the four teams have worked on raw research. They have produced 70 academic papers, which have been shared with the bishops.

This month, the teams will be reformulated into five new groups, each with a question to answer:

What’s going on?

  • How does God communicate?
  • Who are we as human beings, as Church?
  • What do we discern God to be saying?
  • Where might we go from here?

The focus now will be on writing up the research, with the object of producing draft materials by the end of 2019, ready for publication in spring 2020. A booklet summarising the work will be sent in March of that year to Anglican bishops worldwide, in preparation for the Lambeth Conference in the summer of that year.


William Nye letter on same-sex marriage criticised as ‘perplexing’

OPPOSITION continues to mount to the response sent by the Archbishops’ Council’s Secretary General, William Nye, to a consultation on same-sex marriage by the Episcopal Church of the US

Dr Eeva John, a former tutor at Ridley Hall and Westcott House theological colleges in Cambridge, is the project’s enabling officer. She has seen the groups embody some of the virtues that she hopes to promote: “Being open with one another, being vulnerable with one another, being compassionate, being attentive — not just to scholarship but to people’s experience. . . All of that takes courage, and there’s a real sense of adventure.

“I guess my hope for this is that, while most people think that there’s just a couple of questions, and a couple of ways of answering them, that actually we might discover something really new here, that we might be surprised where this might take us.

“The constant challenge for me is to try and help people take off the blinkers which really want to see only one outcome from this process.”

The process has been remarkably thorough. As well as the academic work shared by members of the thematic groups, face-to-face or written conversations are being held with 147 individuals, 89 churches, chosen by dioceses and organisations such as the Church of England Evangelical Council and One Body One Faith.

Graphic used by Living in Love and Faith

In addition to a set of in-depth materials pitched at an academic level, the intention is to produce an accessible book, “like a beautifully produced textbook”, and a range of digital resources. Recorded interviews will help to build up an oral record of people’s lived experience.

The material will be subject to peer review in the coming months, as well as various types of road-testing — including exposure to the General Synod in February and July.

Representatives from the Anglican Communion are being canvassed for their views and kept informed about progress. And other denominations are being engaged with on several levels, as well as other faith communities.

Once published, Dr John hopes that there will be a six-to-nine-month period when parishes are encouraged to engage with the materials produced.

“Ambitiously, we’re looking for something that’s quite a landmark,” she said, “a bit like Faith in the City [the 1985 report by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas]. And our conversations with other Churches have suggested that that’s a worthwhile thing to be doing.

“There’s also a real missionary focus, to set this in a positive vision of what it means to be human, because we have that focus in the Christian faith.

“I think that there may be aspects of our culture which the Church has assimilated without really noticing, and there are certainly aspects of our culture which are not at all well.”

Neither she nor Dr Cocksworth is under any illusion about how hard it will be to sell this project to those on both the liberal and conservative wings, many of whom would be unhappy to see opposing views represented in an official document.

A letter signed by the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, and ten other bishops, has already warned against merely mapping new arguments that challenge traditional teaching (News, 19 October 2018).

“Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there are just two perspectives,” Dr John said: “conservatives who are absolutely right, and liberals who are absolutely right. It’s getting those two positions to actually say ‘What if . . ? What if there were something to be learnt from the other side?’ I guess that would be the ultimate victory for me.”

Dr Cocksworth concurred. “I would hope that, as we articulate and explain different views, that they would be framed in such a way that people can see the Christian reasoning behind them, so that they can be seen in their truest Christian light.

“Now, there’s still a judgement to be made on validity. There are all sorts of positions that I don’t necessarily agree with, but can we see what’s driving them theologically, can we discern in them a Christian character, can see what is of the gospel in them?”

To those on the Evangelical wing, who regard the matter as settled, his response, “and I speak as an Evangelical, is that those of us who are rigorously committed to the authority of scripture, by virtue of that, we must always be re-examining our understanding of scripture”.

Dr John said that there was a real sense that “scripture has to be at the heart of this project.

“A really important part of this is about reading scripture together well, and allowing scripture to exert its transforming, revelatory power.”


The Pastoral Advisory Group

Dr John was full of praise for the Pastoral Advisory Group, chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, which is made up of five episcopal and five non-episcopal members. The group is transitional, called on to help the Church adhere to the current guidelines and strictures.


Issues that must be addressed

Andrew Davison and Simon Sarmiento propose questions for the Bishops on sex

“Part of its remit has become helping churches to examine what a truly Christ-like welcome looks like in their context, even in the here and now — and if we do that, it will plough the ground for “Living in Love and Faith”: it will put bishops and churches in a better place to be able to engage with the resources and with one another.”

The advances made by the group, which includes a partnered homosexual and a trustee of Living Out, were “remarkable — not something we saw coming. But it’s been tough for that group.”
For Bishop Hardman’s account of the group’s working, see her Synod presentation from 13 July, below. . .

Listen to more about this story on The Church Times Podcast.

Learning outcomes

The project has identified seven learning outcomes to direct the sorts of resources it produces. As a result of engaging with its resources, people will, it says:

  1. be inspired by scripture’s glorious and joyful vision of God’s intention for human life.This will require the resources to be “missional” in relation to God’s intention for humanity, drawing people into this vision even when they are seeking answers to specific questions. 
  2. have discovered how to engage with rich biblical, theological, historical, and scientific thinking about human identity, sexuality, and marriage in a way that deepens their desire to know God and follow Christ.This will require the resources to feature themes of holiness and intimacy, integrating matters relating to gender, sexuality, singleness, and relationships with Christian spirituality and pastoral care; and to be produced in diverse genres, explaining technical language where needed, resisting over-simplification, and inviting readers to think for themselves. 
  3. have a deeper understanding of the Church’s inherited teaching on Christian living in love and faith, especially with regard to marriage and singleness, and of emergent views and the Christian reasoning behind them.This will require the resources to offer faithful and fair presentations of the breadth of inherited and emergent views with proper attention to scripture, the Church’s theological tradition, and pastoral and liturgical practice. 
  4. have heard the voices and encountered the experiences of people who would otherwise have been invisible to them.This will require the resources to reflect engagement with a wide array of lived experiences in the process of producing them. 
  5. have learned different ways of reading scripture together well, allowing it to exert its transforming and revelatory power.This will require the resources to explain and critique different hermeneutical understandings of scripture and the different theological and ethical conclusions that different forms of Christian thought draw in relation to gender, sexuality, and marriage. 
  6. find help for everyday Christian discipleship in all its diversity, physicality, messiness, and grittiness.This will require the resources to produce material that encourages and educates the people of God in the way of costly discipleship, acknowledging how different theological perspectives give rise to different patterns of discipleship. 
  7. be alert to the interaction between the life of the Church and its cultural contexts, and equipped to engage in the public square about what it means to be human and sexual.This will require the resources to explore the situatedness of the gospel in culture, the principles provided by scripture, and the insights of the theological, historical, missional, and pastoral traditions of the Church, especially in relation to the power dynamics that silence people and influence the Church’s polity.


In his Church Times article of 4 January 2019, journalist Paul Handley makes clear the fact that the current work of the Church of England’s “Living in Love and Faith” Commission on Human Sexuality will not include working towards an interim definitive statement on the Church’s attitude towards Same-Sex Marriage. Nor will it necessarily bring an end to further debate and discussion of gender and sexuality issues. Rather – it seems from this article – the Commission will facilitate an ongoing process of discussion and debate that will provide a background to the Church’s upcoming 2020 Lambeth Conference.

Of the Commission process, its Chairman, the Bishop of Coventry, + Dr Christopher Cocksworth has this to say”

“It’s very easy for everybody to think this is just about ‘Can I marry my partner, or, if we can’t marry, will you bless us?’ . . . And there’s another set of practical questions around bisexuality, transgender, intersex, and gender fluidity, some of them highly contested. What we’re trying to say is that those questions are deeply important, and they really do affect people’s lives — and they are to do with the character and mission of the Church.”

It would seem proper, in view of the split within the Anglican Communion; to involve a new and radical understanding of the present-day hermeneutical process, which alone can help to accommodate the evolving scientific and social arguments for change in the Church’s outlook on gender and sexuality – that could (and perhaps should) presage a change in perspective on the doctrinal and pastoral implications of Church theology and polity on these humanly important issues. In considering the prospect of ‘What the Bible Says” about such things, we need to account for changes occurring in the outside world on matters involving the lives of many people affected by a radical change in outlook.

If the Church were close its mind to any new development of scientific, biological and sociological circumstances affecting human flourishing; this might well influence a further distancing of the Church from the world it is meant to minister to.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Anglo-Catholic Worship – draws youth

Report on popularity of Anglo-Catholic worship among young people. this TIMES Article highlights examples of church planting in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.


This article in the Times (UK) should not be too surprising. Our youth are looking for something a bit more substantial than sermons and rock bands. They are now being drawn, in the U.K., to authentic Anglo-Catholic worship services, with opportunities for deeper reflection on the mysteries of Faith – such as are offered in the setting of more meaningful liturgies with Christ at the centre.

Recently in Dunedin, New Zealand, there was a weekend of Anglo-Catholic Hui, which contained teaching and liturgical worship experiences that cannot be found in the more Evangelical churches, whose worship is often centred around the musicians and the pulpit – rather than the Font and the Altar, where Christ is experienced ‘in the flesh’ at the Eucharist. The Mystery of Christ in the sacraments of the Church is too often overlooked, and our youth need better -something more on which to reflect than a virtual pop concert. It is hoped to take the Anglo-Catholic Hui to other dioceses of our Church on an annual basis. This will, of course, require the permission of the local bishop.

Kalo Epiphania (A Good Epiphany) to all my readers.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Transgender Resources – C. of E.

Transfaith: A transgender pastoral resource, by Chris Dowd, Christina Beardsley, and Justin Tanis
04 JANUARY 2019
Rachel Mann reviews a pastoral resource that includes liturgies

IT HAS been a mixed year for transgender people. Within the Church of England, there was widespread rejoicing when, in July 2017, the General Synod voted unequivocally to welcome trans people in the Church, although that delight lessened when the House of Bishops declined to offer a new service of welcome for transgender people. At the same time, in the wider world of social and traditional media, many trans people have felt under constant critique and threat by a troubling alliance between conservative Christian and essentialist feminist commentators. It has been a very mixed 18 months.

This resource book, then, is more than welcome in a Church and wider culture that — despite growing understanding about transgender people — often sends mixed messages. Between them, Dowd and Beardsley have considerable pastoral and academic acumen, the former having written a Ph.D. thesis on trans people’s experience of the Church, and Beardsley being a trans woman who is ordained in the Church of England. The addition of a short contribution from Dr Justin Tanis about the US trans scene brings a wider non-UK perspective to bear.

Transfaith breaks up its pastoral and theological work into a series of clear, intelligent, and helpful chapters. If it is very much intended as a workbook for individual, church, and community use, Transfaith is no mere manual on “how to be nice to trans people”. While it does offer clear guidance on how non-trans people can be trans allies, it also offers substantial biblical, theological, and pastoral reflections on how transgender people are clearly part of God’s economy of salvation. Indeed, part of the joy of Transfaith lies in its recognition that trans people are ordinary members of God’s diverse creation.

In terms of the advice and guidance, Transfaith offers a most welcome glossary of terms which explains the self-descriptors trans people use for themselves. In the midst of the ever-shifting sands of gender-based and sexed language, Dowd and Beardsley have done a great job of providing terms and definitions that will aid comprehension and build deeper relationships between trans people and their allies.

Another highlight of Transfaith is its willingness to engage with the biblical corpus. Its analyses of texts in Genesis, Acts, and Job are excellent, and address some of the concerns that trans people have posed themselves about being over-identified with biblical eunuchs. If the authors do not seek to break new ground in biblical analysis, their work will be energising for both trans and non-trans people who wish to think through the biblical good news for trans people.

For those concerned that the Church of England’s decision not to develop a new service of welcome for trans people was a misstep, Transfaith includes a series of striking liturgical resources. In addition to a renaming rite, there are words for both a reaffirmation, as well as relinquishing, of marriage vows. For some, these rites may be too bold, but they gesture towards a brave new world that the Church must wrestle with. Trans people are here to stay, and their existence presents exciting as well as intriguing challenges in marking ritually the seasons of life.

Ultimately, what makes this an essential book for anyone serious about the reception and celebration of trans identities in faith communities is its generosity, pastoral acuity, and tenderness. Each section typically ends with a series of questions that can be worked through by individuals and groups. These offer space for people in differing theological places to reflect and move forward together. Most of all, it does not treat trans people as secondary, weird, or inconvenient. Transfaith reveals how, without trans people, the Body of Christ will be diminished.

Canon Rachel Mann is Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and Visiting Fellow of Manchester Met University.

Transfaith: A transgender pastoral resource
Chris Dowd, Christina Beardsley and Justin Tanis
DLT £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50


In 2017 The General Synod of the Church of England “voted unequivocally to welcome trans people in the Church, although that delight lessened when the House of Bishops declined to offer a new service of welcome for transgender people”. 

Having myself once welcomed and pastored in a parish setting the presence of a couple in my one-time congregation – one of whom has transitioned from male-to-female – I am acutely aware of the need for us to accommodate the presence of such people into the life of the local Church. I believe that this couple were sent to our parish, not only to be able to adequately meet their pastoral need of acceptance on their terms but also to teach us what is really meant by ‘pastoral accommodation’ of all people who are brave enough to want to be included in the Church – despite their obvious difference from what we might consider to be the ‘normality’ of their appearance or personal circumstance. The gifted transitioned party involved is now on a local diocesan synod and, indeed, the General Synod of ACANZP.

In connection with the articled here presented, what was suggested, was that the existing ‘Renewal of Baptismal Vows’ rite (such as that used in the Church on Easter Eve) could be adapted for the use of welcoming into the Church a transitioned – already Baptized – Christian, using the newly-chosen forename under which the person wanted to become known in their new gender identity.

This has now – perhaps understandably in some cases – not been well-received by people of a certain conservative understanding of the rite of Baptism, who sincerely believe that this could be seen by the outside world as renouncing one’s original Baptism – akin to accepting the premise that one can be ‘re-Baptized’ – a theological problem for all who think that such a ritual would be tantamount to a rejection of one’s original Baptismal adoption into the Church – the Body of Christ.

Acknowledging the theological conundrum involved, leaders of the ‘Transfaith Community’ have produced this book – “Transfaith: A transgender pastoral resource”, in order to elucidate, theologically, the implications of what is needed in the Church for the public affirmation of a gender-transitioned person to renew their Baptismal Vows, under the new name that more accurately describes their transgender identity.

This is not what its detractors may call a rite of “RE-Baptism”, but rather, reaffirmation of a rite already experienced – by renewing their original Baptismal Vows but under the name by which they now want to be known.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand


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King’s College, Cambridge, prepares for Christmas

King’s College Cambridge choir prepares for live Christmas broadcast

This year’s A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will mark 100 years since the service began

Stephen Cleobury and the King’s College Choir in Cambridge rehearsing for the Christmas Eve service of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’.
 Stephen Cleobury and the King’s College Choir rehearse for their Christmas Eve service. Photograph: Geoff Robinson/REX/Shutterstock

At two minutes past three on Monday, with dusk just beginning to fall, many people’s Christmases will properly begin. That is when a boy treble from the choir of King’s College, Cambridge – chosen by music director Stephen Cleobury from his shortlist of possible soloists just seconds before the service begins – sings the opening verse of Once in Royal David’s City live on Radio 4.

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has flourished despite the fact that society has become more secular, but Cleobury sees no contradiction in that. “The service, as with our regular evensong in term time, is open to everybody,” he says.

“It’s very important that we do the right thing by people of genuine Christian conviction, but it’s also important that we welcome and include people who have different views, including those who have lost all faith or who come from different faiths.

“We are providing something that people can connect with in different ways. Hearing Once in Royal David’s City or In the Bleak Midwinter connects people with something earlier in their life and provides a solace of some kind.”

A rehearsal of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
 A rehearsal of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

This year’s festival has particular significance. It is 100 years since the service began, the brainchild of King’s College dean Eric Milner-White, who wanted a service that could unite and inspire people after the horrors of the first world war, and 90 years since it was first broadcast on BBC radio. It is also Cleobury’s final outing after 37 years as music director – he will be 70 on 31 December and retires next year after an epic stint (second among King’s music directors only to Arthur Henry Mann, who managed a remarkable 53 years from 1876 to 1929.

It has proved a challenging final year for Cleobury. In March he was knocked over by a cyclist – a very Cambridge accident – and fractured his skull. Happily, after a short layoff, he was back leading the choir. Then, earlier this month, opera singer Lesley Garrett directed a broadside against King’s all-male choir (it is made up of 16 boy choristers and 14 male undergraduate choral scholars), calling it a “throwback to a bygone age” and demanding that girls be allowed in. It led to a lively debate to which Cleobury, until now, has not responded.

“It’s an interesting subject,” he tells me, “but not something that can be dealt with in soundbites. We haven’t gone for a mixed choir in the chapel choir, but we have made significant contributions to opportunities for girls to sing in other ways.”

He points out that during his time as music director, the college has started King’s Voices, a mixed choir of undergraduates that has given women the chance to sing in the chapel at evensong every Monday. He has also launched King’s Junior Voices, which brings 100 children every weekend to the choir school attached to the college to learn to sing. Of those, he says, two-thirds are girls.

Cleobury doesn’t defend keeping a boys-only choir, as some do, in terms of the quality or uniqueness of the sound. “For me, that is not the main issue,” he says, “because you can listen to boys’ choir X and boys’ choir Y and they’ll sound different. Likewise with girls’ choirs. It depends how they’re trained and on the sort of sound the choir director has in mind.”

The boys’ choir prepares for its performance.
 The boys’ choir prepares for its performance. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The real reason to maintain boys-only choirs, he argues, is that boys need to be encouraged to sing. When choirs are opened up to girls, they tend to overwhelm them, outnumbering the boys and perhaps making them feel self-conscious, and if boys aren’t being trained between the ages of eight and 13 the production line of male singers starts to dry up.

“Boys – certainly in the presence of girls – feel that singing isn’t a cool thing to do,” he says. “But they are the tenors and basses of tomorrow. Neglect them and you won’t have your symphony chorus, so you won’t have your Beethoven Nine or your Missa Solemnis or your Dream of Gerontius being performed.”

But will it be sustainable in the future for the BBC to have a boys-only choir for its Christmas showpiece? “I’m not in the business of prediction,” he says, explaining that it would be for the college authorities to change the composition of the chapel choir. At some point, though, the BBC will come under pressure to rule on the issue, and whether they will be willing to hold the line is a moot point. Traditional practice and gender equality make for discordant partners.

Members of King’s College choir prepare for a final rehearsal before the recording of their famous A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols service.
 Members of King’s College choir prepare for a final rehearsal before the recording of their famous A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols service. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

The radio version of the service is broadcast live; the TV version which goes out at 5.50pm on BBC2 on Christmas Eve was recorded a few weeks ago. Traditionalists will favour the radio broadcast, in part because it integrates the biblical Christmas story and the carols more organically – Cleobury says he chooses the music to match the readings and that it is not merely “a selection of all our favourite carols” – but also because of the unpredictability of live performance.

Is Cleobury fearful of things going wrong? “I wouldn’t use the word fearful,” he says, “but I’ve never gone into it with any sense of complacency. I try to get appropriately geared up – that’s a combination of preparation in advance and concentration in the moment.”

The college estimates that more than 100 million people around the world listen to A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It is broadcast on the BBC World Service and on 450 public radio stations in the US, where it has a very loyal audience. The TV version, Carols from King’s, gets more than 2 million viewers in the UK.

For his valedictory service, Cleobury has chosen half a dozen carols that were sung at the first service in 1918 and also included arrangements by his five predecessors as music director. It will be an attempt to sum up a century of Christmases at King’s.

“I shall be full of emotion,” says Cleobury. “I’m sometimes accused of being a bit buttoned up, but I’m not really.” Did he always intend to stay for so long as music director? “I never had a plan,” he says. “It’s been immensely stimulating and rewarding. Who wouldn’t want to go into that building [the college’s cathedral-sized chapel] each day and make music?”


The great English Cathedral choral tradition is followed by the exemplary choir of Kings College, at Cambridge University in England. King’s College will, this Christmas, present its 100th Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, which will be broadcast by the BBC World Service, covering a wide audience of listeners from around the world.

This year’s broadcast will be the final one for music director Stephen Cleobury, whose 37 years as Kins College Choir Director will end with this performance.

One is constantly amazed at the quality and variety of music produced by this choir and if, like me, you are an admirer of boys voices (to which, in the future, girls voices might well be added), King’s College Choir is a must for the experience of exquisite choral singing.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Brexit and Isolationism

Brexit alternatives proposed by MPs and peers



Steven Bray, an anti-Brexit campaigner, outside the gates of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster on 18 December

RELIGIOUS leaders, including a former archbishop, have joined members of Parliament to call for alternatives to a no-deal Brexit.

A citizens’ assembly, a people’s vote, and a second referendum, were among the ideas mooted in newspapers, online, and in Parliament this week, as the Cabinet agreed to accelerate preparations for a no-deal exit from the European Union on 29 March.

The Prime Minister survived a no-confidence vote within her own party last week, having postponed a parliamentary vote on the EU Withdrawal Agreement, which had been heading for defeat by a “significant margin” (News, 14 December).

Theresa May has since confirmed that MPs will not be invited to vote on her Brexit deal until 14 January. A debate will be held the previous week. In a statement to the House of Commons after a “robust” European Council meeting, on Monday, she said: “Of course we have prepared for no deal, and tomorrow the Cabinet will be discussing the next phase in ensuring we are ready for that scenario.

“But let us not risk the jobs, services, and security of the people we serve by turning our backs on an agreement with our neighbours that honours the referendum and provides for a smooth and orderly exit. Avoiding no deal is only possible if we can reach an agreement, or if we abandon Brexit entirely.”

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, headed by Michael Gove, has already advertised for 90 staff for a no-deal Brexit crisis centre to respond to emergencies. The Department for International Trade is also expected to build up a £2-billion contingency fund to manage a no-deal outcome.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams was among the 21 authors of an article in The Guardian on Tuesday which called for a citizens’ assembly to stop the UK “falling apart in constitutional chaos” over Brexit.


A citizens’ assembly is described in the article as a “randomly chosen representative group of up to 500 members of the public” who meet to hear and debate the arguments surrounding an issue of national importance, before making recommendations to political representatives. It takes eight weeks to organise.

“Citizens’ assemblies operate around the world to create a neutral forum for evidence-based, participative decision-making,” the article explained. “In recent years, they have been used in Ireland, British Columbia and Iceland, and in national and local government in the UK, as democratic ‘circuit-breakers’ on contentious and complex issues.”

This was what the UK needed, it argued: “People talking and listening to each other, not shouting and arguing on or offline, to find common ground. Not superseding MPs by judging the outcome, but offering recommendations on how Brexit should be decided, to help break this deadlock and start to heal the nation’s bitter divisions.”

The article warned: “Anger and resentment are growing, splitting families, communities and our country. Without a new intervention, the toxic culture which has infected public life will irrevocably damage democracy and the future for us all.”

Other signatories to the piece include the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, and the novelist Ian McEwan. “We are not MPs and we respect the important work they do,” the article states. “Yet we also recognise that there are important ways to help heal this rift and involve the public in deeper and more meaningful ways.”

Meanwhile, Frank Field MP, a committed Brexiteer, has tabled a motion asking for a Commons debate “very early in the New Year” on the Withdrawal Agreement and each of the potential alternatives.

“The public has a right to know how the House of Commons would vote on the different Brexit choices facing our country,” he said on Monday. “I am trying to ensure we have an opportunity as soon as possible to register our vote on a range of options, including a reformed Northern Irish ‘backstop’, leaving the European Union without a deal, extending Article 50, entering into a future Norway- or Canada-style relationship with the EU, and holding a new referendum.

“The results of voting on each scenario wouldn’t be binding on the Government. But they will test opinion to see if any way forward commands a majority amongst MPs. This could act as a powerful guide to the Government during its ongoing discussions with the EU.”


Brexit Bill passes after Lords’ amendments fail

THERESA MAY is now able to fire the starting gun on Brexit after the House of Lords, including several Bishops, decided not to insist on their amendments to the Article 50 Bill, and passed it into law

On Tuesday, Downing Street dismissed a motion from the leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, which called on MPs to declare “no confidence in the Prime Minister due to her failure to allow the House of Commons to have a meaningful vote straight away” on the Brexit deal.

A letter in the Daily Telegraph from 52 business-people, including Ronald Rudd (brother of Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary), said that Mrs May did not deserve personal attacks.

“However, the Government’s own figures show that the Prime Minister’s deal would be bad for the economy, jobs and business. It puts us in a weak position to negotiate a future trade pact with the EU and continues the uncertainty that has already made our economy weaker.

“Government figures also show that every version of Brexit will make us worse off. . . If Parliament cannot agree on any form of Brexit urgently, we, as entrepreneurs and business people, writing in a personal capacity, call on the Prime Minister to take her deal to the British people.”

A statement on Saturday from the House of Bishops, who met in London last week, called for a change of tone in the Brexit debate. “It is time to bring grace and generosity back to our national life.

“At the heart of the Christian message is Jesus’s command to love our neighbour. This includes those with whom we agree and disagree — at home, in Europe, and further afield. We urge everyone — our political leaders and all of us — to bring magnanimity, respect and reconciliation to our national debate.”

The bishops promised that, whatever happened in the New Year, the Church would continue to be at the centre of communities across the UK.

It came after the Archbishop of Canterbury, introducing a debate on reconciliation in foreign policy in the House of Lords, last week, noted: “This has been a week of deep division, and reconciliation will be something that, although applied to foreign policy in this debate, must become central to our future in this country, as well.”


The intervention by Religious Leaders (e.g. the ABC; Rowan Williams; and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner) on the Brexit issue in the U.K., is signal enough to alert the U.K. Government on the seriousness of the situation – vis-a-vis the division of the British public on a matter which concerns everyone in that country.

Ironically, Prime Minister Thersa May was, together with many of her government, against the prospect of Britain leaving the E.U. – despite the obvious loss of sovereignty that was gradually becoming more obvious with the homogenisation of the rule of Law between the countries making up the European Union membership.

One cannot help thinking that the opposition to membership of the E.U. could be a symptom of the isolationist politics that has more recently overcome U.S. foreign policy under President Donald Trump. In a world where individual nations seem to be shoring up their own defences against foreign partnerships – in trade and foreign policy – Brexit seems to be Britain’s own individual striving for independence.

From the point of view of world trade and diplomatic interaction, these assertions that insist on nationalism rather than international cooperation seem counterproductive to any polity of world togetherness that, alone, can help to prevent the proliferation of current and future strife and war in our world. In such a climate of separatism, the function of the United Nations and its allied organisations is severely limited in scope and effectiveness – a sad commentary on the prospect of World Peace and Prosperity.

At this time of anticipation of the reign of the Prince of Peace, what the world needs is cooperation rather than a more highly isolationist political stand-off – such as Brexit and other issues like the Mexican Wall seem to be pointing towards. God save us all from any structured isolationism based on fear!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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“Enjoy But Don’t Inhale!”

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod

Rosie Haarper

The past few weeks in the church where I work there have seen some of the largest numbers ever, and some of the lowest. What’s going on?

Remembrance Sunday was mega all around the country. We ran a variety of events across that weekend. They were all well attended, and it was standing room only at the service following the ceremony around the memorial. At the end of the day, we had a quiet thoughtful evensong and 50 people attended. That is huge for a little village church. Then the bells rang out again (the third time that day) and we processed out into the dark to light the beacon. I was bowled over. Yet more crowds. People had walked up the hill in the dark to come to a very simple ceremony at a church they otherwise never go near.

The service for folk who have been bereaved called ‘Remembering with Love’ was also packed. When we manage to offer something that people actually want, they pitch up.

I asked some of them why they had come. ‘It’s important to remember.’ ‘This year, in particular, we need to be here.’ ‘My Grandfather died in WW1’ ‘It’s a sign of respect.’ ‘We need to say thank you.’ Lots of very good reasons. Here’s the issue: their motivation was good and solid and human. These were all the sort of person who had depth and an instinct for values beyond their own personal story. But none of them said they were in church to worship God. None of them. Not even the regular paid-up churchgoers.

So were they worshipping? When the community got together to remember WW1 and all the sacrifice and the honour and the relief and pride that it all came to an end on 11.11.18  -were they doing something secular in a church building, or was it worship? I believe that when you do something that comes from the depth of your humanity it can it be worship even when there is no deliberate religiosity about it.

One of the depressing aspects of Facebook is the snarky comments of the super religious. The colour of the advent candles, the exact vestments, the singing of carols before Christmas. All these and of course more profound issues are bickered over as if true worship can’t happen unless we get it all correct.

Maybe real worship can’t be conjured up at all. A bit like happiness, it is what falls out of being fully alive, of living in a connected loving, compassionate way that makes sense of being human. Maybe the unchurched; pitching up at Remembrance Sunday, were more in touch with God than the faithful few who work so hard to get their liturgy right in order to conjure up God. I’ve just read Anglican Mainstream’s response to the House of Bishop’s Pastoral Guidance for blessing transgender transitions. I struggle to discern even the faintest fragrance of God in what they say, and yet they are confident that they speak in his name

The same probably applies to ‘Mission’ We are running on old software. Our aim is still to get people to come and join the club, and we totally fail to recognise that most people have a pretty deep inner life and firm and good values. They just don’t articulate or express things in religious terms. My example would be the Christmas Tree Festival we held in church last weekend.  Again the church was full to bursting with folk who rarely come to services. There were multi-layered conversations, lots of laughter, children having fun in the church rather than being told to be quiet. And yes, someone said; ‘This is what church means to me. All sorts of local people from our community getting together – looking out for each other.’

That little festival felt pretty close to the way Jesus saw it   – they’ll know you are Christians by the way you love one another. Surely mission falls out of loving one another and loving your local community?

On the whole, the Church is moving in the opposite direction. It is looking for ever more ingenious ways of telling people their lives are shot without God. In a way that might be true, but the offer is always ‘you need MY type of God’ and it simply is never going to work. Think of the way things have changed in the world of shopping. In a very short space of time, people have moved online. It is no good shouting at them telling them to get back to the High Street. Things have changed. It really is the same for church. It is not good shouting at people telling them they ought to come. The thing which we call a ‘Service’ is probably toast. Some of us love it, and in Cathedrals and the like, it will survive as a supreme part of our culture. Most surely you can encounter God there. But it is mostly a social and cultural construct which now carries with it so much baggage that people look elsewhere for ‘a God moment’.

The baggage certainly makes it tricky for me. The class, the hierarchy, the bigotry, the language; it’s all neatly packaged and the good experiences when they come, happen despite that massive handicap. In a way what we actually do in church doesn’t matter that much. We have created some wonderful and some dire liturgies over the years. Surprisingly, research shows that people are not that interested in what is taught either. Warm supportive relationships, in a context where power is used well and justice and equality, are clearly the ground values, make for something worth striving for. The way that happens for the next generation is surely going to be very different. The regular ‘service’ will probably continue but as a niche product.

At the moment that drive to define the church as a place for ‘true believers’ is very strong. The bar for belonging is getting higher. There is more emphasis on discipleship and on getting the fringe of the CofE drawn into the centre.

My personal experience is that I see more of Christ in people on the edges. Getting really keen on religion doesn’t seem to be very good for your character. Most of the in-fighting we are struggling with at the moment is amongst sincere but judgemental people who “know they are right”. Treading lightly, with a good dose of doubt and questioning and creating a holy space where you can just come along as yourself is healthy.

Religion is not the point but the pointer. We have to remember that most of it is a human construct, built with extraordinary creative imagination, but also with the desire for power for personal and political ends.   A lot of what we have inherited is glorious for people who like that sort of thing, but a wise friend of mine has a strategy: ‘enjoy but don’t inhale.’


As a ‘sacramentalist’, though I go along with Canon Rosie’s general trend here – about the fact that sometimes the Church expects too much of people in the way of dogmatic loyalty to its extant tradition – I am also a firm believer that the Church needs to gently advertise the spiritual benefits of sacramental grace.

We are here, not only to provide beautiful buildings in which people may find personal solace (although that is still part of the attraction of churches); but also to encourage their participation in the grace uniquely available in the sacraments that the incarnation and lived-out life of Jesus  brought into our world as a way of connecting with the God who is the source of all that we treasure and value in the lives we are given to lead.

When I first saw the title of Rosie’s piece, I immediately thought of my personal regard for the use of incense in worship – as a reminder of the ‘fragrance’ rendered in our common worship of ‘the God we cannot see’. In saying this, I am aware of the fact that – at the Christmas Season – we are made aware of the gifts given to Jesus by the Magi – Gold for Kingship; Myrrh, as a sign of selfless Suffering; and Incense, as a worship offering of the prayers of all the Saints throughout the Christian era.

(“In every place, incense shall be offered unto my Name, and a pure Offering”, says the Lord of hosts).

The reality is that these gifts had a tremendous significance for pointing to Jesus as The Christ, the Redeemer of all humanity who, in his helpless infancy was yet instinct with the glory of future Kingship – but not before he endured the suffering that he undertook for the sake of the world. It is for this that we who believe in the divine purpose Jesus assumed on our behalf are called to offer the worship we come to understand is his due.

However, the work of the Church – as the Body of Christ – is to welcome ALL into a safe place of encounter – a place where we who are disciples of Jesus can accept people as they are – not as we might expect them to be. Only in this way will outsiders come to encounter, understand and know the Living God we are called to proclaim – not as the self-righteous, but as fellow sinners, showing other sinners where to find bread.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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