The Coptic Martyrs – Stations of the Cross

Pray for those who persecute you
19 February 2015 by Bishop AngaelosThe Tablet – 

HG Bishop Angaelos

The recent unprovoked and targeted murder of Coptic Christians in Libya has shocked many people around the world and caused immense sorrow and pain to their families and communities.

As mentioned in my statement on 15 February, while every life is sacred and every death tragic, the brutality demonstrated in this instance and others like it shows a disregard for life and a gross misunderstanding of its sanctity.

These young Coptic men were working in Libya to support their families in Egypt, and were fathers, brothers, sons and friends. They came from tight-knit but impoverished rural communities; now they will never return. They were breadwinners for their families, who are not only robbed of the joy of their presence but left with a significant financial void.

While their captors sought to humiliate them by saying they were “of the Cross”, these men were faithful witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ, calling on his name in prayer while their lives were brutally taken from them.

As Christians we glory in the Cross of our Lord, and it is by no means a shame but rather an honour to be deemed his disciples. These men will not be forgotten and their death is not in vain. They are truly modern-day martyrs – those who were killed for their faith and a valiant example to us all.

Copts in Cairo after beheading of 21 Copts in Libya

I have been moved by the breadth and volume of sentiments expressed by so many people wanting to offer their condolences and support for myself and the Coptic community here in Britain. The light of our Lord continues to bring hope and comfort through the Body of Christ and through all who show their solidarity.

We must remember however that it is not only Coptic Christians who are bearing the brunt of this extremist ideology in places such as Libya and Iraq: a broad spectrum of indigenous communities remains under threat because their very existence is a cause of offence to this fringe element.

As we pray for our community we also pray for the families and communities of the numerous journalists, aid workers, medical staff, religious leaders and others who have lost their lives in similar circumstances.

It is equally imperative at this time that we pray for all those who are carrying out these heinous crimes. We pray for a change of heart and an awareness of the immense pain and sorrow that results from their actions. We are reminded in Scripture “…pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). While this may prove challenging, we must continue to be faithful to our Christian calling, as prayer is our most valuable and powerful gift.

Peaceful coexistence is the only true way ahead. We must continue to pray for and support the families and communities of all those who are left behind.

We are launching the WhenLeftBehind appeal in support of the affected families. More information will be made available via @WhenLeftBehind on Twitter andwww.CopticMediaUK.com.

Bishop Angaelos is General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

Above: Copts in Cairo attend a service for the 21 men beheaded in Libya by IS. Photo: CNS/Reuters

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It was my great privilege, this afternoon at 5pm in the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Christchurch, N. Z., to lead the traditional service of Stations of the Cross.

At this commemoration of the journey of Jesus on the Way of the Cross, Christians are reminded of the suffering undertaken by Jesus, Son of God, in order to raise up our fallen humanity, by our resurrection to the sublime nature of the World’s Redeemer.

Pausing for prayer at each station, I was reminded of the recent event of the execution of Coptic Christians from Egypt – who were simply working in Libya to support their families back home. Their killers were a religious sect whose primitive understanding of a Vengeful God caused them to do this act of violence against a group of people who believed in the Loving God, who became one of us in the person of His Son, Jesus.

The tragedy here was that the assassination was allegedly done to please the Universal God; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose life was offered in exchange for our flawed humanity – fallen from grace, but restored by the grace of The One Who created us all.

In our experience this afternoon, in a Christian Church, where there is ample pictorial evidence of God’s loving actions through His only-begotten Son, Jesus; one could not help but identify with His blessed Mother, Mary, whose sorrow seemed to encompass the little band of us gathered to accompany her and her Son in the ancient liturgy of His death in dereliction.

For all who suffer religious persecution – and for those who are misled into being the persecutors – we cannot but echo the prayer of Jesus for his persecutors: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” – for if they did, how could they possibly continue?

Jesu, mercy; Mary, pray!

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HOMILY for LENT I – 8am – Saint Michael & All Angels, Christchurch

LENT 1 – 2015 – SERMON – Sunday 22/02/15 – SMAA, Christchurch

Genesis 9: 8-17            1 Peter 3:18-22            MARK 1:9-15

The Lectionary Readings, which have been agreed to by both Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches around the world, have this little note in the Missal for this First Sunday in Lent: “At the beginning of Lent, we renew our response to the Covenant, the pact of love that God has made with each of us in our Baptism”. It ask us to imagine what good news it would have been to Noah, alone in a drowned world, when he learned that God’s love  had not abandoned – nor ever would abandon – the earth or its creatures. Not only in the Jewish tradition, but also in other archaic traditions, like that of the ancient Sumerians, there is a story of the great flood which encompassed the earth soon after the creation of human beings on the earth.

It would seem that humanity had very early on been subject to the problems of the Fall – the rebellion of human beings (shown in the Bible in the story of the mythical Adam and Eve) – necessitating a new start in the relationship between God and Creation. This was reflected in the experience of Noah and his family, when God told them that he was going to establish a new Covenant with them and with all creation. This would be seen in the provision of the rainbow in the clouds – signalling the end of the great flood, and the establishment of a brand new covenant of relationship between God and all created beings on the earth.

Rainbows have always meant something special for me. Not just because of the story of Noah and the Ark, but also because of the fact that God had promised He would never again abandon his human children to the devastation of such a catastrophe. I remember once being told by a friend in Auckland, that, at the very moment her mother died, she had become aware of a wonderful double-rainbow appearing in the clouds above her house – as though God was saying to her that her mother was now at peace, and that she, personally, would never be abandoned by God. Since that time, I have always been reminded of God’s love for me, and for the whole of creation, whenever I see the rainbow.

In Peter’s First Letter to the Early Church, he carries this comforting story forward – in the promise given to us by our Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This experience is meant to assure us of God’s never–failing love for us. In our Baptism, we have been given new life – a life which begins at that time and which gives us entry into eternal life, which Jesus has secured for all who belong to him. This belonging is renewed, every time we partake of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and blood in the Eucharist. In this way,  we are renewing that which, by the waters of Baptism, as Saint Paul says: “has saved us, and which is not the washing away of physical dirt, but a pledge made to God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered the heavens and is now at God’s right hand!”  We need to realise that, every time we receive the Holy Communion, we are, effectively, renewed in our Baptism and our commitment to God, and in God’s commitment to us as God’s children, and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

We live in a fallen world, a world in which we are only too aware of the existence of sin and the possibility of evil – where people like the members of ISIS claim that killing other people in the name of God is what God wants. It is very important that we distance ourselves from such an understanding of what God might require of us. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the God of Vengeance that ISIS and Al Qaida would have us believe in. In fact, the very opposite is the case. In sending Jesus into the world to share our frail human nature, God was taking upon God’s-Self the frailty that this signified. In sharing that frail humanity and bearing it on the Cross, Jesus was clearly demonstrating God’s love and concern for us. In offering Himself for our redemption, Jesus was signifying God’s forgiveness of our sins. By absorbing in his own Body on the Cross the culpability and aggression of His enemies, Jesus was offering all humanity release from the consequences of our wrong-doing. In the wilderness, after his own Baptism and empowering by the Holy Spirit to resist temptation by the devil, Jesus was overcoming his assumed human frailty by acts of self-denial.

When we look at the temptations Jesus resisted, we see that each one was a temptation to deny his human limitations, and to put himself into a position of self-glorification as Son of God. The devil suggested that Jesus perform a miracle by turning stones into bread. If Jesus had done this, he would have served only himself and his own physical hunger – something that he knew would not serve God’s purpose. The next temptation was to gain instant power by becoming a disciple of the devil, in the expectation of ruling the world; this, Jesus resisted. Finally, the devil invited him to cast himself down from the parapet of the Temple, to see if God would send his angels to rescue him – thus by-passing the need for Jesus’ redeeming ministry of healing and reconciliation; his death and resurrection.

Jesus was able to resist these temptations to instant self-satisfaction and glorification, because he knew instinctively that would short-circuit the ministry of healing and reconciliation that His Father had in mind for him. Jesus knew that if he sought instant glory – without moving through with the path of service that the father had in mind for him – this would be a frustration of the will and purpose of God in allowing for his Incarnation as a human being; which was designed to demonstrate God’s loving purpose of redemption, through the loving self-sacrifice of God himself; in the divine and human being of Jesus.

This Lent then, beginning with the Ash Wednesday ceremony of Ashing, which reminds us of our common human frailty, we are invited to walk with Jesus on the forty-day pilgrim journey of prayer and fasting in the wilderness – in order to celebrate with him in the Solemn Liturgical traditions of Holy Week and Easter, when we will have the opportunity to share the experience of the Last Supper, the abandonment of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane at the Maundy Thursday Vigil; the dramatic recital of the Passion and Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday; the desolation of Holy Saturday – when we come together as a family to clean and decorate the church in preparation for the Vigil of Easter. Then, finally, we greet the Light of Christ in the Paschal Candle, and renew our Baptismal Vows around the Font in preparation for the First Mass of Easter, wherein we altogether participate in the risen and glorified life of Christ.

I hope you all can participate in as much of the Lenten and Easter ceremonies as possible – including the Stations of the Cross, which will be taking place this afternoon at 5 o’clock, before Taize at 7pm. Then, each Sunday Evening during Lent at 5 o‘clock, preceding the service of Evensong and Benediction at 7pm.

If there is anyone who was not able to be at one of the Ash Wednesday services who would like to receive the ashes now, I would be happy to provide an opportunity for them. Furthermore, if anyone would like to make a formal confession during the Lenten season, either Fr. Andrew or I would be happy to oblige at a time to be arranged. May God help us all to observe as good and Holy Lent. Amen

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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The Tablet – up-date on Reform by Pope Francis

Root and branch reformer
19 February 2015 by Christopher Lamb – ‘The Tablet’ – 

The recent consistory in Rome, which saw Pope Francis create 15 new cardinal-electors from every corner of the world, marked another significant moment in his reform of the Church. But it also showed that the change he has in mind goes beyond a shake-up of the Curia

Next month, Pope Francis will mark two years since his election as Bishop of Rome. He was chosen in a 2013 conclave where several cardinals had called for a reform of the Roman Curia. It was the one thing that the cardinals, both the more traditional-minded and the moderately progressive, agreed on.

The then Archbishop of Buenos Aires – perhaps a little dour and uncharismatic, but a tough, holy, no-nonsense Jesuit outsider who had had differences of his own with curial officials – was seen as the right man for the job. Perhaps he would not set the world alight, but he would quietly put the house in order. Few imagined the whirlwind that his election was to unleash.

The cardinals’ concerns at the conclave were not new. For several years, local bishops had felt increasing frustration with the way the Church’s central bureaucracy operated. Yes, there were (and are) many dedicated, hard-working and efficient people in the Curia. But bishops who regularly visited Rome were increasingly aghast at the lethargy and petty feuding rife among many of the officials they had to work with.

Worse, many bishops felt that they were being treated like naughty schoolboys rather than vicars of Christ. The Second Vatican Council had seemed to promise a more collegial style of government in the Church. Instead, the nearly 50 years since the council ended had seen a steadily increasing centralisation and an apparent diminishing of the authority of the diocesan bishops. The feeble handling of the sex-abuse scandal, the emerging evidence of shady financial dealings and corruption, and finally the VatiLeaks affair in the closing months of Benedict XVI’s papacy added to the overwhelming pressure for reform of the Curia. A bureaucracy can get away with being bossy, rude and insensitive if it runs smoothly and gets things done. By the end of Benedict’s papacy, the Curia had become a liability and an embarrassment.

Francis was elected to initiate a reform, or some might say a “clean up”, of the Curia. Now, almost two years in, several voices are beginning to question if the process has stalled or run aground. Is serious change possible to church structures as firmly set as those in the Vatican? It’s tempting for some, perhaps in the more progressive camp, to demand instant results, while sceptics may be rushing to pronounce Francis’ efforts a failure too soon.

The Roman Curia, one of the oldest institutions in the world, is extraordinarily resistant to change. “It requires time, determination and, above all, everyone’s cooperation,” the Pope told cardinals last Thursday. That is something of an understatement. Speaking to church insiders during the consistory to discuss reform and create new cardinals last weekend, I became aware that a deep, and not simply structural, reform is coming to fruition in Francis’ papacy. And it is being likened to a revival of the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

The Pope has already achieved several practical reforms. There has been the creation of the Secretariat for the Economy, led by Australian Cardinal George Pell, a tough administrator who gave the cardinals a detailed presentation of the Holy See’s financial position. Such an event has never happened before. A new – predominantly lay – commission, including several survivors of clerical abuse, has been set up and is working on making bishops accountable for cover-ups, while this week a Vatican-connected anti-abuse initiative announced that it was moving to new headquarters at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

On the appointment of bishops, the Pope appears to be listening to the local Church and naming pastors who are close to their people. He is also willing to be imaginative – take the appointment of Blase Cupich to Chicago – and the process of filling vacant dioceses has been speeded up. Changing the structure of the curial offices, however, is proving more difficult.

A papal advisory body, the Council of Cardinals (or C9, as it is known), was established soon after the Pope’s election, and has been meeting regularly since. It is concentrating on improving the way the Curia works, with a new apostolic constitution and proposals to slim down the organisation being finalised.

There is, however, a tension between the need to improve the efficiency of a bureaucracy widely regarded as top-heavy and the Pope’s apparent insistence that staff must not be made redundant. Some observers are hoping for an institution that is “less Italian”, but the truth is that it is not possible to get round the fact that the Church’s administration is planted in Rome.

But aside from deciding which offices and departments will go and which will stay, is there something more fundamental going on in the Vatican? The cardinals wanted a reformer, but the sort of reform that Francis wants for the Church is not what all those who elected him had in mind. It has become clear that the sort of reform Francis dreams of is not an inward-looking one, a cabinet reshuffle and a redrawing of the Vatican organogram, but one looking outwards, to the edges of the Church. We can see this in the new cardinals he created on Saturday, many from countries that have never had red hats before, including Myanmar, Panama, Cape Verde and Tonga. He has also created cardinals in non-traditional sees in Italy such as Agrigento and Ancona-Osima.

Rome last weekend was awash with colour, including flags and traditional costumes. Tonga, despite being a majority Methodist island and almost 11,000 miles away, sent a large contingent to the Eternal City. Francis’ choice of new cardinals from the furthest corners of the world is in itself a major reform. The membership of the body that will elect the next Pope is gradually coming to more closely reflect the global make-up of the Church. Equally important, however, is the way Francis has undermined clerical ambition. As particular dioceses and curial jobs no longer automatically lead to a red hat, any angling for them becomes less attractive.

Francis also wants to foster a collegial spirit among the cardinals, involving them in the governance of the universal Church.  Collegiality, the concept of the Pope governing with the bishops, and synodality, are key elements to Francis’ reform.

The evidence for this is the creation of the C9 and in the increased authority and responsibility of the Synod of Bishops, which will meet again in October. But it appears that Francis wants all this to go further. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium he cited Vatican II on the potential of bishops’ conferences to express the “collegial spirit” in the Church. “Yet,” Francis writes, “this desire has not been fully realised, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated.”

His papacy has already seen a change. There is a growing feeling among bishops that they have been given the authority to govern their dioceses without the Curia breathing down their necks. But Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has sounded dubious about devolving power to local bishops. “To foster a fair decentralisation does not mean that the episcopal conferences are given more power,” he wrote in an article on curial reform for L’Osservatore Romano ahead of the consistory, “but only that it carries on genuine responsibility which they are entitled to under the episcopal power of teaching and governing their members”.

There are feelings of both relief and tension in the Rome of Pope Francis. There is a perception that it is possible to speak a little more freely, of a little more space having been created for thoughtful discussion of awkward questions. But there is also that slight fearfulness that can be sensed in a classroom when a friendly but enigmatic new teacher enters. Is this just a temporary lull before the head teacher returns? Or, almost as frightening, is everything about to slide into chaos?

Francis appeared to allude to the opposition to his reforms in his homily during Mass with the new cardinals on Sunday, which has been described as his “mission statement”. He pointed out that Peter and Paul both faced down opposition in their day, and that Jesus caused scandal by “reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family”. The Pope said: “Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal. He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalised even by a work of healing, scandalised before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes.”

He called for a rejection of a “closed caste” Church that instead leaves its “four walls” to go to the furthest reaches to find the imprisoned, the persecuted, the poor, the sick, the unemployed, those in difficult circumstances and those who have lost their faith.

Changing curial structures is not, said Francis, “an end in itself”. He is setting out a new path for the Church: a “People’s Church” that puts the peripheries in the centre, that is in a constant state of mission, reaching out to the margins. If he can achieve this, then he will have done something spectacular.

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“Few imagined the whirlwind that his (Pope Francis’) election was to unleash.” – This sentence, from the above article in this week’s ‘Tablet’, echoes the feelings – not only of the Curia, but also of lay Catholics around the world – as a direct consequence of the reforming zeal of the new Pope, in the spirit of Vatican II.

Perhaps our world-wide Anglican Communion could note the Pope’s desire to promote a spirit of collegiality among the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, where local Bishops are given more responsibility for the leadership of their own diocesan affairs – as opposed to ‘rule from on high’ at the Vatican. This could be a signal to our Province of Canterbury, to loosen the ties of patriarchy among the Provinces of our Church, in order to allow the other Provinces to initiate their own provincial polity and missionary objectives. In this way, for instance, the tensions of differences on gender and sexuality issues might be more easily dealt with – without any need to separate out from one another on matters of seeming adiaphora.

Of course, the constitution of the Roman Catholic Church is far more complicated than that of any other of the Christian Churches around the world. Not only is it centralised around the Roman Curial tradition – with Pope as virtual Emperor – it is also heavily constrained by a history of dogmatic pronouncements that are at odds with all the other Churches of Christendom. One such dogmatic pronouncement is its claims to infallibility of doctrine – through what is traditionally considered to be the leadership role of its Pope, by unique succession from the Apostle Peter. That this infallibility is strongly contested by other Churches of both East and West shows itself in the division that still exists within Christendom. In his striving towards collegial responsibility in his own Church, Pope Francis is seen to be de-emphasising the issue of infallibility that has for so long been a stumbling block to a more fraternal relationship with other parts of Christendom.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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A TEC Response to ACI’s Radner on S/S Marriage

On the matter of discretion re marriage: Radner’s question

I follow the ongoing discussions about marriage in Episcopal land with great interest.I have been married now for some 48 years, have officiated at a great many weddings, and have been actively engaged in the movement for the marriage of persons of the same sex, both on a civil and a religious level. So it is with some interest that I note that The Task Force on Marriage has published its report. You can read the Task Force Report HERE.

Now, of course, the cards and letters are coming in.Ephraim Radner, over on the Anglican Communion Insititute, has written a paper reprinted in part by The Living Church. Unlike Bishop Dan Martins, I don’t think Radner’s response to the Task Force on Marriage is all that good, bu still, read Radner’s article in its full – HERE.

I’m somewhat amused by the name, Anglican Communion Institute, which leads me to imagine it being some sort of recognized Anglican Communion entity. I imagine it with impressive buildings and research facilities with ivy covered walls and so forth. It is not. It is mostly four Anglican scholars working from wherever they are located and an advisory committee of pretty heavy lifting conservative Episcopal / Anglican worthies. But amusement is just that, amusement. The content of what these folk write has stand – alone worth, sometimes quite valuable, sometimes not so much.

Radner raises many issues about the several sections of the first resolution proposed by the Task Force, but one stands out for me as an issue that need to be addressed.

The matter of discretion to decline.

This concerns the clause in both the existing and proposed marriage canon, (with an addition by the Task Force indicated by underlining):

“Sec. 4 (renumbered as Sec. 6.) It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage.”

Radner writes,

“given that one conscience clause allowing priests to refuse to marry a couple on the basis of their individual views of the matter is left in “tension” with another existing canon that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality, the canonical change also opens the door to disciplinary and perhaps legal challenge to individual clergy who maintain classical views about Christian marriage. ”

Well, first, it is not a canonical change so much as a repositioning of an existing subsection to the marriage canon. So the criticism is not only about the revised canon, but the existing one. It is the change in the rest of the canon that brings the issue to the fore.

Neither the original nor the revised reading makes any reference to refusing “to marry a couple on the basis of their individual views of the matter,” the “their” being clergy and “the matter” one supposes that the couple are both of the same sex. The canon only mentions “discretion..to decline.” The proposed canon does include “to bless” as well as to “solemnize” which is an indication that the writers wanted to extend the discretion to include blessing separated from the solemnizing that is involved with legal marriage.

But given that, Radner’s point still remains. A member of the clergy can decline to solemnize or bless, supposedly without giving reason to anyone. But suppose I were to consistently decline to solemnize or bless persons who had been married before, no matter the circumstances, or declined always when the couple was of different races (however defined),or because one was of one nationality and the other of a second? I believe we would consider this discrimination, prohibited by canon.

What about declining when the two persons were both men, or both women? Is this, if done on a consistent basis, discrimination or not?

As Radner points out there is a canon that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality. He is referencing, I believe, Canon I 17:5 –

“No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.”

The question is, does the marriage canon, in its current or revised form provide a specific exception to Canon I 17:5?

There is no indication in the revised canon of such an exception.

Is there a “tension” between the two canons, made all the more evident by the “matter” of marriage of two persons of the same sex? Are those holding “classical” views subject to possible canonical or legal challenge?

I think the answer is, “yes.”

From the standpoint of Canon I 17:5 discrimination against a class of people, by virtue of the class alone, is prohibited. Clergy can refuse case by case as a matter of discretion. But to refuse all of a class over time would be indication of prohibited discrimination. There is no indication in the marriage canon that discretion can be applied to a class of persons, as a matter of general principle.

So what is a “classically” informed clergy person (by that Radner means a clergy person who believes that marriage is only possible, as far as the church is concerned, between a man and a woman) to do? Refusing either by announcement or actual practice to solemnize or bless any same sex marriages is prohibited discrimination against a class of persons. At the same time the “classically” informed clergy person would supposedly hold that solemnizing or blessing any such marriage is a against conscience, and therefore prohibited by conscience.

Such clergy persons are indeed in a tense situation.

I believe these worthies must then either decline to officiate at any marriage, believing that any other course places them in danger charges of specific discrimination or in personal moral jeopardy, or act as conscience dictates, and live in the tension arising from such action, or leave this Church and finding another context for ministry.

Of these possibilities I would hope such clergy would decline to officiate at any marriage, or act as conscience dictates, living in the tension of that fact. I fear that some clergy might indeed take the third option, feeling that the church is no longer a safe place. What might make it be a safe place? Or barring that, what would make it at least a place where there was clarity?

Safety is hard to come by. But I believe we need to be clearer in what the canonical change will mean, by clarifying the extent to which a clergy person can decline to solemnize or bless a marriage as a matter of general principle.

In all candor, I think the real problem is not on the level of the individual clergy exercise of discretion. It is much more important on a diocesan level. If a bishop refuses to allow his clergy to officiate at such services the bishop has clearly made a judgment concerning the exercise of “clergy discretion” that is about a class, not about a particular case. That, it seems to me, would be grounds for a charge of discrimination.

The question for me in the proposed canon is this: If there is to be an exemption clause for those who in good conscience will not marry persons of the same sex, what will it look like, and if there will not be an exemption clause, how will we relate to, work with, support or even argue with those who are thereby exposed to possible charges of conflict with the non-discrimination canon?

There are various times when the church is not “safe” for some of its own clergy. Over the years I have had close friends loose position and even orders because of their actions. Some have been people whose actions I agreed with, some not. Some have involved matters of conscience, some not. It turns out that safety is not one of the guarantees that comes with ordination.

It is helpful to friends we agree with and those we don’t to at least be as clear as we can. So, what does the canon mean, can a clergy person be charged with discrimination for consistently refusing to marry persons of the same sex or not? As long as we are changing the canon at all, why not be clear about its application?

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C. of E. House of Bishops Speaks to Politicians

Church of England calls for ‘fresh moral vision’ in British politics

C of E letter urging people to vote on 7 May laments ‘growing appetite to exploit grievances, find scapegoats and create barriers between people and nations’

John Sentamu and Justin Welby at York Minster

The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, on the steps of York Minster. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Esther Addley : Tuesday 17 February 2015 15.43 GMT : modified  at 19.29 GMT

Full text of Church of England bishops’ pastoral letter for 2015 general election

The Church of England has launched a strongly worded attack on Britain’s political culture, criticising politicians of all parties for offering only “sterile arguments” that are likely to make voters more apathetic and cynical in the runup to the general election.

In an unprecedented intervention, the church’s bishops have published a joint open letter warning that “our democracy is failing” and attacking the “growing appetite to exploit grievances” and “find scapegoats” in society. They call for “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be”.

It is the first time the bishops have intervened in this way before a general election, but one said the church had felt the need to counter the “sex appeal” of people such as Russell Brand, who have argued that people should disengage from Westminster politics.

While the bishops insist the letter is not targeted at any party in particular and criticise successive administrations for political failings, the 52-page document can be read as an indirect criticism of the government’s welfare policies.

“There is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed,” the bishops write.

When those who rely on social security “are all described in terms that imply they are undeserving, dependent and ought to be self-sufficient”, the language deters others from offering informal support that in turn could relieve the welfare budget.

It is “game-playing”, they add, “to claim that anyone who cares about the impact of austerity on the most vulnerable members of society is … careless about the extent of national indebtedness”.

Britain has become “a society of strangers” and “individualism has tended to estrange people from one another”, proof of which could be seen in “the extent of loneliness in society today with the attendant problems of mental and physical health”.

They give credit to political leaders “that the impact of the [financial] crisis has been less severe in Britain than in some other European countries”, but argue that “the greatest burdens of austerity have not been borne by those with the broadest shoulders”. Instead, the less well off “have not been adequately protected from the impact of recession”.

But the letter also calls for a return of the values of the “big society”, which the bishops say was dreamed up by “thoughtful Conservatives” who drew “from earlier Christian tradition”. “The ideals the big society stood for … could still be the foundation for the new approach to politics, economics and community which we seek,” they write.

Cameron rejects bishops’ warning against scapegoating people on benefits

David Cameron, asked to respond at an event at which he announced Conservative proposals for further welfare reforms, said he was “keen for anyone” to intervene in politics, but the prime minister added “let’s look at what we’re doing to help people who are in work in our country”.

The government’s plans would create jobs, cut taxes and develop the economy, he said. “I would say to the bishops, I hope they would welcome that, because work does bring dignity, does bring self-reliance. It does enable people to provide for their families; it creates a stronger society as well as a stronger economy and a welfare system that pays people to stay idle when they could work – that is not the sign of a strong economy or a strong or good society.”

Labour and the Liberal Democrats did not comment.

The letter, addressed to all Church of England members and “others who may not profess church allegiance”, argues that all parties “have failed to offer attractive visions of the kind of society and culture they wish to see, or distinctive goals they might pursue. Instead we are subjected to sterile arguments about who might manage the existing system best. There is no idealism in this prospectus.”

Speaking at the letter’s launch, the bishop of Norwich warned that turning away from politics, as Brand and others have advocated, is not the answer. The Right Rev Graham James said: “We’re conscious that there are a number of voices around, probably the most famous of which is Russell Brand, telling people that they should not bother with voting and shouldn’t bother to exercise their hard-won democratic freedoms.

“I’m conscious, just going around some of our youth groups and speaking to youth leaders, that that has had a more profound effect than I had anticipated.

“And while one may think that the bishops of the Church of England don’t quite have the sex appeal of Russell Brand, we think that we should counter it.”

While the bishops stress that their letter is not intended as “a shopping list of policies we would like to see”, they do advocate a number of specific steps, including a re-examination of the need for Trident, a retention of the commitment to funding overseas aid and a reassessment of areas where regulations fuel “the common perception of ‘health and safety gone mad’”. They also call for the promotion of the living wage to counter “the burgeoning of in-work poverty”.

On immigration, they write: “The way we talk about migration, with ethnically identifiable communities being treated as ‘the problem’ has, deliberately or inadvertently, created an ugly undercurrent of racism in every debate about immigration.”

There is a warning, too, for those trying to resolve the constitutional questions thrown up in the wake of the Scottish referendum. It is a “mirage” to think there is an easy solution, write the bishops, and “the idea that the future shape of the union and the relationship between its constituents can be solved in weeks or months is a fine example of politics ignoring the importance of history in favour of the calculated advantages of the moment”.

The bishops are not optimistic about the months ahead: “The election campaign is likely to entrench the apathy and cynicism with which many people approach politics today. To accept such attitudes is a counsel of despair.”

But there were some words of consolation for those seeking election on 7 May, where the bishops acknowledged that in their experience “the great majority” of candidates seeking election do so inspired by “a passion to improve the lives of their fellow men and women.”, adding: “They will disagree wildly about how to achieve this, but, with few exceptions, politicians are not driven merely by cynicism and self-interest.”

It is the duty of every Christian to vote, they argue, “even though it may have to be a vote for something less than a vision that inspires us”.

“Our country is hungry for a new approach to political life that will ‘change the political weather’ as decisively as did the administrations of 1945 and 1979 … No such thing is yet on offer for 2015.”

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Thanks to ‘The Guardian’ for this story in today’s news.

The very fact that the Church of England’s House of Bishops has taken the opportunity to speak about the responsibility of politicians to care for the poor and disadvantaged who struggle  to survive, ought to  raise hopes for a ‘new vision’ in the relationship between Church and Government.

In a climate of perceived inequality and discrimination against people at the bottom of the heap – not only in the U.K., but also in other countries of the world – ought to give us all a sense of the need to bring the basic principles of the Christian Gospel into play, realising that this is truly the mission of God in the world.

At a time of gross inequality between the haves and the have-nots; where self-interest is foremost in the minds and hearts of most of us, it is well for the Church to remind us all of our duty to our neighbour – including those who have little reason to be thankful of the political and social environment in which they strive just to survive.

Ash Wednesday seems an appropriate time to reflect on our duty to our neighbour – the time when we consider our own human frailty in the light of the sacrifice of the Son of God for the sake of the whole creation. And if this means ‘speaking truth’ to the policy-makers whose decisions affect the lives of everyone in our community; then the Church should be in the business of making its voice heard to such leaders.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Bishop Graham Kings – new Mission Theologian in C.M.S.

Partnership for Publishing New Voices: Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion

Posted on: February 16, 2015 4:29 PM

The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings
Related Categories: Bp Kings, England, theology

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church Mission Society and Durham University have become partners in creating an innovative seven year post: Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion.

The purpose is to research, stimulate, connect and publish works of theology in the Anglican Communion, with particular focus on insights from Africa, Asia and Latin America, in their ecumenical contexts.

The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings, currently Bishop of Sherborne, has been appointed and will take up this new post in July 2015. He will be based in London, visiting Durham University, as an Honorary Fellow, and will travel in the Communion. He will convene a series of seminars in Anglican Communion Studies for theologians, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. A new web site, launched today,MissionTheologyAngCom.org, will publish the papers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said, “I am delighted that this strong partnership has developed with CMS and Durham University. It is very gratifying that the concept of a Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion has attracted the necessary support to get to this stage where the post can be established. I know that the Anglican Communion has many gifted theologians and it is so important that their voice is heard more widely. I am glad that Bishop Graham’s experience and knowledge of the Communion is being made so generously available and I shall encourage the development of this project with a keen interest.”

The Revd Professor Joseph Galgalo, Vice-Chancellor of St Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya, said, “This partnership affords new and creative ways of initiating and managing theological discourses across the Communion; and equally provides opportunities for constructive engagements. Bishop Graham Kings, with his vast experience in cross-cultural mission, is well placed to build a wide network of theologians to stimulate fruitful theological conversations, and to inspire partnerships across communities of faith. I wish him well and all God’s blessings as he lays the foundation for this exciting responsibility.”

Canon Philip Mounstephen, Executive Leader of the Church Mission Society, said, “CMS has long been committed to enabling the theological insights and voices of the global south to be better heard around the world as together we explore, and learn more, of the mission of God. I’m thrilled with this new post in CMS.”

Professor Alec Ryrie, Head of the Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, said: “This partnership is exactly the kind of creative enterprise that we should be entering into, to make more of the fresh and important theological thinking taking place in areas which are sometimes remote to readily accessible scholarship. Our leading research and alumni networks can hopefully bring emphasis and credibility to this initiative. We are delighted to welcome Dr Kings as an Honorary Fellow in the Department.”

Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Interim Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, said: “Bishop Graham is well known to the Anglican Communion Office, through his participation in the interfaith network of the Anglican Communion. I am excited that this new post, although not based in the ACO, will complement our work in mission and theological studies. My colleagues and I look forward to working in partnership with him.”

The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, said, “I am very grateful for all that Bishop Graham has contributed to the Diocese of Salisbury as Bishop of Sherborne. This new post makes very good use of his experience, knowledge and skills. We give thanks for him and Alison and ask God’s blessing on all that lies ahead.”

The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings said, “I am amazed at this creative post, and give thanks to God. I am also deeply grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury, CMS and Durham University and to the wide range of supporting donors. Henry Venn, the great 19th Century General Secretary of CMS, talked of ‘self-supporting, self-governing and self-extending churches’ throughout the world. For many years, more recently, there has been a ‘fourth self': ‘self-theologising’. It is these voices which need to be heard more clearly throughout the Communion.”

Funds for this new post have largely come from a wide range of private donors, from various traditions in the world-wide Church of God, as well as from the Church Mission Society, which will be employing Dr Kings from 16 July 2015.

www.MissionTheologyAngCom.org and @MissioTheology are both launched today.

______________________________________________________________

Bishop Graham Kings, the Church of England bishop of Sherborne in the Diocese of Salisbury, has been given a brand new post in the Church Missionary Society, which will be in charge of theological oversight of Missionary activity in the Society – in conjunction with Durham University – that will have ramifications on the world-wide Anglican Communion’s connectivity in the future.

As a moderate conservative in the Communion, Bishop Graham will already have filial connections with the more conservative Provinces, and one might wonder what effect that might have on future relationships with sodalities like GAFCON and ACNA, which have distanced themselves from the rest of the Communion – including the Church of England – on their openness to accepting Gay clergy (and, in some cases; Women clergy) in their respective Provinces.

With the possibility of a split in the Communion between the likes of GAFCON Churches and the rest of us; it may be that the appointment of an Evangelical Conservative bishop to the theological missionary strategies of the Anglican Communion might delay any imminent departure of GAFCON Provinces. In this respect, a lot will depend on the reaction of GAFCON to this appointment, with some expectation on their part as to the way in which the matter of gender and sexuality questions is handled during the upcoming ‘Conversations’ on Human Sexuality now being facilitated by the Church of England General Synod.

Of all the conservative, evangelical voices in the Church of England, Bishop Graham Kings is probably the most balanced and sensible moderator to be given such and important post that will inevitably have some effect on the future of the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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A tale of Inclusive Church at St.Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow

Unlikely alliances – sermon preached as farewell to Fr Chucks

by Kelvin

Here’s what I had to say to my Nigerian colleague Chucks which is moving away from St Mary’s to go and work down south. God be with you, Chucks – we are looking to you to sort out the Church of England.

Sermon preached by Kelvin Holdsworth on 15 February 2015 from Kelvin Holdsworth on Vimeo.

There was a lot of coming and going in the first reading that we had this morning. The story of Naaman that we read today is one of the most dramatic in the bible.

Come with me, the author of that story seems to say, come with me to a land far away. Come with me to the land of the Arameans. Come with me to the banks of the Abana and the Pharpar – the rivers of Damascus. Come with me to a place outside your comfort zone.

And of course, the naming of those rivers as the rivers of Damascus tells us that the story is placed in a part of the world that that we think about every day and pray about all the time. We are being taken for this tale to Syria.

And this story is a vignette of war. There’s a women taken in slavery, there’s conquest and there’s Middle Eastern strife and it all seems horribly familiar to us today.

The young woman taken as a captive from the land of Israel is one of the characters of the bible who always moves me, whenever we read this tale.

She, like Naaman’s wife has not been given the dignity of a name. Only the men are named in the narrative. She has been scooped up and carried off as a souvenir, a trophy of war. And in her day, who missed her? Who from her own town even knew that she had gone missing.

She was probably not that economically important at home and now here in this foreign land she is a slave in the house of her captor.

There was no social media in her day. There was no twitter campaign. There was no hashtag saying #bringbackourgirl. She was just missing – probably presumed to be dead.

And the fact that she was a slave seems almost incidental to the writer of the tale. For slavery would have been perfectly acceptable both to this story’s writer and its first readers.

We now have the firm conviction that slavery is wrong. Though all we continue to learn about people trafficking means that we must never as Christians feel smug that it was a Chrisitan, William Wilberforce which ended the slave trade. For we know now that though Wilberforce and his associates succeeded in outlawing the slave trade it went underground and continues in one rank form or another to this day. Wilberforce should continue to call on us all to bring a real end slavery by helping to end the trafficking of people from one part of the world to another.

But slave-girl she is.

And even though she has probably been forgotten back at home, she hasn’t forgotten the place she came from and so comes out with this extraordinary recommendation that her captor should venture to Samaria to speak to a holy man – a conversation which eventually leads to his healing.

I’d like to think that she gets some reward for this but it is he who is rewarded in the end, only emphasising that good things seem only to happen to men in the story.

Naaman’s indignance at having to go and wash in the River Jordan is rather magnificent. Why the Jordan and not the Abana and the Pharpar? Well, why not indeed? Yet the fact that he ends up being healed anyway after slagging off the Jordan as much as he was able is testament to God’s ability to love anyone. Indeed, the fact that the Lord blesses even the most pompous, is something that I find, well, just a little bit reassuring.

There’s grace even for the most unlovely in God’s world. And that’s news that is good and wonderful and holy.

At its heart, this story reminds us too that stories of great journeys are built into the stories of the bible.

We should perhaps pause more often and think about them in those terms.

The idea of migration being a positive thing is under such challenge politically in this country. Xenophobia, fear of foreigners, seems to be the stock-in-trade of the most disreputable politicians and some, though thanks be to God, not all, elements of the media.

And where xenophobia flourishes, the unwelcome consequences of racism, anti-Semitism, islamophobia, violence as we’ve seen overnight in Copenhagen and all of that stuff follows on all too easily.

It is worth saying publicly that without migration, this land and this city and especially this congregation would be very much impoverished.

On a Sunday morning here in St Mary’s we are a gathering place for the world and I hope that we always will be. Our key word here is welcome. And we try as hard as we can to mean it as fully as we are able.

But this Sunday we are not saying welcome – we are saying goodbye to someone. We are saying goodbye to Chucks. And not just Chucks but the whole family – Adanna and Christian and Mary-Isobel too.

It is a time for parting. And like all times of parting it is a time for thanksgiving.

Chucks, I don’t know exactly why you chose to come to this city.

For some years ago now you came across the world. You left the land of the Niger River and the Cross River. You decided that for at least a portion of your life you wouldn’t stay by the banks of the Otamiri River but would seek out a new land.

And, wonder of wonders, you came to Glasgow.

You came to this city, an amazing city of not one but two rivers – the River Kelvin and …. that other one.

And you’ve made a home and a life here. And we are glad you did.

The sorrow of parting is testament as it always is, to love and affection and respect.

And it is those things we feel for you today as we say goodbye. For thanksgiving is the antidote to sorrow.

The story of the slave girl and Naaman is the story of a rather unlikely alliance.

So is the story of you and I.

I never thought that I would be the person in the Scottish Episcopal Church who would end up with a Nigerian curate. But I’m glad I did.

And at a time when the Anglican world seemed full of poison and bitterness, I’ve never been more proud of St Mary’s than of the period of time when I stood at that altar regularly with a Nigerian priest on one side of me and an American on another and we celebrated God’s love together.

Let no-one ever think St Mary’s is a place of extreme theology. This is a place of bridge-building and I’m proud of that.

And I’m proud of you Chucks too.

I realised when I was thinking about your being here that I understood why you might be moving on.

We’ve been working our way through the sacraments haven’t we.

I’ve been beside you through your ordination to the priesthood, your wedding to Adanna, the baptism of your children and stood next to you at countless services of communion.

There’s aren’t many sacraments left for me to share with you.

I think I’ve only got the last rites to offer, so I quite understand why you need to get out whilst the going is good.

But in all that you’ve done, you’ve been a person of God in this place. And we are pleased to have got to know you and proud to have had you here.

You’ve had all kinds of achievements here. But Paul told us in the letter to the Corinthians this morning to be wary of getting excited about perishable garlands.

You leave here covered in imperishable garlands – our love for you, our joy in knowing you and our pride in having shared your life with you here in Glasgow.

You’ve shared in sharing the good news that we share every week at St Mary’s – that God is good and God’s love is wonderful.

And there is no greater garland.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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Readers on this blog are invited to tap into the title link on this item – just to see and hear the inspirational sermon preached by Provost Kelvin Holdsworth, of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow.

Kelvin weaves into his Sunday Sermon – together with the story of Naaman the Leper and the Servant Girl of his wife – the ongoing saga of slavery and redemption, and the fruitful ministry of a Nigerian curate at the Cathedral, in the drama of strangers and sojourners and how they respond to one another in loving relationship.

Saint Mary’s is so obviously an ‘Inclusive Church’ in SEC, that a native Nigerian can find a loving community – together with Anglicans from around the Communion – in which to learn of Christ’s acceptance of ALL people, no matter what their ethnicity, gender or cultural background may be. The providential coming together of people of significant difference can always be an experience of affirmation and acceptance – where God’s unconditional love is taught and practised without discrimination. Deo gratias!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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