The recent sadness at Westcott House emerged at about the same time as the pre-release of the Bishops’ Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations. It made for a perfect media storm. About Polarigate, as we must now surely call it, we should be patient: well-meaning people often make dreadful mistakes. Marriage and Same Sex Relationships, however, deserves more scrutiny.
The Bishop of Norwich had the unenviable task of presenting it to the world. One paragraph of his statement stuck out like a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah. The bishops, apparently, were
… mindful of the unity of the Church, which is not an insignificant consideration. For the Church of England to change its understanding of the doctrine of marriage when the overwhelming majority of Churches have not done so would need a very compelling theological case …
Seasoned readers of New Directions may well splutter. The appeal to Church Unity didn’t prove to be the last word when the Church of England revised its disciplines relating to contraception and the remarriage of divorcees. It certainly wasn’t a consideration when women were admitted to the episcopate. By the time it came to discussing women bishops, the unity argument was even treated with suspicion.
Are gay people really expected to believe that, after decades of ambivalence towards traditional forms of interpretation of Scripture and the practice of the Church throughout the world, the House of Bishops of the Church of England suddenly holds inviolably sacrosanct the Unity of the Church in its dealings with the Sacraments? With the General Synod having declined to take note of their document, which fell in the House of Clergy, it looks like their Lordships are going to have to come up with something more convincing. Then again, perhaps we could just throw ourselves into another twenty years of internecine warfare, for old times’ sake.
At the time of going to press, St Davids Cathedral, having enthroned Bishop Penberthy on 10 February, had decided how to deal with the problem of Ash Wednesday this year falling on 1 March. The answer in such a situation should have been obvious – and it’s not like it hasn’t happened before. St David defers to Ash Wednesday and moves to the next free day. It’s really that simple.
So, just when you thought that nothing could beat the Diocese of Leicester and The Great Cupcake Scandal of 2016: welcome, courtesy of St Davids Cathedral, to Ash Tuesday. The norms of the liturgical observances of Latin Christendom apparently no longer apply.
Perhaps next year the Cathedral could think about having Easter Sunday on Good Friday evening, so that all the smart people going down to their holiday homes at Solva and Abereiddy and Porthgain can get the inconvenience out of the way on the first night and get on with enjoying the Bank Holiday Weekend. After all, if we’re going to start to reimagine the liturgical year we might as well make it convenient for the people whom we imagine will come.
Ash Tuesday isn’t a Fresh Expression
of Church, or some kind of edgy outreach,
or a necessary expediency in a complicated pastoral situation. It’s self-indulgence, and
if by the time of publication it has been stopped in its tracks then so much the
The horrific allegations that have been made against John Smyth QC, pertaining
to his activities at Iwerne holiday camp over a number of years, have shocked the Evangelical establishment to the core. They surfaced at about the same time that Bishop Peter Ball was released from prison, having served 16 months of a 32-month sentence imposed in October 2015. That juxtaposition should serve as a timely
reminder, as Lent begins, that the Devil is not really very interested in High Church or Low Church, Catholic or Evangelical. When it comes to the grubby business of sin, we really are all in it together.
We warmly welcome the nomination of Bishop Philip North to be the next Bishop of Sheffield – a sign of hope for the whole Church.