Wise women

From Fr David Sutton ssc

I was interested to read Geoffrey Squire’s tale of his encounters with women clergy, and his closing comments, with which I heartily agree [ND September].

In Manchester a small group of Forward in Faith chapter members have been meeting regularly with members of the Women’s Chapter for four years, with the aim of getting to know and understand each others position better, and to discover how and where we can work together despite our differences.

During that time three vigil services have been arranged in our cathedral with the full support of the diocesan bishop and PEV, in order to pray for guidance and generosity in spirit in the debate about women bishops. We have studied the documents Women Bishops in the Church of England and Consecrated Women? and have discussed what future legislation might need to contain if it is to command the support of both our constituencies (a tall order, we must admit).

Future plans include a fourth vigil to take place next Candlemass, and a joint study/quiet day for clergy and laity. We have found this relationship to be of benefit to all of us, without compromising our position on the ordination of women or other doctrinal/ethical matters. It may well be a model that other parts of the country might follow.

To their credit, the proposal to set up this working group four years ago came from the Women’s Chapter.

David Sutton

Winton Vicarage, Eccles, Manchester

Marriage works

From Mrs Joanna Bogle

Following my feature ‘Marriage is my Thing’ in a recent edition of this magazine, a reader wrote to me – and irritatingly I have lost his letter, so cannot reply to him direct – with some thoughts on how we could all promote marriage in various ways, especially through the Church. He noted in particular that when he had spoken up for the traditional Christian view at a recent church gathering, support and interest came from the young, and it was the older people who complained that it was unrealistic and wrong to defend traditional marriage.

Too often I have found that a good discussion has been dampened by some one announcing gloomily that ‘this is all just so idealistic – real life is not like that’ and telling a (sometimes rather rambling) personal story of broken relationships. Everyone then has to say, very energetically, a lot of eager and polite things about there being no real rules, everyone’s personal story is unique, we need to be tolerant etc, and the talk breaks down into clich├ęs.

We have to take a decision to honour and promote Christian marriage, and take opportunities, including small ones, to do so. Among ideas for promoting marriage my correspondent suggested that when showing people round a church – especially children on school visits – weddings should be mentioned: ‘This is where a bride will walk up the aisle… we had a wedding here last weekend…’ There are also often opportunities for a guest speaker to tackle the subject at a school assembly – possibly with the emphasis on Christian wedding traditions, but with the additional value of promoting lifelong male/female marriage as the basis.

If we are to defend and uphold marriage – and we can and must – we need positive thinking and planning, and swapping of useful strategies. I wrote my original feature out of anger at current government policies, and I am fully aware that such policies mean we have a lot stacked against us. But I am more than ever convinced that teaching the message of marriage is good, right, achievable and crucial.

Joanna Bogle

End the phoney war

From Canon Keith Punshon

I have just returned from Matins in Ripon Cathedral, churned up inside for another day of worrying about the Church of England. If it’s right that we are in a phoney war, many of us know of real casualties as we slide towards a split. Bishop John Packer wrote movingly [ND September] about finding a way to keep the Church listening and working together as we prepare for the consecration of women.

He is greatly respected by God’s traditional people in this diocese, but in my heart of hearts I now believe that liberal dreams of an inclusive Church have specifically excluded those with whom they disagree, and that for the sake of the Gospel and the Church of England the creation of a third province which is also a continuing church is the least we should accept.

The Act of Synod has not protected the thousands of traditionalists who are now absent from our altars. That such a few churches loyal to orthodox teaching are permitted to function denies the role of a national Church to be truly inclusive. For me, membership of the CofE is like that of being in a Labour Party taken over by Militant, a church for activists alone, where the needs of the lapsed are neglected.

Talk of majorities and minorities is not helpful. Do we not teach that which we have received? Can there be a future for Orthodoxy in a Church of England when our Christian inheritance is marginalized in a group of people forever labelled a minority?

Keith Punshon

Fake gold

From Mr Ed Woods

How brave of Fr Ian Brooks to admit that after twenty-seven years of hard work all that he can expect at Sunday Mass is twenty-five worshippers.

How perceptive of him also to recognize that in the golden age’ an element in large church attendances was the church’s provision of social benefits.

One of Charles Booth’s urban poverty investigators revealed that a church in 1890s South London used to hide tickets qualifying for coal issue in the prayer books. At the start of Evensong the church was full, but before long the opening and shutting of books, as folk searched for the tickets, sounded like gun-fire. After 15 minutes the church was nearly empty as both successful and frustrated seekers scuttled out.

Perhaps the strategy for today’s areas of low church attendance would be to bring back Prayer Books and hide lottery tickets in them.

Ed Woods

1 Lewis Lane, Cirencester GL7 2FA

Witness in black

From Fr Giles Pinnock ssc

Last Sunday the media carried a story that a CofE working group had recommended that the clergy of the CofE, from the Archbishop of Canterbury down should abandon clerical dress while going about their normal day-to-day business and take down signs drawing attention to the location of the vicarage for reasons of ‘personal security’.

Is this directive simply another extension of an already over-active culture of Health & Safety, or is it something rather more insidious – not ‘Health & Safety gone mad’ in the hands of CofE bureaucrats, but an example of the CofE in disorderly retreat – becoming a club for the comfortably like-minded and not a outward-looking missiological and evangelizing body? There is more to this than a question of sartorial elegance or otherwise, and, in reality, it has been going on for a long time.

This latest announcement is simply adoption of what is already the practice of many clergy – keep the collar only for when you’re in church, and you won’t be bothered by those annoying people in Sainsbury’s and the street.

A former generation of clergy were never seen out of clerical dress. My father was one of them. However, recognizing that it is necessary to have time for recreation, it is probably quite proper for clergy, like policemen and the military not to be obsessively in uniform while off duty, but when at work to be wearing clerical dress; and to regard themselves as being available to all who approach them, even (or especially) in the freezer aisle at the supermarket.

It has been suggested that the CofE working party’s recommendation is motivated principally by concern for the safety of female clergy – have we here an inadvertent acknowledgement that the ordination of women is an obstacle to mission because of a cultural change amongst the clergy that it requires in terms of visibility and accessibility?

I write this on 9 October, memorial of St Denis, first Bishop of Paris and his companion martyrs. They were sent from Rome to France in the third century to evangelize the Gauls and were martyred around that part of Paris that now bears his name. Had they not been visible, they may not have been martyred, but neither would they have been doing their job as a missionary bishop and his priests.

The Gospel for today reminds us that no-one lights a lamp to put it under a tub. To be ordained and yet to shun clerical dress seems to be doing exactly that. I will when off duty wear non-clericals albeit, as someone once put it, still wearing (literally or metaphorically) black socks. Otherwise I, and I hope all the clergy of SSC and FiF, will be in deepest black – perhaps even wearing the cassock – whenever about our work in and around our parishes, chaplaincies and other places of work. To do less would seem a dereliction of duty, but probably not one which will figure too often in cases under the Clergy Discipline Measure.

A martyr is a witness, one who is visible not for their own sake but for what it is that they illuminate by their manner of life and death. What would St Denis have thought of the idea that clergy should be less visible for the sake of personal security? Not much, I shouldn’t think. And he’d be right.

Giles Pinnock

Respect the scientist

From Mr Francis Bowles

Hugh Baker’s stimulating article ‘Way, truth and life’ succinctly demonstrated how centuries of what he described as dispensational theology had negatively influenced the spiritual power of the Church. However I feel he has been a little unfair to scientists in general, and Darwin and Dawkins in particular.

Modern science, as opposed to theology, attempts to prove things about the universe and its content by research and experimentation. If no successful results are forthcoming from this, those things are regarded as unproven or not necessarily true. Darwin’s painstaking study of the effect that environmental factors had on the evolution of animal and plant species eventually gave him sufficient solid experimental evidence to present his hypothesis to the world.

He may be the inheritor of that Renaissance scientific tradition which had replaced the superstition of the mediaeval world with the clear and honest vision of the ancient Hellenic world, but he certainly had no connection whatsoever either with totalitarian politics like Marxism and fascism or with progressive liberalism. Like all real scientists, he just sought the truth.

Richard Dawkins is an atheist, I don’t agree with him, but I respect the fact that he has come to that belief because he has been unable to verify through experimental method any solid proof for the existence of the supernatural. Admittedly some of the Christians he has confronted on television were both bigoted and unintelligent, and I would have much preferred to see him tackle a seasoned Jesuit who would have given him a much better debate.

Francis D. Bowles

Multi-tasking leaders

From Mr I. Gilmore

Why does your otherwise excellent magazine keep banging on about why women can’t be ordained or become bishops? Those of us who accept the argument could now recite it in our sleep and those folk who don’t will only be convinced by grace, not by grinding on.

Why not some articles about the ways in which women are serving today’s church and an examination of how they could serve within the wished for free province?

One suggestion to start the examination. If theologically women can’t be bishops and priests, then (practically) it’s undoubted that women have multitasking skills which make them better administrators than men.

I hope the free province will reserve the archdiaconal role to deacons, with a presumption that, in normal circumstances, the archdeacon will be a female deacon. If not, why not?

I. Gilmore

North Side, Clapham SW11 1BF

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