From the Revd Dr Barry Orford
Just what is going on in the Church of England? In the June issue of New Directions Fr Gary Waddington recalled a member of an evangelical church asking why their curate needed to be ordained priest when he had been ‘commissioned’ at his diaconal ordination. That was twenty-five years ago. I spoke recently with someone who had attended a Bishops’ Advisory Panel as a prospective ordinand. They commented that although they knew the CofE to be a broad Church they were taken aback by some of those being considered who appeared to have no real understanding of Anglicanism. One person spoke angrily (in private) about being made to go to a BAP in order to continue as a ‘minister’ in their parish.
Someone who is treating the selection process with such contempt is clearly unfit to be part of that process; yet a Diocesan Director of Ordinands and presumably also a bishop had approved their going to a selection panel. (This confirmed me in my opinion that all candidates for ordination should be pressed for a reasonable answer to the question, ‘Why do you wish to be ordained in the Anglican Church?’)
Then there was the Ash Wednesday Incident [ND, March 2016], when the acting Bishop of Leicester and others appeared in public to hand out cakes to train travellers. The purpose of this was – I am quoting from the diocesan website – ‘to challenge the perception of Lent as a time to give things up, and instead try to embody God’s generous giving to the people of Leicester.’ The cakes were accompanied with a napkin bearing these words;
Lent is traditionally a time to give up yummy things, like chocolate, so why is the church giving away cake today of all days? This cake is a symbol of the freedom, purpose and fulfilment that Jesus came to give to you, and like this cake it is a free gift for you to accept. You can eat this cake to celebrate and say thank you to God for all the good things in your life, and particularly for the gift of Jesus.
Put to one side, if you can, the embarrassing advertisement-speak employed and consider the message, which is the presentation of a Christianity as soft and fluffy as the cakes. There is no attempt to say why Jesus is a gift which we need. The statement that a cake represents freedom, purpose and fulfilment is laughable. More serious, however, is the failure to explain the purpose of Lent; indeed, the diocesan website encourages questioning the notion of Lent as a time for self-denial with a spiritual purpose.
I thought there could be little disagreement among Church people that Lent is the season when we are challenged to look at our lifestyles to see whether modifications are needed to help us in our discipleship. There is no question that Ash Wednesday is one day when fasting and abstinence as a Lenten preparation have been laid down for us. This is plainly considered to be a ‘turn-off’ from Christianity for the people of Leicester. The result is that clergy teaching their people the well-tried disciplines of the Church have their work undermined (and not for the first time) by the behaviour of their leaders.
Recently I saw a letter circulated in another diocese, quoting words written by Mark Yaconelli, a visiting American writer and spiritual director. They have been commended by at least one Diocesan Director of Ministry. Here are some samples:
- Now we are living within the in-between time. The Old Church is gone, the New Church is waiting to be born. We are living between the dreaming and the coming true. This is an age of creativity. This is a time of experimentation, a time to try out new ideas. Remember when you first felt God—that secret passion that longed to do good, to love people, to heal the sick, to take risks for the sake of love? This is the time to turn those dreams into reality. This is the time when all of us are invited to live the life we’ve longed to live. The great good news of the Gospel is that we are free. God holds none of the old obligations over us. We are free. It is time to exercise some of that freedom…
- God is always good news. As any child will tell you, good news means you feel good when you hear it.
- To live the good news means you must only participate in those activities that leave you feeling good within your heart. You must only participate in those activities that stir up joy, love, generosity, kindness, creativity, a sense of anticipation and well-being. God is the great pleasure and much of what we are doing in the church right now gives no one any pleasure…
Such writing ought to be a joke, but it is being taken seriously by someone responsible for ministry in the Church.
History and tradition are not our sole guidelines, and seeking new ways to proclaim the Good News is essential; but can our Church survive when its foundations are being eroded by the very people whose job it is to maintain concern for them? In the light of the examples above, I wonder whether it is any longer worth trying to persuade people to take Anglicanism seriously.
Things have been bad in the CofE before. The Tractarians fought for the Catholic faith and practice of the Church, which they believed was being betrayed. Are we now prepared to stand up and challenge our leaders about the policies they are operating?
Barry A. Orford