From Windrush to Windsor: Who Do We Think We Are?

by the Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Windrush to Windsor

Pictures:  Junior Green, Windrush victim (left); Rt Revd Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of Episcopal Church of America (right)

How much difference just a couple of weeks makes!  Two weeks ago we were caught up in the appalling realization of how resident black Britons had been driven out of the country.  Today, as I write, we’ve been celebrating a royal wedding in which it’s clear that, in the service, a definite move was made to recognize and incorporate black or mixed-race identity into the heart of the establishment.

The Windrush scandal ought to have shocked us to the core.  The readiness of government to see people whose identity documents pre-dated the imposition of new rules about residency by many years thrown out of the country and forced to return to places that many of them could scarcely remember as a child was a brutal reminder of the indifference of policy to people.

Was it a racist policy?  Many have said so, and I am in no position to disagree.  What’s clear is that, at the very least, targets for lowering illegal immigration were set and approved with such zeal that no scope was left for the intelligent examination of people’s lives and circumstances.  Numbers mattered; people did not.

That was scandal enough.  But as a historian, the wider implications of what was going on here also concern me.  It was as if the complexity of human identity was simply being erased.  Who we are is not one thing, one dimension of geography or biology or history.   We’re made by multiple points of experience – not just where we were born, not just where we live now, not just what we choose to be now.  We’re creatures of time and the constant interweaving of human relationships: our families’ experiences, our DNA, our home background and aspirations, all these and other factors shape what make us.

That’s why fascination with genealogy is such a feature of our time.  Programmes like ‘Who do you think you are’ or ‘Long lost family’ demonstrate how all of us, no matter how famous or obscure, in the end are made by a family history that stretches back well beyond what we can remember.  Recovering that history, or something of it at least, is often profoundly moving for people, as they recognize the roots of problems they have experienced, or recover hidden or altogether unknown aspects of the emotional landscape in which they were raised.

So there is a kind of chilling reduction going on in the assumption that what constitutes an ‘illegal immigrant’, and therefore someone not really ‘one of us’, can be defined simply by the failure to produce certain documents – landing cards, old tax returns perhaps – that people were never told they needed to retain in the first place.  This is bureaucracy like a mindless machine, setting targets, implementing actions, ignoring real situations, and above all turning away from the inhumane implications of what is being done.  It has such sinister overtones of what has gone on elsewhere and at other times in the last century that I surely don’t need to spell the parallels out.

This is particularly sensitive when we think of the highly complicated legacy of empire.  I’m not one of those calling for a wholesale purging of names, statues, and other cultural signs of British history.  I don’t think we should pull down Nelson’s column, or Churchill’s statute in Parliament Square, for example.  But we do have to expand our idea of British history, to reckon not only with embarrassing or scandalous aspects of our past, but also with the way our past as a former imperial power encompasses not just the British Isles, but innumerable other parts of the world.  And not just that, but also experiences of marginalization and oppression that have simply not featured all that much in the favoured national stories.  Our sense of history and personal identity, if we can raise our horizons that way, takes us well beyond the familiar and comforting.

And then lands right back on our own patch.  Because if we want to understand who we really are, we have to complicate our own story, and see ourselves as individuals as inheritors of a patchwork history, in which race, class, gender, region, faith commitment, politics and work have all played their part.  The forced ‘sending back’ of people who have lived for half a century and had every encouragement – until recently – to think of themselves as British residents contradicts what we instinctively know and feel – surely – about what we are as human beings.

But forward fast to today, and a royal wedding.  Of course we can make too much of these things.  But it is nonetheless very ironic that the inclusive spirit of the service was a world away from the reality of the experience of dozens of black Britons forced to undergo hostile scrutiny about their residency, and even exile.  Something good may come of that.

Picture:  Junior Green, Windrush victim (left)

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Posted in Church of England, Jeremy Morris, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Royal Weddings & Lady Bishops – Time for Change?

by the Revd Dr Hayley Matthews, Director of Lay Training, Diocese of Leeds

Meghan & VivPictures: Meghan Markle (left); Very Revd Vivienne Faull, Dean of York (right)

Dashing in for long shorts for my son, not wanting to miss a moment of spring sunshine, the supermarket’s t-shirts slogans took me by surprise: ‘When Harry met Meghan’ filled the foyer in all sorts of glittering shapes and sizes.

Marriage mania was clear with tiaras and well wishes to be seen in every shop front along the parade, from the bargain outlet to Harvey Nicks.  Sadly, Meghan’s own father is not getting quite such a good press as the red-tops persist in digging for dirt. When none is to be found, resorting to the unflattering photograph leads to idle if not malicious speculation.

All to be expected, perhaps, and now that it has been confirmed that Meghan’s father will no longer walk her down the aisle. Headlines have commented that this departure from ‘tradition’ in which a father or other male relative is expected to ‘give away’ their female offspring as if ‘owned’ has not been warmly received by the Royal family, while a Royal Commentator suggested on Radio 4 that ‘the woman who gave birth to her should [walk her down the aisle]’ as a positive solution to Meghan’s father being indisposed.

It defies belief that in the 21st century an independent woman might need to be ‘given away’ by her father and not accompanied in mutual love by the woman who has nurtured her throughout her childhood and well into adulthood.  Such rank misogyny leaves me breathless in the 21st century on a day when Vivienne Faull was announced as the 15th female bishop, following Mike Hill as Bishop of Bristol.  Dean Faull has pioneered women’s ministry for decades from the moment she was the first woman to train for ordination at St John’s College, Nottingham going on to be one of the first women deacons in 1982, becoming Chaplain of Gloucester Cathedral in 1990. In 1994, she was among the first women to be ordained priest, becoming Canon Pastor of Coventry Cathedral.

Coming full circle after a series of high-ranking church roles Dean Faull whose own mother was brought up in Bristol, said on Tuesday that the move would be ‘like returning home’ as she becomes Bishop of a diocese that was the first to ordain women as priests 24 years ago.  Dean Faull declared that she wanted ‘the diocese to continue to show that pioneering courage.’ Those are not empty words coming from the first woman to head the chapter of an English cathedral.

These two women will both experience the Church of England at her best, one in St George’s Chapel, Windsor as she marries into the family whose Matriarch not only heads up the Monarchy she is to join, but who is indeed the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Harry’s Father would surely never hear Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II referred to as ‘the woman who gave birth to him’? Such rank disrespect of any woman beggars belief, particularly from BBC Radio 4 who spent an entire season exploring the ‘locker-room’ language of men towards women.

Dean Faull, on the other hand, will be consecrated as the 57th Bishop of Bristol at a service at St Paul’s Cathedral on 3 July, and installed at Bristol Cathedral in the autumn, experiencing the moving magnificence of a service of consecration that continues to mark the historic unfolding of an egalitarian respect of gender, ecclesiology and episcopal order in the Church of England. No doubt she, too, will encounter moments of disrespect, challenge and demeaning language as she continues her pioneering ministry in the ongoing field of firsts.

Dean Faull has been quoted as saying, “what has been lovely over the past four years is to see [women] emerging as bishops, suffragan or diocesan, and watch how they have begun to establish themselves in very different ways, and be themselves, which is transformative of the Church and perceptions of the Church.” (Church Times, May 15th 2018)

Meghan Markle will also emerge and establish herself as a Duchess in very different ways to those who have married into the Windsors before, and we know ow well that went for both Princess Diana, Harry’s Mum, and his Aunt, Sarah Ferguson.  However difficult their journey’s, their advent was and continues to be transformative for the Royal family as women bishops are to the Church. Being herself whilst also being a Royal will be a profound challenge in terms of who she is as well as within her new role as a Princess by marriage.

Both Ms Markle and Dean Faull are women making history this year; breaking new ground, heading into territory as yet uncharted by any other woman before them. They deserve the respect and support of those within the institutions they are joining in order to fully flourish and grow into the enormity of the mantles being thrust upon them. Each will bear burdens large and small, bearable and unbearable as the full weight of their tiara/mitre settles upon them.

Perhaps it is time for us all to put down our rocks and pointed pens and to begin a sea-change of kindness and forgiveness where we acknowledge the imperfections of these mere human beings thrust into as harsh a spotlight as can be imagined. Is it not the time for cynicism to give way to true Christian charity as to make space for the ‘other’ to flourish and grow, seeing what the new and unexpected has to offer us in terms of enriching and enlivening that which has become so perfectly predictable as to become more pride and prejudice than sense and sensibility?

To both Dean Faull and Meghan Markle I raise my hat – may they each flourish as only human beings can as they find their place in our dearly beloved Church; and as they find their place may the love of God, surrounding and upholding them, been seen in and through them, and in all their works within the Church and beyond, to the glory of God. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Church of England, Hayley Matthews, Sexism | 2 Comments

Lost in Translation – Speaking in Differing Tongues

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

The Anglican Diocese of Namibia has been twinned with that of Manchester for over 20 years. As part of that link, I accepted an invitation to join them for their triennial Synod, taking place in the historic mission centre of Odibo this week. I preached at their Ascension Day Chrism Mass, presided at an early morning Eucharist, and generally tried to listen hard, observe carefully, and lend a hand. The central theme around our devotions and bible studies has been that of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

It’s not just a theoretical matter, almost all of the Synod delegates have lived through the war of liberation that freed the country from the apartheid regime imposed on it by South Africa during the period when it was treated as a province of the latter. Odibo mission itself was closed down for almost two decades in order to prevent its hospital and other facilities being used by combatants. I have heard stories of families taking shelter under their beds, whilst shots rang out across the campus.

The theme of reconciliation has taken us well beyond the traumatic events of the late twentieth century. The diocese is one of many around the world where the process of election of a bishop has led to secession by some supporters of an unsuccessful candidate. I have been struck by how well the current bishop is leading the work to heal those divisions. There is a determination among members of Synod, notable at the morning bible studies on the theme of the Prodigal Son, to build a diocese that is well and fairly administered and which embraces the broad range of churchmanship that is one of the Anglican Communion’s most precious qualities.

However, for me the most interest area of reconciliation has hardly been spoken of; instead it has been lived out in the way we have conducted our business and worship.

It’s all a matter of language.

Despite the fact that the history of the modern state of Namibia includes strong Germanic and Afrikaans interests, the predominant language of official business and of much education is English. Clergy and lay people however, have varying degrees of comfort in working in what is not, for most of them, their mother tongue. Across much of Namibia, especially the northern areas where Anglicans are most strongly represented, the first language is Oshiwambo. A hard working team of translators has allowed everyone speaking at Synod to choose which of the two languages they wish to use, and then for their contribution to be immediately translated into the other. In similar vein our worship has passed seamlessly back and forward between the two.

Language remains one of the principle means through which culture is sustained and developed. Yet it is equally necessary for communication between cultures. One thing that being in a dual language context has taught me, is that clergy stand in a particularly demanding place with respect to it. Priests live at the point where the universal and local church meet. Their role, be it sacramental, preaching or in synods, is to minister across this boundary, and in both directions.

The ability to speak and hear in Oshiwambo is crucial. When the priest faces towards the local, she or he must be fluent in the culture of that locality. It is not enough to have been brought up in the culture, they need to be constantly steeped in it, so that the faith is fully incarnated in their ministry. When they face the wider Church, as in the Namibia Synod, they still need to be able to express themselves as far as possible within the local culture and language in which they are ministering.

Were Synod business to be conducted solely in English, it would fail to adequately engage with the lived reality of its parishes. Something would be, in the common phrase, lost in translation. Moreover, the subjugation of local linguistic cultures under the languages of major world power blocs (be it English, Russian, Chinese or some other dominant tongue) all too readily becomes the latest version of colonialism. And it’s not possible to spend more than a few days in Africa without coming up against the damage that the colonial period inflicted.

Yet the ability to engage in English is also important. The Church in Namibia needs to play its full part in the wider church, a context where its most common local language is absent. If clergy are to properly fulfill their role, they need to be able to read, write and speak in a language that joins them to the majority of the rest of the global Anglican Communion. English is the language in which much of the theology, along with the ethical, pastoral, devotional and other material, that they need to reflect on, is spoken and written. Having access to this corpus in all its richness helps them to be better educated and informed, and to develop and retain a strong sense of wider belonging than just their own place.

Priests with good English can more readily translate what they discover into the culture and context of their people. Priests with good English are better equipped to contribute to the wider councils of the church. During the last Lambeth Conference a number of bishops spoke to me about how they felt left behind in fast moving conversations held in a language with which they engaged with only very limited confidence. Such situations lay us open to another dimension of the colonial legacy.

So I come away from Namibia hugely refreshed and encouraged by my week there. Here is a church that takes reconciliation and healing seriously. Not least, it is working hard to manage its linguistic complexities.

It makes me appreciate even more the ministry of those of my Manchester clergy who work with congregations whose worship language is not English. And it helps me reflect on the complex nature of a world shaped by the influence of the major colonial powers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Church of England, Social Justice | 1 Comment

Churches in Crises – A National Necessity?

by Dr Meg Warner, Theologian, Lecturer & Member of General Synod

Meg Warner

Here in the UK we are currently marking a string of disturbing first anniversaries. The anniversary of the Westminster Bridge attack was 22 March, and the anniversaries of the Manchester Arena bombing (22 May), London Bridge Attack (3 June), Grenfell Tower fire (14 June) and Finsbury Park Mosque attack (19 June) are fast approaching. The cavalcade of disasters in the Spring and Summer of 2017 shocked and appalled us, even if we were fortunate enough not to have had friends or family numbered among the dead or injured. There is little doubt that the first anniversaries, as we reach them, will be similarly affecting.

For the nation’s churches, the experience was a little more complicated. Many congregations, of course, were situated near the disaster sites and lost members or suffered as a result of these events in a whole range of ways. But something very positive for the churches happened over that period also. The nation suddenly discovered that churches were there, and that they had some quite valuable things to offer.

This was nowhere more apparent than in the devastating aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. The difference between the responses of the local council and the churches (together with synagogues and mosques) could hardly have been more marked. Those things that residents immediately looked to the secular authorities to provide – places to congregate, cups of tea, food, emergency supplies, venues for meetings and media conferences, collection and distribution points for donations, a caring word or a hug – were provided instead by the churches. Here was a network of buildings with on-site staff, catering facilities and willing armies of volunteers that could be mobilised at a moment’s notice, even in the middle of the night. Black and purple shirts became familiar, prominent, sights on the news reports in the days that followed – immediately recognisable.

That is not to suggest that the experience was different elsewhere. Following each one of these events churches played a significant role – sometimes observable and sometimes behind the scenes – and this was not lost on the secular authorities in each place. Most cities, towns or areas have disaster-response plans that are made by local authorities, together with policing, fire-fighting and other civic and community organisations. In the past churches have been sometimes consulted and sometimes not. That has changed. Religious leaders are now typically central partners in the making of such plans and religious buildings are being marked for key roles. And now when disasters occur, for the first time, clergy are being invited inside disaster cordons, to counsel and support victims and responders.

None of this comes without a cost for the churches involved, of course. A church that finds itself nearby a major disaster of this type, and which opens its doors to it, can expect to be overwhelmed by the demands made upon it, both in the immediate days after the disaster, and in the following months or even years. Especially if few of the victims of the disaster had been members of the church (which was the case for a number of the churches near Grenfell Tower) this can lead to real tensions over time. Congregations can find themselves quite literally knocked-off their ordinary course. One church, for example, was so overwhelmed by unsolicited donations following the Grenfell Tower fire that when its clergy and PCC decided they needed to do some ‘de-cluttering’ in order to make the church available again for the conduct of liturgy they dispatched three articulated-lorries full of donations to storage.

The role of churches following these disasters was not limited to the provision of post-disaster relief and care. Churches and clergy have also played important civic roles in marking, mourning and moving back to normality. Clergy from Southwark Cathedral, for example, following the London Bridge attack (in which it had itself been significantly affected) held an informal liturgy among the stalls of Borough Market, sprinkling holy water, saying prayers, and ‘re-claiming’ the area for local people, attracting enthusiastic participation on the part of those who happened to be there. Subsequently, local authorities asked the Dean to lead an observance to ease the dismantling of the impromptu memorial to the victims of the attacks – huge piles of flowers, teddy-bears and written messages – that had become, over time, a public hazard. An unplanned, and extremely moving, ritual ensued in which members of the gathered crowd moved forward one-by-one, unbidden, to carry individual items from the memorial into the trucks that that would take them away for burning. A similar ‘re-claiming’ ritual was welcomed in recent days by the people of Salisbury, following the Skripal poisoning, and although it is still very early days, it can probably already be said that the national service commemorating the six-month anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, held at St Paul’s Cathedral, will be looked back to as a very significant point in the community’s recovery from that tragedy.

I didn’t grow up in this country. I’m Australian and have spent most of my life in a country that doesn’t have an established church. Perhaps that makes me especially sensitive to what I see as the rich gifts that establishment brings, both to church and to nation. In the churches’ response to these terrible events one year ago I think that the public began to develop a renewed awareness of exactly what the Church of England offers to the nation – both nationally and parish by parish.

I hope and pray that the Church of England is also being led to a renewed awareness – an awareness of what it can be and who it is for.

Posted in Church of England, Meg Warner, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Nye Letter & The Silencing of Debate

by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Chair of the Human Sexuality Group on General Synod

Giles Goddard

A windswept, autumnal holiday camp on the east coast. Three hundred clergy and as many lay people are gathered, from the Diocese of Southwark, to reflect on their mission and the love of God. Bishop Jack Spong has been invited to give a keynote address. As a result, vitriol flows through the conference like the incoming tide on the beach outside the camp.

It was 1991: I was there in my role as Director of the Diocesan Housing Association and just beginning to think about ordination. I was still naïve enough to be shocked at the level of nastiness in a supposedly Christian setting. I was therefore present at my very first meeting of Anglicans who believed that the Gospel teaches that all should be fully welcome in the church, regardless of sexual orientation.​

We set up the Southwark Lesbian and Gay Support Network. How different the world was, then. Secretive meetings at private locations. Names gathered by word of mouth, passed on from one to another. A level of anguish and fear which pervaded our meetings, despite their superficial jollity. Apparently irreconcilable differences of opinion within the movement. And extraordinary manoeuvres to engage with us by the then Bishop of Southwark – privately and publicly supportive but trammelled and trapped, like the rest of us, by the church’s public position.

Twenty five years on, what has changed?

On the surface, everything. I would never have imagined, then, openly partnered Bishops and Deans, or an out gay Prolocutor of the Canterbury House of Clergy. I would never have imagined, then, being asked by the Archbishops to serve, as an LGBTI clergyperson in a relationship, on the coordinating body for the House of Bishops’ Teaching Document. Or the clear and open engagement of members of the House of Bishops in the attempts to ensure that the church can, at last, become properly inclusive.

And yet, on another level, nothing has changed. My frustration over the Secretary General’s letter to the Episcopal Church of the USA isn’t so much over the means and authority for its production – although of course that’s serious – but much more because of what the letter seems to be trying to do.

There are many points which I would query within the letter. For example, the focus on the word ‘procreation’ rather than ‘gift’ which seems, at best, odd, given that the Church of England have already moved away from using that word in our own service, where we affirm that marriage is:

given as the foundation of family life
in which children are [born and] nurtured
and in which each member of the family,
in good times and in bad,
may find strength, companionship and comfort,
and grow to maturity in love.

​The focus on procreation feels reminiscent of the focus on ‘complementarity’ which emanated regularly out of Church House during the church’s opposition to the Equal Marriage Act.

And also the assertion of the majority view of the Church of England on sexual behaviour which is, as many have said, at best questionable and probably (but we don’t know because no one has done the work) simply incorrect.

​But above all my disquiet with the letter is that it seems to be attempting to close down, once again, the recognition that there are a range of views on these issues which can properly be held by loyal Anglicans. While it acknowledges that the Episcopal Church’s processes have been properly followed, there is no sense in which the letter recognises even the possibility that TEC may have something to bring to the table in this conversation.

It proposes an outcome for the Bishops’ Teaching Document, saying that it is intended ‘to express the Church’s teaching clearly, demonstrate the areas where we can count on wide agreement and expose those areas where our disagreements run deepest’. This is certainly not my understanding of the purpose of the document. If it does not express clearly the ways in which proper Christian understandings of human relationships have opened up over the last fifty years, then I will view my participation in the process to have failed.

In the end it’s about a grown-up conversation. I and many others are trying to have a sensible and mature debate, across the divides, about all of this. Very few of us want the vitriol and rage to continue, whether we’re conservative evangelical, traditionalist, revisionist or inclusive. I thought that that was what the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted; otherwise, why talk about ‘radical Christian inclusion’?

But the signals from the centre are deeply unhelpful. The riding roughshod over the expressed desire of Synod for a liturgy for trans people; the warning of a strong slap on the wrist to the Episcopal Church; the apparent intention to supress any debate at Synod until after the Teaching Document has been produced in 2020 – all this seems to me to infantilise the church and demean its members.

That’s why I’m cross. I’ve been having these conversations for over 25 years. When will I, when will we all, be able to move on? When will we be able, as a mature and wise denomination, to acknowledge with joy that God created humankind in God’s image, diverse and wonderful?

Posted in Church of England, Giles Goddard, Human Sexuality | 7 Comments

Windrush & Rudd: When “They” Are “Us”!

by the Revd Canon Anna Norman-Walker, Rector of Streatham and past member of General Synod

Anna N Walker with kids

We welcome you into the fellowship of faith;  we are children of the same heavenly Father; we welcome you’

Words that we said with great joy following the baptism of a little boy whose name is ‘Marvellous’ on Easter morning at St Leonard’s in Streatham.

His older sister received her first communion at the same service and his brother shared the best view in the building with me, as I announced the blessing with him cheerfully perched on my hip.

Present in the congregation that morning, as always, was a rich diversity of people. We are proud to be an intergenerational, multi ethnic and fully inclusive church. Among our number are many from the Windrush generation, arriving from the Caribbean two generations ago to drive our buses, work in our hospitals and administrative structures, all committed to playing their part in enabling Britain to flourish as a nation. They are every bit as much a part of the body of Christ in Streatham as I am.

The recent scandal concerning their treatment by the Home Office has caught the public imagination and quite rightly so, because it exposes far more than simply an administrative failure. It has bought to our attention countless stories of people who have been treated without the dignity or respect that they deserve by the processes that we currently have in place for dealing with immigration.

As a church in South London we have members who week by week travel to Yarlswood to register themselves as those ‘without right to remain’; among them Marvellous and his family.

It is easy to think in terms of targets and outcomes when you are dealing with figures and spreadsheets in Whitehall, but when ‘they’ are ‘us’ and ‘we’ are the body of Christ it feels very different.

I have been touched by the stories I have heard about why people are here in the UK and I have yet to encounter the stereotyped ‘free loader’ that some would have us believe in.

I have children in my Sunday School who have never known life anywhere else and are fully integrated in their schools and the community. I have couples in loving legitimate mixed-race marriages who are being scrutinized for being a ‘sham’. I have prayed with a single mother whose brother was murdered in her native Nigeria, both her parents are dead, and she is terrified that after 10 years in the UK she might be sent back and what might become of her and her daughter there.

None of this undermines the fact that immigration is a challenge and that there are people without a right to remain, who should return to their homeland, but what the ‘targets and the measurable outcomes’ fail to do is to engage compassionately with the individual stories such as these.

Dishonesty among those who are public servants is always disappointing, but it happens, it always has. This time the axe falls upon Amber Rudd but she will certainly not be the last. In any case, this is not the scandal of Windrush, the scandal is that as a nation, whose roots are in the Christian tradition, we have denied our fellow humans beings the compassion, dignity and frequently, the justice they deserve.

The Bible sets out an overwhelming precedence for the way in which we should treat the ‘alien, foreigner, stranger and sojourner’ in our midst and it is not an unreasonable demand:

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’.

It is simply about showing love toward our neighbours. What Windrush has exposed is that we have failed in this most basic of statutes.

In Streatham, we give thanks for the ‘angels’ God has sent our way, because through them we are enriched by a diversity we would not otherwise know, and we are learning what the body of Christ really looks like and it is quite Marvellous.

(photograph used with permission)

 

Posted in Anna Norman-Walker, Church of England, Social Justice | 2 Comments

Letters to America – Is the End Nye?

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News
Jayne Ozanne new

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who found it almost impossible to get through William Nye’s response to the the Episcopal Church of America (regarding their request to understand the impact of their decision to trial liturgical rites for same-sex marriage) without wanting to scream!

It seems extraordinary to me that after all that has happened – the extensive Shared Conversations, voting not to “Take Note” of the House of Bishops’ Report, Conversion Therapy bans and decisions to welcome for our Transgender friends – that members of Church House staff could still churn out such an unbalanced and inflammatory letter.

It also seems incredulous that whilst it is eight pages long, it neither mentions the significant level of dissent that exists within the Church of England nor the growing concerns over the need for appropriate pastoral care of the LGBT community given the Church’s current discriminatory stance on this issue.

What were “they” thinking?!  Indeed, who are “they”?

The honest answer is that we are never too sure.

Given the lack of transparency it can often seem like “shadowy figures who attempt to play God” (excuse the pun).  Puppet masters who write long policy documents and then try to “get them through” Archbishops’ Council and Synod.  The very language that is often used bears witness to the fact that these instruments of accountability are seen as obstacles to navigate through rather than opportunities for considered discussion and dissent.

Back in the days when I was on the Archbishops’ Council, I remember resigning myself to the fact that any minutes of our meetings would only ever reflect the points that those “in the central offices” wanted to hear.  Any murmurs of dissent or awkward questions raised were usually always whitewashed out of the record, a case of selective amnesia by those who wished us all to sing from a monotone hymn sheet.

And so the establishment just rumbles on, regardless of what the people it is there to serve are actually saying.  It is what I meant when I stated in a speech to Synod last February that the Church has become a Hobbesian Leviathan – a beast that bears no resemblance to the people of which it is constituted.

Indeed, I remember once trying to hold Archbishops’ Council staff to account for taking action on a certain matter that we as a Council had agreed, after some discussion at its previous meeting, should not be taken.  The answer was simple – the Council had “made the wrong decision” as they were not aware of all the facts, and therefore the decision was taken to proceed anyway!  What worried me most was that no one else seemed that concerned about this blatant disregard for process.

We see the living proof of this mindset yet again in this letter sent by the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council.  Despite being someone who is meant to act as an executive of the Council, he somehow forgot to inform them all of a critically important document that he had written on their behalf.

Surely enough is enough!

If IICSA has shown us anything, it is that the “age of deference” – where those in positions of power should never be questioned – has now ended.

It is time for the Church to be honest about the state it is in, not the state that it wishes it was in – or (if it closes its eyes, puts its fingers in its ears) believes that it is still in.

The truth is that otherwise it will not be about “the state that it is in”, but rather “the state that it is out of”.

Disestablishment can only be the direction of travel for a Church that is meant to serve the whole people of Britain but is hell bent on serving just a closeted few.  Parliament is watching, and their frustration is mounting.

Others, have explained in some depth what is fundamentally wrong with Nye’s letter.  A quick look in this week’s Church Times will show a range of letters written on behalf of significant groups of people within the Church.

So what should we do?

The first step, I would suggest, is to send a more accurate and representative letter to our TEC cousins, which simply says:

Dear Sir

Mr Nye has mistakenly sent the wrong letter to you regarding your invitation to comment on how your provision of same-sex marriage rites has affected the Church of England.

The one which the majority of us (according to research surveys on attitudes to same-sex marriage amongst English Anglicans) expected him to send simply says:

“Thank you for leading the way on this important issue.  We are grateful that you have recognised that not all married couples can have children and that a gender-neutral approach will enable us to become a loving and inclusive Church for all.  We still have a few problems to sort out over here with those who keep threatening to leave, but we know that your actions have given great hope to thousands and shown that the Church is not as homophobic as it can sometimes appear.”

We therefore want to publicly “dissociate” ourselves from Mr Nye’s initial response and are expecting “stringent consequences” as a result of his actions.

Yours faithfully

Sign your name here

 

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne | 3 Comments