We Can’t Go Back…Even When We Do!

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester


From this weekend, churches have the option, subject to a risk assessment, of reopening their premises for public acts of worship. Over the next few weekends I expect, and indeed hope, that we will be able to undertake simple, practical measures that will reduce the risks of infection at such gatherings, sufficiently to comply with the government requirement that our buildings be Covid secure. Congregation members may stagger their return over a number of Sundays, there will be no grand reopening ceremonies, but physically we will have indeed “gone back”.

Except, there is never any true going back.

The past, even the very recent past, is always a different country. Whilst separated from public worship in our buildings, we have continued the mission of Christ’s Church in different ways. We have proclaimed the Gospel from virtual pulpits we never knew existed, and many have responded in joy. We have nurtured one another in faith, using every technique of telecommunication to deepen our fellowship, share our tears, console our bereavement and relieve our loneliness. We have served the poor and hungry in our communities. We have been stirred to pray and act for justice, so that hungry children will be fed over the summer holidays, the homeless will not be cast back onto the streets, and Black Lives will Matter, both more and to more of us, in the time to come. We have shrunk our carbon footprint, travelling less, buying fewer disposable commodities, and enjoying the sights and sounds of a nature beginning to breathe more easily as many of us have been able to do also.

We are not who we were four months ago. We have lost, lamented, learned, longed and loved. We cannot be squeezed back into our former shape.

When I first began to work with parishes on recruiting new priests, I quickly discovered the huge value of “the vacancy”. It was only when the previous incumbent had left that a parish profile could be drawn up that didn’t simply say, “Same again please, bishop, only 20 years younger”. It was only after eight or nine further months had lapsed that a new vicar could arrive and not be expected to take on every single duty that had accrued to their predecessor. Time needed to pass for things to stop happening, for other practices to cease being unthinkingly presumed; only thus can we make room for the new.

If I were inventing a liturgy for the return to our buildings, it would be to invite each worshipper, new or returning, to make the baptismal renunciations and professions of faith before crossing the church threshold the first time. We enter anew, casting off unsustainable or unwanted habits, discarding long hoarded prejudices, released from behaviours that exhaust and drain our energies. Ready for the future.

My hope and my yearning is that these months of lockdown have readied us to be a Church that treasures its people and its resources enough to release them to where the opportunities and challenges for mission are the greatest; not a Church that seeks to do everything just as we have always done, but to do it more frantically and with fewer assets available than ever. I hope for patterns of ministry that do not tire our clergy and lay leaders to exhaustion, but equip them to expend their energies building the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed; for ways of meeting and ministering that do not tie up so much of our energies in maintaining the wrong buildings in the wrong places; for radical simplification of the bureaucratic hoops we so often have to go through on the way to achieving any significant change.

It would be foolish to pretend that most of us have not been impacted by the stress and strain of these last months. I can hear the siren voice within myself, the voice that wants to go back to things as they were. Maybe just for a year or two, it whispers, a time to rest and regain impetus for the future. And yet I know that to do so would be fatal. Indeed, it would simply add to the burden of exhaustion without offering new hope. Developing new vision and purpose, and doing it now, will bring not only fresh energy but refreshment and renewal. When we are clear how we are going to be different, we will find rest in release from the things we have stopped tiring ourselves out with.

So, I welcome the fact that we will be publishing the Living in Love and Faith resources, and commending them for study and engagement, this autumn. I dare to hope that reading them in the light of our emerging from lockdown will provide fresh insights into who we are, and how we might be the Church better. I welcome the work I see being done to help us focus on what the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion might mean for us both as individuals and as church communities over the next five to ten years. I welcome the fresh energy that lies behind what should be the self-evident phrase that Black Lives Matter.

The next few weeks and months will not only be a time to fling open the doors of our buildings to welcome our people, but a time to fling open our hearts and minds to welcome with equal enthusiasm what the Holy Spirit is yearning to breathe into us.

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Coronavirus, Living in Love & Faith, Social Justice, We Can't Go Back... | 2 Comments

We Can’t Go Back…to 2020 Vision

by Dr Rachel Jepson, Member of General Synod, Teacher and PhD in Education ― “Death and Life After Death: Children’s Concepts and Their Place in Religious Education”


“I have come in order that you might have life ― life in all its fullness.”

John’s Gospel, Chapter 10 Verse 10

Engaging with what is happening in the world around us is both a personal and collective privilege and responsibility.  COVID-19 has vividly reminded me of the importance of fully living in the moment ― that this is the only moment I can influence.

This pandemic is a chance for our education system to be far more holistic than it has ever been.  All those who are responsible for, and are a part of our formal education system ― the students, teaching and non-teaching staff, parents/guardians, governors, inspectors, the Department for Education, and the teaching unions have a golden opportunity to reflect on and assess the purpose of education and how that should be manifested.

More joined-up thinking, action, and discernment is desperately needed.  As a consequence, there should be less compartmentalisation and separation of the formal place of learning in school, college or university from the home and the community in which people live.  The pandemic is starkly reminding us that how we live is interwoven with our neighbours whether they are family and friends, or acquaintances and strangers.  We do not live mutually exclusive lives.  Thus, a greater and more consistent willingness to be alert to and informed by each other’s narratives and realities is imperative.  In turn, this should lead to greater understanding and acceptance of one another.

The pandemic keeps presenting us with the harsh realities of life.  Consequently, it is important for schools to embrace this chance to facilitate their students being able to explore the concepts of death and life after death.  Research affirms that children, including young children, are capable of considering these concepts and they should be given the opportunity to explore them further.  School is an advantageous and universally available place where meaningful consideration of the search of these concepts should occur as school is a familiar environment for discovery, learning and understanding for children.  Religious Education is the most relevant area of the school curriculum where children’s discovery and learning can be focused on the exploration of these concepts through investigating ultimate questions with the rites of passage and doctrines of the major world religions.  Accordingly, the meaningful and worthwhile updating of Religious Education syllabi for implementation by teachers and those responsible for Religious Education should be a priority.

Furthermore, it would be healthy and wise for every school, college and university to make sure that they have a bereavement policy in place, and for the plan to be discussed and disseminated to every member of staff.  Familiarisation with it is key.

Those in education are being forced to embrace digital technology.  In many places there is increased staff confidence with it as a result, for example, of daily staff communication which has, in turn, helped colleagues to work together.  Hopefully, this should mean that in future it can be used more to communicate with the aim of reducing workload.  Similarly, for many students there is increased confidence in digital technology.  Yet for others, such as, in some rural communities, it has led to confusion and anxiety.  Significant numbers of students do not have any idea how to open, access or write an email, yet this is what is being expected of them by their teachers.  It is not part of their every-day experience.  Parents in rural communities are not necessarily equipped to support their children in this digital age either.  As a result, for too many students a gap is emerging between the progress made by some of them and those sadly left behind.  There are cases where students have been provided with laptops with internet connection paid for and set up.  The issue is that without the knowledge, the students are unable to use them.  It would appear that the information technology curriculum has not been sufficient in embedding these skills which many adults take for granted.

At the same time, the pandemic is providing more opportunities for families to learn together.  Sometimes this is through the range of tasks the schools have facilitated for the students’ learning; sometimes this is through how families are choosing to navigate the situation and seize opportunities, especially for their children to develop life skills.

Excitingly, there are numerous, fantastic examples of students of all ages engaging in learning in and from their local environment and community ― from exploring the seaweed found on the beaches of Orkney and uploading their findings to the British Seaweed Survey; to observing the barge loads of granite being delivered to the shores of Withernsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire.  Secondary school students, including GCSE Geographers, had been learning about coastal management before lockdown.  During their walks, students became curious and knowledgeable about what they were witnessing.  They then sent photographs to their teacher, enthusiastically informing her.  These experiences make for far better awareness of our environment and an appreciation of where we live.

From my teaching experience in the UK and South Africa, I am keen to see those in education continue to go outside and explore, as well as members of the public continue their personal journey with nature which has been evolving throughout lockdown.  This will create and build relationships with the environment which will, in turn, promote pro-environmental behaviours and, hopefully, mark the furtherance of saving our planet for which we have been given the charge of custodians.

During COVID-19 fresh, creative ways of teaching are having to be used, particularly through experimenting, observing, playing and researching rather than classroom-based lecture work.  The lockdown has also seen a vast expansion of life skills being taught ― from cooking to sewing to maintenance skills.  These skills are generally not taught by parents anymore, due for instance, to the pressures of home life, work, after-school activities.  However, lockdown has forced us to stay together and pass on these important skills.  These relationship building activities have shown that education can happen in different ways, as well as, teaching our children and young people on how to become resilient and to deal with issues that face us in life head on.  They are tangibly realizing that they can survive, and in some ways, thrive in challenging times and come out the other end.  Without them necessarily knowing it, these too, are vital life skills which will help them to have the courage to take risks as they journey on through life.

This pandemic is a golden opportunity to embrace the change and feel empowered to choose to live life in all its fullness.  Every educator, regardless of location, has the privilege and responsibility to encourage and inspire the grappling of ideas for the sake of the children and young people in their care.  Face-to-face interaction is a necessary component for meaningful learning.  All in all, enabling them to become engaging, joyful, global citizens.

My hope and prayer is that everyone has the willingness, ability and confidence to hold onto what they know to be worthwhile, to those whom they cherish, and come alongside the rest of humanity.  While remembering the power and impact of loving kindness on us all.

Posted in Coronavirus, Education, Guest Contributors, Rachel Jepson, We Can't Go Back... | 2 Comments

We Can’t Go Back…To Looking After No 1!

by the Ven Malcolm Chamberlain, Archdeacon of Sheffield & Rotherham and Member of General Synod


On Monday 4th May, six weeks into the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown, The Guardian newspaper published an article by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett under the heading ‘Why coronavirus might just create a more equal society in Britain.’ In it they wrote about how the present crisis “has given rise to more neighbourliness, sociability and a desire to take care of each other.”

It would be a fascinating study, well beyond the scope of this blog post, to put that statement to the test. Perhaps even more fascinating to chart a journey from how we were as a nation to what we may have become. At a superficial level, I can’t be the only one to have noticed how the initial selfish stockpiling of loo-rolls and pasta soon gave way to wonderful acts of human kindness. Indeed, in the midst of much tragic loss and disturbing uncertainty, time and time again we’ve been reminded of the human capacity for great generosity.

I was particularly moved, for example, when, right at the beginning of the lockdown, the carers at Bridgedale House care home, not far from where I live in Sheffield, made the sacrificial decision to isolate with the residents in order to minimise the risk of transmitting the disease to those vulnerable people. For some this meant leaving behind partners and young children for several weeks, at a time when their lives were being affected too.

We’ve heard stories of people spending their time and money to shop for and deliver groceries to those unable to leave their homes; of generous donations to foodbanks at a time of unprecedented demand; of holiday cottage owners housing NHS and other frontline workers free of charge; of café and restaurant owners providing food and refreshments for essential workers at heavily discounted prices or even for free; and, of course, there was Captain Tom’s incredible 100th birthday walk. As a fan of David Bowie, I still wish the army had given him an honorary promotion, so we could have sung about ‘Major Tom’!

And I haven’t even mentioned the countless small, but no less significant, acts of generosity carried out by ordinary people day after day after day. If one positive effect of the Coronavirus pandemic is the much-needed reminder of the power of human generosity in overcoming adversity, we simply cannot go back to the self-obsessed ‘look after number one’ culture we have previously inhabited.

We are not lone islands, even if economic policy has at times seduced us to such self-centredness. We are co-members of the human race, lovingly created by the same God who calls us into relationship with our Creator and with one another. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the awful consequences of poverty, institutional racism and injustice, as evidence suggests that the virus has a more devastating impact on the poor and on BAME communities. More positively, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the benefits of cleaner air, with enforced travel restrictions reducing global carbon emissions by some 17%. We cannot go back.

But let’s be honest. We can go back and, sadly, we probably will.

When we eventually return to a new normality free from restrictions, it will be all too easy for us to forget that feeling of sharing in a common crisis, and return again to simply looking after number one. I’m writing this in the week that non-essential shops were allowed to open again, and was gobsmacked (not in a good way) by images of one such store where eager shoppers were literally wrestling with each other to get in the door as it opened – no thoughts of social distancing or, it seems, of anyone else’s needs. Faced with such images, it can seem as though nothing has really changed.

So how can we live differently? How might we emerge from the lockdown as more generous and caring people? And how might such generosity demonstrate our oneness both as members of the human race and, for those of us who might call ourselves ‘Christian’, as followers of Jesus Christ?

There may be a clue in the letters of the New Testament. As the Church began to spread across Asia Minor, St Paul regarded generously giving to meet the needs of others as a key sign of commitment to Christ and a powerful demonstration of unity. Tom Wright comments that, having realised just how poor the Jerusalem Church had become, Paul started to imagine “what an impact it would have if the churches of which Jerusalem had been so suspicious … were to band together and send real and lasting financial help.”[1]

And so, Paul closes his first letter to the Corinthian church by explaining how they were to go about collecting gifts for their fellow believers in Jerusalem. And it wasn’t only the wealthy that gave generously. In chapter 8 of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul points to the example of the Macedonian Christians, who, by the grace of God, had been giving voluntarily out of their relative poverty, begging earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry. I love that! These materially poor followers of Jesus were literally begging for the chance to enjoy the privilege of giving!

As we potentially begin to slip back into old habits and power structures that advantage some over others, I wonder, do you, do I, regard generous giving as ‘a privilege’? Might we have more to learn from God about this essential mark of Christian discipleship. Whatever our financial means, however much spare time we have, whatever our gifts and abilities, might we have room to more fully reflect the generosity and abundance of the God who created us? Or what about our church or our diocese or our other networks – can we see ways of working together to better embody the kind of generosity that reflects our shared humanity?

If the coronavirus pandemic has caused us to live more generously and pursue the common good in the face of adversity, surely we cannot go back.

[1] Wright, Tom, Paul A Biography, SPCK: London, 2018, p257

Posted in Coronavirus, Malcolm Chamberlain, Politics, Social Justice, We Can't Go Back... | 6 Comments

We Can’t Go Back…to Ignoring Those We Do Not See

by the Rt Revd Ruth Worsley, Bishop of Taunton


‘You don’t belong here’ were the words spoken to me on my first Sunday evening as curate.  I must say I felt quite affronted, I was nervous enough.  It had been quite a journey for me to take to ordination.  Brought up within a very conservative non-conformist Christian tradition where I had no role models of women in leadership, I had undertaken much soul-searching and wide-ranging debate to get to this point.

Over the 12 years I spent in that parish, I discovered however what was behind those words.  This was a multi-cultural community with white working-class, living alongside changing, mobile and growing immigrant groups.  It was dynamic, colourful and constantly challenging for a new curate like me and I loved it.

Unlike most of the diocesan congregations ours was richly diverse.   However the leadership was not.  Those of us in leadership put that down to the lack of confidence of our congregational members but it became clear during my ministry there that we had been using that as an excuse for some time.  ‘Empowering the laity’ didn’t just mean offering them opportunities to develop but also making space for them.  So we set about making some fundamental changes to increase the visibility of those we had overlooked.  Long-term middle-class white members of our PCC stepped down to make room for others drawn from our growing black and Asian congregation.

One of the small but significant things we did was to make all our PCC members chalice assistants.  A tiny structural change but it meant that immediately we had 6 BAME members up front and visible to the wider congregation.  And what we found was that not only did they become visible but we also brought children and young people to the fore with the 2 16 year olds who were serving a year on the PCC.  Suddenly more of us could see ourselves mirrored in those participating in visible roles.  And it grew confidence, folk could begin to see they had something to contribute.

That 20-year old memory has come to mind again for me in sharp relief as I’ve reflected on this period of lockdown.  Who are those who have remained invisible to me over those years and yet now I am beginning to see once more?

In the early weeks of lockdown, my colleague +Peter met a woman in her wheelchair along his walk.  She told him that she had not been able to access church for 4 years or more and yet that week she had been 4 or 5 times.  How?  Through the digital possibilities of the internet allowing her the freedom to enter into worship and not finding her physical constraints to be an issue.  We cannot go back to ignoring those we cannot see!

Last night I visited a local residential care home to thank the carers who have given selflessly during this time of anxiety and fear.  They have gone the extra mile to keep our seniors safe and yet often have come second when it comes to PPE, personal pay and conditions, and in feeling society’s appreciation.  We were told our visit made them feel valued as they had felt excluded from the clap for carers with the spotlight being on the NHS.  Izzy also told us how important the weekly local church’s YouTube service had become to their residents.  In the past the church had taken the occasional service in the home, but now residents were able to feel part of the regular congregation.  We promised that we would seek to continue these acts of worship.  We cannot go back to ignoring those we cannot see!

Social care has been underfunded for many years and we have known that.  The Dilnot Commission, set up 10 years ago, proposed a range of ways in which we could provide affordable but appropriately financed care into later age.  Some of our carers still remain on pay that does not constitute a living wage.  The media attention which has shown how care homes have borne such a terrible cost in loss of life due to them taking second place, has caused us to sit up and take note.  If we truly appreciate the contribution such carers make to our society then we must join in bringing about change to the political systems which govern such care.  We cannot go back to ignoring those we cannot see!

And there are so many more whom we have overlooked both in the Church and wider society in terms of either our unconscious bias or our unwillingness to choose to see them.  Whether it is fear of difference or the comfort of homogeneity, we have narrowed our vision and lost sight of the broader horizon over the years.

I say ‘we’ but let’s own it…’I’. ‘me’!  Early passions in ministry which sought to speak out for the most disadvantaged have settled into a pattern of balancing out the needs of all and thus diminishing the injustices of those whom I fail to see.  The cause of those of a different ethnicity or sexuality, the concerns of those with mental or physical health needs, the case for the eldest or youngest in our society has often remained unrecognised.

But there are signs of hope.

The fear of pandemic has led to society re-evaluating what is important in life, our values, our purpose and those we love.  ‘Key work’ is no longer focused on the financial markets as we have seen the economy tumble but rather on those who offer us a service of care.  The more vulnerable in our communities have experienced an outpouring of generosity from neighbours and volunteers as they have become a focus of attention rather than remaining hidden and unseen behind closed doors.  We cannot go back…

As I write this I’m reminded of the vignette of the child being brought into the company of Jesus by a parent.  The disciples tried to muscle them out of the way, an unimportant intrusion, not worthy of notice.  Jesus’ response was to draw the child into the centre as the focus of attention.  His challenge to the disciples was not only to see but to become like children themselves.









Posted in Bishop of Taunton, Coronavirus, Guest Contributors, Racism, Social Justice, We Can't Go Back... | Leave a comment

We Can’t Go Back…to Silence for the Sake of Unity

by the Ven Gavin Collins, Archdeacon of the Meon and member of General Synod


“The silence of the good people is worse than the brutality of the bad people.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

When I was first elected onto General Synod 7 years ago, my commitment was to strive to be a voice for unity within the church – that amidst all the party lines and arguments over doctrine, churchmanship, ethics and sexuality, I felt that my calling was to work to unite, to help to hold the church together, and to seek to participate in the ministry of reconciliation in the structural heart of a church that seems so often determined to tear itself apart.  I continue firmly to believe that to be a Biblical calling, and to reflect the ongoing prayer of Jesus that his church: “may be one…brought to complete unity” (John 17:21-23), and that this is necessary both as a missional imperative as we seek to bring the Gospel to a divided and cynical world, and in order to reflect the unity of the God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who we are called to serve.

However, over recent weeks, and particularly in reflecting on the prophetic challenge given to us by the Black Lives Matter protesters, I have come increasingly to realise that the danger of seeking unity as a value in isolation is that, far too often, it can be used as an excuse or a mask for injustice, and for the complacent continuation of the status quo, a status quo that inevitably privileges the entitled at the cost of those who are without voice.

My first experience of this came over 30 years ago, when I was part of the Christian Union at university.  The charismatic movement was growing on campus, much to the consternation of more conservative evangelical elements.  This led the UCCF, the Christian Unions’ national body, to take the line that for the sake of unity, “secondary issues” such as charismatic gifts would not be discussed or encouraged at CU.  The resulting unity, of course, was entirely at the expense of those whose expression of faith would naturally include charismatic worship – an imposed and artificial unity that, 10 years or so later, led to a structural split in student ministry in this country, as Fusion was formed to provide a place of fellowship for those who found the constraints required by the formal CUs an obstacle to their spiritual growth.

This was, of course, only the latest in a long line of examples of the established power structures demanding conformity on their terms for the sake of professed unity: Ever since the arrival of large numbers of black, Asian and ethnic minority Christians in the UK from the 1950s onwards, the established churches failed to give space, or a voice, or even a welcome, for the gifts, vibrancy, different perspectives and different expressions of spirituality that these arriving brothers and sisters brought with them, with the tragic result that many failed to find a home within the UK church at all, while many others felt driven to form their own denominations and places of fellowship, as we failed to make space for them within ours.  So again, silence for the sake of unity led not only to injustice, but to division within the church.

The outpouring of anger and demand for change that has followed the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police has led the world to stand up and declare that Black Lives Matter, and yet, as a church, we remain content to have structures and appointment systems that continue to perpetuate a scandalous underrepresentation of BAME people, not only in the senior leadership of the church, but also in local leadership – ordained and lay – at parish, deanery and diocesan level.

We can’t go back to silence in the face of injustice, not even when that silence is excused as being for the sake of unity.  And it is my hope and prayer that the energy and indignation that we are seeing at present from the younger generations through the #BLM movement will hold us to account, and insist that necessary changes begin to be made, and to be sustained.

But not just in the case of racial injustice: We can’t go back to silence in the face of injustice in so many areas of our church’s life where we have allowed groups to be marginalised, excluded, denied the right to leadership or to a voice: Black Lives Matter.  LGBT Lives Matter.  Female Lives Matter.  Elderly Lives Mater.  Disabled Lives Matter.  The missing generations of Young Lives Matter.

As a white, male, straight, educated, middle-class and middle-aged Evangelical, I can’t go back to a convenient silence for the sake of unity when the church oppresses, excludes, devalues or marginalises any individual or any group for whatever reason: God has made each one of us in his image, and he has “declared it good”.  By our complacent acquiescence with a status quo that privileges the established, and continues to marginalise and ignore the excluded, we deny the reality of that declaration by God, and thus we blaspheme against our creator.

So what are we to do?  In the opening 5 chapters of the book of Isaiah, we are given an extended description of the structural sin and failings of the nation of Israel, a failing that leads God to cry out: “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”.  And it is in that context that Isaiah is called and commissioned, as his lips are cleansed by the living coal taken from the altar in heaven, so that he is equipped, in the power of the Spirit, to be bold to respond to God’s call and say: “Here am I.  Send me!”

As my fellow Portsmouth Diocese Archdeacon, Peter Leonard, observed in a recent Via Media blog, true unity is costly: it requires us to be actively devoted to one another and devoted to God.  And devotion for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ means being prepared to speak out and tell them where we see a speck in their eye – and to allow them to speak out and point out the log we may have in our own.

Above all, we need to come back to God, as Isaiah did, in repentance for our sins, our complacency and our complicitness in the silence we have so often been content to maintain in the face of injustice around us.  And then, cleansed and strengthened by him, we need to commit to being a church that doesn’t seek to maintain unity for its own sake, but that strives for a unity that is built out of cherishing the contribution and enabling the flourishing to their full potential of every individual who makes up this wonderfully diverse, creative and vibrant mix that we are privileged to call the People of God.

Posted in Human Sexuality | 2 Comments

#BlackLivesMatter: Living Between Malcolm X and Uncle Tom

by Augustine Tanner-Ihm is an African-American ordinand at Cranmer Hall, St. John’s College, Durham.


“You are angry, aggressive and people are afraid of you.”

This statement is far too often used as a description or evaluation made by the White majority culture to Black and Brown people. And unsurprisingly this has been a repeated statement throughout my own time going through discernment, theological education and beyond. Cultural misunderstandings are rampant among this so-called multi-culturally diverse country. When this has been discussed leaders have frequently told Black and Brown people to “go away and reflect on this evaluation”. Which is privilege code for “receive the statement, change, and do not bring it up again!” Often what Black ears actually hear is “Yes Massa”[1]. The impact however is that we constantly find our personhood silenced and that we are forced to assimilate the White majority culture.

It is not surprising that many Black men and women have become afraid to show their emotions out of the fear of being misunderstood or worst being label as a “problem”. These metaperceptions grip the hearts and minds of our BAME communities. Especially those who desire to pursue a religious vocation.

In the last few weeks, I have been shocked and surprised by current national and international events. I have not been shocked or surprised by a country with a (lets-be-honest) ‘police state’ continually murdering unarmed Black and Brown bodies. But what I have been surprised about is the fact that it has taken this long for the White Church to believe and stand in solidarity with BAME Communities. I think what surprised me most is how many Anglican deacons, priest and bishops were more outraged by Dominic Cummings’ movements than BAME bodies dying! This has shocked me!

Malcolm X was an American Civil Rights Leader, who took a very different route to equality than the pacifist preacher Martin Luther King Jr. He embodies black trauma and anger against the oppression by a culture which has turned turns a blind eye to systematic genocide. But the White community was afraid of him and wanted him dead for his public condemnation of the evils of Whiteness. This rage can still be found in many Black and Brown people in the UK, US, and the Rest of the World.

But so many people are not open or even interested in listening to their trauma.

This has filled my heart and mind with an unsettling rage, silence, anger, and contemplation. I want to be outraged. I want to be allowed to feel as upset as my Conservative Evangelical Anglicans are with a more progressive reading of Christian scripture, or as my egalitarian friends are regarding the Five-Guiding Principles or as my Anglo-Catholic friends are when the beauty of the sacraments is not being celebrated. But in the Church, the Church of England, I am required to lose my cultural identity and become an “Uncle Tom” in order to please my episcopal leaders. This strips me of my grief and my ability to express my pain. The pain that I and others feel is often covered with naïve misunderstandings – instead of listening, real listening.

The Church has a history of open apologies, that only goes to satisfy its White guilt yet accomplishes absolutely nothing. In the Gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus become angry before flipping over the tables of money changers in the Temple. Jesus becomes angry at the exploitation of the Holy Temple. Therefore, if we are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, as St. Paul said, why are we are not “flipping over the tables of injustice? Is it because the Church does not value Black and Brown bodies? The Church apologized for the Codrington Plantations in the West Indies, where the it financially benefited from the selling of the Black bodies. But this apology was empty. If the apology were genuine it would have followed a gospel understanding of repentance and reconciliation. When Jesus approached Zacchaeus, the tax collector was so amazed that he restored all the people he wronged fourfold. It is a beautiful picture of Kingdom reconciliation.

Does the Church of England believe in biblical repentance or mere cheap theological “corporate grace”?

The only martyr of the Episcopal Church in the USA is Jonathan Daniels. He was a seminarian who died by gunshot – fighting for the lives of his Black brothers and sisters in the American South. He gives us Anglicans a modern example of what it looks like to truly love your neighbour. It may sound radical, but so is the Gospel of Jesus Christ! We are called to this radical living. This is the way of love.

Like James Baldwin, the American Writer said:

“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of humanity and right to exist.”

Therefore let us pray together this Collect of Social Justice:

“Teach us, Liberator of Your Faithful, to take the side of the oppressed, as you did. Point us to the example of Moses, of your prophets, of Christ, who with boldness and truth proclaimed that the lives of the exploited matter. Give us the courage to live repentant lives like Zacchaeus, who practised restoration, as he became face to face with the King”[2].


Augustine Tanner-Ihm is an Afro-American ordinand at Cranmer Hall, Durham.

[1] A term used by Black slaves when addressing their White master

[2} The Book of Uncommon Prayer| Evangelicals for Social Action by Kenji Kuramitsu

Posted in Augustine Ihm, Guest Contributors, Racism | 2 Comments

Lockdown Testimonies – Sue

by Sue, a Lay Minister who was born as a deaf person  Sue - Deaf Church

Lockdown/shut down, frustration, isolation, loneliness was a normal life for me…then Covid 19 came to stay and our lives have turned upside down!

I am used to being isolated and frustrated, as are most deaf and deafened people, but this was something new and a challenge – how would I survive this?

No one to Skype with as my camera packed up, and peering at my phone to Skype gives me a headache. No text messages from the grandchildren (should I text to let them know I am still alive?).  At least I have Facebook and can have a little chat with my brother who lives abroad, but no-one else uses it or thinks to use it to chat with me.

We have two family allotments next to each other.  I can go there and have a chat with my daughter and a cuppa together on each others’ plots without breaking the rules and a distant chat with other allotment holders – except they are too far away and I can’t see to lipread, so we inch a little closer because they can’t hear my soft voice, (soft because I am terrified of having the classic ‘loud deaf voice’). The sun is in our eyes so we stand under a nearby apple tree and now it’s too dark for me to see to lipread again. A bit of shuffling about again, like some sort of weird crabdance, and we can converse.

And then there’s church.

I mainly only attend the small Tuesday morning service (in one church of the team) where we sit round a table in the back.  Despite being only at arms length away I can’t hear the person opposite me or sometimes next to me, but we are a friendly little group and we manage together. I attend church (main one of the team) some Sunday’s but if it wasn’t for the service sheet handed out it would quite literally go through one ear and out the other. There being no other deaf person there I sign to myself. A brief text informed me church was closed and my heart sank – how can I live without my Tuesday mornings?

Facebook came to the rescue.

Church services online and hopefully subtitled or at least with things written down to follow, except it rarely happens. A still photo of the church, while someone talks in the background is no good to me.  Even being informed to download the service sheet doesn’t help as I have no idea where we have got to.

Please remember the deaf and hard of hearing. Do I know how to do open subtitles? Alas no. One day they did have a go but they forgot to tell me, so I missed it. It didn’t work very well, it was hilarious (or so I am told) with mistakes but at least they tried. Nor does informing me near the end of the service that there will be open subtitles on Youtube – what good is that? It’s a bit late isn’t it? And as far as I know it hasn’t been done again.

The vicar has a go at signing the Peace (got it off google) and I sit and cry. Not because he has done it for me, but because I have sat for months in church on Sunday’s and only one person has asked me to show them how to sign the Peace – and it wasn’t the vicar. Why couldn’t you ask and do it for me in all those months? Why have I had to wait until now?

Bored, I explore Facebook.  I come across the Ex -Salvationists and, as I was brought up in the Army (I haven’t been for the last 40 yrs) and have relatives still there, I sign up and joy of joys, someone posts the UK Territorial Officers doing a little talk with subtitles.  I fall on it like some starving soul desperate for bread (it’s been 5 years since I last had any access to a sermon).  I can’t wait for it each week. I pray that when this is all over they will continue, otherwise I will die of starvation for want of spiritual food. Even the General has a little talk, subtitled, and if it isn’t, it is written out in full. By contrast I have yet to find one by the Archbishop of Canterbury with subtitles.

Things have improved – there are services with signing (thank you Gill), which allowed me to join in with the retirement service of the Archbishop of York and I was delighted to see him sign (I wonder who taught him?). Locally Evening Prayer, although not subtitled, is at least written out so I can follow it.  I have my Bible to hand, but I have to read fast and ahead to make sure I know where we are when the virtual page changes. Prayers, I do on my own as I can’t hear that bit and on Sunday’s I don’t hear the sermon but that is normal life for me to miss out on things. and I do what I normally do – I either think on one of the readings or I daydream instead.

Zoom is useless as I can’t lipread everyone.  I can’t help smiling when the muted mic causes problems for people – welcome to my world!

But…despite the problems I do get more out of the online services than sitting in church.

Normal life for me is to feel shut down, isolated and very frustrated and very lonely and that is just in the church service. Online, despite the problems, I am equal, one of them, part of the world-wide company of Christians.

Lockdown is easing, life is slowly returning to ‘normal’ but will the services still be online? Or will my lockdown/shut down, frustration, isolation, loneliness be once again normal life for me?

Posted in Coronavirus, Disability, Guest Contributors | 4 Comments

We Can’t Go Back…But We Can Stop Hurting People!

by the Revd Peterson Feital, Founder of The Haven+and Missioner to the Creative Industries for the Diocese of London 

Peterson Feital

I’ve been reflecting recently how movements inspired by the Reformations, The Moravians, and John Wesley have all shaped the history of the ‘Western’ church. Men, women, young, and old, followed the vision for a Church that embodied love, care and community living.

Of course, there were also negative things in these movements, as colonization also happened with devastating effects. However, many missionaries did get things right, keeping the love for God and their neighbour at the heart of everything they did and taught. These people prayed with expectation, fervour and faith, together. They moved the archaic establishments to become kingdom enterprises that impacted the social and the political spheres of society and changed the mission of the ‘Western’ church forever. Missionaries, pastors and evangelists went everywhere, in many capacities: teachers, doctors, and builders etc, to teach the world about the redemptive power of Jesus’ love.

I’m a Brazilian – well I’m actually part native as two of my great-grandfathers were European settlers. Missionaries influenced my life in every way possible.  They brought a passion for the Gospel; they brought the visual and performing arts in their delivery of the Gospel; they brought liberation from having to conform to an oppressive political mind-set. They showed me Jesus and taught me spiritual disciplines: how to pray, and how to serve and show love to all, unconditionally. Still, there was sadness about them when they shared that the Western Church was ageing, tired, bungled up in intuitionalism, and that individualism was curtailing their ability to be emotionally and spiritually close.  These missionaries invited their spiritual ‘children’ to come to the UK to help the Western churches, and to remind them of their roots. Many, like me, responded to that call.

I came to the UK nearly twenty years ago, looking forward to meeting the British, and my spiritual parents. I had spent my life reading about Spurgeon, Susanna Wesley, John Wesley, to name but a few, and I was hungry to learn more about mission, prayer and discipleship. I was thirsty to drink from the water of wisdom, but what I experienced when I finally reached the UK was that the teachings of these elders seemed to be nearly completely forgotten. It broke my heart, into pieces.

Last Easter, when Archbishop Justin Welby said that after Covid-19 ‘we can’t go back to where we were before’ my heart filled with hope for a renewed future. I realised, however, that we cannot move forward without remembering our Grandparents of Faith. We need to return to the roots of the apostolic mission that Jesus gave his disciples, and which the Reformers adopted, to move forward. I also realised that what is paralysing the church is a lack of courage to be free of power and control.  As Paul Tillich puts it, ‘courage can show us what being is, and being can show us what courage is’.[1]  Fear produces a culture of uncertainty and confusion, making institution into a disorientating space. God does not want us to be trapped and confined. His Will in Psalm 18:19 is to bring us into ‘a spacious place’, a place of freedom.

You may be asking yourselves what you may have forgotten from our Parents of Faith. I know this is painful for me to say this, but I have tried your ways here in the UK, and it has hurt and damaged me, and some of my brothers and sisters too. So, from my heart to yours what I have learnt here, may give you glimpse as to what has been lost: I have learned cynicism. I have learned that prayer is without the expectation that God can show-up. I have learned to love at arm’s length.

I have learned that growth is numerical, not a growth of character that matches Jesus. I have learned that loving and including individuals, from LGBT to the disabled, the poor, the homeless, the addict, and artists, creatives and mental health individuals are merely peripheral exercises, and not ministries at the heart of who we are and the ministries we do.

I have learned that we spend more time trying to protect Jesus with policies, which are more about control, than facilitation of His redeeming power and truth. Well, I do not believe that Jesus needs protection, and this is what he illustrates when Peter and the other apostles try to stop the heavily bleeding woman from being noticed and recognised (mentioned in three Gospels: Mark, Matthew and Luke).

I want to tell you, for the sake of my grandparents, that whether you do or do not, I will not go back to the way it was before Covid-19. So, I will not let cynicism replace hope any longer. I will pray with faith for Jesus to turn up, and I will love people at close range.

Numerical growth will not be more important than discipleship. And – I will hang out with the broken, the disgraced, and the destitute – even if that bothers and makes the institutional church question me, and the ministry God has given me to do.

 I can see, now, that there is an intrinsic difference between suffering for an institution and suffering for the Gospel.

Please note the original title was “We Can’t Go Back…But We Can Honour Our Grandparents of the Faith”

[1] Tillich P, The Courage To Be, Yale University Press, 1952. P.4

Posted in Peterson Feital, Racism, We Can't Go Back... | 2 Comments

We Can’t Go Back…to Preserving Bricks & Mortar

by the Ven Nikki Groarke, Archdeacon of Dudley and Member of General Synod


A small group of beleaguered disciples, tired, fearful and disappointed, uncertain about the future, meeting behind closed doors, wistfully reminiscing about the crowds who had at one time gathered with them. Now it’s just the faithful remnant.

 The Holy Spirit comes, and they are transformed, heading out into the public arena, living life fully as Christ’s followers, drawing others to join them by their love for each other and their neighbours, and their accessible, amateurish but heartfelt teaching and worship.

We have all reflected recently on a story something like this over Pentecost. However, what I am describing is not the early church, but rather what I have seen played out in many small congregations across my diocese in these last few months.  In multi-parish rural benefices and urban teams, where previously ten to fifteen committed long term members met in multiple locations for worship, now a hundred or more gather online together, energised and engaged each week, making new friends and attracting others. It’s easier to join a crowd than a clique.

For many years across the country, weary church wardens have with dogged determination, fought to keep regular Sunday services going in their church building, not wanting to betray their predecessors by allowing the church to die on their watch. Failure and local wrath have been constant threats  Then, overnight in March, the doors of every church building were closed, unilaterally. And they were not responsible. It was not their fault. A Kairos moment?

Lockdown was dramatic and shocking for church communities. Emerging from it will be far more nuanced, and no less difficult. Already MPs and journalists are politicising the ‘draconian’ refusal to permit the use of church buildings for private prayer and funerals. Bishops across the country are tweeting  (including my own)!  Passions and anxieties are running high amidst uncertainties and swathes of guidelines for ‘whenever we can reopen’.

Churches will soon be allowed to open again, and that is right. But please let’s not rush back to opening them all.  Church buildings are different, have different purposes and callings, and can sometimes get in the way of God’s people truly being church.  And we have too many of them.

It’s very easy to say. “Open your church building from tomorrow” to gain some support from vocal campaigners.  But what about the tiny rural church with no mains water, where handwashing isn’t possible?  How do you clean an ancient building with nooks and crannies when you can’t slosh the bleach around?  How do you safely open a huge cathedral with multiple entrances and many chapels, when staff are furloughed, closure of cafés and shops and no tourists has caused a financial crisis, and most volunteers are vulnerable or shielding?  Practically there are many issues to be overcome.  The challenges will be met of course.  Clergy and church members will rise to the occasion creatively, just as they have adapted to the constraints of recent months with resilience and faith.

But what about the opportunities of this Kairos moment?  Strategically is it right to go back to dispersed, fragmented and often insular worship in every place?  Surely this is the time to courageously ask the questions few previously dared voice.

Should this church be used for worship each Sunday in the future?  Can we re-designate for occasional use – weddings, funerals, harvest and Christmas?  Can we formally close, and recognise the building’s importance as a local heritage asset, treating it as such rather than trying to meet unrealistic expectations of it becoming a vibrant community hub when we all know in our hearts that this role is filled adequately by the village hall or pub?  Dare we contemplate allowing our building to become perhaps a beautiful ruin?

Place is important of course, and prayed in places are undoubtedly holy.  It is important to have sacred space where we can gather, celebrate the sacraments, reflect amidst beauty.  Buildings where key life events have been marked hold special significance and will always be places of pilgrimage.  But not every church building is beautiful, many are not fit for purpose, they are often in the wrong places where settlements have moved. Some were built for dubious reasons – as follies or status symbols.  One size does not fit all, and we need to grasp the freedom the current closure gives us to treat each case individually.

If congregations and weary wardens can be released to be church, rather than being burdened with the responsibility of preserving bricks and mortar, maybe the new life we have seen emerge in lockdown might blossom and flourish – not forever online – heaven forbid! But in vibrant Christian communities meeting in the most appropriate church building in a grouping, or even in a school hall, focussing their energies and enthusiasm on serving their communities, fed by corporate worship with many others, sharing gifts and skills as they grow in discipleship together.

My theological college principal often reflected that policy is usually at least ten years behind practice in the Church of England.  Re-designating masses of church buildings can, if we are brave to seize the moment, be trialled instinctively as we begin to embrace the new normal. The legislation to make it formal will take Chancellors and Archdeacons and General Synod many years and tie us all in knots, but let’s not be deterred.  We cannot go back to a uniform approach to church buildings draining the life from the church.  Let’s invest in some, reinvent others, and dare to let some quietly stay closed for ever.

Posted in Coronavirus, Nikki Groarke, We Can't Go Back... | 10 Comments

We Can’t Go Back…to Breathlessness

by the Rt Revd Philip North, Bishop of Burnley


‘I can’t breathe.’

Following the lynch-mob style killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, his dying words have become the cry of dispossessed and impoverished BAME communities first in the States and then across the globe. Long decades in which they have suffered on a daily basis from structural racism, inequality of opportunity and the denial of their personhood has exploded into a mighty welling up of anger which has left the Trump administration floundering and governments around the world struggling to keep up.

‘I can’t breathe.’

That is also the cry of COVID patients, a condition which fills the lungs with fluid such that the breath is forced out of a person. At first we were told this pandemic would be a crisis for everyone. Already it is revealing itself to be a crisis for the poor. Those from urban areas and BAME communities are dying in hugely disproportionate numbers. And as the massive economic impact of lockdown reveals itself, it will inevitably be the poor who pay an unfair share of the cost, for the impact of crisis is always delegated to those who are already deprived.

‘I can’t breathe.’

Unspoken, spoken then hashtagged, this is becoming the cry of all who feel constricted and suffocated by poverty or injustice.

‘I can’t breathe.’

Those are not recorded amongst the last words spoken by Jesus from the cross, but they might have been, for crucifixion, like COVID, works by forcing the air out of a person’s lungs. Every breath becomes such unspeakable agony that eventually the body has to give up trying. On the cross, Jesus identifies himself with all who cry out, ‘I can’t breathe.’

Yet his breathlessness has purpose, ‘It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you,’ Jesus says at the table of the Last Supper (John 16, 7). By undergoing breathlessness, Jesus unleashes for us the irresistible, life-giving breath of the Spirit who renews all creation.

The Spirit’s breath, released at Pentecost, is the gift that Jesus gives to his Church. So in a post-COVID world Christians must be utterly single-minded in breathing that breath over a world that cries out, ‘I can’t breathe.’ Nothing else will matter.

First, over the breathless, we must breathe out the Spirit’s breath of life. During crisis, through generous service and imaginative use of the online environment, we have made contact with a new fringe. What we need now is a new evangelism in which we live and speak the Gospel with joy, an evangelism motivated not by institutional survival but by the passionate desire that people might breathe.

And this new evangelism must begin amongst the poor, because that is the place from where renewal always springs. Dioceses are going to have difficult decisions to make about deployment and pastoral organisation in the years ahead, but such decisions must honour our commitment to inner city, outer estate and post-industrial communities. If now becomes the time when we disproportionately withdraw people or buildings from places of poverty, then God is dishonoured and the Gospel is fatally undermined.

The lesson of history is clear and consistent. An evangelism that prioritises the powerful does not work and cannot last. Instead we need to hear the voice of the breathless. We need to speak good news to the poor. Our best leaders, our richest resources, our finest theologians, our most engaging preachers must be offered to the places where life is hardest. Only then we will re-engage a nation with the person of Jesus.

Next, over the breathless, we must breathe out the Spirit’s breath of justice. The COVID pandemic has laid bare the harsh levels of social and economic inequality which so damage our common life, which deny opportunity, which take away hope and which lead to countless costly social ills from poor health to spiralling prison populations.

The action of local churches in addressing inequality through acts of charity has been heroic in this pandemic. But charity can be a fool without justice. Foodbanks, for example, merely prop up innately unjust structures unless we campaign to change those factors which have rendered them necessary: low pay, unfair benefits, family breakdown. As UK churches, our voice in naming injustice and calling for political and economic reform has for too long been inconsistent and disjointed. We need a united Christian voice: perhaps a new ecumenical body, which can campaign consistently and vigorously.

But if we are to address injustice nationally we must name it within our own structures. The vast wealth disparities between dioceses cannot be acceptable in the future as some dioceses go to the wall whilst others fall back on eye-watering levels of historic wealth. Harder still will be naming and addressing the deep-seated racism that still exists within our own common life and which prevents so many BAME Christians from breathing. We have no authority to name injustice nationally if we are so wantonly failing to put our own house in order.

And third, over the breathless, we must breathe out the Spirit’s breath of peace. The fallout of this crisis is likely to be deep and sustained economic depression with concomitant pressures on relationships at every level. The church, filled with the Spirit, is called to model the new humanity. We are challenged to live differently under the bonds of love, valuing every human person as a child of God. That is the peace that the Spirit breathes.

If we are to do that effectively, we urgently need to do better at living with difference. We must find ways to conduct debates such that they do not destroy relationships and leave us too exhausted to engage with the world. A nation that is crying out for breath cannot afford the luxury of a divided and quarrelsome church, obsessed only with its own internal wrangles. Those who look to us seeking the breath life should find a community of peace. Without that all our words and prayers will be hollow hypocrisy.

‘I can’t breathe.’

It is the ultimate cry of despair. As those filled with the Spirit’s breath, if we can hear and respond, then perhaps this terrible crisis can be the dawn of a new age of faith.

Posted in Bishop of Burnley, Coronavirus, Politics, Racism, Safeguarding, Social Justice, We Can't Go Back... | 12 Comments