Category Archives: Faith

The Church of England

So today starts my writing about faith matters, and where to start?

I thought I would start with the Church of England, as that is the Church to which I have belonged all my life, and in which I now serve.  It may seem a strange place to start, but the Church of England is a church unlike any other.  Many churches will have statements of faith, often called catechisms, with which you have to agree before you can belong; for example the Westminster Catechism.  Others have a highly hierarchical structure, for example Roman Catholics with the Pope at the head.

In the Church of England we have a much looser definition of membership; for example there is at least an argument that everyone who lives in the Parish is a member of the Church of England, as they certainly have the right to a vote for Churchwardens, even if they espouse a different religion (The Churchwardens measure).  Another possible definition is membership of the electoral roll, though here the only requirements are:

(2)  A lay person shall be entitled to have his name entered on the roll of a parish if he is baptised, of sixteen years or upwards, has signed an application form for enrolment set out in Appendix I of these rules and declares himself either –

(a)  to be a member of the Church of England or of a Church in communion therewith resident in the parish; or

(b)  to be such a member and, not being resident in the parish, to have habitually attended public worship in the parish during a period of six months prior to enrolment; or

(c)  to be a member in good standing of a Church which subscribes to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (not being a Church in communion with the Church of England) and also prepared to declare himself to be a member of the Church of England having habitually attended public worship in the parish during a period of six months prior to enrolment.

Church Representation Rules

which only objectively require someone to be 16 and baptized.

Finally there are those who regularly attend services and those who carry out God’s mission.

Unlike those churches with a very clear membership, the Church of England is as clear as mud on this!

When it comes to a hierarchy we have the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and Bishops, but they have limited power over anyone.  At ordination and licensings clergy swear:

I, NN, do swear by almighty God that I will pay true and canonical obedience to the lord bishop of DDD, [the area bishop of X] and his/their successors, in all things lawful and honest: so help me God.

Incumbent clergy can only be removed from their post for gross misconduct, not because the Bishop would like to move them on, and under the clergy discipline measure clergy cannot be disciplined for “doctrine, ritual or ceremonial“.

Why have I spent so long explaining all this?  Because it gives the Church of England its uniqueness.  A wide variety of (incompatible) views can (and are) be held by those who consider themselves members of the Church of England and that is alright – in fact in my view it is more than alright, it is essential, for if it is not the case then a church either has very strict criteria for who is in and who is out, or a hierarchy who decide this.

In the former case when people disagree the church schisms – as demonstrated by this joke, which won Ship of Fools religious joke competition a few years ago.


What do you believe?

During our services in Lent I have asked a number of people to talk about how their faith informs their work.  As I say in my introductions, a number of them have asked if they can say something slightly different, so I now have no idea who is saying what!

I have two main reasons for doing this (in no particular order):

  • I believe that most people think that others faith is stronger than their own – by persuading people to share where they are honestly it helps others in owning where they are with their own faith, and helps them feel less guilty.
  • Some people don’t actually know what they think about something until they express it (I’m one of those!), so by asking them to talk about something means that they have to think about it and discover what they really do think.

This isn’t the first time that we have done something like this, and we usually find that at the end people are saying things like “I’m so glad you said that”, or “that is what I think”.

One of the things that often comes out of these talks is how people feel free enough to question some doctrines – and the funny thing is that often the doctrines they are questioning aren’t doctrines at all, but instead things which those outside the church think are key, but which are not.  Today someone felt it necessary to say that they did not believe that the Bible was literally true – apart from Richard Dawkins and fundamentalists (who form a small proportion of the church – 5% in Europe if this reports (pdf) definition is used) this is not an issue.

A couple of thoughts come out of this for me:

  • Where does their information come from?
  • What can I do to change this?

I suspect that the information comes from the media – one of the problems is that the media likes controversy, so people saying extreme things are more interesting than those saying sensible things.  This leads to the media giving excessive attention to minority rather than mainstream views.  For example, many people will know about Westboro Baptist Church with their perverse message, but far fewer will know about the Metropolitan Community Churches with their more inclusive message.

What can I do?  It looks like I have at last found a theme for my blogging for the rest of Lent (or not!  lets see how it goes).