Category Archives: Lent Reflection

Source of Faith

After yesterdays post in which I set out why the Church of England is different from most other denominations, today I want to look at where the Church of England gets its beliefs from.

The Elizabethan settlement was intended to damp down religious divisions and created a Church of England in which a variety of beliefs could be accommodated.  It has been thought that Richard Hooker did much to introduce the Anglican via media so that the Church of England is often referred to as Catholic and Reformed.

Hooker formulated the Church of England’s sources of authority as coming from Scripture, Tradition and Reason, sometimes known as the “three legged stool”.

Wesley taught similarly, but introduced a fourth “leg” of Christian Experience (although it was previously  included under Reason).

The introduction of the four sources of authority, rather than the Protestant sola scriptura, meant that people could disagree by giving different weight to the different elements.  This leaves the question of how doctrine is formulated in the Church of England.  Instead of defining the answer, Anglicanism defines the method.  When a new question arises we do not believe that we have to have an answer now!  Instead different people will hold different views (legitimately) within the church, and will debate them until consensus is (or isn’t) achieved.

Sometimes this is formalised, as for example with Marriage after Divorce, where clergy are allowed to Marry a couple after divorce, but are not constrained to do so, and may refuse to do so on grounds of conscience, but often it is not and people are allowed to hold contradictory beliefs.

This provisionality of belief creates gentler boundaries to the church than those denominations which have a firm list of beliefs to be affirmed.  It is also more in keeping with an apophatic faith which accepts that there is a lot that we cannot know.


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).


What does Flourishing mean?

*…the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures…

* Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.

Extracts from 4 & 5 of the 5 Principles that Bishops set out and which have been referred to rather a lot lately


Flourish (of a living organism) grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly congenial environment.

Are we saying that a person cannot develop unless they are a bishop?

Is it a congenial environment if your boss does not think you are capable of doing your job, or even being who you are, because you are a woman, or a man ordained by a woman?

Is it a congenial environment for you if those in your care find it difficult to accept your care and your leadership?

Surely it takes both of the latter two questions to be answered for mutual flourishing to exist?

When women bishops and priests were allowed special provision was made for Episcopal oversight for those who would not accept it.  However, no special provision was made for the reverse situation.

Let God take the Strain

Lesley and I were recently given a  copy of Richard Coles’ book, Fathomless Riches, and in reading it I came across the following, recounting his experience of confession:

I told him about what had been going on, … and let rip about the foolishness and unkindness of some of the people I had to live with … “Go on” he said, I paused and thought and said: “I am not as kind as I thought I was, I’m not as brave as I thought I was, I’m not as clever as I thought I was, I’m not as honest as I thought I was”.  There was a pause and he said: “Oh, that’s good”.

It reminded me of all the times that I forget to let God take the strain; the times that I think I can do it in my own strength; that without me it would all fall to pieces.  And, of course, those are the very times that I find myself exhausted, and stressed, and when it feels as though the whole world is on my shoulders (which of course it is, because I have put it there).

Of course we all have our gifts, and should use them in God’s service, but it is when we forget God that things become overwhelming.

I was told a story by a wise old priest, which I still struggle to follow:

When monks are hoeing the cabbages, and there is one cabbage left, and the bell for chapel rings, should they put down the hoe and go to chapel, or hoe the last cabbage and rush to chapel?


The Nature of Work

Today the Guardian published an article on Uber, suggesting that the culture at Uber was making it difficult of their employees to get jobs elsewhere because of the way they were encouraged to behave at work.  This seems to me to fit with my earlier post on valuing everything by money, and seems to be a reaction against that kind of attitude.

I worked in business for nearly 30 years and worked in two very different businesses within the same group.  One had adopted Total Quality and believed in the empowerment of the employees; the other had a command and control management structure.  The first worked collaboratively, and relied on personal relationships, the second worked antagonistically.

For example, in the first when something bad happened the whole company pulled together to correct it and make sure it didn’t happen again.  In the second, when something bad happened all effort went into proving that it wasn’t your departments fault.

In the first, if someone had a good idea they could go an talk to people from other departments about the feasibility, in the second if you wanted to talk to some one in another department you had to talk to your boss to talk to their boss to talk to them.

When the first company was taken over by the second additional accountants were employed to produce all the reporting required to allow people at the top to make decisions.

The links above generally suggest that the first company was the way of the future, and the second the way of the past, and yet zero hours contracts and increasing monitoring of performance against tightly defined metrics (for example delivery drivers speeding to achieve their targets) seem to be increasing at present.

Which of these might be God’s way?

Guildford Diocese have recently been looking at faith in the workplace under the title Transforming Work (the Diocesan Vision is Transforming Church, Transforming Lives) and this video, which was made as part of this initiative, feels more like the first than the second.

What do you think?


Wonderful Worship

Yesterday morning there was a wonderful service at St George’s.  We welcomed Craig as LLM with PTO (not that Craig is over 70 – just there are complications with getting to a licensing service) and he led parts of the service.  Instead of a sermon Mike spoke about the interaction of his faith and work and a few other things!

So instead of a service where I do everything, this was one where we shared the load, and it was great!

When I was a curate, I was in a single church parish where there were 3 (or more) clergy most Sundays.  This meant that I got used to presiding, preaching or deaconing.  Moving here, more often than not, meant doing everything every Sunday.  Suddenly with others sharing the load (and to be fair it isn’t just last Sunday, but I have only just started blogging again) worship became more alive for me (and I hope others).  There was something about the interaction, the way in which there were a variety of voices.  Also about the space that I gained, particularly during the ablutions, so that instead of always thinking about what came next there was time for private prayer.

As our team grows I look forwards to more of this 🙂


Bishop Philip North

As many will know Bishop Philip North, currently Bishop of Burnley, has been announced as the next Bishop of Sheffield.  Following the announcement, Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, wrote a piece for Modern Church in which he suggested that Philip North should decline the offer because of the inherent conflict in being responsible for worship in the Diocese, whilst being a member of a society which believes that 1/3 of the Sheffield clergy are not able to consecrate communion validly.

This has understandably created a bit of a storm.  Those supporting Philip North have quoted the Five Guiding Principles (pdf) which say:

the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures;

(them being those who are “unable to receive the ministry of women Bishops or priests”)

but the same Guiding Principles also say:

those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;

Those who believe that women can’t be priests or Bishops are entitled to alternative episcopal oversight – what used to be flying Bishops.  One question that comes to mind is why can those who have a Bishop who does not believe that they are ordained not have similar alternative oversight?

I can see two answers to this question; one theological, in that the idea of flying Bishops does not fit with the theological role of Bishops, it is a practical fudge.  The other, more practical, is that if they were allowed, how many parishes would seek their oversight – and what becomes in a Diocese if more parishes are overseen by a flying Bishop than are not?  Who in reality is the Bishop, and who the flying Bishop?

Is Money What Counts?

Driving to Diocesan Synod this morning I was listening to the news and someone said words to the effect that it makes no financial sense to do this (and I can’t remember what “this” was); and there was an implication that the only grounds for making any decision was financial.  This shocked me because of that underlying assumption.

Someone once wrote:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10)

I am about to start reading Justin Welby’s book: “Dethroning Mammon“, which looks at this area, but the shock that I felt has made me start thinking about this now!

One of the key elements of the Christian faith for me is that all people are made in the image of God.  This then becomes an alternative yardstick when making decisions, because if all decisions are made on financial grounds we can very quickly find ourselves dehumanising people.

In Bhutan they have institutionalised this, in that what counts is not GDP, but Gross National Happiness.

For the last 40 years we have bowed down to “the market”and GDP has improved – but are we happier?  Probably not according to these figures.

In the Brexit debate I don’t recall the Remainers making arguments that were not essentially financial, whilst the Brexiters did.  Whether we liked those non financial arguments or not, perhaps that is why Brexit won!  (This is not a comment on the pros and cons of Brexit, but a question about whether a fixation on GDP didn’t speak to many voters).