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On May 15, 2022, the Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year C) was from John 13, wherein Jesus gave the Apostles a new commandment at the Last Supper:

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When I returned home from my local Anglican church that day, I read about two rather sad situations in the Church of England involving senior clergy.

The way the bishops handled these situations made me wonder how Christlike they are.

Loving each other the way Christ loves us demands a lot of concessions on our part, the very same that He showed towards His disciples, making allowances for human misunderstanding and weakness. Above all, He forgave those faults time and time again, with loving patience.

The Save the Parish network has been doing much heavy lifting in trying to get bishops to become more responsive to and respectful of parish churches across the country.

What follows are two examples of their efforts.

Cornwall

A conflict has been growing between Anglicans in Cornwall and their bishop, the Right Revd Philip Mounstephen, over the axeing of clergy, meaning the potential closure of historical churches in that beautiful county.

The Diocese of Truro prefers to spend money on administrative positions, as the following Save the Parish letter to the bishop makes clear:

The bishop sent back a terse reply, saying that, as the group had gone to the press with the story, he would not be meeting with them, as they had requested:

Given that you have taken this route I’m afraid I will not be offering you a meeting.

Rather, I encourage you to engage seriously in the On the Way process in your local community.

If you have continuing concerns these should best be raised in your PCC and by the normal synodical processes by which we work.

That sounds so petty and so corporate. Would our Lord have responded in such a cold and unforgiving way? Certainly not.

A Catholic chimed in to say that the same thing is going on in the Diocese of Plymouth. Very sad:

The Catholic Diocese of Plymouth is in serious decline and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that my Bishop (and the entire episcopate of England & Wales) and your Bishop are sharing & comparing notes on this planned ‘reconfiguration’. Very best wishes to you in this.

Other Anglicans were also unhappy with the direction the C of E has taken over the past few years:

I agree with the next tweets that say the rot started around 30 years ago:

Without churches, how will the faithful gather together to worship? Please don’t say via a Zoom call with self-consecrated sandwich bread and a glass of whatever juice or wine one has to hand. We are not Evangelicals.

Where is the Great Commission (Matthew 28) in this plan?

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Budget

Earlier this month, on May 11, the C of E issued its triennial budget, channelling £3.6 billion into parishes and social action.

Some people, like the Revd Giles Fraser, were happy but others wondered how much money would actually be going to parishes. Pictured is the Archbishop of Canterbury:

The Revd Marcus Walker of St Bartholomew in London, who chairs the Save The Parish network, was guardedly optimistic about the budget and its allocation to individual churches:

Interestingly, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will not deliver the budget to the General Synod until July — with no vote.

Why wasn’t it presented to them upon release?

Someone noted the irony and hypocrisy of the Archbishops going to the press to announce the budget. Hmm:

On May 12, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that the hierarchy ‘got it wrong’ in ignoring parish churches, especially those in the countryside:

If it hadn’t been for Save The Parish, would the hierarchy have admitted their mistake?

Would Jesus have ignored the humble faithful? No, certainly not. The people the disciples tried to shoo away, Jesus invited to approach Him. He never turned His back on anyone.

The Guardian‘s account of the budget emphasised its social action aspects (emphases mine):

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, admitted the C of E had been heavy-handed in concentrating funds on urban churches in recent years. “Allocating money in the past was perhaps, if we’re honest, a bit too driven from the centre. Now we’re trusting the dioceses much more,” said Cottrell.

Rural parishes have complained that they have been starved of cash, which has been diverted to inner-city churches. As a result, churches have closed and clergy jobs have been lost, according to a campaign group, Save the Parish.

Welby said: “Over the last few years, the priority has been very much for the more heavily populated areas. Having listened carefully to what people were saying, this [funding] is for everyone, including the rural areas.”

The core of the extra funding will be used for programmes that focus on young and disadvantaged people, deliver social action work, address racism and cut the church’s carbon footprint.

It will support churches in the poorest areas of the country and fund more clergy in frontline ministries, including chaplaincies. “This funding will help the C of E raise its game in its service to the nation,” said Cottrell.

The Telegraph‘s article focused more on individual parish churches, the ones that Save The Parish is concerned about:

The Church of England’s Archbishops have admitted that they “got it wrong” by not prioritising rural parishes over city churches, as they announced new funding worth £3.6 billion …

In an online press conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, announced the plans and reiterated their commitment to rural church communities, saying that rural parishes “really matter” …

Furthermore, in December, figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of Christians in England is close to falling below 50 per cent for the first time, as atheists now account for more than a third of “faith” groups in an increasingly secular society.

Do we think the bishops and two archbishops care about that statistic? They should, given that they, too, must follow the Great Commission. It wasn’t meant only for the Apostles.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell said:

I don’t think we don’t need to be embarrassed by saying we’ve learned, we’ve listened. We’ve changed our mind. It’s not that what was done in the past was bad and this is now good. It’s: that was good and we think this is better.

The money which was distributed in this kind of way in recent years, was much more focused on populous areas. And of course populous areas, they really matter. But so do rural areas, and there’s a lot of hidden rural poverty, and it just meant that they didn’t meet the criteria. So we’ve changed the criteria and that’s a good thing to do

We do want to move to try to decentralise it a bit and work much more closely with dioceses and parishes.

I think the game changer has been that we’ve now much more clearly got a set of owned priorities as a church and that therefore provides the criteria for spending.

And it might be in very small ways in rural communities or in so-called larger ways.

It’s the ‘or’ that bothers me in that sentence, but I could be reading too much into it. Why not say ‘and’ instead?

Save The Parish gave a level-headed response:

Following the press conference, Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent, of the Save the Parish campaign group, said: “We welcome the recognition of the pleading from Save The Parish and similar organisations that are fighting against cuts in clergy and the formation of mega-parishes.

“It is very pleasing that rural and small parishes will be able to apply for the new funding, having been deliberately excluded from the previous three-year round.

“The proof of the pudding will be whether these new funds are genuinely accessible in a way that eases the huge burden of the parish share which is a struggle for so many parishes.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Conclusion

The two illustrations above show how pharisaical the C of E senior clergy are.

They remind me of the Sanhedrin in the Gospels: haughtily lording their position over those they considered to be inferior — the faithful.

I do hope this new plan works out, but, on a wider note, senior clergy must really do better to be more Christlike in the way they deal with priests and laity.

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