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The ongoing preoccupation and concern about how Anglican parishes will survive, especially in rural England, might be resolved soon.

On June 26, 2022, The Sunday Telegraph reported that wealthier parishes could be allowed to give more to poorer ones. The plan will be debated at the upcoming General Synod meeting in July (emphases mine):

Wealthy church dioceses will be allowed to share funds with their poorer neighbours under plans to be voted on by the Church of England.

The proposals, which have been submitted before the General Synod, the Church of England’s legislative body, will mean that for the first time cash can be more evenly distributed.

The move would remove some barriers to dioceses sharing resources and comes amid concern about the viability of smaller, poorer and more rural parishes.

Why did that not happen sooner? It’s common sense. In Paul’s epistles, we read of his collection for the poor church in Jerusalem. The other churches he planted in Asia Minor and Macedonia gave generously, and he succeeded in presenting the donation to the struggling congregation in Jerusalem.

It will be left to the dioceses to decide if they wish to participate. Hmm. Based on previous diocesan splurging of money on rather useless ‘initiatives’, I do hope they will be generous towards their poorer congregations:

In papers published last week and submitted to the Synod for its conference in July, David White, deputy director of finance for National Church Institutions, said that his amendment would “in effect, enable a Diocesan Board of Finance to grant funds from its income account for use by other dioceses in the Church of England if it wished to do so” …

In May the archbishops admitted that they “got it wrong” by not prioritising rural parishes over city churches, as they announced funding worth £3.6 billion.

We shall see.

On June 23, Andrew Selous MP, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, answered a question from Labour MP Ben Bradshaw on putting more clergy into neglected parishes. I agree with the Revd Giles Fraser of St Anne, Kew, that Selous’s response was far from reassuring:

Churches are struggling to obtain curates, as obtaining more clergy is not in their direct control:

The Save the Parish network will be meeting before the Synod members get together. I wish them all the very best. They have two champions in the Revds Giles Fraser and Marcus Walker, rector of St Bartholomew the Great in London:

Giles Fraser is enjoying his new assignment at the Parish Church of St Anne in southwest London:

He is out and about meeting fellow residents:

On a serious note, Fraser warns of the Lords Spiritual — serving Church of England bishops in the House of Lords — becoming irrelevant if the parish system breaks down:

In his recent article in UnHerd, he says:

the bishops draw their moral authority from the fact that the Church of England operates a universal service provision. We serve in all communities, from the richest to the poorest, from cities to rural areas. The bishops are in fact well suited to the Lords because they connect it to every parish in the country — well, in England at least. And if there is a current threat to bishops in the Lords it comes not from the fact that they sometimes irritate the government with moral pronouncements — ‘twas ever thus — but rather because the bishops are dismantling the source of their own authority. Armed with half-arsed MBAs, they want the Church to be run with increasingly centralised efficiency; inefficient parishes are being closed. As a result, the connection between the bishops and the parishes is being severed, and with it the source of their authority to sit in the legislature.

Fraser warns that this plays into secularists’ hands:

The role of the bishops is to represent the whole country spiritually. On the whole, other faiths are glad of this particular role held by the Church of England. The National Secular Society and other troublemakers are keen to sow division among people of faith in order to argue that no one church should have legislative priority over another. But this is simply a ruse to dislodge religion from the public sphere. The Church of England is not a special interest group, it exists for all. Even, heaven help us, for secularists.

On that note, the Revd Stephen Heard is concerned about the single-minded political leanings of C of E clergy, starting with the archbishops. Their constant political pronouncements could be alienating the laity — and potential converts:

He cites an article from The Critic, ‘The closing of the Episcopal mind’, which provides bishops’ opinions dating back to the 19th century, and concludes:

Given this deep uncertainty and debate as to the political implications of Christianity, total political consensus among its leadership makes me very uneasy. It alienates large swathes of lay Anglicans who, in perfectly good faith, come to conclusions that differ from the liberal-left consensus, and makes our mission as a broad national church harder. It belies a real lack of intellectual vibrancy and curiosity, and implies, by some curious happenstance, that the political spirit of a restless and secular age has magically aligned itself with the truths of the Christian religionWhat providential perfection! And what an unlikely state of affairs all round.

Political causes have even entered into baptismal and confirmation vows in the Diocese of Oxford, which now requires a promise to uphold God’s creation.

Marcus Walker rightly points out that this places Christ, the Person to whom we pledge our faithful allegiance, in second position:

He wrote an article about it for The Telegraph:

In it, he says:

Baptism and Confirmation are two of the most important steps a human being can make. I say this, I concede, as a clergyman, but what happens at these sacraments is not just a significant religious service, but an event that transforms a person’s life, temporal and eternal.

This is why it’s really important that the Church avoids putting barriers up that would discourage people from encountering this grace. It is difficult enough for the Church to persuade people that the Christian message is true (we’ve all seen the stats). Pushing away those who don’t hold to the ideologies of the current bench of bishops is foolish in the extreme.

This week, the Bishop of Oxford has decided to add to the service of Baptism and Confirmation a new little exchange: “Will you strive to sustain the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth?” “With the help of God, I will.” It is important to note that this is not a change to the actual baptismal vows. It’s part of a rather naff “commissioning” that the new prayer book, Common Worship, allows at the end of these services. Nobody knows what happens if a candidate says “no”, mostly because none of the other questions are controversial so this issue has not come up before.

At this point you might be saying, “but there’s nothing controversial here either”, and, if speaking entirely for myself, I would agree. You might also say that this seems pretty consonant with long-standing mainstream Christian and Anglican theology and this would be true.

But the question of how we engage with environmental concerns has become a major political issue recently, one controversial enough to have even caused long standing conservatives to reconsider their loyalty to the Crown in anger at the way some members of the Royal Family proselytise about “The Environment”.

This is the only part of the service which engages directly with a live political discourse. We are not asked to pledge anything to do with poverty, international relations, race, or even loyalty to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England …

Walker acknowledges that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) requires confirmands to pledge loyalty to the monarch and says that it is no longer used in today’s confirmation ceremonies:

to use it now would turn away any republican. It would cause those who don’t think this country should have a monarch to have second thoughts about finding God. High Tory though I am, I would not want to stand before the Throne of Judgment and have held against me the souls I had turned away because of my politics.

Which means my advice to the Bishop of Oxford is not to mess with this liturgy; to those cheerleading the move to ask yourself what if the boot were on the other foot and you were being forced to assent to a political position you dissent from as a condition of baptism; to the Church to be grateful for anyone willing to commit themselves to Christ and to welcome them with open arms.

In closing, this guidance on sermon writing from 2017 is worthwhile reading. It could apply to any essay. Parts of it remind me of the Expository Writing course I took at university many moons ago.

This is called ‘Good to Great: Turning a Decent Sermon into a Wonderful One’:

It’s excellent advice — and difficult to achieve, therefore, all the more worthwhile in the pursuit of ‘good to great’.

Advertisement

On Monday, June 20, 2022, the Telegraph’s columnist Tim Stanley went back in time to explain how the rot set in the Church of England.

This happened early in the Queen’s reign. While she has nothing to do with the appointment of Archbishops of Canterbury, as the Prime Minister has this privileged responsibility, the decay is nearly 70 years old.

When I moved here decades ago, everyone said that the Church of England is the Tory (Conservative) Party at prayer.

Even at that time, our church — as did many other Anglican congregations in England — had non-liturgical services, disproving that trope.

The early morning service I attend probably could be described as mostly Conservative. Even then, I’m not sure, and, as only a handful of us are there week after week we are, therefore, hardly representative. The more widely attended mid-morning service certainly could be described as having adherents in the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

Stanley’s article, ‘How the Church of England became the Labour Party at prayer’, discusses two Archbishops of Canterbury, the Right Revds Geoffrey Fisher and Michael Ramsey.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Geoffrey Fisher

Geoffrey Fisher was the Archbishop of Canterbury when the Queen acceded the throne.

Like many Anglican clergy, he was a bit of an oxymoron.

On the one hand:

Fisher, a former headmaster, is rumoured to have talked Princess Margaret out of marrying a divorcee …

On the other hand:

in his diary, long ago in 1957, [Conservative Prime Minister] Harold Macmillan wrote that he dreaded his meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher. “I try to talk to him about religion, but he seems to be quite uninterested and reverts all the time to politics.”

Then there was the strange middle ground. Fisher:

opined of the nuclear bomb that “the very worst” it could do “is to sweep a vast number of people from this world into the next, into which they must all go anyway.” Yet he was also against Suez and the premium bond, the latter a lottery cooked up by Macmillan that Fisher regarded as ungodly.

The premium bond is great. It is one of the best investments that one can make these days. I ‘win’ at least one bond worth £25 nearly every month. I don’t need to lift a finger; the draw takes place automatically. This is a much better appreciation in capital than a standard savings account will provide these days.

Fisher got shirty with Macmillan when it came time to select his successor:

Macmillan was as mischievous when it came to clerical appointments. He suggested to Fisher that the best choice for his successor at Canterbury might be Michael Ramsey, the liberal-minded Archbishop of York. “Dr Ramsey is a theologian, a scholar and a man of prayer,” Fisher is supposed to have said. “Therefore he is entirely unsuitable as Archbishop of Canterbury.” He knew this, he explained, because he had been his headmaster. “Well, you may have been Dr Ramsey’s headmaster,” retorted Macmillan, “but you are not mine” – and, one likes to imagine, picked Ramsey for the job in a fit of obstinacy, ushering in the Swinging Sixties.

Michael Ramsey

Again, we have a contradiction in terms if Ramsey was indeed ‘a theologian, a scholar and a man of prayer’, because it was during his tenure, according to Tim Stanley, that the C of E embraced the prevailing culture of the Swinging Sixties:

Under Fisher, the mission was to confirm an ancient Christian identity, but by 1960, it was obvious that England was changing fast. Rather than resist, Ramsey&Co sought to negotiate a new role as the nation’s conscience, not to block legislation, such as on divorce or abortion, but to shape it (so compassionate and forensic was Ramsey’s contribution to parliamentary debate on the legalisation of homosexual acts that one peer accused him of turning Hansard into pornography).

As clerics became dynamic commentators on the state of the nation, it might have seemed as if the gamble were paying off. But they were running on the fumes of the Fifties. It was Fisher-style conservatism that gave them the air of authority that they leant to causes that, in turn, made them sound not like they were trying to transform the world but allowing the world to transform them, that they had become dedicated disciples of fashion. Once, when asked what he thought about a trend for girls in London to walk about topless, Ramsey said, “We must just accept the fact that young people express themselves in new methods of dress that may seem queer to the older among us.”

Political shifts also took place during this time. Ramsey became Archbishop of Canterbury under a Conservative Prime Minister. In the middle of his tenure, Labour’s Harold Wilson took the helm. Edward ‘Ted’ Heath, a wet Conservative, succeeded him.

Harold Wilson ran into problems over immigration legislation with Ramsey:

One of the new archbishop’s interests was immigration. Ramsey called the Conservatives’ 1962 bill, which for the first time limited arrivals from the Commonwealth, “deplorable”. Labour, keen to co-opt the church, made him chair of a committee on race relations, though in 1968 Harold Wilson limited Asian immigration from Kenya and Ramsey condemned that bill, too.

Present day

Over the past seven decades, it has been easier for Archbishops of Canterbury to visit war zones in other parts of the world, but, as Tim Stanley points out, it is often the local vicar who encounters the impact of displaced persons:

Archbishops of Canterbury are part of a global communion: they have visited warzones and dictatorships and seen the horrors that compel people to flee, and when these unfortunates turn up in Britain, it is often the parish clergy who encounter them first. A vicar friend walked into his church one day to discover a Nigerian exile had broken into the children’s creche and was sound asleep in the Wendy house.

Immigration is a bigger issue than ever, especially as the Government is adamant over its plan to send illegals to Rwanda for processing, despite the fact that the June 14 charter flight lost all of its 37 passengers to legal challenges:

Its hierarchy has completely become the Labour Party at prayer … and so, in a bid to find relevance among those who don’t believe in God, the CofE frequently finds itself alienating those who do. It has probably irritated a few Rwandans along the way.

It is still hard for me to believe that most Anglicans voted for Brexit, but I stand corrected. Maybe they no longer go to church? Stanley says:

the one part of the population that has remained steadfastly loyal to the church is Conservative voters (two-thirds of English Anglicans voted for Brexit) …

Most importantly, while most, though not all, C of E clergy are clearly on the Left, they are attempting to court God-fearing Africans, who do not share their social views:

Archbishop Laurent Mbanda, head of the Rwandan Anglicans, has said he supports asylum seekers being sent to his country: he is also one of three African church leaders boycotting the upcoming Lambeth conference over the CofE’s tolerance of homosexuality. Here is the final twist. The Church that bent over backwards to ally with the post-colonial world has, in the process, embraced a liberal theology that now puts it at odds with much of the post-colonial world.

How Anglican clergy will reconcile that conundrum is anyone’s guess.

Would that the clergy concentrate on our souls and the promise of salvation instead.

Perhaps we need more African bishops serving in England. They know what the point of the Church is — and it isn’t politics.

As I was preparing yesterday’s post on what Anglican priests think of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, a lot more material came to the fore.

Trinity Sunday

As regular readers and churchgoers know, June 12, 2022 was Trinity Sunday.

At the Priory Church of St Bartholomew in London, it was also Confirmation Day for a blessed handful of the congregation.

The Revd Marcus Walker, St Bartholomew’s vicar, is on the right of the photo below. The Bishop of London, the Right Revd Sarah Mulally, is in the centre:

Did you ever wonder why mitres are shaped with a point?

Our vicar told us on Pentecost Sunday — the week before Trinity — that mitres are shaped that way to suggest the tongues of fire that descended on the heads of the faithful on the first Pentecost, signifying the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

It is a pity that the Bishop chose to preach on The Shack in her sermon. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear — no!

Not surprisingly, those preaching on Trinity Sunday dread it because it requires in some measure explaining the holy mystery of the Triune God. It is not unusual for a vicar to assign the sermon to an ordinand — trainee priest — who is a member of his congregation.

St Patrick used a shamrock. However, a Lutheran pastor in the United States uses an egg, which, in some ways, is even better. His sister, whom I cited in my post, wrote on another website (emphases mine below):

He set out 3 small bowls. He cracked an egg, separated the white from the yolk, placed them in 2 of the bowls, and the shell in the third. He then asked the children which was the egg (which of course brought out all kinds of interesting responses). He used this illustration to explain the Trinity. I think even the adults in the congregation were enlightened by his talk. The children certainly learned something that day.

Returning to St Bartholomew’s, Marcus Walker exchanges thoughts with a Catholic in the Twitter below:

Walker is absolutely right.

The Revd Matthew Cashmore is the vicar of St Anselm’s in Hayes, Middlesex, near Heathrow Airport. For centuries, it was a rural area. Now it is very much a part of Greater London. Its growth as an industrial suburb began in the mid-19th century with the arrival of the railway. In the 20th century, it was home to many industries, including player pianos, vinyl records, caravans, food manufacturing and aviation companies. Today, it is known for food, aviation and a number of Heathrow’s hotels.

St Mary the Virgin Church is the oldest house of worship in Hayes, dating back to the 13th century.

St Anselm’s was built in the 20th century but its name references the history of St Mary the Virgin, as Wikipedia explains:

St Anselm’s Church was completed in 1929 to the design of architect Hubert Christian Corlette. Noted designer MacDonald Gill was responsible for the panelled ceiling. The church’s foundation stone was laid on 13 May 1927 by Sir John Eldon Bankes. The east window is by James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars, London. The church was Grade II listed in November 2019.[58] St Anselm’s is so-named because William Rufus (1056 – 1100) sent Archbishop (later Saint) Anselm of Canterbury (c.1033 – 1109) to stay in the manor house of St Mary’s Church, as it was the nearest of the Archbishop’s manors to Windsor, where William Rufus resided.[59][60]

William Rufus was the third son of William the Conqueror.

On to the present day, and Matthew Cashmore, like many other vicars, preached on the mystery of the Trinity. This is an excerpt from St Anselm’s Trinity Sunday pew leaflet:

To try to figure out HOW this trinity of God works. We are human and modern humans attempt to understand the world through the lens of science and ‘reason’.

The issue of course is that creation is rather more complex and difficult than we can understand.

We are not God and we are reaching and trying as hard as we can to understand things that He created and put into place.

It’s just not possible.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t try – that we shouldn’t engage in trying to understand the the universe through science and ‘reason’; but rather to accept that there are things that we can not neatly fit into categories of science that are central to how we exist in the universe.

We are not God.

Sometimes we need to accept that it is wiser to exist and simply appreciate and give thanks for what God has made – and our part in it.

Wise words indeed.

Mission work

I found out about St Anselm’s via a tweet from a vicar whose tweets I posted yesterday.

The Revd Sarah Hancock, from Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, posted the church’s brilliant advert for a Mission Priest:

I can see why they have passed a Resolution. Going into rough pubs is probably not the sort of thing even today’s women priests are up for.

Mission work also appeared in Cashmore’s Trinity Sunday sermon, as he exhorted the congregation to think about ways in which they, too, can bring the Gospel to the unchurched. Excerpts follow:

In the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Amen.

Today, as I’m sure you’re all aware is Trinity Sunday. It’s a day we call to mind the Holy Trinity and what that means to us today.

Trinity Sunday is an annual reminder of the simple command to live within the love and commandments of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and Jesus tells us how we discern how to do that …

… our faith is a felt faith. It is a faith that exists as much in our hearts and our stomachs as it does in our brains. The moment we forget that we lose the awesome breadth of what God has in store for us – we lose the ability to engage with what Jesus taught us – and we lose sight of what the Holy Spirit wants us to do in this life.

Now, I’m not saying we should leave our brains at the door when we come to church. What I am saying is that academic and intellectual exploration has to work alongside that gut feeling we all experience when we see the work of the Holy Spirit and that gentle warming of our heart we feel when we see the love of Jesus in action.

Our faith is a broad, complex and wonderful thing. It interacts with the world in a myriad of ways and people interact with us – and the faith they see in us – in a myriad of ways

We should be open to all those possibilities

The fact that somebody may want to talk to us about where the Trinity appears in scripture for example, is an opportunity to engage people about their faith. For us to crack open the Bible and talk them through the gospel of John and its rich description of the workings of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. (so I suggest you take your pew sheet home and read around these chapters!)

Or it may be that people want to know what the practical outworking of the Trinity in our day to day lives isor they may want to understand how our love of God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit makes us feel.

We need to be prepared to answer these questions in the real world

There are three things that I think any Christian should be ready to answer in the street.

    • How does God make you feel?
    • How does the Holy Spirit guide your daily life?
    • How has Jesus taught you to live a life more pleasing to God?

These questions form the heart of what we talk about in the world when we bring people to the love of Jesus – and in so doing – to the love of God and the Holy Spirit.

They are true because we experience them across the breadth of our lives and because we see them in scripture – the test of truth …

Our faith is an experienced faith.

It has to be lived out to be understood

When we talk to people about GodWe engage them with the truth of what we have seen, what we have learnt, what we have experienced in our day-to-day life with Jesus.

And we should be more prepared for it.

We should, each morning as we cross ourselves and say the Our Father – think with our brains, feel with our stomach, experience the joy of love in our heart, and ask ourselves – how can I go into the world today and bring somebody to Jesus.

How can we bring people to this church, this place and bring them to baptism – to a relationship that is earth shatteringly life changing with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit?

It is up to each one of us to figure that out. Each one of us will bring a different gift, each one of us will bring different experiences and feelings, each one of us will have engaged with scripture in different ways and each one of us will reach somebody that another person cannot.

Nobody is beyond the love of God the Father, Son & Holy Sprit.

So, go out into the world my brothers and sisters and bring people to baptism, to this place, to a relationship with the Holy Trinity – because the only way to understand the Trinityis to live inside its love.

Amen.

St Anselm’s is a High Anglican church, therefore, it adopts some Catholic practices and pre-Vatican II vestments, such as this fiddleback chasuble in gold and blue:

I wish Fr Matthew all the best with his parish work and finding a Mission Priest.

Those interested in reading or watching more of his sermons can find them here.

I can also recommend the one for Pentecost Sunday, another inspiring call to mission:

Another vicar, the Revd Sam Charles Norton, is also concerned about spreading the Good News in the Church of England. He begins by going back to basics, with the Bible, writings of the early Church Fathers as well as Anglican clergy who helped to develop the Church of England in the 16th and 17th centuries when it was theologically at its best:

He says we have replaced doctrine with culture:

People should visit our churches if only for their beauty, as close to a glimpse of heaven as we have in this life:

Who knows where a church visit might lead?

Trivia

In closing, new members were installed into the Order of the Garter on Monday, June 13. This ceremony takes place every June.

This year, the Bishop of Worcester’s brother was one of the newest members of this ancient Royal order. Tony Blair, unfortunately, was, too.

However, the interesting thing is that both the Bishop of Worcester — the Right Revd John Inge — and his brother, who is a Field Marshal, are the sons of butchers. Let no one say that modest parentage prohibits great achievements:

The Bishop is the Lord High Almoner, in charge of distributing alms to the poor. The office dates from 1103 and is a post in the Royal Households of the United Kingdom.

The last Lord High Almoner who was the son of a butcher was Cardinal Wolsey (1473-1530):

How marvellous to be parents of sons who went into the military and the Church!

At my church, the 8 a.m. service is Holy Communion with the liturgy from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP).

I am one of the privileged few in the Church of England to be able to attend this service every Sunday.

Since the 1980s, the C of E has done everything possible to take the BCP out of use. In 1980 and 1984 (the edition I have), the Church published the Alternative Service Book (ASB), which the satirical magazine Private Eye lampooned for decades in a series called The Alternative Rocky Horror Service Book. The satirists scored a bullseye with every instalment.

A newer prayer book, Common Worship, superseded the ASB in 2000. It is considerably better.

However, what both the ASB and Common Worship have done is to effectively make the BCP obsolete.

The ASB Wikipedia entry says (emphases mine):

The Prayer Book Society soon complained that it was becoming hard to find a church which used the old prayer book and that theological colleges were not introducing students to it.

I can vouch for both complaints.

I’ve been attending my church for nearly 30 years. In that time, we have had either vicars or curates who entered the seminary, often as second careers. They could not reasonably recite the BCP liturgy. (On the other hand, our present incumbent, a young vicar, also a second careerist, does an excellent job.)

As some of these people were older than I am, I can assume only that they were not regular churchgoers in their youth.

In any event, one of the bright aspects of the coronavirus pandemic is that our church is using the BCP exclusively at 8 a.m. on Sunday. This is because the traditional liturgy service from Common Worship calls for the Peace, which involves shaking hands.

It would seem that other C of E churches also adopted the BCP during the pandemic.

An Anglican laywoman recently posed the following question on Twitter and received encouraging replies:

A benefice is a group of churches in one catchment area.

Here’s another encouraging response:

I’ve noticed a rise in people attending BCP services at churches I sing at, Evensong especially popular. Many of the younger generations I speak to prefer it – “it makes sense”. A church using BCP has flourishing choir of young people and many young families in the congregation.

The young vicar of the Anglican church in Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, in Greater Manchester is particularly enthusiastic:

The Revd Sarah Hancock’s is a typically welcoming C of E response.

Those uncertain about reciting 17th century prayers can be drawn in:

The BCP liturgy went down well on Zoom when the churches were closed. Those who attended online are now back in church:

There were two enthusiastic responses from Cambridge.

The first is from Westcott House, the city’s Anglican seminary:

The second is from Cambridge University Press:

Coincidentally, my copy of the BCP is from Cambridge University Press. It’s nearly 30 years old and still looks like new. It came with an attractive yet durable slipcase, too.

Nothing would make traditionalists happier than a wider return to the BCP for some services, either on Sunday or during the week.

The BCP really does lift the soul and remind one of the communion of saints, those many generations of devout Anglicans who prayed from it through the centuries.

Long live the BCP.

You could not make this up.

Ascension Day was last Thursday, May 26, 2022, a principal feast of the Church year. Without our Lord’s ascension, He could not have sent His disciples the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, which is the Church’s birthday.

In 2022, we read Luke’s Epistle and Gospel accounts of that miraculous event of Jesus returning to His Father to sit on His right hand in glory.

However, Anglican clergy chose not to discuss that.

On May 29, the Daily Mail reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury opined on social media instead. Another clergyman discussed colonialism.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Social media is polarising society and destroying the ‘common narrative’ of the Christian story uniting Britain, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned yesterday.

Justin Welby criticised online platforms for giving people ‘a very loud voice’ and creating colliding ‘waves’ of opinions.

The Archbishop, who has 173,000 Twitter followers, said social media had led to the erosion of shared experiences.

‘People don’t know the narratives and the stories of the Christian faith – the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep,’ he added.

And whose fault is that?

Anglican pronouncements are no better than an op-ed page in an average newspaper. They tell us nothing about the Gospel story.

Here’s another secular perspective, from the Dean of Trinity College Cambridge, the Reverend Dr Michael Banner.

This was his Ascension Day message:

A leading clergyman has accused Christianity of spreading colonialism around the globe – and wants the Church of England to make reparations for its ‘corporate and ancestral guilt’.

Preaching in an Ascension Day service broadcast on Radio 4, the Reverend Dr Michael Banner said Christians had marched around the world, ‘subduing and rendering it one vast kingdom hand in hand with merchants and colonialists’.

Dr Banner, Dean of Trinity College Cambridge, said Christ urged disciples to be his witnesses, but added: ‘We were not witnesses, but a scandal.’ He told worshippers at St Martin-in-the-Fields, central London on Thursday: ‘Now is the time for moral repair and reparations.’

In September, he became the first clergyman to call for the Government to make reparations, but said it was not ‘a demand for a pile of cash’ but ‘a holistic healing of the wounds of colonialism’.

Well, there you go. There is much spiritual enlightenment there for Ascension Day, wouldn’t you agree?

It is highly unfortunate that Banner omitted that it was an English MP, William Wilberforce, a Yorkshireman, who made it his life’s ambition to abolish slavery.

Wilberforce became an Evangelical in 1785 and began looking at the world entirely differently, all thanks to his Christian faith. He became England’s leading abolitionist. His 20-year campaign in Parliament resulted in the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

Even when he left Parliament in 1826 because of ill health, he continued to campaign against the evils of slavery. He died three days after the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was passed.

Wilberforce was also instrumental in persuading the US Navy to co-ordinate interdiction efforts with the Royal Navy off the coast of West Africa in an effort to stamp out slave trade.

I did like the way the Mail‘s piece on Banner’s sermon concluded:

Last week, black commentator Calvin Robinson told The Mail on Sunday he was blocked from becoming an Anglican priest because he refused to endorse the view that the Church of England was racist.

Indeed. Here’s my message to senior C of E clergy: mote, meet plank.

Readers can learn more about Calvin Robinson’s sad situation that has caused him to join a less judgmental and more traditional Anglican movement, GAFCON, here.

Last weekend saw an Anglican news story make the papers: that of ordinand Calvin Robinson, who is effectively being prevented from taking Holy Orders in the Church of England.

Even though he is mixed-race black, he appears to be the ‘wrong sort’ of minority for the C of E: too biblical, too conservative, too traditional.

I wrote about him a month ago, when it was clear he was having problems securing a priestly placement, even though he had been offered one in central London at St Alban’s in Holborn.

Background

In 2020, Calvin Robinson was a campaigner for Defund the BBC. Here he tells Dan Wootton, then a broadcaster on talkRADIO, that it was absurd for the BBC’s Countryfile to suggest that people of colour would feel awkward in the countryside. Robinson said that he practically grew up in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire:

He had more to say in September, when the BBC’s A Question of Sport revamped its panel because of their skin colour. Robinson called for more diversity of thought and economic background instead, i.e. conservative working-class people:

Robinson worked as a schoolteacher and assistant principal before entering the seminary. He was also a school governor, so a well-rounded children’s education remains important to him. On October 15, he took exception to radical ‘theories’ entering the British school system:

He had more to say a few days later when Parliament debated the subject. Kemi Badenoch MP is at the despatch box. The Opposition view her as the ‘wrong sort’ of minority woman:

He deplored the National Education Union’s push for school closures early in 2021 because of the pandemic:

Shortly after he tweeted that, he had appeared on a BBC Sunday morning show, The Big Questions. His appearance brought reaction in the form of verbal insults from an activist and academic at Leeds Beckett University, more about whom below. On February 18, he wrote an article about it for the Mail:

… after I had appeared on the long-running BBC discussion show The Big Questions last Sunday morning, I saw a message on Twitter from Aysha Khanom, the founder and director of the Race Trust charity, which works with schools and universities and purports to promote ‘racial equity’.

Aysha Khanom personally tweeted of me: ‘Please somebody deal with this man!’

I found that menacing. I don’t know exactly what she meant by it, but it echoes the sort of language that Tony Soprano would use when he wanted a rival rubbed out.

‘Deal with’ could easily be read as an incitement to violence.

But I shrugged it off. If I obsessed over every piece of abuse I receive through my phone, I would never think about anything else.

Shortly afterwards, though, the Race Trust Twitter account also attacked me — and this time it was less ambiguous. 

‘Calvin Robinson,’ the tweet read, ‘does it not shame you that most people see you as a house n****?’

I knew immediately that any decent person would find that language abhorrent. And sure enough, within 48 hours, Leeds Beckett University, which had worked closely in the past with the Race Trust, cut all ties and deleted Aysha Khanom’s profile from its website.

For what it’s worth, Race Trust now denies Aysha Khanom sent that second tweet. It claims it came from an anonymous employee without approval, and that this unnamed person has since been dismissed …

There was no apology to me for labelling me with a racist slur …

The sad truth is that many on the Left want to remove my freedom to speak independently.

To them, my skin colour means I am supposed to be part of a homogenous, faceless group, without a mind of my own.

But I am more than that. I am British, a Christian, a Midlander, a former computer programmer, a qualified teacher, a political adviser, a son and a brother.

I have many elements to my identity, and all these things have far more effect on how I see the world.

Above all, I believe in self-reliance and personal responsibility. I want to make the most of my life and refuse to see myself as oppressed or downtrodden …

After Oprah Winfrey’s interview with the Sussexes aired, Robinson was dismayed that Meghan claimed the Archbishop of Canterbury married her and Harry privately in the garden when it was only a rehearsal. Robinson explains the C of E criteria for a wedding ceremony:

Robinson joined GB News as a panellist and presenter soon after its launch in the summer of 2021.

This appearance of his from August 2021 was excellent. In it, he defended traditional Christian values which have informed the UK’s way of life for centuries:

Two weeks earlier, he reminded us that then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock resolutely said in November 2020 that the coronavirus vaccines would not be given to children. Robinson is opposed to children receiving the vaccine. Yet, by the time he posted this tweet, schoolchildren were receiving it. What a difference several months make:

On August 18, he was very generous in defending the free speech of the aforementioned academic at Leeds Beckett University who called him something offensive. He wrote an article for Spiked about her, saying:

It is for that reason that I haven’t joined in the demands for academic Aysha Khanom to lose her job. Leeds Beckett University has cut ties with Khanom after an organisation she runs, the Race Trust, racially abused me on social media.

Earlier this year, I appeared on BBC One’s The Big Questions to discuss the state of racism in the UK. I spoke about how I have been racially abused for not holding the ‘correct’ opinions. In response, the Race Trust tweeted: ‘Does it not shame you that most people see you as a house negro?’

Khanom maintains that the ‘house negro’ tweet was not sent by her, though she accepts responsibility for it. Either she or someone at her organisation was clearly comfortable using such racist language in public. The good news is that the tweet was rightly challenged and ‘ratioed’ by the masses on Twitter …

In my eyes, what’s most worrying about this incident is that Khanom’s organisation was set up to promote this critical race theory view – or what it calls ‘race literacy’ – in schools and universities. Sadly, this is what passes for ‘anti-racism’ today. Is this really the kind of worldview we want to indoctrinate our young people into?

The rise of identitarian racism should definitely worry us, but we won’t be able to challenge it openly if its defenders aren’t free to express themselves.

On Remembrance Sunday last year, an asylum seeker attempted to bomb Liverpool Cathedral but set himself off at the nearby children’s hospital instead. He had converted to Christianity. Pictured below is a man from his church who housed him for a while. Calvin voiced his opinion:

By early 2022, anyone not towing the media-Government line on coronavirus was anathema. Robinson was empathetic but frank with a university student who lost her friends because she dared to dissent:

Calvin Robinson anathema to C of E bishops

This brings us to the present, the past week, in fact.

On Friday, May 20, Robinson said on GB News that he had no choice but to leave the Church of England. He announced that he would be joining GAFCON, Global Anglican Future Conference, which is traditional in its teaching and practice.

The Mail on Sunday was already working on the story. A Mail+ article from Saturday, May 21, reported (emphases mine):

Internal emails obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveal that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby asked to be shown examples of Mr Robinson’s tweets amid mounting alarm within the Church over his criticism of  ‘bleeding-heart liberal vicars’ and the Church’s race policy

In one, The Rt Rev Rob Wickham, Bishop of Edmonton, voiced his fears to senior church leaders after Mr Robinson insisted that Britain was not riven with racism. ‘Calvin’s comments concern me about denying institutional racism in this country,’ he wrote

Mr Robinson also claimed that the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Sarah Mullally, lectured him about racism in the church, insisting that ‘as a white woman I can tell you that the Church is institutionally racist’.

Mr Robinson, a former teacher who has trained for two years to become an ordained member of the clergy, has been told that plans for him to serve as a deacon at a parish in London have been axed.

Last night he described the decision as ‘soul-destroying’ and claimed it followed a ‘sustained campaign’ against him by the Bishop of Edmonton over his views, including on whether Britain and the Church were institutionally racist. ‘These people are claiming they are institutionally racist, yet they are disregarding the opinion of an ethnic minority because it is not fitting their narrative,’ he said

In comments set to rock the Church’s hierarchy, he questioned whether the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has claimed the Church is ‘deeply institutionally racist’, had a part in blocking his ordination.  

‘I would love to know how big a role the Archbishop had in it because he has certainly been a part of the conversation. He is the boss and the fact they have gone ahead and cancelled me suggests that he was happy with that.’  

The Church said last night there were only a few clergy positions in London and ‘no suitable option’ available in London for Mr Robinson, who became a trainee vicar – an ordinand – at St Stephen’s House, a theological college at the University of Oxford, in October 2020.

Yet, Robinson had already been offered a post at St Alban’s, Holborn.

I gave you his background above because that is what the bishops were examining:

The emails reveal that even before starting his studies, Mr Robinson’s public comments were being scrutinised by church leaders. He claimed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain in September 2020 that the Black Lives Matter movement was stoking racial tensions, adding: ‘There are elements of racism in this country we need to stamp out, but while we are seeing everything as racist we are kind of undermining those racial issues we need to address.’

That day the Bishop of Edmonton emailed the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Sarah Mullally, and a PR adviser to the Diocese of London to register ‘concern’ about Mr Robinson’s denial of institutional racism in Britain. ‘Calvin Robinson is not only a political commentator, but he’s an ordinand and former teacher in this area,’ he added. Despite the Church’s view on racism, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities concluded in March 2021 that Britain did not have a systemic racism problem. In November 2021 senior Church leaders received a complaint after Mr Robinson shared on social media a Daily Mail investigation that exposed how the Church gave official advice that being baptised could help failed asylum seekers stay in Britain.

It followed news that suicide bomber Enzo Almeni, who detonated a device at a hospital in Liverpool last year, was baptised there as a Christian in 2015. Mr Robinson, by then a GB News commentator, tweeted that ‘misguided bleeding-heart liberal vicars could be complicit in recent terror attack’, adding: ‘Not to mention abuse of the Holy Sacrament of Baptism.’

Bishop Wickham criticised the ‘highly irresponsible’ comments in an email to Emma Ineson, assistant bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and said they remained online after 27 migrants died in the English Channel. ‘These are clear examples as to why, in my opinion, his ordination should be looked at very closely indeed,’ he wrote. ‘Calvin’s Twitter feed is here. It is worth scrolling down.’ He revealed the Archbishop of Canterbury had ‘asked for examples of Calvin Robinson’s tweets’ and highlighted that Mr Robinson had also criticised the findings of the Church’s anti-racism taskforce, which recommended quotas to boost the number of black and ethnic-minority senior clergy. Bishop Ineson said she would show the information to Archbishop Welby.

Mr Robinson was to be ordained as a deacon with a part-time role as assistant curate at St Alban’s Church in Holborn, central London. But in February the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev Jonathan Baker, told him the role was ‘likely to prove problematic, and would not lead to a fruitful or happy formation for you in your early years in ordained ministry’. Mr Robinson offered to reduce his media work but was told he would still not be able to take up the proposed role because ‘that moment had passed’.

The Bishop of London suggested he was stoking division:

At a meeting with Mr Robinson this month, Bishop Mullally insisted the decision was not about his politics, but because his ‘presence’ on social media and TV ‘is often divisive and brings disunity’.

Robinson received support from a young Conservative MP, Tom Hunt:

Tory MP Tom Hunt backed Mr Robinson last night, saying: ‘The message the Church seems comfortable to send out is that it’s OK to propagate some political views but not others. Sadly, Church of England congregations will continue to decline as millions of Christians are alienated by its behaviour.’

The C of E prelates involved in deciding Robinson’s fate as a future priest declined to comment:

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishops of Edmonton and London declined to comment. The Diocese of London said: ‘We have a limited number of curacies available. In this instance, it is felt that there is no suitable option available that London can offer. We continue to be in conversation with Calvin, are willing to work with him to discern the right way forward, and we keep him in our prayers.’

The Mail on Sunday‘s article has this title: ‘EXCLUSIVE: Not woke enough to be a vicar! Black political commentator Calvin Robinson who said Britain is NOT a racist country is BLOCKED from becoming a priest by a white bishop as a result’.

That title sums the situation up perfectly. Is not the bishops’ attitude a racist one, as in ‘We whites know better than you’?

Calvin tweeted the article:

The article is the same as Mail+‘s, but it does include photos of the main players in this story.

The Mail kindly gave space for Robinson to respond beneath their article.

Excerpts follow:

Sitting in an ornate study in the Old Deanery – a 17th Century mansion house opposite St Paul’s Cathedral – the Bishop of London put her hand on my arm and quietly said something that left me astounded.

‘Calvin, as a white woman I can tell you that the Church IS institutionally racist,’ the Rt Rev Sarah Mullally told me.

We had been discussing the Church’s race policy, which I had been vocally objecting to for some time. The Bishop could not understand that as a black man, I simply did not share her – and the Church hierarchy’s – view on this contentious issue.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has proclaimed that the Church of England is ‘deeply institutionally racist’ and called for ‘radical and decisive’ action. Last year an Anti-Racism Task Force recommended using quotas to boost the number of black and ethnic-minority senior clergy, introducing salaried ‘racial justice officers’ in all 42 dioceses and launching ‘racial justice Sunday’ once a year.

I fundamentally disagreed with this approach, which is based on a faith in divisive Left-wing Critical Race Theory, instead of the teachings of Christ. I believe it is divisive and offensive.

I have experienced plenty of racism in my life, but it has always been down to a minority of malicious individuals. I do not think the claim that either the Church, or wider society, is institutionally racist has ever been supported by robust evidence.

The Bishop of London’s hushed condescension during our meeting made me realise that any dissent from the Church’s ingrained view, which to me seems like nothing more than virtue-signalling, is not welcomed. The Church claims it wants to listen to the perspectives of minorities – well, I am one of them but it doesn’t appear to want to hear my view because it also happens to be a conservative one.

For the past two years I have been training for ordination at St Stephen’s House at the University of Oxford. I was due to begin a curacy at a lovely parish in Holborn, Central London, and within a year I hoped to be ordained a priest.

It takes a long time to acknowledge a call from God to serve as a priest, and it’s a vocation that often involves the sacrifice of leaving behind a successful career. I gave up my career as an assistant headteacher and consultant for the Department for Education to throw myself into my theological studies.

He said that the role at St Alban’s would have allowed him time to still appear on GB News and do other media work:

as an acknowledgment that I see my media work, which reaches a huge audience, as part of my calling and future ministry.

Another bishop was involved with deciding Robinson’s fate, the Bishop of Fulham, also in London:

During a Zoom call, the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev Jonathan Baker, told me that there had been ‘a lot of turbulence’ over some of the views I had expressed online and on TV. It was no secret that senior figures in the Church disliked me. I am after all a traditionalist – which means I do not believe in the ordination of women – and I have never been afraid to voice my criticism of the Church’s drift away from what I, and many of its parishioners, think are its core values.

I did not expect everyone to agree with me, but what I did expect is the right to express my own opinions. I had always been taught that the Church of England was a broad church.

I later discovered that Church leaders in London appeared to have had deep misgivings about my ordination from the very beginning of my training – despite spending more than £20,000 of parishioners’ money on sending me to study theology at Oxford.

Emails that I obtained via data-protection rules revealed that bishops at the very top of the Church had been closely scrutinising my public comments.

His political agenda is I guess what you would call libertarian – anti-woke, anti-identity politics, Covid-sceptical,’ the Bishop of Fulham wrote in one email. ‘His tweets get him into trouble sometimes and there have been complaints to the Bishop of London that he shouldn’t be ordained.’

Robinson rightly asks why, if the Church is institutionally racist, these white bishops have not tendered their resignations:

If the Church is institutionally racist, as the Archbishop of Canterbury insists, then why have he and other senior figures, including Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, and Sarah Mullally, the Bishop of London, not resigned? After all, they have all been bishops for years, which suggests they have been unable to solve the problem.

He warns that the C of E is entering apostasy. He is not wrong:

If you defend family values, the sanctity of marriage, all human life being sacred, or the fact that God made us male and female, you’ll face opprobrium.

Something has gone wrong. The established Church is entering apostasy, and the faithful masses in the congregations and the hard-working clergy deserve better.

Fortunately, he has received much support from clergy and laity:

Since my ordination was blocked I’ve been contacted by clergymen and lay people up and down the country who have been sharing their stories of how they’ve been silenced by the Church for holding conservative views.

He confirmed that he will be joining GAFCON and explained why it is so heartbreaking for him to leave the C of E:

After becoming increasingly disillusioned, I recently decided to leave the Church of England and join a more orthodox institution, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). Walking away from the Church of England has been heartbreaking.

People often quizzed me on why, if I was so troubled by its direction, I was also so determined to take holy orders in the Church of England. It was because, for me, the Church is the body of Christ and, perhaps naively, I thought I could help pull things back on track from within.

The Sunday Telegraph provided a few more details:

He had been training to become a priest at the University of Oxford for the past two years and was due to begin a curacy at a parish in Holborn, London, but was turned down for the role by the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev Jonathan Baker, in February

Mr Robinson submitted a subject access request (SAR) to the Church of England – asking the organisation for access to the personal information it held on him

It was then that he discovered a series of internal emails between Church bosses raising concerns over his opinions on institutional racism in Britain …

In another email, the Bishop of Fulham writes: “I wanted a word about an ordinand, Calvin Robinson. You might be aware of him … ”

Of the Bishop of London, he pointed out the irony of her insisting that the Church was institutionally racist:

Former teacher Mr Robinson added: “She was just ignorant. She accused me of being controversial so I said to her in a polite way that some of the things she says are controversial too – like the fact that she thinks the Church is institutionally racist. And then she turned around and said that.

“She was contradicting herself because in one instance she’s saying the Church is racist and needs to listen to the lived experiences of ethnic minorities, but then she was refusing to listen to my lived experience as a black man because it didn’t fit with her narrative.”

On Sunday evening, he appeared on Mark Dolan’s GB News show:

On Monday, May 23, The Times carried a report.

In it, we discovered that the Bishop of Edmonton’s child or children attended the school where Robinson was an assistant principal:

Calvin Robinson has been blocked as a priest by the Church of England after the Right Rev Rob Wickham, the Bishop of Edmonton, privately warned church leaders against ordaining him. Robinson, a social commentator, was an assistant principal at a school where Wickham was a parent

Robinson said that he was shocked to be told in February that his ordination was likely to be problematic. He applied under the Data Protection Act to see the information the church had on him.

He discovered that the Bishop of Edmonton had been reporting him to church leaders since he began his studies. Robinson went on Good Morning Britain in September 2020 to say that he was against Black Lives Matter because it was increasing racial tensions, and he believed that everyone in this country had an equal opportunity to succeed. The same day Wickham wrote to the Right Rev Sarah Mullally, the Bishop of London, to “bring it to your attention . . . Calvin Robinson is not only a political commentator, but he’s an ordinand and former teacher in this area who has just started at St Stephen’s House. Calvin’s comments concern me about denying institutional racism in this country.”

In December last year, Wickham wrote to the Right Rev Emma Ineson, Bishop to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and also to the Bishop of London. Wickham sent them some of Robinson’s tweets, adding: “These are clear examples as to why his ordination should be looked at very closely.”

Robinson said he felt “betrayed and a bit heartbroken” at Wickham’s conduct. He said: “To hear that people are campaigning behind your back after you have given them all that you have got, I don’t know how to put it into words.”

Church sources said that Wickham’s status as a parent at the school had no bearing on this matter.

Robinson rightly urges the C of E to return to the fundamentals of faith:

The TV pundit, who now works for GB News, accused the church of apostasy by “moving away from core tenets of the faith. They need to focus on scripture because that’s the word of God.”

He said that he had now joined the Global Anglican Future Conference and would be ordained to one of its parishes. “My hope is to attract all the people who feel the Church of England doesn’t represent them because it is obsessed with woke issues.”

The Diocese of London issued an updated statement:

A spokesman for the Diocese of London said: “We wish him well in the ministry he is now going to exercise.”

On Monday evening, Douglas Murray’s editorial for The Times appeared. It listed a modern litany of the C of E’s preoccupation with race at the expense of everything else, including during the time when an African, the Right Revd John Sentamu, now retired, was Archbishop of York. Oh, the irony:

It is two years since Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave a speech to the General Synod in which he apologised for the “institutional racism” of the Church of England. “I am sorry and ashamed,” the archbishop said. “I’m ashamed of our history and I’m ashamed of our failure. There is no doubt when we look at our own church that we are still deeply institutionally racist.”

It was a strange claim to make — not least because at the time the next most important bishop in the church was John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York.

Murray rightly points out the diversity among C of E clergy:

This fatal combination of ignorance and present-era preening seems to have become the tenor of the established church — and in no area so much as in the church’s demands for clergy representation. As it happens, the Anglican communion has one of the most diverse bodies of clergy that any religious denomination could wish for. But the church has declared that it will continue to be racist until such a day as minority ethnic groups (or UKME as the acronym-laden C of E likes to call them) are over-represented among the clergy.

Even my church has had a minority vicar, who has since been promoted within the Church.

Murray then discussed Calvin Robinson’s sad situation:

And in a way, here is revealed the modern Church of England’s actual party political affiliation.

Having shut its doors throughout the Covid-19 crisis, the church now seems to be back with a new faith: an evangelical and dogmatic belief in its own iniquity and racism. Fail to go along with that belief and the church has no place for you.

So determined is the C of E about this new gospel that a church hierarchy of white people is even willing to bar a young black man from joining the clergy because he will not agree with their insistence that their own church is racist. It is a farce, certainly, but a tragedy, too — for a church that has need of talent, and an era that has need of institutions that are not principally intent on blowing themselves up.

On GB News Monday evening, presenter Dan Wootton chose the Bishop of Edmonton as his Union Jackass of the day. Good on the former Brexit Party MEP, the lady on the right, for nominating him:

Conclusion

Calvin Robinson is surely doing all the right things. That is why our pharisaical clergy have opposed his ordination.

May God continue to sustain Calvin with his grace. May our Lord Jesus continue to give him inner peace. And may the Holy Spirit continue to enhance his gifts of wisdom, fortitude and discernment.

I wish him all the best as he pursues a path to ordination.

The Revd Giles Fraser is a past Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and former Rector at the south London church of St Mary, Newington. He also writes for UnHerd and is author of Chosen.

He will soon be taking up a new post as Vicar of St Anne’s in Kew, West London.

Fortunately, Fraser was able to stay at St Mary’s for Easter, the Church’s greatest feast, celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead:

The object hanging over the altar is a pyx. It contains a consecrated host, representing the Body of Christ, as remembered from the Last Supper in the sacrament of Holy Communion:

The congregation bought a very special bottle of wine for him to consecrate at his last Communion service there. How fitting that the winemaker’s surname is Le Moine — Monk:

These were members of St Mary’s on Easter 2019:

St Mary’s held a farewell party for him on Easter Day, April 17, 2022:

Then it was off to St Anne’s in Kew Green. How wonderful to have a cricket pitch next door:

Fraser has met the vicar of St Luke’s, also in Kew:

One wonders if they discussed Brexit:

In lighter matters, St Anne’s new vicar is planning on learning the piano. He received many supportive comments to this tweet:

Note the sheet music: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, one of the grandest of hymns.

Fraser posted his thoughts about changing parishes for UnHerd: ‘Have I abandoned my flock?’

It is a deeply moving account of faith, a church family and the challenges that ministry presents.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

He describes his final Easter at St Mary, Newington, damaged by the Germans in the Second World War:

When I celebrate Mass here for the final time, I need to remind myself that I am not abandoning people, because it’s not all about me. The only real job of a priest is to point beyond him or herself to that God who, I believe, is the only true ground of lasting hope. In a funny way, I suspect my departure has helped focus that for some of the congregation …

On Easter Sunday, as dawn breaks over South London, I will light a fire in the crumbling remains of my old church, substantially redesigned by the Luftwaffe, yet unbowed. I will take that fire into church and the first of the day’s baptisms will begin. Clouds of incense will pick up the light now streaming in through the window. The fire will be shared as everyone’s candles are lit. I will cry. Hugs will be shared. The victory over death will be proclaimed.

Later, we will feast on Jollof rice, which is a kind of sacrament of community round these parts. That seems a perfect way to say goodbye. We will always be family.

That morning, Fraser baptised two adults and two children. Easter Sunday is the traditional day for group baptisms.

He had this to say about the sacrament, which involves sprinkling of water, symbolic of full immersion:

like learning to swim, faith also involves the prospect of drowning. Baptism isn’t a little bit of genteel water sprinkling. The imagery is one of death and rebirth. It’s a simulated drowning. The old person is destroyed; the new one rises from the waters. Like Neo being unplugged from the Matrix and being reborn into a new reality. Evangelicals are not wrong when they speak of being born again. You can’t fully plan for what that involves. At some level, you just have to take the plunge.

He discussed moving out, discarding old belongings, comparing it to a type of death, rather apposite for Holy Week, the culmination of which is Good Friday:

I have been the priest at St Mary, Newington for ten years. This Sunday, I am moving on. A new parish awaits. The skip is full of stuff I remember buying with much excitement, but now looks like pointless trash; the salvation promised by advertising and the shopping centre is so short-lived. And now the removal vans have been — and trashed more of our apparently precious belongings — there are further trips to the local tip, which is rather poignantly located next to the crematorium.

This is where things come when they have stopped working: our fridges and our bodies. The tip and the crem are Good Friday places. This is the wasteland, the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps one day we should gather here, rather than in a lovely church, to experience the full existential desolation of the crucifixion. Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, was itself a rubbish dump. A place of human landfill. This is where our dreams come to die.

I have never been especially threatened by atheism. For one thing, atheism is good for business: it helps maintain the tension. Indifference is the real enemy. But also because atheism is assigned a pivotal place in the Christian narrative. The period between 3pm on Friday and dawn on Sunday symbolises my own atheistic imaginings. When He is murdered by the Romans, all the expectation and excitement of Jesus-following is shown up as a terrible, embarrassing mistake. We were conned. He wasn’t the new King after all. Might is right. Oh, I get atheism all right. It’s an essential part of the cycle of Holy Week.

Then he discusses the Resurrection:

A wander around Kew Gardens, right next to my new church, reveals the natural world coming back to glorious life after the dead of winter. It’s a wholly natural expression of deep Christian instinct: that there is life beyond death. That even death cannot keep life down.

The resurrection of Jesus is not magic. Not “a conjuring trick with bones”, as the great Bishop David Jenkins once put it.

By the way, Jenkins’s full quote was ‘Well, it’s certainly much more than just a conjuring trick with bones’.

Fraser continues:

It’s an acknowledgement that a life rooted in the eternal will not remain under the heel of perpetual nothingness. Agreed, this is not an empirical statement. I have stepped outside what can be demonstrated naturally. The God I describe is beyond time and space, the author of all things, not one thing among others.

“Blah,” go the atheists. But upon this “blah” I hang my whole life. The God who is there in the person of Jesus is the same one in whom everything moves and has their being. It’s not that physical death doesn’t happen. It’s just that it doesn’t mean what nihilists believe it means. Hope exists because God exists.

He expressed his concerns about leaving his congregation at St Mary, Newington, and remembered his arrival ten years ago. He left St Paul’s under a cloud, having run into trouble after hosting Occupy London on the Cathedral grounds:

As I leave my old parish, I feel a terrible sense of abandoning my people. It was hard to start with. Ten years ago, I was parachuted in by the Bishop who took pity on me after my resignation from St Paul’s Cathedral. Like all parishes, they wanted St Francis of Assisi with an MBA. What they got was a broken spirit, in hiding from the world. And to start with, many of them didn’t much care for what they got.

I don’t blame them really. I was a mess. Some of them left the church. But slowly we rebuilt and we bonded. Now they are my family, the water of baptism being thicker than the blood of biological relatedness. We have been through everything together: bereavements, deep disappointments, some of the happiest parties you can ever imagine, then the emotional desolation of lockdown. During my ten years here, some of the post-war estates have been demolished and new more expensive and private developments have taken their place. As gentrification spread, our congregation has become much younger and whiter …

Our new church intake looks very different. Apart from being younger and whiter, they were not raised in the faith. There were fewer infant baptisms for this generation. Here, faith is a choice not an inheritance. “I wish my parents had done this for me,” said one of the new baptismal candidates. I understand this. Becoming a Christian is much harder to do as an act of choice, more fraught with anxiety.

The generation raised under the aegis of liberalism have to bear the weight of their own choices. This is problematic because to be in a church is to be a part of a family. The idea that you choose your family, choose to be baptised, seems to introduce a strange contractual aspect to this relationship, like taking out a mobile phone contract. I wonder if those “wanting more” in baptism preparation are, on some level, asking me for the small print. Is that how they see the Bible, I wonder? I hope I have helped to disabuse them of this idea.

He says that he doesn’t have all the answers to people’s problems, however, the church is where we bring the problems we cannot solve:

I don’t have answers to many of the problems that people bring into this church. I can’t solve the deep poverty that many experience, nor the broken relationships, nor the desperate sense that the world is not responsive to everyone’s deepest needs. I am there to carry them, and they carry me. The church is where you can bring all the stuff that is impossible to solve. And there are advantages to this — it means that we are not frightened of all the stuff that cannot be remedied. We can carry failure. And we can only do this because, as I said before, hope exists because God exists.

I wish Giles Fraser well in Kew, with his ministry — and his piano lessons. I have a feeling he will really enjoy his new assignment and new pastime.

On May 1, 2022, The Sunday Times reported that the Church of England hopes to recruit retiree pew-sitters to the priesthood in an initiative called Caleb, a fast-track route to ordination (emphases mine):

Retired City workers, head teachers and police officers are being fast-tracked into the clergy to bring a “lifetime of work experience” to rural churches and share the load with over-stretched vicars.

It is hoped that up to 8,000 Church of England worshippers in their late fifties, sixties or seventies, particularly those with managerial experience from their careers and a track record of serving as church wardens or lay ministers, could be tempted to train as priests to serve in their local parish after retirement.

The scheme is called Caleb for the faithful Israelite, who, with Joshua, arrived in the Promised Land at the ripe old age of 85.

Learn Religions has an excellent biography, complete with Bible verses, about this faithful servant, who was one of 12 men sent to scout the Promised Land before the Israelites’ arrival. Ten of the 12 spies said that the people — descendants of the Nephilim from Genesis — were too large and their fortresses too formidable to be conquered:

Moses sent spies, one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, into Canaan to scout the territory. Among them were Joshua and Caleb. All the spies agreed on the richness of the land, but ten of them said Israel could not conquer it because its inhabitants were too powerful and their cities were like fortresses. Only Caleb and Joshua dared to contradict them.

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30, NIV)

God was so angry at the Israelites for their lack of faith in him that he forced them to wander in the desert 40 years until that entire generation had died–all except Joshua and Caleb.

Upon conquering the territory:

Joshua, the new leader, gave Caleb the territory around Hebron, belonging to the Anakites. These giants, descendants of the Nephilim, had terrified the original spies but proved no match for God’s people.

Caleb and his descendants prospered.

More information about him follows. It is thought he was born a pagan and an Egyptian slave:

Caleb’s name means “raging with canine madness.” Some Bible scholars think Caleb or his tribe came from a pagan people who were assimilated into the Jewish nation. He represented the tribe of Judah, from which came Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.

Caleb was physically strong, vigorous to old age, and ingenious in dealing with trouble. Most importantly, he followed God with his whole heart.

Caleb knew that when God gave him a task to do, God would supply him with all he needed to complete that missionCaleb spoke up for truth, even when he was in the minorityOften, to stand up for truth we must stand alone.

We can learn from Caleb that our own weakness brings an inpouring of God’s strength. Caleb teaches us to be loyal to God and to expect him to be loyal to us in return.

Returning to The Sunday Times article, the C of E article hopes not to have to pay for the Caleb priests’ housing or upkeep:

They will be “self-supporting” priests, who are not paid a stipend and do not need a vicarage as they already live locally.

The Revd Nicky Gumbel, founder of the Alpha course and vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in London, is going to retire at the age of 67. He is championing the ‘Caleb stream’, which is run by the HTB Church Revitalisation Trust. Note that he is retiring at the age where he expects others to become ordained:

Speaking to The Times for his farewell interview and before the Global Alpha Leadership Conference this week, he said there were about half a million Anglican churchgoers aged between 55 and 72. With life expectancy now in the eighties, many want to pursue a new passion in retirement.

“They’ve been involved in church all their life, some are licensed lay ministers, lay chaplains, church wardens, some are just dedicated church people,” he said. How hard would it be to find 8,000 who would give 25 years for free after they’ve left life in the City or police force?”

Hmm.

The article explains how the Caleb scheme contrasts with conventional ordination:

Those who feel called to the priesthood discuss it with their priest before embarking on a series of interviews. The usual selection process can last for up to two years, ending with a bishop recommending them for ordination. They then spend two or three years at theological college before being ordained as a deacon and then a priest.

Under the Caleb scheme, candidates can start a one-year training course immediately with the local bishop’s blessing and have interviews as they train. Gumbel aims to sign up more theological colleges.

Quite a few Anglican priests have already had a career in the secular world before ordination. Our small parish has had several over the past 30 years.

The Times gives us a profile of the first Caleb priest:

The Rev Anthony Goddard, 67, is the first Caleb graduate. He was ordained last June and is a curate at his parish in West Sussex. He spent 20 years working for ICI and four years as a partner at Accenture.

“Most people at around 60 have a lot of life experience, a lot of professional experience quite possibly in leadership roles, and hopefully have a good track record of Christian ministry,” he said. “I spent 25 years in business and then 13 as head and [lay] chaplain of an independent school and was always actively involved in the church …”

A married couple also enrolled themselves and will be taking up assignments this year:

Andy Green spent 30 years as a police constable while his wife, Caroline, worked as a dressmaker and GP practice manager. They will be 69 and 65 years old when they enter Worcester Cathedral in July to be ordained by a bishop to embark on new lives in the priesthood.

The pair will return to serve as deacons and then priests at their home church of St Egwin’s near Evesham in Worcestershire. “It’ll be the first time in about 50 years that St Egwin’s will have had its own ordained minister at the church,” Andy said, adding that older worshippers could bring a “lifetime of work experience” to the priesthood.

The Caleb scheme is a departure from the C of E’s earlier post-pandemic plan to close local churches and have regional ‘hub’ churches for traditional in-person worship. I have no idea if that is still a plan or if the Caleb scheme has replaced it.

In any event, Anglican churches have needed more clergy for decades now:

Thousands of churches no longer have their own dedicated vicar. Some priests have 20 or more parishes under their care, reliant on teams of assistant priests, retired clergy and lay parishioners to hold services across large areas.

Those large areas are called benefices. The article has an alarming graph showing how many benefices have four or more churches with too few priests to assign to them.

It is hoped that new, second-career priests would save those churches:

Critics have said that restoring a system of “one-priest-per-church” would boost congregations by forming closer bonds between communities and their vicars. The new “Caleb” scheme aims to find new priests for parishes from within their congregations.

The article has another graph breaking down the age and sex of ordinands into the C of E. Younger ordinands tend to be men. However, after the age of 40, women predominate, especially after the age of 55.

I do not know if the Caleb scheme will work, but I hope it does. The C of E needs something. A return to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion would be a start. So would more biblical preaching, rather than a focus on identity politics and climate change.

330px-john_donne_by_isaac_oliverLast week, I profiled John Donne, who made an incredible personal journey from a handsome rake to devoted husband and father to the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Most of us remember his poetry from English Literature class.

Although digital collections of his sermons exist, only one — and a partial one at that — is in an easily accessed format categorised by Scripture. Thank you, BibleHub.

John’s Gospel has the most detailed account of Jesus’s final teaching at the Last Supper, which we remember on Maundy Thursday.

John Donne was inspired to write an entire sermon on John 14:20 alone. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

First, let’s look at John 14 in its entirety. Jesus spoke these words while He and the Apostles were in the upper room at the Last Supper. Judas Iscariot had already left. The Judas referred to in verse 22 is Jude Thaddeus, who wrote the shortest book in the Bible, Jude:

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

14 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;[a] believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”[c] Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.[d] From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me[e] anything in my name, I will do it.

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[f] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[g] in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

John Donne’s sermon on John 14:20 is called ‘Christ’s Legacy’. Most of it follows below:

I. THE LEGACY ITSELF: Knowledge. “Ye shall know.” God delivered the Jews to some extent from ignorance by the law, which was their schoolmaster. But in the gospel we are graduates, and know as a matter of history and experience what was only previously known in prophecy and type, in the manifestation of Christ, and the presence of the Spirit

II. THE TIME WHEN THIS LEGACY ACCRUES TO US. “At that day.”

1. The word itself affords cheerfulness. When God inflicted the greatest plague on Egypt it was at midnight; and when He would intimate both deaths at once He says, “Thou fool, this night,” etc. Against all supply of knowledge He calls him fool; against all sense of comfort in the day He threatens night.

2. It was a certain day: “That” — and soon. For after Christ had made His will at this supper, and given strength to His will by His death, and proved His will by His resurrection, and left the Church possessed of His estate by His ascension, within ten days after that He poured out this legacy of knowledge.

3. On that day the Holy Ghost came as a wind to note a powerful working; filled them, to note the abundance; and gave them utterance, to infer the communication of their knowledge to others. But He was poured forth for the benefit of all. The prophets, high as their calling was, saw nothing without the Spirit; with the Spirit simple man understands the prophets.

III. OUR PORTION IN THIS LEGACY — the measure of the knowledge of those mysteries which we are to receive. When Felix the Manichaean would prove to that was the Holy Spirit who should teach all truth, because Manes [Mani] taught many things of which men were ignorant concerning the frame and nature of the heavens, Augustine answered, “The Holy Ghost makes us Christians, not mathematicians.” This knowledge is to know the end and the way — heaven and Christ. Now, in all our journeys, a moderate pace brings a man most surely to his journey’s end, and so does a sober knowledge in the mysteries of religion. Therefore, the Holy Ghost did not give the apostles all kind of knowledge, but knowledge enough for their present work, and so with us. The points of knowledge necessary for our salvation are three.

1. The mystery of the Trinity. “I am in My Father.” tells us that the principal use of knowledge is to know the Trinity. For to know that there is one God, natural reason serves our turn. But to know that the Son is in the Father I need the Scriptures, and the light of the Holy Spirit on the Scriptures, for Jews and Arians have the Bible too. But consider that Christ says, “ye shall know,” not “ye shall know how”. It is enough for a happy subject to enjoy the sweetness of a peaceable government, though he knows not the ways by which his prince governs, so it is enough for a Christian to enjoy the working of God’s grace, though he inquire not into God’s unrevealed decrees. When the Church asked how the body of Christ was in the sacrament we see what an inconvenient answer it fell upon. Make much of that knowledge with which the Spirit hath trusted you, and believe the rest. No man knows how his soul came into him, yet no man doubts that he has a soul.

2. The mystery of the Incarnation — “Ye in Me.” For since the devil has taken manhood in one lump in Adam, Christ to deliver us as entirely took all mankind upon Him. So that the same pretence that the devil hath against us, “You are mine, for you sinned in Adam,” we have also for our discharge, we are delivered, for we paid our debt in Christ.

3. The assurance of this grows from the third part of our knowledge the mystery of our redemption, in our sanctification. “I in you.” This last is the best. To know that Christ is in the Father may serve me to convince another who denies the Trinity; to know we are in Christ may show that we are more honoured than angels. But what worth is this if I know not that Christ is in me. How then is this? Here the question is lawful, for it has been revealed. It is by our obedience to His inspiration, and by our reverent use of His sacrament, when the Spirit visits us with effectual grace, and Christ marries Himself to our souls.

What stood out for me were four things:

First, Donne clearly understood Paul’s epistles about the shortcomings of the law in the Old Covenant. It could not — and cannot — save. Note that Donne calls the law the Jews’ ‘schoolmaster’. How true.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is available to all, not just a select few. Furthermore, St Augustine said that the primary purpose of the Spirit is to help us to live a Christian life. Donne makes it easy to grasp by saying that the Spirit enables simple man to understand the prophets. One does not need a university degree to understand the Bible.

Thirdly, if the devil tempts us by telling us we are doomed, we should keep in mind that Christ paid our debt in full. We are no longer slaves to sin.

Finally, Christians are not required to understand how the holy mysteries work, only to believe, through the workings of the Holy Spirit, that they exist, e.g. the Triune God, one in three Persons. Donne wisely noted the ancient controversy in the Church that took place over what happens during the consecration of bread and wine, still a contentious subject today.

————————————————

Readings, exegeses and other observations about Wednesday of Holy Week, or Spy Wednesday, as it is traditionally known, follow:

Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday (2017, Henry and MacArthur on Judas: bad hombre)

The other week I read a profile of a senior Anglican clergyman, more about whom tomorrow.

At the weekend I read an article in The Telegraph about a long-deceased past Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne (1572-1631), whom his biographer Katherine Rundell describes as ‘the greatest writer of sex in the English language’.

The article was timely, as the Anglican Communion remembers the poet and preacher on March 31.

It is difficult to know where to begin and where to stop with John Donne (pron. ‘Dun’). One could easily write about him every day for a year. Many of us read at least one of his poems in English class many moons ago. However, he was more than a poet. He was also a womaniser, a scholar, a lawyer, and an adventurer. Later on, he was ordained and had a tremendous following in London for his powerful preaching.

Katherine Rundell’s article about her new book on Donne begins with this (emphases mine):

The power of John Donne’s words nearly killed a man. It was the late spring of 1623, on the morning of Ascension Day, and Donne had finally secured for himself celebrity, fortune and a captive audience.

He had been appointed the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral two years before: he was 51, slim and amply bearded, and his preaching was famous across the whole of London. His congregation – merchants, aristocrats, actors in elaborate ruffs, the whole sweep of the city – came to his sermons carrying notebooks and ink, wrote down his finest passages and took them home to dissect and relish, pontificate and argue over. He often wept in the pulpit, in joy and in sorrow, and his audience would weep with him. His words, they said, could “charm the soul”.

That morning he was not preaching in his own church, but 15 minutes’ walk across London at Lincoln’s Inn, where a new chapel was being consecrated. Word went out: wherever he was, people came flocking, often in their thousands, to hear him speak. That morning, too many people flocked. “There was a great concourse of noblemen and gentlemen,” and in among “the extreme press and thronging”, as they pushed closer to hear his words, men in the crowd were shoved to the ground and trampled. “Two or three were endangered, and taken up dead for the time.”

There’s no record of Donne halting his sermon; so it’s likely that he kept going in his rich voice as the bruised men were carried off and out of sight.

That year, he had a serious illness inspiring him to write a poem about it, a way of self-treatment that he employed throughout his life.

The Poetry Foundation tells us more. Note the language Donne employed, recalling his time as an adventurer at sea during the era of the world’s great explorers:

A serious illness that Donne suffered in 1623 produced a still more startling poetic effect. In “Hymn to God, my God, in my Sickness” the poet presents his recumbent body as a flat map over which the doctors pore like navigators to discover some passage through present dangers to tranquil waters; and he ponders his own destination as if he himself is a vessel that may reach the desirable places of the world only by negotiating some painful straits:

Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are
The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem?
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar,
All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them.

By this self-questioning he brings himself to understand that his suffering may itself be a blessing, since he shares the condition of a world in which our ultimate bliss must be won through well-endured hardship. The physical symptoms of his illness become the signs of his salvation: “So, in his purple wrapped receive me Lord, / By these his thorns give me his other crown.” The images that make him one with Christ in his suffering transform those pangs into reassurance.

He was most conscious of his sin and the necessary repentance needed to reach union with Christ. He also used his surname as a pun with the word ‘done’ as we can see in this religious poem, again employing a maritime reference:

In Donne’s poetry, language may catch the presence of God in our human dealings. The pun on the poet’s name in “done“ registers the distance that the poet’s sins have put between himself and God, with new kinds of sin pressing forward as fast as God forgives those already confessed: “When thou hast done, thou hast not done, / For, I have more.” Then the puns on “sun” and “Donne” resolve these sinful anxieties themselves:

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thy self, that at my death thy son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done,
I fear no more.

For this poet such coincidences of words and ideas are not mere accidents to be juggled with in jest. They mark precisely the working of Providence within the order of nature.

Ten years earlier, in 1613, two years before he took Holy Orders, he wrote a meditation about Good Friday as he journeyed from one friend’s house to another for Easter. Again, repentance looms large:

A journey westward from one friend’s house to another over Easter 1613 brings home to Donne the general aberration of nature that prompts us to put pleasure before our due devotion to Christ. We ought to be heading east at Easter so as to contemplate and share Christ’s suffering; and in summoning up that event to his mind’s eye, he recognizes the shocking paradox of the ignominious death of God upon a Cross: “Could I behold those hands, which span the poles, / And turn all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?” (“Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward”). An image of Christ’s degradation is directly imposed upon an image of God’s omnipotence. We see that the event itself has a double force, being at once the catastrophic consequence of our sin and the ultimate assurance of God’s saving love. The poet’s very journey west may be providential if it brings him to a penitent recognition of his present unworthiness to gaze directly upon Christ:

O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;
I turn my back to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O think me worth thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou mayest know me, and I’ll turn my face.

Now that we have the measure of the man in his later years, let us look at his life’s journey.

John Donne was born into a good family with good connections, even though, for many years, he and his wife lived in penury with a house full of children.

Donne was born on January 22, 1572, to John Donne and Elizabeth Heywood, both of Welsh descent.

Biography tells us:

His mother, Elizabeth Heywood, was the grand-niece of Catholic martyr Thomas More.

Donne was a middle child, the third of six children.

The Donnes were Catholic. During the Elizabethan era, it was dangerous to be anything but Anglican. Donne’s father was a wealthy merchant who was a warden of the Ironmongers Company, one of the Guilds in the City of London. He kept a low public profile because of his Catholicism. He died when young John was only four years old.

Approximately six months later, Elizabeth remarried. Her new husband, Dr. John Syminges, was a wealthy physician with three children of his own. He, too, had been widowed.

John was privately educated. At the age of 11, he went up to Oxford University, to Hart Hall, which is now Hertford College.

After spending three years at Oxford, he went up to Cambridge, where he studied for another three years.

He left both universities with no degree. This was because he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, because of his Catholicism.

In 1591, he was accepted to the Thavies Inn law school, which was associated with Lincoln’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court. He was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn the following year.

1593 proved to be an alarming and pivotal year for John Donne. Elizabeth I issued a statute against Catholics, ‘An Act for restraining Popish recusants’, for not participating in Anglican worship. It had a drastic effect on the Donne family. One of John’s brothers, Henry, who was a university student at the time, was arrested and imprisoned for harbouring a Catholic priest, William Harrington.

Henry died in Newgate Prison of bubonic plague. At that point, John began to question his Catholic faith. At the time, illness was still connected — as it had been for time immemorial — with a judgement from God.

Donne was known as Jack in those years. He began writing love poems, circulated to a small group of friends and never intended for widespread publication.

Biography says:

During the 1590s, he spent much of his inheritance on women, books and travel. He wrote most of his love lyrics and erotic poems during this time. His first books of poems, “Satires” and “Songs and Sonnets,” were highly prized among a small group of admirers.

375px-john_donne_bbc_newsKatherine Rundell’s article for The Telegraph features and discusses a portrait Donne had commissioned, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. (Image credit: Wikipedia/BBC News)

When Jack was 23, he:

sat for a portrait. The painting was of a figure who knew about fashion; he wore a hat big enough to sail a cat in, a big lace collar, an exquisite moustache. He positioned the 
pommel of his sword to be just visible, an accessory more than a weapon. Around the edge of the canvas was painted in Latin, “O Lady, lighten our darkness”; a not-quite-blasphemous misquotation of Psalm 17, his prayer addressed to a lover. And his beauty deserved walk-on music, rock-and-roll lute: all architectural jawline and hooked eyebrows

To call anyone the “best” of anything is a brittle kind of game – but if you wanted to play it, Donne is the greatest writer of desire in the English language. He wrote about sex in a way that nobody ever has, before or since: he wrote sex as the great insistence on life.

Here is one of his verses from that period, in which he compares a lover to the New World:

License my roving hands, and let them go
Behind, before, above, between, below!
O my America! My new-found land!
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned!

There is also ‘The Flea’:

The speaker watches a flea crawl over the body of the woman he desires:

Mark but this flea, and mark in this
How little that which thou deny’st me is;
Me it sucked first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be.

The sort of love he wrote about was not merely about the union of a man and a woman, but of a transcendent relationship.

Here we encounter some very 21st century language, which I will highlight in bold below.

Rundell says:

There is the meat and madness of sex in his work – but, more: Donne’s poetry believed in finding eternity through the human body of one other person. It becomes akin to sacrament. Sacramentum is the translation in the Latin Bible for the Greek word for mystery: and Donne knew it when he wrote, “We die and rise the same, and prove/ Mysterious by this love.” He knew awe: “All measure, and all language, I should pass/ Should I tell what a miracle she was.” And in “The Ecstasy”, love is both a mystery and its solution. He needed to invent a word, “unperplex”, to explain:

“This ecstasy doth unperplex,”
We said, “and tell us what we love…”
But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mixed souls doth mix again,
And makes both one, each this and that.

“Each this and that”: his work suggests that we might voyage beyond the blunt realities of male and female.

In 1596, eight years after the sinking of the Spanish Armada, Donne began two years on the high seas. He fought alongside the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh against the Spanish at Cadiz that year, and, in 1597, the Azores, where he witnessed the sinking of the San Felipe.

Donne also went to Italy. He immersed himself in the culture of the countries he stayed in during those years.

His earliest biographer, Izaak Walton, wrote:

… he returned not back into England till he had stayed some years, first in Italy, and then in Spain, where he made many useful observations of those countries, their laws and manner of government, and returned perfect in their languages.

In 1597, he returned to London, prepared for a diplomatic career.

Soon after that, Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, hired Donne to be his chief secretary. He was based at Egerton’s home, York House, close to the seat of power, the Palace of Whitehall, the main residence of the English monarchs.

Like Donne, Egerton had also been a Catholic. He became an Anglican in 1570 in order to continue his career.

Egerton was a widower. His second wife was Elizabeth Wolley, a widow. Her maiden name was More. I am intrigued to know if she was also related to Thomas More, as was Donne’s mother.

In any event, while Donne was working for Egerton, he met his employer’s niece, Anne More, who ended up being his grand passion.

Anne More was a teenager at the time she and Donne met. He was in his twenties.

Katherine Rundell provides us with the love poem Donne wrote for her, which says that if he loved her in wintertime, he loved her even more during Spring. I have excerpted it below:

You cannot claim a man is an alchemist and fail to lay out the gold. This, then, is an undated poem, probably written for the woman he married, Anne More, some time in his 20s, known as “Love’s Growth”:

I scarce believe my love to be so pure
As I had thought it was,
Because it doth endure
Vicissitude and season as the grass;
Methinks I lied all Winter, when I swore
My love was infinite, if Spring make’t more

If as in water stirred more circles be
Produced by one, love such additions take;
Those, like to many spheres, but one heaven make,
For they are all concentric unto thee;
And though each Spring do add to love new heat
As princes do in times of action get
New taxes, and remit them not in peace –
No winter shall abate the spring’s increase.

Anne’s father, George More, was the Lieutenant of the Tower of London.

Both he and Egerton strongly disapproved of the love match.

Regardless, the couple decided to marry in secret in 1601. Anne would have been 16 or 17 at the time. An Anglican priest, Samuel Brooke, a contemporary of Donne’s, conducted the ceremony.

When Egerton and More found out about the wedding, Donne lost his job and was sent to Fleet Prison, along with Brooke. When Egerton and More satisfied themselves that the marriage was valid, they had Donne released from prison. Donne then had Brooke and another man involved released.

Donne’s earliest biographer, his contemporary Izaak Walton, tells us what the poet wrote to his wife upon his release:

John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done.[14]

Indeed, he was undone, because the next several years were wintry for him and his young wife. They lived in penury while she bore him a child every year.

The Donnes were despatched to the Surrey countryside to a small house that Anne’s cousin, Sir Francis Wolley, owned. They lived there until 1604.

In 1605, they moved to Mitcham in South London. There they lived in another small house, unfit for a growing family.

In 1602, Donne was elected as an MP for a Northamptonshire constituency, Brackley. However, as MPs were not paid in that era, he had to search for whatever work he could get. He performed poorly paid law work and also wrote commissioned poems for wealthy patrons. Regardless, the family were only just getting by.

In 1603, Elizabeth I died. James I (James VI of Scotland) succeeded her.

It wasn’t until 1609 when George More reconciled with Donne and gave him Anne’s dowry.

In 1610, Donne met the man who would become his chief patron, Sir Robert Drury of Hawsted, who gave Donne and his family rooms in his house in Drury Lane, London.

That year, Donne wrote Pseudo-Martyr, a tract which encouraged Catholics to take the Oath of Allegiance to the King. Donne made his points about obedience reliant on Scripture and natural law.

Biography notes:

This won him the king’s favor and patronage from members of the House of Lords.

In 1614, Donne was elected as MP once more, this time for Taunton, in Somerset. Although he received five parliamentary appointments, he made no speeches that were recorded.

In 1615, James I encouraged Donne to take Holy Orders. Soon afterwards, he became Royal Chaplain.

The Poetry Foundation tells us that it was a difficult decision for Donne, who felt unworthy. Yet, once ordained, he became a true vicar of Christ:

Donne took holy orders in January 1615, having been persuaded by King James himself of his fitness for a ministry “to which he was, and appeared, very unwilling, apprehending it (such was his mistaking modesty) to be too weighty for his abilities.” So writes his first biographer, Izaak Walton, who had known him well and often heard him preach. Once committed to the Church, Donne devoted himself to it totally, and his life thereafter becomes a record of incumbencies held and sermons preached.

Sadly, in 1617, the love of Donne’s life, his dear wife Anne, died in childbirth. Wikipedia tells us about her married life. After her death, Donne, despite his post as Royal Chaplain, seriously contemplated suicide:

Anne gave birth to twelve children in sixteen years of marriage, (including two stillbirths—their eighth and then, in 1617, their last child); indeed, she spent most of her married life either pregnant or nursing. The ten surviving children were Constance, John, George, Francis, Lucy (named after Donne’s patron Lucy, Countess of Bedford, her godmother), Bridget, Mary, Nicholas, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Three (Francis, Nicholas, and Mary) died before they were ten. In a state of despair that almost drove him to kill himself, Donne noted that the death of a child would mean one mouth fewer to feed, but he could not afford the burial expenses. During this time, Donne wrote but did not publish Biathanatos, his defense of suicide.[15] His wife died on 15 August 1617, five days after giving birth to their twelfth child, a still-born baby.[2] Donne mourned her deeply, and wrote of his love and loss in his 17th Holy Sonnet.

Biathanatos is Greek for ‘life and death’.

However deeply Donne agonised over Anne’s death, God blessed him with the power of religious oratory and as the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Of this period, Biography says:

His elaborate metaphors, religious symbolism and flair for drama soon established him as a great preacher

In 1621, Donne became dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. During a period of severe illness, he wrote “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions,” published in 1624. This work contains the immortal lines “No man is an island” and “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” That same year, Donne was appointed Vicar of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West and became known for his eloquent sermons.

The Poetry Foundation says that Donne’s sermons moved the hardest of hearts:

160 of his sermons have survived. The few religious poems he wrote after he became a priest show no falling off in imaginative power, yet the calling of his later years committed him to prose, and the artistry of his Devotions and sermons at least matches the artistry of his poems.

The publication in 1919 of Donne’s Sermons: Selected Passages, edited by Logan Pearsall Smith, came as a revelation to its readers, not least those who had little taste for sermons. John Bailey, writing in the Quarterly Review (April 1920), found in these extracts “the very genius of oratory … a masterpiece of English prose.” Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, in Studies in Literature (1920), judged the sermons to include “the most magnificent prose ever uttered from an English pulpit, if not the most magnificent prose ever spoken in our tongue.”

Over a literary career of some 40 years Donne moved from skeptical naturalism to a conviction of the shaping presence of the divine spirit in the natural creation. Yet his mature understanding did not contradict his earlier vision. He simply came to anticipate a Providential disposition in the restless whirl of the world. The amorous adventurer nurtured the dean of St. Paul’s.

Katherine Rundell tells us that Donne invented words for his sermons. These are very 21st century:

A few years before his own death, Donne preached a funeral sermon for the poet George Herbert’s mother Magdalen, who would “dwell bodily with that righteousness, in these new heavens and new earth, for ever and ever and ever, and infinite and super-infinite forevers”. In a different sermon, he wrote of how we would one day be with God in “an infinite, a super-infinite, an unimaginable space, millions of millions of unimaginable spaces in heaven”. He loved to coin formations with the super- prefix: super-edifications, super-exaltation, super-dying, super-universal, super-miraculous. It was part of his bid to invent a language that would reach beyond language, because infinite wasn’t enough.

John Donne died on March 31, 1631, hence the reason the Anglican Communion remembers him on that day. A large memorial stone statue of him was erected in the old St Paul’s Cathedral. Donne appears in his glorified body wearing the Crown of Life. His memorial started the trend for such church monuments during the 17th century.

He was buried in the old St Paul’s Cathedral, which the Great Fire of London destroyed in 1666. Incredibly, the stone statue of Donne survived the fire and is now displayed in the current St Paul’s Cathedral.

How can one summarise John Donne in one sentence? It would be impossible, for he was a man who was able to combine the earthy with the divine and make both sublime, as God intended them to be.

The Poetry Foundation says:

The transformation of Jack Donne the rake into the Reverend Dr. Donne, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, no longer seems bizarre. To impose such clear-cut categories upon a man’s career may be to take too rigid a view of human nature. That the poet of the Elegies and Songs and Sonnets is also the author of the Devotions and the sermons need not indicate some profound spiritual upheaval. One reason for the appeal of Donne in modern times is that he confronts us with the complexity of our own natures.

Katherine Rundell concludes:

Sometime religious outsider and social disaster, sometime celebrity preacher and establishment darling, John Donne was incapable of being just one thing. He reimagined and reinvented himself, over and over: he was a poet, lover, essayist, lawyer, pirate, recusant, preacher, satirist, politician, courtier, chaplain to the King, dean of the finest cathedral in London. It’s traditional to imagine two Donnes – Jack Donne, the youthful rake, and Dr Donne, the older, wiser priest, a split Donne himself imagined in a letter to a friend – but he was infinitely more various and unpredictable than that

And then there was the transformation of himself: from failure and penury, to recognition within his lifetime as one of the finest minds of his age; one whose work, if allowed under your skin, can offer joy so violent it kicks the metal out of your knees, and sorrow large enough to eat you. Because amid all Donne’s reinventions, there was a constant running through his lifeand work: he remained steadfast in his belief that we, humans, are at once a catastrophe and a miracle

He believed our minds could be forged into citadels against the world’s chaos: “be thine own palace, or the world’s thy jail”. Tap a human, he believed, and they ring with the sound of infinity. Joy and squalor: both Donne’s life and work tell that it is fundamentally impossible to have one without taking up the other.

In the 21st century, Donne’s imagination offers us a form of body armour. His work is protection against the slipshod and the half-baked, against anti-intellectualism, against those who try to sell you their money-ridden vision of sex and love. He is protection against those who would tell you to narrow yourself, to follow fashion in your mode of thought.

It’s not that he was a rebel: it is that he was a pure original. They do us a service, the true uncompromising originals: they show us what is possible.

God broke the mould when he made John Donne. We are blessed to have his poems, essays and sermons as a legacy that withstands the test of time.

Tomorrow, in Part 2, we discover more about an Anglican clergyman who is quite the opposite.

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