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The Church of England (CofE) has been undergoing a post-coronavirus exercise of church closures and consolidation.

Having been buoyed by Zoom worship in 2020 and 2021, Anglican bishops have decided to pull the plug on some of the world’s most beautiful churches, a source of community and comfort to those who worship in them.

Last week, Emma Thompson, not the actress, but a journalist and member of Save the Parish, wrote an article for The Telegraph about this dispiriting and destructive plan.

She rightly wonders whether England’s Anglican churches will still be there for her children. I share her view of the local church (emphases mine):

I love my rural village church. My vicar. My neighbours who attend. It’s local. It is, somehow, intrinsic. I love the Church of England and what it has brought to our constitution, language, law, architecture, art and music. Yet, unfortunately, I am increasingly worried that this great institution of our national life may not survive for my children’s old age.

At a time when the CofE could be offering comfort during a pandemic, it moved instead to championing political issues and the need to combat climate change. At the most senior levels of the Church, God has been sidelined.

In the last five months, three Anglican bishops have been received into the Roman Catholic Church. The latest is the former bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, who, several years ago, was shortlisted to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thompson rightly points out that his crossing the Tiber should be a red alert to Anglican bishops:

The significance of Dr Nazir-Ali’s decision should not be lost on those at the top of the CofE.

Bishops, now all nominated by the same appointments secretary, appear to prefer groupthink to diversity of thought. If no room exists for Dr Nazir-Ali – a theologically erudite, spiritually committed man who challenged the CofE’s strategic direction – then it is clear that a form of cancel culture has invaded the Church. How strange if the concept of tough love – the idea that someone who cares enough to criticise might love you most – is not embraced by Christ’s followers. Without extraordinary people, the institution will sink.

The new CofE strategy involves the closure of the local church, to be replaced by the diocesan office. How will that provide pastoral care for thousands of churchgoers?

Thompson reminds us that being the Good Shepherd to the flock is still part of the ordination vows:

… ordination vows reference being the Good Shepherd. The parish, the contact point with people providing local pastoral care, must be the basic unit.

Absolutely.

What is happening to CofE churches is nothing short of alarming:

Various dioceses announced morale-shattering parish clergy cuts. The Archbishop of York proposed the “Myriad” scheme to create 10,000 new lay-led “house churches”. Leicester Diocese voted to consolidate 234 parishes into 20-25 huge groups, cutting local vicars.

This accompanies a third shift, the Church’s loss of respect for its buildings, our shared national heritage. A green paper, nicknamed the Church Closers’ Charter, has suggested empowering dioceses to dispossess vicars, close churches and sell parish-owned buildings more easily and quickly.

What are these bishops thinking? Thompson said that these decisions are being taken by a ‘cabal’ of 12 of them, deciding the future of the faithful, and not in a good way.

She says that the Methodist Church in England adopted a similar plan and is now a shadow of its former self.

In closing, she says that the only way to combat this is to give generously:

Some dioceses, by pledging not to cut parish clergy, have managed to increase giving. This shows that we need not despair.

Even so, this dire plan of the bishops is a dangerous path for an established (national) church to take. One can only pray that divine intervention thwarts it.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children — Hosea 4:6 (KJV)

Hand of God leedsacukHave no doubt that the LORD will judge our vapid lifestyles, warped behaviours and fractured societal norms collectively, if He isn’t doing so already.   

God has blessed England and the United States in ways that no other nations can claim. Neither is a perfect country and, technically, England no longer officially exists, having been subsumed under the ‘United Kingdom’, although Scotland is considered a nation in its own right. (That’s another topic altogether.) However, one has to wonder how England will emerge from the transformation it has undergone over the past decade, including a descent into militant atheism and the struggle with demographic changes.  Socially, politically and ethnically this country (for many, no matter where they are in the world, still consider it to be one) is on a strange trajectory which no one seems to be able to fully define or defend, regardless of their political outlook.  It seems to be an EU experiment that gives worse results by the day.

One week ago, there were riots in northwest London. A few months ago they occurred in nearby Bedfordshire. Our families and children are in a desperate state. We now look likely to have multi-generational families dependent on the state. Teachers discourage schoolchildren from taking pride in their country. We can no longer speak of being Christian for fear of losing our jobs. Dr Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury, derisively known as ‘Beardy’, wants us to be open to accepting other forms of law, such as Sharia. The Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wants us all to fast during Ramadan, forgetting that Christians fast during Lent and Jews do the same on Yom Kippur. We have fewer freedoms every day, thanks to Parliament and nationwide experts. The Conservative Party Leader David Cameron is ahead in the polls, and, heaven knows, we need a different party in charge, but can he effect change or will he rely on his PR background and appease everyone instead? It can be quite depressing opening up our favourite newspapers each day. 

Bp Michael Nazir-Ali freethinkercoukIn his final sermon on September 13, 2009, as the Anglican Bishop of Rochester (Kent), the Right Revd Michael Nazir-Ali (pictured at right), warned the congregation of a moral decline.  The Telegraph (UK) quotes him as saying:

‘We are facing a crisis about affirming the dignity of human purpose.

‘It may be at the earliest stage of life or as we are hearing more and more, at the later stages of life.’

He added: ‘It is obvious to many people that the weakening of family life is responsible for what we face on our streets, in our classrooms and in homes.

‘It would be irresponsible for a Christian leader not to point this out.’

Archbp of Canterbury at mosque Telegraph news-graphics-2008-_440983aSadly, he is one of the few who are speaking out.  We don’t hear nearly enough substantive thoughts from the Archbishop of Canterbury (pictured at left in 2008 at a mosque). He wants us to make nice with everyone, even to our peril — and his.  Frankly, it is hard to determine whose side he is on at times, although I did find this in Thinking Anglicans, from a ‘gathering’ he participated in at Canterbury Cathedral on September 11, 2009.  Read it and weep (my comments follow):

‘THE FOOT is still in the door, even if it is being squashed very painfully,’ the Archbishop of Canterbury said last weekend when he was asked about the Church’s participation in public debate. He did not think that the Church had yet ‘dropped off the radar’.  (And he’s barely keeping the ship afloat.)

Dr Williams was in dialogue with Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye and panellist on the BBC’s Have I Got News for You, at an event during ‘The Gathering’, a series of activities for all ages at Canterbury Cathedral.

Mr Hislop described the difficulty that Dr Williams faced with the media when people called for a moral lead from the Church. ‘When the Archbishop of Canterbury says anything, they say, “Shut up,’” he suggested.  (Ian is being far too charitable — must be doing penance for editing a satirical magazine and appearing on an irreverent news show.)

Dr Williams responded that ‘the leadership thing is a problem’. It was ‘a matter of trying to remember that when you’re speaking from the Church you’re trying to give some sort of critical perspective to try and show some­thing’. The Archbishop admitted that he was ‘not brilliant at sound-bites’…  (Yes, leadership is definitely a problem.  Time to get Dr Nazir-Ali in the post!)

Meanwhile, in the US, a massive Tea Party (Taxed Enough Already, but also an allusion to the Boston Tea Party’s ‘no taxation without representation’) took place in Washington, DC, on Saturday, September 12.  The Tea Parties have been a series of protests, this having been the largest to date with estimates of 1m people converging on the capital. Americans — traditional Democrats and Republicans — are angry over Obamacare, bailouts, progressive government, increased taxation and decreased transparency of the current administration.  You can see several photos here, thanks to Stealth Fusion.

Tomorrow: More on the US

bible-wornWhen I was at school, we were taught that the only book most Christian Americans owned was the Holy Bible.

Indeed, up until the 1970s, every Protestant home I visited had a Bible clearly visible.  (It was not part of Catholic practice until the last 50 years or so to own a Bible.  That was in case laymen interpreted the text incorrectly.)

However, secularism as taught in school and shown on television documentaries today would have us believe that few of our ancestors ever had a lively Christian faith.  Don’t believe it!  Quite the opposite was true.    

The Holy Bible was one of the first books to roll off the printing presses in the 15th century.  It is still the best selling book in the world.  Until recently, it was also commonly referred to as ‘The Good Book’ in the US, even by people who didn’t attend church regularly.  Many phrases that we use in everyday speech, such as ‘powers that be’, ‘sour grapes’ and ‘handwriting on the wall’, came from the Bible.  Even atheists use these expressions.

Professor Mark A Noll of Wheaton College in Illinois writes:

Throughout the nineteenth century American settlers regularly named their communities after biblical places: Zoar, Ohio (Genesis 13:10); Ruma, Illinois (II Kings 23:36); Mount Tirzah, North Carolina (Joshua 12:24); and Zela, West Virginia (Joshua 18:28), as well as 47 variations on Bethel, 61 on Eden and 95 on Salem…

However difficult it may be to define the impact of the Bible on ordinary people precisely, Scripture has always been extraordinarily potent in American life. The printing history of the Bible, its application to politics, and its presence in popular culture all testify to that power…

… at least until some time in the late nineteenth century or early in the twentieth, the Bible existed as the most coherent, the most widely respected, and the most powerful of those means by which American ordered their daily existence and made sense of the universe in which they lived.    

The Right Revd Michael Nazir-Ali echoed these sentiments recently when he said that our greatest literary works in English could not have been written without the Bible or the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  He points out that many of us are ignorant of the part Christianity played in our culture.  He added that we have lost our points of reference with regard to great masterpieces of art and music.  He urged the Church of England to work with schools, the Government and media outlets to ensure that the meaning of our artistic treasures and even popular films is explained to the general public: 

‘With music, you can listen to hour upon hour of Classic FM but nobody tells you what the piece means. A lot of this music was written for worship.

‘Some reference to the fact that it was written in the context of worship would be very welcome, otherwise this amnesia will make the culture more and more shallow.’

The bishop also pointed out that many modern artists and authors, regardless of their personal beliefs, use religious themes in their work. He cited as an example the Ian McEwan novel Atonement, later made into a film starring Keira Knightley, which takes its title from the Christian idea of humans being reconciled with God through the death of Jesus Christ.

‘So much of the inspiration for art was Christian – even the radical ones have been reacting to the Christian story,’ Dr Nazir-Ali said.

If you wonder what’s behind titles, names or imagery, please take the time to do an online search. Here’s a starter for 10: the Rolling Stones’ album ‘Through the Past Darkly’ is a play on words of what Biblical expression?  Hint: change one word and you’ll be very close.  Change two and you’ll be able to look it up. 

You might be surprised at what you find!

bp-michael-nazir-ali-freethinkercoukSad news for true Anglicans: the Bishop of Rochester (Kent, England) will resign his post on September 12.

Bishop Nazir-Ali is 59 and could have remained in his position until the age of 70.  However, press reports indicate that he plans to work with Christians in Islamic areas.  Whether this will be within the UK or internationally is unclear at this time. 

Dr Nazir-Ali spoke the truth on many issues, and it was not unusual to see the adjective ‘controversial’ precede his name.  In February 2009, he criticised ‘secularist agendas which marginalise all faith but seem particularly hostile to Christianity’.  A year earlier he stated that certain areas of Britain had become ‘no-go’ areas for non-Muslims, after which he and his family had received death threats

In May 2008, the Daily Telegraph quoted from an article Dr Nazir-Ali wrote for the political magazine Standpoint:

He says Marxist students encouraged a “social and sexual revolution” to which liberal theologians and Church leaders “all but capitulated”.

“It is this situation that has created the moral and spiritual vacuum in which we now find ourselves. While the Christian consensus was dissolved, nothing else, except perhaps endless self-indulgence, was put in its place.”

The bishop, who faced death threats earlier this year when he said some parts of Britain had become “no-go areas” for non-Muslims, said Marxism has been exposed as a nonsense but went on: “We are now confronted by another equally serious ideology, that of radical Islamism, which also claims to be comprehensive in scope.”

Asking what weapons are available to fight this new “ideological battle”, the bishop said the values trumpeted by modern politicians such as “respect, tolerance and good behaviour” are “hardly adequate for the task before us”.

The bishop made history by becoming the first non-white diocesan bishop in England and has held his current post for 15 years.  He holds dual nationality with Pakistan, where he grew up, and the UK. He is the son of a convert from Islam

Dr Nazir-Ali has been an active member of the House of Lords since 1999.  He is married and has two sons.  You can read more about him here.

Those of us who admire his courage in speaking out about sensitive issues regret his departure.  He is probably the only C of E bishop to fully understand the danger British society faces if his warnings go unheeded.

He would have made an excellent Archbishop of Canterbury.

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