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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.

My post of January 26 discussed the parlous state of the Church of England (CofE) today, covering events from the summer of 2021.

The CofE hierarchy and General Synod are looking for a way to ‘do church’ differently by seeking to close down our beautiful church buildings, some of which have been in existence since Norman times, i.e. the 11th century.

The plan is called Myriad.

Many clergy are just as angry as the laity. The laity put together a network called Save the Parish. My post last week left off at that point, which was July 2021.

I have a few more tweets to share from that month.

The Revd Marcus Walker from St Bartholomew’s in London pointed out that, once the clergy and the church buildings have been sold, there isn’t much left to the Church of England. In any event, this is OUR church, not the hierarchy’s or the General Synod’s:

Furthermore, it is wrong for priests to think like businessmen, viewing those in the pews as consumers:

On July 13, The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson wrote, ‘It’s time to rebel — the Church of England is abandoning its flock’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Lately, the Church of England has been hellbent on a course which is almost designed to cause distress to traditionally-minded vicars and parishioners: the lowly footsoldiers who do the flowers, run the choir and generally keep their beloved old church going while raising money to send a “Parish Offer” to fund the dioceses with their cloth-eared management jargon, their painfully woke initiatives and proliferating job titles like Mission Enablers and Director of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, with hefty salaries to match.

Some of us were under the impression that the Director of Creation job was filled rather successfully over two thousand years ago. Having lost faith in the eternal verities, the CofE now makes stipendiary clergy redundant – some rural benefices of 10 churches have to share one vicar! – while lunging for relevance with lectures like the one immortally entitled The Church and the Clitoris. Er, it’s been a while since I was a Sunday school teacher but isn’t the G in “G-spot” supposed to stand for God?

In a nutshell, the things which most Britons still value about the CofE are about to be destroyed by the very people who are meant to be its custodians. Parish priests and regular worshippers are up in arms over the “Vision and Strategy” plan which was unveiled by the Archbishop of York at the General Synod at the weekend. The new “growth strategy” is called Myriad. It means getting rid of the clergy with their tedious theological knowledge about, you know, the Bible

This is not a joke. Canon John McGinley explained: “Lay-led churches release the church from key limiting factors. When you don’t need a building and a stipend and long, costly, college-based training for every leader of the church… then we can release new people to lead and new churches to form.”

As a church warden, one of many to write movingly on this topic to the Telegraph’s Letters Page, said: “Our incumbent vicar will be retiring soon. He will not be replaced. In return, for our generous Parish Offer, a church with a 1,400-year history will expect to have a clergy-delivered act of worship once every six weeks. I fear the end of worship is nigh. I will become a steward of an empty, soulless medieval building, haunted by the echoes and shadows of past congregations. What has the Church of England come to?”

Good question. Some vicars may be frightened into complicit silence, but they are deeply offended at being called “key limiting factors”, while their loyal parishioners are sneered at as “passengers”. Increasingly, prominent clergy like Marcus Walker and Giles Fraser are speaking out against the idiocy of pretending you can simply “plant” 10,000 lay churches without any proper structure or safeguarding measures. Let alone the worry of allowing over 12,500 listed buildings to fall into disuse while potentially permitting untrained shysters to instruct vulnerable people in the faith in their sitting rooms.

This is particularly important, as it relates to the cowardly closure of our churches during the first coronavirus lockdown in 2020:

What the hell are the Archbishop and bishops playing at? It is a bitter irony that those who have presided over the decline of the faith now indulge in this sort of displacement activity to distract attention from their own ineptitude and extravagance, indulging in empire-building while allowing the vast practical good done by the parishes to wither on the vine. During the pandemic, millions craved a place of reassurance, a slender handrail of belief to cling on to. Churches were the ideal refuge, but the Archbishop didn’t fight to keep them open. A vital opportunity for spreading Jesus’s teaching was lost.

I couldn’t agree more.

Alison Pearson advises concerned parishoners what to do, mentioning Save the Parish:

What can we do? The clergy and the people do have a say and this is the moment for rebellion. We need to assist the parishes to withstand the assault from the dioceses which are better described as the “key limiting factors”. You can go to savetheparish.com, which offers a number of ways to help. Write to your MP. Parochial Church Council consent is needed for the closure of churches – don’t give it. The church building belongs to the parish, so does the vicarage, if they haven’t sold it yet.

You can ringfence your parish assets and put them in a trust out of reach of the diocese. The Parish Share is voluntary – a “free-will offering” – so you definitely don’t have to give it to a hierarchy that wants to starve your parish and its wonderful church of resources so that Ray and Brenda can host Holy Communion in their hot tub.

She concludes by quoting one of my favourite hymns, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive their foolish ways. Reclothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.

In August, George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, joined the revolt.

The Revd Peter Anthony directed disgruntled and disaffected Anglicans to an article by the Revd Giles Fraser, co-founder of UnHerd and former Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Pictured below is the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby:

Giles Fraser wrote:

A quiet but unmistakable rebellion is taking place within the Church of England, a groundswell of anger bubbling up from that most British of institutions: the Parish Church. And support for it shows no sign of waning.

“The current trajectory of our church is a huge mistake and the leadership is out of touch with ordinary churchgoers,” George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote yesterday. “It is time to rally the troops.”

He was writing in support of the newly formed Save the Parish movement — a group I have been plotting with from its creation. And yes, that is a staggering thing for a former Archbishop to say about the current leadership.

Fraser outlines the problem which has pitted the laity and local vicars against the CofE Establishment — the plan to replace existing churches with home churches, thereby getting rid of clergy:

It is ordinary churchgoers and faithful church wardens who have looked after their churches for years, as well as clergy padding about in their parish, visiting the sick, burying the dead and administering the sacraments, who are most angry about this betrayal. It feels like we are in the middle of an aggressive corporate takeover.

If you flick through the jobs section of the Church Times, you can see this effect almost straight away. It used to be full of jobs for the Rector of This and the Vicar of That. But such vacancies have increasingly been replaced by people with unrecognisable and convoluted job descriptions. Now they advertise areas of responsibility that have little to do with parish ministry, answerable directly to a line manager somewhere in Church House.

Jobs that began as a way of supporting the mission of the parish are now being regarded as its cheaper replacement. The parish clergy are “limiting factors” and the people in the pews merely “passengers”, as one senior Anglican clergyman put it last month.

No need for priests, or expensive theological education and the like. 10,000 new churches are imagined, led by lay people, not clergy. Many will not have a building, just a website. Many will meet on Zoom. It’s not really what most of us would call a church. But if “the church is the people not the building”, as goes the oft-heard mantra, then why not? There is certainly no need to worry about a leaky roof when you’re only online …

the idea that we would be more entrepreneurial and light of foot if we were to hand the keys over to the National Trust is an absolute fantasy.

“Pioneers” is what the Church’s Head of Evangelism, Canon Dave Male, wants more of. Pioneers must be “freed up”, he says. But the problem here is that the weight of parish commitments, even the building, is what keeps us from floating off into some abstract theological space. The parish is grounded, rooted in place and time.

Yes, the pandemic has left the church feeling the pinch financially — and there is much need for belt-tightening. But we have far too many Bishops for the number of churchgoers that we now have. Probably far too many Dioceses as well, each with its own set of managers and advisors. Save the Parish believes that in times when finances are hard, it is the front-line parishes that should be supported as a priority rather than directing funds away towards another new top-down initiative.

Too right.

The rot started as long ago as 1976! This is unbelievable:

In 1976, the central Church decided that the parish was an inefficient way of running things and brought the ownership of parish assets under the control of the Diocese, introducing a whole new layer of management to look after the parish’s assets. From here on in, the Diocese began to have its own ideas about how best to spend a parish’s assets. Vicarages were sold off. The clergy were paid from a central pot. And power shifted from the parishes to the Diocesan structures.

This is the result:

Last week, we gathered as Save the Parish for the first time in the ancient St Bartholomew’s church in Smithfield. Alison Millbank, Canon Theologian from Southwell Cathedral, put the matter plainly: “the Church of England has totally capitulated to market values and managerialism… There has been a tendency to view the parish like some inherited embarrassing knick-knack from a great-aunt that you wish were in the attic.”

The fightback, it’s safe to say, has started. At the end of the event, Fr Marcus Walker, the Rector of St Bartholomew’s, described Save the Parish as “the last chance to save the system that has defined Christianity in this country for 1000 years”. He may not have been exaggerating.

Wow.

Fraser’s article appeared on August 11.

On August 12, UnHerd generously, in my opinion, published a response by the Revd James Mumford, ‘What the “Save the Parish” campaign doesn’t understand’.

Mumford wants the Church to become more secular, something that I also posted about last week, with warnings from John MacArthur.

Mumford says, erroneously:

What is frustrating about the traditionalists is that they don’t seem to be willing to make room for secular 21st century Brits. Father Marcus Walker, Rector of St. Bartholomew’s in London, at the launch of Save the Parish dismissed ‘a style of church set up in a cinema or bar or converted Chinese takeaway,’ but this has the whiff of snobbery about it. It seems to suggest that people exist for the sake of the church, not the church for the sake of people. Jonah felt the same way about the Ninevites. He, not they, were engorged by the obliging whale.

Then there’s the criticism that any ecclesial attempts to innovate, to do things differently, to experiment is, as academic Alison Milbank puts it, ‘a capitulation to market values.’ This, again, simply isn’t true. The church is merely trying to reach as many souls as it can.

Jesus of Nazareth clearly saw his mission as a desacralizing one. Instead of hallowing one particular place in which to worship, Christ tells the Samaritan woman in John 4, ‘a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ It wasn’t about stones any more, he taught, it was about people.

Jesus meant that it wasn’t about the temple in Jerusalem anymore, because it had become a den of vipers. He never called for local synagogues to be closed. In fact, He preached in them (e.g. Nazareth, Capernaum).

The Revd Marcus Walker responded to Mumford’s article, explaining his objection to the Church’s purchase of a Chinese takeaway in Rochdale, Lancashire, for £5 million when there is a perfectly serviceable church nearby:

This will cost far more than £5 million. The Church will have to pay a lay team to run it:

He concludes:

Now I’m sure that Janie Cronin is wonderful & will make a great success of the Nelson Street Church. I know that there are wonderful examples of plants revitalising parishes gloriously. But I hope

will concede that my concerns are about this allocation of resources

A priest responded to the thread in just the right way:

Woah! Excuse me, the church exists for the sake of Jesus Christ! ‘The church exists for the sake of people’, no it exists for the glory of God. The proposed reforms are essentially a mix of humanism and marketing. #SaveTheParish

Giles Fraser picked up on the thread:

Sure enough, a priest did challenge Marcus Walker:

Returning to the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, a few people blamed him for the current shift away from parish churches. Here is one of them:

Now, on to the present day. Churchgoers are deeply unhappy with the current Archbishop of Canterbury and the plan for fewer parish churches. This theologian has a way with words:

On August 19, Giles Fraser told The Telegraph‘s Planet Normal hosts, Alison Pearson and Tim Stanley, that the parish church takes in everyone who wants to attend, regardless of their personal or political persuasions, even though Brexit can be problematic at times:

As if things couldn’t get any worse, on Thursday, October 14, an editorial appeared in The Times: ‘Thanks to Church of England accounting, parishes are disappearing’.

It begins with this:

Last Saturday was a sad day for the Church of England. In Leicester diocese, the governing body voted in favour of a plan to fold 234 parishes into the embrace of 20 to 25 huge groups, called minster communities, by 2026. One in five local vicars will disappear, creating what sounds like a clerical car pool. “Thank you for calling the minster community help line. Press 1 for help with a very sick relative or friend. Press 2 for help with bereavement. Press 3 to arrange a funeral.” This could be the future for the people of Leicester’s historic parishes.

Those closures didn’t necessarily need to happen:

An alternative option, to cut Leicester’s diocesan administrative costs by 10 per cent, was rejected. The C of E behaves like a socialist republic: demanding increasing “tax” (parish share) from dwindling numbers of churchgoers, then spending too much of it on its own bureaucracy. Moreover, as The Times reported last month, in 2017-2020 it spent £248 million on “renewal and reform” projects that failed to increase church attendance.

The editorial says that only one person guarantees large donations — a priest:

Bureaucracy and waste deter donors. Yet Leicester hopes to increase giving by 2 per cent — how? The church’s own studies show that donations correlate to numbers of paid clergy. The one identifiable Christian in the community is a priest in a dog collar. Grouping parishes empowers dioceses to sell parish-owned assets, incontinently using the capital to pay their own running costs, but it disincentivises donors. A 1,000-year-old system of independent parishes could be collapsed by short-term panic thinking and inadequate projections.

Furthermore:

The church’s growth policy report, From Anecdote to Evidence, confirms what rural parishioners like me witness: that parish amalgamations and building sales establish a spiral of decline. Selling a parsonage signals “game over” and leaves a community unlikely to have a vicar again.

Ironically, Justin Welby said not so long ago that he supports the traditional parish model:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said, “I am passionate that the parish is essential.” In the Archbishop of York’s current General Synod update GS2223 he calls for “priest and people working together”. These exhortations from our spiritual leaders, the trend towards localism and the church’s own empirical evidence are all being ignored.

Words and actions are two entirely different things. I despair.

Meanwhile, there is always the Save the Parish Network. May the grace of God be with them:

I hope to have more on this situation at a future date.

A well known Catholic priest from Glasgow, the Revd James ‘Big Jim’ Doherty, died earlier this month.

On January 10, 2022, Tim Stanley, a Catholic and a columnist for The Telegraph, related one of his favourite anecdotes about Big Jim:

A tribute to another outspoken Catholic

Speaking of outspoken Catholics, I’d like to pay tribute to Fr James Doherty, AKA “Big Jim”, a Glasgow priest who died last week, of whom the stories are legendary. On one occasion, a man appeared at the presbytery with a notepad that read: “I am homeless, deaf and dumb. Please help.” The cleric had seen this trick before.

“Can you lip read?” asked Big Jim. The man nodded. “Well, I’ve nae money, honey, but if you’ll come into the house, I’ll make you a sandwich.” Thank you, the man nodded.

As they walked past the huge gong the house keeper would use to summon the clergy to lunch, Jim whacked it so hard it rang like Big Ben. “Good God!” cried the homeless man, “What the Hell did you do that for?!”

“Oh, it’s a double miracle!” said Big Jim. “Ye can hear and ye can speak!!”

“Aye well,” replied the man, rubbing his ears, “you’ve got to work bloody hard to get any money out of people nowadays.”

Jim made the man his sandwich.

That’s one of the best anecdotes I’ve read in some time.

Lying does not pay, especially to a priest. Priests have heard or seen everything under the sun. They are not to be underestimated.

Over the New Year, a few tweets from Anglican priests caught my eye.

The first is from the Revd William Pearson-Gee, vicar of Buckingham Parish Church, whose sermon about not closing church for coronavirus went viral on Sunday, December 19, 2021:

He has the following suggestions for 2022, which will serve us better than easily-broken resolutions:

The Revd Steve Collier encourages us to put away fear and embrace living:

As far as coronavirus is concerned, Mr Pearson-Gee would like a focus on meaningful data rather than scary statistics:

He was bemused by a panicked mother who drove her child from Kent to Milan for the vaccine:

On the deeply sad news that 400 Anglican churches have closed in England over the past decade alone, he made an unintentional yet inspired typo. He meant to say ‘conversation’:

I am pretty sure that the Church of England hierarchy is responsible for a number of those closures, as they advocate for online church and only a hub of actual buildings. Philistines! The laity are fighting back. We’ll see who wins.

At least Mr Pearson-Gee’s church is doing well:

People know that they need more human contact rather than online participation.

The Revd David Horrocks of Barkham Church in Wokingham

… pointed out the late Revd John Stott‘s prediction 40 years ago about this sort of thing:

Stott also warned about the effect of television on children:

In closing, why do we persevere with our faith? Because our Lord and Saviour did. He set the example:

Jonathan Edwards, who was a Congregationalist, can teach us a few eternal truths from long ago. It’s all in the Bible.

More’s the pity that the Church of England isn’t more rigorous in its seminary curriculum. At least Mr Horrocks reads a lot of solid theology books, such as this one by a Presbyterian, Sinclair Ferguson, in his own time:

There is a remnant of Anglican clergy who are truly devoted to Jesus Christ and, through Him, God the Father. We read so much about the irritating hierarchy and so little about the good local priests leading their flocks to light and truth.

I will pray that they continue to be faithful servants.

On Tuesday, October 12, 2021, Sir David Amess MP (Conservative), posted the following tweet promoting his upcoming constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex:

These surgeries are an opportunity for constituents to present their problems to their MP. They might be seeking help with schooling, crime or health, among other things. Meetings are face-to-face, one-on-one. One’s MP then cuts through bureaucracy to achieve a successful resolution to the problem.

It seems this type of in-person connection between a member of the public and an elected constituency politician is unique to the UK. Long may it continue.

Two days later, Sir David posted a photo of himself and the Emir of Qatar. Amess was the chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group fostering good relations between Britain and Qatar:

That same day, the MP for Southend West tweeted his gratitude for the government aid to Southend-on-Sea, no longer a smallish, seaside resort, but a town with a population of 160,000. Sir David has been campaigning tirelessly in Parliament for it to have city status. Winter fuel poverty was another of his big causes:

Little did he realise those would be his final tweets.

Just before noon on Friday, October 15, I was watching a heart-warming segment on GB News about the Westminster Dog of the Year charity event, to be held on October 28 in Victoria Tower Gardens, London. Isabel Oakeshott was interviewing Matt Vickers MP (Conservative) and his dog Karen. Karen was paying attention to the conversation. As soon as it turned to dog-napping, she began barking.

The public can vote up for their favourite MP-dog pairing until October 27. Sir David had already registered with his French bulldog Vivienne. Recently, he said:

If I am feeling down, the dog lifts my spirits as she is always pleased to see me and she makes me smile.

Little did I know watching the GB News segment with Matt Vickers and Isabel Oakeshott that Sir David was minutes away from his last breath.

Amess’s last meeting was a Zoom call about the Children’s Parliament, which pairs up an MP with a young member of the public. The meeting ended at 12:02 p.m.

At 12:05, Sir David was gasping his final breaths, having been stabbed multiple times in the church hall.

The Times reported:

It was just moments after midday on Friday when Sir David Amess had his last appointment.

Richard Hillgrove, a PR professional, shared a call with Amess to discuss the Children’s Parliament, an event where kids are matched with members of parliament to debate the important issues of the day.

As usual, the MP for Southend West was firing on all cylinders, full of buzz and ideas for the event: the running order, the voting system, what software they should use. Hillgrove’s daughter, Lola, 11, had been matched with Amess, who visited her at school so they could have their picture taken.

Hillgrove says he ended the Zoom call at 12.02pm, so that Amess could host a constituency surgery at the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea. It was his final farewell. By 12.05pm, Amess had been stabbed to death.

A few minutes later, Hillgrove saw the first reports of the murder on television. “I didn’t even realise it was Sir David at first,” he recalled. “I was absolutely horrified, every minute that came passed seemed like an hour, the longer it went, the more concerning it got.”

Eventually the unimaginable news filtered through. Lola came home from school in tears. “I was honoured to have known him,” said Hillgrove. “He was such an inspiration, his engagement was incredible. He made sense of a crazy world.”

The events of Friday afternoon have pierced the quiet provincial calm of Leigh-on-Sea, leaving the tight-knit Essex community fearful and furious. A deep, heavy sadness hangs over this seaside town. Yesterday, the flower bins were empty at the Co-op on Eastwood Road, just 100 yards from where Amess was stabbed 17 times by a 25-year-old man. Every tulip, rose and pansy had been scooped up and deposited at the tribute for the man alternately known as “Sir David” or simply “Dave”.

The Telegraph reported that Amess’s staff, women, witnessed his horrifying murder. Paramedics from an air ambulance worked in vain for two hours trying to stabilise him:

Sir David was attacked seconds later, stabbed repeatedly in front of his horrified staff.

Sir David’s wounds were so many and severe that paramedics were unable to stabilise him sufficiently for a transfer to hospital. After two hours of vain struggle to stem his injuries, the air ambulance took off empty.

The Telegraph spoke with the aforementioned Richard Hillgrove:

Mr Hillgrove recalled how, during their conversation, Sir David had periodically glanced to his right.

He assumes this was towards trusted assistant, Rebecca Hayton, upon whom Sir David, not being the most technologically savvy parliamentarian, relied for help when making video calls.

It was she who witnessed at close quarters the full ferocity of the knife attack, running from the Belfairs Methodist Church hall screaming. Her screams alerted Sir David’s other assistant, Julie Cushion, who was positioned in the church hall lobby.

Shortly after the attack, Stephan Aleyn, a former Southend Conservative councillor, spoke to Ms Cushion.

“She is in absolute bits,” he said. “What she saw is going to stick with her for the rest of her life.

“It was a normal surgery and they were assisting Sir David in helping his constituents.

Julie and Rebecca thought this man was just another constituent who needed help from their MP, when suddenly he launched his attack on Sir David.

“For anyone to witness that sort of shocking, unprovoked assault is awful. It was a lovely, normal, sunny day – then this.”

After stabbing Sir David several times, his assailant sat down next to his body, making no effort to evade police, it has emerged.

A Southend Conservative Party source said: “One of Sir David’s office staff was in the hall with him, and it now appears that after attacking Sir David, this man sat down and waited for police to arrive. It’s absolutely chilling.”

The article says that 999 calls were made at 12:05 p.m. Police, including an armed response unit, and the air ambulance responded immediately. The suspect went quietly with the police:

The 25-year-old suspect was detained inside the church hall and led out to a police van. A knife was recovered.

Amess’s staff must have also contacted a Catholic priest he knew. The Revd Jeffrey Woolnough showed up shortly afterwards and asked police to be admitted to administer Last Rites — or Extreme Unction, as it used to be known. However, he was refused entry:

He was denied entry, however, and so stood on the street with another man reciting the rosary. He described it as a “great disappointment” for a Roman Catholic not to be able to receive the last rites.

“It was remarkably calm by the time I arrived,” Fr Woolnough told The Telegraph.

“I prayed from outside and I just hope David received those. I know he would have done, because any prayer said that is sincere is received by the recipient.

“I was praying the rosary – it’s a half hour prayer going through all of those intentions, asking that whatever was going on in there, for God’s will to be done. That’s all I could pray at that point in time.”

I did not know until he died that Sir David was a devout Catholic, but, given his serene demeanour, sincere smile and gentle wit, it does not surprise me that he was a churchgoer.

The Spectator‘s Melanie McDonagh, also a devout Catholic, expressed her displeasure with the police response regarding Last Rites:

It’s not known whether Sir David was alive when the priest arrived at the scene, but he still should have been there. Nothing should come between a dying man and the mercy of the Church. Of course the police were dealing with a tremendously difficult situation and would have been shocked and confused – how could they not have been? – but it doesn’t excuse this failure of judgment, which we can assume stems from a failure of training.

Essex Police sent The Spectator a statement, which says, in part:

As with any police incident, it is of the utmost importance that we preserve the integrity of a crime scene and allow emergency services to tend to those in need. A cordon is put in place to secure and prevent contamination of the area. Access into a scene is at the discretion of the investigating officers. This is a fundamental part of any investigation to ensure the best possible chance of securing justice for any victim and their family.

McDonagh says that the priest was ‘an emergency service’. I cannot disagree:

The most troubling element of the statement is that the police wanted to ‘allow the emergency services to tend to those in need.’

A priest is an emergency service. In the case of Sir David, the priest was someone who could help see him into the next world, not just keep him in this one. You don’t have to share a belief in the efficacy of confession to go along with this; you just need a very elementary knowledge of and respect for the faith to refrain from standing between a confessor and a dying man. As for the reference to the ‘emergency services administering potentially life-saving treatment,’ Catholic priests are used to operating together with medics for precisely this reason.

You might like to know that Essex police recently engaged in that exercise in cultural conformity, Hate Crime Awareness Week. Perhaps in future, some awareness of Christianity might be part of the training.

Monsignor Kevin Hale, who knew Sir David, told GB News how Catholicism informed the MP’s life. Amess’s mother was a Catholic and she brought him up in the faith:

Monsignor Hale said that Sir David had grown up in the East End of London and attended St Bonaventure’s Roman Catholic School in Newham. It is a secondary school for boys.

The Right Revd Stephen Cottrell, the Anglican Archbishop of York, lived for a time in Amess’s constituency and paid a warm, faith-filled tribute to his former MP and friend in The Telegraph:

It was said of Sir David Amess that though he had opponents, he didn’t have enemies. As we come to terms with the horror of his murder on Friday, this is a distinction worth pondering.

I think of David Amess as a friend. Leigh-on-Sea is my home town and, for ten glorious years as Bishop of Chelmsford, part of the diocese I served. We often met: in parliament, but usually in his constituency, Southend West.

He was, as we have heard over the weekend, a dedicated, zestful, persevering constituency MP. He loved Southend, as I do. He rooted for it. He exemplified that vital, but overlooked, root of our democracy that Members of Parliament may get elected on a party ticket, but, once elected, serve everyone

David Amess was a kind man. The word kind is related to the word kin. When we are kind to someone, it doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with them, or even like them, but that we recognise a kinship, a common humanity and treat them accordingly; or as we sometimes say, “treat them in kind”.

David’s robust kindness came from his Christian faith. He was a devout Christian, a Roman Catholic. But the idea that we human beings belong to one another and have a responsibility to each other is not self-evident. Observation of our behaviour and attitudes shows us the opposite. Our worst desires can be seen everywhere, leading us to separation, fuelled by selfishness, and bearing fruit in hatefulness and the possession of each other.

The picture of humanity that God gives us in Jesus Christ offers something else. In this regard, perhaps the most radical words Jesus ever spoke are the ones most of us know and many of us say every day: “Our Father.” In saying these words we don’t just acknowledge we belong to God, we acknowledge our belonging to each other as kith and kin

David Amess, the friend with whom I sometimes disagreed, had the same values and the same vision. It shaped his life and it is what made him such a loved and effective constituency MP and an exemplar of what our democracy can be.

He was always very kind to me. He supported the Church. He cared. He liked to build coalitions of goodwill so that people could work together. Kindness and kinship, it turns out, gets things done.

My heart goes out to his wife and family and the constituents of Southend West. I am praying for them …

David Amess didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He wore it in his heart. That’s the best place for it. It means it runs through your very being.

Late on Friday, the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command took over the case from Essex Police:

Early on Saturday, October 16, it was established that the suspect is a Briton of Somali parentage.

The Mail on Sunday reported that the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, Dominic Casciani, downplayed the suspect’s parental origins:

The BBC‘s home affairs correspondent was accused yesterday of trying to downplay the suspect’s reported Somali origins …

Although every national newspaper with the exception of the Financial Times mentioned that the suspect had Somali ‘origins’, ‘heritage’ or ‘descent’ yesterday, Casciani appeared to wrestle with the issue on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Presenter Nick Robinson asked him: ‘The suspect is a British citizen, but he’s also of Somali origin. Is that regarded as significant?’

Casciani replied: ‘The Somali element – erm, no. The reason why some reporters have established this fact is that there has been some misreporting …’

Twelve hours earlier, he had tweeted: ‘We have learnt from official sources that detectives have established the individual is a UK national, seemingly of Somali heritage. We report this in the interests of accuracy’ …

The BBC says Casciani ‘focuses on stories relating to law, order, society and belonging – including immigration, ethnicity’.

The Telegraph reported on the Met’s discoveries made on Saturday. The suspect lived in London, far from Sir David’s constituency:

On Saturday, officers from the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism team, which is leading the investigation into his death, were searching three addresses in London – at least two of which were believed to be in the east of the capital. One search had ended but the others remained ongoing on Saturday night. The suspect, a British national of Somali origin, is thought to have acted alone and travelled by train from his north London home to Essex to carry out the attack.

The Daily Mail told us that the suspect lives among at least one celebrity in London, the rest of his neighbours clearly well-heeled, and might have spent a week planning the bloody attack:

Ali, who is thought to have been targeted by the Government’s anti-terror Prevent programme, may have lived in Sir David’s Southend West constituency in Essex in the past.

His most recent residence is believed to be in London. Officers have been carrying out searches at three addresses.

The security services are providing assistance to Scotland Yard, which is leading the investigation. Last night, detectives were granted a warrant of further detention, allowing them to keep Ali in custody until Friday.

Police officers were yesterday standing guard outside the North London council house where Ali lives. It is in a street of £2 million three-storey townhouses where the late actor Roger Lloyd Pack, who played Trigger in Only Fools And Horses, used to live.

That day, news emerged that Sir David had received a menacing threat just days before his murder. However, police believe that the two events are unconnected, according to The Telegraph:

The threat to the veteran MP was made in the past few days and reported to police …

It is understood that Essex Police received a report of the threat, but they are not connecting it with Friday’s attack.

John Lamb, the former Mayor of Leigh-on-Sea and a close colleague of the murdered MP, said Sir David had received the “upsetting” threat in the past few days …

Mr Lamb said it had been Sir David’s idea to hold his surgeries in places like the Methodist church, so he could be more accessible to his constituents, rather than in the local Conservative Party offices in Southend.

It is understood this came despite concerns being expressed by some of his staff over the potential security risk at more open venues.

Mr Lamb said: “Sir David used to hold them at the Conservative Association, but that made it hard for older people to see him so around a year ago he started going out into the community. He didn’t want to hide away, he wanted to be visible and accessible. He told me: ‘I want them to be able to see me in their local area’.

Before this, the last time an MP was murdered was in June 2016, just days before the Brexit referendum. A white male fatally stabbed Labour MP Jo Cox outside her own surgery. He was said to have had mental health problems, aggravated by the threat of eviction. His mother was also in poor health. That is not in any way to excuse his horrific crime of murdering a young wife, mother and MP. However, at the time, the media said the motive was because he was pro-Brexit and she was not.

Sir David, along with every other MP, was deeply affected by her death. He mentioned it and attendant security issues in his 2020 book, In Ayes and Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster, published last November.

He wrote:

The British tradition has always been that Members of Parliament regularly make themselves available for constituents to meet them face to face at their surgeries. Now advice has been given to be more careful when accepting appointments. We are advised to never see people alone, we must be extra careful when opening post and we must ensure that our offices are properly safe and secure. In short, these increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.

He also said that he had to check the locks on his property and that certain ‘nuisance’ (his word) members of the public occasionally showed up outside his home. Other MPs have installed CCTV cameras on their properties.

Jo Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, is now an MP in her former constituency, Batley & Spen. She tweeted her condolences:

The Emir of Qatar also sent a message of sympathy. Last week, he and Sir David were discussing Afghanistan refugees who are currently living in Qatar, awaiting settlement in other countries:

On Sunday, October 17, the father of the suspect in custody spoke. The Sunday Times reported:

The father of the suspected killer of Sir David Amess said he had been left “traumatised” by his son’s arrest after the stabbing of the veteran Tory MP.

Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed that his British-born son, Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was in custody. Kullane said that anti-terrorist police from Scotland Yard had visited him.

Speaking at his sister’s home in north London last night, Kullane said: “I’m feeling very traumatised. It’s not something that I expected or even dreamt of.”

The suspect was a “self-radicalised” lone operative known to counterterrorist police, according to Whitehall sources. He is believed to have been referred to Prevent, the government’s deradicalisation programme, before allegedly stabbing Amess on Friday

Investigators are examining the theory that he was radicalised online during lockdown.

Officers were yesterday granted a further warrant to detain him until Friday under terrorism laws. Scotland Yard said that early inquiries had uncovered “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.

Amess, 69, an MP for almost 40 years, was a devout Roman Catholic who was guided in his daily life by his strong faith

Intelligence sources said the suspect had not been on the radar of MI5, which is monitoring more than 3,000 people who it is feared could be plotting a terrorist attack. However, he is believed to be one of thousands of extremists who have been referred to the voluntary Prevent programme after displaying potentially disturbing behaviour such as inflammatory postings on social media.

More than 6,000 people were referred by police and other agencies to the programme in the year ending March 31, 2020.

By the way, referral to the Prevent programme does not include monitoring by police and/or security services.

That day, the Amess family issued a statement thanking the public for their messages of support and urged the Government to grant Southend-on-Sea city status.

The Times reported:

Sir David Amess’s family have said that achieving city status for Southend would be a way of paying tribute to a “patriot and man of peace”.

In their first public comments since the MP’s murder, his family thanked people for the “wonderful, wonderful tributes paid to David following his cruel and violent death. It truly has brought us so much comfort.”

Amess, 69, was married with five children and in a statement tonight they said: “The support shown by friends, constituents and the general public alike has been so overwhelming. As a family it has given us strength.”

They urged people “to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all” so that some good might come from their father’s death. His family said there was “still so much David wanted to do” insisting: “This is not the end of Sir David Amess MP. It is the next chapter and as a family we ask everyone to support the many charities he worked with.”

They cited his efforts to raise money for a statue of Dame Vera Lynn and said: “Closer to home, David was working hard for Southend to gain city status. In his memory, please show your support for this campaign.”

As I write on Monday, no known motive for Sir David’s gruesome murder has emerged.

Some of his friends believe it was because he was a devout Catholic. I’m not sure about that. I did not know he was one until he died, and I’m a political junkie and frequent viewer of BBC Parliament.

A radical Islamist preacher says it was because Sir David was pro-Israel, as the MP had been an honorary secretary of the Conservative Friends of Israel since 1998.

However, let us not forget Qatar and the current tensions in Somalia.

In Monday’s Times, speculation arose over whether Amess was murdered because he headed the APPG fostering relations between the UK and Qatar. Qatar supports the current regime in Somalia:

Meanwhile, members of the public are calling for those voting for the Westminster Dog of the Year to choose Sir David and Vivienne as a fitting posthumous tribute to the tireless yet cheerful MP, who will be sorely missed.

I will have more on Sir David’s life in tomorrow’s post.

My deepest condolences go to the Amess family, Sir David’s staff and his many friends. May the good Lord grant them His infinite grace and comfort in the days and months ahead.

Eternal rest grant unto your servant David, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in your eternal mercy and peace. Amen.

In response to reader H E’s guest post last week on declining church numbers, another faithful reader of mine, George True, responded with an excellent comment about a truly Catholic priest in Arizona.

It’s too good to leave there, so here it is in full:

There is a firebrand priest here in the Phoenix AZ area by the name of Father William Kosco. He has publicly, from the pulpit, denounced the Catholic bishops of America for their cowardice in going along with all of the cultural Marxist insanity. He has also publicly denounced Joe Biden as someone who is diametrically opposed to every fundamental teaching of the Roman Catholic church. He has said that Joe Biden would receive Holy Communion at his church only over his (Father Kosco’s) dead body. He has declared that Joe Biden, being a public figure, must PUBLICLY repent of his sins against God and his nation in order to be allowed Communion.

The pews at Pastor Kosco’s church, St Henry’s in Buckeye AZ, are FULL.

At this point, allow me to post a tweet that I saw shortly after reading George’s comment. It ties in well, as it shows a church full of worshippers (click on the tweet, and when it opens in a new tab, click the image to see it in full):

Now on with the conclusion of George’s comment:

He is showing all priests, Catholic and Protestant, how to put butts in the seats. Start boldly and fearlessly declaring the truth, speaking out against evil, and affirming the fundamental precepts of our faith. People are hungering and thirsting for the truth, and they will flock to shepherds who exhibit courage in the face of evil.

One cannot say better than that. May the good Lord continue to bless Father Kosco and his congregation.

The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 9:8-15

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

———————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s reasons why ministers in the church should receive a salary for preaching the word of God.

In today’s passage, he gives biblical reasons supporting his principle.

He says that it is not his personal belief but a mandate dating back to Mosaic law (verse 8).

John MacArthur tells us how the verse is structured in Greek (emphases mine):

“Say I these things as man?” And the Greek – the form of that question in the Greek implies a negative answer. “No, I’m not just talking in human terms.” … I’m not just saying these things as a man, “or saith not the law” – and he means the law of God – “the same thing?” Is this just human reasoning, or does God’s law say the same thing? And the second question has implied in it a “yes” answer. Greek – the way they form a Greek question in the Greek language will give you an idea as to whether it’s to be answered yes or no. This second question has a yes answer. “Do I say these things as a man? No. Or doesn’t the law say the same thing? Yes.” God’s law. … This isn’t just a human analogy or a human reason, God has something to say.

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4, which instructs the Jews to allow oxen to eat a bit of grain while they are treading it to remove the outer husk (verse 9). It would be inhumane to put a muzzle on an ox preventing it from munching some of the grain while he treads it.

MacArthur explains how treading was done:

Now, the Egyptians had an interesting custom that the Israelites picked up. Whenever they wanted to separate the grain from the husk, they would throw all of the stuff on a great floor, a great flat area. And they would get oxen, and they would tie to the oxen a great big, round, flat stone. And the oxen would just walk all over that grain, dragging that stone, crushing the husks and releasing the grain out of it. And that’s the way they separated it. And the law said, “Don’t muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads the grain.” You want to have one frustrated ox, you just muzzle him and make him tread that grain; you’ll really frustrate him. That would be inhumane. That would be unjust. If the ox is going to drag that rock around all day, he ought to be able to take a few bites now and then. That’s the point, see?

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 to illustrate that a man should receive a salary for preaching. In the second half of verse 9, Paul asks if God is that concerned for the oxen’s welfare. He answers his question in verse 10: no. The point of the verse from Deuteronomy is to say that a farmer, a thresher — and even the oxen — should be able to partake of a harvest.

MacArthur says:

When God wrote that, he wasn’t really talking about oxen; he was talking about people. And it’s – incidentally, in Deuteronomy 25, there’s no mention of animals anyway; it’s talking about social and economic relationships between men. And he just puts this one in a metaphor, “Men ought to be able to earn their living from their labor.” A simple principle.

If God requires that an ox spending his strength serving man should get his reward, how much more a man who spends his strength serving God? If an ox shouldn’t be muzzled, why should a man of God? Why should a minister?

And, you know, there’s a built-in incentive, too, I think, in this. I think, when a man gains his living out of his labor, it may tend to make his labor all the more diligent. I think sometimes that when a person in Christian service has to go out and learn his living, and he knows that in his Christian service he’s not earning his living, he tends to be slothful there because his success is not really that significant in terms of accruing to himself earthly benefit.

And so, that’s a simple, biblical principle. And now look at verse 10 again. He say, “This is written” – now pick it up right in this third line there – “This is written, that he that plows should plow in hope.” In other words, the guy plowing the field ought to be able to hope that out of his plowing he’s going to gain a reward – “he that threshes in hope should be a partaker of his hope.” In other words, he should be working, realizing there was going to come something in the future. He’d have a hope for something in the future, and indeed it would come. Hope for the servant.

Paul concludes: as the ministers provide their flock with spiritual truths, should they not reap a material reward for it (verse 11)? As ministers are preaching God’s word, are they not even more entitled to receive a salary for their higher calling (verse 12)?

This is still the situation in most denominations. Clergy salaries are notoriously low. In the Episcopal Church, of which I was a member in the US decades ago, most clergy were what we now call ‘trust fund babies’. They had a private income to supplement the poor salaries they received.

Paul was not advocating for ministers to become wealthy, as so many shyster televangelists are today. He just wanted them to live comfortably, meaning more than modestly. They should be able to buy their own clothes, for example, rather than receive hand-me-downs from their congregations.

MacArthur gives his own real life illustration of discussions about wages for clergy:

Paul makes a direct application in verse 11, “If we” – and this is really straight – “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a big deal if we reap your material things?” Now, that’s an interesting statement. He says, “Look, Corinthians, if we sowed unto you the things of the spirit, life transforming things, eternal things, forever things, is it any big deal that you would give back to us some material things?” It’s an obvious question, isn’t it? No. I mean it’s no big deal.

But so many times the mentality of Christians in history has been, “Make sure the servant of God can barely make it. Don’t give them too much. After all, they’re serving God.”

And you see, my philosophy on the thing is, “Hey, if he’s serving God, I mean what higher calling? Give him a whole bunch.”

Sometimes somebody’ll come to speak somewhere, and I may be in the discussion, and they’ll say, “Well, let’s see, if he gasses his car,” and we’ll maybe kick this around in some group somewhere, and we’re talking about a camp or a conference with different pastors or something, and somebody will say, “Well, it’ll only cost him, well, let’s say we give him an extra, we can get away for $150.00.”

And I’ll usually say, “Well, that’ll be good; let’s give him $350.00”

“What’s he going to do with the extra?”

“What would you do with the extra?”

“Oh, well, let’s see, I’d buy – fix – pay my bill.”

“That’s what he’ll do with the extra.”

You see, the point is not just make sure he never has enough, but give him more than he needs, and then you let him worry about how he is a steward of it. You let him – generosity. You know, we think about a missionary, and invariably, you know, you say, “Well, we don’t want to – don’t want to overdo it. After all, they’re only missionaries. And the missionary comes home, and you say, My brother, I know you need a new suit, and I’ve got one here that I don’t wear anymore … Right?” In your income tax, you write off $45.00 suit given to missionary. Hmm. See? Real good, real good.

You know, what you ought to do is take him down and buy him one just like he’d like to have. And then you worry about how he’s a steward of the suit you gave him. Don’t you worry about keeping him poor.

In the second half of verse 12, Paul states, using the royal ‘we’, that he did not ask for a salary from the Corinthians because he did not want to put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel. He restates that again in verse 15.

However, it is clear he expects the congregation to pay for other ministers’ work in furthering the Good News and Christian doctrine.

Paul refers to the verses in the Old Testament that specify what parts of a sacrificial animal the priests received (verse 13). Not all of the animal was burnt. The priests received the hides to sell and they also received most of the meat.

Therefore, Paul reasons, it is only right that ministers in the Church receive a salary for preaching the Good News (verse 14).

MacArthur explains how the sacrificial system worked in the Old Testament:

For example, a priest is in the temple, and people are bringing offerings in the Old Testament. The man would bring a burnt offering. There were five different offerings that the Jews would bring. Let’s say he’d bring a burnt offering. Now, this alone was the one that was totally burned up. The only thing left would be, according to Genesis 32, the stomach, the entrails, and the sinew from the thigh, and that you wouldn’t particularly want.

But what was left out of the burnt offering was the hide. And the priests would take the hides, and they would use those hides to sell to make money to live. So, out of the burnt offering came the hide of the animal.

The second offering that the Jews gave was the sin offering. Only the fat was burned, and the priest kept all the rest of the meat. The third offering was the trespass offering; the same thing. The fat was burned; the priest kept the rest of the meat.

There was the meal offering, where they brought flour and wine and oil. A small token of it was burned; the rest of it went to the priests. The peace offering, which was the fifth one, were the fat and the entrails were burned. The priest received the breast and – it said the right shoulder, and that all has symbolic meaning – and all the rest of it went back to the worshipper.

So, in every case, there was something for the priest in order that his livelihood and his support and his sustenance might come out of his service. The priest received the first fruits of barley, wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey – all of those things – some of the first fruits of everybody’s crop had to go to the priesthood to support them in the Old Testament. They received one tenth of the Levite’s tithe. They received what was called the Terumah which was the 1/50 of any crop. They received what was called the Challah, and that had to do with dough. When anybody made bread, 1/24 of the batch had to go to the priests. If you were a baker, 1/48, because you were making more bread.

And so, the priests in the Old Testament, according to these truths – and you can find them in Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 18, and many places – they were sustained by their ministry. And so he says in verse 13, “Don’t you = know that those who minister about holy things live of the temple? And those who serve the altar are partakers with the altar?” In other words, the support comes right out of that ministry. Simple truth.

Paul ends by saying that he never asked for a salary for himself (verse 15, repeating verse 12). He is saying that he enjoys his work so much that he wouldn’t ask for or accept pay. When he was given donations by other churches, as Acts and his other letters show, he gave those funds to needier congregations.

Paul’s point, however, is that other ministers should be paid.

Matthew Henry explains:

… it is not given in charge to all, nor any preacher of the gospel, to do his work gratis, to preach and have no maintenance out of it it may sometimes be his duty to insist on his maintenance for so doing

1 Corinthians 10 deals with idolatry. More to come next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Paul Surrenders His Rights

9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife,[a] as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded Paul’s answers to the Corinthians on the subject of marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 8, he answered their questions about food. Stronger Christians should not trouble weaker Christians about the food they eat. Instead, stronger Christians should accede to weaker Christians in their preferences, lest the weaker ones suffer a pang of conscience and leave the Church.

In this chapter, he defends himself against charges from some of the false teachers in the Corinthian church about his eligibility to be an apostle. He also explains why those ministering to a church should receive a salary or a stipend.

John MacArthur gives Paul’s discourse a title (emphases in bold mine):

… we could kind of title this thing, “Six Reasons to Pay the Preacher,” “Six Reasons to Support a Missionary,” “Six Reasons to Take Care of the Ministers.” That’s just what he’s talking about: why is it that a minister of God, a servant of God, in whatever ministry he has is worthy of the support of the people?

Matthew Henry explains the background to this chapter:

Blessed Paul, in the work of his ministry, not only met with opposition from those without, but discouragement from those within. He was under reproach; false brethren questioned his apostleship, and were very industrious to lessen his character and sink his reputation; particularly here at Corinth, a place to which he had been instrumental in doing much good, and from which he had deserved well; and yet there were those among them who upon these heads created him great uneasiness. Note, It is no strange nor new thing for a minister to meet with very unkind returns for great good-will to a people, and diligent and successful services among them. Some among the Corinthians questioned, if they did not disown, his apostolical character. To their cavils he here answers, and in such a manner as to set forth himself as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter.

In verse 1, he poses the questions asked about him. Was he not free in Christ Jesus? Was he not an apostle? Did he not see the resurrected Christ? Were the Corinthian converts not among his work for the greater Church?

MacArthur examines these one by one.

First, Paul avers his liberty as a Christian.

Paul says, “All right, I’m in your boat, too. Am I not free? Could I not do whatever I want? I’m not just a Christian like the rest of you. Am I not an” – what? – “an apostle? As especially appointed apostle by Christ, do I not at least have the liberty that you do, and maybe just more? Am I certainly any less than you in my liberty? Don’t I have the same freedom you do?” …

Secondly, he reminds them that he had indeed seen the risen Christ, therefore making him an apostle:

Now, some of them may have said, “Well, I’m not sure you’re an apostle, fella.”

So, he says in verse 1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then he gives two reasons, or two verifications of his apostleship. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Now, the qualification for an apostle was that he be appointed by the resurrected Christ. An apostle had to be appointed by Jesus Christ personally, which means he would have had to have seen the resurrected Christ. Paul would have. Had Paul ever seen the resurrected Christ? He says, “I have seen the Lord.”

In Acts 1:22, it says that whoever was to be appointed as an apostle, to take up the place of Judas, had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. To be an apostle, you had to see Jesus Christ. Paul had that experience.

In Acts chapter 22, in verse 17, he says this, “It came to pass, when I was come again to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in a temple, I was in a trance; and I saw Him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem. They will not receive your testimony,’” and so forth.

“And I said, ‘Lord,” – so, it was in Jerusalem in Acts 22 that Paul was having a little conversation with the Lord. The Lord appeared to him.

In Acts chapter 9, earlier in the book of Acts, Paul was walking along on the Damascus Road, just on his way to persecute a few Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks. He feel down; he saw the blazing glory of the Lord and was blinded and he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He saw the Lord on the Damascus Road. He saw the Lord later in Jerusalem. There was a third place that he saw the Lord, and interestingly enough, it was in the city of Corinth.

In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, and the 9 verse, when Paul was in Corinth, it says, “Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee.’” There a third time he saw the Lord. He had a vision of the Lord.

So, he had seen the resurrected Lord three times at least. And he says, “This is proof that He called me into the apostleship. I have seen Him. I am a witness of the living Christ. I am a witness that He is arisen from the dead.”

Finally, he reminds them that he planted the church in Corinth:

Not only was the seeing of Christ a verification of his apostleship, but so was the Corinthian church. “If you have any doubts about my apostleship” – he says – “look at yourselves. Where do you think you came from? Aren’t you the fruit of my labor? Aren’t you the verification of my ministry?

He affirms that by saying their congregation is proof of his apostleship (verse 2). Paul is upbraiding them for their disrespect.

Henry explains:

This church at Corinth had as much reason to believe, and as little reason to question, his apostolical mission, as any; they had as much reason, perhaps more than any church, to pay him respect. He had been instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge and faith of Christ; he laboured long among them, nearly two years, and he laboured to good purpose, God having much people among them. See Acts 18:10, Acts 18:11. It was aggravated ingratitude for this people to call in question his authority.

He defends his position (verse 3). This involves not only a mention of the lives of other ministers of Christ in Corinth but also a soldier and a farmer.

He begins by asking if the ministers of the church have no right to food and drink (verse 4). By this he means a stipend or a salary to provide daily sustenance.

He then asks why the Corinthians would object to some ministers having wives with them and others not (verse 5).

He asks why the Corinthians would deprive Paul and Barnabas, his companion in ministry, of a salary from the church and make them work for a living in addition to their church duties (verse 6).

MacArthur rewords this for us:

what he’s saying is, “I have a right to support from you. And if I wanted to” – he wasn’t married at this time … – “if I wanted to, I could take a Christian sister as a wife and expect that you would support her as well. That’s my liberty. That’s my right to ask of you.”

Now, this is interesting. He is saying that the church has the responsibility to support its leaders, its pastors, its evangelists, its missionaries.

he says, “If I wanted to take a Christian sister along with me, you should be able to support that sister as well.” And I think what you have there is a verse that affirms the right of a minister to have an unemployed wife.

MacArthur says that he personally finds his wife’s presence a comfort:

You know, I feel like so many times someone will ask me to speak someplace, and they’ll say, “You know, we want you to fly,” for example, “to Cleveland, Ohio. And there’s a tremendous opportunity for a Bible conference here, and would like you to come, and we’d like to bring your wife as our guest as well.” You know, I really appreciate that, because me and my wife are one flesh. You know? And when she’s with me, I’m a lot better off. I really am. I’m happier, easier to get along with. I can concentrate better on what I’m doing in ministry, and she can be supportive of me, and we share our life together. And that’s an important thing.

And I feel, as a church, when we ask someone to come and speak here, it would be the thing to do to say, “Would you like to bring your wife? We’d be more than happy to support the coming of your wife so she can share these days with you.” It’s a question of generosity. It’s a question of having the right attitude. And when somebody has asked us for support for some ministry or some mission or something, it ought to be with that kind of generosity and concern that not only his needs are met, but those of his wife so that they may minister together. I think a reason that you have divorces among people, even in the ministry so many times, is because you’ve got one of them running around all over the place and never paying any attention to the other one. And I don’t think it’s a question always of counseling; it may be a question of dollars so that the wife could go along. This is really important.

To drive his point home, Paul cites examples: a soldier and farmers (verse 7).

Are soldiers not paid to fight? Of course they are.

MacArthur says:

If a guy’s in the Army, they’re going to pay him. Not a lot, but they’re going to pay him enough. They’re going to sustain him. They’ll give him food, lodging, and whatever clothing he needs, and they’re going to give them a little bit of money. Nobody goes to war and pays himself. In other words, it is human custom that a man earns his living by his work. That’s all he’s saying.

Furthermore, what farmer does not avail himself of the fruits of his labour: either produce or milk?

Paul writes this to get the Corinthians thinking about their criticisms of him:

his conclusion is, “So, why not the servant of God? Why shouldn’t the servant of God be equally cared for out of his occupation? It’s just human custom, as well as apostolic right.”

Those well versed in Paul’s letters know that he made his living by making tents. He never took a salary through his ministry and he states that later in 1 Corinthians 9. This is why this chapter is titled ‘Paul Surrenders His Rights’.

However, he wants to establish the principle that those ministering to a church have the right to a reasonable salary provided by the congregation. He has more to say on the subject, which I will cover in my next post.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:8-15

The coronavirus lockdown has been a blessing for Church of England clergy who want to re-do worship.

At the end of March, shortly after lockdown began, the Church’s archbishops — led by Canterbury (Welby) and York (Sentamu) — forbade clergy or congregants going into church to clean or check on its condition from praying while they were there.

This did not meet with universal approval from Anglican clergy:

There is a question as to whether this prohibition is actually legal:

Quite!

Not every diocese has adopted such stringent rules, although the congregation are not allowed inside:

Therefore, services are online. Most are live-streamed and require registering as well as being able to access the right platform, in some cases:

I realise that church closures aren’t a huge deal to people who don’t attend church, but for those of us who do, it is. We were brought up to worship and that needs to be done regularly in what we knew as children as ‘God’s house’. That is an entirely different matter from a collective church comprised of people who evangelise when they are not worshipping.

This year, we missed out on worship on the Church’s greatest feast, Easter. We missed Pentecost 50 days later. We missed Trinity Sunday, which was June 7.

Churches might not open in England until July 4. A Conservative MP asked Boris Johnson at PMQs on Wednesday, June 3, if the reopening could occur sooner. He burbled a bit and said he completely understood the desire to worship in church. Personally, I doubt anything will happen before July but am grateful that the MP asked the question.

On May 14, the Church Times reported that some Anglican vicars’ priorities are different to their congregants’ (emphases mine):

Far from rushing to unveil plans for opening up their premises, individual churches showed a marked reluctance this week to embark on any kind of detailed planning. Most acknowledge themselves to be too busy and have simply ‘parked’ the issue of return for the time being.

On May 29, the Church Times had an article about church after lockdown has been lifted:

Such rejuvenation may help to release us from the prison of our church building, which, for many, have become shrines to the past which not only soak up energy and resources, but also perpetuate concepts of division and hierarchy harmful to a mature understanding of who we are.

Right.

So, all of a sudden, after nearly two millennia of gathering to worship in church buildings, we should abandon them. Apparently, those who went before us and have worshipped in churches had an ‘immature’ understanding of Christianity and themselves.

Okay, sure (not).

The article also accuses people who enjoy attending church of:

over-indulgence in churchiness

Wow.

The article advocates a strong emphasis on online services.

Are we supposed to consecrate our own hosts for Communion, too? Probably. Wrong, on so many levels!

This is the cartoon that accompanied the article. How true:

On May 23, Catherine Pepinster wrote an excellent article for the Telegraph: ‘Whisper it, but the C of E might not mind that much if the Covid crisis leads to church closures’.

She provided an insight into Pentecost Sunday, traditionally known as Whitsun, which was May 31 this year:

Could there be a quainter title for a poem than The Whitsun Weddings? Philip Larkin’s 1955 work harks back to a once familiar tradition for church weddings to take place on what was known as Whit Saturday, the day before Whit Sunday. Today, most people will have absolutely no idea that next Sunday [May 31] is Whit Sunday and that it is a Christian feast to equal Christmas and Easter, marking the moment when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles after Christ had ascended to heaven. But this year on Whit Sunday, like Ascension Day which should have been marked two days ago, the churches will be empty as if Whitsun is indeed now a quaint festival, a throwback to Larkin’s England. There will be no choirs, no readings, no congregation.

She has spoken with vicars during lockdown, and the news is not good:

Anglican vicars around the country, from London to Liverpool, Buckinghamshire to Lincolnshire, have been telling me how fearful they are of their parish churches going bust. Reserves are being spent. They know they are storing up more financial headaches the longer they are in lockdown. Nobody has recently crossed ecclesiastical thresholds to carry out any repairs or refurbishment, storing up costly maintenance problems in historic buildings that need regular care.

It was bad even before coronavirus:

Just a few weeks before lockdown, a report with a startling statistic dropped onto the desks of church officials: that the greatest reduction in the Church of England’s stock of churches since the 16th century is under wayStruggling, Closed and Closing Churches  – produced by the Church Buildings Council – said that in the past 50 years 2,000 churches have closed, which is about 10 per cent of the stock. Now vicars fear plenty more could be shut for good.

Yes, the C of E has made loans to churches during this time, but that will not be enough:

Given the Church Commissioners have huge amounts of money tucked away this might be surprising, and they have lent the dioceses £75 million to pay salaries during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet it’s not enough to keep every church going. Liverpool diocese, for example, has already furloughed some of its curates. But it’s the money that comes in via the parishes themselves that normally props up the whole system, especially those dioceses without big endowments. That is what is lacking now.

Bishops, she says, will be eager to get rid of local churches in favour of larger ones requiring transportation to get to:

Some bishops are already saying they will bring forward decisions they have been putting off and will close some churches for good. That will be popular with the accountants – but also with the people in the Church of England who like talking about ‘hubs’ and ‘places of strength’. The jargon is used about a slimmed-down Church of England that focuses on buildings that can house large congregations to which people drive from miles around while everything else goes online.

I fully agree with her conclusion:

a church isn’t just a Facebook singalong. It’s a place that evokes those who went before us and are now remembered in plaques on the wall, in the stained glass, and in the adjoining graveyard. It’s a building that connects us to the present, that acts as the beating heart of a neighbourhood, even for those who do not attend on a Sunday. And if Covid-19 means some churches never re-open, that beating heart will be stilled.

The incoming Archbishop of York denies a Sunday newspaper report that he will begin closing churches. I bet he is considering it:

On June 2, the Church Times posted an article about the delay in reopening churches: ‘If shops, why not churches? Government challenged over restrictions’.

Based on what I’ve written above, I think it’s rather disingenuous to put all the blame on the government.

Churchgoers want an earlier opening than July:

A Savanta ComRes opinion poll commissioned by the National Churches Trust and published on Sunday suggested that the public backed the early reopening of churches and chapels, provided they could maintain social distancing. Forty-six per cent of the adults polled supported reopening earlier than 4 July: a tentative date mentioned at the start of May. This figure rose to 66 per cent among respondents who attended regularly.

At least one Anglican bishop has written to MPs asking for churches to reopen:

In an open letter sent on Monday to MPs whose constituencies lie in his diocese, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, writes: “I hope that you would lobby for an urgent review of the continued closure of our church buildings to individuals who seek solace in such places [church buildings]. . . 

“At a time when tensions run high, I believe that there is a deep thirst for access to churches and cathedrals as places of prayer for people of committed faith, or for anyone who is in search of space in which to find peace.

“I am fortunate to live near to Chichester cathedral. Each day I see individuals peering in through its glass doors. I know from personal experience what pressing and intimate needs find expression in the prayers that they write down and leave behind.

“We urgently need places and experience that build hope, trust, and endurance. The capacity of the Christian Church to engender those virtues through prayer and stillness in its buildings should not be underestimated.” 

Another bishop has been resorting to Twitter. After the daily coronavirus briefing on Pentecost Sunday:

the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, suggested: “I think we should be arguing (a) that it is too soon to open other buildings; or (b) that our churches should be allowed to open alongside them. To suggest that our churches should remain closed while other ‘non-essential’ shops and buildings open is to condone secularism.”

The benefits of prayer were “not generally of such direct economic benefit”, but that did not mean that they didn’t matter, he observed. “The risk to a person sitting quietly to pray in a church which is properly cleaned and supervised is surely not greater than a trip to the supermarket?”

He was joined by Bishop Tom Wright, who wrote in The Times:

Absolutely!

Here’s a Episcopal priest’s view from across the pond in Cincinnati:

You can take a Church Times survey, for a limited time, on the state of the Church in England. It’s got plenty of room for extended replies.

If you love the Church and live in England, please make your voice heard.

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