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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We shall see.

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

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

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

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

He is out and about meeting fellow residents:

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

In his recent article in UnHerd, he says:

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

Fraser warns that this plays into secularists’ hands:

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wrote an article about it for The Telegraph:

In it, he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What follows are two examples of their efforts.

Cornwall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget

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

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

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

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

Why wasn’t it presented to them upon release?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save The Parish gave a level-headed response:

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

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

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

I couldn’t agree more.

Conclusion

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

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

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

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.

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.

May God continue to bless the faithful vicars of Christ who happen to be in the Church of England (CofE).

The others, sadly, are destroying our established church in the way that John MacArthur warned about more generally in 1998.

On January 25, 2022, Dr Jim McConalogue wrote an article for Comment Central on the same topic: ‘The Church is to blame for its own decline as a moral leader’.

Dr McConalogue begins by detailing the number of church closures in recent years (emphases mine):

A recent Telegraph investigation this month into Church of England data found that more than 400 churches have closed in a decade. The data showed that 940 of its churches were shut between 1987 and 2019423 of them were closed between 2010 and 2019. Across the Church’s 42 dioceses, it marks a drop of 6 per cent fewer churches.

The flight from faith is being further marked by the number of people describing themselves as Christian falling to only just over half the population (51 per cent), the lowest level recorded. In general, of those in their twenties, 53.4 per cent say they have no religion; for those in their sixties, it is about 27.1 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Spirituality that centres on holiness has gone out the window. Socio-political causes have replaced the quest for sanctification:

Last year, a team of researchers – including myself – investigated the scale of clergy support for radical progressive activist agendas throughout the 42 dioceses, which had some remarkable findings.

Over eight in ten of the dioceses appoint clergy who advocate radical racial justice claims or express concerns for ‘institutional’ or ‘systemic’ racism. Just under 90 per cent of those racial justice activist claims – all described in our report – came within the first six months of the UK racial justice campaigns in May 2020, following the national Black Lives Matters protests in the United States. Similarly, just over seven in ten of the dioceses appoint clergy who promote climate activism and ecological warnings, including calls for the recognition of a climate emergency.

The common denominator has been a widespread acquiescence by the clergy setting aside ordinary human values and the Church’s moral message in favour of the adoption of questionable, unevidenced narratives deployed by the so-called progressive movements of the day.

The unqualified reception of unchallenged ideas is not specific to the Church even though it has a unique impact on their members – it continues to be symptomatic of what is happening throughout civil society. It depends upon telling reasonable citizens they must comply with those narratives in order to survive and thrive.

During the height of the pandemic in the summer of 2020, the CofE’s churches were closed. Zoom services took place. What were the messages given at parish level? Did they offer solace and comfort to those who were worried about coronavirus or who were grieving over their ailing or dead relatives? No. The CofE messages given during this time — I have my own email collection of them from church — were about combating racism.

McConalogue concludes:

The resolution to the Church’s moral panic may more likely be found in its own faith, in being thoughtful and less fearful – and not in the faulty mantras of identity-based progressive movements. The Church must look beyond superficially appealing to ‘slicker models of evangelistic marketing’ and instead recognis[e] the place of the faithful, as [the Revd] Giles Fraser has argued. It is those faithful people who attend church to say their prayers who are at the centre of each of the parishes.

Let us examine what happened in the CofE in 2021, still during the pandemic and when churches had reopened.

In April, an Anglican contributor to The Conservative Woman considered that the CofE had ‘cancelled’ her and others who had worshipped faithfully week after week:

Those who turn up every Sunday and other days, having voluntarily cleaned the building, arranged the flowers, rung the bells, read the lesson, served the tea and biscuits, given lifts and devised and delivered the parish mag in all weathers. Belittled and scorned for serving their community with humility and kindness, they may be forgiven for wondering what on earth they have done to deserve such a barrage of hostility and condemnation.

… Some of us have had enough. Instead of promoting this country as an open, tolerant and democratic society, the Archbishop and his colleagues are presiding over a church in its death throes. Supine before the forces of a minority of myopic and divisive far-Left activists within the Church, they have cancelled those many disaffected Anglicans, mystified by a sustained barrage of unwarranted recriminations, who have left the church they once loved and now feel they have no spiritual home.

In the summer of 2021, the CofE hierarchy and the General Synod decided to plan how to do church differently. It wasn’t the faithful who were being sidelined, but also some clergy. Furthermore, church buildings would have to go. Zoom church could continue with a few ‘hub’ churches remaining open for those who were fortunate enough to live nearby. House churches would be the place of worship for most Anglicans in England.

Part of the hierarchical narrative is that our national church, which originated in England, is somehow an ‘inherited’ church that needs to reinvent itself. Good grief:

The Synod’s goal is to close existing churches, create 10,000 home churches and get rid of ordained priests, termed as being a ‘limited factor’. The home churches would be lay-led. This might be a developing strategy for nations on other continents, but surely, the CofE’s infrastructure is already in place — and has been for centuries:

This model is not appropriate for England, already established in structure and in law.

How can a lay minister, not an Anglican norm, administer the Sacraments? Such a person would have no spiritual authority.

The Revd Peter Anthony disagrees with the plan:

The next tweet has a more detailed view of the overall plan. Egregious:

The Revd Philip Murray explains why house churches are, rightly, no longer the norm in the West:

The Revd Giles Fraser, a former Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral and current Rector at the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington, London, wrote an article for UnHerd, a publication he co-founded: ‘The Church is abandoning its flock’.

His article begins with this:

“We don’t preach morality, we plant churches. We don’t preach therapeutic care, we plant churches.” Justin Welby, July 2021

There are some forms of Christianity that exist only in order to reproduce. Christians are here to make new Christians who, in turn, are called to go out there and make even more new ones. The purpose of church life is to beget more church life. Randy for converts, these good shepherds admire the sheep in the pews principally for their reproductive qualities. And you can tell it’s these sorts of Christians that are now running the show in the Church of England, because those of us who are deemed to be infertile or firing evangelistic blanks are being slated for the knacker’s yard. The latest group to be targeted for a cull are the clergy themselves. In more senses than one, we are being directed to Genesis chapter nine, verse seven: “Go forth and multiply!”

The new growth strategy from head office is code named Myriad, Greek for ten thousand. The idea is to have 10,000 new churches by 2030, creating a million new disciples. Don’t worry about the figures too much, they are nothing more than fantasy numbers plucked from the sky. As a general rule, church growth is inversely proportional to the big talk coming from head office. Of course, we are all supposed to nod along, as if this is some fabulous, exciting initiative. As Martyn Percy, the Dean of the Cathedral in Oxford, explained, it’s becoming a bit like one of those Stalinist 10-year plans, something we are all obliged to cheer, yet one that is totally disconnected to reality.

The latest Great Leap Forward for the C of E looks like this. Get rid of all those crumbling churches. Get rid of the clergy. Do away with all that expensive theological education. These are all “limiting factors”. Instead, focus relentlessly on young people. Growth, Young People, Forwards. Purge the church of all those clapped-out clergy pottering about in their parishes. Forget the Eucharist, or at least, put those who administer it on some sort of zero hours contract. Sell their vicarages. This is what our new shepherds want in their prize sheep: to be young, dumb, and full of evangelistic… zeal.

Fraser goes on to discuss other disastrous CofE projects, including the Decade of Evangelism during the 1990s:

It was an embarrassing disaster.

He correctly tells us where this plan came from — the Archbishop of Canterbury consecrating the Sacrament in his own kitchen on Easter Sunday 2020, saying that we do not need church buildings:

Covid has finally given its proponents the opportunity they need. When the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to celebrate and broadcast the Eucharist on Easter Day 2020 from his kitchen, rather than popping down a few stairs to Lambeth Palace’s fine 13th-century chapel, he was clearly making a point: all those old stones are holding us back, they are unnecessary. It’s called “a new way of being church”. Our new churches will meet in people’s homes, not in churches. Around 20-30 will gather in the living rooms of the wealthiest people in the parish — who else has a living room that can sit this many people?

Fraser says that some CofE dioceses are actively culling clergy, preferring administrators instead:

Parish churches are being stripped of their clergy. The Diocese of Chelmsford is culling 61 posts by 2021 with a further 49 under threat by 2026. Others are following suit. But as these “limiting factor” clergy are being culled, central funds are being directed towards new evangelistic initiatives through what is called Strategic Development Funding from the £9 billion piggy bank held by the fabulously wealthy Church Commissioners. Dioceses can now apply for money from a £45-million pot set aside to support this new look C of E. And many of the new jobs that are being funded are not for parish-based clergy, but for a whole new level of managers with new-fangled titles like assistant archdeacon and mission enablers. This is the mechanism by which the church is being transformed. Even those Bishops that want to resist this dismantling of traditional structures are being out manoeuvred.

Not surprisingly, some clergy are clearly unhappy:

If you are not a part of the great push forward, you are just so much baggage. Little wonder there is now a white-hot anger within the rank and file of the priesthood. Consider this from the former Dear of Exeter Cathedral, Jonathan Draper.

“It is ironic, of course, that these proposals are being pushed by those who have both presided over the church’s decline and had the long and expensive theological education which they would jettison. There is nothing from the leadership of the church that reflects on their own part in decline, their own ineptitude, bullying, sense of entitlement, and in the failure to connect with the very people they would like to see fill the houses of the sufficiently wealthy in this brave new ecclesial world.”

I have never seen this level of fury from within the church during my 25 years as a priest.

Fraser says that the CofE must return to its roots in faith and not be ashamed about why it exists:

The Church feels like a gauche teenage boy going out to the pub deliberately to find a girlfriend, covering himself with cheap aftershave and rehearsing his unconvincing chat-up lines. It’s all so cringeworthy and needy. The way you make yourself attractive to others is by being fully yourself, and having confidence in what you are – even if that is a little strange and different. It’s when you stop obsessing about attracting others that you become more attractive to them.

But also, the church is not called to be successful. It is called to be faithful. I would prefer for us to die with dignity, being faithful to our calling, rather than to turn ourselves inside out trying to be superficially attractive, thus abandoning the faith as we have understood it. Indeed, the Bible is full of stores of the faithful remnant. In Biblical theology, the remnant are those faithful people that survive some catastrophe. Today, these are the people who come to church, faithfully to say their prayers — people of devotion and not necessarily of evangelistic vim and vigour. They are the beating heart of the parish. Eleanor Rigby, Father McKenzie: these are my heroes. And long term, these are our most effective evangelists. I am deeply offended that they are now called passengers.

He concludes:

We won’t be saved by panicky spread-sheet evangelists, Indeed, we must be more of what we have been called to be – more thoughtful, more prayerful, less fearful, more obedient to God’s call. We are resurrection people after all. Institutional death should hold out no terror for the faithful. And it will only be this lack of fear that can make us attractive once again.

Tremendous — and true!

Meanwhile, other concerned clergy teamed up with the laity to mount a resistance: stand for the General Synod.

The Revd Marcus Walker encouraged the opposition movement, called the Save the Parish network:

Not surprisingly, by August 2021, the CofE and certain media outlets tried to smear Save the Parish:

I will have more on this next week, all being well.

For now, this is just an introduction to what is happening in the home of Anglicanism. May the good Lord graciously help the faithful oppose the hierarchy.

This is the final instalment of my long-running series, the Brexit Chronicles.

My previous post discussed the December 30 vote on the EU Future Relationship Bill which passed both Houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent in the early hours of the final day of Brexmas, December 31, 2020.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair in Britain, as we were in lockdown.

One week earlier, Boris said that he would not be dictating to Britons how they should celebrate our exit from the EU, which was a bit rich, because he had already put us into lockdown before Christmas:

What UK independence from the EU means for Boris

The UK negotiating team did some star turns with this agreement, which polished Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political reputation.

Boris’s ratings had taken an understandable hit during a year of coronavirus, which included a lot of flip-flopping on his part, however the trade agreement improved things considerably. Liz Truss, who has been negotiating our trade deals with more than 50 countries, deserves her place at the top:

According to an Opinium poll, an overwhelming majority of Britons — even Remainers — wanted MPs and the Lords to pass the deal:

Guido’s article noted:

Troublingly for the anti-deal SNP, the poll’s sub sample of Scottish voters shows that by 47% to 19%, Scots want their MPs to vote for the deal too…

The Norwegians said that the UK had negotiated a better deal with the EU than they had:

Guido Fawkes thinks that this could give Norway the impetus to renegotiate their terms with the EU. I hope so (emphases in the original):

Marit Arnstad, parliamentary leader of Norway’s Centre Party, argues that the UK deal is better than the Norwegian deal her country has as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). “The UK has now reached an agreement that gives them more freedom and more independence” she tells Klassekampen, Norway’s answer to the Guardian, “the British have a better agreement than the EEA. They get access to the internal market and the common trade that is desirable, but they do not have to be part of a dynamic regulatory development that places strong ties on the individual countries’ national policies. …The most difficult thing for Norway is that we are bound in areas that are national policy, and that it happens in more and more areas. The British have now taken back this authority, and it is extremely interesting”.

Arnstad is not the only politician complaining, the leader of the Norwegian Socialist Party’s EEA committee, Heming Olaussen, also believes that the British agreement with the EU is better than the EEA, “because the British escape the European Court of Justice. Then they are no longer subject to EU supremacy and must not accept any EU legislation in the future as we must. This agreement is qualitatively different and safeguards national sovereignty in a better way than the EEA does for us”.

Could we soon see Norway and the other EEA countries try to renegotiate their terms?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made sure that he got everything possible arranged by the end of the day, including Gibraltar. The first tweet has a statement from Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab:

Remainers constantly brought up the future of the Nissan car plant in Sunderland. They can silence themselves now.

Chronicle Live reported:

Automotive giant Nissan has welcomed the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, which appears to have safeguarded the future of its Sunderland plant.

The plant has been at the centre of the Brexit debate over the last decade, with both Remain and Leave campaigners using it to back up their respective arguments.

A number of global Nissan executives have used visits to Sunderland to warn that its future was threatened by a no-deal Brexit, and two models either being made or due to be made at the plant have been cancelled since the 2016 referendum.

But the Christmas Eve agreement of a deal that appears to allow tariff-free access to EU markets for British-made goods has been welcomed by the company.

On Boxing Day, The Telegraph — Boris’s former employer — published an interview with him, excerpts of which follow (emphases mine):

“I think it has been a long intellectual odyssey for many people of this country,” he said, casting back to 1988, shortly before he, an up-and-coming journalist at The Telegraph, was dispatched to Brussels to report on the European Commission.

“The whole country has been divided about this issue, because we are European, but on the other hand we don’t necessarily want to feel that we’re committed to the ideology of the European Union.

“That’s been the problem and I think it is absolutely true that Margaret Thatcher … she did begin this period of questioning. Her Bruges speech was very, very important.”

Mr Johnson is referring to a speech that, to many Eurosceptics, formed the foundations of the bitter and protracted political struggle against ever closer union that ultimately set Britain on the path to Brexit.

At the height of her power and railing against Jacques Delors’ latest move towards deeper integration, in 1988 Baroness Thatcher urged the Commission to abandon aspirations of a “European super-state” which would infringe on the “different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country”.

Her warning went unheeded, however, and just four years later the UK signed up to the Maastricht Treaty and with it the creation of the European Union as it is constituted today.

And yet, even after she was toppled and replaced by John Major, an ardent Europhile, the seeds of discontent and the desire to reclaim British sovereignty had been sown in Bruges.

He explained that we will always be European, just not part of the huge project that seems to continually move the goalposts of membership obligations:

“I think this gives us a basis for a new friendship and partnership that should attract people who love Europe and want to have a great relationship with it, who want to feel close to it.

But it should also be something that is welcome to people who see the advantages of economic and political independence. I think the country as a whole has got itself into a new and more stable footing. It’s a better relationship and a healthier relationship.”

The tariff and quota-free deal covers £660bn worth of trade a year, which Mr Johnson said will still be “smooth” but with new customs procedures and paperwork which will mean things are “different and there will be things that businesses have to do”.

In particular, he is keen to stress that the UK will be free to diverge from EU standards.

This is particularly gratifying for Mr Johnson, who said that after being accused of “cakeism for so many years,” he has achieved what his critics said was impossible: “That you could do free trade with the EU without being drawn into their regulatory or legislative orbit.”

Boris enjoys his ‘cakeism’ references. He made one on Christmas Eve upon the announcement of the deal and he made yet another on January 1, which was Guido Fawkes’s Quote of the Day:

I hope I can be forgiven for reminding the world that many people used to insist that you couldn’t do both: you couldn’t have unfettered free trade with the EU, we were assured, without conforming to EU laws. You couldn’t have your cake and eat it, we were told. Maybe it would be unduly provocative to say that this is a cake-ist treaty; but it is certainly from the patisserie department.

The Spectator had an excellent article on the new treaty, ‘The small print of Boris’s Brexit deal makes for reassuring reading’. Brief excerpts follow. The article has much more:

The Brexit deal takes things back to where they were before Maastricht. The EU is limited now in any meddling to very specific areas indeed. It ends the oddity where because circa seven per cent of UK business trade with the EU, 100 per cent have their laws made by the EU (although that is a bit more blurred in supply chains)

There are parts of the deal that mean that, should Britain wish to diverge, then UK committees will have to talk to EU committees. Requiring the UK to ‘consult’ on implementation and change of the agreement etc. But how this is done in practice is left free and thus pretty non-enforceable and limited in scope. It is diplomacy now, not law

While there is a lot of hot air in the treaty, it does not go beyond that. Lord Frost and his team seem to have seen off the (no doubt many) attempts to get EU regulation in through the back door. The UK is leaving the European Union and the lunar orbit of its regulations. It depends on your politics whether you approve of concessions over fish and some aspects of trade. But the legal question – to take back control – has been accomplished.

In The Atlantic, Tom McTague, a balanced journalist, looked at Brexit from the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto policy of ‘levelling up’ all parts of the United Kingdom:

at root, Brexit was a rejection of the economic status quo, which too many had concluded was benefiting the country’s urban centers at the expense of its more rural regions. And not without evidence: Britain is the most unequal economy in Europe, combining a supercharged global hub as its capital with areas a three-hour drive away that are as poor as some of the least-developed parts of the continent.

Brexit was not solely a vote of the “left behind”—much of the wealthy and suburban elite also voted to leave. But Brexit was a rejection of the direction the country was taking, a desire to place perceived national interests above wider European ones that too many Britons did not believe were also theirs. Is this entirely unreasonable?

The Revd Giles Fraser, rector of the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington — and co-founder of UnHerd — wrote an excellent article on Boris, Brexit and old Christmas traditions involving seasonal games of chaos and fools. He also delves into the Bible. ‘Why chaos is good for Boris — and Brexit’ is worth reading in full.

You will want to see the photo he includes in his article, which begins as follows:

Back in early December, after a dinner between the British negotiating team and their EU counterparts, a photograph was released that, it was said, “sums everything up”. A characteristically dishevelled Boris Johnson was unflatteringly contrasted with the smartly dressed Michel Barnier. “Johnson’s loose tie, shapeless suit and messy hair alongside Frost’s errant collar stood out somewhat beside an immaculately turned out Ursula von der Leyen and chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier” reported the Huffington Post, while reproducing a series of damning twitter observations …

Fraser points out that Brexit is charting a new course. The old rules no longer apply. Boris seems to be the king of chaos, perhaps a ‘fool’:

The problem with an orderly approach to things such as Brexit is that most problems, especially the large ones, are always going to be imperfectly and incompletely specified. In such a context, it is not always a straightforward matter to argue in a linear way from problem to solution. Indeed, when situations seem to require some sort of paradigm shift, the rules of the old order present a block on the emergence of the new. Things will always seem chaotic when change does not travel according to pre-established ideas of how one thing follows from another.

In his fascinating book Obliquity, the economist John Kay describes the shortcomings of turning decision making within a complex environment into some sort of algebra. Often, he argues, “complex outcomes are achieved without knowledge of an overall purpose”. The importance of rational consistency is exaggerated. Some values are incommensurable, not plottable on a single system of reference. In such situations, neatness is overrated, distorting even.

That, I take it, is partly why Boris Johnson remains ahead in the polls, even now. Yes his shambolic manner, strongly contrasted with Keir Starmer’s orderly, lawyerly disposition, speaks to a refusal of some imposed authority. It’s a kind of trick, perhaps, given that he is the authority. And Old Etonians are not typically chosen as “the lowly” who are lifted up as per the Magnificat.

But the importance of Johnson “the fool” exceeds the fact that he has become an unlikely poster-boy of some unspecified insurgency against the established European rules based system of governance. The fool understands something the rationally wise does not. “Man plans, God laughs” goes an old Jewish proverb. Much to the deep frustration of its proponents, order can never be finally imposed upon chaos. And those who are comfortable with this, celebrate it even, are often better able to negotiate the complexities of life. Being chaotic might just turn out to be Johnson’s unlikely super-power.

Boris certainly has had a good track record over the past 12 years. The coronavirus crisis is the only obstacle remaining:

What independence from the EU means for Britons

The BBC website has a short but practical guide to changes that came into effect on January 1.

In addition, UK drivers licences will be recognised in EU member countries as they were before:

With regard to students and foreign study, we will no longer be part of the EU-centric Erasmus study programme beginning in September 2021. The UK government is developing the worldwide Turing programme, named for Alan Turing:

Guido explains:

… Unlike the Erasmus programme, which was founded in 1987 “to promote a sense of European identity* and citizenship among its participants”, the new scheme will have a global outlook, targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas boosting students’ skills and prospects, benefitting UK employers. It will be life changing for the student participants.

A year of Erasmus-funded reading of Sartre at the Sorbonne in Paris, or a year of Turing-funded study of Nano-engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras? It is a no-brainer to choose the exciting future that is beyond Little Europe.

*The EC in latter years funded a post-graduate exchange programme that offered opportunities outside Europe. Some 95% of the budget still focuses on Europe.

Women will be pleased that the EU tax — VAT — on sanitary products is no more.

How we celebrated, despite lockdown

On New Year’s Eve, I was cheered to see an article by The Guardian‘s economics editor Larry Elliott, ‘The left must stop mourning Brexit — and start seeing its huge potential’. YES! Every Labour, Lib Dem and SNP MP should read it.

He, too — like the aforementioned Tom McTague of The Atlantic — sees Brexit as an upending of the status quo. He tells his readers on the Left that they should be happy about this (emphases mine):

Many in the UK, especially on the left, are in despair that this moment has arrived. For them, this can never be the journey to somewhere better: instead it is the equivalent of the last helicopter leaving the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975.

It marked the rejection of a status quo that was only delivering for the better off by those who demanded their voice was heard. Far from being a reactionary spasm, Brexit was democracy in action.

Now the UK has a choice. It can continue to mourn or it can take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit has provided. For a number of reasons, it makes sense to adopt the latter course.

For a start, it is clear that the UK has deep, structural economic problems despite – and in some cases because of – almost half a century of EU membership. Since 1973, the manufacturing base has shrivelled, the trade balance has been in permanent deficit, and the north-south divide has widened. Free movement of labour has helped entrench Britain’s reputation as a low-investment, low-productivity economy. Brexit means that those farmers who want their fruit harvested will now have to do things that the left ought to want: pay higher wages or invest in new machinery.

The part of the economy that has done best out of EU membership has been the bit that needed least help: the City of London. Each country in the EU has tended to specialise: the Germans do the high-quality manufactured goods; France does the food and drink; the UK does the money. Yet the mass exodus of banks and other financial institutions that has been predicted since June 2016 has not materialised, because London is a global as well as a European financial centre. The City will continue to thrive.

If there are problems with the UK economy, it is equally obvious there are big problems with the EU as well: slow growth, high levels of unemployment, a rapidly ageing population. The single currency – which Britain fortunately never joined – has failed to deliver the promised benefits. Instead of convergence between member states there has been divergence; instead of closing the gap in living standards with the US, the eurozone nations have fallen further behind.

I was especially pleased that he pointed out the coronavirus vaccine. We were the first in the world to approve one and get it rolled out:

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of nation states and the limitations of the EU. Britain’s economic response to the pandemic was speedy and coordinated: the Bank of England cut interest rates and boosted the money supply while the Treasury pumped billions into the NHS and the furlough scheme. It has taken months and months of wrangling for the eurozone to come up with the same sort of joined-up approach.

Earlier in the year, there was criticism of the government when it decided to opt out of the EU vaccine procurement programme, but this now looks to have been a smart move. Brussels has been slow to place orders for drugs that are effective, in part because it has bowed to internal political pressure to spread the budget around member states – and its regulator has been slower to give approval for treatments. Big does not always mean better.

Later on — at 11 p.m. GMT, midnight Continental time — millions of us in Britain were only too happy to toast each other, confined in our own homes, and say:

Free at last!

Here’s Nigel Farage:

Baroness Hoey — formerly Kate Hoey, Labour MP — worked tirelessly for Leave in 2016.

She had a message for her late mother …

… and for Guy Verhofstadt, who is shown below a few years ago in London with the Liberal Democrats campaigning against Brexit:

In the days that followed …

On New Year’s Day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gave an optimistic message for 2021 — ‘the UK’s best years lie ahead’:

The Sun‘s political editor, Harry Cole, urged all of us to unite behind a new Britain:

Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, continues to pursue his quest for French citizenship, having researched his family tree.

Nigel Farage’s new campaign will be against dependence on China:

Our ports have been problem-free:

On that cheery note, after four and a half years, this completes my Brexit Chronicles! Onwards and upwards!

It was with sadness that I learned of the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton’s death on January 12, 2020. I saw the tweets on the Revd Giles Fraser‘s Twitter feed:

Scruton was an Anglican and wrote a book in 2013: Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England (2013), a defence of our Established Church.

With regard to faith, he wrote (emphases mine):

Rational argument can get us just so far… It can help us to understand the real difference between a faith that commands us to forgive our enemies, and one that commands us to slaughter them. But the leap of faith itself — this placing of your life at God’s service — is a leap over reason’s edge. This does not make it irrational, any more than falling in love is irrational.

He advocated the appreciation of beauty in our environment. From that, we can sense God’s presence in the world.

However, most of us will remember him for his many treatises and articles in which he put forth his distinctly un-PC views. He was gentle, yet bold and unafraid to express himself. I did not agree with everything he wrote, but he was always eloquent and considered. We will not see his like again for years to come:

This is what he wrote about French wine. I don’t really understand this, but it is typically Scruton:

This page — a better example — is from his book on wine and discusses the Gilbey family, known primarily for their gin. However, they also own a vineyard in the Bordeaux region:

Scruton said that wine is conservative:

Fraser, who writes for UnHerd and produces podcast interviews for them in a series called Confessions, wrote a beautiful tribute to Scruton: ‘Raise your glass to Roger Scruton, the terroiriste’. Terroir is the French word describing the soil and climate in which grapes grow. Terroir defines a wine’s specific characteristics.

Excerpts follow:

Terroir is a sense of place in a glass. Roger Scruton often referred to himself as a ‘terroiriste’. And this could describe his political philosophy as much as his philosophy of wine. From 2001 to 2009, Scruton wrote a wine column in the New Statesman, enabling him to smuggle into that otherwise exclusively Left-wing journal, all sorts of reactionary political ideas: about God, about fox-hunting, about beauty, about his love of the countryside.

Scruton understood aesthetics — and wine — differently to most people:

Scruton wrote about wine very differently — not because he disagreed about the science but because he understood aesthetics very differently. He bemoaned the way in which aesthetic experience had come to be seen as something separable and distinct from questions of the good, or the true, or of politics or indeed anything else. That’s why his wine column ranged so far and wide. Beauty, for example, an idea that lies at the centre of Scruton’s philosophy, is as much a moral as it is an aesthetic phenomenon. There is no wall between them. That’s why Scruton could write about wine like this:

Visitors to Burgundywill sense all around them the history and religion. … They will know that this is hallowed soil: it has been blessed and cajoled and prayed for over the centuries, many of the vineyards being worked by monks for whom wine is not just a drink but a sacrament … Even in this skeptical age, their vine is something more spiritual than vegetal, and their soil more heaven than earth.”

I tend to agree. I also link wine, eaux de vie and liqueurs with monasteries, finding something of the sacred in all of them. For this reason, I do not understand how people can be teetotal — alcoholism excepted — when drinking these responsibly is one of the greatest experiences ever.

Fraser, who is rector of an Anglican church in south London, also sees something holy in wine:

I once consecrated a bottle of Chateau Latour for the funeral of a great wine lover. There were only a few of us at the funeral. I carefully laid out several crystal glasses on the altar and carefully poured into them the precious liquor, investing it, through the Eucharistic prayer, with the story of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Do this in remembrance of me. I swear the wine tasted different for having been consecrated. And that was, one might say, because of the theological terroir with which it had been framed.

I can believe it.

Scruton very much respected the environment but not in today’s eco-warrior way. In it, he saw centuries of heritage and shared values, which informed his notion of the nation-state:

… it is important to emphasise that he never thought the nation state should be celebrated in terms of race or creed. For him, it was a commitment to place, and the shared and common institutions, customs and traditions that make a place what it is.

Moreover, Scruton’s conservatism wasn’t aggressive. Wine, when drunk properly, relaxes people and introduces conviviality. People fight over oil, he once remarked, but not over wine. As he once put it about wine-growing in the Lebanon, “Invade the producer and you lose the product; trade with him peacefully and you are supplied from year to year.” Indeed, “Hezbollah don’t occupy the Beqaa because of Chateau Musar – if they did, peace would quickly come to southern Lebanon.”

Wine, and indeed terroir-ism, was, for him, the product of, and encouragement towards, peace and civility. What he had in mind here was more the wine of the Greek symposium than that guzzled in quantity by the boorish drunk. His idea of heaven was that of domestic home-loving contentment, with friends sitting around the table drinking wine, sharing ideas. There is nothing remotely fascist about this.

Last Sunday’s readings featured the Gospel reading about the miracle at Cana. Fraser wrote this on Thursday, January 16:

As it so happens, this coming Sunday is the day in the church’s calendar when we remember the first miracle performed by Christ, turning water into wine. This trumps ‘Dry January’. Yesterday, I had the mad idea of consecrating a bottle of Chateau Trotanoy 1945 for the occasion, the taste of which first converted the young Scruton to his life-long dedication to the religion of the grape. But as the helpful gentleman from Berry Bros informed me, this was nearly £4,000 a bottle, and probably impossible to find.

I will obviously have to look for something a little more modestly priced … But whatever I find, this seems like an appropriate way to say goodbye. Roger Scruton once played the organ for us at our little church in South London. Without an organist in attendance, and needing a carol playing, he got up and played it from sight. Scruton had a soft spot for Anglicanism.

As far as faith is concerned:

He wasn’t a conventional believer, but he spoke to me extremely movingly last year about the need for him to follow Christ’s example and forgive those who had so wronged him last year when he was mischievously disparaged as an anti-Semite and subsequently sacked from his job as the Government’s architectural advisor. You can listen to that Confession here.

His was a philosophy of place and philosophy of peace. Something well worth raising a glass to, consecrated or otherwise. In his life, whether in the Reform club or around his farmyard kitchen table in Wiltshire, he celebrated the miracle of water into wine, and was thoroughly suspicious of all those — whether Puritans or Salafis — who would turn it back again. He will be much missed. May he rest in peace.

I wrote about his wrongful sacking in July 2019. He was reinstated, but, for most of us, the damage had been done. The Conservatives rounded on him without even asking questions about the interview he had given to the New Statesman, which had deliberately misquoted him.

His work for the British government included plans for aesthetically pleasing council homes. His boss, Robert Jenrick MP, said he would implement Scruton’s plans. I certainly hope he does. My post on architecture from August 2019 gives you an idea of what Scruton liked.

The Chief Rabbi also paid the late philosopher a tribute:

This was Scruton’s library in Wiltshire. Check out the baby grand:

In closing, here is another Scruton interview, focussing on beauty:

May Roger Scruton rest in peace.

My condolences to his widow Sophie and his two children at this most difficult time.

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