To live into life in all its fullness, we human beings have to let ourselves go ‘into something’ more than where are at the moment. We cannot move on without letting go. What will we be moving into? Into the next moment, for a start – the future moment, the new year, and a future which is always and inevitably a future of uncertain, unknown, mostly unpredictable events. We make New Year Resolutions in the hope that we might assert some control over the events of this new year. New Year Resolutions also express some hope that we will move in some way more deeply into ourselves, if we can – the person we would like to be in our idealised hopes and dreams – knowing that at the moment we are not quite who we dream of being and hoping to be, in 2018, more fully the person we could be.
In Liturgy Coming to Life published in 1960 John Robinson said the Communion should be an event of revolutionary fervour, “social dynamite, if we really take seriously the pattern of community known at the altar. Robinson imagined Holy Communion as the event where matter is redeemed, recharged and revalued as the carrier of God’s new life to men and women. The power of Christ in any person’s life will depend on the dynamic of the Christian community of which they are members. This work of radical transformation requires vision, courage, relationship skills, creative skills, and freedom from the patrolling presence of the gatekeepers.
The creation, evolution and reimagination of the Eucharist in partnership with the congregation that was a core dimension of Christian life and witness that energised and inspired me in the decades prior to 2000 has been diminished in the Church of England. The bottom upwards freedom that so inspired me to create living liturgical reform and controlled experiments in the local worshipping community, experiments that John Robinson described as so vital to the health of the Body of Christ, has been all but vanquished.
This week I’ve been particularly interested in the authority of bishops. I realised that the status of the authority of bishops has changed significantly in my lifetime, in a way that I had been intuiting but hadn’t quite identified. I haven’t found it easy to find the right words to describe this, but I believe the bishops of the church, the teachers and leaders and theologians, senior staff at Church House and Lambeth Palace, the members of the Archbishops’ Council, no longer, ontologically, embody the kind of wisdom authority to the same degree that many church leaders embodied in my youth and my years in parish ministry.
described as “a claim, direct and personal and yet meticulously argued, that the only credible God was one for whom sacrificial love was the supreme value: a ringing statement of an incarnational and eucharistic faith.” John Austin Baker wrote that “perhaps the best news our day has to offer is the collapse of Judaistic Christianity under the pressures of history; for this affords Christians the best chance they have ever had to regain the perspective of the original Gospel. The encouraging signs John saw nearly half-a-century ago proved to be a false dawn. The thorough-going reconstruction of the basics of faith, structure and teaching involving a change of perspective was not taken seriously. The wisdom of those writing in the 60s, 70s and 80s, wisdom that so excited me then and still excites me today, has virtually disappeared from today’s conversation in the Church of England.
A recent book review opened my mind to the possibility that the current state of the Church of England might viewed as decadent. By decadent, I mean subject to decay, characterised by or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decay or appealing to self-indulgence. The trauma affecting the Church of England, holding it captive to the past, a trauma continues to have a deep psychological hold over the church, is homosexuality. By examining the period of over sixty years from when the Church of England first began to deal with homosexuality, I want to show how the disagreements that were visible from the start are the same as those now being tackled by the House of Bishops’ process to formulate a new teaching document.
Jesus’ authority is predicated on God’s authority. Biblical authority is predicated on God’s authority. Jesus declines to answer the question posed by the chief priests and elders. He poses instead a question they find it impossible to answer – clever move. But the question of what authority Jesus has remains unanswered. What amazed the people was not Jesus’ authority - the people were amazed at his teaching because, unlike the scribes, he taught with a note of authority. It’s the teaching, not the authority, that is fundamental.
The Intimate Convictions conference has been an extraordinary event. Probably for the first time in Jamaica lesbian, gay and bisexual people spoke publicly in a forum as equals about the effect of anti-sodomy laws in the thirty-six countries of the commonwealth where sodomy is criminalised and the sixteen countries that also criminalise lesbians. Over the two days twenty presentations were made with people describing the relationship between their church’s teaching and the lived experience of LGBTI people. The universal conviction of the presentations was that homosexuality had to be decriminalised.
The opening day of the conference was remarkable – nineteen people spoke in the five sessions into which the day was divided. The keynote address delivered by the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Revd Dr John Holder, was a remarkable, well-researched, deeply historical and theological survey of the way in which we can understand the way in which what we now name homosexuality is, and isn’t, described in the Bible.
Intimate Conviction, the two-day international conference being held to examine the church and anti-sodomy laws across the Commonwealth opens today in Kingston, Jamaica. This conference, Intimate Conviction, is the first of its kind. It will provide an opportunity for a range of church positions to be heard, for global experiences to be shared, and to broaden the religious discourse around the repeal of laws affecting LGBTQI people.