I feel I am surviving church in multiple ways. A survivor of abuse in childhood, my experience of the Church of England continues to be one of surviving systemic abuse. The church has the greatest difficulty understanding this, at the national and local level. What seems to be totally absent is awareness of the human reality of abuse, the human pain and suffering that can be so intense as to be life threatening. The IICSA hearings reveal a church in which the hierarchy fails to understand the multiple ways in which the culture of the church is systemically abusive and how this abusive culture is directly related to Christian teachings understood to be orthodox and traditional. I challenge that belief.
The Nigerian novelist and poet Ben Okri wrote an article for Tuesday’s Guardian newspaper about citizenship, arguing that the failure of a nation begins with the abdication of responsibility to political leaders. Citizenship, he says, is one of the most vexed issues in the human story. Okri is writing about the citizen as a member of the state but he provoked me to turn my thoughts to the intense anger and resentment that erupted following the House of Bishops utterly inadequate response to the debate and vote at the July Synod requesting them to produce a liturgy specifically for trans people.
Fr Bill Kirkpatrick died two weeks ago after a long illness. In his final years of life Bill lost his ability to communicate and relate to the world around him, which itself was a slowly diminishing space. These years were in marked contrast to his ministry of ‘Reaching Out’ lived in Earls Court, a ministry open to the God within who is Father and M other, a ministry to all who happened upon him, universal ministry to everyone because Bill believed our birth right is to love and be loved, regardless of who we are. Bill’s Requiem Mass will be held at St Cuthbert’s Philbeach Gardens SW5 9EB on Monday 29th January at 12 noon.
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.