Friday, 5 November 2010

Paint Your [Band]Wagon Red

What I am about to write is not based upon a negative view of the matter at hand, and not of a positive one either. My reaction to the Anglican Covenent bandwagon that so many have hopped on to in their blogs is simply this: there is another pile of 'No' in the frame. 

I frame all of my work from the point of view of the 'shop-floor'. I lack doctorates, professorial seats, a place on General Synod - what I have (thank God) is a ministry among normal people, who conveniently for this exercise at least, are culturally and internationally diverse. I am guessing, but I think I can accurately predict a scenario were I to instigate it on Sunday in my church:

Would all of you raise your arm, please? Thank you. Please lower your arm if you have not heard of the Anglican Covenant. Of the five that remain raised, please lower your arm if you a member of the clergy. To the one person left, would you please lower your arm if you either understand the Anglican Covenant or think it will make a difference to us in this place.

Guess how many arms would be left up? 

The Church of England, and the wider Anglican Communion has a favourite mind-set, a favoured phrase: 'Oh no, I don't think I like that', and so we are all often fighting against anything that challenges us or goes against our own deep seated views. So we defend our point of view - often because it is easier to defend the existing than to change it. Because debate heats up, the protagonists in all camps become boxed in to the frame of reference into which they have placed themselves. The issues are, of course revolving around gender and sexuality a lot of the time, and now we have the Covenant. Now the thing about the Covenant is that it has caused even the academic liberals to say 'no', and I rarely hear a 'yes' from anyone. 

The debate about the Anglican Covenant is fascinating, and it already selling articles and ratchetting up blog hits for many. It is has many worthy things to say about something that is probably only winding up the clergy and the academic theologians. I have asked around in several towns where I know people and the word on the street among the Christians I have spoken to is: 'No idea what you are talking about'.

I don't want to hear any more 'no' factions fighting with other 'no' factions. Neither seem able to offer an alternative; compromise seems too distant. If the liberal and self-styled modernists are even saying no, there is no-one else to say 'yes'. The Christians under my love and care want 'yesses'; they want to know that everything can be alright, that there isn't yet another carcinoma threatening the life of the Church that they love and the church they worship in every week. The Christians under my love and care worry about their jobs, their health, their friends; they mourn their loved ones, they celebrate the new arrivals; they want to know that they can say their prayers and that God will hear them; they want to maintain their Christian witness with integrity. They don't care about the governance of a mist-cloud organisation that has for years had limbs who will do what they want anyway. Standing Committees and Synods - these things and so many more are so far removed from the sphere of reference of normal everyday worshipping Christians that I know - what they want to hear is a pastoral response.

To the Covenant bashers - don't yell 'no', yell 'not that but this' - replace the Covenant with something else that can seek to address the issues that assault us. Give my parishioners and the ordinary parishioners of every church in the land something that they can embrace, that will give them peace of mind in times of trouble.  Don't be another group of people who want to prohibit or remove something; be a group of people who want to put something exciting, pragmatic and workable in place. Shout 'yes' to something; make your fame and blog fortunes on a 'yes' not a 'no' - 'no' is killing us all.

My views concerning the Anglican Covenant are not represented in this blog post.


  1. David,

    I have a lot of sympathy with what you are saying here - the last thing we need is another political flashpoint hot potato issue.


    1) Most parishioners would - if asked - agree that one of the reasons why they are CofE rather than something different, is that being Anglican allows reathing space. No-one is asking us all to believe the same 6 impossible things before breakfast every day; it doesn't matter that we don't all think the same thing; it is ok to come and be part of the worshipping life of this church just because I like the music, or the liturgy, or I see my friends. Opponents of the Covenant regard it as threatening this latitude, which I think is quintessentially part of the Anglish religious temperament.

    2) Before we went to SA I think I thought the Anglican Communion was an historical anachronism, a relic of Empire, and could see no good reason for sacrificing principle on the altar of unity. Then I realised that for Anglicans elsewhere in the world, the Anglican Communion, and the historic links with Canterbury, really do matter in a way that I think we find hard to appreciate here in England.

    We are not congregationalists - we believe that the Church is more than 'this congregation here gathered'. Our task is to make that resonate with people in their everyday Christian lives. The life of your parish would be impoverished without your MU sisters from Zimbabwe. It is that which is at stake in these debates.


    *My views on the Anglican Covenant are not explicitly represented in this comment!!

  2. Hannha, thanks! I can't (nor want to) disagree with anything that you say, though I have yet to read anything in the Covenant that would cause me to protect my flock from de-CofE-ification. They do care about that, and you are right to day so, and it is for this reason why I have written what I have written.

    Flawed as the Covenant clearly is, it is a 'something' to try and heal wounds. It might not be the right 'something' or the 'something' I would choose but it is nontheless an effort. All I want, really, is for a group who want to remove/prevent it to tell me/the world what other 'something' can replace it to bring some healing to our very injured and beleagured church.

    In simple terms, I want creativity not yet more destruction.

    ...or put another way: I say to them - don't tell me about the problem, bring me the solution!

  3. Indeed - it is very easy to oppose things, and to name problems. It is much harder to find the solution.

    I don't think that the content of the Covenant is particularly threatening - but the fact of it may be. I believe that provinces should have autonomy; I believe in the centrality of reason in determining our faith - that means that faith is very likely to be worked out differently in different times, places and cultural contexts, and I think that the Covenant threatens that.

    But above all, I believe in an inclusive church that seeks to reflect the generosity and hospitality of God, a church where we are all - despite our differences - able to gather around one table. The Covenant holds as much optimism for church unity as pre-nuptial agreements do for the longevity of a marriage. It is set up with provisions for exclusion; it is set up to indicate how we will say 'no, you are not welcome at this table.'

    I don't see how the Covenant will bring healing to our injured and beleagured to church - it will merely provide another document over which bitter dispute will rage, and it is always easier to separate than to put back together again.

  4. I think part of the issue is the 'us/them' thing - the Covenant seems to be percieved as from and for 'them', and that 'us' would struggle.

    Equally, outlining the response to conflict isn't a bad thing per se, because it arguably acknoweldges the minority voice and not just the louder majority (something that the Church sets its heart to in many aspects of everyone elses lives). The provision for exclusion seems to exist already - de facto if not written.

    The world we live in is of mass communication. I can write what I like and present to a global audience - not that they know it, and that is just one priest with opinions! Conflicts are now able to become atypical very quickly, not between the protagonists necessarily, but because of the Tweeters and Bloggers who reach more people in some respects than ever before. Trial by Blog and public opinion need lines drawn and this is but one way of drawing those lines - whatever I think about it.

    The dispute and rage are already there (it breaks my heart to say so), so it could be argued that any effort is worth a shot ...

    And your last line is where I am sat - how can we heal this, not tap on the fractures. 'No' camps tap at fractures, they don't heal - I want someone to come up with the bandage!

  5. Actually, what we have at present works pretty well in the land of the pragmatist that you and I inhabit. Just because someone has promulgated 'Plan A' and lots of people don't like 'Plan A' doesn't mean that we have to come up with 'Plan B' instead. Just staying where we are without either 'Plan A' or 'Plan B' or any other 'Plan' is just fine.

  6. I have to agree with Doorkeeper, above. We don't need any plan other than what we already have. Yes, people are hurt. On both sides. I think the Covenant creates winners and losers, people who are deemed to be in or out, and that simply continues to create more fractures, not heal them. And so we have to muddle through, agreeing to disagree on some issues while working together to do God's work in the world.

    Many of my parishioners have not heard of the Covenant, either, but they would be surprised to learn that they were being put in a lesser tier (or put out of the Communion or whatever the punishment that is obviously aimed at TEC via the Covenant) because of it.

  7. I can see the value in that argument, naturally - but I can't bring myself to fully subscribe to it. Factions are running wild in our Church, even those whose causes I support - and as more people become more marginalised in these debates, the greater the cracks in the whole.

    Oddly, I find myself ever so slightly more in favour of the thing than I did when the post was written - but perhaps that is my innate desire to back the dead horse!

    The thing has existed for years - only now do the 'no' voices pipe up. I would have hoped that the gifted in such things, as are aplenty in the liberal movement, would have worked with the process to make something good and whole - rather than watching and waiting as appears to be the case, only to yell 'no' at the end.

    Beyond all of that - i just don't know! Thanks to all for your comments.



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