October 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Most of my sermons are on the Beverley Minster website. But occasionally I stick them on here if I fancy getting some e-reaction. Here’s my one about Giving, from this morning.
I heard this week that the BBC is looking for its ‘holy grail’: a recording of George Orwell’s voice. If at all possible they want moving pictures of him as well. It is amazing that the person who gave us the concept of Big Brother, of the surveillance society, of the Ministry of Truth and so much which helps us today to understand the torrent of communication in which we live has left no record of himself beyond his writing and some still photographs. It was Orwell who gave us, in Nineteen Eighty Four, the concept of doublethink, where you can think two contradictory things at the same time and not recognise the conflict.
I reckon that we use a kind of doublethink in relation to money, and it’s because we apply different rules depending on the contexts. How much, for example, is a lot of money? It depends on the context. Five pounds is a lot of money to pay for a packet of Extra Strong Mints, but a small amount of money to pay for a car. I can spend ages agonising over a purchase which might save me just a few pence, but happily sign a cheque for hundreds of pounds for a holiday without worrying about shaving off another fifty pounds here or there. Thinking about money goes way beyond the actual amount involved, and is affected by the values we place upon what that money is going to do. If someone did charge you five pounds for some mints you’d be much more cross that being charged five pounds too much on a thousand pound holiday.
There is every possibility of using doublethink when it comes to the church collection. Let’s take it as read that it is a good thing to support the church you belong to, or come to occasionally. I’ll take it as read that most people think that, when push comes to shove, having the church here is probably something they are pleased about. And I’ll take is as read that committed Christians have a basic belief that at least some of our time, money and possessions should be offered to God in some way or other. So when the collection plate comes round you can pretty much guarantee that most people will feel it’s OK to put something in – when if a perfect stranger came up to them in the street with a plate they would almost certainly not.
But how much is OK for church collection? The latest statistics in the Church of England (for 2010) suggest that the average amount given by members of the electoral roll is around £6 per week. Remember, though, that some electoral roll members don’t actually worship regularly, and don’t give anything at all. The average amount given by people in a planned way is around £10 per week. Perhaps some of you are already working out whether £10 sounds a lot, or a little. It might depend on how much you habitually keep in your wallet or purse – how much you take out of the cashpoint when you go. Remember that £10 is the average for people who decide in advance how much they will give – which will be most of you. Does that sound like a lot of money?
It depends, doesn’t it? It depends on what value you place on the church, your faith, and the other things in your life that your money could be used for. It might depend on whether you trust the Vicar, or the PCC, to spend that money wisely. But it will mainly depend on the standards you apply to the things you give most worth to. If you went for coffee at Nero’s three times in a week, that would be more than the average person gives to the Church of England in a week. So is God worth less than three lattes a week? If you buy a broadsheet newspaper seven days a week, that’s more than the average person gives to the Church of England in a week. So is God worth less than Rupert Murdoch? Membership of Beverley Golf Club or a Hull City Season ticket are about the same as the average person gives to their church per week. So is God worth the same as golf or football?
I’ve had a bit of a dangerous thought. I’d quite like you not to put anything in the collection this week – and if you give by standing order I’d like you to cancel it immediately. I’d like you to stop, and reassess, and have a good think about how much is a lot of money for God, and within that how much is a lot of money for this church. I’d like you to try to avoid doublethink and apply the same standards to that decision as you would to the things you give most worth to in your life. I’d like you to compare what you give to and for God against what is the most precious thing you have. What is the very best thing you can do with your money, and how keen are you to do it?
I’m hoping that, when you do this, you will not weigh God up on the same scale as coffee or sport. I’m hoping that the scale you apply to God, and your faithful following as a disciple of Christ will mean that you do more than calculate how much of your loose change you can afford; do more than calculate how much would look OK if the person next to you happens to glance across when you are putting your cash on the plate. I’m hoping that you will put this calculation onto a completely different scale altogether.
I’m hoping that you will recognise that you can never out-give God, and that God is of such infinite value that all we can do is give the tiniest amount as a sign that we owe God our very being. I’m hoping that you hear that verse in 2 Corinthians about “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” I’m hoping that you remember all those commands about remembering that God gives to us first, and that we give back the first things to show that we know they are not ours. I’m hoping you’ll remember that the Bible talks about giving proportionately, so it’s not about the amount, but the percentage we decide.
I’m hoping that you work out then what you can give as a matter of rejoicing, not guilt. I would much rather that the PCC made use of money given joyfully rather than grudgingly. And I have a hunch that, somehow, a small amount of money given with joy might be more effective than a large amount of money given in a panic or out of guilt. I’m hoping that we reach that ideal place when we give an amount we value, with generosity and joy, and that amount does take account of our needs, so that you do look at our current financial state and see how you can contribute to our growth. The PCC can take joyful decisions about our finances when people give in a planned way, and tell us about it.
I’m hoping, actually, that you do give something today…and that later you also work out whether something has to change in the amount you plan to give. I’m hoping that you don’t put that decision off, but that you do it today, and get the forms back to us this week. But above all I’m hoping that, in deciding what you value, you will recognise the overflowing love of God for you, and let that love tell you how much is a lot of money.
September 8, 2012 § 2 Comments
The House of Bishops meets this week to talk about the women bishops legislation. Last time they did this they made an amendment which was contentious when they thought it wouldn’t be, and the Synod invited them to think again.
This time there has been a huge degree of transparency, with options published in a paper, and responses invited from anyone who cared to write in.
I have a view, and contributed it as invited, but rather than publicly adding it to the overburdened and overloaded thoughts and prayers of the House of Bishops, I want to take a step back. I want to anticipate what I will do with what they decide, whatever it is.
It seems to me that the wording of clause 5 (which is what this debate has become focussed upon) cannot ever contain the different ways in which our practice will develop in the future.
So last night I asked myself a couple of questions. In November do I want to be part of a Church of England which fails to pass legislation enabling the consecration of women bishops? No, I do not.
Do I believe that the Church of England, if it does pass that legislation, can develop the means to enact it so that those with different views on the matter can work together in mission? Yes, I do.
That means that, as far as I can tell at the moment, I will accept what the Bishops bring to the Synod, and vote for the legislation as they present it – whatever option they give us. I will do this because I think it is within the capabilities of the Church of England to work out its practice with grace and generosity. I will do this because I think people of good will, on both sides of the debate, can and will determine to make it work. I will do this because I believe that there is nothing in what is or is likely to be proposed which can prevent that, if we are determined to make it happen.
The legislation has more than one clause. That is because there are people in the Church of England who cannot, in all conscience, accept the ministry of a woman as priest or bishop. I sat next to such a person for seven years in York Minster, and he is now to be Bishop of Beverley. The reason I am thrilled about Glyn’s appointment is that he holds those views with deep integrity and great grace, and aims to work for rather than against people. He is the embodiment of why I think that, with such grace, we can make this work.
The tweaking of clause 5 will not make views against the ordination of women disappear. What will mitigate the effect of our differences is not a perfect wording, because I don’t think that such a thing exists. What will save us is a determination to work this out with best practice, accepting each other’s differences even if we think they have no logical or theological validity. That, it seems to me, is the practice of the Church of England, and what makes us the denomination I love.
So, I’m determined – at the moment – to accept what the Bishops bring. There are, of course, some options which I think will help us more than others. After all the consultation, they should be able to see that. They have hard work to do, and they will be prayed for. But, after votes in Synod and Parliament, the real hard work will begin. And I believe we have what it will take for that work to succeed.
August 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Planning and Permission
Many clergy are driven by a desire to serve. A sabbatical can feel very selfish. I had to get over this, especially in a parish setting. Let others tell you how important a sabbatical is, believe them, then give yourself permission to plan for a fabulous time. It may only happen once.
Working from Rest
I’ve been ordained 24 years, and this is my first sabbatical, so the key thing was to change gear, and that has meant permission to do nothing. It is, after all, a sabbatical. The freedom from daily demands is the essential joy, and not doing too much has been the best gift I could give to myself. I have not filled ‘free’ days with too much. This is a space to remember who you are, not what you do – or at least to recognise in what ways the two are linked and feed off each other.
Taking Enough Time
How long should a sabbatical be? I felt initially guilty, especially in a parish setting, about taking too much time ‘off’. A wiser friend counselled that I should go for the maximum possible. I worked on the basis that a sabbatical is 12 weeks, and I added the 3 weeks we are advised to have as a holiday.
Another wise friend said that, as a Bishop, he often felt that clergy should have three months off and then have a three month sabbatical. That was echoed by an American friend, planning his sabbatical. The norm there is 6 months, and he was going for 7 if he could.
Take as much time as you can.
Time It Right
It is a commonplace among clergy that you go on sabbatical, come back, and then leave the parish. I guess that’s because sabbaticals are often taken seven or ten years into a particular job. The clergy realise how much they are valuing not being there, and the parish realise that they are quite enjoying it too. So be it…but my circumstances have prevented an extended break until now, less than three years into my time at Beverley. I was keen to say that this was to energise the next few years here, not to prepare to leave.
Genuinely Leave the Day Job Behind
I guess this is the most difficult thing for parish clergy. I am very blessed in having a parish with assistant staff and lay employees, where parish life is filtered through a separate office. I planned the time so that my assistant staff would be in a position to take the reins (and indeed appreciate the opportunity – or that’s what they told me), and tried to make sure that there were no major events (so after Easter and before September…though the arrival of the Olympic Torch and then the Paralympic Flame were not on the radar when I booked it!).
No one calls the Vicarage anyway, and a stern ‘Out of Office’ on the email has meant that I have genuinely been left alone. Not everyone will be able to stay in the Vicarage without the ‘day job’ intervening, so do some creative planning beforehand to give yourself real freedom.
Even with all this the best thing I did was to leave the Vicarage the day the sabbatical started and not return for six weeks. It reminded me that the parish was not about me – perhaps the best lesson to learn. I couldn’t have interfered even if I wanted to.
You need to convince yourself that all is fine ‘at home’, even if it’s not, and that stuff can be dealt with when you get back, however tempting it is to sort it now.
Do Stuff You Wouldn’t Otherwise Do
It seemed important to use this opportunity to engage in things that a normal break wouldn’t allow. For me it was going to Israel for an extended time – four weeks. I was also able to visit places closer to home which I wouldn’t want to inflict on my family as part of a normal holiday. And we’ve tried to make our holiday time slightly more special by going to more events we both like – we might not have done as much without the sabbatical as an excuse.
Don’t Do Too Much, But Have an Aim
In other dioceses there is an emphasis on justifying this time away by studying, or doing something which will have an immediate impact on your parish or the diocese. Some call it ‘study leave’. That wasn’t the impression I got in York, and I’ve worked on the basis that having an aim, or a theme, is good, but not to overcook it.
I thought that ‘sacred place’ might give me the excuse to travel, and would link to the day job in that Beverley Minster is much visited, and remains a shrine and sacred place to many.
I’ve read a little bit, and tried to reflect on this at some of the sacred places I’ve been to (where is more sacred than Jerusalem, for example?), but have not been obsessive about it. And as one who has an (exaggerated) reputation for ‘always’ being on social media and blogging I made a conscious decision not to write too much about what I was doing or thinking day by day. Wise advice from Israel was not to promise exhaustive diaries, as the situation out there is so complex that your immediate responses may not always be helpful. That has worked for the sabbatical in general.
But…I’m determined to let the lessons I’ve learnt ‘seep out’. A session with a wise friend and counsellor at some point will be a good idea, and the sabbatical will be complete when, perhaps in a few months, some considered reflections emerge.
Get Enough Funding
I couldn’t have done the Israel thing without separate funding, and it felt a whole lot easier to ‘indulge’ myself knowing that there was less financial pressure. Thanks then to the Diocese of York, CFI, Ecclesiastical Insurance, the Boniface Trust, my own PCC and one of my other churches, and our local Methodist Circuit (a surprise and gratefully accepted gift), for their grants.
Get Back To Work
I’m not there yet – 13 days to go. But there will need to be a re-entry (deliberately on a Monday, not a Sunday…). The team here have been good in coping with loads, and there has been just the right amount of communication to let me know what I can expect.
For fifteen weeks there has not been a Vicar of Beverley Minster, and, inevitably, some things will be happening differently. I’m keen not to make everything ‘revert’ to what it was, so there will need to be some adjustment on my part.
And I will be different too. A sabbatical reshapes you. I can remember 17 years ago when a significant event (a family bereavement) reshaped my priorities in ministry, and in some ways there has been a similar reshaping in these last weeks. It’s something about discovering what is important, not just required, and underneath that something about being fully alive rather than just efficient and good at the job. So the parish will, I hope, see something of a change. We’ll all have to adjust.
A simple thing for me will be to make sure that planned time off – a day, a free weekend, a retreat, a holiday – will be another version of this extended time. Permission to rest, to enjoy, to wonder, and to live.
July 10, 2012 § 4 Comments
You might have seen reports of another debate at Synod yesterday. We talked about Israel and Palestine, using a motion which asked us to affirm the work of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel– EAPPI (and said other things too – the motion is at the end of this post).
Synod members received a lot of pressure from Jews in this country to remove the reference to EAPPI, which was regarded by many as anti-Israel. I received the first such email an hour after returning to Jerusalem from a visit to Hebron, where we had been shown round by EAPPI. EAPPI monitors and observes the treatment of Palestinians by the State of Israel, and Hebron is a key flashpoint.
Because of the lobby the Bishop of Manchester asked us to remove the specific reference to EAPPI – he chairs the Council of Christians and Jews, and was concerned about Christian Jewish relations in this country. The Bishop of Durham and, after a fashion, the Archbishop of Canterbury said the same, but Synod voted to keep the motion as it was.
I spent June inIsrael. The wisest advice I received was not to blog, or give great pronouncements about things, because life is indeed complicated, so I kept quiet to allow thoughts to emerge. It seemed right to speak in the debate though, mainly because the Irsaeli Jews we met were desperate for their State to act justly, and because the Palestinians we met (Christian and Muslim) all asked for their story to be told.
In my speech I looked for balance – so I referred to the increased security which the separation barrier has offered, as well as the fractured land it contributes to. But in the end I was convinced that the naming of an organisation trained by Quakers and part of the World Council of Churches was no threat to relations between Christians and Jews, and no threat to the State of Israel. Where conduct is right, scrutiny is welcome. Here’s the speech:
Mr Chairman, I hope that you, and members of the Synod, will have the chance one day to visit the Ecumenical Institute at Tantur, inJerusalem. If you do so in June, and sit at the time of the evening breeze, as the sun goes down from a cloudless sky, your thoughts might turn, as did ours, to the subject of Gin and Tonic.
This is indeed available. Mr Awwad’s store has it, and from Tantur is about the same distance as is Tescos from my Vicarage in Beverley. The difference is that to get to Awwad’s you must go through the Separation Barrier. Three weeks ago I wondered whether it was worth the bother of finding which turnstile was working, the experience of the caged walkway, whether it was worth the humiliation of waving my passport at an armed soldier just to get the Bombay Sapphire.
I confess now to how flippant and stupid a thought this was. For the people in theWest Bank life is difficult, demeaning, and occasionally life threatening. We heard about and understood the Wall’s effectiveness in increasing security and reducing the killing and wounding of the innocent. But we were also affected by the treatment of those who have to use the checkpoints each day – some of them in front of us in the queue. And we looked each day at olive groves whose owners could not tend them because the Wall divided them. Security? – may be. Land grabbing? Well, it’s perceived that way too.
In our month in Israel we heard from many people. Here are three observations, one from a Palestinian, two from Israelis committed to their State. Machsom Watch is made up of Israeli women many of grandmotherly age. ‘Machsom’ means checkpoint, and there they observe the conduct of the Israeli army and border forces. Many soldiers are in their late teens, and you’d be careful if you knew your granny was watching. Our lady said that she says to the soldiers ‘you should be pleased I’m here. It’s a sign that I know you will do your job right.’ She reminds them of the boast that the Israeli Defence Force is the most humane army in the world, and holds them to it. Scrutiny should be welcome where conduct is right.
An academic who advises the Israeli military told us that the fact that the Palestinian Question seems to be off the world’s agenda is regarded as a foreign policy win byIsrael. That this motion has generated the response it has is perhaps a success in itself. There is manifest unfairness and injustice – maybe on both sides, though I think the Palestinians get off worse – and our concentration on it may lead to justice being done.
Father Ibrahim Mairouz is the Anglican priest in Nablus. As the holder of a Jordanian Passport and a Palestinian ID he is regularly prevented from travelling to Jerusalem to Diocesan meetings. It is he who convenes the monthly gathering of Nablus’s Imams. There is a mosque on land given by the church. He said to us: ‘we must build bridges, not walls’.
I support any motion which will keep the situation inIsrael and Palestine at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers. It may well be that we will do this best by using the Bishop of Manchester’s amendment, since undue attention to one organisation might deflect us from the wider goal.
But let me testify that the five hours we spent with the EAPPI team in Hebron were unforgettable. Of course the EAs are not impartial: their reason for being there is a request from one side, not both. But they simply record, and they do speak to settlers and soldiers as well as Palestinians. Their introduction of the situation in Hebronwas clear, calm and as far away from propaganda as you could imagine. I will invite returned EA’s to my church, and I will invite faithful Israelis to do the same. The situation demands bridges, not walls.
On the day I left Israel 2 Israeli solders were filmed hitting a nine year old boy on the streets in Hebronwhere we had been ten days before. You can see it on the B’Tselem website. And on the very same day an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post said this: “there should be a common awareness that [each nationality has] been destined to coexist side by side in the same country. And since that is the reality, there should be a concerted attempt by everyone involved or affected to transform this situation into one that is truly beneficial to both peoples – Jews and Arabs”
I’ll go with the Jerusalem Post, and I will vote with all my heart for a motion that encourages us, and the wider world, to ensure that in the land we call Holy there is justice, security, honour, and, for all Shalom/Salaam. 22. ‘That this Synod affirm its support for:
(a) the vital work of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme inPalestine and Israel(EAPPI), encouraging parishioners to volunteer for the programme and asking churches and synods to make use of the experience of returning participants;
(b) mission and other aid agencies working amongst Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in the region;
(c) Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area, such as the Parents Circle– Families Forum;
(d) Palestinian Christians and organisations that work to ensure their continuing presence in the Holy Land.’
July 10, 2012 § 9 Comments
So…we adjourned. I voted to do so, because the antis would vote against final approval anyway, and many of those for women bishops would have done so as well. There were some powerful speeches about how the Bishops’ amendment was perceived, and about its unintended consequences.
I’ve said before that I don’t think the amendment in itself deserved all the opprobrium it received (because the ‘theological convictions’ it speaks of are referred to elsewhere in the measure – Paras 2 (4) and 3 (1) and (3), and are there on the ground – that’s why there’s a second clause at all); but the wording, and the manner of its communication (remember the press release?) unleashed all sorts of pent up anger. Best then to release the steam, and, after it’s gone, see how the landscape has changed.
So, what now? The House of Bishops will meet again in September. Anyone with an interest will be letting their Bishop know what they think. Some Bishops will be convening groups to get their views. The key players in the process should be the Steering Committee – the General Synod appointed group who have been doing the ‘hard yards’ with the detail of the legislation. All the way along the Steering Committee has subjected the wording of the legislation to a kind of ‘destruction testing’ – like those machines in IKEA which mimic someone sitting on a chair 50,000 times. If a wording was not tested successfully it didn’t get in.
This is crucial. The things which have caused bother are those proposals which haven’t been properly tested. ‘Coordinate Jurisdiction’ was suggested by the Archbishops, and (just) failed. I’m glad it did – if the ‘theological objections’ clause caused such a bother, what would people have done with a law which allowed a women bishop to be by-passed all together? The Steering Committee could not recommend it, and that convinced me to vote against in 2010. Similarly the ‘theological convictions’ wording came at a late stage (four days before the House of Bishops Meeting, I think), without time for it to be tested out. The Steering Committee could not recommend it, but the House (we gather narrowly) passed it.
[The same was true, of course, about the other amendment made by the Bishops, the one about ‘delegation’. But this had been aired pretty well in February, and was not found wanting. There is a view that if the Bishops had voted on this one before the amendment about ‘theological conviction’ then many would have felt that enough had been done to help opponents. But ‘delegation’ was in Clause 8, and ‘theological conviction’ in clause 5. Numeracy is our enemy.]
Lots of people will now be suggesting wordings which might work. Simple withdrawal probably won’t do. The antis saw the wording as a help to them, and would regard its complete removal as a snub. Those who hated the inclusion of ‘theological objections’ were gracious in saying that they could see what the Bishops were trying to do, and will presumably want to help the Bishops to offer enough to the antis without enshrining what is perceived as a kind of theological misogyny in the law of the land.
There is no statutory process for how to do this. The Archbishop of York referred to ‘the usual channels’. I’m not one for prescribing – but here goes. The Steering Committee must be allowed to be proactive in seeking and generating forms of words for a revised Clause 5 (1) (c). The Steering Committee must then be allowed to test these out with properly representative groupings. I, for one, was affected by the letter from ‘Senior Women’, and the views of this group, as well as the Catholic Group, FiF, WATCH and the others must be sought before the Bishops meet, not after. The Steering Committee will be there when the Bishops meet. With the widest range of evidence at its disposal it should be a key resource as the Bishops deliberate. We have had one experience of an unexpected reaction to a well meant form of words. There is no time for another.
PS: the ‘variable’ in all this is how the antis will vote at Final Approval. If you cannot accept women bishops then even adequate provision for you to remain in the C of E could not enable you to vote for the Measure. But, with adequate provision generously offered, could you abstain?
July 9, 2012 § 3 Comments
Good morning all. We are just about to start our debate on Women Bishops.
You will know that the smart money is on the debate being adjourned so that the amendment made by the House of Bishops can be rethought, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.
The Bishop of Manchester is about to move the main motion. We will then immediately debate whether to adjourn, and the Chair (the Archbishop of York) has said we’ll debate the adjournment for a good half of this morning. If we don’t adjourn thn we debate the main motion (and the feel is that if we do it may well be lost).
Off we go… « Read the rest of this entry »
July 8, 2012 § 6 Comments
I’m away from Synod until Monday morning, so can’t indicate an intention to speak. Here’s a thought or two.
My first reaction to the House of Bishops’ amendments was that they seemed to have listened carefully to what was said in February. Those who are protesting that they made amendments at all forget that we spent three hours at the last Synod telling them that they could and might. We didn’t vote to tell them to leave absolutely alone, but invited some changes, as long as they weren’t ‘substantial’.
I didn’t respond badly to the inclusion of the phrase ‘theological convictions’ in the Measure, and didn’t think this was a ‘substantial’ change. Since 2009 we’ve been working on the second of the clauses in the Measure, which is there precisely because of these ‘convictions’. It seemed to me to be helpful to make it clear that the Code of Practice in each diocese would have to deal with this. After all, for eighteen years parishes have been asking, and for eighteen years Diocesan Bishops have had to make arrangements for them. I didn’t think that this amendment changed anything.
I still think the same. « Read the rest of this entry »