Is the Church abandoning its flock?

Dear Giles

You are a very engaging writer, and I often enjoy reading your pieces. You have a great turn of phrase, and there are times when you are able to cut through all the complexity and dissembling, and hit the nail on the head (if you don’t mind me mixing my metaphors somewhat).

But much of the time, your articles are an admixture of this insight along with your frustration—anger even—and downright errors. I never quite know whether these errors are unintended, and arise from lack of understanding, or whether you are deliberately deciding to be economical with the truth. Your recent broadside ‘The Church is abandoning its flock‘ is a case in point.

You begin:

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.

No, there are not ‘some forms’ of Christianity like this: all forms are like this, if they truly are reflections of the Christ they claim to follow. One of Jesus’ primary images of his followers comes from his ‘Last Supper’ or ‘Farewell Discourse’:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15.1).

Although Jesus is here addressing the Twelve (though there appear to have been others in the Upper Room as well), this has never been read as an exclusive depiction of them as leaders. It is an image of everyone who believes in him. If we abide (make our home) in him, then we will bear fruit, much fruit—but if we are unfruitful we do not and cannot remain in him. ‘Fruit’ here does allude to quality of life, and St Paul extends the metaphor in Gal 5.22 to describe the things of the Spirit—but the root of the metaphor is that fruit contains seeds, and seeds give rise to more plants which produce more fruit. Like so many of Jesus’ agricultural parables in the gospels, it is an image of reproduction.

In one of my favourite verses in the gospels, Mark 4.28, Jesus describes the growth of the kingdom as like a seed that grows automatically, ‘all by itself’, demonstrating the sovereign purposes of God in achieving his goals. But in the surrounding verses and the surrounding parables, Jesus is clear that (contrary to what you appear to assume) the growth of God’s people and the good news does not happen automatically. A sower must go out to sow; the farmer scatters seed on the ground.

Thus Jesus says to the Gerasene demoniac “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5.19). A repeated theme of the first half of Mark’s gospel is that ‘news about him spread quickly’ (Mark 1.28) because many who had encountered him did just that. Yes, there is a contrast with the more sober ethos of the second half of the gospel, but that does not nullify the first. In fact, a very similar thing happens in the Acts of the Apostles, when the believers, scattered by the persecution of the Jerusalem church, ‘preached the word wherever they went’ (Acts 8.4). In doing so, deliberately or by accident, they were fulfilling the commission of Jesus ‘You shall be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1.8)—again, a command or invitation issued to apostles, but always taken as paradigmatic for all believers.

It is no surprise, then, that one of these apostles writes to all ‘in the diaspora’ that they should be ‘always be prepared to give a reasoned account [apologia] for the hope that is within you] (1 Peter 3.15). Why do you think that this should only apply to ‘some’ Christians?

You then decry the new initiative publicised last week:

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.

But of course it is not that new, and it doesn’t come from ‘head office’; this is your paranoia speaking. Anglicans have been planting churches for hundreds of years; this is how the global Anglican Communion came into existence, because Anglicans from here went around the world taking the good news about Jesus as the Church of England has received it. David Pytches was a bishop in South America, and saw the importance of church planting, and brought that experience back to England in 1977 when he became vicar of St Andrew’s, Chorleywood. His vision there gave rise to the New Wine movement, who are partners in this church planting initiative, so the wheel has turned full circle.

But think about the building in which you minister. Where did it come from? Someone, sometime in the past, planted a church. Many of our Victorian and Edwardian buildings started life as ‘tin tabernacles‘, prefabricated kits to allow Anglicans to plant churches in the growing towns and suburbs around the expanding cities of the industrial revolution. This is hardly a ‘new thing from head office’!

I agree with you on one thing though: initiatives perceived as coming ‘from head office’ won’t get very far. The Decade of Evangelism didn’t have the effect it might have done, because we turned it into the Decade of Liturgical Revision (funny how rearranging the furniture suddenly becomes so attractive for Anglicans when the alternative is talking to people about Jesus) though there was a shift in culture and important things were learnt. (One evaluation contains the priceless phrase ‘bishops may not seem to matter a great deal…’!)

As this article, and your own profile, demonstrate, getting clergy to do anything is like herding cats. That is why Myriad isn’t a ‘strategy from head office’; it is a ground level initiative that will aim to work from the bottom up, not the top down, and that has been made clear in all its work.

I agree with you ‘that all efforts to put evangelism first are self-defeating.’ Evangelism and witness can never happen just because someone tells us it must. It can only happen when people see God at work in their lives and are excited enough to tell others about it. We would probably cringe in agreement at some of the things I remember being told in my evangelical youth, and (like many evangelicals) I have wrestled with the guilt trip of working out why I have not seen a succession of people dramatically come to faith as others appear to have. The simply answer is that I am not an evangelist—not that many people are—but like all followers of Jesus I am called to be a witness. This is reflected, from the very beginning, in Acts; here we find both an account of the high-profile ministries of the leaders of the movement, but equally important the ‘gossiping of the gospel’ by ‘ordinary’ believers. It is both/and and not either/or.

I share with you the frustration you express at the way the leadership of the Church has responded to the pandemic, and I appreciate your willingness to throw out the challenge.

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.

I don’t ascribe this decision to the conspiratorial motives that you imagine; I just think it was an ill-considered blunder, like many other things. Why collude with the unevidenced ban on singing, so that it appears the virus can be transmitted in a church building by worshippers, but not in a pub by football fans? Why the ridiculous, poorly argued and contradictory prohibition on the use of individual cups in Communion, which has pushed many into the unAnglican practice of receiving in one kind only? Why the lack of high profile engagement with questions of mortality and finitude, preferring instead to be enforcers of government policy?

This is where I always turn to my favourite mantra about the Church of England:

Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.

Like the rest of us, our bishops have felt the pressure of this strange season; already, their jobs were impossible; and I don’t get the impression that they are working well together either.

But here you weaken your own argument, first in citing the ridiculous cynicism of Martyn Percy—the Great Leap Forward, in which millions died of starvation? How can you dare to trivialise it in this way?—and secondly in citing the current situation in Winchester.

The recent revolt of the Diocese of Winchester against their Bishop is a case in point. They threatened a vote of no confidence and he has stepped back from ministry.

You appear to know nothing of what has been happening there; people who agreed with the initiatives Tim Dakin introduced were amongst those who signed the motion of no confidence. This does not appear to be a concern about strategy, but about leadership style. In pushing your conspiracy theory, you are taking 2 and 2 and 2 and making 222.

And you continue to do this in your pointing to Chelmsford:

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.

I agree with you that this is a disaster for any diocese, because there is clear research evidence which shows that cutting stipendiary ministry actually undermines growth. How do I know that? Because the same ‘head office’ people supporting the Myriad initiative have done the research. The issue in Chelmsford, as the suffragan pointed out in his address to the Diocesan Synod, is that giving has not matched resources in the diocese. I recently read a disparaging comment online about ‘wealthy evangelicals who have all the money’ and wanted to ask why they thought this was the case. The answer is that evangelical clergy consistently teach about the importance of giving, where those of other traditions often squirm at the idea. What about you?

The ministry of the local church needs to be self-sustaining in the medium and long term, and that is true both for historical parishes and new church plants, whether they are funded by the Strategic Development Fund or the Myriad project. You give the impression that the costs of your stipend and the running of your church buildings should be provided ‘automatically’, as if by magic. They won’t be, and they shouldn’t be.

And there isn’t the trade-off you suggest between the cutting of stipendiary clergy posts (decisions made locally, by the financially independent dioceses) and the availability of pump-priming money from the Church Commissioners (provided centrally). You are letting your cynicism trump both logic and evidence.

Your final flourish is an oft-repeated slogan: ‘the church is not called to be successful. It is called to be faithful.’ But faithful to what? The paradox of the liberal Catholic tradition in which I think you sit is that it wants to hold on resolutely to outward forms of Christian faith, many of which are not much more than historical accidents, but negotiate away (often under the pressure of the contemporary Zeitgeist) core aspects of Christian belief. It is hard not to see this as example of what St Paul described in 2 Tim 3.5.

The current issue over which the Church of England is tearing itself apart is that of sexuality, in which people like me arguing that the Church should ‘remain faithful’ are the enemies of your own position of wanting to see change.

The ‘faithful remnant’ whom you laud are those who have held fast to the truths of Scripture and the words of God in defiance of the culture around them. And they have then passed this word on, and testified to the truth of who God is and what God is done. In scripture, they are a very far cry from the Eleanor Rigby ‘who lives in a dream’ or the Father McKenzie who ‘writes sermons that no-one will hear’. They live in reality, and shout it from the rooftops; I am sorry if that is distasteful to you! Yes, belonging to the church is about being cared for, being listened to, being supported. But no-one ends up in church without someone else inviting them. Why should we receive all this grace and not invite others to receive it too? What should we think of people with bread eating on their own, and not sharing it with the starving world around them?

You are right in this:

[W]e won’t outlast this period of history by being more business-like or by adopting slicker models of evangelistic marketing. 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.

But what are called to be is also sacrificial givers, witnesses of Jesus to others, and unembarrassed to walk to a different drum-beat, often out of step with the world around us. Those who saw the empty tomb did not merely ‘say nothing to anyone, because they were afraid’ (Mark 16.8); in the power of the Holy Spirit, they ‘stood up with the others, raised [their] voice, and addressed the crowd’ (Acts 2.14).

Are you up for that?

The picture at the top is from a fascinating article on what a shepherd has learned from lambs. There are some excellent observations that could be applied to church leadership—except perhaps the point about roasting sheep on a spit!

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110 thoughts on “Is the Church abandoning its flock?”

    • There is of course right on both sides of this argument, but what saddens me is the undercurrent of nastiness – call it cynicism or dress it up as a particular kind of ‘faithfulness’ – which is driving the discussion. Either way, it is not the gospel. I think the world senses this and says to itself ‘a pox on both your houses’.

  1. Amen. An intelligent analysis. The liberal prescription – rather like that of some Trades Unions – sometimes looks like an excuse to do nothing; but it would make no difference anyway since the only people that will ever be motivated and end up being involved in quite a lot of change will be those who realise the reality of God and the truth and efficacy of the gospel, and experience the real Christ at work in their own lives.

    Those who are thus motivated will be so perpetually, whereas those who are not will be so never. How is it that when crisis renewal meetings are called then the Christian leaders who are sufficiently motivated are the ones in their late 80s (Hathaway) or mid 90s (Clifford Hill); how come an 88 year old, Michael Green, was the best available choice to lead University Missions? How come Trevor Dearing is still going in his late 80s? There is only one logical deduction – they must have something that we do not. And that something is something rather than nothing: something real. And it is a good and remarkable something. And it would be illogical for us not to desire it.

  2. Thank you so much Ian for writing the response to Giles Fraser that I had felt but not the platform to articulate.

  3. Very well said. I think you’ve put forward the clear case that it is the brave and obedient thing to be a witness.

    I think Giles Fraser is also wrong on his assumption that the evangelical approach is not one of prayer. The launch of a new initiative is a convenient time for a get together of super-normal amounts of prayer. HTB is famous for their 24-hour prayer room. Indeed – and perhaps other traditions can correct me on this – are not charismatic evangelicals more likely to have prayer teams than others? The fear that people of prayer would be considered passengers is simply alien to the charismatic movement.

  4. Surely it is by not spreading the gospel that the Church abandons its flock — you know, the lost sheep what the Church is supposed to be bringing back to the shepherd?

    I’ve always like the description that the Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of those who are outside it.

  5. Unfortunately, this is a valid critique of how many so-called evangelicals operate. The keyword is only. A church that grows only to be a bigger church is a spiritual cancer.

    • I don’t think it is. Where is the evidence?

      Where in the UK are evangelical churches ‘only’ growing bigger?

      And is it helpful for you to call your sisters and brothers in Christ ‘a cancer’?

      • It’s a very odd criticism to direct at evangelicals, that they are ‘only’ interested in growth, given that evangelicals are usually the ones majoring on getting across the cost of following Jesus, and continually asking people if they are really committed; while the liberal churches are the ones trying to continually lower the barrier of entry to get people through the door.

        • “…and continually asking people if they are really committed”

          But it can, and often does, seem performative to outsiders. The unchurched meet evangelicals and often assume that to be a committed Christian means repeating certain ‘cheesy’ phrases and conforming to a very narrow culture (middle-class, family values, walking holidays etc).

          • But it can, and often does, seem performative to outsiders

            Oh, no doubt. But the point is that if you were concerned only with growth for the sake of growth, then you wouldn’t do something which is inevitably going to put some people off.

            What the evangelical churches do seems less about pursuing growth for the sake of growth, and more to do with generating depth of commitment. If you set things up to put off the less-committed, then those who stick around are likely to be more committed.

            Note that here I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing: it’s what cults do, too. Scientologists and whatnot. If you put up barriers to entry, then those who do make it through and join will be both those who really wanted to as opposed to people who just wandered in, and also will be less likely to back out due to sunk costs.

            So you could reasonable criticise evangelical churches on those grounds (and people do). But my point is that it seems odd to criticise them on the grounds that they care only about growth. They quite obviously don’t. The way they are set up, usually, is not designed to get a bigger following, but a more committed one, even if that means it’s numerically smaller.

      • “Growth is for the sake of growth and is not determined by any overarching social purpose. And that, of course, is an exact account of the phenomenon which, when it occurs in the human body, is called cancer.”

        Lesslie Newbigin ‘Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture’.

        • Growth is for the sake of growth and is not determined by any overarching social purpose

          Of course the growth of the Church is always for the sake of an overarching purpose, the purpose of saving as many souls from Hell as possible. It’s hard to imagine a greater purpose.

          • Quite wrong. The overarching purpose of the Church is to point to and invite people to the Kingdom of God.

          • The overarching purpose of the Church is to point to and invite people to the Kingdom of God.

            Yes, but they have to be saved to join the Kingdom of God. So you’re basically just saying the same thing there in slightly different words.

          • No, it’s quite a different approach. The church is not focussed on attracting people who simply want to avoid ‘going to hell’. It is focussed on building the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and so seeks to attract those who wish to embody values of the kingdom.

          • There’s no room for passengers in Andrew Godsall’s vision of church, I see? Nor for those heavy-laden and only seeking rest, and one wonders why Jesus used his vivid imagery of eye-gouging and hand-cutting for hell-avoiding.

            And here was me thinking the objection was to holding it as being in the church’s power to do the saving.

          • No, it’s quite a different approach. The church is not focussed on attracting people who simply want to avoid ‘going to hell’. It is focussed on building the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and so seeks to attract those who wish to embody values of the kingdom.

            Interesting. You really think that this Earth, which will pass away, and this life, which is but the blink of an eye, are more important than things which will continue to exist eternally?

            A church which concentrates exclusively on the here and now is a church which has taking its eye off everything that is truly important.

          • Kyle: hello. Yes, definitely room for those needing rest and recuperation. Definitely room for those who are weary and need to just ‘be’. Those are surely kingdom values.

            S: interesting. What did Jesus mean then when he taught us to pray “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”?

          • What did Jesus mean then when he taught us to pray “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”?

            How do you know Jesus actually taught us to pray that? Might it not have been added later?

          • What was meant by it?
            And I do agree with you when you say “A church which concentrates exclusively on the here and now” etc….it has to be oth/and, not either/or.
            So what does “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” mean?

          • What was meant by it?

            What was meant by what?

            And I do agree with you when you say “A church which concentrates exclusively on the here and now” etc….it has to be oth/and, not either/or.

            But you would prioritise the merely ephemeral over the eternal (as ‘overarching purpose’), which is surely exactly the wrong way around.

            So what does “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” mean?

            First tell me why you think Jesus actually said it. Because if He didn’t, if it was just made up by a fallible human, why should I pay any attention to it?

          • “Yes, definitely room for those needing rest and recuperation. Definitely room for those who are weary and need to just ‘be’. Those are surely kingdom values.”

            If they are kingdom values, and the wearied are already embodying kingdom values, then for what purpose is the church seeking to attract them? The world is full of wearied folk. Heaven must already be upon the Earth!

          • It is a kingdom value to offer rest to the weary Kyle. Therefore in doing so, the church is embodying a kingdom value.

          • @Andrew: So the weary are welcome to church, not because they are the sort of kingdom-emodiers that the church is seeking to attract, but because they provide an opportunity for those who wish to embody Kingdom values to do so? Is that a fair summary?

            @Penelope: Yes, that was the verse I was referring to.

          • Kyle: I don’t think the Church is ‘seeking to attract’ a particular kind or type of person. That’s my massive concern about Iwerne and all it stood for.
            All are welcome aren’t they?
            Do you know this writing by Teresa of Avila?

            “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

            Taken together with the verse from Penny, of which you said you were aware, I think the connections are clear.

          • In addition there is a sense from the Gospels in which those in particular need somehow represent the kingdom…..they are not simply those to be done good to.

          • “and so seeks to attract those who wish to embody values of the kingdom.”

            “I don’t think the Church is ‘seeking to attract’ a particular kind or type of person.”

            To quote the kidz: “This you?”

            Certainly, having been saved we are the body and by the power of the Holy Spirit we ought to grow in Christ-likeness. But that isn’t the raison d’etre. God sent His Son because he loved the world, in order to save the world. That includes the weary and it includes the hell-avoiding.

            “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me”

          • Kyle: the thing that Jesus spoke about most was the kingdom. That seems important. The Church is a sign of the kingdom, an instrument of the kingdom, and ought to give a foretaste of the kingdom.
            Grace – certainly. The only way into the kingdom is to be found out in your poverty.

          • The Church is a sign of the kingdom, an instrument of the kingdom, and ought to give a foretaste of the kingdom.

            But surely the most important job it has is to bring people into the Kingdom — ie, to save them from eternal damnation?

          • I think that begs the question of what the kingdom is. And then it’s back to the Lord’s Prayer and ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’

          • I think that begs the question of what the kingdom is.

            You mean ‘poses’ the question. To ‘beg’ the question is to assume the conclusion.

            And then it’s back to the Lord’s Prayer and ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’

            So do you think Jesus actually said that? Or was that bit made up by a fallible human being?

          • Andrew, the prayer that Jesus taught us has an opening appellation (Our Father in heaven) followed by a three-fold intercession (each of four words in Matthew’s Greek)
            . may your name be hallowed
            . may your will be done
            . may your kingdom come.

            This points very clearly (as does the rest of the NT) to the kingdom being a place where God is known as holy and as Father, and where all are obedient to his commands.

            So we point people to the kingdom as we ourselves know God as holy Father (and Jesus as Lord), we obey his commands by the power of his Spirit, and we call others to do the same.

          • Well if we’re going to just accept that Jesus actually said and did things that are recorded in the Bible…

            I note that Jesus gives his followers plenty of commands; but never once does He command them to try to make Earth into the Kingdom. In the Lord’s prayer He commands them to request that God makes His name hallowed, makes His will done, and makes His Kingdom come, on Earth as in Heaven.

            Note the difference: Jesus doesn’t command His followers to make God’s Kingdom come, or to make God’s name hallowed, on Earth. Instead He commands His followers to ask God to do those things.

            It seems to me this is a pretty clear instance of Jesus telling His followers what things are in their power, and therefore their responsibility, and what things aren’t. Making God’s Kingdom come on Earth is simply not something that is achievable by humans (who are, as Mr Godsall keeps reminding us, fallible). So they, and by extension we are not to try to do it. We are to ask God to do it, while we get on with doing the things we can do, like going out and making disciples.

            [But, it’s worth noting, we are commanded to ask God to do it because that — the asking — is within our power, and is a worthwhile thing in its own right]

            Here is (yet another instance) where I think Mr Godsall is led astray by his odd idea that God is powerless to affect the temporal world. Because he doesn’t believe that God actually can act in the world, he can’t see the point of asking God to make his kingdom come; because god, being in Mr Godsall’s view powerless to affect the temporal world, obviously can’t do that!

            So instead Mr Godsall has to come up with some convoluted theory where when Jesus commands His followers to ask God to make His Kingdom come on Earth, that’s really Him commanding his followers, in a weirdly roundabout way, to go and do it themselves.

            Now for some incredibly passive-aggressive people, this way of asking people to do something indirectly by asking them to wish that it be done, hint hint hint, would make sense. But one thing Jesus isn’t, generally, is passive-aggressive. He usually tells it straight or, when He uses parables, it’s not to avoid confrontation. And He is quite capable of giving detailed instructions and direct, forceful commands.

            So yeah, I think this is just another of the knots you end up tying yourself in when you claim to be a Christian but you are actually a Deist.

          • Ian:
            And the end of verse 10 in Mt 6 “as in heaven, also on earth”
            In the rest of your post you are saying much the same as me.

            S: That ‘bit’ as you call it, probably came from some source that Matthew and Luke had access to. Scholarship is the key.
            What do you understand the verse to mean?

          • Oh and scholarship would be the key to understanding your ink spilling friendm, who you call god. Oh wait …there *isn’t* any scholarship.

          • That ‘bit’ as you call it, probably came from some source that Matthew and Luke had access to.

            Do you think that source accurately recorded what Jesus said? Or was the source a fallible human being?

          • “You mean ‘poses’ the question. To ‘beg’ the question is to assume the conclusion.”

            No, I really do mean beg the question.
            “beg the question
            phrase of beg
            (of a fact or action) raise a point that has not been dealt with; invite an obvious question.”

            As to whether Jesus uttered what we call the Lord’s Prayer, then *some* scholarship suggests not. It was pieced together for a source that predates what we have. And of course there are different versions in Matthew and Luke.
            So it isn’t 100% clear.
            If a human being is involved, then there will always be fallibility. Inescapable.

          • I do find it odd the way you see the Bible as unreliable, but 19th C critical scholarship as infallible. It is actually rather amusing!

          • Ian that’s rubbish I’m afraid. I’ve never suggested the bible is ‘unreliable’. I don’t think reliability is even a word I’ve used. As I’ve said several times, LLF is helpful in spelling out a range of approaches to the bible and I am astonished that you can’t seem to acknowledge that range. Your own conservative approach isn’t the only option.
            And I certainly don’t see any scholarship as infallible. If you read what I put you might understand that. But you seem, so often, to read what you want to read and disregard the rest. That’s what’s amusing.
            In any case it was some 20th century scholarship that suggested the Lord’s Prayer is a compilation. The fact that Matthew and Luke have different versions rather supports that.
            Please, spare us the fabrications of your own and address what’s actually been said?

          • Well, perhaps I have misunderstood you.

            You appeared to say above that we cannot know that Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer. That implies that the gospel is not a reliable guide to what Jesus said.

            And you quote conclusions of form and source criticism, well, as if they were gospel. They are not, and many scholars find them methodologically problematic.

            I don’t think I could count as ‘conservative’ in the sense that I always engage with scholarly reflection in my reading of Scripture.

            And LLF mapped out the range of approaches to Scripture—but it did not say all of them are equally convincing, equally Christian or equally Anglican.

          • Ian: yes, I think you have misunderstood. I am clear that *some* scholarship (which in fact was late 20th century) does not believe that the LP was uttered by Jesus in the form we have it. And we need to engage with such scholarship. I was responding in part to S, who does not think that scholarship needs to be taken seriously, and that God somehow managed to spill ink over manuscripts to prevent errors from seeing the light of day. No scholar would take such an approach seriously.

            LLF is very clear that of the seven voices it identifies concerning scripture, 1 and 7 are beyond mainstream Christian. I’m not sure which voice you choose to identify with, but from much of what you have written you appear to belong to voice 1. S certainly does. I self identify as around voice 4 or 5. I believe that, as LLF puts it:

            “The Bible is a collection of books gathered together over many centuries. It contains laws, poems, stories, letters, wisdom sayings, and prophetic pronouncements. Whenever you read it, every word you read has a human history. Every one of them was written by a human hand, in a particular place and time. Every one was touched by many other hands before it ended up in this collection we call the Bible. The Bible therefore rings with the voices of all kinds of people. It is shaped by their differing backgrounds, their cultures, their assumptions and their experiences – including their affections and desires, their intimate relationships, and their sense of their own identity.
            Our own reading of the Bible is no less shaped by history. Our backgrounds, our experience and our assumptions influence how we read – and so do the background, experience and assumptions of all the people who taught us how to read it. When we read, we are as entangled in the tapestry of history as is the Bible.
            At the same time, Anglicans believe that the Bible is, in a classic phrase, ‘God’s Word written’, and that God works through our reading of it. We believe these humans’ words are words inspired by God (2 Timothy 3.16) and that we can hear God speak to us through them.
            On the whole, Anglicans have tried to hold all these claims together. We do not think that the Bible would somehow be more the product of God’s guiding hand if it were less the product of human hands.“

            I can entirely subscribe to that.

            I also think the work of source and form criticism, and the work of demythologising needs to be taken seriously. It is by no means infallible. And other approaches are available.

            I hope this makes my position clearer.

          • I’m not sure which voice you choose to identify with, but from much of what you have written you appear to belong to voice 1. S certainly does.

            Excuse me; I read those seven descriptions and not one of them accurately describes my view. So please do not insinuate I ‘belong to’ some ‘voice’ made up by a bunch of Anglicans.

            And I certainly do not ‘identify as’ anything!

          • The Lord’s Prayer as a compilation of ‘Jesus on prayer’ – a good theory for 2 reasons:
            (1) The other sections of the Sermon on the Mount are compilations by nature (blessed characteristics; antitheses: Jesus going beyond previous teaching; the disciplines; double animals/plants).
            (2) The lack of overlap in the putative sources. The bits that are Mark are not John, kaddish, OT. The bits that are OT are not Mark, John, kaddish. The 2 bits that are John (bread ch6, evil ch17) are not Mark, OT, kaddish. The sequence that is kaddish (lines 2-3) is not Mark, John, OT.

          • The Lord’s Prayer as a compilation of ‘Jesus on prayer’ – a good theory for 2 reasons:

            But not what I was asking. Yes, the Lord’s prayer may be a compilation of things that Jesus said at different times. But seeing as Mr Godsall is of the opinions that a lot of the things Jesus is recorded in the gospels as saying and doing, He never actually said or did at all, but where made up and ascribed to Him later on by fallible human beings (cf for example calming the storm, which Mr Godsall does not thing ever actuall yhappned as recorded: ), what reason does he have for thinking that Jesus ever actually said any of the bits of the Lord’s Prayer, let alone whether He said the particular specific phrase about ‘your kingdom come’?

            Even accepting that it can be traced to a common source used by different gospel-writers, what reason is there to think that that common source was actually accurately recording what Jesus taught, rather than putting it in because it felt really important that it be there?

            (After all, Mr Godsall doesn’t think the incident with doubting Thomas actually happened, but he is willing to hang a lot on the phrase ‘blessed are those who believe but have not seen’, even though he doesn’t think that Jesus actually said it (or least, doesn’t think that Jesus actually said it while appearing bodily resurrected after His death), just because ‘the saying had significance for the earliest Christians’. What I am asking is, does he have any reason to think that the bit he has pulled out of the context of the Lords Prayer was actually said by Jesus and isn’t just something that ‘had significance for the earliest Christians’* — bearing in mind that the earliest Christians were fallible human beings so nothing that they thought had significance should really be relied upon because they could well have been totally wrong.)

          • “Mr Godsall is of the opinions that a lot of the things Jesus is recorded in the gospels as saying and doing, He never actually said or did at all, but where made up and ascribed to Him later on by fallible human beings “

            I don’t know who the Mr Godsall is you are referring to, dear, but this person, Andrew Godsall, doesn’t believe what you are ascribing to Mr Godsall.
            I have been quite clear above in what I believe about scripture. I’ve quoted it quite plainly above in this thread. It’s simply that we can’t take it literally, it’s by no means infallible, and we need scholarship to help us understand the context, background, literary genres etc etc. But do go back and read what I quoted in full.
            My Dad was Mr Godsall. 🙂

          • I have been quite clear above in what I believe about scripture.

            Indeed you have, sometimes apparently unwittingly so, and any reader is free to check and discover that I am not misrepresenting you.

            Unless you wish to state for the record that you do think the gospels (including the miracles) are a historically accurate record of what Jesus said and did. But you don’t think that so you won’t.

          • My brain is addled – there is no OT in the Lord’s Prayer (I was thinking of the Beatitudes). The Lord’s Prayer comprises parts of Mark, of John, of the kaddish, and one piece of Matthean special-interest (the word ‘heaven[s]’), in some cases recast as believers’ personal petitions.

  6. The Decade of Evangelism was successful in that it birthed Alpha or rather the revamped large-scale international Alpha.

      • Evangelism. The mushrooming of Alpha followed directly on the ‘Toronto Blessing’, and I suppose HTB would have looked a bit silly if nothing had come out of the Toronto Blessing (which in their case unlike some others was something positive, maybe because they had the Word-Spirit fusion sometimes lacked elsewhere), but Alpha’s strengths, spread and success stand tall independently of this.

        • To be more precise: the mushrooming of Alpha (a course that piggybacked on the Iwerne talks and St Aldate’s enquirers’-groups) happened in the decade which was also saw the Decade-of-Evangelism initiative, rather than being an initiative of the Decade of Evangelism.

          But while some churches were zoned out behind closed doors singing (more in hope than expectation) ‘Let your glory fall in this room; let it go forth from here to the nations’ (quite a leap of scale), HTB strategised and went forth from here to the nations.

          • Fascinating connections Christopher

            Michael G once told me in his cheeky way that he wrote the Alpha course as it was based on his material used for beginner’s classes running for the 8 weeks of Oxford term — for those who had responded to a gospel invitation delivered at a St Aldates Fresher’s sermon.

            Did some of Michael’s material drew on the Iwerne camp set series of talks?

            Charles Marnham, when a curate at HTB worked up the Alpha course as a newcomers course for the church

            Nicky G’s genius was turning the focus of the course to non church attendees, and scaling it up and giving it to the world

          • Hi Christopher and Simon,
            I ask you to take another look at two things – Nicky Gumbel’s preaching and social media output – and the Alpha course.
            In respect of the former I believe that you will find that Nicky Gumbel has never preached on God’s holiness, sin, his justice, hell, repentance, mercy or grace. Initially that may sound ridiculous but I assure you it’s not.
            If we think about the two parts of God’s love:
            – that he FEELS loves for us because we are his (he made us) and
            – that he SHOWED love to us despite our behaviour
            Nicky Gumbel’s preaching has always centred on the first of those two – and coming to faith has amounted to believing only that God loves me and therefore forgives me (no need to repent in order to be saved as is clearly presented in Acts 3:19 and in Matt 13:44-45.
            The Alpha course moves half in the direction of what I describe. If you look at it closely you will see that it does not link sin to the holiness of God (yet sin is of little consequence until it is defined in relation to God), that it does not link the punishment for sin to the justice of God, it does not mention hell (only the wages of sin is death – Nicky believes in total annihilation), it does not mention mercy, and so is it any surprise that having undermined the truth by disassociating salvation from the one who saves that when it comes to repentance that it exists ONLY in the sinner’s prayer (the person praying the prayer in the sinner’s prayer in the Appendix is not called to consider the cost of faith before suddenly speaking words as part of “having the chance to meet God”.
            I know that what I have just said would seem to be impossible considering Nicky’s prominence – and the worldwide acceptance of his ministry and the Alpha course but what I ask only that you verify that what I say is correct (even if Nicky doesn’t preach much anymore).
            The Bible in One Year cannot be used as evidence of Nicky’s priorities because it requires Nicky to comment on every passage. Instead you should look to content where Nicky has a choice – such as social media – and the nature of HTB sermons. On the latter I point out that HTB messages are all centred around the listener instead of God. So HTB sermon titles are in a similar vein to “How to have greater peace in your life” – there is no attempt to hide – as the Alpha course does not by divorcing the gospel from the character and therefore glory of God – the fact that Christianity is being presented only in as much as it is useful for people’s self actualisation.

          • Hi Philip

            Yes that’s right. This is a notable flaw. One benefit is that the content makes sense in real life, using real life categories. And therefore it is immediately apparent how it relates to us and affects us. Possibly the audience is different as Simon says. I think this is a very important point. Iwerne campers and St Aldate’s attendees are easier fish to catch than invitees to Alpha.

            Hi Simon

            Yes – for my money Iwerne and Aldate’s got the theological content better without in any way losing the real-life applications and illustrations. Michael Green of course wrote a book After Alpha – just as he had had a beginners’-group to follow on from the enquirers’-group.

          • As to the Iwerne origins, it was not unusual to attend Iwerne for a whole month (3 camps) per summer (as David Watson did for 5 years or so), so hearing each talk thrice a year. If Bash was MG’s main influence, and also John Stott’s, and JS saw Iwerne and CICCU as the sources of his theology – then the Iwerne roots are manifest not just of the beginners’-groups (and Alpha) but of the mid 20th century Evangelical Anglican revival as a whole. Of course Keele was only one year after the quiet but firm disagreement with Martyn Lloyd Jones, and helped make sure EAs had a brand to be proud of at a time when defection was a live prospect for many.

          • Thanks Christopher
            I’d be very interested to know what the order of the ‘set’ talks was at Iwerne? Did they evolve or had they been written by Bash or Stott and were pretty much delivered by rote? Did the speakers bring their own illustrations/applications & personalities to them?

            I think you are right that those responding to Fresher’s talks at Aldates in MG’s day and indeed before with Keith DeBerry & after with David MacInnes were invariably well ‘schooled’ in chapel religion but coming up as Freshers were being asked to now commit. They were also intellectually bright, and by attending a known evangelical church on sunday volitionally were already if not accepting, not disdaining many of the Christian foundational truths. Those attending Alpha today whether at HTB or indeed as Oxford students, are not in the same place. They are truly exploring, enquiring and so several steps of Christian knowledge and experience removed from former generations.

            @Philip I think you are too harsh on NG & Alpha’s content, expecting to find there more than it intends to offer. It is an enquirers course not a systematic treatment on harmatiology. It is called Alpha for a reason, it is a starting place, first steps. It is fair to say that if I wrote it, I would move things around and have different weightings on the material. That said invariably the table discussions solicit more in depth exploration of issues such as sin, judgment, mercy etc I have not spent time analyzing NG’s material, but I do know him and have heard him a number of times and he is always engaging, Christ centred and works hard at drawing people closer to Jesus. He is an evangelist. And effective. And his course has been the most effective tool I am aware of for drawing people to Christ in generations. I have two good friends, gifted, godly and effective ordained ministers, both academic backgrounds, who came to faith through attending Alpha. It is the way in for many, never the be-all n end all of doctrine. I suspect if you applied your doctrinal mesh to the apostolic sermons in Acts, you might find them wanting to?

          • Hi Simon

            Spot on in your analysis. I was trying to decipher the Iwerne summer-1981 talks-list shown on channel 4 (1.6.17) but it is too blurry. I would have to dig out my own from 1986 which might take a while. The standard course of Iwerne talks within a single 10-day camp was:
            (1) systematic
            (2) sequential (creation – sin – remedy; there was a talk on the Spirit; and so on)
            (3) heavily vetted
            (4) not scripted, so that the several individual speakers, who would generally get one topic each (and David Fletcher would generally speak on the Cross/atonement as a kind of climax) would have some leeway and would give their own slant – but see (3).
            (5) Extremely well-prepared, in the Iwerne tradition.
            (6) The same in topics but not entirely in content from camp to camp and from year to year.
            To give one example: there was a well-tried talk on the life of Moses – ending in his sad falling away – as it was seen to be. This would not be one of the main sequence but would be a mid-day Iwerne-library talk. There would be a main sequence in the mornings and in the evenings. Probably these 2 were not independent of one another but were all of a piece.

            David Watson attended 35 camps, all of which were hard labour. I can only assume that these were 7 annually for 5 years (3 years of degree and 2 years at Ridley): 3 summer, 2 Easter, New Year, ?pre-Christmas. He gives the details in You Are My God.
            This sort of perpetual exposure to the teaching-course cemented it. It would have formed a structure in the brains of analytic converts Stott and Green.

            But as to who wrote the talks – it was presumably not in all cases Bash himself, nor should we think in terms of the talks being written rather than outlined. The parameters were set by Bash, and were strict. The other pioneers (John Eddison’s funeral service-sheet had a photo of the leading 4: Bash, Eddison, Ruston, Stott) must have jointly had a hand in this. And, as mentioned, the talks were not scripted – they would keep to the same sorts of outlines but the words were the speaker’s own and the specific speaker might often vary for a given talk year on year.

          • Fascinating – thanks Christopher

            Nicky Gumbel inherited the Alpha course from John Irvine who took it on from Charles Marnham.

            Did all three men come through Iwerne? MG told me NG helped run the post Fresher’s event, enquirers course at Aldates

          • I don’t know – of course, the wonderful and hospitable Chester Square church has ministered to the rich, not least Mrs Thatcher. And a second point would be that in earlier generations Iwerne and Anglican evangelicalism were virtually synonymous, so the chances would be in favour.

  7. Your cogent arguments would be so much more persuasive if made in a way that demonstrated how followers of Jesus can disagree well. Was it helpful or necessary to accuse Giles of paranoia and to adopt an aggressive tone? I dont think so.

    • I haven’t adopted an aggressive tone at all; several times I point out where I think he is right.

      By contrast, he has just rubbished my comments on Twitter. So I think I can see who is ‘disagreeing well’.

      • If I can make a sideways comment on ‘disagreeing well’. In the context of discussions on sexuality, this term is used in terms of ‘process’. I don’t think so. It’s an endpoint (very similar to the debate on women’s ordination). We have got to learn to live together with our differences. I am not convinced this is possible. I believe the word is hetrodoxy.

    • Hi Graham – were you at St Stephen’s Twickenham?

      I always think there are more angles here.

      Firstly, I think that I and most of us ought to speak always in a kind and Christian and loving manner.

      Secondly, when (e.g.) CS Lewis spoke in debates like a stickler it was because he was (as one should) playing the ball and not the man, and (fabulously) he really cared about the ball in a way that put the rest of us to shame.

      Thirdly, not everyone is entirely honest in their motivations – honesty or good faith is not at all something that can be assumed, and moreover when it is assumed the unscrupulous will immediately take advantage of this. No reason to suspect lack of good faith in the present case however – I am just outlining principles.

      Fourthly, ”disagreeing well” (or what we *call* that) has a terribly dangerous side to it which I am surprised that more people do not see. It means that everything must be admitted to the table of discussion, however self-serving, however unevidenced, or however both. Which serves the purposes of some (i.e. the unscrupulous, who do exist) perfectly. It means no-one is ever just wrong (even though I know that I am sometimes wrong, and presumably everyone else is sometimes too), and therefore if all points of view are to be taken seriously then universities may as well close. A lot of the trouble stems from seeing ‘views’ as a coherent word; I have written about this – and about the coherence of the concept ‘good disagreement’ – in a book What Are They Teaching The Children?

      Since none of these points is generally made when good disagreement is appealed to, I can only conclude that more thought is needed, in order to see the maximum number of angles to the question.

  8. I think Ian that you have spent your energy and your reputation on something worthwhile here – when C of E leadership do something which might help even if for who knows what motive it’s worth defending. And you respond to this article with an accuracy which shows that right now your sword is sharpened – you know EXACTLY where the line of truth versus error is – and why this plan is not without merit (even if the leaders of it are without merit) and it’s therefore exciting to read your words. Your opinions reflect a selfless realism – you are providing support for something which doesn’t promise that you will be centre stage (although when we do what God is asking us it will always see what he has made us to do become centre stage) – which I believe shows that your heart is in the right place – you have resisted the temptation to let your academics become all about you – I am paying you a compliment here!).
    You know from what I have said recently that I believe this strategy of the C of E is the correct one in its key concepts (although I listed various needs and concerns – any of which could sink this – such as delay, making those in the new structure have to interact with existing bishops or theologians, and I mentioned the need for unified conservative online training courseware). However it’s important that while fighting for it that we continue to state that the leadership of the C of E is not acting rightly in a range of other matters (such as on sexuality) – I feel the need to say this even though one would think that its having torn the Anglican Church worldwide in two would be reason not to forget – so no-one becomes imagines that support for this venture is full support for C of E leadership.
    As I said before I believe this may be an example of C of E leadership doing God’s bidding as part of his handing power to people who MAY be willing to do his will – if no-one is willing of course everything is lost – but what better way to test if some are – and if those people are autonomous – and others who aren’t willing to obey him then die away – it’s a plan.
    Well done brother.

  9. Ian,
    have you asked Giles Fraser if he wishes to have a right of reply on your blog? I think it is shame that someone as erudite as him has simply dismissed your article as ‘claptrap’ and accuses you of implying he is not a Christian which I can’t see you have done so at all.

    Giles Fraser , if you are tuned in, I think it would be beneficial to us all if you could address Ian’s criticisms in a systematic way rather than dismissively. I am sure Ian would give you the opportunity to do so.

    • I could do—but he already has a much, much larger platform that he used for this piece. I don’t think he particularly needs mine.

      We are having a discussion on Twitter…but not a very fruitful one.

  10. Bravo. Thank you, Ian. I like Giles and he often makes important points, but in this case this response was necessary.

    • Thanks. Yes, and as I say in the piece, I often like the way he cuts through to the heart of an issue.

      But I think here his main argument has gone badly awry.

  11. I too usually enjoy Giles Fraser’s writing, but I found this quite offensive. If it doesn’t matter how many people go to church, then why does he think people bother? Personally I go to church not just to be entertained by sermons, or to enjoy singing hymns, or to meet with my friends. I go to church because I think it’s pleasing to God, and if other people went too, it would be more pleasing to him. By pretending that God doesn’t care if I go to church or not, Giles makes me out to be acting out of self interest, and I don’t believe I am. I believe I’m taking part in something bigger. Something bigger than him and bigger than me, and the more people who take part in it, the better.

  12. Perhaps this article represents a *rude awakening* for the CoE.
    Does this signal a withering away of a state church of England, opening up a paradox of the self destruction of the self- protectionism of elite mandated liberalism, of form without substance?
    Whose church is it? That is the central question.
    Is it blood – bought, redeemed, Spirit- breathed; Christ’s?

  13. I dont get the impression, when I read the whole of ch 15 of John, that Jesus is primarily speaking about converting others when He speaks of ‘fruit’. That doesnt seem to fit with “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” I dont think converting others is THE sign that you are a ‘real’ Christian. The conversion of others comes down to them, anyway. So that doesnt make sense to me.

    Rather Jesus’ words here seem to fit better with Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit in a believer’s life. Yes witnessing is part of that, or as the late John White called it ‘on being a signpost’. But White understood it was more about the sort of person you were that signposted others to Jesus, rather than simply telling them the Gospel.

    On that subject, Ian, I would be genuinely interested to know how you understand the Gospel and exactly what you would say to an individual who came to your church as an enquirer – how would you present the gospel to them?

    As for Fraser’s article, he makes some valid points, though he just seems to be rather tired of ‘head office’ telling him what he should be doing, when no doubt his time is largely spent helping those already in his congregation. Though it is telling that he is described in the article as ‘journalist, broadcaster..’ before ‘rector’. He isnt owed a living from the church, and doesnt seem to appreciate that his continued income depends on his parish.


    • Peter re “how you understand the Gospel and exactly what you would say to an individual who came to your church as an enquirer” – I would focus on Matt 6:14-15, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

      The reason why, is that for many people, a sermon about “sin separates us from God, etc etc” comes across as somewhat theoretical. By contrast, most are very conscious of at least one time when someone else has *really* messed up their life, and also conscious of at least one time when *they* have really messed up someone else’s life.

      • Thanks Jamie, though Im not sure I would emphasize that verse. For me it actually raises more questions! Such as, you have to already be a follower/child of God to be able to call God, Father? And does it really mean if I feel I cant forgive so-and-so for the sin they committed against me, then I remain unforgiven by God for my own sins?

        I think many have a mindset of ‘Im alright Jack’ and ‘Im no worse than others’ so a sense of needing forgiveness by God is absent. I also suspect many dont really care about being unforgiving towards others, as there is a sense in which those others deserve it.

        I would still be interested to hear Ian Paul on my original question.


        • If my answer raises more questions, then I am following in the footsteps of Jesus’ answers. What a compliment!

          “Do you have to already be a follower/child of God to be able to call God, Father?” – it depends. In Matt 6:15 Jesus uses the words “your Father” – meaning God – even when talking to the unforgiven. But of course there are other texts, eg John 8:44, that would lead to the opposite conclusion.

          “Does it really mean if I feel I cant forgive so-and-so for the sin they committed against me, then I remain unforgiven by God for my own sins?” Well it seems to, yes. But it’s a process. If I can’t yet forgive so-and-so, can I at least pray for them that God will forgive them? CS Lewis was good on this. The key point is that the so-and-so who has sinned against “me” is the same type of sinner that I am. The “so-and-so” may be a marginally worse sinner than me or a marginally less bad sinner than me, but they come into the same basic category of people deserving death. I need to think of the so-and-so as I think of myself – someone forgivable, someone redeemable.

          • But when you are justified when you become a Christian, are your sins not completely forgiven, and declared ‘not guilty’ ? I thought justification as part of conversion was all about the final judgement being brought into the present? And I thought that very much involved the forgiveness of sins.

          • For sure I am out of my depth here. Whole books have been written about “the Perseverance of the Saints” aka “Once forgiven, always forgiven.” I submit only that spiritual complacency is a present danger for all of us. One virtue of the passage I offered is that it is a challenge equally for the long-time believer as for the unbeliever. As RA Torrey put it, “One verse of scripture that has mastered us is worth a hundred verses that we have mastered.”

  14. I too was disappointed by Giles Fraser’s reactions to the MYRIAD report. The one fact one can state categorically is that up till now, lay people have never been allowed to take the initiative in the parishes of the CofE. If this is at last changing, one big cheer!
    I know a thing or two about Giles’s predecessors at both St. Mary Putney and St. Mary Newington. John Pearce-Higgins at Putney made fun of me as a young Sea Cadet for believing the Bible and to be frank, the others lads thought him a bit of an idiot anyway, whereas Harry Hindmarch at Newington gave me my first interview for becoming a Reader, encouraged me all he could and stayed a close friend till the end of his life.
    Both would have called themselves liberal Catholics, but both gave away their true Christianity by the way they behaved. I rest my case.

  15. For all his faults (and none of us is perfect), Giles is at least a parish priest in charge of a church: on the front line, at the coal face. (And in a tough place, too, I think? Not one of those “nice” middle class areas.)

    It’s easy to comment from an ivory tower. The TA is not the regular Army. Academics are often not practitioners. And I’ve more time for a failing practitioner than a successful theoretician.

    Life as a Vicar is tough right now. Morale is low. We are, as you’ve suggested elsewhere, insecure and suspicious. Why? Well, in 2020 the Bishops alternated between panic, overreach, and silence. In 2021 we’re Key Limiting Factors and the proposed changes to the Mission and Pastoral Measure (GS 2222) seek to shift yet more power away from the parishes and towards the Diocese.

    If Giles is cynical, sad, angry and disillusioned then I, for one, know why. Cut him some slack. Better still, put your shoulder to the wheel. Always room for one more in the trenches.

    • “Always room for one more in the trenches.”

      But that’s not true though, is it? (At least full-time for those not independently rich or wealthy.) Hence, the redundancies and ordinands not being able to find incumbencies.

      What’s happening now isn’t working. If we want to try other things, then we either have to go around clergy or the clergy has to change up what they’re doing. The reaction to KLF-gate suggests that many of the clergy are insistent that neither should happen. A not insignificant amount of that – I expect – is clergy with their own unproven, untested, unjustified silver bullets; mostly a belief that the problem is not ordaining women, sorry, not ordaining women as bishops, sorry, LGBTQ (as in a recent letter in the Church Times.) So, perhaps, the backlash is partly caused by suggesting that rapid decline isn’t a Werewolf, but can be stopped by having the humbleness of mind, energy and teamwork to enact best practices, which is apparently priest-supervised, lay-led church plants.

      • “ordinands not being able to find incumbencies.”

        Is that actually happening? I don’t know. Maybe. Can you provide a source?

        “What’s happening now isn’t working. If we want to try other things, then we either have to go around clergy or the clergy has to change up what they’re doing. The reaction to KLF-gate suggests that many of the clergy are insistent that neither should happen. A not insignificant amount of that – I expect – is clergy with their own unproven, untested, unjustified silver bullets; mostly a belief that the problem is not ordaining women, sorry, not ordaining women as bishops, sorry, LGBTQ (as in a recent letter in the Church Times.)”

        I’m a vicar don’t have a silver bullet. Nor do I think “Myriad” is one. Which leads me to this:

        “So, perhaps, the backlash is partly caused by suggesting that rapid decline isn’t a Werewolf, but can be stopped by having the humbleness of mind, energy and teamwork to enact best practices, which is apparently priest-supervised, lay-led church plants.”

        OK, but can we do that *instead* of some of the stuff we already do, not *as well as*? If we are going to start something new, then please let’s end something old. And there’s the rub: the parish system and all the buildings are very hard to erase or even rearrange.

        Finally, back to this:

        “If we want to try other things, then we either have to go around clergy or the clergy has to change up what they’re doing. The reaction to KLF-gate suggests that many of the clergy are insistent that neither should happen.”

        The reaction — *MY* reaction — to the KLF thing was visceral. Why? Let me tell you.

        Not once during 2020 did my bishops or Archdeacon get in touch in way that was 1. personal 2. proactive and 3. purely Pastoral. That hurt. (By way of contrast, I made sure I contacted — texted / messaged / phoned / emailed / etc — ALL of my congregation individually or as a household at least once every month; more often if I felt they needed it. Not because I’m a brilliant parish priest but because, er, it’s my job.)

        Of course the church authorities *did* get in touch with me via endless ad clerums and mass communiques with loads of advice, guidance, instruction etc (some of it ultra vires, the rest was mostly either common sense or official government policy). That was bad.

        But now to be told that I’m a key limiting factor feels like a kick in the guts. I honestly feel like giving up. I certainly don’t feel like making any effort to pay parish share, participate in the life of the Diocese, attend any events outside of my own parish or respond to any requests for data etc (eg submitting the “statistics for mission” numbers).

        “Demoralised” sums it up. Disconnected, disincentivized, dismissed and disregarded.

        I don’t have some some pet plan or panacea (your “unproven, untested, unjustified silver bullets”). I just want to be supported and valued and encouraged and, yes, loved. Instead I’ve been either micro-managed or ignored. To now be insulted as a “key limiting factor” is the last straw.

        • On the present case struggling I was going off stuff I heard,. This article suggests it is a future danger: . This article as well: (Search for ‘Curacy to next post’).

          Bishops certainly handed Covid poorly. You would have my full support behind seeking a serious readjustment of bishop behaviours. But John McGinley isn’t your bishop. However you were treated by the bishops, that doesn’t justify the personalised pile-on based on John McGinley leaving the ‘we haven’t enough and can’t afford to increase indefinitely’ implied. Not that you can’t have that visceral reaction, but it ought to be taken to God or some private engagement not this public rigmarole, including the New Wine and charismatic evangelical bashing (I know *I’m* not your bishop.)

          I want you to be supported and loved. But I don’t think KLF-Gate forcing bishops to make ‘we love you’ messages will really deliver that in any sort of long-term.

          • Huh, it didn’t say moderator approval on that one. It said “you’d posted it before”. But thank you for fishing it out.

          • OK, so your statement “ordinands not being able to find incumbencies” seems unfounded. (Also, I think you mean curates not being able to find incumbencies.) There is, I think, no central policy on staffing across the c-of-e, partly because we can’t hire and fire like a normal employer. Some Dioceses are making cuts, yes, but often these are done when the incumbent retires or resigns, so it’s a kind of musical chairs game. And I think we do have A LOT of clergy due to retire in the next 5-10 years so perhaps there might actually be a shortage of priests not a shortage of posts?

            “the New Wine and charismatic evangelical bashing”

            Eh? Not something I’ve done, so a bit of a straw man.

          • I mean not unfounded. It is a worry in the future, and the well-being of those struggling to find a curacy is a concern that does exist – I know not in what numbers – but it isn’t a present-day concern on which time and effort is having to support. The mass retirements are always just five years away.

            (I think ‘ordinand’ does work. Having gone through the college-training, and the curacy, makes the blow of falling at the last hurdle with not finding an incumbency more of a blow.)

            Although, to be fair, if Ian is already ordained then I doubt he would struggle too hard to find a post. And it is true that you’ve not engaged in Charismatic bashing. I was treating you as a representative of KLF-gate rather than Oliver, and I apologise.

        • On the present case struggling I was going off stuff I heard,. This article suggests it is a future danger: . This article as well: (Search for ‘Curacy to next post’).

          (I wrote more, but it is not letting me post it and I really want to include the links.)

        • Hey Ollie

          I followed the twitter-spat and got blocked by Giles for my trouble. Strange.
          Much of the Anglican Twitter response has been to the unfortunate phrase ‘limiting factor’.

          I can’t help wondering whether much of it was from clerical angst – I speak as a priest myself. If they had any answers then what have they been doing for the past 20 years?

          Newington, the parish, is nowhere near the coal face. Unless I am sadly mistaken, it’s an eclectic gathered congregation of a particular kind.

          Onwards and upwards

        • Hello Oliver,
          I’m saddened to hear that you feel demoralised, disconnected, disincentivized, dismissed and disregarded. That’s a tough place to be in. It’s hard to serve others with joy and energy when you’re in a place like that. So, I pray that you’ll be aware of the Lord’s presence with you in this place; that you’ll be reminded that your labour in the Lord is not in vain and has eternal significance. And I pray that the Lord will bring you through this trial to some green pastures and still waters where your soul will be refreshed and your spirit revived to keep plugging away.
          In fellowship,

  16. I wonder if part of the difficulty here is a misunderstanding over terminology. “Limiting factor” is a normal term in chemistry. It means that something that is vital for a reaction is present in small amounts, and it is the relative lack of the limiting factor that is reducing the rate of reaction. It isn’t that the limiting factor is causing the problem but that the absence of the limiting factor is the problem. The suggestion that lay-led churches be developed is then a pragmatic solution, because full ordained training is slow and expensive. If the report writers wanted to suggest that clergy were causing the problem, then the chemical term to use would be “inhibitor”.

    • The suggestion that lay-led churches be developed is then a pragmatic solution, because full ordained training is slow and expensive.

      To be fair though, you can see why that might not be terribly reassuring. If X is a limiting factor because it’s rare and expensive, and the pragmatic solution is to find an alternative that is cheaper and more plentiful, then people who are Xs might well worry that if the alternative turns out to do the job just as well — or even if it doesn’t, but is sufficiently cheaper — then the days of them having a job might well be numbered.

    • “I wonder if part of the difficulty here is a misunderstanding over terminology.”

      It might be but isn’t it the responsibility of the originator to be clearer? I know most things can be misunderstood by someone somewhere but it doesn’t take away the pastoral responsibility of being as clear as one can be. Leadership isn’t merely the posting of a plan.

      In these Covid-19 times issues and emotions are not running as smoothly as they might have done and that should be taken into account more that maybe it is.

  17. Exactly what are these new lay-led churches going to be preaching? If they mirror the CoE at large, will they mushroom into lots of liberal and conservative enclaves -albeit on a smaller scale?

    • Maybe the Methodists in England would provide clue as to the risks of lay-preachers reliance. But that said lay-preacher training would carry the weight of responsiblity which, in turn, casscades downward from the training of ministers.
      Likewise any large scale denominarion.
      What is odious in the common -place language of limiting-factor, is that it places all all clergy in the same boat, only to sink it.
      It’s probably been said in different ways, but has there been any balanced assessment of the appointment of some into high office, from high secular positions, under the idea that there are readily transferable skills, who are, *oven ready* as it were, and who may not have a well developed biblical theological and protestant training, which, at all times, contains apologetics in contrast to the dominant anti supernaturalist form/historical/higher/postmodern/ humanistic, subjective/ criticism; human-centric.

  18. And what does the church sound like when it is off-message!?
    Or can’t even agree what the message is, or should be!? Or is its core, key, business!?. It’s reason for being; it’s reason for existence? The why of church?. Without that commonality, the questions of how and where are almost an eternal irrelevance, are finite and transitory, but locked into never ending circular disputations.


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