Contributions to FaithSpace: Churches

Go directly to my Covenant of the Episcopal Church of England
(An idea in response to Rowan Williams' Covenant suggestion)

Material below is a collection, not often in date order, of my contributions to Faithspace. Each text may begin some way in to the contribution, but then gaps are signified by three dots. The contributions here extract from the conversational style into something more neutral. They do not include contributions from other people unless absolutely necessary and then they are unnamed. Punctuation is altered for clarification. Extra text is in square brackets which sometimes involves a little removal of text in favour of the given alternative.

July 1 2006, 2:46 pm

If a number of Anglican Churches associate with others, then they will likely commune with each other, and that some of those receiving the proposed Covenant will find it unsatisfactory in detail and discipline and will produce another or others.

As it happens, I am more of a federalist, that is to say live and let live where possible, and let those dissatisfied do their own protesting and walking and reorganising - but if there is some firming up by a Covenant then, at a time when the energy is opposite, it will speed up fracturing and realigning.

A newly Covenanted Anglican Church I'd like to see is one that takes account of theological enterprise over the last few hundred years, which means it must be light on doctrine. Although it will be identifiable by what it does, you only have to analyse the effect of ecumenism in the reorganising to realise that there will be many styles of worship from the incomers, never mind what takes place in the Emerging Church and some of the more experimental liberal charismatics (use of dance culture, references to Paganism and other faiths in seeking out a Christianity, much open discussion).

I suspect that what will stay will be baptism and a recognisable eucharist at the least, but varieties of styles - if all this happens. Some of the theological colleges are like this now, the ecoumenical ones and with a critical understanding of the traditions, the difference being that this would be within a reorganised Church.

A good exercise might be to write a proto-Covenant and what it would look like. [see below]
July 5 2006, 10:29 pm

I suppose the number of assured "liberals" is a minority, people who have sat down, worked things out, over a long period of time, and have a sense of wholeness around the position they have settled with. I've always seen myself as a radical rather than a liberal, but in the present context I am a liberal and happy with it. I shall never be anything else, because it is how I look at things, and my changes occur around the understanding and reasoning that so many have done and clearly makes sense to me.

However, there are many others, in Anglicanism and elsewhere, who have not worked things out or through, and are not really sure what they are, and many of them probably get on with life anyway. They live a normal life where answers to questions aren't supernatural but technical, and of this world, and so they handle the bundle that is the liturgical tradition (and others) with a lightness of being, treating it seriously but not letting it impose too much on ordinary life. This is also a very English response to religion - arm's length. I would think there are a great many like this, many more than the liberal or radical.

The idea that these people would be satisfied with an Akinola type church: they would not stomach it. It is not about a liberal rump, and the liberals are not a rump from a larger past but an ongoing response to Chritianity in culture. It is about people who are not going to allow a gentleness and tolerance to turn into a new Puritanism or new traditionalism. Those who doubt, and who are not sure, may well turn to the "liberals" for guidance, and it may be that the liberals are forced to lead.

The liberals are not as quiet as they used to be. I never have been, and my conversations with people are open. It is always interesting to see the positive responses received, as well as me having an interest in what they say and how.

...What strikes me about the representatives of apparent self-declared orthodoxy (I don't think they represent an historic orthodoxy: I think they are modernist fundamentalists) [on the discussion boards] is the lack of charity of expression, the lack of inclusiveness towards difference, the obsession with the same debating points. A Church has to be a moral community, and the lack of charity repels me more and more. The narrowness is something I reject.

If I was as I was back in 1984 when I stumbled into Christianity, and saw what I see now, I doubt I would have regarded what I see as a moral community. Now so far down the road, I'm less concerned; and I am largely satisfied with my own freedom of position.

I've no doubt that the turmoil that is raising all these demons and this lack of charity is itself a cancer, and that it really is getting to a point where something has to be done. So without wanting to create a purist sect of my own making (because Christianity includes the good, the bad and the ugly) I'd like to see a reaffirmation of something that is inclusive.

Life is a struggle, and we do not always get things right. A number of religious institutions have, in their muddle, gained an understanding that we make a mess of things and tolerate one another. I just think to those who want their purist body, to lay down the rules and "love the sinner but on our terms" that they may as well have their purist body. I don't want that, and I think a very large number of worshippers would not want it either. Some of us are going to have to say, however, that we will not have it. The space taken away will have to be retrieved.
July 3 2006, 9:34 pm

The divider today is [on the one side] the secular (anti-supernatural, or see no place for it), the plural (varieties of thinking, different philosophies, varieties of people, faiths), plus a view of Jesus as socially inclusive and biased to the poor and rejected. So those who are in the inclusive direction go in one direction, and those who are exclusive go in the other direction. It is quite fundamental. This is the cause of denominationalism today. It is helped by the long existence now of biblical criticism, studies of the historical Jesus, and insights into how faith is constructed. The reasons for the old denominations are fading, even forgotten, but the new dividers are as strong as the old. And the Christian tradition, in its inclusivity, in its appeal to history, in its contemporary dynamism of idea of the Holy Spirit, contains the seeds of its own current reorganisation.
July 2 2006, 3:36 pm

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken about a Covenant to firm up a sense of Communion. The problem with Covenants is that they can exist elsewhere too as the unravelling that would follow forms itself back into some order.

Here is something I knocked up rather quickly:

The Covenant of the Episcopal Church of England

We Covenant together in part of the Body of Christ known as The Episcopal Church of England to further the Kingdom of God.

The Episcopal Church of England is a Christian Church, Catholic and Reformed and responds to both revelation and reasoning. We Covenant in it under the Mystery of God, the Physicality of God and the Mediation of God.

Guided in prayer through the Holy Spirit, we draw upon the historic formularies of the Universal Church, particularly Anglican traditions of Christianity, using the Scriptures and interpretation.

We hold to one saving baptism in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as in the practice of the Churches from the earliest times in the New Testament.

We in the Episcopal Church of England observe the eucharist as the central ritual of the Church as a memorial to the Lord Jesus Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God, and this Church conducts other worship, drawing on the Book of Common Prayer and its successors and other styles of worship in accordance with Christian traditions. The Episcopal Church of England may develop and extend Christian worship.

We incorporate in the Episcopal Church of England the Apostolic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, recognising the priesthood of all believers, and draw on valid forms of additional ministry with origins in the New Testament. Bishops are priests elected (by all member bishops, priests and laity in equal voting power) to dioceses upon a vacancy through retirement. Suffragen bishops under the guidance of a diocesan bishop may also be elected. The Episcopal Church of England is guided by a Presiding Bishop, who offers experience and guidance to the Church. Bishops once appointed as working in post stay until retirement, save for declaring an Extraordinary Measure. Bishops organise methods to select deacons and priests, train them and place them in parishes. There is no discrimination in ministry on grounds of race, sex or sexual orientation. Membership of the Church is open to us who declare their acceptance of the Covenant and join the electoral roll.

It organises its decision making polity through an elected tricameral Synod of member bishops, priests and laity by each constituent membership. This Covenant is changed by a two thirds vote of each house. Policy is otherwise made by majorities in all three houses. Committees with a bishop presiding may be established from members across the houses. The Synod commences its deliberations after worship, and discussion and voting is carried out after prayer. In declaring an Extraordinary Measure, all working bishops (not just those elected to Synod) may dissolve the Synod for a fixed duration of no more than two years, assuming all powers to themselves, after which all bishops would resubmit themselves to members for election for working in dioceses and, after which, all of the Synod would face election before resuming its work.

We as the Episcopal Church of England covenant further with all Churches in general declared agreement with this Covenant, mutually recognising ministry and sharing our eucharistic meal. The Episcopal Church of England further recognises baptism and eucharist and other forms of worship in other Christian Churches and welcomes all people. It prays for Christians, for people of Faiths, and for all. It intends to serve all in need. We welcome dialogue with and seek to learn from Christians of other traditions and people of other Faiths.

We Covenant in our love for the Universe and recognise the beauty of the creative power in God. We seek to interpret the Christian tradition for every generation and impose no final understanding of truth under the Mystery of God. We Covenant together as The Episcopal Church of England on an inclusive basis and make no further demands beyond this Covenant and adopted policies upon ourselves.
July 2 2006, 4:45 pm

Mystery of God, the Physicality of God and the Mediation of God

Trinity: almost nicked from Sallie McFague.
July 2 2006, 9:15 pm

That's the idea. It does not, for example, demand the doctrine of the Trinity, just the economic Trinity as in baptism but keeps the same shape. It recognises historical formularies, rather as of now actually, and all it does offer is the nuclear option for bishops should there be an attempted takeover. It cannot even impose an orthopraxy of Anglican tradition because of ecumenism. It does not exclude the orthodox at all, but includes many more. There are no definitions, no required philsophy of understanding. The words can be reinterpreted, and interpretation is welcomed as well as extending the tradition.
July 13 2006, 8:50 pm

This is a problem - and why I have used (in that alternative Covenant) the model of Sallie McFague, where the patriarchal language is altered (the thread I started, The Episcopal Church of England).

the Mystery of God, the Physicality of God and the Mediation of God


In the Covenant I do refer to the traditional early trinitarian language in terms of baptism, which is the only sense in which trinity appears in the New Testament, a statement regarding salvation rather than a doctrine of Being. In this case we are stuck with patriarchal language because that is the framework of the New Testament, as of course are traditional statements of creeds. It seems to me though that a critique of the patriarchy can be employed. However, I don't now tend to "translate" liturgical language as I go along, despite its sharp problem with feminism, as I once did, in order to allow it to do its stuff, and so perhaps I'm guilty of allowing too much to pass.

(I read a review of Mcfague's book in a book I have by David L. Edwards: I've only read part of McFague's book despite it now being on my shelf, but the review seemed to miss the point, as the one did of Truth is Two Eyed.)
June 19 2006, 4:47 pm

The Anglican communion is like a tumbler that is spinning, and all the forces are going outwards. This is because of the effect of pluralism, secularisation and a greater variety of theologies than ever before. As a result there will be more and more co-operation across structures until structures change, if they do. It does not stop with the US Episcopalian Church, it is also the other Episcopalian Church that is increasingly liberal in definition - the one in Scotland. The Church in Wales is not exactly fundy either - after all its most recent archbishop was... and he did his interesting writing then. There is an overall picture with these Churches, though they all contain every variety. The Church of England just has its feet in every camp, and lacks an overall shape, and so if Anglicanism becomes more of a federation than a communion, the difficulty is how the Church of England then evolves. It could just stay as it is, a kind of amorphous blob, being the impossible. That would be interesting, a place with lots of spaces.
June 20 2006, 12:24 am

I don't think the Church of England is prepared to go down a fundamentalist and uneducated route. That is one where everything is straightjacketed into a kind of eighteenth century and later scientism, where they turn the depths of religious myth and story into a kind of grotesque pseudo history or pseudo science. The Church of England's colleges and courses mainly train its ministers into a critical understanding of its tradition, and not the narrow distortion being demanded here. It simply won't work to change this; it will produce a kind of modern day Puritanism without the social basis for it, proving no more attractive that the diversity of now.

I was having a chat today and told a story of Michael Goulder sharing a taxi with a woman I know, and Goulder was speaking about some of the students' essays. They wrote in the critical manner about miracles, and understanding how these beliefs came about and were used, but would go off as ministers and completely change and then describe how Jesus actually walked on water, etc.. The duplicity is in such students as ministers, as well as how this duplicity is encouraged by perceived congregational expectations and the like.

Except, of course, when you do speak, "as taught in the colleges" (to use a phrase I've heard used), people in congregations show a keen interest. The kind of incompatibilities in their minds, between a fundy reading of the tradition that so many hide behind and their normal explanations of events in this life, start to melt, and education opens up a new way to understand the tradition. Congregations actually welcome thought and intelligence, opening up and investigating.

One thing that the Da Vinci Code showed is not that people love a conspiracy, but they like to think they are using their own minds. When what is taught in the colleges is taught in the pews, and people are being treated like lifelong learners, then perhaps more will come along and participate in the religious adventure.
June 20 2006, 2:19 pm

I recall a chap at Luther King House saying that he used to think the enemy was on the outside and now he sees the enemy (lecturers and others) on the inside. This is what is being heard now too.

There are two different groupings who write a critical essay in the college and then revert to before the essays back in the churches. The first is the person who institutionally conforms, and so meets one expectation in the college, and then meets another perceived expectation in the pulpit. But then there is the other type amongst this group who does see where the arguments add up, and then writes accordingly, only to then put on a face that is indeed a mask.

A number of Christian and Jewish stories have multiple readings, and I understand that - but then it's a question of honesty, motivation, institutional pressure. It seems to me that a minister of any sort should provide facilitated exploration, openness and generosity.
July 7 2006, 4:17 pm

The Church is its communities, in every age, and today it has sources available to it that in effect have not been for a long time. There has been a period most recently when ordained priests and ministers had insight into these [critical] materials and received a critical education and training, but kept their mouths shut to people in the pews with all their doubts and different thoughts. And whilst this attitude of leaders goes on, increasingly the debate is happening from some of them, where there is a bit more honesty about. This debate however also bypasses such restricting priests and ministers due to, for example, the Internet. Many ideas on the Internet are so so but it does offer a way through to the more academic material.

Plus, of course, a great deal is happening religiously outside the Church, where a lot of this material is sparking quite an interest in the breadth of Christianity in the past.
July 9 2006, 2:11 am

This [Christianity] is a religion that understands sacrifice and the bright light in the dark room. It knows the way to longer peace. It also has had periods of bloody history when it has had spiritual warfare, and caused no end of destruction. Now a few are talking about spiritual warfare against other Christians, and talk glibly that they are not Christian.

It is a symptom of the state of the Anglican Communion and the Church of England that this nasty smelling can of worms is spilling over in this fashion, but it needs the people to do it. I say, give these people a field where they can have their spiritual warfare, and leave other Christians to get on with serving people, understanding the ways of sacrifice and peace.
July 9 2006, 9:40 pm

>There are no Roman Catholics in Unitarianism folks it seems!<

Oh yes there are/ were. One is/ was Rev. Tony Cross, who retained a very strong Christianity and a eucharist centred one within the Unitarian Church. I debated with him a number of times, and he was a generous and thoughtful chap but (I thought, and probably he too) problematic as he was always potentially going to return to Roman Catholicism.
July 10 2006, 9:06 pm

Treat the term cult in a more sociological manner rather than in a disparaging manner - a group that is potentially unstable in that it has a strong reliance on and belief in its leader for its wellbeing. This is what makes a cult different from a sect, which is (usually) a small group with high demands of belief on its membership and is at some distance from society (though the definition varies with subgroups of sects). Now that Churches have sectarian characteristics as well as Church characteristics, and some sects become denominations quite quickly, and some denominations are like Churches, these terms are falling into redundancy.
July 10 2006, 11:55 pm

Yes, 'New Religious Movement' because a cult, by the very definition, is temporary in terms of what it depends upon. And then there are NRMs that are given a New Age tag, by which a number of sociologists imply "easy come easy go" consumerism, in other words the walls are not as high as with sects and a bit of money buys you in.
July 3 2006, 2:34 pm

If you look at the Covenant [see above] I imagined, it cannot be described as being of another religion. After all, the baptism remains the same, the central ritual remains the same, the memorial is to the same man, it inherits the same formularies. It just takes account of research and modern thought, and allows contemporary philosophies.
July 3 2006, 11:05 pm

[There are] Christians up to and including the Apostles' Creed who did not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Goodness, [it] even disqualifies Jesus himself.
July 4 2006, 3:13 pm

So we are back to the old one about Bishop Peter Forster and reported comments.

The General Assembly has a statement about Christianity and otherwise at
- and the answer is it comes down to individual beliefs.

In denominational terms Unitarians are dissenters, and in terms of creeds and articles they can be called heretics, but historically they are both Christian dissenters and Christian heretics. Today these terms are largely meaningless, in the sense that dissent depends on where you are (Anglicanism is dissent from a RC point of view) and heresy is theological diversity and, in any case, a creed does not state how to understand a creed.

I would not as a practice take the words of Peter Forster and Michael Nazir-Ali as some sort of holy writ; and if we take the latter's words literally, he referred to "we" in creating a religion for the twenty first century, just regarded as virtually two, which suggests either he is engaged in hyberbole or is involved in such activity.

Would he call The Modern Churchpeople's Union, in which the bishop of my diocese is involved, as not Christian? It is a nonsensical thought.
July 4 2006, 7:04 pm

I certainly would not describe the Bishop of Lincoln as "not a Christian". I think it is outrageous to even infer such. The Modern Churchpeople's Union is not another religion, it is a moderate modernist view of Christianity and whilst ecumenical is largely Anglican. Have you ever read its output? It is nothing but Christian. The argument about not being Christian can be said about Sea of Faith, which describes itself as not Christian, but does include Christians.

16 September, 11:24 pm

I would be less effective to others and myself, in that I attend a place with spiritual colour and where thoughts expressed overlap with mine, most of the time. I go past a church 30 seconds walk away and drive 15 minutes instead. The chap thirty seconds away (I have been there, obviously) once talked of sinners in New Holland in stark terms and added so much simplistic nonsense as if he'd never been to theological college, so I went somewhere where the people (including most lay readers) give the impression that they have been to theological college and, indeed, keep reading.

I drove 35 minutes over the Humber Bridge to the Unitarians for a number of years, from 1994 to the turn of the century (it trailed off). This year they saw me again when I attended the ex-minister's funeral and had good conversations with some of them afterwards.

When I lived in Derbyshire I went to a ... church, where the priest on a trip to Cambridge to visit a Unitarian minister friend of mine told me he was more or less humanist - he was indeed interesting - and I used to motorbike 40 minutes into Sheffield to attend the Western Buddhists each week.

I go where I have a dialogue with what I meet, otherwise it is not effective.
17 September, 3:32 pm

The Unitarian church does not tend to engage with, for them, long forgotten arguments about the Trinity or universal salvation, but provides a simple, reflective approach to faith using many words and hymns. There are theological issues, some of which aren't tackled at all and I rather wish they were. There are also chapel-culture issues, much of which were astonishing for anything intending to be a progressive church. The debate theologically is between a recognisable liberal Christianity of forms and a religious pluralism sometimes called religious humanism.

The local Anglican church (of 30 seconds) does more than provide a historical faith, it gives it a particular slant that I strongly disagree with, whereas I attend where the slant is one that I find I can work with. It also has a spirituality I appreciate.
July 3 2006, 10:51 pm

The argument from culture also undermines the one case of claiming revelation. This is why neo-Calvinist theologians rejected culture, religion and even human attempts to reach God... In any case there is no reason to believe whatsoever in Jesus thinking in terms of Trinity, and if the early Church did after some time it is arguable that this is cultural too. If it is revelation, then the revelation is a religion about Jesus rather than from Jesus (Unitarians have claimed something similar, rightly, until they describe what the religion of Jesus is and then that becomes about Jesus too).
June 25 2006, 10:43 pm

Now we are into myth land - that Jesus established a church. I don't think this one stands the historical Jesus test. I'll keep to the probability that he was an end time teacher, healer and preparer.
June 27 2006, 1:32 am

I rather like what Hans Kung (independent minded Catholic theologian) states about the Church:

>The Church might be defined as the community of those who believe in Christ. More precisely: not founded by Jesus, but emerging after his death in his name as crucified and yet living, the community of those who became involved in the cause of Jesus Christ and witness to it as hope for all men [sic]. Before Easter there was nothing more than an eschatological collective movement. A congregation, a Church, came into existence only after Easter and this too was eschatologically orientated: at first this was not a cult of its own, a constitution of its own, an organisation of tis own with definite ministries, but simply and solely the profession of faith in this Jesus as the Christ.< Kung, H. (1977), On Being a Christian, London: Collins, 478.

The point about this is that Jesus did not establish a Church and had no interest in doing so. It emerged, and is Easter based, not before, and was charismatic and eschatological. I disagree with him that this implies no (at least, top) structure, but that a number of Churches emerged with top leadership as means to authority and legitimacy very quickly: James, Peter, Paul all having influence. Where he is right, surely, is that doing ministry was important over office, and apostolic succession later came to mean an office, a class of those who passed on succession, whereas it was at first a stress on community - ministry over office. Collegiality became specialised to a group of ministers, and indeed became monarchial. (491)

Kung has a Pauline view of churches and their meetings with gifts of the spirit which generate charism, and this means a church is ordinary not extraordinary, pluriform not uniform and not limited to a class of persons but a universal phenomenon. Of course it is Paul's view that predominates and we know very little of Peter's Church, as Peter is filtered.

He points out the defensive, preserving and pastoral value of early popes (494). He then finds the record mixed. And now the value of petrine ministry has become a blockage (well in 1974, when this was first published).

The questions he asks are: can a primacy of Peter be justified, must it endure, is the Bishop of Rome successor to the petrine primacy, and he states:

>These are historical questions and we must not take refuge in dogmatic postulates which cannot be historically justified. But, if the vast amount of literature on the subject is anything to go by, it will not be at all easy to deprive these difficulties of their force.< 496

Kung's view is that the petrine ministry performs a pastoral service towards unity and not of a party.

I'm not sure if a central figure has any particular value. The Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican communion, who has authority but not power, is forced to be of service and not of power. This must, I think, be the better approach, even if it is one that fails. Failure is an essential part of Christianity and service often means failing. The history of the popes and meaning of popes is lost in an early fog, but there is a petrine model that is available, and it is pastoral.
June 29 2006, 11:53 pm

Kung and Ratzinger shared an analytical rational outlook towards Catholicism but when 1968 came and went Kung remained consistent and Ratzinger lost his nerve. One turned and went in a different direction and became a servant to a Polish Pope who reversed (it seems to many) much that was hoped for in Vatican II.

There is an issue here about ecumenical relationships. I recall a conversation at Luther King House amongst the denominations where it was being said ecumencal relationships would go nowhere with that present Pope. It has to be said, however, and strangely perhaps, that interfaith relationships did improve well under the last Pope.

Kung may well now be a dissident Catholic by the decrees of the Roman Catholic Church, but his comprehensive understanding of the Christian faith has wide impact. In my early days of Christian involvement, a Methodist minister recommended On Being a Christian by Kung to get an overview in some detail and debate of the Christian faith, and this book does give this. It tackles many points, and now so many years later when I have looked at a number of points in detail, such as the historical Jesus and eschatology, I find that Kung tackles these with some openness and therefore sets up a dialogue between these historical issues and Christian belief.

By contrast Ratzinger as Pope has come to continue what the previous Pope constructed, and is using his Eurocentric rationality to argue for, in effect, a smaller, purer, Roman Catholic Church if smaller it has to be. The problem for this Pope is that it answers none of the contradictions of the institution building up, though that is his and its problem. Kung, however, speaks far wider and has the bigger reach and for me, whether I agree with hm or not, represents substance.
June 30 2006, 2:45 am

The "build my church" is itself early Christian, the words given to Jesus for authority and legitimacy. The half made argument is it did not intend succesion through ordination, but that argument is odd unless thorough - Jesus intended no Church whatsoever and would not have.
June 17 2006, 2:32 pm

Much in modern religion, Christianity and otherwise, is invented tradition. Wicca is an invented tradition based on what is thought to be in the distant past, but mainly from contemporary writings; much of that about the Pope was formalised much later when once the Empreror mattered as much, much that passes for Catholicism in the Church of England began in Victorian times as an anti-secularist and ant-state reaction, the Unitarian claim to Open Trusts (of evolving belief) was an invention of the 1800s, or the reinvention of Druids at the Gorsedd (involving the Archbishop of Canterbury) which was the fantasy and forgery of the Unitarian Iolo Morgannwg, or even Paul's reinterpretation of Jesus. So when people value Celtic Christianity now, and there is no real historical connection with then, what matters is why it is being valued now. It is that side of Christianity which connects with contemporary Paganism, that side that rejects patriarchy and authority and is pro-ecology. It tells us about us now. And so if there is a Christianity that prospers in bits of Wales and Cornwall and at Glastonbury, let it prosper; and if it says it relates to something historical in order to have legitimacy and authority, then it is doing no more than many a Christian and religious development in the past. After all, religion is about stories and narratives, and we make these up all the time.
June 18 2006, 1:14 am

The gospels are predominantly anti-semitic, showing the movement away from Judaism that is part of their polished redaction. That is not corrected is it: the Sanhedrin element of it simply cannot be so, as described, or that nice man Pilate (etc.). Nobody corrected them, did they? The gospels are not corrected by eyewitnesses, and their form gives no impression of that at all.
June 18 2006, 1:26 am

The order of Popes is disputed, somewhat written after the event, and hardly secure in terms of linking to Peter. On to whom did Peter lay hands, if anyone? The Emperor was once the divine boss and placed as Christ's reresentative, the Pope emerged later as the single supreme divine installation.

Furthermore, the Roman Church has it that Christ is the deposit of faith and it can make developmental changes, whereas the Orthodox have it that Christ is the complete faith and the Church cannot make developmental changes. The Orthodox ought to be asked where it got all it does from. The Roman Church ought to realise its own early disconnected origins and subsequent imperial evolution.
June 18 2006, 5:28 pm

The artwork of the later Roman Empire places the Emperor along with Christ, high and both with halos. The first popes were elected by a combination of the Roman clergy and citizens.

The second pope, Linus, is uncertain as pope, and indeed legendary and mythic, and if [he was the] pope the dates are uncertain; Cletus, might be Anencletus as well as Anacletus, and no way of knowing if he was a slave, Greek or anything much about him at all; Pope Clement I is the first one about whom anything definite is known, and he might be the next one after Peter, not the previous two.

It is not being a detractor from Catholicism - I really don't care too much about Catholicism - but simply looking at the murky records at the beginning and what it meant to have this ecclesiastical position at that time. The problem might be in a Catholic trying to tie myth into history when the history is inadequate.
June 22 2006, 10:39 pm

Well there is the development of Hellenistic Christianity, and then there is the power of the Roman Empire that put its imprint on to the Roman Catholic Church and its authority at a crucial stage. To point this out is not to damn the whole beast; it hardly damns what is important. I am simply showing that the history does not support the myth that claims to be history, and some Catholics seem very strong on their need for history at particular points where the support is lacking.
June 24 2006, 2:00 am

The Pope started off as no more than the local chap in charge, and these are people we know little about, and the succession can be this one or that one. Actually, it isn't very important.
June 15 2006, 5:12 pm

There are a number of myths and legends about the Celtic Church, and although it is an early Church in these islands it is not early in the sense of Jewish Christianity or Hellenism.

It relates to a Celtic people, a conceptual problem in itself (did they travel, did they share a common identity, did their ideas travel...), and the differences seem largely that Christianity was monastic by authority with a greater and higher role for the Abbess and Abbot over ceremonial bishops. The reform of the Synod of Whitby was an adjustment the Roman Catholic Church made when it did its work without the state authority of Imperial Rome, having vanished.
June 8 2006, 8:35 pm

Gosh I've got that book by Flo[rence Higham (1939): Faith of our Fathers: Men and Movements of the Seventeenth Century, SCM Press]. Well the Church of England was after the split [from Rome], of course, and was Reformed too, and had Puritans in it for some time, even after many left in 1662, and so I think Thomas Ken was a bit romantic (but not like a Romantic). Churches and their characteristics tend to be a breeding ground for invented traditions, that is supposed ancient movements that were started about half an hour ago in an attempt to show legitimacy and authority but actually responded to contemporary concerns. The Oxford Movement is a good example, which was a bit of a pseudo-Papal invention of its own, which others received as a sort of Victorian Gothic. Rev. Lloyd Thomas was a Free Catholic, who disliked the Unitarian name, and he ended up going to Rome. Francis Newman, though, went in the opposite direction to brother Henry, went via the Unitarians and became effectively a secularist.
June 9 2006, 9:27 pm

Beliefs have shifted down the ages. Fundamentalists today would have been regarded as suspect yesterday, because they have shifted too. Only a very few keep to say the purities of Calvin rather than those dangerous radicals, the Arminians - many fundies today are quite Arminian. Wesley, the great underminer of authority and Calvinist sureness is now regarded by some as an evangelical model, and by some odd bods as an example of high Anglicanism too.

Dangerous liberals only go where the others will follow - see you there when philosophy has shifted and your fundamentalism is our liberalism (see how much someone like John Milbank will be seen as orthodox soon, or even Georg Lindbeck).

Liberals and radicals do what the original orthodox did - apply current "ologies" to theology. What the orthodox can create so can liberals and radicals create.

...God is pluriform, made up of so many ideas and concepts.
June 12 2006, 8:55 pm

Bede is, of course, somewhat biased, but such can be the nature of history. To say the usual point: it gets written by winners.

If I think of the church I attend, a number of people there that I can think of value exploration, education, theological insights, and a reconciliation if possible in their own minds between usual scientific and technical understanding, and the inherited doctrines of religious belief and their many interpretations down the ages. As one of the younger women said there, he (the recently installed priest) "has a brain and isn't afraid to use it." And his brain is rather conversational with others. Rather useful I think. Some of his best thoughts are in brief sermons on a Wednesday morning. It treats people as adults.
Today, 8:23 pm

I'm just reading the ins and outs of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, and all kinds of dubious characters using Protestantism to advance their party or using that party to advance Protestantism, like the obnoxious character John Knox, likely ex-Catholic priest and into all the trouble spots, joining in the English-French rivalry to remove the chip on his shoulder.
August 31 2006, 12:22 pm

It is quite possible, if the United States was to stop living beyond its means, that the individualism could translate for a period into religious fanaticism. The building blocks have been set in motion by George Bush. I only hope that the Americans as a whole regard him as a failure, a sort of "look where it gets us", and steers clear of it. Fortunately we in the UK have a tradition of keeping religion at arm's length, and where the state religion is involved it behaves a bit like it is at arm's length.
September 15 2006, 2:43 am

Historically churches have never attracted a significant proportion of working class people. Even when they tried, as with the Salvation Army, they only cut working class people off from others, and usually took a "respectable" working class element that wanted to socially better itself. Most preferred labour unions and secular institutions for this purpose. Attempts to bridge the gap, as in Labour Churches, were unsuccessful.

One church that tried to reach the working class was the Unitarian Church, in its more urban denominational side (the other side was more Free Christian and parish orientated). This never really worked, and the usual pattern throughout the whole denomination was classes in Sunday school led by the middle class members, taking in children, but only a tiny fraction of whom, or their absent parents, ever joined. It was middle class philanthropy. The association of the Unitarians with the Liberal Party (political liberalism) was also a turn off for many workers. Radical Unitarian thinkers there were, but even though they were pretty much socialist and combined it with radical religion, it made no impact due to the Liberal association. The legacy can be seen in places like Styal, Cheshire, a Unitarian village that basically gave workers much better conditions than the slums but had them in economic bondage, and woe betide anyone who fell out of the discipline of the place. The Unitarian church (and a Methodist one was there too - very tolerant, Unitarians) had the people in there, with the bosses at the front. Later on it was called Enlightened self interest, and the labour movement rejected that.

I spent some time looking at the Hull Unitarian Church and its history, and when you see that it preached on subjects such as Greek myths, you realise that this had no appeal to the working class, but only demonstrated that the minister had had an education through the classical system and he was demonstrating some sort of status by speaking on this. A minister was expected to be educated, to know the current scholarship, to represent the ideology of the movement.

But, furthermore, the whole push for toleration, first of all by the mercantilists with the Puritan Presbyterians, and later by liberal Unitarians in the same churches, was a middle class movement against the old regime each time. It was to overtake the landed Church (of England), and these chapels were agents of political reform, collective institutions for the liberal capitalists to have power first in local authorities and later nationally.

The history of secularisation and the churches becoming minority institutions was when the middle class, once fearful of the city and upholding moral values through church attendance, realised that they too did not have to attend churches. The churches then, instead of being broad-brush social providers (leisure, welfare, take the kids away so mum and dad had sex on a Sunday morning), specialised into religion more or less pure and simple. The Sunday School Movement collapsed. Obviously the practicality of secular thinking has not helped a supernaturalist based faith - Unitarians did evolve faith but minimalised the content.

Latterly it seems all membership groups have declined, and people are more fleeting in their associations. This also can be seen as a form of secularising, though when everything becomes small then there is a kind of plurality about. The point is that some people do not pick or choose. The working class did have memberships, but association was more its culture, but that mass movement has now become a kind of associational individualism, the postmodernity of the present.
September 15 2006, 3:37 pm

>the 'bettering of themselves' was a result of realising that faith changes behaviour<

Well this is an interesting point, but there is a danger of looking at this through contemporary eyes. If we go backwards in time, there was a general Christian culture, in terms of ideas and place about the Bible, Church, Christ and so on. This was the culture of baptisms, church marriages, church funerals and the family Bible as standard, and needing to deviate from these. It did not take any huge ideological or belief effort to be in a church, though of course it did lead to obligations and expectations in the company. It took an alternative culture to stay out, and that was the pattern in the working class (and until the early 1980s it was industrial and mass based - mass markets, mass consumption, mass membership of unions, party political allegiance and so on). So it was not that people acquired faith and bettered themselves because they acquired faith; they had faith assumptions anyway and the churches had a reputation for respectability. Anyone who wanted that label of respectability, and who wanted something other, could join any of the local congregations.

There have always been, in areas of high danger employment, high levels of superstition and belief to add to the general assumptions, and there have been needs to congregate with each other for reflecting on the dangerous employment - fighting for rights and so on. So in places like the South Wales Valleys the churches did perform the extra role and became a curious setting for both advancing and holding back political thought. They still performed respectability functions, still provided a brake on revolution as well as advanced socially progressive ideas (as with the Sermon on the Mount). But these churches were, ideologically and socially, more liberal than socialist, and in as some became more socialist there was still that liberalism.

Now today there is this large service class, which is a individualist and somewhat trapped underclass of low prospects. But churches are now more specialised ideological institutions. No one would join a church to be considered respectable (well they might, but not in the same broader cultural sense) and church recruitment these days is pretty much socially random in this sense - except that some Christian ideas require an understanding of the abstract as well as concrete knowledge. Questions of incarnation and resurrection and so on are abstract ideas, and are pretty meaningless to people of basic education in the underclass - which is why fundamentalism and literalism makes a pitch for them, but even then it is still abstract in nature.

So ...I don't think it is possible to compare then and now, and that there is not the social basis now for revivals. We have now this consumerist basis of a thousand and more beliefs that anyone can pick and choose, if they pick and choose any, and an anomie between them that was not the case right up to times of mass culture and mass employment. This is the difference.
July 17 2006, 2:35 pm

I was asked to go on an Alpha course, on the basis that people like the local priest and me are "like Saul" [said the inviter]. The arrogance of it is breathtaking...

Incidentally figures for the United States do show decline, and this is across all denominations including fundamentalist ones. Some time ago I was looking at many maps if the US where the decline was across the board, so to speak. It still remains influential of course, and is a different culture from Europe with its inherited and kept at arms length state churches. The religious right in the US has influence beyond its numerical strength, but in terms of policies passed it has less influence than it thinks, and does this in a culture which has equal spaces for people to do the other thing.
July 17 2006, 3:07 pm

>Alpha tends to recycle/rejuvenate those already having church links rather than bringing in new people.<

This tends to be the effect of evangelism and new movements, causing a recirculation. Churches are very sticky places, but when a dispute arises the effect of such as Alpha is to cleave off these numbers and place them into lively successful churches. It's not that new people are not recruited, it is just that more leave or die. For years now the confirmation and membership service was a leaving ticket, it is just that now the numbers who even bother to seek confirmation and membership are so low.
August 23 2006, 1:07 am

A note about liberalism and congregationalism...

Unitarian churches operate on a congregational model (by default, historically they were Presbyerian but never operated a Presbyterian polity), though, in some, the trustees, who may be self-perpetuating by being self selecting, can run the church or overule a committee running the church. The effect of being liberal is that they start to be illiberal. A minister, who should not have any doctrinal test, is informally vetted to see if he or she fits in with the tendency of the church. Similarly, some members on the humanist/ pluralist wing might feel marginalised if the Christian tendency dominates - or vice versa - and it is not supposed to be like that. Some members become more important than others.

I used to call it creeds by the back door, or arm twisting.

I prefer the checks and balances that exist in the Anglican system. No one level overpowers another. I am sure informal power exists too, but in the Unitarians the General Assembly had no powers at all over any part, thus its decisions could only ever be advisory. So it might make completely inclusive statements regarding, say, sexual orientation of ministers being no bar to the pulpit, and a church on the ground quietly carries on thinking and doing otherwise. One church (when I was on my travels) disliked even a woman minister because she didn't join "the women" who governed the kitchen space. I could not believe it. A liberal church does not have to be progressive: liberality can be the means by which prejudice carries on.

Usually a member becomes one simply by stating the fact. The Hull church had no ceremony for becoming a member, and you just said so and paid up. 1994 to 2000 I refused to be a member anyway. Some churches have a service when new members are welcomed, who had recently joined or wait until then.
July 14 2006, 1:16 am

[There is] a linear line of theology. At the far left would be non-realism, interfaith, universalism, pure theism, pure spirit, secular theology, sustained criticism (eg feminist), and then moving to the right it ends up as fundamentalism, dogged particular traditionalism, dogma. Different politics of right and left can cut across any of these positions.

Don Cupitt and Graham Shaw were pretty much in agreement theologically on the far left, but Don was going radical Green at a time that Graham Shaw was Thatcherite Conservative. Many an evangelical towards the right can be politically radical. I remember the first Sea of Faith Conference a radical chap from Methodism realised he was not theologically radical in the manner of the conference but was politically radical - he found agreement among many but the main function of the conference was theological radicalism.

In my view, a left right polarity does not work. A triangle works better, but considering the Emerging Church and postmodern radical orthodoxy, I'd now revise the triangle. It works if there is a mirror side of the triangle for postmodern objectivity-rejecting theologies and churchships.

At one corner is liberalism that divides into theism, spiritualism and exemplarism, as well as none - all heterodox. In the middle is orthodox liberalism, incarnation and resurrection but not necessarily doctrinal details, at another corner there is traditionalisms of any and every kind, at least one per denomination, and then conversionism at the other corner, which subdivides into charismatic, evangelical, fundamentalist. On the mirror side is the postmodern non-objective forms of these, where liberalism becomes theologically radical, and includes at the conversionist corner the emerging Church and at the traditionalisms corner radical orthodoxy.
June 13 2006, 7:11 pm

Alpha is promoting the current New Reformation happening within the old structures and across them; it is like the Militant Tendency in the Labour Party, redefining socialism, and Labour decided it wanted to be broad and reach out to a general public (and cut them out - though I'm not advocating this, it is just that the distances are getting ever greater between interpretations). So Labour and that kind of socialism separated. I know my analogy breaks down - Labour went on to become well overlapped with the Conservative Party in its newer forms. But to stick to Alpha, it is a form of entryism of one interpretation; so it bounces off such as the likes of the Da Vinci Code or anything else - about which Bart Ehrman did a good job in Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code without the same exploitation.
June 18 2006, 4:11 pm

The priest is probably depressed herself...

I went to a friend's christening in one of the more successful of the East Yorkshire churches [in] what are effectively Hull's suburbs, a standard Methodist church and a woman minister who just *had* to give a long God-this-and-that introduction to the song chosen by the non-Methodist father (the mother is), which was the Ink is Black the Page is White... and no, it stands on its own terms: [it is] a secular song.
June 19 2006, 2:25 am

Churches predominantly serve this [older] age group, and they [older people] have precious little else in contemporary culture. So if there is something of value for them, it is worth having. Having said this, the research we did in Hull (secular area if ever there is one) shows that as people get older they don't sudenly become religious attenders, it is something relating to a generational life that is going. Much of this is also related to the Sunday School movement and its collapse, so that there is no public memory of Christianity and no base, even if confirmation/ membership is a leaving certificate.

Christianity is now increasingly "sold" with use of contemporary cultural tools, even if it opposes aspects of contemporary culture. There is no sense in which this method of introduction has a longer term impact than the formation processes of the past. In fact its formation is towards the instant and probably is all the looser. Every form of Christianity is now a subculture, and esoteric, peculiar and cut off. I am well aware that the kind of spirituality into which I am largely self-educated and [is] provided institutionally is a near unknown, a weird thing [for most people]: not simply the strange beliefs but the culture of delivery such as the musical delivery of a book like Common Worship.

My own service experience, Sunday evening, a communion (15 in choir, 14 in congregation, two priests), was of more depth for me than the folksy moderate Methodist service experienced in the morning, when much of a not large congregation stayed on for its married member having her baby christened. The choir, it seemed to me, was something for the few MAYC folk to do, and the minister's enthusiasms seemed to me somewhat well rehearsed and part of the act. There are now too many denominations, too many church buildings, and a trade that has deep structural problems of distance from contemporary culture, and answers that are not forthcoming.
June 20 2006, 12:41 am

A knowledge area I have is Unitarian churches, many of which have closed, but there are some interesting cases of turnaround. York was an example where it was down to some half dozen elderly, and then a family came along. It was assisted at the time by a retired minister, who gave it some consistency and direction. Now it is doing well, with leadership.

So there is something random in recovery, and something to do with using the opportunities that are there. A core aspect of this is nurturing relationships and identity through the messages, activities and location. Many a Unitarian church that is in decline has had years of "We like it this way" without realising just how cut off it has become, and only when things become desperate does that "try anything" flexibility come in. It was known that inclusive, flexible and changing and adventurous churches, ones that could respond to its creedless base, were the ones that did well, and attracted and kept those who had no knowledge of the subculture, but nevertheless started to learn it. Unfortunately far too few [churches] were and are like this, where the subculture strangles, and often is unrecognised because the subculture includes the myth of being free when they are not.

The way I see it now [for me] is to have some sort of core identity and then flexibility, of involvement and even a bit of creative danger.
June 12 2006, 8:38 pm

The movement of individuals continues on the other end of the spectrum. Duncan McGuffie was a Unitarian minister who became an Anglican priest, and Francis Simons (I wrote an obituary to The Inquirer) came from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England and became a distinctive symbol-using religous humanist minister. He could have and should have been far more influential than he was, but he mainly occupied a space in one of England's few radical Unitarian churches, closer to the UUA than most. He had a wonderful poster in his manse, a mass of Buddhas that overall made the image of a penis.
March 29 2006, 12:55 am

As far as a Church is concerned, postmodernism does not imply liberalism. It can be liberal and it can be conservative. John Milbank's Radical Orthodoxy is a conservative view of postmodernism.

The origins of a conservative view can be found in Karl Barth, who rejected religious culture in favour of the revelation of God from outside of culture. What this implied was no earthly means of objectivity, because it is outside. For someone like Hans Frei, then, Barth implied a biblical narrative like a non-objective drama. A development of that on the Church side was Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine, in which doctrine had no objective reality but was a grammar of a community.

The problem with this approach is that such a Church was once cultural, but now lost of this objectivity it becomes frozen. It is conservative. Lindbeck claims an ecumenical view when the trouble is Churches have much in the way of variation. John Milbank is an extreme form of Lindbeck, in that his Church is also fixed and the centre of the universe. The move to secular generalities, especially intellectual, he states implies a theology, and this theology is a kind of current objectivity which has to be rejected. But postmodernism means this objectivity is itself dissolving. It also means intellectual spheres are losing their boundaries, allowing a claim for theology which goes across all boundaries. It is also anti-Platonist (as it must be). The Church is its own measure of everything. So there is no outside critical ethics, for example, or philosophy, but the Church generates its own ethics, and philosophy, just as it generates its own culture. It is, in a postmodern setting, able to do this. James Smith tries to apply this (Anglican) Catholic view to [the] Dutch Reformed (I only mention this as I bought his book). Milbank attacks Catholicism, and for all the postmodern setting he pushes the Church and its findings so far that it becomes its old dogmatic self, under God.

I think this is using postmodernism, whereas postmodernism implies the transience of truth. Something we call true we realise was not true in the past and may not be in the future. Something that is true for one group may be heavily qualified by another. Even in scientific method, falsifiability (as much as it describes the method today) is a route of change. If a Church is postmodern, it must realise the limitation of its own views. It also realises that culture is important, not to be dismissed or rejected - it is as cultural as culture.

The Emerging Church I see as a form of evangelical revisionism. It also is developing a culture, but its ideas are only going along a path that has been trodden long ago. There is a different context about the importance of forms and appearances and processes.

A fully postmodern Church is going to understand how much it constitutes a series of stories, how historical methods might be important but how limited they become in reconstructing faith. It understands itself as a construction, and a competing (and co-operating) one with other constructions. It seems to me the institution is important, and institution that revises its understanding of its ideology, open to influence and influencing. Its boundaries are also dissolving, not just in its activity but in its core of what it stands for. It cannot rule things in or out.
August 8 2006, 1:06 am

I once did a sermon about the Nine O'Clock Service in the Hull Unitarian Church. When it was being hammered for its leadership ills I looked at what it was using and introducing, and how it left the confines of its origins. I called it then liberal charismatic. Unitarianism was experimental at regional and special gatherings (but not like the NOS) but, other than that, its inherited chapel culture was crippling.
22 September, 3:07 am

I have a personal story too, which is also complex and I'll mention it, but a number of general points can be highlighted.

The first is that people very involved can become part of some dispute or disagreement and fall out as if from a great height. Such people often can only ever go back if there are personality changes - significant others have left, died or become marginal. Some of these leaversafter a time look for somewhere else, and sometimes get involved quickly somewhere else and rise through the ranks offering their voluntary effort and then acquire responsibilities all over again. On the other hand, a place may be so specific and unrepeatable that they do not get involved anywhere else, and some other institution or interest takes over.

But secondly are the marginal who feel they have in some sense already disappeared, and one day or a number over some weeks they fade away that little bit more, realise they are not noticed and are gone. These folks may never really go anywhere much afterwards.

There are issues in churches of possession and sub-culture. A group may possess the church, through either official or unofficial structures of leadership, and this excludes as well as includes. A result is people marginalised and not part of the dominant culture. There may be age and gender issues involved here. That is not just representation, but for example traditionalism among women and the roghtful place of men as leaders - what is considered proper by the lead group. People are welcomed through the door, but if they are not the right kind of people the walls go up, and if they are they are moved towards the centre quite quickly. Exclusion is usually silent (for the most part) but quite effective; people who don't make waves can make up the numbers.

An older group of people may want to keep things as they are even though numbers diminish, eventually the numbers fall so low that a crisis arises - it is rather random whether a new set of people somehow come in and then do offer a way forward.

It is actually rare for people to leave for change of belief reasons. It does happen, but the gap between a developing belief and institutional expression can become very large before the wrench takes place - leaving a group of people that one has known with reciprocal supports.

My case is complex because it involved a number of fallings out. I've been both pushed and simply made the decision to go. I've often ridden a number of diferent horses at the same time. My confirmation was at Hull University in 1984, but felt the SCM based group there was a bit stuffy and not really me, and living at home I moved out to a rural church beyond the city boundary down a cycle track. There I was happy, had an excellent relationship with the priest and his wife, and the other two horses were the Bahais and through one of their meeting places Unitarians. The Bahais were never going to attract me as there was what I'd call now a control of their history and some blindness to their own claims, but one day in the church I realised I did not believe this stuff anymore and with a lot of sadness and some difficulty with the relationships I went to the Unitarians as my main base. In any case it was a fact that this priest did shield congregation members, ordinary rural folk, from my theological learning, whilst it was fine with him and wife. So I had some restricted movements.

I was in the Anglican Fellowship of Vocation. Things became more bizarre as I continued attending its meetings despite now transferring that to the Unitarians. I was getting the benefit of them whilst pursuing the other (quite openly). In the first attempt I turned myself down at selection, and then decided to go for it. To make something more simple than it was, I went to the wrong college. Manchester was a place of old time Unitarianism, and I was not. I was on the pluralist wing, and this denomination was divided. I wanted Manchester for its ecumenical college (Luther King House) and I got on with students in other denominations better than the local churches where my reputation was there before I was. These churches formed the bulk of the committee, and it was ideological (despite the Principal being Buddhist orientated and the main incoming teacher being Pagan - both of whom could do the other persona in congregations, and I felt that if this was the situation I may as well have stayed with the Church of England! This is a serious point by the way, in that the Church of England has corners and byways for people like me and theological offshoots, and still has a theological tradition whereas it has gone from Unitarianism in its decline into congregationalist habits).

When I was told to go - the Principal resigned a few months after and wrote to me why - I stopped all involvement in religious activity. This was 1990. It was a year and a half before I touched institutional religion again, and it was the local C of E, the Western Buddhists in Sheffield and I drifted back to the Unitarians in Sheffield. I faded from the Unitarians in Sheffield because I just thought it was about nothing much - there was a lot of safety first there with two camps in place. In any case I was now a critic. The C of E was good, and I got on with the priest chap there too, but he said my non-realism would preclude ministry whereas a unitarian position (small u - not my position anyway) would not... The Western Buddhists I liked, and this even with finding out about some difficulties with the sex thing and homosexuality at the centre (rather the opposite from Anglicanism I might add) due to some confusions in the system of non-monastic ordained sexual division. Oh and there are disputes between Buddhisms and whether Sangharakshita isn't ordained because of some dodgy character somewhere up one line. Who gives a toss. Mind, in this area of East Yorks and North Lincs, the Budshists are all offshoot Tibetans and I haven't got on with that approach and a different one meeting at the Unitarian building was here today and gone tomorrow - very Buddhist I know!.

So in 1994 I was in North Lincolnshire and tried again the Hull congregation, more progressive than most. It was doing well, so many new folks. But I got the immediate impression that I was to be distrusted because, at Manchester, I'd let the side down. I could imagine the gossip. However, with many men about and interest in religious ideas we thought we'd form a theology group and this was seen as threatening. The women in particular saw it as a potential change (towards even more progressive ways) and saw me as involved, and they were successful in stopping it, but more to the situation and nothing to do with me a dispute arose about the Trust Deed that tore the place apart. All the good work was vanishing, but my decision early on not to join the congregation but stay associate was right. Funnily enough I was one of the last of the people to go, and went after much marginality and less and less involvement to pretty much turning up and then less, and then raised my head when I thought the minister the core had disapproved of was eased out. I asked some very awkward questions and left. I've not been back since, except for the previous (to her) minister's funeral.

Going to the local C of E, thirty seconds walk away, has never appealed. One minister left in some scandal apparently, but they are all peas in the same pod, but I went to the nearby town church which was a bit cathedralish in behaviour or self image (I thought) on occasions, and then had an interregnum, and then the chap who was coming seemed interesting, and seemed even more interesting. So my attendance has gone up and I have just joined the education programme they are running, which is intended to be open ended and more about questions and discussion than answers. I've had good and high level discussions with this chap one to one, and he said come and stir it for the education course meeting - and I thought what, me, do you know me, and I didn't (stir it).

At the same time, my rejection of the Unitarian positions (practice and theory) led to a new working out of theology that started with my appreciation of pathways and symbolism, and therefore a greater focus on tradition as resource, and pulling in some of the theologies that I did in my MA Theology (done 1996-1998 while an increasingly marginal Unitarian attender). The older interpretive liberalism and simpler Sea of Faith position is more complex now too. The learning about faiths and RE methodology during the PGCE was important too. So I'll continue to attend, but once there is a history of leavings there is always that option, always the point where the institution does not match the personal belief, and the gap becomes too great.
22 September, 3:53 pm

In addition my mother went to the same Hull Unitarian Church, and so I was at the end more of a taxi driver than involved. When I spoke up for a minister, which was the point I went, I still made it clear I'd take her, but she decided too about not going any more. I think for her certain people had left or died, and mine was a point of departure too. After this we received the bimonthly notices for a time and a telephone call for mum (who was down as a member) but there was nothing for me. However, I answered the call about the former minister's death and I was the one who went to the funeral. My mother's lack of contact and lesser overall fitness was also a reason not to go (the act of departing becomes an act of separating).

When marginal and after leaving I maintained an active personal contact with an elderly chap who was mentally agile and used his computer, and we had lots of discussions. He was a universalist and me a pluralist (he wanted to see a world ethic, like the later Hans Kung, and believed in a universal religious drive). He became very dissatisfied with the Unitarians introducing a clause to "uphold liberal Christianity" which I also opposed but saw it as evidence of their confusion, but unlike him I was positive about Christianity (the argument is complex - Unitarians should not uphold anything, they can be postmodern, they should be completely non-credal and it is also an offence to their history). His mind began to decline, and when he had an illness that led to confusion, I stayed around visiting him in his residential home and it meant a little contact with the Unitarian minister from time to time (the current one). Oddly enogh, more by accident than design I think, I missed his funeral, though the minister said to me the family's wishes (in forgetting me, ignoring me, keeping me away?) are paramount (quite so) but despite contact with him I made no hint of wanting to be involved and I have never been to one of his services.

The general point of this is that although after leaving there can be contacts maintained, and there are ways back, they have to be taken. I'd decided I was elsewhere, and that the previous road was over for good, despite the once minister's funeral being an opportinity to chat with people.
22 September, 9:33 pm

It reminds me to some extent of Grace Davie and Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging, although this is a condition in general for this country rather than simply about believing.

What you highlight about Wellington does read better as qualitative rather than quantitative research (so ignore proportions and instead go for detailed accounts and what they reveal).

If this chap is in Wellington, he should be aware of the impact of Sea of Faith New Zealand and Professor Lloyd Geering, the theologian from the Presbyterian camp who is New Zealand's Don Cupitt. The impact there of Sea of Faith is proportionately greater and more well known that in the UK.

My own point would be to stress however that a lot of leaving church is little to do with belief, and belief only comes to be affected afterwards when the institutional link and repetition of practice is severed. I suppose in EPC churches belief demands and finding duplicity may be more significant, but even then I have known theological liberals and radicals who were once in some sense EPG and this former belief pattern still exerts some sort of glue or core on them, in a way not present in always liberals.
23 September, 2:44 am

There have been so many junction points that where else I would be depends on not coming to some point of change.

For example, I was once in the Fellowship of Vocation and it is just possible that I might have pursued it through if accepted. On the other hand, I did make the change across, and had I trained in Oxford rather than Manchester that might have made the difference and I would have done some experimental things as a Unitarian minister (if there was a congregation or two to suit, though I often thought of planting something new).

That did not work out, but I suppose I was always likely to drift back to something. Incidentally I used the Sea of Faith movement as a reference point to renew Unitarianism but they didn't relate too well. Incidentally I have just ordered Don Cupitt's latest book after years and years of not buying anything by him, because The Old Creed and the New has a few things in it that may relate to my own position now by way of overlap, at least according to a correspondent.

I disliked living in north Derbyshire so there was no long term association likely with the Western Buddhists given their lack of geographical spread.

As I've explained in the leaving thread, there was a real sense of my marginality back at the Hull church from the beginning of my return, so it may have gone on but equally may have finished earlier. By the way I did go occasionally to Lincoln Unitarians but it never got going and was rather far - but could have. On the other hand I had a critical relationship with all Unitarianism, and that criticism was applied all over.

The church opposite here might have been more appealing rather than offputting - I mean there should be enough similarity but the flavour of the place does not relate to me at all. But what if it wasn't? Equally it may have been that nothing was appealing enough to make the connection, and I wonder what else might have happened instead.
2 October 2006, 4:01 pm

Evangelicals, those who follow this interpretation of Christianity, are being selected [for ordination training] in good numbers. We may as well pick any evangelical who is rejected and say it is because of the beliefs.
October 4, 2:33 am

Years back I used to be fed up with Unitarians who were all history, as if it still lived in the glory days of the past. However, I was caught up in the way the Puritans and Presbyterians ended up becoming Arminian and then had no doctrinal protection, and were revived by an ideological Unitarianism that lasted a number of decades. Also interesting was the bipolar nature of Unitarianism at every stage. It was suddenly interesting and something to identify with, part of that stream. Also interesting was how past Unitarians recreated history, stating things were the case in the past when they were not (what was called the "Open Trust Myth", that Puritans had left Trust Deeds open to allow for theological change, said the Victorians, when they had done nothing of the sort). Once I had left, I was no longer part of that stream, and that bipolar story had become remote.
October 7, 3:03 am

I'd like to know the similarities and differences ...between [a] view of an incarnational "go into the world" type Church and that approach of Harvey Cox at the time of writing The Secular City? I have the revised version, Pelican, 1966. It is based around the theologies of Bonhoeffer and Barth, and unlike for the theologian Tillich, who sees people as asking ultimate questions, people in the secular city are too busy getting on with their lives. The secular city is modernist, so despite variations there is a generality of the secular and the urban, so how is the postmodern different? I'm not without an answer or two.... Trouble is, making a distinction between the biblical God and the cultural perception of God, as Cox did at that time (he changed, did he not?), does that not remove the God from the very scene in which this God is supposed to be incarnated. It is the problem of the disappearing God again, just as religion has disappeared from the secular city. God has lost its metaphysics too, it cannot be theist. So then Cox relates God to politics, a way back towards some sort of relationship after metaphysics. Is politics part of this view of emerging Church... or is postmodernism a loss of politics or its break-up into causes? Related to this is history: is the emerging Church historical in any sense: discontinuous or continuous?

I can imagine that something of The Secular City is a starting point, but rather a large one...

What of Heidegger and his philosophy? I refer to this because he can be treated in a postmodernist way and modernist; Harvey Cox rejected him as going backwards towards tribalism, but postmodernism might be seen as the triumph of the tribal - lots of local subcultures breaking up any global culture despite globalisation. Cox wants to go forward, despite desacralisation and disenchantment (the latter in the Weberian sense, I take it, when all becomes a soulless scientific rationality and about efficiency). He is also against existentialism (Tillich of course; Bultmann isn't radical enough) which is another metaphysic, Cox says, but is the postmodern emerging Church [about going] back to Tillich at all? The Secular City was about God and historical politics, the relationship between people in action, as in the biblical record and now, and almost realising a transcendent God through an atheistic method; but what now of faiths with relationships and questions and choices and anomie and all manner of superstitions and ritual activities?
October 8, 12:49 pm

The New Testament does not promote the office of ministry but a proclamation by ministry, and is far more functional than establishing structures. There is no systematic discussion of office in the New Testament, only tasks that are divided up in ministry as practical. Apostolic succession is about the whole community. The office of a pope is a much later development. There is no basis for a primacy of one minister.

Furthermore, the New Testament only gives some of the story, and the leader of the mevement closest to the historical Jesus is James his brother. Peter - the one presented as in the New Testament - is historically rather lost regarding his Church, as is James. Jesus' movement was an endtime movement and as such, in itself, nothing was written at the time nor no long term structure for afterwards established. Only when communities needed answers to burning questions did the oral traditions start to be written, and there is no reason to think that Peter ordained anyone, or can be regarded as a single prime minister. The papacy emerged, with an ambiguous linkage at best, and worked backwards to its own mythic basis for its existence.
October 9, 2:03 am

[With the availability of an] MA and the interest shown there is a route to introducing stronger and critical theologies into the issues around emerging Church.

...What (I think) Harvey Cox is trying to show is where the transcendent God manifests itself after the metaphysical is finished - it comes out in politics (and would be issues around justice, trade, liberation - no doubt in the 1960s this was more within political parties and less in pressure groups as now, progressive too).

Looking at this very theological book, I can see both a foundation and a contrast. This book was part of the anti-culture, anti-religion movement of a new epoch - secular but not secularism. The difference now has to be culture being important again, culture being used (for example, even, churches and dance culture), and variation in a non-mass culture.

This, though, raises another question, in the sense that emerging Church has a root in the evangelical tradition but I wonder where it has a boundary with the more liberal approach - the point being that The Secular City is clearly rooted in the (German) evangelical tradition because it has this high and dry God and a biblical narrative. That is not as in Tillich and the liberal direction. If emerging Church in postmodernity is cultural, then it is more as of Tillich (in background) and therefore very fuzzy with a liberal postmodernism. This is not principally about belief, rather the relationship between theology and culture. Plus, I cannot see how, if emerging Church engages with the culture, how it can even be postliberal and gain definition that way.

I can see some directions this might go, but the idea of going into the world needs some reference back to such as Harvey Cox, Reinhold Niebuhr (and why not Richard, the sociologist of religion); basically, what is the difference between a secular theology then in the world and (say) a multicultural theology now in the world?


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful