July 27, 2011
Reorganisation of dioceses in the Church of England doesn’t sound like the sexiest of subjects, does it? Especially in a week that has seen the slaughter of so many young people in Norway and the tragic death of Amy Winehouse – to say nothing of impending economic meltdown in the USA and the continuing grief in the financial markets.
But, even diocesan reorganisation represents the continuing of ordinary life in the face of ‘big’ and mortality-reminding events in the wider world.
And that is actually the point of the proposed reorganisation of the West Yorkshire dioceses (Ripon & Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield): it is about enabling the church better to relate to and reach out to the communities of these areas. Contrary to the rather lazy (and oft-repeated without critical thought) assumption that this proposal has arisen from either (a) financial decline or (b) numerical decline, the proposal to dissolve (not ‘abolish’) three dioceses and create a single larger diocese with an internal ‘episcopal area’ system is born of a desire to do our ministry and mission better and more effectively. There might be savings and consolidations eventually, but this is not driven by finance or staffing.
So, where are we now that the Dioceses Commission has issued an interim report today? Well, we are simply where we are. The interim report does not address the big questions of (a) the name of the new diocese, (b) the status of the cathedrals, (c) the precise location of the episcopal areas or whether the Diocesan Bishop should have one, and (c) where the diocese will be ‘based’ (in terms of location of central administration. All that is still to come. Today’s document states the response of the Commission to the responses it received following the original proposals last December… in respect to the potential moving or certain border parishes from one diocese to another.
The Commission will now draft a Scheme (a formal proposal) which will come to us in the autumn and initiate a six month period of formal debate and decision making. The Commission will then consider the outcomes of this formal consultation in the three dioceses before then deciding whether to amend the Scheme before sending it to the General Synod for final decision. In other words, what we have now is the second word in a multi-stage consultation/conversation – not the final word. So, if any reporting suggests that ‘the Church of England is to abolish’ dioceses, they are spouting rubbish.
There also seems to be an assumption that I will be the Diocesan Bishop of the new diocese if and when it is created. That also is nonsense. The posts of the three current Diocesan Bishops will be dissolved, the Bishops of Wakefield and Ripon & Leeds will retire, and I will look for another post. The church might ask me to do another episcopal job or it might not (or I might not feel it right to do so). So, I will happily look at all options and not worry about it. But, it would be helpful if people stopped assuming I will be the bishop of the new diocese as the only certainty for me is that the success of the Scheme will see the end of my See. And that’s fine. Our job is to do the best for the Church in order that we can best serve the people and communities of our country.
So there. It’s not boring, is it? The Church hasn’t really done this before. It is interesting, challenging and potentially exciting. An ‘area system’ would bring Area Bishops closer to the ‘ground’ than a Diocesan Bishop can currently be, and would give places like Bradford two bishops for the price of one: an Area Bishop devoted to the Episcopal Area and a Diocesan Bishop representing Bradford also.
Yes, there are details to be hammered out and there will be losses as well as gain. It might not even go through in the end. But, whatever eventual decision emerges must be rooted in vision, courage, faith and adventure.
July 23, 2011
Slaughter in Norway. The sad, sad death of Amy Winehouse at only 27. Reports of continuing slaughter in Sudan. It’s a grim week.
Add to this the abuse that has come my way following the Telegraph headline a couple of weeks ago. What I have learned from this is that those who write or email me should (a) check the facts, (b) expand their vocabulary, and (c) try to use adjectives other than those based on or around ‘f**king’. I thought of keeping them and sending them to the Telegraph, but just deleted them.
So, today is a day off. Having spent two days up in the Yorkshire Dales and on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border (visiting parishes and clergy) I have begun to ask myself questions about what Anglican ministry might look like in the next five or ten years. What is clear is that most church advice on such questions assumes the social circumstances of urban or suburban parishes. The rural context is incomparable and, clearly, a different language is needed for interpreting and encouraging rural ministry.
For example (and simplistically – leaving out factors of the ethnic mix of a parish, etc.), a ‘large’ congregation of 200 in a parish of 20,000 people might appear ‘successful’. A congregation of 60 in a parish of 600 is stunning in terms of proportion. However, both congregations have to maintain buildings, ministry and outreach. So, what works for the urban or suburban will not be appropriate to the rural, and vice versa. My job as bishop is to work out (along with others) how we staff and support the variety of parishes in such widely differing contexts where ministry has to be exercised differently and numbers don’t tell an obvious story of success or failure, strength or weakness.
Anyway, next week sees a three-day visit to an urban/suburban deanery and my questions and perceptions will continue to develop. Before then, however, a day off allowed a visit with visiting Swiss friends to the Industrial Museum in Bradford and then Salt’s Mill in Saltaire. The former is great (and I can’t wait for my grandson to grow up a bit so we can take him there). The latter must surely be visited by anyone with imagination. I expect all our friends in the south of England to now book in to stay in Bradford and visit Saltaire.
The mill (and the town) was built by Sir Titus Salt during the textile revolution. More recently it has been developed into offices, apartments and the most wonderful bookshop in the world. (OK, I’m a fan.) Down near the railway, river and canal you climb the stairs at the corner of the mill building and enter the art gallery full of David Hockney paintings and arty books and stuff. Go up two floors and there is the bookshop, a cafe and a kitchen shop (not that I have bothered with that one). The length of the mill floor is preserved and brought to new expansive life with fantastic use of space and light. It has to be seen and walked through to be appreciated. I can say no more.
Yet, all this was the genius of a guy who saw the potential no one else even glimpsed: Jonathan Silver. He died young. There is a statue to Sir Titus Salt, but there is as yet no memorial to the man who risked everything and breathed new life into these buildings. An industrial site that saw human suffering (look at the life of children in the Victorian mills) is now a place of creative space, light and community life. When will he get his statue?
July 17, 2011
Following a report in the Daily Telegraph last week, I posted an explanatory blog here in which I tried to clarify matters. Judging by the rather eclectic responses, it obviously didn’t work. Several responses – apart from being somewhat patronising – seem still to be responding to the Telegraph headline which was not only wrong, but bore no relation to what I actually said and believe. However, it seems to suit some people to assume the headline is accurate and not to bother going further. (I have given up complaining about sub-editors not reading the articles for which they provide – often arresting but misleading – headlines.) So, here goes with a number of responses to the responses.
First, the Telegraph headline was not only wrong, but it could not be derived from the article that followed. (The article itself elided two completely separate General Synod debates that were not linked at all – as anyone there will tell you.) I did not say that Christians can learn from Muslims how to be a minority. (And why did the headline put the word ‘minority’ in inverted commas? What was that about?) I said that, just as Muslims are having to learn what it is to be a minority in the West, so Christians who find themselves in a minority here in England have to ask serious questions about what it means to be a church in this context. It is the phenomenon of learning afresh that was the point – which I thought was obvious.
Second, I was not implying and did not make any comparison with Christian minorities in Muslim countries. I was specifically speaking about the challenge of being a Christian church in Bradford (and one or two other English cities), not Iraq, Iran, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. I am not responsible for a dodgy headline on an odd newspaper article that then gets re-shaped as it gets transmitted around the internet, ending up as a story almost totally unrelated to the original fact. Those who rather uncritically told me to wise up might just take a moment to consider this: in the global interfaith work I do (representing the Archbishop of Canterbury) I consistently raise the question of these Christian minorities. I neither fear nor favour, and have never hesitated to ask these questions. Occasionally I have met resistance, but often it has given an opportunity for forthright conversation. The plight of Christian minorities in Muslim countries is serious and one to whcih I give serious attention. To suggest that I am ignorant, fearful or stupid is itself absurd.
Third, my argument would have stood without reference to Muslims. The reality here in Bradford is that entire communities are now Asian. That is fact. Those who don’t like that fact can moan all they like about Muslim threats, but that doesn’t help one iota address the challenge of what it means to be a church right here. Outsiders can scream all they like about ‘segregation’, but they often do so from a distance and never venture to offer a strategy for addressing it. So far, not one respondent has offered anything constructive. Which leads me to the fourth (linked) point…
Fourth, what I said in my Synod speech was that the challenge this provokes is one the church should grasp and not simply cower away in fear. I was precisely encouraging the church to stand firm, maintain Christian witness, not abandon these areas; but, they have to engage with being Christian churches in these areas in new ways. They are admirable because they bring committed Christians into these areas precisely in order to be present and engaged. Or would the respondents prefer us to run away and hide?
Fifth, I would love to know how many of these respondents have the first idea about Bradford. Which of them lives here? Or has even visited the place? Andrew Carey in the Church of England Newspaper admonishes me for my encouragement of Christians to rise to the challenge – yet I wonder what he knows of Bradford. When was he last here? Before I came to Bradford as bishop I refrained from commenting on interfaith matters here (despite having read alot and heard alot) on the grounds that the grassroots reality is always different. I thought it would be arrogant to comment on what I didn’t know from experience, and had only read about. I am amazed at how people who don’t live here are kind enough to offer me their patronising advice. (A charge I am not aiming at Andrew Carey, but some of the commenters on the blog.)
Finally, Bradford is probably unique in some elements of its population make-up and this presents real challenges. Shouting about Islamism isn’t likely to help anyone address these. Seeing ourselves as victims isn’t likely to do much either. I want to encourage our Christian churches to stay stuck into all our parishes – regardless of their ethnic complexions – and being confident, resourceful and joyful. My job is to support them in doing so and to put my back (as well as my prayers) into developing Chistian presence and witness in all these areas. No fear. No favour. No running away. And no wasting time pandering to the ignorance of those who shout advice from outside a place they do not know.
That’s it. From now I will turn to blogging about other things of interest.
July 14, 2011
This morning (while I was in meetings all day) The Guardian published a commissioned article on ‘faith schools’ and it sparked an interesting – though sometimes predictable – discussion.
The basic argument (with evidence) is that (a) we must distinguish between ‘faith’ schools and ‘church’ schools, and (b) the latter are not divisive. What is surprising in the ensuing comments is the stubborn assumption that a ‘secular’ world view is neutral – and therefore legitimate as a basis for a school community – whereas a religious world view is not. Of course, this privilege is merely asserted and not argued for.
Anyway, the debate will continue, no doubt.
July 13, 2011
Was it just a matter of days ago that politicians were too fearful of the consequences of taking on Rupert Murdoch? The News International debacle has been so fast-moving that we easily lose track of time. Yet, until very recently our politicians – with very few exceptions – were unwilling to hold the press to account.
Unlike any other institution, the press were allowed to self-regulate. MPs weren’t to be trusted with such an obvious nonsense. And any MP stupid enough to take on the press were likely to find themselves a target. My personal experience is trivial, but having blogged about media acountability on one occasion I received a comment in which an anonymous journalist told me “we will get into every corner of your life and take you apart”. However bizarre, that sort of threat gets under your skin. So, it is perfectly understandable why public figures try to minimise the risk by either avoiding or schmoozing with the press.
So, just how bizarre was it today when we hear Labour leader Ed Miliband triumphantly proclaim that today the politicians have “held power to account”? Hang on a minute, the politicians hold the press to account – something they could have done for years, but were too compromised or afraid to do – and this is articulated as ‘power being held to account’?
First, it is the politicians who are supposed to be the ‘power’ that the press hold to account. This admission (was it a slip?) hides a confession of previous neglect of duty. The politicians had the power and gave it away out of fear. Or that, at least, is what it looks like.
Second, the statement removes the pretence from the press that they merely observe or expose – guardians of truth and defenders of integrity; now even the politicians are admitting that the press, as shapers of society and public opinion, have enormous power and need to be accountable. But, what a turn-around since they were scared witless by the expenses scandal (for the record, not exposed by News International) and Fleet Street reigned without challenge?
There was something unseemly about the parliamentary feeding frenzy today. Hindsight-blessed MPs stuck every knife available into someone they protected until only days ago – don’t forget the Tory defence of Murdoch’s BSkyB bid. Murdoch deserves to be exposed, but the politicians need to tell us why it took them so long. I guess the answer is that the bandwagon only came along last week.
July 12, 2011
Archbishop Daniel Deng has published the following statement on the Church’s commitment to the new nation of South Sudan:
Pastoral Letter Advising the Sons and Daughters of the Republic of South Sudan
Saturday 9 July 2011
Archbishop Daniel Deng
The Episcopal Church of the Sudan Independence Prayer
We give you all the honour and the praise as we celebrate the wonderful independence you have given us.
You have led your children across the river, bringing an end to our slavery and abuse.
We have left behind the pain and suffering of so many years of oppression.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. May those who surrendered their lives for the freedom we now enjoy, rest in perfect and everlasting peace in your kingdom.
Let your Holy Spirit guide and protect us as we strive for the peace, freedom and stability we have longed for in this land.
Show us how to love one another as you have so commanded us to do.
Unite us to each other and to yourself.
Cancel any plans of tribalism, corruption, injustice, division and greed that may linger in the hearts of your children causing us to live in darkness and confusion.
And grant us your grace and blessings in abundance as we build this new nation of South Sudan for your glory in accordance with your holy will.
We ask this in the name of your Son, our Saviour and Friend, Jesus Christ.
Caring for God’s Gift of Independence
A call for practical action
The House of Bishops, comprising the 31 dioceses of the Province of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, under the leadership of the Most Rev Dr Daniel Deng Bul Yak, have issued the following joint pastoral letter to the children of South Sudan to be a guide and framework for them as citizens of the new Republic of South Sudan.
i. The challenging context for independence
Achieving a successful referendum
We congratulate the Government of South Sudan which has brought the Referendum to the people of South Sudan, the result of which has brought the independence of our country. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement framework made possible an extended period of peace which enabled the establishment of the institutions of government: army, police, legislature and executive in South Sudan. We now have a real government and can now be identified as a nation, which has attracted international support. These are great achievements which must be recognized, celebrated and guarded carefully.
The challenge of securing peace and stability
The Episcopal Church of Sudan understands that the Government of South Sudan now faces numerous challenges in securing the sustained peace, stability, growth and development which should be the fruits of Independence on July 9th. These include the unresolved issues which have followed the peaceful referendum, notably Abyei, the North-South border and the mounting insecurity caused by militia activities in different parts of the new country as well as Lords Resistance Army activities in the west. We are especially concerned about the escalation of hostilities around Abyei.
ECS recognizes that resolving these internal and external causes of insecurity must be a priority for the Government as it seeks to sustain the absence of conflict, which was made possible by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Political solutions will be easier to identify and implement if there is an absence of conflict. A renewal of war between the two countries of South Sudan and North Sudan will bring untold suffering to our people and delay the point at which we can begin to heal the trauma of the war years, and recover the lost decades of development.
We stand willing to play our part in sharing the burden of responsibility which rests on the shoulders of the Government of South Sudan. We are mobilizing our own international networks to encourage the international donor community to give the same attention to this critical period in the history of South Sudan as they gave in the period leading up to the Referendum.An ecumenical international advocacy visit is scheduled for October this year similar to that launched in advance of the referendum.
At home, in our churches and communities across the country, we will continue to preach an holistic gospel to meet the spiritual and physical needs of our people, promoting the values of peace and reconciliation, and the behaviours of non-violence and negotiation. The prayer at the head of this paper will inspire and inform the messages which we promote.
The Transitional Constitution
The Transitional Constitution process is almost complete. While we had argued for a more inclusive process in the development of the Constitution, we remain committed to help the promotion of principles of the Transitional Constitution Document which establish a responsible covenant between those charged with the responsibility of governance and the governed.
We welcome the statement that all religions shall be treated equally and religion or religious beliefs shall not be used for divisive purposes. We also welcome the rights afforded to religious institutions and individuals enshrined in the document.
We will take time to study the finally approved document in depth and, with our fellow religious institutions, engage constructively with the Government in clarifying the provisions included which relate to the roles, rights and responsibilities of religious organisations and their leaders. This includes discussion of the representation of faith-based organizations on the National Constitutional Conference.
We trust that we can also secure other regular meeting points between the leadership of religious institutions and the Government as there is much that our people can gain from effective collaboration between the Government and the representatives of the faith communities.
ii. Three priorities for action
At the same time as encouraging and supporting the Government of South Sudan to take critical steps to control insecurity and resolve pending issues, we call attention to three key opportunities which we believe must be seized firmly in order to build a new and healthy nation for the Republic of South Sudan. In so doing, we recognise the achievements of the Government to date and identify urgent, practical steps for the coming 12 months. We offer this in a spirit of complementary partnership with the Government, other faith communities and their institutions and with the people of South Sudan.
It is our conviction that progress in these three areas will contribute significantly to reduce the vulnerability of our new country to unwelcome and unhelpful interference from outside.
THREE PRIORITY AREAS
1. Achieving Peace and Non-Violence
2. Promoting Unity by reducing tribalism
3. Promoting equitable development through effective decentralisation.
1 Achieving Peace and Non-Violence by Promoting the Rule of Law (customary and modern)
The peace that followed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was achieved through prolonged violence. The violence of the war, leading to the deaths and displacement of millions of our people, has been the price paid for independence. The legacy of this is high levels of trauma across the people of the new country, including those who are choosing to return. We would like to see peace prevail all over the two new sovereign nations. For those who have taken up arms, we call on them to return home and join in the building of the newborn nation. We do not wish for our people to go through further suffering; we have suffered enough.
What has been achieved to date?
We give credit to the Government for successfully maintaining peace until the Referendum. We also welcome the commitment of the Transitional Constitution to create ‘an all-embracing homeland for its people’, where ‘diversities peacefully co-exist’. This is a powerful vision to inspire our people.
The Government has managed to keep the tribes together in the lead up to the Referendum through the South-South Dialogue process. Without this, there would not have been such a large majority in favour of independence.
The Government has also passed a number of important laws which will, over time, shape the development of South Sudan’s security organs, especially the police and judiciary, as well as guiding citizens in respect to their responsibilities to uphold the peace, respect human security and property and move away from a culture of impunity.
What is being asked of the Government?
To work harder to ensure that all citizens understand the new laws of the Republic of South Sudan and how these relate to customary laws.
To minimise the increasing land disputes and quarrels by undertaking objective surveys of new areas and through mechanisms by which land is equitably distributed.
To strengthen the judiciary, in order that the laws – modern and customary – are properly executed across the land.
To work towards greater discipline and cooperation in the armed forces and the police service through correct government and adherence to the constitution in order to minimise instability in South Sudan caused by factionalism and/or personal grievances.
To renew efforts to address the internal instability caused by the Lords Resistance Army by developing an action plan together with the religious leaders of LRA-affected areas and sustaining dialogue with the UPDF and international community.
What is the Church offering?
Its strong internal and external network of organizations and people working towards greater justice, peace and reconciliation in South Sudan, in collaboration with other churches through the Sudan Council of Churches interchurch committees, to play an active role in helping to promote among the people the new laws of the land.
Skilled leaders to assist in mediation processes, which may contribute to political solutions in the armed conflicts currently breaking between militias in South Sudan.
The Church will do more to promote non-violence and peace at community level through its pastoral role in trauma counselling, local level mediation and the promotion of the Ten Commandments to discourage factionalism and the formation of civil mercenary groups.
2 Achieving unity by promoting the Transitional Constitution and reducing tribalism, nepotism and corruption
We call on our people to be united. The unity that was shown during the referendum should continue to be seen all over the Republic of South Sudan. This is one way of proving wrong those who prophesy that South Sudan is likely to be a failed state. Unity is more likely to be achieved if people understand and respect the new Transitional Constitution whose purpose is to provide a common vision for the development of our new country.
Corruption and nepotism give birth to tribalism. Corruption is more than bribery or embezzlement of funds; it includes abuse of power or authority for private gain. The appointment of people to positions based on family or clan or other ties is also corruption. These trends work against unity and undermine the tenets of the Constitution. We believe that appointments to all positions should be based on merit. Similarly, the misuse or theft of public or church money is also corruption. Fraud, that is the illegal acquisition of money, goods or services, is also considered as corruption. We call on Sudanese people to reject tribalism, nepotism and corruption.
What has been achieved to date?
We welcome the Transitional Constitution with its clear vision for the new country, as well as the strong stance taken against tribalism, nepotism and corruption in the Constitution.
We welcome the setting up of the Anti-Corruption Commission and those parts of the Transitional Constitution which make clear the Government’s commitments to public accountability and transparency.
What is being asked of the Government?
To ensure that there is comprehensive consultation about the implementation of the Transitional Constitution. This could be included in the continuation and expansion of the South-South Dialogue process which was so effective before the referendum.
To ensure that the Transitional Constitution is translated into policies and laws and institutions which can achieve the vision articulated in the Constitution. We believe that this is more likely to happen if due consideration is given to the perspectives of different communities and sectors in the drafting of these laws.
In view of the pressing concerns about nepotism, to establish a Board of Selection and Appointment charged with the recruitment of all government positions in South Sudan, based on merit and work ethic.
To improve the training of the South Sudan Police Service so that they know their jobs and become a friend to citizens.
To orient the Chiefs so that they understand the modern system (for example, by seeing courts in action) and can help to apply the right blend of modern and customary laws.
What is the Church offering?
We will study carefully the Transitional Constitution document and engage constructively with the Government on the best way of implementing its provisions. We will use our Justice, Peace and Reconciliation capacities to ensure that our communities have also understood their rights and responsibilities under this important founding document.
The Church will remain united across the two sovereign countries during this transition period to offer solidarity with all the people of the old country and to assist the separation process. This includes our membership to the Sudan Council of Churches, which will also remain one entity in this transition period, modelling ecumenical collaboration from the national to the local level.
We recognize that nepotism and corruption may exist in our own structures. We are challenging this from the top and have taken steps to reduce transactions in cash, as well as bring in external oversight. We plan to take this accountability down to the dioceses and parishes over the next period.
3 Promoting equitable development through effective decentralisation
We need to fight against poverty, ignorance and disease. We will work with the Government in the provision of services that contribute to fighting and eradicating the above vices. We exhort the Government to set up an economic system that is based on equity which means a fair system that provides equal opportunity for all and protects the poor from being manipulated or exploited by the rich. Enabling the full, equitable and integral development of all our people will be the final proof of value of independence.
What has been achieved to date?
The Government has brought roads, growing urban development and infrastructure over the last five years. The maintenance of peace has enabled commerce to thrive, especially in urban areas.
A National Development Plan has been developed in recent weeks and this has been achieved through a genuinely consultative process. This lays strong foundations on which to build collaboration between Government, Public and Private Sector and Civil Society.
Decentralisation has been established as the model of political and economic development in South Sudan, which should ensure equitable development across the country.
What is being asked of the Government?
To strengthen the existing systems of service delivery and expand them to reach more remote areas of the country.
To ensure that in the decentralization of power and authority, the States also remain accountable to the citizens and to the National Parliament.
What is the Church offering?
We will align our development efforts with the Government’s National Development Plan, contributing towards the delivery of basic services where we have most to offer. Our structure of dioceses lends itself to the decentralization model of development; each diocese will be able to support development activities at State level as well as remain part of a national structure.
In most of our dioceses, the Church has clinics and schools with which to support access to education and health during this period where Government services are still in their infancy. We plan to expand these services, working hand-in-hand with Government services providers. We are planning to intensify cultivation across the Church so as to increase food security for communities and make the most of precious land resources.
Realising a greater sense of peace, unity and development has been the core message of this letter. Its advice has largely been directed to the Government of South Sudan, the elected officials whose mandate is to represent the people of South Sudan and operate within the letter and the spirit of the transitional constitution. However, it would be an error to conclude that the transformation of our nation from weakness to strength, from poor to rich, and from volatile to stable is the sole responsibility of the Government. In the Holy Bible, 1 Corinthians 12-27 teaches us the importance of different members of the body working with one another. ‘There are many parts yet one body’; we must realize that the members must have the same regard for one another because, ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honoured, all honour together.’
St Paul clearly states that we have been commissioned to work in unison, using our diversity and the various talents we each have, to help ourselves and one another. We must look at our differences from a new perspective, not continue to believe that it is because we are different that we are divided. These differences that we assume are dividing us are actually the key to our development and pivotal to harmonious coexistence. We are all responsible for ensuring that the new Republic of South Sudan is built on a strong foundation. Therefore, let us begin working together from this point onwards to ensure that we can achieve peace and non-violence, reduce tribalism and its devastating effects on our communities, and promote equality of opportunities, human rights and access to justice. If we strive in earnest to adhere to the principle of the Body of Christ, no one and no thing can hold back or hinder the people of the Republic of South Sudan again.
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July 12, 2011
The Daily Telegraph reports this morning a comment I made in a General Synod debate yesterday which I posted on last night. The Telegraph report says:
Christians should learn how to be a ‘minority’ from Muslims, bishop says.
Christians should learn from Muslims how to exist as a “minority” culture in British cities that are increasingly dominated by immigrant communities, a Church of England bishop has said.
The Rt Rev Nick Baines, the Bishop of Bradford, said some parishes in his diocese were 95% Muslim but that this should not be seen as “a problem”.
“This is a fantastic opportunity,” he told the General Synod, the Church of England’s national assembly, in York.
“It is a challenge, yes, but it’s an opportunity to rethink what it means to be a Christian community. We often ask Muslims to learn what it is to be a Muslim as a minority culture. Maybe we could benefit from learning some of the same lessons in some of our cities.”
His comments came as Church leaders at the assembly were warned that Britain’s increasingly diverse society could undermine the position of the Church of England as the “established” faith of the nation.”
The point he is an important one, but one that is open to misunderstanding. The screamers will now accuse me of selling out or giving up or conceding ground. My response is fairly simple: which bit of reality do you not understand?
The point is this. One of the major challenges facing Muslims in this country is how to be a minority community and faith. Islam assumes majority status, so the learning is not an easy exercise. Where Christians find themselves a minority presence in a parish here, it has to ask what sort of a community it should be, how it should shape its life, how it can best witness to Jesus Christ, what sort of language it needs to enable its voice to be heard and its life to be understood.
We could pretend that the situation didn’t exist. We might wish the situation were different. But that would simply be to ‘do a Daily Mail’ and live with a rather unpleasant fantasy. It is always better to live in the real world and embrace the questions and challenges we might otherwise ignore.
The point is, however, that Christians in such minority contexts (and we have some brilliantly committed examples in Bradford) have to ask fundamental questions others might be able or inclined to avoid: what is our gospel, how do we live/tell it, how do we witness to this faith, how do we order our church life (and for whose benefit), what language do we use, how committed are we… and to what?
It is not boring. It is demanding… and very exciting.
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July 11, 2011
One of the myths that flies around about the church is that church schools are divisive. Actually, to be precise, the myth is that ‘faith schools’ are divisive and ‘church schools’ get uncritically and illegitimately subsumed into this category. Church schools have a different remit.
This afternoon the General Synod discussed ‘Presence and Engagement’ – a term that describes the Church of England’s whole approach to its ministry and mission. We aim to be present in every community and engaged in and for the good of that community. This means – as we heard in the debate – that we do not walk away from areas of great deprivation and challenge or places where Christians are a tiny minority.
In relation to church schools this means that in Bradford alone we have over 40 church schools that are between 80-100% Muslim. We have committed clergy and lay people serving in parishes which are predominantly (some up to 95%) Muslim. Driven by a theology of God’s generous love for all, they maintain a Christian presence and serve the local people – whoever they are and whatever their need.
In the debate this afternoon we heard stories of creative engagement and stubbornly committed presence. I noted the statement by a Muslim leader in Bradford in which he said something like: “Our problem is that we don’t have a bishop. So, the bishop is our bishop and we need him to bring us all together.” Which illustrates how we bring together not only people from different faiths, but also different members of those other faiths.
It is a serious vocation and a huge responsibility. But, as I said in the debate, this is all dependent on strong and effective leadership at every level. In Bradford, in the short time I have been there, I have been massively impressed by the work and place of the Dean and the Cathedral, the Bishop’s Officer for Church in the World, clergy and lay people for whom I have huge respect.
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July 11, 2011
It’s always an odd experience debating liturgy on the General Synod. Having been away for the last six years, not a lot seems to have changed.
How do you write poetry on a committee of 400 people?
This is the problem we had when we were ‘doing’ Common Worship a decade ago. Careful language is crafted… and then people pick away at it in order to remove heresy or imagination or to insert their crucial theological wordings. Then you get trade-offs to keep everyone happy.
No surprise that Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer reads like it was written by a single mind – and a single poet – and not referred to a committee.
I don’t see how this is going to change, though.
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July 10, 2011
A day of legislation at the General Synod of the Church of England is a prospect unlikely to get the pulse racing. So, at least yesterday began with apparent delaying tactics: we had to listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury for half an hour before spending the rest of the morning in small groups for discussion and worship.
In fact, the Archbishop’s address infected the rhetoric of the rest of the day’s business. He wants us to “love the church”. How weird is that? (So weird that joining in the group work – for prayer, Bible study and discussion – was beneath the dignity of some Synod members who decided not to turn up.)
The Archbishop began in Congo where, during the horrors in which four million people died, children were forced into unspeakable violence and innumerable women suffered rape and abuse, the only people who cared was the church. That was what he was told by those who had been violated, corrupted or damaged… and then found that they had not been abandoned by the Christian community. Space was found for healing.
In the Congo and other places churches which had no resources were characterised by “the strength not to abandon” – a church “in love”. So, if the Church of England was not here, what would be lost?
Basically, Rowan’s appeal was simply that the church needs to grow “in the power to show God’s fidelity”, inviting others to “walk with us as we walk with Jesus”. Taking seriously Timothy Keller’s “Christianity is not advice, but news”, he summed up this news as “God does not abandon us” – news that “changes everything”. This set the ground for some penetrating questions:
- What does it mean to us that God has not abandoned us?
- Where do we see the church locally act like this?
- What does it mean to keep faith with society by not abandoning the deprived and marginalised?
Rowan then went on to defend church schools, ministerial presence in all our communities, and to urge the church to keep it’s preoccupations in proportion. God’s faithfulness to us is to be lived out in our faithfulness to others. He urged us to “love the church” – to my mind a necessary admonishment to those who happily kick the church endlessly from within.
This address built on an opening address on Friday by the wonderful Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania. Holy men, passionate about God and his church, reminding us of what our business is about. And a challenge to those who pick away at the church from within in order to privilege their particular obsessions.
We need an abandonment to faithfulness.
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