October 31, 2011
An explanation is not an excuse.
Let me repeat that: an explanation is not an excuse. So, what I am about to write is an explanation of why bishops have not been willing to comment in public on the events at St Paul’s Cathedral in the last couple of weeks. The structure of the Church of England is such that episodes like this current one are unsurprising. (But, two resignations is not exactly great.)
Before doing that, and in this context, I draw attention to a story behind the story. The Independent on Sunday concludes a report on St Paul’s with a list of bishops (who they speculatively think might one day move to Canterbury) and their non-response to journalists’ attempts to wrest a comment from them. Apparently, they were all away, unwilling to comment or not contactable. I seem to have been ‘away’. [See update below.]
I wasn’t. I was in bed with a chest infection and a total lack of a voice. In fact, Jerome Taylor – a fine journalist with the Independent – phoned me and I texted him back to say I couldn’t talk. I texted a comment on another question he asked me and I said I would be happy to discuss that matter with him when my voice returned. He came back to me with his own ‘take’ on the St Paul’s situation and agreed we’d talk again.
But, the real problem for journalists (and just about everybody else in the country, to say nothing of all the foreigners who keep asking me about it) is a fundamental lack of understanding of how the Church of England works. That is not a criticism of journalists; if anything, it is a criticism of people like me that we have not adequately explained ourselves.
Basically, it looks like this. The Church of England is not the Roman Catholic Church. We do not have a Pope. The 43 dioceses in England (I am leaving out the Diocese in Europe for obvious reasons) are autonomous and the diocesan bishop in each is the one who ‘orders’ (that is, brings order to) his diocese. The Archbishop of Canterbury is one of the diocesan bishops – a primus inter pares. No bishop has the right to interfere in the doings of another diocese. Given the fact that we never quite know the real story of what happens elsewhere, it is wise not to intrude in or comment on (a) what is not anyone else’s business or (b) what we don’t actually know about. In other words, if a story breaks about Bradford Cathedral, I don’t want any other bishops offering their opinion when they don’t know the detail and aren’t involved.
I hope that is clear. The business at St Paul’s is a matter for the Diocese of London.
Well, actually, it isn’t. A cathedral is autonomous and responsible for itself. This means that the Bishop of London has no direct remit in its affairs unless invited. Hence the hesitation (I imagine) on the Bishop’s part to comment on something for which he is not responsible. It is for the Cathedral itself to handle its affairs and it’s PR.
Now the problem will be obvious. Events at St Paul’s in the last couple of weeks have exposed the weakness. These events affect not only St Paul’s, but (clearly) the Diocese of London… and the rest of the Church of England. This crisis is not a parochial or diocesan matter, but has become a national story which affects the reputation of the whole Church of England. But, no one will comment because it is not our remit to do so. The Archbishop of Canterbury cannot – it is not his diocese and he has no jurisdiction in the Diocese of London. He is not a Pope.
And where does this leave us? A church that is internally and ecclesiologically coherent, but so structured as to appear incoherent to everybody else. In the modern media world it is mad that the Church of England does not have (or cannot work up) a common national communications or PR strategy. We keep trying – within the current polity – but the gap has been ruthlessly exposed by the situation at St Paul’s.
Having written the above explanation while in Cambridge and without wifi, I now see that the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury have spoken. The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement which says:
The announcement today of the resignation of the Dean of St Paul’s, coming as it does in the wake of the resignation of Canon Giles Fraser last week, is very sad news. The events of the last couple of weeks have shown very clearly how decisions made in good faith by good people under unusual pressure can have utterly unforeseen and unwelcome consequences, and the clergy of St Paul’s deserve our understanding in these circumstances.
Graeme Knowles has been a very distinguished Dean of St Paul’s, who has done a great deal to strengthen the pastoral and intellectual life of the Cathedral and its involvement in the life of London. He will be much missed, and I wish him and Susan well in whatever lies ahead.
The urgent larger issues raised by the protesters at St Paul’s remain very much on the table and we need – as a Church and as society as a whole – to work to make sure that they are properly addressed.”
When I get the chance I will move on from St Paul’s to the issues that caused people to camp there in the first place. But, I will say (as the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s have said) that the questions raised by the protesters, the fundamental impatience with a system that rewards greed while the poor get poorer, need a much more coherent and intelligent response than they are getting so far. The fundamental questions about the unsustainability of the current system (who and what caused the current financial crisis?) need more urgent attention than they are currently getting from governments or the City. It is a crisis of credibility – on the day the ILO warns of social unrest following the likely world recession we now face. The current system isn’t exactly working, is it? Yet, the people running it do not seem to have alternatives to offer. That’s why the debate is urgent.
The attention needs to move away from questions about the propriety of camping on the highway and back on to what provoked such camps around the world.
And isn’t the Church well placed to ask those questions and push those debates? Er… it should be.
[Update 3 November: I have just been shown the print version of the Independent on Sunday piece. Not only do they get the quote wrong, but they also print a photograph of my predecessor who left office eighteen months ago or more.]
October 29, 2011
1. Why my voice disappeared under yet another bug. Did I become soft during a decade in the south?
2. Why my iPad gets the wifi signal, but won’t connect with the internet upstairs in my house when every other computer does.
3. How the Church of England can best respond to events in a single cathedral in one diocese when the story has an impact on all the other 43 dioceses – and the Church’s reputation.
4. What is causing the iPhone 4S battery life to be dodgy. Apparently, Apple engineers are working on it. No problem with my HTC.
5. How other bishops manage to read so many books and write intelligent stuff.
6. Why people subject themselves to the public humiliation that is X Factor.
7. What it means for Britain to be ‘European’ – wanting the benefits on our own terms, but without having decided what ‘belonging’ might mean.
8. Whether Nicolas Sarkozy was really narked with David Cameron – or just tired from sleepless nights caused by the new baby.
9. However justified the concerns of the ‘occupy’ campers, what their considered alternatives are.
10. How long the latest Chelsea manager will have a job before he heads ‘back to Europe’.
Off to Peterhouse, Cambridge, tomorrow to preach on ‘Bad Dreams’ in the college chapel at 6.30pm. Maybe I’ll have got some answers by then. You never know…
October 28, 2011
Posted by nickbaines under Books
| Tags: Africa
, Eliza Griswold
, richard Littledale
, Stanley Hauerwas
, Walter Brueggemann
, William Dalrymple
|  Comments
Richard Littledale is a Baptist minister in Middlesex and has built a following on his blog, Twitter and through broadcasting on BBC Radio 2. Having published two books on ‘preaching’, his latest book goes back to the basics of good communication. Who Needs Words? takes the reader into the rich world of modern communications, addressing themes around ‘fundamentals’, ‘practice’ and ‘how to make progress’.
I wrote the Foreword to the book, so it might seem obvious that I would commend it. But, I do so because it is the sort of book to give confidence to those who feel a bit daunted by the plethora and complexity of modern communications media. It is intended to be a handbook, written from a Christian perspective, but offering good stuff to anyone interested in communicating better.
Richard offered a good example of how media interconnectivity works by heralding publication with weeks of tweeted quotations, blogged extracts and a wide range of tempting questions – making the book itself land on fertile ground. It’s good to practise what you preach!
Reading this has also opened my mind to wider questions of culture, theology, world view and communication. These questions never go away, but sometimes the stimulus peaks. I have just ordered (but, obviously, not yet read) the new book by Stanley Hauerwas entitled Learning to Speak Christian.
The review I read of it reminded me of Walter Brueggemann’s great book Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles. In it he reminds the Christian community, now ‘in exile’ in a strange post-Christendom land, of the need to keep alive the ‘language of home’. This itself echoes the cry of the exiles in Babylon (Psalm 137): ” How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” This isn’t just a plaintive snivelling by self-pitying losers; rather, it is the gut-wrenching soul-searching of a people for whom the evidence of their eyes and of their immediate experience denies all that they have believed about God, the world and meaning. Their understanding of history, the assumptions about their identity, even the language they use is called into question by their predicament.
The same question is a real one today. How does the Christian community keep its confidence and it’s language alive when both are threatened by a changed and changing culture? It is not enough to simply retreat into nostalgia or to bemoan current conditions; instead, we need to grapple intelligently and creatively with the roots of the Christian world view and learn to use a language that expresses what Brueggemann calls ‘newness after loss’.
The third book is one that uses words so well that it cuts across much of the mythologising, generalising and complexity of the world’s inter-religious coexistences and conflicts. The Tenth Parallel by Eliza Griswold is subtitled Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam. The book comprises 34 journalistic dispatches from Africa (Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia) and Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines). The research is detailed as well as academic and relational. She puts flesh and blood onto the histories of these conflicted countries and exposes why they are the way they are. She is both critical and generous in her judgements, seeking always to understand and interpret, not simply to judge or categorise.
Reviews were mixed because she leaves implicit what many would want to be made explicit; but that is, I think, a strong point of the narrative. Anyone involved in or interested in the modern world should read this excellent book. Contemporary conflicts (I am most interested in Sudan because of the diocesan link between Bradford and Northern Sudan) are explained and illustrated – and all in an accessible way. It is the most helpful and explanatory book on the subject that I have read for a long time.
In her Epilogue she says:
Religious strife where Christians and Muslims meet is real, and grim, but the long history of everyday encounter, of believers of different kinds shouldering all things together, even as they follow different faiths, is no less real. It follows that their lives bear witness to the coexistence of the two religions – and of the complicated bids for power inside them – more than to the conflicts between them.
This observation is one well illustrated also in William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain.
October 27, 2011
When every day is full of back-to-back meetings and events it is not easy either to keep up with what’s going on in the world or to write blog posts. Add to that a chest infection, the almost total loss of my voice and the fed up feeling that goes with it and blog silence becomes understandable. However, the cancellation of appointments today means that there is a bit of space for catching up.
Despite a certain pressure to do so, I have no intention of commenting on the on-going saga of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. There are two reasons: (a) it is someone else’s diocese and not my business, and (b) I don’t know enough detail to judge reality over against the assumptions, speculation and presumption flying around the ether. It is always amazing how confident some people can be about stuff they are not privy to. However strange the appearances may be, I still don’t know the detail and don’t intend to add my speculation to that of others.
However, there is one new fact on the ground: the resignation of Dr Giles Fraser as Canon Chancellor. This is bad news.
Some people love to hate Giles. He represents everything they hate about the Church not confirming their prejudices. But, whatever they think of him, they can’t ignore him.
Giles and I do not hold the same line on every issue. Why should we? (Why do some people find it so difficult to disagree or to allow disagreement? Being a grown-up means being able to own an opinion, argue for it, change your mind if so persuaded, but allow the integrity of the other. Giles is an adult who expects others to behave like adults. Perhaps that’s where the problems start?)
There is no one like Giles for naming the issue, arguing a case, listening to argument (and changing his mind), giving space to the opposing voice, setting up the conversations on the matters that matter, keeping the focus of the church on the world it is called to serve, asking the tough theological questions, commending consistency and not letting issues cloud relationships. In my experience over the last few years, he has been a great critical friend and one whose ‘let’s not pretend this spade is anything other than a bloody shovel’ approach has been refreshing, challenging, arresting and encouraging. I have debated with him, shared a platform with him and had beers with him. He has a great capacity for friendship – even with those who profoundly disagree with him.
I might not always agree with his conclusions, but Giles forces me back to the Bible and the ground of my own Christian faith. He is a formidable debater, a great lecturer, a brilliant communicator and (perversely) a Chelsea fan. (Apart from the Chelsea bit, of course) Giles is an honourable man of integrity. The Church needs prominent people who inspire, annoy and question – after all, the Gospels tell the story of one who wasn’t exactly a bland pacifier, don’t they?
When Giles went to St Paul’s I wondered how he would hold it all together. In describing his background, Stephen Bates helps us understand how Giles does, in fact, adapt. I wondered if his voice would really be allowed or if it would be compromised by the ‘establishment’ (whatever that is). It is a great credit to St Paul’s that Giles was given the freedom to develop conversations on the things that matter to real people and ask hard questions about the political and economic assumptions we make about the world. It is a great credit to Giles that he set up some excellent stuff at St Paul’s during his short time there.
The question now is how he might be enabled to continue to do this stuff outside St Paul’s.
The other question is how St Paul’s continues its good work in keeping these debates (on capitalism, justice, the financial system, etc) going, picking away at the uncomfortable sores and refusing to ditch the theological lens for something more comfortable.
It’s a pity the occupation outside St Paul’s couldn’t have been harnessed in order to ramp up that debate across the country. Those who think that by now the ‘story’ has relegated the ‘issue’ might be right.
October 23, 2011
The world appears a bit weird when Man Utd lose 6-1 at home to Man City. Wonderful (says the Scouser who is worried that two Manchester clubs now rule the Premiership).
But, more interesting is the response by atheist academic philosopher Daniel Came to the refusal by New Atheist academic biologist Richard Dawkins to debate with William Lane Craig. Dawkins gave his reasons in the Guardian here – and then got a response from Came. (Paul Vallely has also contributed in yesterday’s Independent.)
Not surprisingly, I am with Came on this. The New Atheists give atheism a bad name by substituting assertion for argument. Watch this space – the debate between Dawkins and Came might be even more interesting than debates between the theists and the New Atheists.
October 22, 2011
The body of Muammar Gaddafi is in cold-storage in Misrata. It is unclear how exactly he died because different people keep giving different accounts of his capture and death. What we do know is that people are queuing up to see the corpse with their own eyes, to take photos and celebrate that he has gone.
And what is wrong with that? Another example of liberal Western sensitivity that hates to see blood and is too wet or squeamish to be happy at the departure of a tyrant?
The world cannot be worse off without Gaddafi holding any power. The madman is now gone for ever and his tyrannical empire is shattered. Good.
But, as long as we think the rule of law is essential to any civilised or governable democratic society, we cannot pick and choose when the rule of law should apply. Gaddafi’s brutality might well provoke a vengeful response from those who suffered, but suffering does not justify sidelining the rule of law when personally convenient. If we want Robert Mugabe to be held to account by the rule of law which he has abandoned in Zimbabwe, we have to hold to its universality. We cannot hold him to it while allowing others to dismiss it in acts of vengeance. A greater deterrent to other dictators would have been to see Gaddafi and his sons in court, not in fridges.
A civilised society must always see the human body as more than just ‘stuff’. That’s why we bury our dead with dignity. That’s why we don’t just chuck our loved ones into the sea as if the body meant nothing once the life has left it. The body matters.
So, what does it say to us and our children when we glory in the brutalised and torn body of another human being? Is it justified by voyeurism? Or vengeance? Or does it represent a more worrying and capricious reduction of human value?
Muammar Gaddafi was an execrable tyrant who caused misery to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. But, using that fact to justify summary execution, physical torture, desecration of a body bodes ill for when we want to argue that bodies are to be honoured, torture to be rejected, murder to be abhorred. We can’t pick and choose when the rule of law is to apply.
October 21, 2011
1. Jamie Oliver is one of the top ten geniuses of our world. Die Zeit says so.
2. Our ethics are a mess. Prominent newspapers in Britain are proud to show Gadaffi’s dead head on the front pages along with a message of revenge? Which particular ethic are we trying to teach our children here?
3. We always knew he was an evil nutcase anyway – which was why we never did business with him. Obviously.
4. Bankrupt Greece is hanging on for an awful long time. Or, at least, being hung onto for reasons which are debatable.
5. It’s hard trying to work out what to do when anti-capitalists occupy the front of your cathedral.
6. The nights are fair drawing in.
7. The scandal of Hillsborough and the injustice to the bereaved looks soon to be illuminated. The truth will always out…
8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is just brilliant.
9. The National Media Museum in Bradford is wonderful and should be visited by everyone. Yes, everyone.
10. I can finally have a day off tomorrow.
October 17, 2011
During an address to nearly 500 people a couple of weeks ago I spoke about curiosity as a key to the Kingdom of God. What I meant by this is that Christian discipleship (it seems to me) has to be driven by curiosity about Jesus and where he might be leading us. There are lots of reasons why I think this, but they are not the point of this post.
As an example of this I used the challenge of writing and presenting scripts on the radio, making particular reference to the stuff I have done on BBC Radio 2 for more than a decade and now, particularly, on the Chris Evans Show. Before giving this address (which is why this example came to mind during it) someone asked how you find something useful to say in the ‘fluff of the programme’. So, when I referred to it I described it something like this:
You have to grab the attention of the potential listeners ( so they don’t go to the loo or put the kettle on), tease their imagination with story or image, say something, then give a pay off back into the ‘fluff’.
You get around 320 words to do it with.
The further challenge is that you have no idea if or how Chris will pick up on what you have said or the basic theme. Of course, there is no reason why he should pick up on it at all. But, the great thing about doing his show is that Chris is bright, interested, creative and excellent at engaging. When writing a script, you have to be conscious of stimulating the curiosity or imagination of the host and his team as well as the audience. It means speaking a language that is interesting and comprehensible to this diverse range of humanity.
And that’s why it is good to do. It is also excellent discipline for people like me who can talk for England, preach for hours, and range wildly from subject to subject.
It is also why I like Twitter and text messaging. These force you to be concise, to express an idea with very few words, to communicate effectively in brief. It demands the skill that is exemplified by comedian Milton Jones in his wonderful new book of ‘10 Second Sermons‘.
In a former life I used to encourage preachers to write a radio script of 400 words. I remember one person complaining that you can’t actually say something in such a short space. I responded that if you can’t say something in brief, you don’t know what you are trying to say… and you shouldn’t dare to say it for 20-30 minutes. I still think that.
The enjoyable thing about doing the stuff with Chris Evans is that he will often respond in ways you didn’t expect. Always interesting, sometimes challenging, never boring. And always a privilege not to be taken for granted.
Now I’m off to a communications conference…
October 16, 2011
Posted by nickbaines under Language
| Tags: Berlin
|  Comments
On the long and tedious journey back from Dresden to Bradford I got the train to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and then went over the road for the bus to Tegel airport. The buses run every six minutes. Which is useless efficiency if they are all full, you can’t get on and you have a deadline for catching your flight.
I gave up and went back over to the station to get a taxi. A bloke saw me and suggested we share – halve the cost. He turned out to be from Zürich and the conversation during the taxi ride was the best bit of the entire journey.
At one point he asked me where I had learned to speak such excellent German. Flattering? Not really. My German is not great and I know it. Having been relatively fluent donkey’s years ago doesn’t help much when you are rusty and rarely get to speak for any length of time. It was kind of him, but the real issue is this: he was surprised that, as an Englishman, I could speak any German at all. In other words, he had very low expectations and they were exceeded. In fact, I had only chit-chatted a few banal sentences before he made his comment. I hadn’t exactly recited Goethe like a native.
The journey took around fifteen minutes – in which time we covered Russian culture and politics, Swiss beauty spots, weather systems in Moscow (where I have never been) and frustrations with Berlin buses. The taxi driver just moaned about how the city gets bigger and fuller: too many people, too many cars, too many trains… but, obviously not too much custom.
I have no idea of who my co-passenger was, but he obviously wasn’t put off by the purple shirt and clerical collar. He made a long and tiring journey at least interesting. And I am recording it here so that I don’t forget it.
October 16, 2011
The Archbishop of York preached at an ecumenical service in the Frauenkirche in Dresden this morning. This service marked the conclusion of the German celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Meissen Agreement in 1991 (obviously). It also marked the end of the Delegation Visit. We were in Meissen yesterday.
However, it wasn’t all about partying. We also had work to do and this time the theme was ‘visitation’ – which sounds unbelievably dull until you get into it. The basic question is: how do our churches provide for effective pastoral supervision and support of clergy and parishes? In both the Landeskirchen of the EKD and the dioceses of the Church of England part of the bishop’s role is to find a way of encouraging and challenging clergy and local parishes. The genius is in getting the balance right between the encouragement and the challenge.
The Germans contributing to this visit described a very thoroughly worked out approach to visitation, instigated by the bishop, but involving a team of people. Lots of paperwork is required before the team visits and meets with people involved in church and local life. Reports are written afterwards, with an emphasis on the local church identifying it’s priorities for the next five or ten years. It clearly involves a huge amount of time and resource.
This process was described at one point as ‘pulling the cupboard away from the wall and seeing where the spiders are hiding. The process leads to some clergy deciding their future ministry lies elsewhere; some parishes decide they need a change of minister. Most, however, find the whole process constructive, helpful, encouraging and challenging because it compels them to examine their corporate life and ‘own’ its future shape and direction.
In the Church of England ‘visitation’ is driven by the bishop and archdeacon. We try to minimise the bureaucracy and maximise the impact, but there is no single, simple way of doing it across the country.
The interesting point here, however, is not the specifics of how visitation is done in a particular Landeskirche or diocese, but, rather, how the exercise of thinking about it away from home – and seeing it through the eyes and experience of another culture – is immensely helpful. I might have been away from Bradford for four days, but the benefit for the Diocese of Bradford comes from the bishop thinking through how to shape the pastoral care, support, encouragement of and challenge to clergy and parishes from 2012 onwards. Amid the sheer busyness of normal life in Bradford it is hard to take a step back and think clearly; thinking with others in Dresden has been very useful and stimulating.
Basically, it looks like this. I have so far visited six out of the eight Deaneries in the Diocese of Bradford – the last two will follow before Christmas. Having by then met all the clergy and seen many of the churches and parishes, how do I best ensure from 2012 that I and my colleagues know the clergy and the contexts in which they work? What sort of achievable and manageable structure of regular visitation will help the clergy and parishes best whilst also keeping me up to speed with developments? How do I best support what is going on in the parishes?
Some see any such thinking about visitation as threatening. Indeed, we asked the Germans how these visitations are regarded by their clergy and churches: most welcome it because (a) it means they are being taken seriously, (b) it means they will get a reality check with the help of people who see from a different perspective, (c) it will force some strategic thinking, (d) it will raise confidence in the ability of the bishop to understand the realities of the particular parish’s life, and (e) it will ensure that accountability is taken seriously on all fronts.
But, some will see it as some sort of Ofsted inspection from hierarchy.
It seems to me that good management and supervision equals good pastoral care. Such visitations – however they are shaped – brings the benefit of an outside eye and must be essentially supportive. Which is the same principle as coming away and looking through the eyes of another group in order to better see and understand what is going on at home.
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