Here in Hannover the talk is all about change. The conference Kirchehochzwei not only has nearly 1200 people attending today and tomorrow, but also is a feat of imaginative organisation. I seem to do a lot of stuff in Germany, but this one has been hugely challenging, stimulating and educative.

The great thing about being out of one's own culture is that you get to look through the lens of another – and then look differently at your own. Perspective changes and new insights are gained – a bit like changing the camera angle or lighting on a film or stage set.

The conference is aimed at opening up German Christians' thinking about how to address necessary change in how the church shapes itself in a changing world. Learning from some of the Fresh Expressions experiences in England, they now want to work out what this might look like in a German context that is simultaneously both similar and very different. Yesterday I saw three superb presentations about initiatives in Austria, Aachen and Erfurt: two of these were Roman Catholic. And that into to the really interesting thing about the nature of the conference itself: it is put on by both the Evangelical (Protestant) and Roman Catholic Churches in Niedersachsen, sponsored by both the bishops.

What is interesting about this is that the ecumenical nature of the event both raises and lowers the guard as critical questions are asked from every possible direction in the exploration of how the 'church' is to change and what changes are legitimate. In my various inputs I have been stressing the importance of 'order' in new forms of church – a bit like the clarity and creativity made possible by painting white lines on a tennis court, without which no game is possible, no creative play is feasible and all you can do is bang a ball around.

Plenary sessions this morning gave way this afternoon to workshops and seminars – hundreds of them. It is amazing to watch it happen. I had been asked to attend a theological workshop on so-called 'liquid church' at which Thomas Söding, a Roman Catholic academic New Testament scholar, presented a brilliant paper in which he took three images from the New Testament of crises in boats. The opening paragraph of his notes (my quick translation) says:

The New Testament is not a model kit for the ship that is the church; rather, it is a log book that establishes the story of its early journeys, a fuel station which fills and empowers it, and a GPS satnav by which it can navigate.

The concluding observations in his notes state:

[This conference] is St Peter's little ship on a great journey. Without a general overhaul and a new crew it will go down like the Titanic. But which renovations are needed and which crew selection is the right one, if the ship is not to sail under the wrong flag and is safely to reach its destination with its freight intact, is the master question.

Not a bad question to pose at the end of the week in which Pope Benedict announced his retirement. And the has been a lot of questioning here about what might happen next in the Roman Catholic Church under a new Pope.

Following questions and discussion from the audience, I was asked to make a few observations on the question of how to change the church in ways that are creative, yet consistent with the New Testament. In reply I noted how one contributor yesterday had said of his 'fresh expression of church' in Aachen, “For me it is an experiment,” and added that in my view “the church itself is an experiment”. Picking up on Tom Wright's notion of biblical history as a five-act play in which we are still writing he fifth act, I suggested that however creatively and innovatively we develop the plot, it must always be consistent with what has gone on in the first four acts. Furthermore (and clearly mixing my metaphors here), although we might find ourselves responsible for steering a new and uncharted course in today's sea, we must not lose sight of what it actually means to be a 'ship' in the first place.

There was loads more. It was interesting later to listen to a moderated conversation between the Protestant Bishop Ralf Meister and his Roman Catholic counterpart Norbert Trelle. They didn't duck any questions either – including the 'challenge' to both churches of how to 'celebrate' in Wittenberg in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.

In all this we have witnessed people changing the guards that protect them from discomfort or challenge. It is a very good thing.

Anyway, that's enough. I am giving the final address in the final plenary session tomorrow afternoon. I have been asked to inspire and encourage the thousand people there. No pressure there, then.

Then I go for dinner with friends before preaching (this time in English, fortunately) at an international service in Hannover on Sunday before catching a flight back to Bradford via Amsterdam.

 

I only did a brief and rather disconnected speech in the debate on women bishops at the Church of England's General Synod last Tuesday. In it I reminded Synod that when we think of the ecumenical impact of our decision we needed to consider not only the Roman Catholic Church, but also the other churches (particularly) in Europe. I didn't have time to expand, but would like to have done.

However, I did ask the Synod to get real when making silly statements about the Church of England “not having the authority” to do what we were doing. (a) If the Synod and Church has no authority, what are they doing sitting on the Synod in the first place? (b) if I really believed this, I couldn't be an Anglican in the first place. Despite all the fantasy special pleading, our orders are not recognised by Rome and our 'church' is a mere 'ecclesial community'. That's the inescapable bottom line. (c) If those who say they truly believe in 'headship' actually do so, then why didn't they do what the male heads of the Church were leading them to do?

OK, not exactly knock-down arguments for the consecration of women as bishops, but they open up arguments that were not properly aired during the debate itself. Sometimes we are just too polite.

This morning, having spent yesterday doing what the Church of England does every day – in parishes, in local communities, in meetings that don't lose focus on what we are here for – I returned to a quick scan of the media.

Naturally, politicians are shouting loudly about how to sort the Church of England out. Apparently, we shouldn't be listened to any longer on moral issues because of this. And we should be disestablished.

Well, there are good arguments to be had about both those matters, but the sheer illogicality of some of the stuff would, in any other context, be screamingly funny. For a start, we have politicians elected (in some cases) by a fraction of the electorate indignantly telling the Church off for only managing to muster 90%+ of the bishops, nearly 80% of the clergy, 64% of the laity, and 42 out of 44 dioceses behind the cause of women bishops.

How about, before we listen to another politician, we couple – in any political discussion – potential disestablishment of the Church of England with a demand that every MP can only sit in Parliament if positively elected by 50% (I am feeling generous) of the electorate in his other constituency. Electoral legitimacy in a democracy also needs attention paid to it.

The point is basically this: the Church of England has not rejected women bishops – the House of Laity of the General Synod has. The Church of England has massively and overwhelmingly approved not only the principle, but the process. The only question now is how to find the right wording to make law that makes this a reality.

We failed this time, but I hope those who are bitterly disappointed and disillusioned will (a) aim at the right target, (b) turn disappointment (and, in some cases, exhaustion) into determination, and (c) be clear and boringly repetitive, especially with other politicians and journalists/commentators, that the Church has not rejected women bishops.

After all, it isn't just the Church that needs to get real.

(On the good news front, the General Synod looks positively coherent in comparison with Chelsea FC who yesterday hired a Liverpool reject as their latest messiah. Ahem…)

It has been a while since I wrote anything remotely useful here. It wasn't for lack of interest, just too many sermons, addresses and writings to do amid a relentlessly unforgiving diary. Add to that conferences and travel and my brain got dimmer than it usually is. Then add to that silly enquiries about who the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be (how should I know – I'm not on the Crown Nominations Commission), and silence might be understandable.

Anyway, I have escaped Blighty for a few days with the Meissen Commission in Eisenach, Germany. We meet once each year as a joint commission, alternately in England and Germany, and three times a year in national committees. I love it – the best, most enjoyable and stimulating ecumenical thingy going.

I have never been to Eisenach before. Johann Sebastian Bach was baptised here in the Georgenkirche (where I will be preaching on Sunday morning before returning to Bradford). Martin Luther preached here. But, more importantly, it was here – in the Wartburg – on the hill that he lobbed a bottle of ink at the devil while holed up for his own protection. He spent from May 1521 until March 1522 there – after he had been taken there for his safety at the request of Frederick the Wise following his excommunication by Pope Leo X and his refusal to recant at the Diet of Worms. It was during this stay that Luther (under the name of Junker Jörg) translated the New Testament into German.

And here it is – as seen from my bedroom window:

Our agenda is concentrating on education, music and keeping up to speed with developments in the Church of England (not a lot going on, really) and the EKD (lots going on…). Taking a long view while physically distant from home is always helpful, so we will make the most of our few days together in this very beautiful place.

I can't see me lobbing bottles of ink at anyone, but they might lob them at me when I preach on Sunday.

More anon.

 

Twenty years isn’t a long time in the grand sweep of history. Which makes it remarkable that agreements made in a very different world only two decades ago can have had such an impact on how countries and churches relate to each other.

In the mid-1980s Germany was divided and the Cold War was quietly defrosting in Europe. The German Church was also separated by the Berlin Wall and the role of the church in East and West looked very different. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, visited the GDR and proposed a living connection between the Church of England, the EKD (in West Germany) and the Federation of the Evangelical Churches in the German Democratic Republic.

The result was the Meissen Agreement – written in 1988 and signed at Westminster Abbey in 1991. It was written in a divided Europe and was signed in a different world.

Twenty years later this agreement has formed the basis of most of the Church of England’s European ecumenical developments and paved the way for the multi-national Porvoo process. The Meissen Agreement has led to very effective diocesan and parish links, exchange of people, thinking and expertise, and the establishment of theological, ecclesiological, ethical and other conversations between the churches.

The Meissen Commission meets each September alternately in Germany and England. The national committees meet three times per year in their own country. Added to this are other exchanges, visits and engagements with particular members of the Commission. I have chaired the English Committee for the last five years; the German co-chair is Professor Friedrich Weber, Bishop of Braunschweig and an Ecumenical Canon of Blackburn Cathedral.

In the last five years we have done a good deal of work on (and thinking about) interfaith experience, education (religious, historical and linguistic), and have agitated about the disastrous state of language teaching/learning in England. We have shared experience of church reform, fresh expressions and evangelism in a rapidly changing world. The next five years will see some continuity, but also one or two new points of focus.

The reason for writing this today is simple. This afternoon the Commission began the celebration of it’s twentieth anniversary with a seminar and reception at the German Embassy in London. The German Ambassador is a brilliant man and he hosted not only the seminars on the Meissen Library in Durham and expert reflections on interfaith work in our two countries, but also a very generous reception with nearly 70 guests. It was such a good evening and demonstrated the genuine friendships that have grown between our countries and churches. Bishop Weber reminded us that our parents were enemies – now we are friends.


Work will continue in Limehouse on Friday and Saturday (with visits to see how two churches in the East End are engaging with the Christian Gospel in a multi- faith and multicultural environment). On Sunday I will be preaching at a morning service at the Christuskirche in Knightsbridge (in English, fortunately) before we go to Westminster Abbey for a celebration Evensong at which Bishop Weber will preach. The Commission will conclude it’s work and celebrations on Sunday night and Monday morning. A new Commission will then be appointed for the next five years and I will continue as the English co-chair. There will be some change in the membership of the English Committee – three of the five members will retire this time.

But Meissen, not widely known about in England, is a very significant ecumenical relationship. It is living, is not bureaucratic, and is rooted in real relationships of respect, mutual learning and active friendship.

And it compels me and us to keep banging on about the dire situation in England vis-a-vis language learning. We are impoverished as well as incapacitated by our inability to understand (let alone speak) the languages of others.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:London

Every three years the churches around what is called the Rhein-Knie (Rhine knee) get together for a day of worship, celebration, consultation and serious discussion of current issues. They come from Switzerland, Germany and France – thousands of them. This time it’s in Basel and it’s boiling in the sun.

The Münster was full to overflowing for the opening service (done in French and Gerrman) this morning and the seminars began after lunch. The session I was in wasn’t brilliantly attended, but began with some music. We got to hear singing in five different languages – the songs of people from other parts of the world. By singing their songs in their languages we enter a (very) little into their experience of God and the world. We also get a reminder that some things cannot be translated – you have to ‘feel the depth’ of the untranslatable language – and this at least generates a bit of humility, if not humiliation. To sing the songs of others in their language reminds us also that God is not monochrome, monolingual or monocultural.

But where else other than in church would people get this experience today – a unique opportunity for many people? A similar question that bugs me about young people and some ‘fresh expressions of church’ (the ones that are really ‘peer’ churches) is how in today’s world it might be possible for children and young people to have generous relationships with elderly people outside of their family. Where can children listen to and learn from the experiences of adults whose lives and wisdom might just have something to teach us that can’t be learned from a computer or telly? Children need good relationships with adults outside the family if they are to mature.

Here again, the church must regain it’s confidence in being probably the only institution that regularly brings together in a single community of relationships people of all ages. That’s why I am suspicious of the limitations of some forms of church which simply bring together people who like each other and are like each other. It might be more interesting and less frustrating, but I am not sure it is what church is meant to be.

Anyway (!), this Basel Kirchentag brings together people of most ages (haven’t seen too many younger people yet) and they come from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Free churches and other odds and sods of church genres. And the main theme of the multiplicity of seminars? Not churchy stuff. Not ecumenical relations. Not mere spirituality to feed the individual (there are other places for that). No, here the question has to do with the role of the churches in addressing the aftermath of the financial crises of the last three years, the impact of these on relationships and families, and how to get a Christian voice/perspective heard in the shaping of the future.

They bring perspectives and proposals from three countries, three cultures and three languages to the common task of building a good society for all. And it is notable for not only repeating the imperative of standing alongside those who suffer, but also that of helping build something positive and new for the future.

What I need to think through as I prepare to go to Dresden on Wednesday for the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag (150,000 people) is how the church in England can find a way not only of standing with those who suffer, but inspiring those who will use both their gifts and their wealth – however understood – to build the society our children will soon see as ‘normal’. Standing with the suffering is vital, but it isn’t the only responsibility we have.

Basel has seen some religious battles and controversies in past centuries. Today the only scrap is around the Cup Final which is taking place in Basel, but doesn’t involve FC Basel.

The weather in Munich is terrible. So, all those who think I have come on a jolly will have to think again. I spent today meeting people and getting cold. But I was determined to hang around the enormous Messestadt (Trade Fair Centre) waiting for a unique opportunity to hear two old men have a conversation in the evening.

Hans Küng (82) and Jürgen Moltmann (84) are two giants of late-2oth century German theology. The former is a Roman Catholic who had his permission to teach in the Catholic Faculty of Theology at the University of Tübingen withdrawn by the Pope; the latter is a Protestant whose Theology of Hope breathed new life into german theology and inspired a generation of theologians and preachers. Both have never got stuck, but have developed and applied their theology to the realities of a changing world as they have aged.

This evening was remarkable. Thousands arrived early to ensure a place in the auditorium – I got there for 6.30pm thinking it began at 7pm only to find it was scheduled to start at 7.30pm and didn’t in fact get going until 8pm. More people were locked out than could get in. The excluded crowds chanted ‘Wir wollen rein’ (‘We want to come in’) to listen to these two elderly men talk together about church.

Can you imagine that ever happening in Britain? Most of the excluded were young people eager to garner the wisdom of these two theologians. Why? Because their theology is neither dry nor ‘merely academic’, but engages with the real world of economics, politics and culture. They bring to their subject the intellectual rigour that is associated with German philosophical thinking. Yet, they speak with simplicity, clarity and passion – eschewing theological cleverness in order to communicate accessibly with all-comers: they are remarkable men who show no sign of being ego-driven.

A critical but appreciative audience heard them address five questions:

1. Who are the laity?

2. Who are priests and pastors?

3. Who is the Church?

4. What is ‘ecumenism’ and where is it at today?

5. What does it mean to have fellowship in the name of Jesus Christ?

What ensued was a fascinating and impassioned plea for the Church to get real (in the light of the realities of the world in which we live) and recover its vocation (to be found in the Scriptures we have always had with us). This emerged from introductory statements which had Küng calling for a new Reformation in the Roman Catholic Church – one which unites the Church rather than splitting it further. Moltmann pointed out that the Kirchentag is a lay conference in which the role of bishops is to listen to the laity. I took this to heart…

It is impossible to summarise the contributions of the two men in a way that does justice to their contributions. Küng wants the Roman Catholic Church to change, embracing women priests, abolishing imposed celibacy and uniting the Christian churches in mission and sacramental ministry. For his part, Moltmann sees the future of churches in lay people taking responsibility for their own faith and organising the church in house groups that come together sacramentally. Christians are not ‘customers’, there to ‘visit’ the church, but members who take responsibility for the life of the church. As Küng put it:

A church for the people needs to become a church of the people.

Moltmann wants Christians to maintain a critical solidarity with the church whilst Küng sees exit from the Church as irresponsible (if understandable in the light of the current abuse scandal). Both think all churches need to be reformed in the light of the Gospel. Küng even went so far as to claim that the Pope’s title ‘Servant of the servants of God’ has become in practice ‘the Lord of the lords’ (Herr der Herren).

Both believe that there should be eucharistic hospitality between the churches – Moltmann claiming that generous hospitality is the hallmark of a real church, regardless of the role of the priest/pastor.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the conversation was their agreement that Christians belong together whether they like it or not. “What belongs together grows together” – as Moltmann put it. Jesus’ prayer for the unity (in love) of his people is being answered; the church needs to recognise this and make it visible. Baptism is the fundamental element in our common belonging.

Experience of interreligious dialogue has taught us that Christians need to speak with a single voice in a complicated world – a speaking that must follow on from and not precede genuine humble listening. Both agreed that there is no theological or doctrinal reason for continuing the lack of mutual eucharistic hospitality and both called for an end to the nonsense of ‘excommunication’. Moltmann spoke of the absurdity of mixed-confessional marriages in which at shared services eahc partner goes to a different priest to receive Communion:

What God has joined together let not man divide…

Küng very pointedly criticised the Pope for his recent ‘offer’ to Anglicans and noted that the younger Josef Ratzinger had taken part in eucharistic practices that are inconsistent with the line he now appears to follow. (They were academic and priestly colleagues for many years and still maintian contact.) Moltmann took the view that Christians should be like human beings: eat and drink together first, then discuss theology afterwards. It is a nonsense to do it the other way round…

Both made concluding statements of generosity towards the other’s church. But what will remain in my mind is Moltmann’s contention (not opposed by Küng) to the effect that Protestant should welcome ‘communion with Rome’, but not ‘communion under Rome’. Renewal and a new Reformation are needed as ever.

At the end the two elderly men stood on the stage looking bemused as people like me took photographs. We may never see their like again.

It’s not often a bishop gets treated like a rock star. It almost certainly couldn’t happen in England (even if anyone was stupid enough to want it). But, here in Germany the media have celebrated the return of Margot Kässman to public ministry and given her huge affirmation. They probably couldn’t have done anything else, given the massive affection with which she has been greeted here at the Ecumenical Kirchentag.

The first full day of the Ecumenical Kirchentag was always going to be dominated by the return of Margot Kässmann, the charismatic and immensely popular former Chair of the Council (Ratsvorsitzende) of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland. After only four months in office, she felt compelled to resign – along with her post as Bishop of Hannover – after having driven through a red light when well over the permitted drink-drive limit. This was her first major appearance since her resignation and she looked tense when she appeared in the hall to do a Bible study for more than five thousand people. She was accompanied by huge numbers of TV cameras and press phtotographers.

She was probably surprised to get to her seat on the front row and find me and two Church of England colleagues sitting right behind her. One of my colleagues had blagged his way through the barrier and we got prime seats on the second row from the front.

Once she got on stage and got going with her Bible study (on Genesis 9:8-17, Noah’s flood), she visibly relaxed and seemed completely at home. Met by repeated standing ovations, she could not have been other than moved by the love of her audience. And there was no self-pity, no self-reference, no milking the occasion for the sake of her ego, no attempt at self-justification or indulgence in satisfying the voyeurism of other people. She just did her stuff and did so with confidence, freedom and clarity.

It was an interesting text for her to address – and she didn’t choose it. The theme for this Kirchentag is ‘hope’ and all the Bible study contributors work from the same text.

She took five elements of the story of the flood, but explored briefly the nature of the story as an archetype of human fears of death, destruction and loss. She addressed the fact that we speak confidently of human and technological progress in a world that can still bring suffering to Haiti and in which volcanic ash can ground the world’s aircraft.

Given that suffering and tragedy are part of what being alive in a contingent world involves, the rainbow becomes not only a reminder to God of his promise, but the symbol of hope. Kässmann’s point was that shafts of hopeful light shine into the darkness of the world’s experience – not when we want them and never according to some engineered formula – and the rainbow becomes a symbol of the vision that there can be a future after destruction.

This brings to mind Brueggemann’s phrase, ‘newness after loss’ – in reference to the prophets of the Old Testament who not only saw the inevitable destruction coming, but also held out the hint of a hope that death, destruction, humiliation and exile do not have the final word after all.

The fundamental challenge here relates to views of the world that hold out no hope and offer no vision other than wishful thinking. Hope is not fantasy. Rather, hope is rooted in trust that the evidence of our eyes does not convey ultimate truth about the totality of reality. No Christian can be a stranger to the sort of mockery we often attract these days – but Noah built his ark, looked to an apparently absurd future when everyone else thought he was crazy.

Kässmann was calling for Christians to stop talking endlessly about (and take their focus off) their divisions and offer the world instead images of hope of a future – a bit like planting a tree in a desert, building a house during a war or buying a field when you are about to be thrown out of the country.

It’s not true that I left the country this morning because the Tories are back in power. But it is certainly interesting to see the processes of British politics through the eyes of a different country and culture. The Germans seem not to understand what all the fuss is about – they have a permanent ‘hung Parliament’ and seem to have done reasonably OK.

I am in Munich for the 2nd Ecumenical Kirchentag which began this afternoon and finishes on Sunday. The Protestants do this every other year, but this is the second time the Protestants and Roman Catholics have done it together (the last time seven years ago). Several hundred thousand people of all ages will be here during the next three days and tens of thousands joined together on the Theresienwiese for the opening service.

The service was interesting, but typically wordy. The theme of the Kirchentag is Damit ihr Hoffnung habt (‘So that you may have hope’) and the service attempted to get the word ‘Hoffnung’ into every sentence without ever really explaining what Christian hope might actually look like when ‘dressed’ in human flesh rather than existing simply as a theological idea.

The best bit was – surprisingly – the words of greeting brought at the end by the Bundespräsident, Professor Dr Horst Köhler. This is a bit like the Queen turning up and doing a talk to get the event going. Whereas Protestant black and Catholic Episcopal pink was to be seen everywhere, it was this lay politician who articulated what needed to be said and did so in language that was unambiguous, direct and honest. The scandal of child abuse by Roman Catholic priests has shattered Germany and, in Köhler’s words, hung a cloud over the churches and the Kirchentag itself. He spoke of the many people who had turned their back on the churches or been ashamed by their church, and called for support for victims of abuse.

The President then called the churches (a) to united witness by united worship and service; (b) repentance and transparent addressing of the sins of the church; but (c) not to lose sight of the good done by Christians in, through and from their churches. He strongly urged the churches to face the reality of their failures, but to remain confident both about the Gospel and the powerful good done and still to be done by the Christian churches in Germany. He was constantly applauded before concluding (along with Brother Roger of Taize) that Christians need both to struggle (its mission in and for society)and to be contemplative (rooted in reflective worship and prayer).

It was eloquent, passionate and articulate stuff. To hear a Head of State speak so powerfully, simply, clearly and honestly was very impressive. He was followed by the President of the State of Bavaria (Ministerpräsident), Horst Seehofer, who was equally direct, encouraging and funny. He welcomed us to his Land (state) and added that his Cabinet had agreed on Tuesday that there should be five days of good weather. He commented that we would soon find out what a politician’s word was worth. (Despite every weather forecast promising thunder storms and heavy rain, the evening was pleasant, cloudy and dry.)

Tomorrow begins with thousands of people flooding into the Messegelände for Bible studies, seminars, lectures, concerts, arts presentations, worship and every other kind of encounter. Rather than being preoccupied with abstract theology or disengaged spirituality, the programme is courageously aimed at addressing environmental, political, economic, social and ecclesiastical issues head on and making theology apply to the hard questions facing human beings in our societies now and for the future.

The Kirchentag probably couldn’t happen in Britain – but it is uniquely wonderful here.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is in Rome and will meet the Pope today for a private meeting. The impression given in some media is that this visit is a response to the Pope’s establishment of a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans who want to join the Roman Catholic Church. But two things need to be said about this: (a) the visit was scheduled many, many months ago, so has been coloured by recent events, but not determined by them; (b) according to a RC bishop with whom I spoke recently, they do not want ‘disaffected’ Anglicans who would prefer to remain Anglican really, but only those who positively want to join the RC Church – in other words, those with positive and not negative motivation.

Now, that will be an interesting one for the RC authorities to work out when they engage in the discernment process in each individual case.

However, I was asked to do an interview with John Humphreys on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning and the thrust of the question put to me was about ‘leadership’. Has Rowan Williams’ authority been undermined by the Pope’s offer and is his leadership (particularly in comparison with that of Pope Benedict) too equivocal to be effective?

My response was simple: leadership is not about shouting loudly what people want to hear… now. yet that is what many people think it is. If they don’t hear Rowan saying what they want to hear him saying, then he isn’t leading. What Rowan is doing is taking the long-term view. Well, what about the lack of ‘robustness’ in his leadership? I wasn’t being facetious when I noted that Jesus wasn’t being exactly ‘robust’ when he allowed himself to be nailed to a cross.

Isn’t it more ‘robust’ (and doesn’t it take more nerve) to resist the clamour for statements, simple clarity (where it may not exist) or irrevocable decisions before the time is right to give them? It could be argued that to stick to your course in the face of competing demands for statements shows not leadership but weak (and short-term) populism.

So, you may not agree with Rowan, but you have to give him some credit for not being pushed into a corner by the strident voices of competing factions or the comment-hungry media. His conversation with Benedict should be just that: a conversation with Benedict. Why can’t we learn to respect context, relationship and confidence and then see where the two leaders go from here?

The contrast with Benedict is an interesting one, however. It is illuminating to listen to Roman Catholics who are alarmed at the way the Pope has pushed this Apostolic Constitution through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and by-passed the appropriate body, the Pontifical Council for Ecumenical Dialogue. If this ‘leadership’ undermined the Archbishop of Canterbury, then what does it say about the leadership of the Archbishop of Westminster who was given the same notice of the Constitution as was Rowan? And does it undermine both Vatican process and the authority of the Roman Catholic bishops of England, given that they also had no notice of what was proposed than their Anglican counterparts?

It is often said that Rowan could sometimes be clearer in what he does say – given that even academic lectures will still get reported in popular media – but intellectual laziness should not excuse us from working at what he does say in order to get to the heart of how this holy man sees God, the world and us.

This morning the Times asks Rowan to by-pass the tanks parked on the lawn at Lambeth Palace and speak truth to the heart of Rome. The challenges he posed to Rome in his lecture yesterday are serious (and not simple) ones – as recognised by Cardinal Kasper and Bishop Brian Farrell. It will be interesting to see if and how Rome responds.

I came across a disturbing press notice on the EKD (German Protestant Church) website in the wake of the election of Bishop Margot Käßmann as Chair of the Council of the EKD last month.

It would appear that the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed an intention to cut off ecumenical contact with the EKD because of Käßmann’s election. Apparently, ‘representatives of the Foreign Office of the Russian Orthodox Church had announced that relations with the EKD would be terminated… Archbishop Hilarion said that celebrations planned for the end of November to mark 50 years of dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the EKD would also mark the end of the conversations.’ Archbishop Hilarion was quoted as such in the Kommersant newspaper.

It appears that the fundamental reason for this move is that the Orthodox Church does not allow that a woman can be a bishop. Fair enough – and no surprises so far.

But the conversations between the two churches have been going on for years and the EKD has had female bishops for years. All that happened on 28 October was that Margot Käßmann was elected ‘Chair of the Council’. That isn’t a change of orders – that happened a long time ago.

So, it is not only the EKD that is expressing confusion about this. If ‘female bishops’ was the problem, the Orthodox would presumably have suspended their relationship with the EKD many years ago. But they didn’t.

So, what is this about?