More reaction to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s resignation

N.T. Wright (former Bishop of Durham, currently Professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrew’s, Scotland) on Rowan Williams:

‘Here to introduce Bach’s St Matthew Passion,’ said the radio announcer, ‘is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.’ My companion and I listened eagerly to a lucid account of St Matthew’s theology, and of how Bach’s music involves every hearer in the events of Jesus’ death. But at one moment the speaker paused, as though searching for a word. Didn’t he have a script? Next time I saw the Archbishop, I asked him. The BBC, he explained, sat him in a studio and asked him to talk about his favourite music. How many Archbishops could have done that, I wondered – at the same time as writing a book on Dostoevsky, debating with Philip Pullman, and plotting a visit to Robert Mugabe? Not to mention the thousand shocks that episcopal flesh is heir to.

Shocks there have been. Nobody in 2002 saw what was coming. That’s why many of us, courteously disagreeing on some issues, have remained convinced that Rowan was the right man for the job. Shallow, polarizing analyses remain irresistible for commentators; many in the church go along for the ride. But Dr Williams is a thinker’s thinker. He burrows down into an issue, reads it up, mulls it over, prays it through, and then speaks his mind. We have needed that. He is a classic Anglican theologian: not one for big, clunky systems, but solid, deep and rich in his study of the Bible and the Fathers. To hear Rowan expounding St John or St Augustine is to encounter Anglican theology at its best. Watch him translate that theology into pastoral mode: with children, say, or praying quietly with someone in the wings of a conference. Like all loveable people, he can be infuriating. But loveable none the less.

His mind has been, above all, for unity, always central to a bishop’s vocation. Not a shoulder-shrugging, lowest-common-denominator unity, but the hard-won, costly unity that makes demands on charity and patience rather than on conscience. He has worked hard for that unity within his own Anglican Communion and across denominational lines. He is one of a tiny handful of Anglican theologians to be a household name in Roman and Eastern Orthodox circles; and he has won friends in the free churches, too. When he was an official observer at an international Methodist conference twenty years ago, he complained in his closing remarks that they hadn’t sung his favourite Wesley hymn, ‘And Can it Be’, with its solid gospel affirmation, ‘No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him, is mine!’ They obediently stood up and sang it.

It’s worth reading in its entirety, in part because Wright comes from the Evangelical wing of the Church of England, and in part because the concluding paragraph lays out a vision of what Wright, and no doubt many other bishops, think the church should be:

Who, after all, is running the Church of England? We have Lambeth Palace, the House of Bishops, General Synod, the Archbishops’ Council, the Anglican Communion Office, and (don’t get me started) the Church Commissioners. How does it all work? In an episcopal church, the bishops should be the leaders.

Giles Fraser offers his very different perspective on the qualifications for the next Archbishop of Canterbury here. Money quote:

His much more pressing task is to speak clearly out of the Christian tradition in a way that will resonate with those who no longer think that religious belief has anything left to offer.

While Fraser and Wright come from very different wings of the Church of England, both express appreciation for the difficulty of Williams’ job, as well as for his faith, theology, and spirituality. Not so the Archbishop of Nigeria, who puts all blame for the shattering of communion on the Archbishop.

Giles Fraser’s last sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral

It was Evensong. The reading was Luke’s version of the Beatitudes: “Blessed be you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. His reflections from the Church Times are here.

His conclusion:

For too long the Church has been obsessed with its own internal work­ings and with silly arguments about sex. Now is the time for a new debate and a new emphasis. For if we are not fully involved with complex dis­cussions about the relationship be­tween financial justice and the way our financial institutions work, then we might as well give up on being a proper Church and admit that we are the spiritual arm of the heritage industry.

Yes, it could get worse–Developments at St. Paul’s

The Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Graeme Knowles has resigned. The full coverage at Thinking Anglicans.

The article from the New York Times.

A background story from The Telegraph on the internal debates at the Cathedral over the last two weeks. Apparently the real power is a retired Major General, who served in Northern Ireland in the 90s. The mind boggles.

Andrew Brown’s commentary from The Guardian’s blog. He has strong words for Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, who is now the Church’s (and Cathedral’s) face in this mess. He’s trying to have it both ways, like bishops so often do, with the usual result of digging himself and the church into a deeper hole.

There’s a lot in the situation that is outside of our experience in the US. First of all, the Church of England is established, a state church, and second, it has a unique relationship with the corporation that runs the City, the square mile that is the heart of London’s financial district and a separate entity from London, with roots going back into the Middle Ages.

Still, it’s hard to see how the Cathedral or the Church of England can emerge from this scandal without greater damage than they’ve already brought on themselves. Given the marginal role of the Church in English society, and other controversies plaguing it, will this be a mortal blow?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has finally spoken out, at least on the departures of Giles Fraser and the Dean. His silence speaks loudly, given his recent courageous stance in Zimbabwe, as well as his extensive comments over the years on the ethics of the economy.

A canon fires a volley–the resignation of Giles Fraser and the St. Paul’s fiasco

Giles Fraser, until yesterday, was Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Learned, eloquent, and occasionally a little bit shocking, he resigned when it became clear that the Occupy London protestors would be removed from Cathedral grounds.

A profile of Fraser.

Andrew Brown’s take on the story.

Another piece from The Guardian on the ham-fisted actions of Dean and Chapter.

I’ve been following the story in part because of the parallels with our own experiences at Grace over the last eight months. As I repeatedly said in the early days of the Madison protests, because of our location, anything we did or didn’t do could be construed as a political act. Keeping our doors closed during the protests on those cold winter days would have sent as a powerful a message as did our decision to open the doors and invite people in to rest their feet and warm up.

Still, I also have some sympathy with those on the Cathedral staff who would like the protestors to leave. A day or two, even three, is somewhat tolerable; but the longer the stay, the greater the toll on the life of the congregation, staff, and other ministries. Just to give one example from Grace’s experience. The number of visits to our food pantry decreased by about fifty percent last February.

The question becomes, how do you make the best of such a situation? How does it become an opportunity for ministry and mission, for reaching out to people. One entrepreneurial cleric got the idea of having Flash Evensong at St. Paul’s. That’s marvelous!

Even more important, how can the Cathedral, the Church, voice the gospel in and through the protests? That’s where the Cathedral Chapter should be focusing its energy and attention. It should also be ensuring both that access to the cathedral is kept open, to visitors and to protestors alike.

Last week there was a piece going around the web from George Pitcher on how the church should approach the media. It boggles the mind to contemplate how badly St. Paul’s has handled this situation.

The nature of a worshiping community

Giles Fraser, who is Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has some interesting things to say about the nature of community when 85% of those in attendance at services are visitors from around the world. We certainly have nothing like that percentage of visitors on a Sunday, but I continue to be surprised by how many we do have. Certainly most Sundays it’s probably over 10% and a goodly number of those are out-of-town visitors. Another substantial segment are people who attend from time to time, with no real interest in joining.Just in the last month, we’ve had visitors from Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Germany, as well as several people who grew up at Grace and left Madison decades ago. We’ve also had people who have attended once on a whim or a quest, and have returned Sunday by Sunday, week after week.

Even at our midweek service, where average attendance is less than 10, we’ll often have a visitor or two. More likely than not, that visitor is a young adult. Sometimes they will attend regularly for a few weeks or months, and we’ll never see them again. Others will drop in semi-regularly.

I wonder about these attendance patterns. I’m familiar with the church shopper, and will occasionally ask a visitor point-blank whether that’s what they’re doing, not to put them on the spot, but to put them at ease. People come to services for all sorts of reasons, often with no intention of making a deeper commitment to our parish. Sometimes they are checking us out; more often, I suspect, they are simply reaching out to fill a momentary need. All this runs against everything that I know about congregational development, and all of my past experience as a churchgoer, scholar, and priest. We are constantly told that the goal is to get visitors fully involved and hooked in. I’m no longer convinced that should be our primary goal. Rather, we should take seriously the implications of one of those mottoes that some churches like to use “You are welcome, wherever you are on your spiritual journey.” Our hospitality should extend as deeply to someone we may never see again, as it would to a young family we are hoping to attract into active membership.

Such attendance patterns put even more pressure on my commitment to excellence in worship and preaching. If we’ve only got one chance to reach them, we’d better pull out all of the stops (quite literally). But of course one never knows how the Spirit works. Even if things aren’t perfect, it’s quite possible that visitors and regular attenders alike are spiritually nourished.

Debating the Existence of God

Nathan Schneider’s report on a recent debate at Notre Dame between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig. He also talks about it here. Perhaps more importantly, he points to an essay by John O’Callaghan of Notre Dame who reflected on the debate before it took place. I agree with his advice to Harris that he should read Augustine before going much further.

Giles Fraser reviewed Harris’ The Moral Landscape in The Guardian. It’s worth reading. Fraser gets it right when he says:

First, the atheism. On that useful quadrant – interesting and right, interesting and wrong, uninteresting and right, uninteresting and wrong – Harris is mostly in the uninteresting and right category. Uninteresting because he is concerned only with the narrowest definition of religious belief, and right because the moral and intellectual crimes he pins on this form of belief – its ignorance and prejudice – are so obvious to the western secular imagination that they do not require argument, and certainly not a PhD in neuroscience. Given his definition of religion, his attack on it is the philosophical equivalent of taking sweets from a baby. These things are wrong: “female genital excision, blood feuds, infanticide, the torture of animals, scarification, foot binding, cannibalism, ceremonial rape, human sacrifice”. The list goes on. With regard to the god Harris describes, I am a much more convinced atheist than he – even though I am a priest. For Harris asks constantly for evidence, with the implication that if he discovered some, he would change his mind. My own line would be that even if the god he described was proved to exist, I would see it as my moral duty to be an atheist. An all-powerful eternal despot is still a despot.

He concludes:

For all this, it is not so much that I disagree with Harris. Rather, I am scared of him. And not his atheism, which is standard scientific materialism with the volume turned up. But scared of his complete lack of ambiguity, his absolute clarity of vision, his refusal of humour or self-criticism, his unrelenting seriousness. Harris sees the great moral battle of our day as one between belief and unbelief. I see it as between those who insist that the world be captured by a single philosophy and those who don’t. Which is why I fear Harris in just the same way I fear evangelical Christians, to whom he looks so similar. Like them, he is in no doubt about his faith. Like them, he has his devoted followers. Like them, he wants to convert the world. Well, I’m sorry. I am not a believer.