How Clergy Thrive is a short report in the Church of England that was released in October 2020. It provides insights from the Living Ministry research programme, a longitudinal study into clergy wellbeing that has been following four cohorts of clergy and their families. It is substantial research and author, Liz Graveling, presents it well. It pushes in the right direction but, unsurprisingly, falls short of a fulsome exhortation for the cultural and structural changes that are really needed.

I have attended enough “resilience” sessions at clergy conferences to approach a report on this topic with a healthy cynicism. This report avoids many of the normal pitfalls.

For instance, clergy wellbeing is often reduced to a matter of individualised introspection and the promotion of coping mechanisms. Refreshingly, this report recognises that “wellbeing” is a “shared responsibility” (page 7). It notes that the “the pressure to be well”, itself, “can sometimes feel like a burden”. Indeed, “clergy continuously negotiate their wellbeing with institutions, social forces and other people: family members, friends, colleagues, parishioners, senior clergy and diocesan officers, as well as government agencies and market forces.” We clergy live in a complex web of ill-defined social contracts. We are often the least defended from the inevitable toxicities. A recognition of this system is a good foundation.

Similarly, the multifaceted approach to “vocational clarity” (page 9) deals well with actual reality. There is always a gap between the “calling” of ministry and the “job” of ministry, between the way in which the Holy Spirit gifts someone to the body of Christ, and their institutional identity. In my experience, the wellbeing of a clergyperson is essentially shaped by one’s emotional response to that gap. Wellbeing is encouraged by stimulating and supporting a clergyperson to reach an honest, holistic, and healthy equilibrium. It is undermined by arbitrary training hoops and merely bureaucratic forms of institutional support. The short discussion on where annual Ministry Development Reviews are either helpful or not (page 9) or even damaging (page 10) indicates that this dynamic has been recognised. The many “questions for discussion and reflection” are also helpful.

It’s impossible, of course, to read something like this without evaluating my own wellbeing and the health of the institution to which I belong. I have my own experiences, of course, including some significant times of being unwell. Here, however, my attention has been turned to the cultural and structural problems that are revealed.

Take the surveyed statement “I feel that I am fulfilling my sense of vocation” (page 11). It is noted that “79% agreed they were fulfilling their sense of vocation.” This sounds reasonable. However, I’m not sure if that positive summary is quite what the data actually suggests. Only 47%, less than half, of the respondents can fulsomely agree with vocational fulfillment. The other 32% in that 79% can only “somewhat agree”, and a full 20% is neutral or negative.

In many professions this picture might be excellent. Retention rates for teaching, for instance, indicate a 30% loss after five years.1  We must, however, make a distinction between an ordained vocation and most other professions. In ordained life, one’s profession is not just one facet of life, it is holistic (page 7); it captures many, if not all, of life’s parts. Integration of those parts is key to being healthy. How can it be, then, that 53% of our clergy are not able to fully find themselves within the life of the church? From my perspective, this speaks of a consumeristic culture in which clergy are service-providing functionaries rather than charism-bearing persons. Perhaps it simply speaks to an unhealthy culture in which it is tolerable for square pegs to be placed in round holes despite the inevitable trauma. Whatever the case, this isn’t about the church institutions doing wrong things, it’s about innate ways of being wrong; we need to change.

We see glimpses of this same sense throughout. Consider the relative benefits of the activities that are meant to support clergy (page 14). The more positive responses correlate to personal activities or activities that are outside the institution: retreats, spiritual direction, mentoring, networks, and academic study. The institutional supports such as MDRs, Diocesan Day Courses, Facilitated Small Groups and so on, are of relatively less benefit. In fact IME Phase 2, the official curacy training program, scores worst of all!  I cannot speak to IME – my curacy was in Australia – but the rest of the picture certainly matches my own experience.

This is observation, not disparagement. I generally sympathise with those in Diocesan-level middle management. They have tools and opportunities that look fit for purpose, but they so often appear to run aground on deeper issues they cannot solve. Dissatisfaction then abounds. A related observation is this: It appears to me that a common factor amongst the poorer scoring forms of support is that they are often compulsory. This invariably amplifies dissatisfaction. Appropriate accountability and commitment aside, compulsion usually reveals an institution propping itself up through confecting its own needfulness.

Again, when  “sources of support” are considered (page 31), the ones most positively regarded are non-institutional: family, friends, colleagues, and congregation. Senior Diocesan Staff, Theological College, and Training Incumbent score low. This is understandable and perhaps it is unfair to make this comparison; no one is expecting the Bishop to be a greater source of support than one’s spouse. However, the question wasn’t about support in general, but about “flourishing in ministry“, and the picture remains stark. Note, also, that the most negative response that could be offered was a neutral “not beneficial.” If a negative “unhelpful” were counted, the picture might be even starker.

My point is that cultural problems are being revealed. If only 63% of respondents could agree, at least somewhat, that “the bishop values my ministry” (page 49) then this is not so much a problem in our bishops, and certainly not the clergy, but in the institution in which we all embody our office.

Remuneration and finances are also revealing. 45% of the respondents are “living comfortably”, but 81% of the respondents had “additional income” (pages 39-40) which, I suspect, relates mostly to the income of a spouse. To some degree, this is all well and good; a dual income usually means a better quality of life. Nevertheless, the sheer disparity in financial wellbeing between clergy couples with one or two incomes cannot be ignored.  The provision of parsonage housing is a factor; in other occupations accommodation costs generally rise and fall along with household income and dampens the disparity.  More importantly, however, is how this reflects the individualisation of vocation, and the shocking degree to which clergy spouses are simply invisible, for better or for worse, within the Church of England. It is also my experience, both personally and anecdotally, that the wellbeing of couples who are both clergy is not well assisted in our current culture. This is especially so for those called to “side by side” ministry, who share a ministry context and usually only one stipend. It’s well past time to allow for couples to be licensed and commissioned as couples, like many mission agencies do. We need the means to share remuneration packages and tax liability, and, at the very least, the provision of National Insurance and pension contributions for the non-stipended spouse. Our current culture does not allow for this.

Finally, this study would do well to extend its work to take into account the effects of incumbency on wellbeing. I wonder what proportion of the respondents, given their relative “youth” in career-length terms, have reached incumbent status? Incumbency comes with a certain level of stability, power, and protection. Attached to incumbency are checks and balances on institutional power. Incumbents are more clearly party to the social contract between clergyperson and institution. Associates, SSMs, permanent deacons, and the increasing numbers of crucial lay ministers are not as well protected. They do “find themselves overlooked or under-esteemed” (page 35). The increasing prevalence of non-tenured and part-time positions in the Church of England is a structural concern that does effect clergy wellbeing. We need more work here.

How Clergy Thrive has painted a useful picture. There is scope for even more insight. The benefit of longitudinal research is that the story of wellbeing can be told over time. The testimonials in this report reflect this and are very helpful. It is unfortunate, however, that most of the data is presented as a snapshot census-like aggregation across the cohorts. An accurate picture of how wellbeing ebbs and flows as a career progresses would help us all. If we knew, for instance, at what point in their career a clergyperson is most likely to not be thriving, we could respond. If clergy wellbeing suddenly drops, or if it slowly diminishes over time, that would teach us something also.

Like the vast majority of reports, this one struggles to answer the question of “What do we do about it?” How do we help clergy thrive? In the end, it appeals to an acrostic: THRIVE (pages 56-57). It’s not bad. It’s healthy advice that I’ve given to myself and to others from time to time: Tune into healthy rhythms; Handle expectations; Recognise vulnerability; Identify safe spaces; Value and affirm; Establish healthy boundaries.

These principles are applied, to a small degree, to how the existing system might do a few things differently. In the main, however, they describe what clergy have managed to do for themselves. It’s a story of technical changes for the institution, but adaptive change for the clergy. We need the reverse of that.

The life of a clergyperson exists in an impossibly complex interweave of pastoral, strategic, and logistical expectations. Technical changes in an institution often only add more expectation and more complexity. We have a structural problem. We have forces vectoring through things that are too old, too big, or too idolised to be modified. Instead, they are dissipated through the clergyperson, and other officeholders, but not the system itself. Personally, I’ve learned to find my place and peace with much of the machinery, and to look for the best in the persons who hold office. I have done this, in resonance with many of the testimonials in this report, by trusting real people when I can, and by not giving myself, or those I love, to the church system itself.

It’s not enough for the ecclesiastical machine to do things better. It must become different. Take heed of the testimonial on page 25 – “I wouldn’t really trust my diocese to make them aware that I have a mental health issue.” Imagine, instead, that the diocese was for that person a fount, a fallback, a refuge, or a hope! In short, imagine if the church (ecclesiastical) really aligned with being a church (theological). That’s the redemption we need. I wonder if the “big conversation” alluded to on page 6 will help.

Like most intractable problems, the hard thing is not about noting the problem. It’s not rocket science; we “just” need real Spirit-filled personal nourishment and discipleship. It’s the getting from here to there that is difficult. Difficult, but not dire. There are times when the right people are in the right place and it just works. For myself, I hold to a glimpse of how things might come to be:

What do clergy need to thrive? They don’t need an “MDR”, they need to be overseen: a regular conversation with a little-e episcopal someone who can cover them, is for them, and who has their back.

What do clergy need to thrive? They don’t need strategic plans and communication strategies, they need to be treated as the little-p presbyters they are: brought into the loop, entrusted with substantial work without being second guessed, and given space to be themselves without having to watch their back.

What do clergy need to thrive? They don’t need a “remuneration package”, they need to be provided for with decent housing that’s fit for their purpose, enough money to feed their family and prepare for the future, and an assurance that spouse and children will also be backed and supported without needing to beg or “apply.”

Footnotes
1 – National Foundation For Educational Research, 2018

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Grove booklets are helpful little tools for the ministry toolkit. They are often insightful and informative. Occasionally, like this one, they are somewhat frustrating, because the content should be bleedingly obvious.

Church researcher, Bob Jackson, posits the question, “As clergy numbers fall, is there a better leadership model than multi-parish incumbency?” (rear cover), and the answer is basically “Well, of course!” As church attendance declines, and the relative cost of “employing” a stipendiary vicar increases, the number of parish churches per clergy has also been increasing. Combining and amalgamating parishes sometimes works, but, in general, it stretches the mode of ministry to a breaking point, spreads the vicar too thin, and accelerates the decline. Jackson has researched the numbers (page 7).

So what do we do instead? Jackson proposes the use of “Focal Ministers”: Individuals, who are not expected to carry the burdens of incumbency (more on that later), but who can focus on the local congregation, the local community, and lead the rhythms and practices of the local church towards properly contextualised gospel ministry. Statistics show (page 9) that this is generally effective. This is not surprising. “Human communities rarely flourish without a hands-on leader. Leadership is best embedded, not absentee” (page 5).

Jackson spends his 28 pages helping us to imagine life in the Church of England with such Focal Ministers in place. He unpacks the benefits, identifies some of the pitfalls, and articulates some good practice. While opening up the “Range of Focal Ministry Options” (page 16), he maintains the “irreducible core idea… that one person leads one church” (page 3).

Taken alone, it is a simple premise, i.e. it is bleedingly obvious. The complexity and the relative obscurity lies in its juxtaposition alongside existing ecclesiastical structures, culture, and expectations, particularly in the Church of England.

To reflect on this, I have come from two different angles.

The first angle relates to what I have experienced and observed over the years.

In my experience: I am used to recognising and raising up what Jackson might call Focal Ministers (FMs). In one of my posts, the lay reader of many decades experience was clearly exercising local ministry, and much more effectively than me as I was stretched between three half-time vicarly posts; it was a no-brainer to encourage her towards increased ministry, and, eventually, ordination. In another post, Gill and I identified a young man with clear giftings and call, as he was raised into leadership we did ourselves out of a job. I could go on and on in delightful reminiscence about the numbers of coffees we’ve had to encourage people into areas of ministry (leading, preaching, pastoral care, etc.) While not all of these would be exactly the same as Jackson’s FMs, they were in the same ethos. I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet here, but isn’t this the norm? Isn’t this how ministry works? How else do you do it?

Similarly, I have been able to observe various forms of focal ministry. The Diocese of Tasmania experimented for many years with “Enabler Supported Ministry” (ESM) in which a “Local Mission Support Team” (LMST), which usually included an Ordained Local Minister (OLM), was called by the local congregation, recognised by the Bishop, and provided with a stipended “Enabler.” It differs slightly from Jackson’s model (it has a local team, not a focal minister; it is overseen by a non-authoritative Enabler rather than an incumbent in a “mini-episcope oversight role” (page 8)). When ESM worked, it worked. When it didn’t two things often emerged: 1) The LMST collapsed into one person, usually the OLM, who effectively became a Focal Minister, and 2) there were times when the Enabler needed to be given some authority in order to resolve conflict etc., and so were often also appointed as Archdeacon-Mission-Support-Officers. I don’t know if Jackson has looked at ESM (or it’s “Total Ministry”, “Every Member Ministry”, or “Local Collaborative Ministry” equivalents) but he’s arrived at a model that aligns with the outcomes.

The second angle for my reflection relates to my recent history in the Church of England. My current Diocese of Sheffield is in the midst of significant structural shifts. The development of “Mission Areas” with “Oversight Ministers” and “Focal Ministers” is a key part of the strategy. These issues are therefore very much live for me (as a recipient more than a participant in the current moment) and it has stimulated some thoughts for what to embrace, and also to avoid:

1) Focal Ministry requires a cultural change, but the danger is we only grasp it structurally: Jackson promotes FM as a way of eschewing the “pastor-and-flock model and professional ministry” (page 5). This is a strange contrast; turn over “pastor-and-flock” and you don’t quickly have a “Focal Minister” you have a flatter structure with no clear hierarchy. At best this could look like effective partnership, perhaps within a fivefold shape. At worst, (and I’ve observed this), it looks like bland egalitarianism articulated as “we don’t need anyone to lead us” and often feeling directionless and, ironically, insular.  If Focal Ministry can find the balance between assertive leadership and collaborative inclusion, then that’s fantastic, but that’s firstly a cultural issue not a structural one. There’s no reason why “normal” ordained leadership should not also find that balance. Similarly, without cultural change, it will quickly reduce back to a pseudo-vicar and their flock.

2) Focal Ministry raises questions about what ordination is all about. This is not a bad thing; it raises good questions! In Jackson’s model, Focal Ministers are charged with being the “public face of the church, [the] focal leader in the community, [the] enabler of the ministry of all, [the] leader in mission” (page 20), and he can imagine them leading a congregation of up to a 100 or so (page 26). On page 23, he suggests that Focal Ministers could get started by “raising the standards of church services,” looking “for people who have left the worshipping community” to hear their story, and using festival services as a means for growth. All of that is a great description of what ordained ministry looks like on the ground! If it isn’t, then what on earth are we teaching our ordinands to do? The only aspect of ordained ministry that Jackson doesn’t really mention is theological reflection and sacramental ministry. But don’t we also want our FM’s to be theological formed, and aren’t we giving them the oversight (at least) of the celebration of the sacraments in the local context? So, conceptually, how exactly is Focal Ministry anything other than a mode of ordained ministry?

We need to think about how Focal Ministers are “searched for, trained, and supported” (page 25). One would hope that Focal Ministers would be assisted in discerning their particular vocation, provided with training in theological reflection and pastoral skill, and offered tangible support (perhaps even some remuneration where possible) so that they are free to exercise their ministry. How is this not the same concept as the pathway to ordination and the provision of a living? It may be that our training pathways for ordinands are not helpful for FMs, and that we should provide them with more flexible and contextual options. That doesn’t raise questions about the training of FMs; it raises questions about the possible general irrelevance of ordination formation!  If ordination formation is relevant, why wouldn’t we offer it to FMs? If FMs don’t need it, why would we require it of ordinands?

In Jackson’s model, there isn’t really a difference in kind between Focal Ministry and Incumbency, it is a difference in degree (in his chapter 4 the only difference between “FM” and “IN” is that FMs only have one congregation and an INcumbent can still have multiple). The church offers a more rigorous (and defined) form of support to Incumbents, and a more flexible (but presumably cheaper and missionally adaptive) form of support to Focal Ministers, but they are both (in the truth of the concept) exercising the essence of ordained ministry. This is not a bad thing. However, it feels awkward because the Church’s statutory wineskin can’t easily cope with the adjustment, and we have to develop new terminology to get it there.

3) My only real concern with the model, therefore, is in its implementation. Jackson speaks of the need for “official diocesan policy” when it comes to this (page 25). He speaks of “a discernment process” for FMs “as there is with readers and OLMs” (page 25). He suggests that a “Focal Minister training syllabus will be needed, perhaps prepared nationally” (page 20). Some form of process is needed, of course, but the extent of it worries me.

The joy, and beauty, and actual point of FM is the local connection and flexible local adaptation of ministry.  As soon as you have syllabi and processes that are imposed from a distance (even nationally!), they risk becoming hoops to jump rather than resources to release. Such processes often hinder local adaptation by insisting on irrelevancies, and they undermine recruitment of FMs for whom that is onerous.  Too much centralised expectation and we might as well replicate (or just use) the ordination streams and send FMs off to the so-called “vicar clone factory.” We need to learn the lessons from what happened (or didn’t happen) with the aspirationally contextual Pioneer Ordained Minister schemes of 15-20 years ago.

It’s at this point of FM discernment and training that Jackson should have emphasised the role of the Incumbent Oversight Minister. Surely it is in the “mini-episcopal” incumbent that you entrust a level of discernment for who may or may not be invited into the FM role? Surely someone who has been through the “full” ordination program (and subsequently provided with the living) will have been equipped to offer formation and training to those with whom they share the work? An incumbent is both aware of the local context, and connected by their office into the wider accountability; incumbents are key to the framework working. In fact, here is the point of distinction between the two roles of incumbent and FM: incumbents are called to raise up and form, in addition to joining the focal work on the ground.

In conclusion, Jackson has given us a useful resource. The prospect of a framework that aligns with what he presents excites me. Not least of which because “it rescues incumbents from impossible job descriptions, enables some to work at a more strategic level and others to enjoy a more fruitful ministry with direct responsibility for fewer churches” (page 27). But I still slightly shake my head. This is not a new solution to a new problem. This is simply a framework around the sort of work we should have been doing anyway. No matter the exact form or nomenclature, we need to get on with it.

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The word “discipleship” has become such a buzzword in recent years that when it is used, particularly in official documents or vision statements, it’s intended meaning is not always certain.

I have a vested interest in pursuing discipleship in an Anglican context.  It is useful, therefore, to familiarise myself with how discipleship is being understood, talked about, and promoted.  Practical on-the-ground examples are the most valuable.  But perspectives from the heights of the institution are also important.  Last year’s Archbishops’ Council report, Setting God’s People Free pointed out that the main obstacle to discipleship is cultural intransigence.  Sometimes it is possible for papers at the top to cut across the lower tides of avoidance; they can simply state what needs to be stated, even if their immediate effect is not obvious.

This small book, published by the Anglican Consultative Council in 2016, is a case in point.  It is a Communion-level, globally-scoped report.  It brings some important insights, especially from the Global South.  I’m finding it invaluable as I prepare some thoughts on discipleship for our Deanery strategic planning process.

It is available for download in pdf.

One of the ways we avoid a discipleship culture is by subsuming the term into our existing church culture, rather than allowing it to provoke much-needed adaptive change.  That is, we undertake “discipleship activities” or, worse yet, we simply shoehorn the word “discipleship” into the description of our existing activities, and we quench the Spirit. In the end, discipleship is about being a disciple/student/follower of Jesus himself. If we think we can do that and remain unchanged. If we think we can avoid having our “self-identity” challenged (page 5), we are deluding ourselves. Yet we try.

Archbishop Ng Moon Hing of South East Asia addresses this symptom from the very beginning, in his foreword:

To follow Jesus of Nazareth into his cosmic reign is simply the most challenging, the most beautiful, the most costly, the most rewarding journey we could ever choose to begin…  our following Jesus requires much more than the latest course or introduction to Christian living. Courses have their place… but our apostleship, our discipleship demands much more – in fact it demands everything. (Page vii)

A definition of discipleship is needed for this book to make any sense.  The definition it gives is not so much provided as located; discipleship “encompasses this total God-ward transformation which takes place when individuals and communities intentionally, sacrificially, and consistently live every aspect of their daily life in commitment to following Jesus Christ” (Page 4).

This is a wonderfully Anglican way of doing it: Discipleship is not so delicately defined that it adheres to one time or place, but it is bounded so that we know what we’re talking about.

It is also wonderfully Anglican to begin from the basis of biblical theology.  Discipleship themes are quickly traced through the Old Testament before focusing on Jesus himself, with his “group of ‘learners’ who were selected to be with him” (page 11).  The book does well to go beyond the prosaic picture of Jesus merely as pedagogical examplar, as if Jesus is defined by his discipleship methods.  Rather, the fundamentals of Christ’s person and mission are first and foremost.  It is discipleship that is defined by Jesus, not the other way around.  Therefore, true discipleship bears the mark of the cross. It is much more than a spiritualised self-help program, “much more than belief and personal growth in Christian character” (page 16):

For the original twelve there was a literal journey following Jesus up from Galilee into the eye of the storm, Jerusalem – a journey marked with misguided hopes and some trepidation…: we are all on a journey, following Jesus… we are to leave things behind… we are to trust him both for our eventual arrival in the city and also for the surprising details along the way and through the desert; above all, we are to ‘take up [our] cross daily’ and follow Jesus (Lk 9.23) (Page 15)

From this biblical starting point, we are taken through a cursory look at discipleship in the early and historical church and arrive at a multi-faceted examination in recent and contemporary Christianity.  Like the charismatic renewals of that latter 20th Century, there appears to be evidence of similarly transdenominational currents in this area. I find this encouraging.

Consequently, this book has stimulated my thinking.  For instance, there is a harmony in discipleship between separation (as in the monastic tradition of withdrawing from “the accommodation of Christian communities to the ways of the secular world” (page 35), or the Latin American emphasis (page 101) on “preparing Christ’s disciples to act differently”), and missional engagement that connects with and promotes a relevant gospel.  Popular evangelicalism lacks the language to tackle this.

For instance, I found myself unexpectedly pushing back at how we describe secular “work and other human activities as a form of vocation” (page 65). It’s not that I disagree that secular work is vocational. Nor do I wish to slip into some sort of clericalism that elevates church work as somehow spiritually superior.  It’s just that the language does not prevent an apparent lack of distinctiveness in the pursuit of vocation. The consequence is our propensity to sacralise all work and so fall into the careerism of our surrounding culture; to assert the divine right to pursue the career of my choice. Rather, the journey of discipleship necessarily moves us away from careerism; it may take us on either path of secular work or ecclesial ministry, (if we need to make the distinction at all), but whatever it is, whatever we do, it is to be submitted to the call of Christ. Our career is first and foremost shaped by our vocation, our discipleship, and not the other way around.

This book has stirred my consideration of practice The way it draws on the experiences of discipleship in various parts of the world and diverse cultures is stimulating. The common threads recognise that discipleship is holisticcommunal, missional, and deliberate.  Jesus is the beginning and the end.

Churches should be assemblies of disciples of Christ and not pew-warming believers. All sermons should be discipleship-driven and not entertain spectators with feel-good sensation. Christ’s death is costly, and it would be considered worthy if he knew that his life was laid down for people who became his disciples. It would be sad for him if he knew that it is for pew-warmer Christians. A disciple of Christ will ask, ‘What and how shall I serve and live for Christ?’ A pew-warmer believer will ask, ‘What will Christ do for me?’ (Page 89)

These experiences are wells to draw from. They help us get to some practicalities without becoming programmatic.

For instance, the importance of cultural analysis is present in the reflection from the Middle East. Cultural self-awareness is something that can be learned and practised.  It is a skill that is sadly missing in much of the Western Church, an aspect of our normative missional illiteracy. The book speaks of “an adventure for the ‘disciple-maker’ as for the ‘disciple’… discovering where the Spirit of God applauds the norms of our culture, where he accepts some norms as a fair enough starting point and where he says ‘not good enough!’ about them” (page 91). Similarly, the cultural questions posed by “insider movements” (page 120) poses important cultural questions that can and should be more readily asked; we are all inside a culture.

The practical importance of relational and emotional courage is present in the reflection from Latin America. This pushes back at the Western tendency (or perhaps it’s British?) to confuse harmony with polite silence and emotional avoidance.  This lesson moves away from an attitude of “waiting for someone else to solve [the] problem.”  Drawing upon the lessons of the Road to Emmaus, it speaks of the importance of the final movement back “to Jerusalem – to community, joy, dynamism, but also to the conflicts, to the Cross… to the crises” (page 102).

There is one significant weakness, a gap that is almost bewildering: Despite the brief acknowledgement of the “importance of the parents’ role in teaching each new generation to walk in the ways of the Lord” (page 9, see also page 68), there is very little at all on the place of family, children and youth.  The one perfunctory chapter (page 107) is insufficient.  A discipleship culture is inherently intergenerational and that characteristic deserves more engagement.  Our prevailing habit in the Western church of splitting the Body of Christ into homogenous age brackets is fundamentally antagonistic to Christ’s heart for mission.  A failure to engage with that diminishes this book.

Nevertheless, the book’s ambition is valuable: It is fundamentally vocational. i.e it issues a call that is coherent across all Anglican contexts.  Without whitewashing the “rich diversity in the understanding and practice of discipleship and disciple-making” (page 3), it nevertheless affirms a “strong intentionality” and lays it before us: “…the Church needs to be called back to its roots as a community of disciples who make disciples.”

It is therefore yet another resonance to the growing prophetic voice caling for a shift in culture. More voices are still needed.

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If there was any sense in which we were once starry-eyed about the Church of England it had something to do with what we now call “fresh expressions of Church.” Gill and I were church planters once, inspired by the Mission Shaped Church report and the growing call for a “mixed economy church.” The Church of England was, from an outside perspective, a place where missiology could be lively, and the ecclesial machinery would even appoint a bishop to lead a Fresh Expressions team.

The Day of Small Things is a recent report from the Church Army’s Research Unit.  It’s a statistical analysis of fresh expressions (they abbreviate to “fxC”).  It considers their number, their size and shape, and the manners and means of their missional and ecclesial effectiveness. It draws on over two decades of data; it is thorough and informative.

It is an encouraging picture in many ways. The crucial role of fresh expressions in the Church of England is revealed.  They may not be definitive metrics, but headline numbers such as 15% of church communities being fxC attended by 6% of the C of E populace show that the effect has been far from negligible (page 10, Executive Summary). It also indicates that much more can be done.

There is no need to summarise all the detail of the report here. It’s impossible to do it justice in a blog post.  Church Army have, themselves, put together some excellent resources, even producing a lovely infographic (see to the side).  I do, however, want to record my own observations, highlighting some of the aspects that are close to my heart and our experience:

#1 – This report helps us understand what a fresh expression actually is.  On the ground, this has both a positive and a negative component.

From the negative side, I note with a growing cynicism the propensity for churches, even if well-intentioned, to borrow “off-the-shelf” language and so avoid some of the deeper challenges of mission activity.  The survey invited responses from dioceses regarding activity that was classified as fresh expression and more than 40% of these activities simply had to be excluded as not only being “not an fxC” but not even readily identifiable as an “outreach project” (Section 12.10, pages 202-204).

Clearly there is confusion about the term “fresh expression”, and the excluded activities are not without value.  But I share these sentiments:

We detect a disturbing tendency for increased use of any new label that becomes popular to be in inverse proportion to accurate understanding of its meaning. The same could be said for the use of the word ‘mission’ in parish and diocesan literature. It is almost now there by default, and as has been said: ‘when everything is mission, nothing is’. (Page 204)

This tendency is disturbing. In our experience, we have seen those with a heart for mission be led up the garden path towards projects and positions that were only whitewashed as such.  We have seen those who would otherwise be fully on board with a fresh expression baulking at the idea because of a previous negative or insipid encounter with a project that wore the name only as a brand. Experiences such as these are damaging and stultifying.

The report, however, brings a positive initiative.  In pursuing the complex and difficult work of classification of an entire ecosystem of missional actvity we are given clarity. That clarity is not simply technical, narrowly encapsulating branded programs, but reveals, in both breadth and depth, the essence of what fresh expressions are seeking to be.  The discussion in section 2.4 and further development in 12.10 is worthwhile reading.

The ten indicators of a fresh expression that are used as criteria for inclusion in the survey are of great value. They draw upon classifications in Mission Shaped Church and are simple observable ways of ensuring that we are talking about groups that are missional (“intends to work with non-churchgoers”), contextual (“seeks to fit the context”), formational (“aims to form disciples”), and ecclesial (“intends to become church”).  Church Army have a single-page summary of the ten indicators, but a summary is worth reiterating here:

1. Is this a new and further group, which is Christian and communal, rather than an existing group…
2. Has the starting group tried to engage with non-church goers?… understand a culture and context and adapt to fit it, not make the local/indigenous people change and adapt to fit into an existing church context.
3. Does the community meet at least once a month?
4. Does it have a name that helps give it an identity?…
5. Is there intention to be Church? This could be the intention from the start, or by a discovery on the way…
6. Is it Anglican or an Ecumenical project which includes an Anglican partner?…
7. Is there some form of leadership recognised by those within the community and by those outside of it?
8. Do at least the majority of members… see it as their major expression of being church?
9. Are there aspirations for the four creedal ‘marks’ of church, or ecclesial relationships: ‘up/holy, in/one, out/apostolic, of/catholic’?…
10. Is there the intention to become ‘3-self’ (self-financing, self-governing and self-reproducing)?…
(Page 18)

A personal impact for me from this is a re-evaluation of Messy Church. I have only seen Messy Church run as an outreach project at best, often merely as an in-house playgroup. The fact that so many of the included fxC’s (close to 33%, Table 11, Page 41) were denoted as Messy Church has made me ponder them anew, especially with regards to criteria 5 to 10.

#2 – The diversity of leadership raises provocative questions.  But one of the most crucial questions is absent.

Section 6.13 and Chapter 10 give the data on the forms of fxC leadership, looking at details such as gender, remuneration, time commitment, and training received. Much is as expected. For instance, male, ordained, stipended leaders predominate in traditional church plants; female, lay, volunteer leaders predominate in child-focussed fxC such as Messy Church (Table 53, page 106 and Table 74, page 176).

The report does well to highlight (in Chapter 11) the phenomenon of the so-called “lay-lay” leader who “has no centralised formal training, or official authorisation” (page 181). A leadership cohort has manifest without a clear reference to the institutional centre.  I wonder how much this is a “because of” or an “in spite of” phenomenon: has the centre created space, or has it simply become ignorable? There is a gentle provocation for the institution in this:

Writers in the field of fxC have urged that the size of the mission task facing the Church of England will require many lay leaders and this is evidence that it is already occurring. The wider Church may need the difficult combination of humility to learn from them, as well as wisdom to give the kind of support, training and recognition that does not lead to any unintended emasculation of their essential contribution. (Page 189)

I note with interest that the correlation of lay-lay leadership with cluster-based churches (Chart 39, page 184) and its association with discipleship (page 187) demonstrates the crucial role of missional communities (as they are properly understood) in the development of fxC and the Church more widely.

A striking and concerning part of the data is the relative diminution of Ordained Pioneer Ministers (OPMs) with only 2.7% of fxC leaders (Table 76, page 177) being classified as such. In the seminal period of the early 2000’s, OPMS were seen as a key innovation for mission development, a long-needed break away from classical clerical formation that was perceived to produce ecclesial clones emptied of their vocational zeal and disconnected from the place and people to which they were called.  Anecdotally, our experience is that missional illiteracy is dismally high amongst the current cohort of ordained persons. The traditional academy can do many good things, but the action-reflection-based contextualised formation of OPM more readily leads to the deeper personal maturation upon which adaptive leadership rests.

The absent question in the data on leadership is this: there is no recognition of couples in leadership.  This is a dismaying oversight. The number of clergy couples would, I suspect, be a growing phenomenon.  Similarly, in our experience, much innovative practice (particularly forms of ministry where the home or household is a key component) is led by lay couples. The Church in general, and the Anglican variant in particular, is all but inept when it comes to adequately recognising and supporting couples who lead together. It would seem to me that fxC would be the best place to explore and experiment with what this might look like. To have no relevant data, therefore, is a significant oversight. This is a topic on which I will be writing more.

#3 – Ongoing structural concerns are indicatedStructurally, fxC remain at the periphery.  Moreover, while the contribution of fxC in themselves can be measured as independent units, more work needs to be done to see fxC as an integral part of the system.

The headline statistic in this regard is that 87.7% of fxC have no legal identity (Table 91, page 206).  The report does well to reflect on how this increases the insecurity of the “continued existence” of an fxC.  A more general point illustrates the key concern:

An analogy, designed to provoke further discussion, is that many fxC are in effect treated like immigrants doing good work, who have not yet been given the right to remain, let alone acquired British citizenship. There is active debate about whether they are to be regarded as churches or not but little to nothing is said about giving them rights and legal identity within the Anglican family, unless they can become indistinguishable from existing churches, a move which would remove their raison d’etre…  We recommend that this present imbalance of so many fxC having no legal status, and thus no right to remain or not working representation, be addressed. (Page 206)

It has been an aspect of our experience that much is demanded of fxC – Success! True Anglican identity! Numbers! Money! – in order to perpetually justify institutional existence. It’s a rigged game. Existing forms of church happily, and without comment or query, lean upon legal standing, guaranteed livings, central administrative support, legacy bequests, and even the provision of curates/trainees.  It has a propensity to keep them missionally infantile. Yet, without this support, are fxC unfairly expected to run before they can even crawl?

I think of the concerning admission that in some cases “numbers of fxC attenders were deliberately not reported in order to avoid parish share, on grounds that these early attenders do not yet make a financial contribution” (page 49).  Even metrics like “attendance” presuppose a structural shape that may not apply, “not counting a wider fringe” (page 57) and unfairly diminishing the value of fxC.

Perhaps the report’s suggestion that a “control group of existing parishes” (page 215) be included in subsequent reports, would go some way to balancing the picture.  Such a control group would at least allow a comparison. What would be even more valuable would be a way to assess integration, i.e. to consider fxC as part of a system.  Two particular aspects of this that are worthy of further consideration are:

1) The nature and need of so-called “authority dissenters.”  The report recognises the importance of the diocese within the ecclesial system (page 62). It also points out that “local visions for growth have always been more common that a diocesan initiative, welcome though the latter is” (page 192, emphasis mine). An “authority dissenter” is a person or office that covers and connects new initiatives into the system.  Does the high level of “localness” indicate that such provision is not needed, or that it has not been forthcoming? I suspect the latter.

I have a growing sense that the deanery is the ecclesial unit that can most readily provide a covering.  Chart 46 (page 194) demonstrates at least some sense of this: Current fxC that are not “in benefice” or “in parish” are far more likely to be “within deanery.”  The “cluster church” fxC type intrigues me the most – 41% of these are classified as “within deanery.”

Deaneries are peculiar ecclesial creatures.  When they work, they work.  But they generally have limited authority, overstretched leadership, and few resources – almost the exact opposite of the three-self maturity they might want to foment!  Yet they are uniquely and strategically placed between the local and the large to nurture fxC and to protect them from diminution from both above and below as we learn to “think both culturally and by area” (page 96).  An exploration of how Deaneries have fitted (or could fit) into the fxC picture would be helpful.

2) The impact on sending and surrounding churches.  The report does well to distinguish between the sending team, and the participation of non-churched, de-churched, and churched cohorts.  A more detailed picture would be helpful in a number of ways.

Firstly, it would help inform those who are considering being a “sending church.”  The cost of an fxC in terms of financial and human resources can often be readily counted.  It would also be good to know how to look for benefits, and not just in terms of the kingdom contribution of the fxC itself (i.e. it’s own sense of hoped-for “success”).  A sending church is also changed in its act of sending.  From a stimulus to looking “outside of ourselves” through to being able to learn from the fxC as a valued “research and development” opportunity, it would good to be able to describe and measure the sorts of blessings that attend to those who generously produce the fxC.

Secondly, it would help inform those who are wary of new kids on the block, so to speak.  A typical fear is that an fxC would “steal sheep” away from existing structures, and the zero-sum calculations are made.  What data exists that might address these fears?  Do fxC have impacts, negative or positive, on existing surrounding ministries?  What mechanisms best work to allow mutural flourishing to occur?

Finally, discipleship is key.  And some personal thoughts.

The correlation of fxC mortality with “making no steps” in the direction of discipleship (page 208) is well made.  The “ecclesial lesson” (page 214) is a clear imperative: “start with discipleship in mind, not just attendance… it should be intentional and relational.”  It seems Mike Breen‘s adage has significant veracity: “If you make disciples you will always get the church but if you try to build the church you will rarely get disciples.”

To conclude my thoughts, though, it is worth considering New Monasticism.  It’s a new movement that the report has only just begun to incorporate.  “Their focus is on sustaining intentional community, patterns of prayer, hospitality and engaging with mission” (page 222).  But here’s the interesting part:

More often the instincts for this [new monasticism] are combined into another type of fxC, rather than existing on its own. (Page 222)

I note with interest that the type of fxC with the largest proportion of leaders that had had prior experience with fresh expressions is the New Monastic Community (48% – Table 70, Page 166).  This intrigues me.  As Gill and I continue to have conversations about pioneering and fresh expressions, the longings and callings that we discover in ourselves and in those we converse with, invariably sound like new monastic characteristics.  Watch this space.

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“This report concludes that what needs to be addressed is not a particular theological or ecclesiastical issue but the Church’s overall culture.  This is a culture that over-emphasises the distinction between the sacred and the secular and therefore fails to communicate the all-encompassing scope of the whole-life good news and to pursue the core calling of every church community and every follower of Jesus – to make whole-life maturing disciples.  We will not raise up cadres of godly leaders unless we create communities of whole-life disciples.” (Page 2)

The Archbishops’ Council has released this report under the Renewal & Reform agenda. Hot off the presses (it is dated February 2017) it is refreshingly and provocatively titled “Setting God’s People Free” and is based primarily on the work of the Lay Leadership Task Group.  It is perceptive in outlook, insightful in analysis, but self-admittedly limited in application.  It provokes a degree of excitement with just a hint of cynicism.

From my “outsider” perspective, reports like these from the Church of England have stimulated and encouraged mission and discipleship in other contexts.  This was the case with significant works such as Mission-Shaped Church.  It is similar here; the leadership of the church is saying what needs to be said, giving a voice and lending language to those who desire a deeper Christian community that is more active and effective in doing the things that matter.  The simple encouragement that this gives to those on the edge cannot be underestimated.

With my slowly developing “inside” view, these documents now seem a little starker.  It is still immensely encouraging that these things are being said, but there is also an awareness of why they need to be said.  A report like this reveals behind (or in front of) it some sense of the inertial malaise that can be found in the Church of England.  It envelopes a justifiable sense of urgency.

So what does this report give us?  It’s not really anything revolutionary.  It’s a couple of things that make deep sense, and, if taken seriously, come attached with a whole bunch of difficult but positive implications:

This report identifies the need for two shifts in culture and practice that we see as critical to the flourishing of the Church and the evangelisation of the nation.

1. Until, together, ordained and lay, we form and equip lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life in ways that demonstrate the Gospel we will never set God’s people free to evangelise the nation.

2. Until laity and clergy are convinced, based on their baptismal mutuality, that they are equal in worth and status, complementary in gifting and vocation, mutually accountable in discipleship, and equal partners in mission, we will never form Christian communities that can evangelise the nation.

We believe that these two shifts would represent a seismic revolution in the culture of the Church.  The first is about the focus of our activity and the scope of our mission, the second is about the nature of the relationship between clergy and lay.  They are both vital.  And they are both rare.
(Page 2, emphasis theirs)

This is an exemplary act of ecclesial self-reflection.  These assertions about church culture are based on some decent quantitative and qualitative analysis.  It is a conversation that is well and truly at the missional and cultural level.  Personally speaking, we have been bewildered in our observation and experience of how these issues are usually avoided or mishandled.  This includes misalignment over the meaning of crucial language such as “discipleship” and “mission.”   This report not only clarifies terms (“Discipleship is not a course of study but is determined by circumstances”, page 7) but unpacks what that clarity reveals:

Today… the Church of England finds itself in a situation where the significant majority of the 98% of people who are not in ordained ministry are neither adequately envisioned, nor appropriately trained, nor consistently prayed for, nor enthusiastically encouraged for mission nor ministry in the ~90% of their waking lives that they do not spend in church related actitivites. (Page 3)

Yes, huge numbers of lay people serve in positions of influence and leadership in the church, community, workplace and society.  However, few claim to have been given a theological framework or to have the confidence to express biblical wisdom, in both word and deed, in these contexts.  We will not raise up cadres of fruitful godly leaders in every sphere unless we create healthy communities of whole-life disciple-making disciples. (Page 4)

What is needed, first and foremost, is not a programme but a change in culture. A culture that communicates the all-encompassing scope of the good news for the whole of life, and pursues the core calling of every church community and every follower of Jesus – to form whole-life maturing disciples.  And a culture that embodies in every structure and way of working the mutuality of our baptismal calling and the fruitful complementarity of our roles and vocations. (Page 5)

Our contention is that the motivation for Christian leadership must arise not from a slightly greater willingness to ‘do jobs’ but from a compelling and positive vision of the redeeming work of Christ for all people.  It is when people become aware of the great things that Christ has done for them and wake up to the gifts that the Holy Spirit has bestowed on them that a joyful and willing leadership emerges, for it is out of communities of disciples that cadres of leaders will appear. (Page 8)

To all this I give an understated Anglican “Amen, brothers and sisters!”  Here is a vision for a missional church that resonates with our own hopes and passions.

It is not an unrealistic vision.  The report is aware of “constraining factors” and rightly names as primary a “theological deficit” (page 13) of “robust and incisive… thinking” (page 14).  The counter offer is a “theology of the laity as grounded in the centrality of mission and evangelism” (page 14) made with full awareness that parochialism and other factors work to prevent such vision from “achieving long-term currency, let alone significantly informing policy and practice across the Church of England” (page 14).

Mission is not about removing people from the world to seek refuge in the Church… but about releasing and empowering all God’s people to be the Church in the world in order that the whole of creation might be transformed and restored in Christ. (Page 14).

I am sympathetic to, but not entirely yet convinced by, the engagement with the clerical-lay divide as a primary problem.  The report portrays both sides of the frustration and that is useful: some congregations try to make their clergy into messiahs, some clergy already think they are!  Nevertheless, the engagement with the issue assumes and perhaps unhelpfully reinforces the division. After all, the clergy are subset of the laity, not a separate category.  And one of the problems in our formation of clergy is that we don’t also (and especially) disciple them as people.  A discipleship culture is rarely prevented by a lack of theological knowledge; it is resisted when leaders are unable to share of themselves because of insecurities, fears, emotional immaturity, inexperience with suffering, or simple lack of exposure to the deeper things of life with Jesus.

Few churches have developed the kind of learning culture that would illuminate the resource and support that is required to develop lay people.  Few churches are equipped with the kind of ‘action reflection’ approaches that we see in Jesus’ disciple-making and in best practice adult learning models in wider society. (Page 18)

Good reports make recommendations and here “eight levels of cultural change” are proposed (page 19).  They are only really applicable to “Dioceses and the National Church”, which is understandable as these are the atomic ecclesial components from the point of view of the Archbishops’ Council.  I am not particularly familiar with the sort of machinations that happen at that level, but the principles seem sound: theological vision, increased lay voice, episcopal priorities, centralised resourcing, liturgical development, structural reform and so on.  I’ll be watching the commentary on these things with some interest.

There are two recommendations for action in the short-term that attract me.  The selection of “pilot dioceses” (page 26) to model the culture has me hoping that my own Diocese of Oxford will be one!  And, the provision of resources through a “national portal” (page 26), particularly “the facility for people to join small affinity/learning groups for support, discussion, and accountability” recognises a crucial lack of communal learning that should be happening at Parish, Deanery and Diocesean level, but usually isn’t.

The emphasis remains however: cultural change is required.  And that is a fraught exercise.

I have sat on enough boards and committees in my time to understand that clarifying the situation and identifying the problem is one thing; putting forward achievable and appropriate proposals is another.  This is only amplified when the problem is a cultural one.  There is always an aspect of catch-22 and chicken-or-egg.  How do we use culture to change culture?  Are the available options – the levers that can be pulled – able to transcend the culture or are they products of it?

There are all manner of obstacles to cultural change.  It will take more than this report to overcome them.

For instance, cultural change is resisted by allowing symptoms to control the remedy.  Our natural tendency is to alleviate symptoms, and it is often not efficacious.  Consider how the report points out that there is “no sense of any centrally-coordinated strategy for the support and development of lay leaders across the Church” (Page 11).  This is clearly a symptom of something that’s wrong.  But it may not follow that the answer is to rely on a “centrally coordinated strategy.”  Rather, it is likely that cultural change is achieved by some other means, which then results in a centrally-coordinated strategy.  What comes first?  Here, while not wanting to “institute a top down approach” (page 1) we still have a “clear implementation plan” (page 9) from a high-level body!  Catch-22.

In general, there are other obstacles to cultural change.  There is the presumptive existent: “We exist, therefore we’re on the right course.”  There is semantic deflection: “Of course we’re doing X; when we do it it looks like…”  By embracing the buzzwords the real engagement is avoided.  We’ve seen this happen with words such as “discipleship”, “fresh expression”, “leadership”, “vision”, “mission”, and “emerging”.  Cynicism can easily abound.

I’m not sure the report totally avoids these obstacles.  For instance, in trying to articulate a picture of lay ministry in terms of the “sent church” there is an emphasis on volunteerism.  However, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there is often a cultural disconnect between the social action of individual parishioners and the movement and mission of the church to which they belong.  The report mentions Street Pastors (page 10), but how much can we say that that ministry belongs to the institutional Church?  There is a danger of stealing the fruit of others in order to avoid our own barrenness.

Nevertheless, I was both encouraged and moved by this paper.  I am grateful to know that people are thinking these thoughts, and even dreaming these dreams.  It’s the right conversation in the right room, and it speaks a vision that needs to spread to every room in this House of God.

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51ka0d0GNNLI am continuing with my chapter-by-chapter, essay-by-essay review of Good Disagreement?  Previously:

We’ve arrived at the final chapter, and some final thoughts from me.  This chapter is by former-barrister, now mediator, Stephen Ruttle.  He gives us language to describe the current troubles, and a sense of how far or little we have come and are likely to go.

As a mediator Ruttle is, like many of the contributors to this book, a firm centrist.  While he admits that this could include a propensity to avoid disagreement (p208) and sit on the fence, and while he recognises that he is not impartial on some theological or moral matters (p207), his presentation of mediation as “assisted peacemaking” (p195) after the way of Christ which makes it missional (p204) has great merit.  For those who aspire to speak across the centre there is some wisdom to glean here.

Ruttle’s approach is strengthened by his realism about outcome and his focus on process:

“This chapter assumes that there are profound disagreements between Christians on important issues and that these disagreements are a fact of life which are unlikely to be resolved, at least in the sense that everyone will come to a common viewpoint.  The questions that then arise are: How well can we disagree?  Can we live together or not? If so, how closely? If not, can we separate with blessing rather than with cursing? Can we love each other despite these disagreements? How well can we “do unity”?” (p197)

In particular, his conception of “agreement” as being able to incorporate anything from full reconciliation to amicable separation means that his thoughts can be applied to the current troubles.  If only “total agreement” is on the table, the conversation is already over.  But if the ground under dispute is about good disagreement then there are things to talk about: honesty about the current situation, recognition of existing separation, re-connection where possible, honest exploration of faults and wounds, agreement about the extent of possible future separation, practical and symbolic implications etc. etc.

Similarly, his presentation of the mediation process is also insightful, and illuminates the current Shared Conversation strategy more than much of the rhetoric around them does.  On page 213, he outlines the process as: “GOSPEL” – Ground rules… Opening Statements… Storytelling… Problem identification… Exploring possible solutions… Leading to agreement (p213).  It’s a crazily complex situation of course, but from my observation the current process is passing through S (storytelling) and beginning to get honest about P (Problem identification).  Many are much further on that that of course.

It’s still unclear what solutions and forms of agreement are possible in the current situation.  Ruttle defines possible successes as (in order of depth):

 A) Participation (p214); B) Ceasefire (p215); D) Resolution of the defining issue (p215); E) Resolution of the underlying issue (p215); F) Restitution (p215), G) Forgiveness (p216), H) Reconciliation (p216), I) Transformation (p216)

Depending on how “resolution” is defined and if “restitution” could incorporate some structural/institutional response to reduced common ground, I can see the possibility of a way through to G).  This is further than what the cynic in me suggests is possible; and my caveats are deliberate!

This chapter also taps into some frustration.  Ruttle gives some advice for participants in mediation to “step back” and work out the real issues, and to “slow down” (p209).  Particles of wisdom such as these are already apparent, albeit chaotically.  Many have “stepped back” over the years – we know what the issues are, and their epistemological underpinnings.  And many have “slowed down” and persisted in meeting together through indabas and Covenant processes; the issue has been hot since 2003 and it’s cutting edge has been keen for many years before that.  At some point there is also wisdom in not “drawing it out.”

Ruttle’s realism also connected with me on a personal level.  As I read the following description I was recollecting the cost I counted at a particular time when I was the man in the middle.

It can be very lonely, marooned in the middle in a sort of no-man’s-land.  I find myself increasingly stretched as I continue this work, particularly where I have my own opinions and judgments on the rightness and wrongness of the issues at take, or the people involved in the mediation. (p206)

The biggest difficulty in applying Ruttle’s words to the current circumstances, however, is this: who exactly is our mediator?  We do not have a mere fracas between neighbours, or a financial dispute in which an impartial third-party can enter in.  The issues at stake here are at the depths of a shared ecclesiology, our very identity and how it is expressed in following Christ.

It is here that Ruttle’s allusion to Christ’s mediatorial work breaks down a little.  Yes, Jesus came to cross boundaries, and bring together former “enemies” (just read the first three chapters of Ephesians!).  But he was not a mediator in the way Ruttle describes his work.  Jesus also spoke, he spoke truth, and called us to follow him.  He doesn’t pick sides, he defines the side.

And so this chapter brings us to the place where we have gone again and again in this book – the epistemological question: how do we know what Christ is saying? How do we seek God together?  The only satisfactory direction – and what I hold is the Anglican direction – is to return to and come under Scripture, not merely locatively, but attitudinally.  The extent to which we are unable to share in that posture is the extent of our troubles, and that is what we must deal with, and deal with it well.

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51ka0d0GNNLI am continuing with my chapter-by-chapter, essay-by-essay review of Good Disagreement?  Previously:

I’ve encountered the two most helpful chapters of this book.  Both of them are personal experiences of good disagreement in practice.  Both of them bring a thorough grounding in the irenic gospel way.  In one case there is agreement to disagree.  In the other, structural and doctrinal separation occurs, but relational grace abounds.

The first chapter is From Castles to Conversations written by Lis Goddard and Clare Hendry who have been published as interlocutors on the question of female ordination.  Here are two people from two sides of a very heartfelt theological fence, and they wrote a book together.

They also write this chapter together, in alternating sections in the first person.  The characteristics that have come to the fore throughout the rest of this book – honesty, trust, vulnerability – are embodied here.  But what is also clear is the foundation on which their gracious interaction stands: the authority of Scripture.  They may disagree on how Scripture directs them, but they agree that it is the only place to look for direction.  Goddard writes:

For us, good disagreement was based on mutual trust that the other person was open to the challenge of God in Scripture as we were. (p156)

They bring openness and honesty and incredible vulnerability.  As Hendry points on on page 160, the implications for each of them if they were to change their mind would be immense!  They were willing to risk that in honest engagement.  They responded to each other fulsomely, and approached themselves with humility.  This was human, spiritual, devotional engagement.  Goddard writes again:

I can anticipate situations where I may conclude that someone is profoundly wrong, but I cannot anticipate circumstances where I would regret getting to know them, spending time listening, allowing myself to be challenged to return to Scripture and to my knees. (p161)

Writ large, this is the wonderful essence of semper reformanda.  Honest conversation, constantly challenged to return to the Word of God in Scripture.

One would hope, therefore, that it can be quickly applied to the current troubles.  But it can not be so readily applied, and not just because “every new issue we face is different because the layout of the ground is different” (p167).  Hendry and Goddard shared an epistemological common ground, a common view on how they would seek together, a covering that gave them protection, and direction.

In particular, and this is an instructive point for those leading the Shared Conversations, they realised that experience, even well-shared experience is not an adequate foundation for good disagreement.  Hendry writes:

If we spoke only from our experience, and allowed that to be our authority for holding the positions we did, it would be unworkable.  It closes down conversation, as we would either hold back from saying things because we didn’t want to hurt each other or end up undermining each other.  We needed a reference point from which we could evaluate what we both thought and believed, and that had to be God’s word.  Because we were both allowing our experience to come under its authority it was possible to be honest and vulnerable, to trust each other and properly engage and debate with each other. (pp156-157)

It’s the epistemological question again.  The common ground of “how do we know?”, “how do we seek?”, “how do we walk together?” remains tenuous in the current concerns about human sexuality.  Both Goddard and Hendry hold a similar concern:

Lis: As we face new realities, we need to be clear what our baselines are, where we stand as we talk, how we disagree.  Clare and I were able to come out of our castles and know the Bible was, for both of us, the central, key authority on which we built everything else… If that priority is not held in common, then the ground shifts. (p167)

Clare: I would find it hard to work closely with someone whose teaching I believed to be unbiblical on central issues, such as denying the atonement, or undermining the uniqueness and divinity of Christ, or adopting a lifestyle rejected by Scripture.  I could not in all good conscience say, “That’s fine. You believe that and I will believe this, and it’s all OK”, if it was something that undermined the gospel.  Equally, it would be hard to work closely with someone who did not take the authority of Scripture seriously. (p167)

Nevertheless, we are encouraged to not “stay in our groups”, and reminded that “it does not meant that by engaging someone else’s viewpoint we are necessarily condoning it” (p168).  The reduced common ground in the current troubles may have a number of implications, including having “dividing well” as a possible constructive outcome and/or methodology.  But what is needed, as is always the case, are people who know who they are, where they stand, and why, and who are able to genuinely speak across the centre, whether it be a simple scratch in the ground, or an impassable chasm.

The second chapter is from an American perspective of a church that has been through the painful process of departing the The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the US.  Truro Anglican Church is now part of ACNA, was subject to litigation from TEC, and has subsequently lost ownership (but not use) of its property.  Its a definitive story of the mess that was consequential to the events of 2003.

Tory Baucum, who is Rector of Truro (and a Canterbury Six Preacher), brings his ability to speak across the centre.  He looks to the actions of Jesus in approaching the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 and explores it in some depth.  The exegetical framework is intriguing and insightful, wrapped up in the word “nuptial” (see p175) in which Jesus spiritually woos the woman towards covenantal renewal.

One could even say she is “Samaria incarnate”, divorced from her covenantal people and excluded in shame.  Samaria itself is embodied in her multiple alienations (p176)

For the current purposes, Baucum expresses speaking across the centre as a willingness to do what Jesus did: to “enter Samaria” and offer grace before truth, to approach with receptivity, humility and reciprocity (p180).

There are also lessons from church history.  His comparison of responses to post-Reformation conflict is hepful: Des Cartes who internalised faith, and De Sales who engaged with generous relationship (p184) across the Catholic-Reformed divide.  It informs my current cross-cultural existence; I am learning that the natural British mode is so much more Cartesian than Salesian!

But in the end it is Baucum’s actions that make his lesson.  Despite the litigious circumstances he explains how he reached out to his local Episcopal bishop in relationship.  This relationship was reciprocated, and there have been grace-filled outcomes.  It is instructive that this has not been dependent on reunion, and it wasn’t even dependent on the resolution of legal dispute!  Truro Church remains structurally and doctrinally separate, but:

We are no longer a church at war with others, even though our commitment to orthodoxy is stronger and our standards of holiness are higher than during our days of division.  We are not a church that simply wishes to cohabit with differences.  Instead we are a church that seeks to give life to our adversaries just as we do to our family and friends.  The same gospel that teaches us marriage is the union of husband and wife in the bond of Christ’s love also teaches us to be peacemakers. (p192)

It’s an excellent example, and an enlivening framework.  It only raises one concern, and that is an implied paternalism.  The risk is this: to “enter Samaria” is to presuppose a somewhat asymmetrical situation: as the Jesus-figure, we offer grace and truth to the shame-ridden woman figure.  That is, we speak with grace from a presumption of holding the truth.  I suspect it would work if both parties came together with the same asymmetry, in balanced, opposite directions – but it could also be a barrier.

It is a similar dynamic to this: I know of a Christian leader who “entered Samaria” by genuinely engaging with a prominent gay activist.  At one point, on a public stage, he felt lead to give this activist an affirming hug.  I understood the intention, but it could also have been taken as paternalistic: you are broken, you need a hug.

Baucum, Goddard and Hendry have ably demonstrated that it is possible to speak across the centre.  It is something that is essential to good disagreement.  But it’s not simple, it does require trust on both sides, and with it being dependent on others, it runs the risk of failing.  There are pitfalls, likely mistakes, and the risk of misinterpretation.  The outcome may not be all that is hoped for.  But it is necessary, and they have proved it in practice.

Next: Part 10, Mediation and the Church’s Mission by Stephen Ruttle

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51ka0d0GNNLI am continuing with my chapter-by-chapter, essay-by-essay review of Good Disagreement?  Previously:

To be frank I found this chapter to be frustrating.  In my mind there’s two approaches to interfaith interactions: the “hide yourself” strategy, and the “generously be yourself” strategy.  The first is, at its end, is a form of nihilism.  The second is honest but difficult.

There is much to admire in Bp. Toby Howarth’s approach in this chapter.  A generous gospel is apparent.  The frustration lies in what I see to be some small, but significant, mis-steps.

Right up front, he recognises gospel distinctives and imperatives:

Some believe that religious disagreement is essentially illusory.  If, they say, we could only see deeply enough and clearly enough the essentials of our superficially differing faiths, we would understand that we really all agree… My assumption in this chapter is that there is real substantial difference between religions… Not only do we believe and behave differently, many of us would like to see people from other religions change so that they believe and behave as we do, converting to belong to our faith community. (p132)

I wholeheartedly agree with this.  In the aftermath of the Martin Place hostage-taking in Sydney late last year we encountered this assumption of illusion.  I wrote at the time:

So when I stand in unity with my Muslim neighbours, it is not because we have been able to transcend our differences, it’s because we have found within (informed, shaped, and bounded by) our world view a place of common ground.  And so the Christian doesn’t stand with a Muslim because “we’re all the same really” – no, the Christian stands with the Muslim because the way of Christ shapes our valuing of humanity, our desire to love our neighbour, and even our “enemy” (for some definition).  I can’t speak for the Islamic side of the equation, but I assume there are deep motivations that define the understanding of this same common ground.  Take away that distinctive and you actually take away the foundations of the unity, the reasons and motivations that have us sharing the stage right now.

The attempt to render religious differences as illusion is therefore incredibly illiberal and actually antagonistic to a healthy, harmonious, multi-religious society.  I’m glad Howarth affirms this.

Similarly, Howarth’s experience are beneficial contributions to the more general “good disagreement.”  In this series of reviews the importance of honesty has been mentioned a number of times.  Here Howarth reminds us that this necessarily includes emotional honesty, even vulnerability and admissions of fear.

The consideration of the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) approach is therefore helpful.  It “encourages people… to listen not only to others but also to their own feelings and needs” (p136).  This is necessary to ensure that we are not mishearing others: I have often encountered those who are emotionally reacting against what they think my position is, not what it actually is; I should avoid doing the same.  Vulnerability also puts one’s own emotional reactions out in the open, where they can be assessed and addressed.  This cuts across and defuses bigotry.  I attempted to reflect on this during the divisive 2012 same-sex marriage debate in Tasmania, but it was a one-sided exercise.

The current mode of good disagreement in the Church of England is the Shared Conversations process.  To the extent that this achieves constructive honesty and vulnerability it’s a necessary step for good disagreement.  I doubt it is sufficient for actual agreement on the issues at hand.  In the short-term it may actually lead to an increase in pain, because honesty and vulnerability fully articulates the cost of a position or prospective decision.  Having had one’s vulnerability fully acknowledged, and genuinely comprehended, there is no sense in which the wounds can be covered by ignorance; decisions will need to be made in full knowledge of the potential hurts.

In the interfaith scope Howarth recognises this reality; the tensions of maintaining relationship with the Hindu community in the light of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s commitment to evangelism (pp137-138) is a great example.  The consequent act of maintaining relationship, even sharing meals, with the Hindu community is delightful.  But it doesn’t remove the offence, it merely mitigates it.  It’s a generous, gracious, neighbourly response.

The reason why good fences make good neighbours is because they protect against encroachment and thus provide a place of safety from which to be gracious.  Irresolvable differences can be left in perpetual abeyance only when there is a degree of separation, as there are between religions.  Unfortunately, in the current internal conflicts about Scripture and sexuality, we are dealing with conflict in the family, where there is not enough separation to prevent encroachment, and so the potential for gracious interaction is reduced.

There is therefore a degree of inapplicability of these interfaith thoughts to the current conflict.  This is compounded by a few mis-steps that I think Howarth exhibits:

Firstly, he fails to avoid a false-dichotomy between story and doctrine.

Story is always present in religious disagreement.  Sometimes we pretend that it isn’t… In my experience, male religious leaders are particularly prone to addressing difference in this way.  We look at texts; we discuss doctrines. (p136)

His attempt at a both-and (“while this important… it often needs to be complemented” p137) reinforces story and doctrine as essentially competitive, requiring a balance.  His caricature of Trinitarian presentation on page 138 may be accurate in some circumstances, but he has himself flattened the experience of doctrine.  It is not enough to fill it out with reference to the historical Nicene narratives, but by the Trinitarian experiences of everyday folk in the here and now.

Doctrine fills out story and story fills out doctrine!  Doctrine gives me language and understanding in which to live out my story.  My story grounds my doctrine and pushes me to mull and mull until it is real and applicable.  We don’t need story to balance out doctrine; we need our doctrine filled out with the real world, and our experience of the real world filled out with lively doctrine.

Secondly, he doesn’t adequately deal with the reality that it takes two to tango.  What do you do in dialogue if the other side won’t talk, or won’t come to the same place of honesty and vulnerability?

I admire this sentiment:

Foundational to the different approaches that I have referred to here is a commitment to the often slow and painstaking work of developing relationships, especially by listening to the other person’s story and sharing one’s own. (p139)

But this presupposes that the other person is willing to share, and willing to listen.  At what point is it inappropriate to give yourself over to another?  Mark Durie, who regularly dialogues with Islam in the Australian context, considers how even generosity can be misinterpreted negatively.  Similarly, there are many who see the ever-increasing illiberalism of progressive politics, and the misuse of anti-discrimination law in particular, as removing a safe-place for the sharing of a traditional point of view.  I would hope that many would err on the side of risk-taking vulnerability, but how do you protect against possible entrapment?

And finally, there is the dangerous and self-defeating direction of hiding the gospel for the sake of engagement.

Howarth does not eschew Christian distinctives.  He values “persuasion and conversion” (p144) and notes that “not all conflict is destructive” (p145).  Nevertheless he does slip from the “generously be yourself” mode to the “hide yourself” mode.

The problem is that of the elevation of abstraction.  This is when Jesus is reduced to a particularisation of an abstract gospel. For example, it is common to hear logic along the following lines: Jesus loves people, therefore we are called to love, therefore if we all love one another then your philosophy and my Christianity are essentially the same.  Jesus is used as a particularisation of an abstract aspiration, in which differences are illusory.  The gospel actually operates in the opposite direction: We are called to Jesus, Jesus loves (in fact, defines ultimate love), therefore we love as Jesus loves.

We see hints of this abstraction when Howarth uses Jesus to particularise the abstract desire to not “focus on dividing communities along religious lines rather than fighting the poverty and oppression itself” (p147).  We see hints of it again in the exposition of the Samaritan woman when “God is present, in Christ, as the walls come down.” (p148) Jesus has become the particularisation of the abstract divinity of torn-down walls.  Similarly the covenant encounter of Jacob with God in Genesis 28 (p149) is taken out of context, applied to Jacob’s later interactions with Esau in Genesis 33, and so covenantal divine encounter becomes a particularisation of abstract brotherly reconciliation.

This no mere nitpick.  It’s a difference that is at the heart of cross-purposes in the current debate.  One side moves from the abstract (“How do we love, accept, and include?”) and defines them by Christ (“By following him”); the other moves from Christ (“Jesus loved, accepted and included”) and absolutises the abstract (“We must follow the path of love, acceptance, and inclusion”).  The difference is subtle – both mention Jesus – but substantial. In one Jesus is the goal, in the other he is simply a particular form of a larger concept.  In one Jesus defines and contrasts, in the other he simply informs.  Same language, different meanings.  Without recognising it we cannot disagree well.

In conclusion, there are some valuable insights in this chapter.  It challenged me at a number of points to examine my feelings and motivations, as well as my thoughts about such things as establishment and the role of the state in religious affairs.  But in the end, there was frustration.  I’m all for kenosis, and empathy, and generosity… but in the end we are still who we are, defined by Jesus, and that is the starting point of dialogue; awareness of self.  If we try to examine dialogue from afar, if we confine ourselves to objectivity and mediation from the abstract, we lose our very sense of identity, and have nothing to say.  And silence is very rarely good disagreement.

Next: Part 9: From Castles to Conversations by Lis Stoddard and Clare Hendy & Ministry in Samaria by Tory Baucum

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51ka0d0GNNLI am continuing with my chapter-by-chapter, essay-by-essay review of Good Disagreement?  Previously:

This chapter is the first in this book to exceed my expectations.  The focus is less on the division and more on the possible ways forward.  It is not prescriptive, it simply gives a potted history of ecumenical movements, and the descriptions are insightful for the present concerns.

The helpfulness of this chapter shouldn’t be a surprise.  I observed earlier that there are many ways in which the Church of England appears to act as a conglomerate of churches already.  It’s not absolute of course, there are many things in common particularly at the episcopal level, but it is not a stretch for the dynamics to apply.  It is interesting, for instance, that the authors see fit to put constructive “liberal-evangelical” dialogue, such as that between David Edwards and John Stott who are both Anglicans, within the scope of ecumenism (see p115).

Three observations:

1) The most helpful characteristic of ecumenical interactions is that of honesty.

Good ecumenical interactions do not presume full agreement, and dialogue often serves to “bring areas of disagreement into sharper focus in order to clarify the real sticking points.” (p117)

This is good disagreement in the sense that it is actually disagreement.  It is honest and does not demand a pretence.  A holding together of both unity and truth is the right aspiration, but unity is not constructed of it’s own bricks.  Unity’s material comes from discussions on truth:

The result of honest conversations between divided churches may be that different positions are shown to be incompatible and contradictory, and therefore the divisions must remain. This does not make the conversations fruitless but, on the contrary, pinpoints where change is necessary for unity to proceed. (p117)

Of course, avoiding a pretence is easier when it’s different churches talking.  But between Anglicans, who share, for instance, a common language of prayer, it’s a lot harder.  Some collective honesty about differing semantics would bring us closer to the more constructive dynamic described here.

To this end, confessionalism can be significantly helpful.  When done well (a big caveat), it clarifies meaning, it removes pretence, it allows conversation.  I was told once of an Australian Bishop of a non-conservative variety who, to the surprise of some, welcomed the Jerusalem Declaration that arose from GAFCON.  His response was, without any hint of disparagement, of this kind: “Now we know where you stand and we know where you’re coming from.  That is helpful.”  Irrespective of whether this anecdote is true or not, that’s the sort of attitude that advances things.  Confessionalism risks clarifying the divide (which may be fearful to some), it may even risk the “split” (whatever that means), but without it we have an inhibiting lack of clarity.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my own experience, if an honest appraisal of difference is not achieved, and if possible separation is not acknowledged, or even embraced, there is likely no room for reconciliation at all.

2) Separation doesn’t preclude all forms of unity.

I was struck by the reference to Francis Schaeffer’s idea of “co-belligerence”, “that churches can go into battle together on specific issues of social concern, without the need for doctrinal agreement.” (p114)

I like the term “co-belligerence” and have seen it in action.  In my time in Tasmania I was involved in the response of churches to what became known as the “social tsunami” of 2013 in which a radical socially revisionist state government attempted to impose a whole swathe of divisive legislative changes.  It was a most ecumenical experience – I met with everyone from across the entire range of Christian expressions, from Roman Catholics to Quakers, from Pentecostals to Presbyterians.  Someone expressed it this way: “I thought we’d be in this corner fighting by ourselves, and then I turned around and there were all these others with us!”  We were being co-belligerent.  The doctrinal common ground was thin, to say the least, probably limited to the very basics of what the WCC of churches provides (see p24) and yet there was a substantial form of unity.

Similarly, I count as dear friends many who differ from me on points of theology.  There are many things about which I think they are incorrect, and, in some circumstances, worthy of being opposed.  Yet, despite this, I am convinced of a shared spirituality.  We pray to the same God.  We trust in the same Christ.  There are times when we are separate, and firmly so!  Yet we can bless each other, even if we cannot bless each other’s position.  (Of course, the flip side is there are people who are correct doctrinally, but not right in spirit, but that’s for another time).

There are many things where Anglicans truly do act as one.  Advocacy for refugees is a near and present example.  This sort of unity is not necessarily at risk of honesty about differences being embraced and explored.

3) Even minimalist common ground can still quake.

The ambitions of ecumenism are described in this chapter.  The “organic unity” of sweeping reunion across the board, particularly in terms of shared modality is one of them (p120).  The other form of ambition is “reconciled diversity” (p122) in which certain expressions of unity cohere to a minimalist fundamental common ground, and all other things are held separate.

I am pondering how these apply to the Anglican concerns.  Ostensibly the Church of England is an “organic unity”, yet beyond the structural necessities, doesn’t appear to be behaving so.  But I am an Anglican from further afield, ordained in the Anglican Church of Australia.  There Anglicanism is a federalised arrangement of dioceses in which even General Synod canons can be ignored in each local place.  The wider perspective is that of independent national provinces.

It is a clearer perspective of a diversity with minimalist common ground.  That ground is, in history, that of the so-called Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.  These are the four (only four!) things that are fundamentally necessary to being Anglican.  They arose during colonial times, and have more recently been wrestled with by fresh expressions and church plants working out their ecclesial identity.  They are, to quote:

1. the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
2. the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith
3. the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself: baptism and the Lord’s Supper
4. the historic episcopate, locally adapted.
(p127)

It’s tight enough to define something real, but it’s still very loose.  It is as minimal a base of fellowship as ecumenical movements such as the WCC.  It should be robust.  As the story goes, when someone episcopal was once asked about the Anglican “split”, the response was “how do you split blancmange?”  Anglicanism, historically, has not been brittle.

Yet now, even the Quadrilateral, raises the problematic questions.  Number 3) is pretty safe.  Number 4) has been changed in its character through the provision of alternative oversight and mutually exclusive network of episcopal “recognitions.”  Number 2) is far from guaranteed.  And Number 1) is the crux of the issue: differing epistemologies no longer able to cushion themselves from each other by ambiguities.

Is the Anglican common ground shifting?  We need to be honest about that.

Next: Part 8, Good Disagreement Between Religons by Toby Howarth

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51ka0d0GNNLI am continuing with my chapter-by-chapter, essay-by-essay review of Good Disagreement?  Previously:

Ashley Null. Big fan.  He is an absolute authority on Reformation History.  I heard him speak on Cranmer at the Anglican Future’s Conference in Melbourne earlier this year.  He is a true exegete of history: he connects you with the essence of history, not merely its facts and propositions.  In his contribution here Null brings the accounts of divisions amongst the early Reformers, particularly controversies about the nature of the eucharistic elements, as background information for what good disagreement might look like.

His basic point is this:

The Reformation should not be written off as an era of only “bad disagreements”… the confessional identities which still divide Western Christianity today are, in fact, the enduring result of that era’s successful attempts at “good disagreement”, if only within specific streams. (p85)

Even if not fully achieved, unity and agreement were sought after.  Disagreements were, by and large, carefully and constructively managed; it was only on matters which, in good conscience, could not be held indifferently, that separate identities were embraced.

If there is an ongoing question that this book forces upon the current troubles it is this: “What sort of disagreement is this?”  Is it overcomable difference of opinion, or is it fundamental matters of foundation?  Take a look at the following facebook discussion stemming from an Ian Paul post to see the complexity of this in the real world, beginning with a reasonable conclusion that the differences are not (to coin a phrase) indifferent:

How then does Ashley Null’s essay help us?  I’m not sure that it does much more than give us some historical analogies.  Although perhaps these can serve as some object lessons for us.

Null’s exposition of the eucharistic controversies get us somewhere towards that.  Here he speaks of the Northern and Southern reformers – Luther, Melancthon, Bucer, Zwingli and the like – and the genuine desire to “call one another “brother” and to engage in intercommunion” (p90).  There is good conflict resolution, an agreement on what they disagreed on, and on the relative importance of those disagreements, articulation of the common ground, honesty about the differences, exploration of language that would hold acceptable ambiguity and so on.  It’s a genius that the Anglican tradition was later to elevate to an ideal!  But despite this “good disagreement” in the end there was actually disagreement and separation.

To correlate to the contemporary debates, we can use this legacy to note that there has actually been a great deal of good disagreement already – balanced resolutions, indabas, reports, and now shared conversations and (very) delayed decisions. History affirms us.

But the correlation also fails: Luther et al. began from existing disunity (excepting a vague sense of embryonic protestantism) and were attempting to find unity.  In the current situation we have an ostensible unity around presumed essentials, which some wish to modify.  On the face of it, the only positive (non status-quo) decision that can be made is to move away from the essentials, and therefore weaken the unity (“live and let live”) or fracture it according to conscience (“let us walk apart”).  Courtesy and gentleness must still abound, but it’s a very different dynamic.

In that regard I found Null’s contribution a little irrelevant, with conclusions that are basically motherhood statements: “scandal for the church to be divided,” “theological truth mattered”, “not all theological issues were of equal importance.” (p106).

The most assertive thing he does is remind us of the base authority of the Bible.  Cranmer saw the Bible both as the “sole basis of unity in the essentials of faith and morals” (p107) and also as the basis for “wide parameters for the development of institutional life.” (p107).  Scripture as the basis for both unity AND diversity.  But if Ian Paul’s facebook post tells us anything, it’s that it’s our understanding of Scripture, and therefore our understanding of unity and diversity itself, that is on the table!  Without that common ground even history will struggle to help.

Next: Part 7, Ecumenical (Dis)agreements by Andrew Atherstone and Martin Davie

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