Busbridge Church and Hambledon Church


  1. Rector’s Reflections

    “the regional character is further enhanced and emphasised by the problem of flooding and its control, which dominates all aspects of life and activity”

    Now, what is all that about?

    The quote is in reference to Dr Michael Williams, who wrote “The Draining of the Somerset Levels”. His work was published back in 2009. In the same way that living near a river or on low-land affects how you view life and things you hold dear, how does a view of life which believes that God is a good creator lead us to view the World around us?

    I write this piece as 70 mile an hour winds gather and yet another storm seems to be on the horizon. Parts of the Thames valley have flooded. Much of the 250 mile area of the Somerset Levels has been underwater for a month. Fire and Rescue crews from elsewhere in the country have begun to replace exhausted crews who have been working ceaselessly for many weeks. Closer to home, the Hambledon Road between Busbridge and Hambledon, just past Hydestile, is flooded… again.

    In the midst of the deluge and distress that is around us a single comment on the news got me thinking. It was a throwaway remark stating that “the Somerset Levels have at last received several giant pumps from Holland. It is taking modern pumping equipment to do what monks did by hand in the 14th Century. All they had to work with were wooden tools.”

    In the 13-14th centuries three Christian Abbeys were responsible for the draining of the Levels. One of the great Abbey names is still famous – for a different reason.  Most of us have heard of Glastonbury. One of the other Monastic Houses was Athelney. Alfred used the islands which dotted the Levels marshland as a hiding place and wanted to show his gratitude to God for victory in battle. Athelney Abbey was founded by King Alfred the Great in 888AD.  Athelney, Glastonbury and Muchelney were all Houses following the Benedictine way of life.

    The Benedictines believed then, and today, that anyone who “praises creation will use it carefully” because God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Spirit are met in the everyday things of Creation.  If you believe that God is Creator and creative, that the World is a created place and that God loves all that He creates then you will see God in everyday living. It sounds simple. Living it is altogether more complicated. Try it – for the next 30 minutes – and you’ll probably see how difficult it is.

    For the Benedictines of the marshland of the Levels there was no distinction between their daily worship of God in church and worship of God through what they called working in the stability of the World. Both Church worship and World activity were about bringing Peace, Prayer and Work into harmony – so long as the focus and objective was centred on God.

    The work of draining the Levels led to the creation of some of the most productive farmland in the UK and over the years the three monasteries became more and more affluent and were the eventual target of Henry VIII; but they left a legacy which stood the test of several centuries. It is a view which says that you must care for the created world because it is God’s on stewardship to us. The World is not a right that we own and it is not something we can parcel up as “mine” or “yours”.

    A single comment on the news led me to reflect on all this: drainage and St Benedict’s call to a simple life of prayer, peace and work; of farmland and Creation; of people in great need and God who sees everything He has created.

    I have found myself asking how people around me view life: is it merely about collecting little bits of land and belongings around us? Surely we are not as shallow as that. How true are those who profess faith in Christ to a life which really is one steeped in prayer, peace and work that is centred on God? Do people see work and church as polar opposites, and if so, how have I as a preacher and church leader encouraged this false-dualism? I’m left thinking that I have a lot to learn about flooding and a great deal more to learn about the God of peace who I can pray to and see as integral to every step of my life.

  2. Rector’s Reflections: The Psychology of the Lens

    From time to time we say things which are inconsequential to us; but to the hearer they are profoundly comforting. Some weeks ago I started a sermon about a man with leprosy who approached Jesus. I started the sermon with what was, to me, simply an opening remark.

    If you have read Victoria Hislop’s novel The Island you will know something of the impact of leprosy into the 20th Century. It is still a debilitating illness which is today known as Hansen’s disease. On Feb 12th 1888 a minister called Rev Charles Spurgeon made reference to leprosy by quoting someone who was working to combat it:

    ‘Dr. Thomson in his famous work, “The Land and the Book,” speaks of lepers… “The hair falls from the head and eye-brows; the nails loosen, decay and drop off; joint after joint of the fingers and toes shrink up and slowly fall away. The gums are absorbed, and the teeth disappear. The nose, the eyes, the tongue and the palate are slowly consumed.” This disease turns a man into a mass of loathsomeness, a walking pile of pests. Leprosy is nothing better than a horrible and lingering death.’

    In Mark’s Gospel we read of a moment when the man covered with leprosy makes a daring approach to Jesus. As I opened the talk I simply said “note that Mark tells us it was a man with leprosy. Jesus did not call him a leper. Jesus did not reduce him to being defined by his illness. He allowed this man to have his true humanity and identity as a human being.” To me, this was simply an opening statement.

    Several people commented afterwards that they, in their illness or with people they knew with disabilities from the physical to the psychological, found themselves identified as their illness or external image. We all do it: ‘he is rich’, ‘she is ill’.

    Christ offered the man both supernatural healing and restoration of identity – to be seen as God saw him. Those talking to me were as struck by the idea of a God who saw people in a depth and completeness of identity as they were challenged with the idea of healing which defied medical explanation.

    This led me to ask why this is the case. Why is it that we seem to reduce people to a presenting image? I wonder if we can learn from Patrick Moreau? You’ve probably never heard of him but Moreau is both a film-maker and has a background in psychology.

    Moreau says; “A big part of all of the filmmaking we do is really getting to know the people we are working with,” Moreau says. And then they can begin to “think about how we can interpret them through our gear.” Lens selection is a big part of that gear choice. “A lot of people don’t really realize that when you change a lens you change a lot more than depth of field [or] field of view,” www.masteringfilm.com/the-psychology-of-the-lens

    In film-making the lens defines the limit of the vision. It sets where you focus the energy and direction. It defines where you look for your identifying markers of the context, people and activity. It controls the field of view and the clarity of perspective.

    There is a synergy here with Christianity. Jesus gave the man who had been reduced to identification by his situation a depth of existence and identity which he had long forgotten existed. As a Christian I hope that I too am released from a mono-chrome view of the World and of people. If not, it is I who am diseased because it is my corrupted and broken lens which I look through on life which is limiting me.

    How’s your lens doing?  Mine is still a work in progress.

  3. Rector’s Reflections: What will our faces say of us in years to come?

    Each summer I try and read a book which I would not see myself as being naturally inclined to pick up. This summer I have begun reading a book by a research professor at the Institute of Psychological Sciences in Oxford. The author, Roger Scrutton, is a modern philosopher. He also plays the organ at Malmsbury parish church.

    I do not know how well Mr Scrutton plays the organ but his writing has challenged me in ways I was not expecting. A few weeks ago I was preaching on the importance and centrality of prayer in the Christian life. I found myself quoting Scrutton. More recently I was invited to address a regional meeting of Church of England advisors on Distinctiveness in Church of England schools. Scrutton found himself being referenced… twice. Then I sat down to write this Rector’s Reflection and I realised that I would be mentioning this philosopher again.

    Here is a quote from the book:

    “The England that I knew as a child in the 1950s was not godless. Most people declared some kind of Christian attachment, and churchgoing, though a minority pursuit, was not a target of ridicule. Those intellectuals who… questioned the dogmas of the… church were not evangelical atheists, but spirited agnostics like Jacob Bronowski, who conceded that they could not be entirely sure about God’s non-existence… The Anglican Church was represented in school assemblies… and the Bible was widely read both in the classroom and at home.” P4

    In another place he makes reference to a piece by Philip Larkin called Church Going where he argues against what he calls “enthusiasm” and “doctrine” (– ie: certainity in belief?) and in favour of “seriousness” and “routine” in Christianity and in life. I am not sure I fully agree with him and would say all four as central to Christianity but it certainly challenged me to ask how a routine of Christian faith was expressed in my life.

    In another section Scrutton explores his personal experience of how Christians walk together yet disagree and compares this to how people with differing (or apparently no) belief and life structures approach conflict or debate. It has led me to reflect on my approach to decision-making. What is distinctive about a Christian view of decisions to be made? Perhaps its foundation is in the requirement of Jesus Christ that I see all people as created in the image of God so having value and being valuable even if I disagree with them?

    Scrutton says that the Church of England has a theology of what is called a conciliar approach to debate. In an age where almost evangelical extremes of view and position seem to abound around us which reduce at least one ‘side’ or people to numbers, unpleasant names or ridicule: the black and white of right and wrong: equal vs unequal: where political strength is to be unbending: good leadership in business is maximised profit: education could be interpreted as economics of raising little-adults: tying up beds and pressurising hard-pressed hospital staff is reduced to statistics: the conciliar Christian approach of speaking, listening, seeking to trust, names before reducing people to numbers, time to care, seems like Scrutton’s age gone by of the 1950s.

    And yet the very day I was writing this Rector Reflection someone came to the door of the church office on Brighton Road.  His name was John Graham Taylor and he arrived with his brother, Tim. John had been baptised at Busbridge Church on the 16th July 1933(!) and on the 80th anniversary he had decided to make quite a journey to revisit that place of Christian initiation. There was something timeless – not of the past – but of eternity – in the conversation with the two brothers. They were not “serious”. They held a deep joy in their faces. It was not a joy of fleeting enthusiasm but of something else. It was a joy of what I would like to call ‘intentionality’. They knew, they just knew, that their faith had meaning, purpose and identity and nothing would shake them in this. It was written on their faces without a word having to be said.

    All this challenges me, as Rector of a growing, vibrant and busy Christian community available for all people that success as a church is not about numbers, economics, time-management, quality of my space, strength of leadership or profit.  Success is found in my intentionality of remaining faithful to Jesus Christ to the end of my days. In years to come I long to have a face like those two strangers who became fleeting friends. If it challenges me, I hope it is a positive challenge to you too.

    If you would like Roger Scrutton’s book it is called ‘Our Church’ published by Atlantic Books. My copy came from Waterstones in Godalming High Street.

  4. A strange moment on a petrol station forecourt…

    I am writing this article on Ash Wednesday.  As it takes a while for the article to make it to print you will probably read it close to Easter.  This morning I took a special assembly for the children at Busbridge Church of England Junior School.  We made up some paste out of wood-ash; mixed in a bit of olive oil and then offered to put a little daub on the forehead of any child or teacher who would like to take part.  It was quite an exciting few minutes as we invited everyone to think about what Ash Wednesday means to Christians and to have a ‘thinking moment’ for themselves.  The children disappeared with lots of giggles to wipe their tiny ash-marks away.  I left mine on and promptly forgot about it. 

    An hour later I went to the petrol station at Sainsbury’s down in town.  I began to notice that I was being cast a few strange looks from people on the forecourt and in the shop.   Then I went to a meeting elsewhere but could not find the location.  I asked someone for directions.  They showed me the way and then said “Do you know you have a mark on your head?  You might like to wipe it off.”  It was only then that I remembered the ash-cross.

    When Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me” in the Bible I do not think he meant a literal need to ‘pick up a cross’; nor to draw one on my head.  Yet there was something slightly disconcerting about remembering I had something ‘marking me out’ on my forehead.  I started to play-back the car journey up to my meeting.  Had I driven well?  What had I said in the petrol station?  Was I polite?  Did I hold the door open for that old lady as she walked in?  When people stared at me, did I give them a glare back or was I relaxed?  I started to think about what it might be like to be ‘known as a Christ-follower’ in all I am and do.  What if I were marked out as noticeable in some way?  Would it change me, or my behaviour? Or would this be something I would hope would change for the better even if I could walk through the week incognito?  I wonder how you would answer these questions.

    There have been several stories in the press recently about Christianity.  Most of them appear to have portrayed Christianity as negative: retrograde; out of step with changing situations; old fashioned; perhaps just for the over-65s (is there anything wrong with being over 65?); imposing values on people; intolerant; arrogant even. I am not one for defending the indefensible and in the past the Church might even have cozied up to powers and princes for the wrong reasons but the Christian faith cannot change on a whim; even if this makes us out of touch in the eyes of many.  Wearing a cross is sometimes about standing out as a little different: some might even say ‘strange’.

    As I walk down a street with a black smudge of a cross on my head I am reminded that the Jesus I live for stood out in ways that were probably uncomfortable for him too in all his humanity.  It took him to places that I am probably unlikely to want to go to; to speak with people who I probably shy away from; and to a hill where he died in a manner which I hope never to endure; and three days later he demonstrated that everything had changed.  That old rugged cross was the place that redefined everything and means Christians must be willing to go to places that are uncomfortable, talk to those who disagree with them; offer generosity to those who have never experienced it.

    To me, this is part of what it means, not just to wear a cross but to live out the cross in my life.  It can be uncomfortable and challenging; but it is a challenge Christ lived first for me.  Though it still felt strange being looked at in the Sainsburys queue!  Have a great Easter and see you at one of the services across Busbridge and Hambledon.

  5. Women Bishops: How do we give answers to people?

    By Rev Simon Taylor (updated 28.11.2012)

    Don’t you lot know what you believe! It seems the the Church of England has failed in recent decades to communicate or impart depth in terms of doctrinal understanding.  Whether people agree with the decisions to date or not; the issue is not only about church order; it is about doctrine.  Doctrine cannot exist in an ivory-tower.  It has real impact and real repercussions.  If it did not then we would have no need for a doctrine of salvation, what happened on the Cross or the unique power of the Name of Jesus Christ.  The project of the Church is too important to be left to sound-bites…hence the length of these two documents!  Perhaps a wake up call to some Christians is to think through with greater clarity what faith means in active terms.  It may be that one corrective from all this is that more Christians will read more of Scripture with greater hunger for its meaning and discuss their questions with greater openess.

    The vote was a somehow ‘affected’. People may not comprehend how synodical governance of the Church of England works.  To show just imprtant this is you have to know some history.  Clergy and bishop counsels were held from the 800s AD.  Synodical governance (a church version of a Parliament) in some form goes back to at least the 13thC in England.  A counsel was where clergy gave advice to bishops compared to a convocation (which Synod is today) where clergy (and now laity) give consent to Bishops regarding decisions. Synod does not hold a disciplinary role: this is held by each bishop and the church ‘court’.

    The bishops should impose their will or change how the voting works. Unlike other forms of govenment, a Synod is about not being a top-down church but about consent and advice.  In the 1820s-1870s Parliament began passing so many church laws (an average of 25 a year) that people became concerned about the impression this gave regarding the Church of England and doctrinal decision-making. A concern developed that this was defining acceptable belief (called Erastianism: the political theory of State supremacy over Church). The role of Synod was explored and the idea of ‘via-media’, or the Anglican ‘middle-way’ of church and state was reinforced (compared to absolute-church papacy).  In 1886 the non-ordained (Laity) began to be involved.  In 1909 a new lay group was created for Synod: bishops, clergy, laity.  It created three houses with counsel and consent roles.  This was looked at again in 1919, 1969, 1970 and amended in 2003 through Acts of Parliament.  A high bar of 2/3rd majority vote was set.  The issues being discussed are more important than just changing the voting system.

    Who is in the House of Laity; are they representative? People join the lay-house of Synod by being elected.  Every diocese has people who are voted for locally based on an election-hustings. In Guilfdford Diocese the 2010 elections were closely contested.  After appointment they are there to pray, discern and make decisions as they see best. Members are not meant to be one-trick ponies but Christians(!) and they may find themselves making decisions (such as recently?) which surprise even them.  There are over 200 representatives from across England, plus 2 people from religious Orders, then 3 from the armed forces and 2 more from The Church Estate.

    All voting is by single transferrable vote.  STV is the method recommended in politics (and not used) by the Electoral Reform Society.  To ‘fix’ the election, using STV, of over 1/3rd of members  from across England in over 40 diocesan locations would be quite a feat.  Those involved in Diocesan structures know that the Church of England is quite well versed in sometimes lack of joined up ability!  ‘Fixing’ may be possible, but probable and Christian?

    The laity didn’t do what we wanted and this is painful Who is ‘we’?  Politicans?  Women?  Men? Clergy? Bishops?  Those who voted for rmembers to Synod?  It does seem a strange thing to say, but even though most people want women to be bishops, maybe there is something Protestant and Church of England about the laity saying to bishops ‘not yet; not without another look at the documentation’. Yes it is painful.  It is a total mess. There are hurt people all over the place.  We seem to have people implying that as women voted against the measure they have betrayed women.  Conversely, there appears to be a sense of triumph from some quarters but this is profoundly ill-judged. Language of this nature seems to belong in other spheres of life rather than Christ’s Church.

    Next time the legislation will give less to those who have concerns.  There will be a next time and it will probably come quite quickly.  2015 at the latest. It might give less care for conservative evangelicals and anglo catholics but it may be that everyone sits down and works something else out.  It may be that dominance gives way to complements.  It might be everyone takes a deep breath and realises that a solution has got to be found.  It may be that the three ‘groups’ listen with new ears.

    Why couldn’t the legislation have given free-range to male bishops across diocesan boundaries?  This is what people wanted. It depends, in part, on your view of Christian Justice.  If Justice is equality then to have an hint of lack of possibility for women bishops would be an injustice of God.  If God’s Justice is contained primarily in the redemptive action of Christ on the Cross then you have greater leeway in exploring what Justice may look like in practical situations.  It also depends on your view of what are called parallel episcopates.

    To allow a man to oversee ministry where a woman would otherwise have juristiction is an injustice to some, but an expression of justice to others.  What seems to have been the sticking point though was the word ‘respect’.  A female bishop was to be asked to respect the request of a parish for alternative oversight.  It occurs in some form already and has been in the rules since 1992.  Some people appear to have been concerned that ‘respect’ fell short of an undertaking and cited situations elsewhere as examples of concerns.  They may have misunderstood that governance, the authority of bishops and other issues are different in England than some places.  For others, asking a female bishop to respect co-authority would mean lack of apostolic authoity. It would create a second-class bishop and a completely different idea of something called epsicope (ministry of a bishop).  This is a very short so slightly stereotyped precis of two complex issues but this is the essense of that being grappled with by those in Synod.

    Now we have a men only group in Parliament (ie House of Lords) Perhaps it is time to look at the ideology of an institutional, established Church.  That is a different issue but is is more complex than people may think.  A Constitutional Established Church, Monarchy and Parliament which has evolved over many centuies is not unpickable but it is more complex than a decison made on a single moment.  For Christians it means a question has to be asked whether a dis-established situation would also be a default to secular-humanism.  It may be something of a pandora’s box of questions but one which will not doubt have its day in discussion.  There are different views on the subject.

    “Get with the project”  A leading politician from one party (but similar quotes could be taken from other parties on Question Time) appears to have suggested that there is ‘a project’.  It is an attractive and inviting statement but it may miss one point.  The Church of England will probably have women bishops in a short space of time but for an organisation with continuity from Christ (depending on your view of Catholic links) short-time frames may be out of step with political expediency.  The Church of England is not a political party but one expression of the visible and invisible eternal communion of the saints.  It is about election to eternity rather than political election.

    You Christians can sort nothing out. Though not necessarily reported as such; the debates and vote were conducted with grace toward people.  In my view it was a model of living Christian witness.  If nations and other groups could work like this the World would be a better place.  Christ was in the midst of the Synod.

    Quick fix. Society expects quick fixes yet Christianity holds to a view called ‘Reception’.  Reception is about how a significant theological view is tested, viewed and brought into the life of God’s Church.  Reception does not allow for anything which is contrary to Scripture.  It means things have to be shared and prayed through.  Reception in Christianity is not about a single vote or even a decade.  God’s timing is often longer than anything we can imagine.  We are to offer a corrective to people who put ‘myself, my rights, my interests, my timing’ first and point to God’s perspective.

    Irrelevant church. One of the things being talked about in the media is the cultural relevance of the church.  Relevance is not the reason for doing anything in a church.  Yes, it is good to connect and be relevant but if relevance is the benchmark then we will simply be imitators of cultural patterns.  Christianity has a history of confronting and societal norms from slavery through to lack of care for the sick to absence of education.

    Rejected women? The Church of England has not rejected women bishops.  The first person I saw interviewed after the vote was the leader of the Anglo-Catholic group.  I paraphrase, but he essentially said: Right, so now we sit down with everyone and work out how we do get this through.

    Only a few people (6 to be precise) blocked everyone else having their way.  No.  This is misuse of numbers.  Six fewer than were required in one of the voting groups thought things were right to move forward with at this time.  Others voted the same across all three voting groups but in the non-ordained group this was significant enough to make the difference.

    This is not democratic.  Why should a few people have the deciding vote against?  It is more democratic than other places.  The Church of England has deliberately decided that a 2/3rds majority is needed across the board so that only things that everyone is satisfied with move forward.  There is a fascinating article on this at www.anglican-mainstream.net/2012/11/22/mr-speaker-guides-labour-mps-on-church-of-england-equality/

    The Church of England has laid itself open to equality laws.  Some might be shocked that religion is exempt but let us turn this on its head: it leads to a government defining religious belief; that which is acceptable and the bits that do not fit.

    There will not be women bishops.  This is a misunderstanding of the vote.  It is inevitable there will be bishops who are female because there are clergy who are female.  This was addressed in the 1970s and 1990s.  There is no theological reason for having female priests who are not then to be bishops.  The vote was really about how the Church of England accepts the historic, respected, widely accepted perspectives outlined earlier.  Enough people did not think that we as Christians were giving enough care for brothers and sisters in Christ that they were saying ‘no’ to it.

    Why doesn’t the CofE just say ‘goodbye’ to ‘those’ people?  Well, some of them will be in Busbridge and Hambledon church.  It is not the Christian way: this is how non-Christians may behave by segregating but we are called to live together in harmony.  It isn’t a theory.  It is a Christian command.  Another reason we have not said ‘goodbye’ is because this is not what is called a ‘first order’ issue.  First order issues are those that affect whether we are sinless and redeemed people.  Second order issues tend to be about church governance and ‘order’.  It is more towards a first order issue for those of the Anglo-Catholic view because they would tend to say that in Communion there are special things going on regarding our forgiveness.  It is a second order issue for everyone else.

    What if the government legislates?  It may do.  What a message that would send.  It would be strange to see such a situation in the same year that Christians have had reassurance after reassurance that the Church will never have to conduct same sex ‘marriages’.

    Where next?  There will be female bishops.  This will be a welcome development for some but for other Christians with deeply held conviction based on Scripture this will be difficult.

    The Bible is irrelevant or subjective then?  No.  It shows how important accurate, right reading of Scripture is.  There is a world of difference between looking into the Bible to discern God’s overarching pattern and distancing one-self from Scripture because it is a difficult read.

    Women lost.  Men won.  This would be use the language of supremacy, winners, losers, the adversarial… if you listen to the wise people of the Church you will hear them talking about ‘healing, pain, sadness, hope’.  There were no winners or losers.  If there were it would be a contest or a political environment.

    Where does Simon stand on this? Men and women are different.  The difference is primarily for mutuality within the marriage relationship and an expression of the completeness of God.  There is nothing in Scripture which prevents women exercising leading roles.  The issue of women in leadership is a second order one.  It does not impinge on holiness or sin.  The issue at hand has nothing to do with the validity or integrity of Scripture.  Accepting women as bishops is not a pathway to reducing the importance of the Bible so that other issues may creep in.

    What concerns me is a notion that we really must have women bishops to be culturally relevant and that this will somehow connect church with society.  Relevance to me is about closeness to the Lord: how relevant am I to God’s design on my life and my soul?  If we live and walk this form of relevance then others will say ‘how did you work that one out as a church?’  We are a church of reconciliation and welcome – and this is a prime example of a time to live it.

    Watching the media and political response; I am interested to see if we are entering a new phase where government begins to dictate into the situation and that assurances given about other issues hold validity.

  6. There will be women bishops in the Church of England

    What are the issues and why does it matter now? by Rev Simon Taylor

    It matters because of the reaction within ourselves, about others and because of the political and media response.

    Remember Laurel and Hardy?  Great story and one of them always ends up getting the blame or in a mess.  The story ends with it all sorted out and no-one gets hurt.  General Synod of the Church of England has been in the news this week and I almost want to cry out “what a mess you’ve got us into”. What will people think? Yet again the utterly irrelevant and behind the times CofE can get a knocking. Unlike Laurel and Hardy I suspect there are some genuine bruises and some really hurt people. We are not at the end of the story though.

    On Tuesday evening two events occurred within two hours of one another. At General Synod the Church of England declined to move forward with plans to allow women who are ordained to be consecrated as bishops.  At Hambledon church the joint PCC met.

    My opening remarks made reference to the mind of Synod as we now knew the outcome of the debate.  I did so not in some vague theoretically sense but grounded in the reality that Rev Catherine McBride was sitting to my right in the PCC meeting and that Rev Margot Spencer could have been there.

    It was inevitable that there were a range of responses going through minds at PCC.  Some may be relieved, others saddened or even angry, quite a few might be perplexed: this is the 21st Century after all. What’s the issue?

    I opened the PCC by pointing out that the meeting was on the evening when the Church remembers King Edmund; who was murdered for his Christian faith in 870AD; and Priscilla Sellon for being “Restorer of the Religious Life in the Church of England” in the 1870s.  You may know that the 1860s-1880s were one of the ‘low points’ of the Church of England for many reasons.  Clergy were being taken to court for lack of Christian belief(!), it was sometimes seen as a state institution rather than a Christian organisation, new ideas about Scripture were developing and the Church of England seemed to lack the depth to offer a theological response.

    A history lesson

    The Church of England began looking at the idea of the role and calling of women in Christian ministry a long time ago.  The media suggests that it has taken 12 years to get to this week. This is not the case.  It has taken at least 100 years.  Some of the proponents of womens’ rights in general in the 19th Century included evangelical leaders like Charles Spurgeon and William Wilberforce.  The first year of any priest is known as the ‘deacon year’.  James and David are both deacons at present.  Some people remain a deacon: ordained, with a collar, but not a priest.  In my own parish I came from a couple of years ago the current ‘vicar’ is just this: he is what is known as a permanent deacon and is a great chap who has continued to see growth in the church there.  He runs the church, leads services, leads PCCs, wears the collar but is known as a permanent deacon.  The relevance to the issue today is that the first deacon(ess – ie, female deacon) of the Church of England was in 1862.  The Church of England was seriously ahead of the game in bringing women to the fore in society!

    Another date is 1975.  This is the year when the equality commission was formed by Parliament.  It was also the year that the Church of England affirmed that women could be priests (or substitute the word minister for priest if you like) but needed to take a period of time to consider this.  The Church of England began looking into the matter in the 1980s and in the early 1990s the decision was taken to allow women to be priested.  The intervening years had allowed space for some very significant prayer, theological analysis, discussion with other Churches, exploration of ramifications and debate.  It was felt in 1991 that a way forward would be to agree the ordination of women but defer the closing off of the discussion until a later date.  The close of discussion would be the mechanism for the consecration of women bishops.  This is an approach called ‘Reception’ and is steeped in the history of the Church.

    A few people in 1991 said that ordaining a female was not the same as consecrating a bishop.  Most understood that in Anglican theology a bishop and a priest are essentially the same but with a different aspect of calling and vocation.  If there is a particular change in a person (called ontology) then this occurs at priesting.  The way you become a bishop is not by some ‘super lobotomy’ but by the authority (temporal) of the Archbishop and laying on of hands (spiritual) of a multiple of bishops.  They are saying ‘you now represent the world-wide church in a new manner’.

    Why the delay in 1991? The Church of England, though slightly messy, tries to care for and listen to everyone and does pause to listen.  Also, it was recognised in 1975 and in 1991 that within Christianity there are, and have always been, two deeply held Scriptural views related to priesthood which would impinge on the theology of women bishops.

    One is that men and women complement one another.  This is the view that when God created Adam and Eve he did so in a particular order.  There is Biblical literary, theological and Church History argument for this.  Man is to care for woman.  In the marriage service it is still possible for a woman to say ‘love, honour and obey’ in relation to the man.  It is the idea that men and women are not superior or inferior but are created differently by the Lord.  This view is often caricatured as ‘women must stay at home’ or ‘men must be in charge in the workplace’.  This is not the Biblical concept though.

    Scripture seems to put complementing one another in a context of mutual care and respect not about roles and who can and cannot do things.  Where roles are delineated it is in a vision of a loving, caring, home scenario.  Where it relates to bishops is that for some Christians there is Scripture which states that living as complementary is God’s way.  To alter this order may damage the holiness of the Church.  Some may dismiss this view, but it has centuries of tradition based on Scripture and cannot be taken too lightly.  In 2004 a Synod report was published which explored this theology.  Synod was trying to allow room for this perspective within a branch of the evangelical tradition.

    The other view is that of the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the Church of England.  In this theology of priesthood (called the patristic tradition) Jesus was a male, Adam was a male, all priests in the Old Testament were male and the Apostles of Jesus were male.  An argument that ‘this was due to the culture of the time’ seems to ignore the fact that the Old Testament and Jesus himself were never afraid to challenge prevailing cultures.  Jesus came not to remove the law, but to fulfil it.  For those within the Church of England who follow this view there is ample evidence of Scripture to draw on.

    In terms of redemption and salvation; Jesus came to undo that done by Adam (theological called type and archetype).  A further complication for those following this interpretation of Scripture is that they do not believe that such a significant development as women bishops can be undertaken without reference to all Christian churches.  It is such a major development that they believe a universal Church Council should be called.  The Catholic and Orthodox churches will find the idea of a woman bishop as an enormous blow to the past fifty years of slow moves towards re-uniting the cousins that are Christian communities around the Globe. Some may dismiss this position but the Church of England has taken these questions very seriously and explored them in Synod’s 2004 report.

    The impression may be that those who advocate the process for women bishops do not hold Scripture as the highest authority.  This cannot be so because Scripture is set as the primary authority of the Church of England.  Ignoring, reinterpreting to suit needs or redacting it to alter its meaning is not acceptable within the Church of England.

    On the whole, those who affirm women as bishops do so by reference to Scripture as much as those who see this as a difficulty.  Where it speaks in passages people cite as relevant, there are widely recognised ways to understand the meaning.  Just one example: when Paul calls for women to cover their heads in Christian worship he does so within a context, yes; but this does not make the text irrelevant.  If it is the Word of God it has to remain relevant.   Here Paul is speaking about living within a prevailing culture and women who are Christians not alienating their non-believing husbands so that they too may come to know Jesus.  He is drawing attention to a focus on the calling of Christ and that all things are “rubbish” in human terms compared to the glory of Christ.  Scripture taken seriously is where the Bible speaks into every life and situation even when that situation is not part of the statements of the Word of God.

    However, it is possible that there are a minority for whom reference to Scripture is unhelpful if it does not support being culturally relevant.  It is possible that for some who voted against women bishops the issue is not women bishops but something else.  It may be they believe that women can be priests but they are concerned that this is somehow a slip towards revision or realignment of Scripture.  Yes, it may sound like a ‘baby with the bath-water’ approach.  How can women bishops be the same as other issues that may hit the church? True, but this may be one of the unvoiced concerns behind the scenes.

    Ultimately, the vote was not about ‘will there be women bishops’ but ‘when there are, what is the provision to be for fellow Christians who are following centuries of Christian teaching and Biblical interpretation and cannot accept this situation as it stands’?

  7. Santa, Jesus, Vicars and The Paradox of Blessedness. December 2012

    We have a problem in the church.  I do not mean The Church; I mean this church. The Church can sort itself out. By the way, The Church has always had problems so nothing new there. No, I mean Hambledon; Busbridge and this local area. It is a Christmas problem and it is quite a good one to have. Last Christmas (2011) we ran out of room. Literally. In Hambledon church we had to seat fully grown adults in the rather tiny old child-choir stalls. Remember? It was quite good fun! At Busbridge people were quite literally turned away from one candlelit service because the doors could not be closed. I’m sorry if you missed out on the squash. Do join the fun this year.  It is worth it. With Catherine in Hambledon I am sure the church will be even more full during December. Thinking of Hambledon, don’t forget the utterly packed carols in the pub!

    This has left me with a question for 2012: what is so special about Christmas? Why gather? What’s the draw? We’re told people are less religious. What is going on? I’m sage enough to know that there are many reasons.  Some are social, others about distant memory and yet others for vague, or even specific, Christian association or reason. Whatever the reason: welcome.

    I for one can recall a moment when I would not have been classed as particularly religious by any stretch of the imagination. I just knew that I wanted to go to a candlelit Christmas service. If I’m honest it was nothing really to do with anything you would call ‘the Christmas story’. It was something about family, gathering, candles and sentiment. I wish I could add snow but back then I do not think it ever snowed at Christmas.

    So, as I sat down to write this article I asked one of my children a question. “What’s so special about Christmas for you?” The response made me smile, “Because it is about Jesus and makes vicars happy and it gives Santa something to do”. I realised at once that though there may appear to be a paradox in there (can a vicar talk about Santa in the same breath as Jesus?) I had been given a golden illustration on a plate. Without stretching the statement too far I could build in a thought that Christmas is about a message of happiness, Jesus, and having a purpose in life. What a gift!

    I would like to go a little further and say that there is something spiritual, for the soul, in all this. A theologian by the name of William Barclay once wrote about “the paradox of blessedness”. He was thinking of the story of the Christian Christmas when he wrote this.

    The paradox of blessedness is when something positive comes out of that which might be a pressure, pain or difficulty. It is not to say that all bad things are ultimately good. That would be a very warped psychological or theological view to take.  For my son, amid the pressures of Christmas that he sees for his dad he seems to sense that it still brings happiness to this vicar; in the midst of a story of hardship, fear and childbirth there is a joy about a child named Jesus; and for poor old Santa working so hard with 12 hours to cover the whole UK my son sees that it is a good thing for Santa to have something to do. This is the paradox of blessedness in action.

    There is something more to this ‘paradox of blessedness’ for our lives. People in the Bible who are called ‘blessed’ are those who have realised that God is at the centre of all things; in the midst of every moment; knows the mess and knows the joys. When Jesus arrives on the scene he destroys all ideas of blessing being about goodness, wealth, position or health. Blessing is about being in what he calls ‘the Kingdom of God’.  That kingdom, Jesus says, has come and He is it.  Everything has now changed.

    For me, this is why Christmas is such a joy. Yes, it is about candles and atmosphere but it all points to something so significant I struggle, and fail, to put it into words. Instead, I’ll just play with the sentence my son gave me: “Because it is about Santa and makes Jesus happy and it gives vicars something to do”. If Christmas changes everything then I am now blessed, no matter what my situation. It is like a whacking great sign in the sky saying “All welcome, yes, All.”

    Have a brilliant Christmas.

  8. August 2012

    OK…who stole the sun?  Would whoever has taken it away please give it back?!

    On a more serious note…the Olympics are here so here are two quotes:

     “A leader is best when people barely know he [sic] exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.” Lao Tzu (Chinese philosopher 6thBC)

    “Be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” Jesus (c33AD) The Bible

    We will soon be in the midst of the Olympics and because of this I have many Scripture verses to choose from. The Bible is full of sporting imagery.

    Instead, I have chosen something which requires a little more thought. A few weeks ago I was asked to lead the opening prayers at Surrey County Council. The reason I used those quotes for a Council Chamber also stands for using them in a piece when we have a busy Olympic summer ahead of us. Not only that, we are in a busy time locally too. We have had Jubilee events and village fetes. In the church we have welcomed the Rev David Jenkins and the Rev James Gibson.  

    David is already well known in Hambledon and is what the church terms a ‘locally ordained vicar’. James will be with us for up to half a decade before he goes on to lead a parish elsewhere. James explained it well when he was asked what the next few years will mean for both of them. He replied “we are vicars in training; with L plates on… we get to try things out and Simon gets to pick up the pieces”. David and James are both clergy across Busbridge and Hambledon area but it is likely that David will spend more time involved with Hambledon on a Sunday and James around Busbridge; if only because Catherine is overseeing David’s training and Simon doing the same for James.

    If we look forward we have the church holiday club (23-27th August) and then in September we are inviting everyone connected with the church to a special away-day together at King Edward’s School in Witley (30th September).

    In between it we have the Olympics. What does ‘wise as a serpent…’ have to do with all this?

    Queen Elizabeth I used to attend thrice weekly court sermons and prayers during Lent by sitting at a window in her Whitehall Palace. During her father’s reign an outdoor pulpit had been built; facing the royal council chamber; and the preacher would stand and bellow at the Monarch sitting in their room.

    In 1596 one Rev Anthony Rudd preached a sermon towards Queen Elizabeth where he dared to urge her “to prepare her soul for death”. The queen opened the window and shouted “that the greatest of clerks are not always the wisest of men”.

    The queen may have been offended, but she was also accurate. We will see great achievement in the Olympic stadium, we have two great new clergy in the church team, we may have achieved great things in our own arena of work or life but the greatness of position does not automatically confer wisdom.

    Snakes and serpents usually get a bad press in the Bible but to be wise as serpent means, like a snake coiled for the strike: discerning the motives of the heart, watching the eyes of those in the race alongside us and sensing the subtle movements of the soul. Wisdom in the Bible is often associated with prudence. Not running. Not forcing the pace for personal ends. Not taking unfair advantage. Not assuming that because you won one race you have the authority to assume you will always be the richest in the prizes and in life.

    What of innocence as of a dove? Innocence does not mean giving your opponent the advantage in a race, business or life.  It is about protecting the integrity of your soul before God. The Rev Anthony Rudd had innocence in spades. He was innocent to speak the truth rather than offer something which would be a false promise. You probably already know that doves do not tend to bite in anger. They are not docile, but they are gentle.

    What might gentleness of Christ appear like in the Olympics? In Busbridge and Hambledon as a growing church? In our own lives? The place where we are the ‘leader’ of a family, a community or a voluntary group? Perhaps it would look something like this:

    A leader is best when people barely know he exists.

    When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves. Lao Tzu

    Here’s to a great Olympics, Summer (with some sun?), Holiday Club and Church Away Day.

  9. May 2012

    I have recently been on a leadership conference in London. About twenty of the church took time out to attend this two day event. How do you measure the success or effectiveness of two quite long, intense days of speakers, lectures, seminars, handouts and powerpoints? I remember once reading a booklet titled ‘Death by powerpoint: how to kill a meeting’. Powerpoints can be liberating or they can be mind-numbing. The key ingredient from the booklet was to use powerpoints to raise questions rather than deliver the answers.

    The aim of the conference was to do something similar in terms of leadership in the areas of church, culture, commerce and community (four very neat ‘C’s). There were no simple solutions or short models to use as a tickbox. Instead, questions were raised. They were around the purpose of church in a local area; what it meant to lead an organisation – a finance house, a charity, school or a home-environment; and whether leading something is about the leader or about that being led.

    It was a challenging time but also brilliant, not least because Catherine McBride was able to join us. Catherine is the new associate vicar in Hambledon. Many of you will have met Catherine by now.  If you have not, Catherine will be opening Hambledon Village Fete on June 2nd and speaking at the Jubilee Fete church service on the green at 10.30am on June 3rd. The service will be 45 minutes long and very child-friendly… and we are also planning to sing things like the National Anthem too.  If you would like a chance to chat to Catherine about the village, church, your experience of church (postive or negative!) then feel free to get in touch.

    The overwhelmingly positive message of the conference for me was a thought which speaker after speaker returned to. They spoke of Christian faith, difficulties in leadership, mistakes, joys and endurance. They ranged from Tony Blair to an American church leader named Rick Warren; from Christine Caine who founded the ‘A21 Campaign’ against human-sexual trafficking to Hector Sants who was until recently Chief Executive of the Financial Services Authority.

    Sants is on record as saying : “As a Christian, I feel strongly that… it is important to give back to the community”. The Guardian Friday 16th March 2012.

    Giving back to the community is part and parcel of being a vicar in a local church, village or town. Catherine’s role is very much about being out and about, visible, leading the church into its place in the community. There are two aspects to Catherine’s post.  One is within Hambledon; leading the congregations, discerning the future, looking at the needs of the village. The other is a wider remit across Busbridge and Hambledon as Director of Discipleship. There are at least 15 weekly small groups who meet for support, community, reading the Bible, sharing meals and a host of other things. Catherine will oversee groups like these.  We are also developing a new set of forums which are open to everyone to ask questions about Christianity.  Her role includes helping to foster these engagements. The first one is being planned for September with a special meal…more details nearer the time.

    The only way Catherine, Simon or any leader in any sphere of life can work effectively is by operating from within a sphere of integrity. Integrity is not the same as perfection. People make mistakes; even clergy and even churches!

    Integrity is about an integrated life. If we live within integrity we will have the same attitude to a cleaner as to a chief executive.  We will not hold compartmentalised lives but ones where who we are flows freely across the totality of our actions. One speaker asked a disturbingly simple, yet powerful question: are you the same with your children as with your staff? Do you look at the same things on the internet in the company of others as you do when alone? If the answer is ‘no’, then you have a problem with integrity.

    Integrity is the antidote to living in the shallow waters of an image-laden life. As a Christian, I would say that true integrity is seeing that I am made in the image of God, created for His purposes and destined to live a life shaped by following Christ. This leads me to a question: where are we, in our own lives, leaders from within a sphere of integrity? What-ever you lead; from a single parent home to the largest corporation in the UK; lead it with integrity and if you believe you are lacking in this, I would invite you to seek God in this.  If you have a spare moment, you could also pray for Catherine as she steps out in her new exciting, but enormous role.

  10. April – “first sit down and count the cost”

    “first sit down and count the cost”

    I write this article in the same week that the churches that make up the congregations across Busbridge and Hambledon hold the annual church meeting. If this interests you then can I suggest you look at the church reports on the APCM page of the church website? It is possible that some may not be aware of the new site. It can be found at www.bhcgodalming.org. There are no prizes for working out that bhc stands for busbridge and hambledon church.

    Within the annual report is a short story:

    A father and daughter went for a walk up Cadir-Idris in Wales. The path was steep and on one side a yawning cliff dropped 1,000 feet into icy water below. The daughter loved to run and dance. She was used to doing this. She ran ahead up the slope impervious to the chasm on her left. Her father did not chase after her for he trusted that he had brought her up to know the path.

    Eventually, the daughter came to an exhausted pause. It was then that the father approached “Why didn’t you run after me?” the daughter asked. “Because I knew that you would pause to look where I was” came the Father’s reply.

    The reason this story is in the church report is to share a simple truth with the church. It is a truth I would suggest is worth sharing with everyone. Churches, and particularly those with clear Christian belief within the evangelical spectrum, can be places too full of urgent rush. Yes, sharing the saving message of Christ is of course important (to those involved in the church at any rate) but the end result can bring damage to the very people who make up the Christian faith locally if we run ahead of God.

    The urgency of Christianity, the importance of growing faith, the dedication to following Jesus Christ can lead people into a decaying spiral of activity. Soon, the joy of that centring faith on Christ can be lost in the whirl of running the organisation. Church can become depressingly exhausting to be associated with!

    Perhaps a vicar shouldn’t talk like this, but most readers will agree with the truth of all this. It seems strange to suggest that the very faith which brings salvation can also be like a noose around the neck unless we keep our eyes focused in the right place and purpose for it.

    I would suggest this message to the church is just as important for those who are not currently part of a local church. If you substitute church for something else that matters to you; marriage, work, a hobby, gardening, politics, grandchildren…the very thing that brings joy or fulfilment can in fact become destructive and we may even be innocently complicit in ruining the things that we hold most dear.

    At what point does something of joy, creativity and purpose turn into something less than positive? I would suggest that it is when its true worth or reason for existing is forgotten; it becomes reshaped and the reason for investment in it in the first place becomes mired in confusion. Jesus comments in Luke’s Gospel, “which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

    If we remember why we are involved, what it is about, what the initial cost was; we will probably keep a Godly perspective on the things which matter most rather than convert them into something else.  Otherwise church becomes about my needs, my worship, my identity; Christianity becomes that which I wish it to be; work becomes who I am; children become commodities who attend the right school or wear particular clothing brands; and, just possibly, marriage becomes a politicised football.

    Finally, on a completely different note we are pleased to announce that The Rev Catherine McBride begins here in May. This is a direct result of the response of the village over the past 18 months. Catherine will start by visiting various congregations in Busbridge and Hambledon. Her first major preaching engagement will be at the Hambledon Village Jubilee Jamboree Service at 10.30am on Sunday June 3rd.  All are welcome to this special relaxed 45 minute family friendly service followed by games.  Why not bring a picnic along too?