In visit to China, WCC focuses on unity

Photo: Peniel Rajkumar/WCC

Photo: Peniel Rajkumar/WCC

Christian unity was the overarching theme of a visit from a World Council of Churches (WCC)  delegation with the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) in Shanghai on 9 January.


“How can Christians realise and respond to Christ’s call to be one in our time and context?” asked WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit during his meeting with CCC and TSPM leaders.

Tveit and his delegation were received by a delegation led by Rev. Feng Gao, CCC president, and Rev. Baoping Kan, CCC vice president and general secretary.


“We are called to raise and revitalize our work on the unity of the churches for the sake of the unity of humankind,” Tveit said. “The example and experience of post-denominational Christianity in China offers a significant entry point to explore questions of unity further as the WCC reflects on how churches across the world can move forward towards a unity which is not self-serving but which can be shared for the wellbeing of others”.


Welcoming the delegation, Gao expressed his joy and gratitude for the consistent support and inspiration that the CCC has received from the WCC. “As a developing church faced with its own challenges the CCC remains committed to its Christian call and witness in accordance with biblical teaching and through its various ministries. We thank the WCC for this visit, which is an encouraging sign and assure you of our contribution to the cause of Christian unity”.


Kan outlined the historical association of the CCC with the WCC, since resuming its full membership in the WCC in 1991 and its contributions to the theme of unity. “The CCC has strived to live out a life of common witness in the Chinese post-denominational context by emphasising the commonalities while holding in proper balance the respect for differences and the common striving for united witness” said Kan.


On 10 January, the WCC delegation also visited the East China Theological seminary, one of the five regional seminaries of the CCC, where they were welcomed by the vice president of the seminary Rev. Xu Yulan and other members of the faculty. Rev Yulan introduced the seminary which was started in 1985 to the delegation and outlined the development of the seminary and its curriculum as an attempt to respond to the needs of the growing church in China.


“Through its various courses the seminary is committed to the training of candidates to both lay and ordained ministries of the church.” Yulan also explained how the seminary seeks to ensure that its theological education is deeply rooted in context especially through its programme on sacred theology and music where students are encouraged to develop lyrics and liturgy which reflect the Chinese context and make use of Chinese musical resources in developing their theologies. The seminary also places high emphasis on personal formation.


“The cultivation of spirituality, morality, wisdom, physical performance, fellowship and personal merits are also considered important in the process of ministerial formation,” said Yulan.


Rev. Sang Chang, Asia president of the WCC and a member of the WCC delegation expressed her happiness about the high proportion of women students as well as female leadership in the seminary and in Chinese churches in general. “As a former theological education and a strong proponent of women’s leadership I am encouraged to see women in positions of leadership in the Chinese churches”, said Chang, former president of the EWHA women’s university in Seoul. “This is a clear sign of the discipleship of equals”.


Commenting in general on her visit to China, Dr Chang said, “I came here with an openness of mind and readiness to learn. The experience so far has been deeply inspiring. The story of the Chinese churches will make a great contribution to the goal of full unity of the ecumenical movement”.


Tveit also reflected on the visit in the context of the 70th anniversary celebrations of the WCC. “The context of the 70th anniversary of the WCC is fortuitous for us to explore further what the call to be one means for Christians across the world in the midst of the changing political, economic and historical dynamics of the world order. The experience that the Chinese churches provide have the potential to address questions about the shape that Christian mission, diakonia and witness should take in our world today as living expressions of our  common  call to unity in a fresh manner,” Tveit said.  [WCC News]

WCC says future of Jerusalem must be a shared one

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World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit addressed the status of Jerusalem at the international "World Conference in Support of Jerusalem" on 17-18 January in Cairo, Egypt, organized by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh al-Tayyib, under the auspices of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.


In his address, Tveit stressed in particular how “The future of Jerusalem must be a shared one. It cannot be the exclusive possession of one faith over against the others, or of one people over against the other. Jerusalem is, and must continue to be, a city of three religions and two peoples.”


“Jerusalem is regarded as a holy city and loved, genuinely and deeply loved, by all three Abrahamic faiths – Jews, Christians and Muslims,” Tveit said. “That love and profound attachment must be respected and affirmed in any solution that might be envisaged, if it is to be viable.”


“In the New Testament, we read of how Jesus Christ wept over this city with love and longing. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” Tveit reflected quoting Luke 19:42, and continued “Following Jesus’ word and example means to speak truth, to seek justice, and to be peacemakers in the world’s conflicts and controversies.”


But, said Tveit, “Alongside this we must recognize the extraordinarily complex layering of Jerusalem’s history and culture. History shows that the involvement in this region of these three religions has not brought just peace for all. That, unfortunately, is still true today.”


“As believers in one almighty God, we should explore together what it means to express the love of God in this conflict in which the three monotheistic religions and their communities are involved and affected. There will be no peace in Jerusalem unless all three religions are respected and involved in the solution,” Tveit added.


“Let us together be contributors to a just peace, not to a perpetual conflict”.


The conference gathers prominent national, regional and international representatives such as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church  Tawadros II, Arab Parliament chief Meshaal bin Fahm al-Salmi and President of the Kuwait National Assembly  Marzouq Al-Ghanim and Ambassador Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary general of the Arab League. [WCC News]

WCC delegation visits China

"It’s a historic journey in many ways, and comes as a follow up to the meeting of the Executive Committee in 2016", said Rev. Dr Tveit. (Photo: Marianne Ejdersten/WCC)  

"It’s a historic journey in many ways, and comes as a follow up to the meeting of the Executive Committee in 2016", said Rev. Dr Tveit. (Photo: Marianne Ejdersten/WCC)
 

World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit and a WCC delegation will visit member churches in China 7-16 January. The historic visit will begin the celebration of the WCC’s 70thanniversary. The WCC delegation, in addition to Tveit, includes WCC Asia president Dr Sang Chang and Rev. Dr Peniel Rajumkar, WCC programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue.


The delegation will visit Shanghai and meet with the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, as well as with the leadership and students at the East China Theological Seminary. They will also travel to Xi’an and visit Shaanxi Bible School and Jing Xin Church.
The Three-Self Patriotic Movement is a Protestant church in the People's Republic of China, as well as one of the largest Protestant bodies in the world.


In Beijing, the general secretary is going to preach in Chongwenmen Church, on 7 January on the theme “Jesus Christ, the joy of the World.” Dr Chang  will preach on 14 January in Gangwashi Church.


The WCC delegation will also meet with Chinese religious leaders and representatives from the State Administration for Religious Affairs.


Tveit emphasized the significance of this visit: “This invitation to visit our member churches in China is highly appreciated and received with great joy widely in the WCC and the ecumenical family. It’s a historic journey in many ways, and comes as a follow up to the meeting of the Executive Committee in 2016. I am eager to meet more representatives from churches, particularly students and youth who represent the church of the future. “


Tveit added: “As we are staring our year of the WCC’s 70th Anniversary in China, we show that the WCC is a living fellowship with a rich legacy now active and open for the calling of the ecumenical movement in the 21st century.”


He said also: “China has the world’s largest population and is very significant partner in addressing the global challenges of our time. The church in China has a very significant role in shaping the Christian witness and service in our time, both in China and in the global fellowship.”
The WCC Executive Committee visited China 17-24 November 2016. The visit was hosted by the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. This was the first meeting of a WCC governing body in China. Since the 7th assembly of the WCC in Canberra in 1991, the China Christian Council has been a full member of the fellowship of the WCC.


Within three decades, China may be home to the largest Christian population in the world. Since China opened up to the world in the late 1970s, tolerance for religion has gradually increased, and religious life prevails in China and the numbers of baptized Christians in China have grown significantly.  WCC leaders acknowledged at the executive committee meeting evidence that China has experienced enormous economic growth over the last decades of peace and stability in the country.


“Millions have been lifted out of poverty by this growth, raising renewed hope of the possibility of eradicating the most extreme forms of poverty globally,” said Tveit. “In addition, we noted with appreciation China’s example and leadership in ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change and in scaling up its investment in developing renewable energy.”


Tveit and the rest of the Executive Committee expressed their gratitude at seeing and hearing about the witness and diakonia of the churches in China.


“We have been greatly impressed by the churches’ outreach to people of all ages, the commitment to ecumenical and interfaith relations and cooperation, and the scale and breadth of the social services provided by the churches and their institutions,” Tveit said in 2016.
Now he expresses the expectation for this visit: “We will be inspired by seeing and hearing what the church is doing in this country, and we aim at an even stronger cooperation from the worldwide fellowship with the church here.” [WCC News]

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli capital threatens peace - global church leaders

Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

Christians from throughout the world want it known that they believe the decision of US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel is a serious blow to efforts for a just and sustainable peace in the Holy Land, and risks provoking further conflict in the region.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has long viewed Jerusalem as a city shared by two peoples and holy to three religions. This position was reaffirmed in a statement issued on 6 December by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit expressing grave concern over President Trump’s announcement.

“Such a step breaks with the longstanding international consensus, and almost seven decades of established American policy, that the status of Jerusalem remains to be settled,” stated Tveit.

“It also pre-empts a negotiated resolution of this most difficult issue in any final peace agreement, which must be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.”

On the same date, the heads of local churches representing Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land wrote an open letter to President Trump.

In this letter they said that “we have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem.

“We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”

The “solemn advice” and plea of the Jerusalem church leaders to the U.S. president is “for the United States to continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem”.

They said any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm.

“The Holy City can be shared and fully enjoyed once a political process helps ...liberate the hearts of all people, that live within it, from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing,” they asserted.

The church leaders also appealed to President Trump in the spirit of Christmas, the “feast of peace…for Jerusalem not to be deprived from peace”, asking him to “listen to the song of the angels”.

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) has also affirmed their opposition to the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

They reminded the president that in 1980 the NCC adopted a policy statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In that statement, the NCC said, “Unilateral actions by any one group in relation to Jerusalem will only perpetuate antagonisms that will threaten the peace of the city and possibly of the region.” And in 2007, the NCC again affirmed the vision of a shared Jerusalem.

“We reiterate those statements today. For decades, U.S. presidents have acted with prudence and caution regarding Jerusalem. President Trump’s actions threaten to unleash violence throughout the region and severely damage any remaining U.S. diplomatic credibility to act as a broker for a peace agreement.”

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) also sent to an open letter to President Trump.

The LWF president, Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa of Nigeria, and general secretary, Rev. Dr Martin Junge, expressed “deep dismay over the news” that the U.S. is considering relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv.

“This unilateral action contravenes the long-held position of the international community according to which Jerusalem is a city shared by two people and three religions,” the LWF leaders said.

They express deep concern that “such a move will thwart the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian Peace and trigger widespread violence in the Middle East and the rest of the world. The Middle East and the world need peace, not more violence.”

Pope Francis appeared for wisdom and prudence to prevail over Jerusalem. “I pray to the Lord that its identity is preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence prevail to prevent new elements of tension from being added to a global context already convulsed by so many cruel conflicts” he said.

In South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu also condemned President Trump's decision regarding the status of Jerusalem.

“God is weeping over President Donald Trump's inflammatory and discriminatory recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is our responsibility to tell Mr Trump that he is wrong,” said Tutu.

The Catholic peace movement Pax Christi International said it is “appalled” by Trump’s decision, due to “the devastating consequences it will have for reaching a just resolution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” [WCC News]

 

Archbishop calls for tolerance, harmony and mutual respect in the Holy City of Jerusalem

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The Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Archbishop Suheil Dawani (pictured), has called for tolerance, harmony and mutual respect for all in the Holy City of Jerusalem. He made his comments in a sermon preached at St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem on the second Sunday in Advent.

Reflecting on the Gospel story of John the Baptist, he said that his voice “echoes in the wilderness”, calling the people “into ways of justice and peace.” The prophet’s message today, he said, might be difficult to hear or digest. “Its message may require us to sacrifice some of the things we hold dear,” he said. “We know that the prophets throughout the ages asked difficult questions – Isaiah, Elijah, Amos, Micah. They had messages that were delivered to people who did not like the message.”


Archbishop Suheil said: “We do not know what the future of this land is. For many centuries people have suffered here under different regimes; and they are suffering again today. The young and the old are fearful of the future. Many say – ‘what shall we do?’ or ‘what can we do?’

“We can do much – we can keep heart, we can be strong, we can keep our faith alive, knowing tome-what-may, God is with us and he is the Prince of Peace revealed in the manger as a humble and beautiful child.

“We can . . . prepare ourselves this advent for this Prince of Peace, by ensuring we live in peace. We can remedy the disputes we have with our neighbours; we can ensure we care for the poor in our communities. We can, through our actions day-by-day, work for a better place.

“In doing this, we do prepare the way for the Prince of Peace, and through our very actions we become God’s prophets in this world. We are steadfast in his love and his faithfulness, confident that through the very love of Christ, righteousness and peace will indeed kiss each other.”

He continued: “The voice that cries in the wilderness is addressed to us at these difficult times. We hear it especially during the time of advent – when as a community, we are called to a change of heart. During this week we have heard of a change.


“We need to listen to a different voice that speaks deep into our understanding of what justice is for this Holy City, a place recognised as sacred to all – to Jew, to Christian, to Muslim; to Israeli and to Palestinian. A City that by its existence speaks of peace and of harmony, and of respect to all humanity; a place that can be marked in some way as a capital not just for one nation, but for two, for Israel and for Palestine.


“This could help create a place of tolerance, of respect, and for all to flourish.”


Archbishop Suheil has a long history of involvement in peace negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinians. When he was vicar of Ramallah, he hosted peace-talks between the then-Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, and the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat in St Andrew’s Church Hall. [ACNS]

Irish Council of Churches visit to European institutions

A delegation from the Irish Council of Churches made a study visit to the EU institutions from 28–30 November 2017. The visit included meetings with officials from the European Commission, Members of the European Parliament, the Northern Ireland Executive Office, representatives of the Task Force on Article 50 negotiations with the UK, and the Irish Permanent Representation. The visit was organised and facilitated by the EU Commission office in Belfast.

Speaking at the conclusion of the visit ICC President Bishop John McDowell said: “Following meetings with MEPs and EU officials in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, the Irish Council of Churches was encouraged to make a visit to the EU institutions to explore issues that are of particular concern to our member churches in an EU context. Under Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty the European Union made a commitment to “an open, transparent and regular dialogue” with churches and non–confessional organisations. This provides a valuable opportunity for faith communities to share concerns with policy makers, and outline the values they believe should shape and inform policy decisions at EU level.

“Our agenda for the visit was wide–ranging, shaped by the many different forms of social outreach being undertaken by our member churches across the island of Ireland. We were keen to learn more about efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society are protected through initiatives such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Social Pillar and the work of the Rights of the Child unit. In the wider global context we discussed the efforts of the EU to promote freedom of religion and belief through its External Action Service and the responsibility of member states to ensure refugees are protected in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

“We were acutely conscious that our visit was taking place during a critical phase in the Article 50 negotiation process. We were encouraged by the level of interest in, and awareness of, the unique needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland. Those involved in the negotiations from the different EU institutions have clearly devoted considerable time to the study of these questions, and that concern was greatly appreciated by our delegation. What we heard underlined the considerable investment made by the EU in the Peace Process. Not only has there been a significant financial investment through the creation of a unique peace funding model for Northern Ireland, but great attention has been devoted to creating the context in which new relationships can develop, bringing communities together.

“We should not allow these achievements to be undermined by the current political challenges, notwithstanding the complexity of the issues currently being negotiated. Our local church communities have experienced first hand the effort that has been required build new relationships of trust in a post–conflict society. Considerable care must be taken to avoid language that threatens to weaken social cohesion and exacerbate divisions. Regardless of our political allegiances and national identity, we can all acknowledge that the protection of peace and stability in Northern Ireland is in the best interests of the UK, Ireland and the rest of the European Union.”

The Irish Council of Churches would like to thank Ms Colette Fitzgerald and her team in the EU Commission Office in Belfast, Ms Isabelle Van Keirsbilick and her team in DG Communication, Vice–President Mairead McGuinness and her staff in the European Parliament, and all those who shared their time and expertise with our delegation. [C of I Press Office]

Zimbabwe church leaders issue statement

The Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.(Photo: ZCC)

The Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.(Photo: ZCC)

On 15 November, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations issued a statement entitled “Zimbabwe Between a Crisis and a Kairos (Opportunity): The Pastoral Message of the Churches on the Current Situation.”

Zimbabwe has been facing political and military unrest that continues to develop and unfold this week. “Many Zimbabweans are confused and anxious about what has transpired and continues to unfold in our nation,” reads the statement, delivered on video by Rev. Dr Kenneth Mtata, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. “While the changes have been rapid in the last few days, the real deterioration has been visible for everyone to see for a long time, especially during the potential political rallies of the ruling party, coupled with the deteriorating socio-economic situation.”

The heads of churches call for prayer, peace, respect for human dignity, a transitional government of national unity, and national dialogue. “The church derives its mandate from its calling as a sign of hope,” the statement reads. “We are the people of God who are being called to champion the spirit of reconciliation.”

Abrasive and exclusionary politics threaten the already weak cohesion of society, the statement continues. “We see the current crisis not just as a crisis in which we are helpless,” continues the statement. “We see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation.”

The nation’s challenge is one of a lost of trust in the legitimacy of national processes and institutions. “There is a strong sense that our hard-earned constitution is not being taken seriously,” the statement reads. “There is a general feeling that the wheels of democracy have become stuck in the mud of personalized politics where the generality of the citizenry plays an insignificant role.”

World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, who last visited the churches in Zimbabwe in May this year, encourages churches around the world to pray for peace and justice in Zimbabwe. “We are thankful and encouraged by the way churches in Zimbabwe stand together in solidarity in this difficult situation, and we join them in praying for peaceful developments in the country,” said Tveit. [WCC News]

Presiding Bishop speaks on Texas church shooting

Bishop Michael Curry

Bishop Michael Curry

“I offer this prayer for those who have died, for those who are suffering, for those who are still healing from physical wounds, and the emotional, spiritual and mental scar,” Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry stated following the 5th November shooting at the First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas. “We pray for those who suffer and for those who have died. Will you pray with me?”

Bishop Curry offered his comments during a visit to the Scottish Episcopal Church in Aberdeen, Scotland. The text follows:

“I’m in Aberdeen, Scotland, where last night we had a service at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, giving God thanks for the deep roots of the Episcopal Church here in the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Scottish Episcopal Church is indeed the mother church of the Episcopal Church, and we give thanks for the ties that bind us together.

“But even as we gave thanks last evening, we received word that in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a gunman entered the First Baptist Church, and now some 26 people have been killed and many more wounded and afflicted. I offer this prayer for those who have died, for those who are suffering, for those who are still healing from physical wounds, and the emotional, spiritual and mental scars. As I pray and invite you to pray the prayer the Lord taught us. I invite you to pray that God’s will might be done, that God might guide us to find a better way, to find concrete steps so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore. But above all, we pray for those who suffer and for those who have died. Will you pray with me?

“Our Father, Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power and the glory,
For ever and ever. Amen.

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give us all his peace this day and forevermore. Amen.” [Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs]

Reformation 500 - Archbishop Welby's sermon

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The sermon from Archbishop Justin Welby during a service at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday 31 October 2017, to mark 500 years since the start of the Reformation.


‘O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts. Amen.’

First I would like to thank the churches who are here today for the invitation to speak, and the Dean for kindly agreeing to that. Thank you, Mr Dean.

The gift that came through Martin Luther was first a moment of hope, then of controversy, then of politics and finally of war. Yet in the providence and grace of God it brought afresh to every Christian disciple the possibility of saying, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation.”

Through the Reformation we learned that we are saved entirely, confidently and unfailingly by grace alone, through faith, and not by our own works. From the poorest to the richest all will come at the end to stand before God, only with the words of the hymn, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.”

Through the Reformation the church found itself again confronted with its need to be weak and powerless; to come with nothing to the Cross and to admit that, in the words of the Collect in the Book of Common Prayer for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, “without thee we are not able to please thee”.

Through the Reformation the church found again a love for the scriptures, and seizing the opportunity of printing, gave them afresh to the world – telling every person that they themselves should read them and seek the wisdom of God to understand them. In doing so the church released not only reformation but revolution, as confidence grew amongst the poor and oppressed that they too were the recipients of the promise of God of freedom and hope.

Through the Reformation the vast mass of people across Europe and then around the world were drawn to receive the fruits of a missionary movement that did not indefinitely suffer tyranny, and that would not unquestioningly bow the knee to authorities and hierarchies.

Through the Reformation the world changed; the gospel spread; counter-reformation renewed the places that the reformation had not reached; there was a competitive drive in missionary endeavour. What is not to celebrate?

Well, said Eeyore to Tigger, or the historian to the enthusiast. For each of the things that came through the Reformation – good as they are, precious beyond compare even – for each there is also a dark side.

With new vigour came conflict.

With individual understanding of grace came individualism and division.

With the knowledge that “without thee we are not able to please thee” came, through our sin and weakness, what so often we add under our breath: “But actually, I’m a lot more able to please thee than those heretics over there.”

With literacy and freedom came new ways of cruelty refined by science.

With missionaries bearing the faith came soldiers bearing the flag.

We could go on batting the ball to and fro, as historians and theologians have done for centuries. The point is that the Reformation reopened to the whole church eternal truths that are indispensable, and to which we must all continue to hold, and not only to hold but to present afresh addressing the life of today.

In this very pulpit in November 2015, at the opening service for the General Synod of the Church of England, the preacher to the Papal household, Fr de Cantalamessa, said:

“Justification by faith, for example, ought to be preached by the whole Church – and with more vigour than ever. Not in opposition to good works – the issue is already settled – but rather in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves thanks to their science, technology or their man-made spirituality, without the need for a redeemer coming from outside humanity. Self-justification! I am convinced that if they were alive today this is the way Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer would preach justification through faith!”

De Cantalamessa was wisely not making points about the rights and wrongs of the Reformation, which is the temptation at times like this. His key point is that in every age the church lives its experience of the current work of God in a historical context. We live amidst political pressures, diverted by the heat of argument and the ferocity of sinful power-seeking and gathering. That was true 500 years ago as the 95 Theses spread across Europe – as did Luther’s bible – at a speed impossible before printing, and feeding on the fuel of the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance.

The good news of Jesus, the gospel, so beautifully and powerfully renewed in the Reformation, is eternal. But its application, as Cantalamessa says, is different at different times. The gospel always speaks to the needs of our times; it is always the word of God. It always speaks prophetically to human pride and sinfulness, of Popes and Archbishops and emperors in the 16th century. Today the gospel speaks to the inequalities of a 21st century world of inequality: of refugees and human trafficking; human arrogance and materialism; in the use of technology as a saviour, rather than as a gift. Our speaking and living of the gospel must, like Martin Luther, be speaking to our world as it is.

The gospel always says that we can add nothing to the work of Christ, and that in Christ God has spoken definitively. That the scriptures witness reliably to the word God has spoken, and that when liberated and trusted they bring human flourishing. At the same time our witness is impeded by our divisions – especially as we live in a world of ever-present competing philosophies, faiths, and approaches to faith or rejections of faith.

So what’s the problem? The problem, as in every age, is us.

In John 17 Jesus prays for unity among the people of God so that the world may know he came from the Father. The gospel is not an idea: it is life, love and transformation – and if the bearers of good news are not transformed into a united and loving life, then they will be unable to convince anyone else that what they say is true. Luther set the gospel free, and as human beings we seek continually to imprison it behind ritual and authority – or to make it serve politics or causes. When we seek to use the gospel for our own ends, rather than to proclaim it as the word of God, then the gospel is not preached and the church divides.

We are called to be united. In our cultures the realities of difference of self-identity formation, of politics, of language, of our history as both oppressors and oppressed, all drive us, today, into self-reinforcing bubbles of mutual indignation and antagonism. Unity is a witness that, through grace received by faith alone, the cosmos has truly changed, because Jesus came from the Father, and because all has changed that we may as human beings find unity and purpose.

The Reformation was a gift of God, not only in itself but as a sign of the faithfulness of God to His work of revealing the good news of Jesus to a world in need, and the faithfulness of God in using His church despite our failings.

What do we do with the gift today? Will we be willing ourselves to be reformed again and always, setting aside our differences because we are caught up in the grace that is found through faith?

Will we find from God alone the strength and grace to be a united blessing to His world, so that our witness of unity in diversity overcomes our fears of each other?

Will we seize afresh in confidence the hope that God who never abandons His church will again reform us, so that the world may see that Jesus came from the Father?

It is already happening in so many ways, and so much has been accomplished. But we have not yet allowed ourselves sufficiently to be captured by the radicality of the gospel that we may bless the world as we should. As we surrender to the God who rescues us sinners, we will most surely find our vocation as the messengers of good news to the world.

“O GOD, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.”

Amen. [ACNS]

The Church in a secularising society

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Address (abbreviated) by Canon Ian Ellis to Affirming Catholicism Ireland, an organisation  founded in 1994 to “uphold the integrity of the Church of Ireland as a Catholic and Reformed Church, affirming Catholic faith and order within the Church of Ireland”.

Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, 21st October 2017

Last July, Barnabas Fund, an organisation which focuses its work on bringing hope and aid to persecuted Christians around the world, reported happily that two Christian street preachers had been found not guilty at Bristol Crown Court of inciting public disorder. I suppose such reports are somewhat familiar, but there is no doubt that, more often than not, they try our patience because so often they seem to display, quite simply, an aggressive intolerance of religion. Religious people often tend to see such episodes as evidence of not simply a creeping but actually a galloping secularism.

The meaning of 'secular'

However, we must 'hold our horses' here for a moment. It is important to be aware of the more strict meaning of the terms 'secular' and 'secularising' because they are easily misunderstood. Secularism is perhaps typically seen as hostile to religion, or hostile to the Church but it is more accurate to see secularism as hostile to religious privilege in society as opposed to religion per se.

The UK National Secular Society states: “Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.”

As well as promoting the separation of religion from the state, the National Secular Society says it seeks the protection of freedom of religious belief and practice and clearly distinguishes itself from atheism.

This does seem rather benign in that secularism is not presented as a threat to religion, only as seeking to separate religion and the state, a principle that is perhaps most celebrated in the French secular doctrine of laïcité.

However, more loosely used, the terms 'secular' and 'secularism' and 'secularising' are understandable as referring to a drift away from religious influence in society at large. Indeed, explaining 'secularisation' in The Encyclopedia of Ireland (General editor Brian Lalor. Gill & Macmillan, 2003), Michael Hornsby-Smith, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Surrey and editor of Catholics in England, 1950-2000, describes it as the supposed declining power and influence of religion in the modern world”.

But is growing secularism the cause of a decline in religious adherence and influence or is a growing secular environment simply the result of religious decline?

In the Republic of Ireland, however, the decline of religious influence in national affairs sits somewhat surprisingly against a continued relatively high level of personal religious identification.

In a nutshell, taking Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland together, the 2016 census showed that those so identifying amounted to a total 81% of the overall population, although this was a decline for the two denominations from 87% in 2011. In fact, widening the religious scope, with a large increase in the number of Muslim people, just over that same figure, 87%, of people identified in 2016 as religious.

Recent secularist development in Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland, the 5th Amendment of the Constitution, following a December 1972 referendum, removed – by a considerable 84-16% of the vote - the Constitution's special position of the Roman Catholic Church and recognition of other religious denominations, including the Church of Ireland. At that time, the Church was of course still socially very dominant in Ireland and the change in the Constitution may have been considerably influenced not so much by a secularising trend as by a desire for better relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland at a time when the Troubles were escalating. But, nonetheless, there was a secularising trend also at play.

Colin Barr and Daithí Ó Corráin, of the University of Aberdeen and Dublin City University respectively, write in a chapter in The Cambridge Social History of Modern Ireland (ed. E.F. Biagini & M.E. Daly), 'Catholic Ireland, 1740-2016': "Change and modernisation were the zeitgeist of the 1960s and they gradually dissolved the defensive walls surrounding Irish Catholicism. Over the past half-century a variety of factors combined to transform Irish society and the place of religion within it.” (p. 82) They point to the state's prioritising of economic growth, the establishment of RTE television in December 1961 - with programmes such as the Late Late Show facilitating the questioning of traditional structures of authority and, over time, reducing clerical influence - and the relaxation of the laws on censorship.

The 5th Amendment, enacted in January 1973, came towards the start of a clear trend away from Church dominance in social affairs in Ireland. But one can go back earlier. As Christine Kinealy has pointed out in her War and Peace: Ireland since the 1960s, “The liberalizing intentions of Vatican Two did not extend to birth control.” She recalls how, against a background of considerable moral and legislative influence, the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland had faced opposition to the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae by dedicated feminists who formed themselves into the Irish Women's Liberation Movement in 1970; the organization decided to challenge the legislative ban on contraception. The law was eventually changed in 1993.

The secularising trend, in the sense of society moving away from church dominance, has of course resulted most recently in the 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage. Indeed, the gradual separation of sex from marriage had led to a situation in which the traditional Christian view of sexual relations being reserved to one man and one woman in marriage was largely redundant in wider society. With marriage being widely seen as less about sex (if at all) and more about romantic love, the stage was set for a redefinition of marriage in the secular realm, as took place in the referendum.

Indeed, the General Synod's 2012 resolution, moved by Archbishop Jackson and Bishop Miller, reaffirming the traditional Church view of sex and marriage, refers to the Church of Ireland's understanding of marriage at Canon 31 as its understanding “for itself and of itself”, thus leaving the door open for the integrity of other understandings in society at large.

Secular influences in the Church

There are of course those who want marriage to be allowed between people of the same sex not only in the civil context, but also in church - as clear an example as one can possibly get of the secular influencing the religious. There are many ways in which this has happened in the past because the Church is not insulated from the world. It is therefore the Church's task, such as was recognised by Pope John XXIII when he called the Second Vatican Council, to discern the direction in which the Spirit wants to lead the Church. That is precisely the process in which the Church of Ireland, along with other Anglican Churches across the world, is engaging in the matter of the marriage to each other of people of the same sex.

Can the Church of Ireland hold within itself two opposing understandings of marriage? In a letter to the Gazette published in the 5th June 2015 issue, in the wake of the same-sex marriage referendum result, Dean Tom Gordon raised the prospect of some structural differentiation within the Church of Ireland, stating: “If the Church of Ireland in the Republic is to survive, it may be time for us to reflect on the seismic differences which now exist between the Church’s Southern and Northern constituencies. The Equal Marriage referendum demonstrates that Church pronouncements on traditional morality - however forcefully maintained - are the ultimate turn-off in a now transformed Republic. It must surely be obvious that the distinctive theological cultures in both provinces are of such divergence that each must now be allowed latitude formally to develop separate theological and pastoral identities.”

Is such a scenario possible? Over the summer, the Archbishops of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, released the report of a working group set up explore how different strands of thinking on sexuality could be kept together in the denomination – the Motion 29 Working Group. Among its recommendations is the proposal that there should be no alteration to the formularies of the Church but that decisions on blessing same-sex relationships should be devolved to diocesan level. It remains to be seen how that proposal fares.

The Way Forward - Authenticity

There is no doubt that there has been a significant decline in religious influence in Ireland and further afield and a concomitant rise in secularism in its broadest sense. What is to be done, as far as the Church is concerned?

As I draw to a conclusion, I must refer to a recent lecture given by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, on 'The Challenge for the Church in the 21st Century'. The Archbishop warned that the separation of Church and State in Ireland “is not a hostile one, but [that] it could turn into one”. He acknowledged that the sexual abuse scandals of recent years have affected the faith of many people and described them as having been “an indication of an underlying crisis of faith where the self-protective institution had become in many ways decoupled from the horror which ordinary people rightly felt”.

I suppose this prioritizing of the institution over actual people amounts to a lack of authenticity, and therefore a lack of precisely what is needed in the Church today – placing people before institution because the earthly Jesus showed himself supremely as a person for others.

We are well aware of the negative statistics of church attendance. However a particular parish or denomination responds to this situation of decline, the approach will have to be a demonstration of authenticity - and to be authentic requires consistency of words and actions, of faith and works. We are good with words, but it is by our authenticity, not our words alone, that the Church is being judged both by the world and by God.

New bells dedicated at Ypres Memorial Church

Nearly 90 years after it was built, the bell tower at St George’s Memorial Church in Ypres, Belgium, has its first ring of bells. (Photo: St George’s Memorial Church)  

Nearly 90 years after it was built, the bell tower at St George’s Memorial Church in Ypres, Belgium, has its first ring of bells. (Photo: St George’s Memorial Church)

 

A church built in the 1920s in memory of the 500,000 British and Commonwealth troops who died during the battles for Ypres during the first World War has finally been completed with the installation and dedication of a ring of eight bells. St George’s Memorial Church was built in the Belgium town of Ypres, which was all-but flattened during the war. The church’s bell tower was given by the Knott family in memory of their two sons who were killed in the war, but there was insufficient funds to buy bells. On Sunday 22 October, the Bishop in Europe, Robert Innes, dedicated the new ring of eight bells.

In the intervening years, the bell tower had been used as storage space. A fund-raising campaign to pay for new bells was launched last year as part of events to mark the centenary of the war.

The bell wheels were made by David Town of Northallerton, Yorkshire, and were delivered to the foundry of John Taylor & Co in the Leicestershire town of Loughborough. Taylor’s foundry is the largest bell foundry in the world and the last surviving bell foundry in England.

Once complete, the bells went on a journey which began in August with a civic send-off from the War Memorial Tower in Loughborough, took in the Great Dorset Steam Fair near Blandford, before being taken to the Tyne Cot Cemetery – the largest burial ground managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, with almost 12,000 burials.

They left Tyne Cot, near Passchendale, on the back of two vintage lorries: a Thornycroft and a Dennis, which were both built in 1915 and saw service in the Great War. Before arriving at the St George’s Memorial Church, they were taken to the Menin Gate – a memorial arch built in the centre of Ypres. The dead of the war are commemorated here every night with the sounding of the Last Post and a minute’s silence.

More than 200 people gathered at St George’s for the dedication of the bells, which, the church says, will “launch a new perspective to the remembrance of the sacrifice given by so many in [Ypres] during the Great War.”

The church “was packed with local people, members of veterans organisations, and bell ringers from all over the United Kingdom,” the Bishop Innes, said. “The service included some stirring traditional hymns, and a reading from the Book of Numbers 10:1-10 – ‘the silver trumpets’. I had not previously noticed that Moses’s silver trumpets had two uses, just like English church bells have had – to summon people to assembly and also to warn of impending war.”

During the service, a set of 16 hand bells that had been cast in the 1800s were rung. They have been presented to St George’s by the grandson of former owner Charles Coles. They will be storied in the new ringing chamber to be used by local and visiting ringers.

Before the new ring of eight bells were rung for the first time, Bishop Robert prayed: “In the faith of Jesus Christ, we dedicate these bells. May they proclaim Christ’s message of love and salvation to this parish; May they warn the heedless, comfort the sorrowing And call all willing hearts to prayer and praise.”

As the bells rang, the bishop continued: “May the ringing of these bells awaken in the hearts of all who hear them the desire to worship God in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” [ACNS]

Episcopalians offer help in the face of danger as wildfires rage through Northern California

Huge swaths of Santa Rosa and other Northern California towns have been obliterated by fast-moving wildfires. (Photo: California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division)

Huge swaths of Santa Rosa and other Northern California towns have been obliterated by fast-moving wildfires. (Photo: California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division)

Episcopalians in Northern California continue to monitor the growing wildfires in their neighbourhoods while finding ways to help their communities deal with the ongoing and expanding disaster.

The Revd Jim Richardson, priest-in-charge at Church of the Incarnation in hard-hit Santa Rosa, told Episcopal News Service yesterday (Thursday 12th October) that he knows of parishioners, including those with health care experience, who are volunteering at Red Cross shelters. Other Episcopalians, he said, are donating their services elsewhere and offering material help.

The Revd Daniel Green, rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Petaluma and dean of the Petaluma deanery, was working a phone bank, Richardson said, set up to connect evacuees with services.

Some evacuees had been sleeping at Incarnation since the fires broke out, but the city issued a voluntary evacuation order on Wednesday night (11th October). Richardson said the fires had gotten “way too close so we got everybody out, made sure they had places to go and left.” [ENS, by Mary Frances Schjonberg]

We Mourn This Terrible Act: a joint statement by the WCC and the NCCCUSA

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Joint WCC/NCCCUSA Statement of 2 October 2017:

The World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA grieve with the families of those who lost their lives in the mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the night of October 1, 2017.  We pray for those whose lives have been shattered by this senseless act and lift up those who will be recovering years to come.

We find ourselves again in shocked disbelief that so many people have been killed and injured by a lone gunman with an array of powerful weapons, with 58 people killed and more than 500 injured in Sunday night's attack on a crowd of concert-goers.

Just fifteen months ago, the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting was referred to as “the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history.” Today’s news of an act that brings an even higher death toll is indeed devastating.

“I have been watching the news out of Las Vegas and have been praying for the victims and their families,” remarked Jim Winkler, General Secretary and President of the National Council of Churches (USA). “I cannot imagine why anyone would carry out such an act nor why it would be legal for ordinary citizens to own such lethal weapons. May we unite as a nation to ensure such terrible acts do not take place again.”

"We are again shocked and saddened by this latest act of brutal violence. Any violence destroys human lives, but nobody is born to be violent,” stated Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. “This tragedy calls for empathy and prayers, but also more efforts to build quality of relations of justice and peace, so that we may have life and life in abundance. As churches, we have a shared responsibility to work for a culture of nonviolence in all societies.”

We do not believe the presence of more weapons will prevent future tragedies like this one in Las Vegas and others in Newtown, Orlando, and countless other places, from taking place. We call upon the U.S. Congress to enact common-sense legislation banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines. We recommit ourselves to working for a society in which acts of violence like these are unheard of, and that people can live, work, and enjoy restorative time without fear. [WCC News]

Growing church leads to double-ordination in UAE

Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, the UAE Minister of State for Tolerance, cuts a cake with the Revd Hin Lai Ching, watched over by Bishop Michael Lewis and the Revd Charlotte Lloyd-Evans, and other clergy. (Photo: Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf)  

Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, the UAE Minister of State for Tolerance, cuts a cake with the Revd Hin Lai Ching, watched over by Bishop Michael Lewis and the Revd Charlotte Lloyd-Evans, and other clergy. (Photo: Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf)

 

A double-ordination has taken place in the United Arab Emirates to serve the growing church in the country. The UAE Minister of State for Tolerance, Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, attended the service as a special guest, as did the British Consul General to Dubai, Paul Fox.

The multi-national congregation gathered at Christ Church in Jebel Ali, to the south of Dubai, witnessed the ordination of Charlotte Lloyd-Evans (Charlie) as deacon; and Hin Lai Ching (Harry) as priest. They included a number of clergy, family and friends from Harry’s native Hong Kong.

The two are serving in new curacies in Dubai that have been created to serve the growing church. Harry will continue to serve the chaplaincy of Dubai, Sharjah, and the Northern Emirates from his base at Jebel Ali; while Charlotte will serve as assistant curate of Abu Dhabi Chaplaincy from a base at Al Ain, an inland oasis on the border with Oman.

The foundation stone for Christ Church in Jebel Ali was laid in 2000, and the church was consecrated two years later. It has grown from a weekly attendance of around 40 at its Friday services to a congregation in the 200s today.

“We are open to new ideas and want to witness to the saving grace of God which we have found through Jesus Christ,” the church says on its website. “We want to be part of the fabric of what makes Dubai good, drawing people closer to God and helping them to live well, alive to the Spirit of God.” Its building is used by more than 40 different congregations worshipping in 16 languages.

St Thomas’ Church in Al Ain is a new young congregation operating from a “temporary permanent” base near the town centre. “The congregation is a diverse group of people from different nationalities and backgrounds, and our desire is to build a loving, caring, sharing community with Jesus Christ at the centre of all we do,” the church says on its website. “Our motto is: Helping people to experience the joy of knowing Jesus Christ.”

After what Bishop Michael Lewis, the Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf described as a “moving and profound service”, Sheikha Lubna shared a cake cutting ceremony with the Bishop and the newly ordained clergy.

Bishop Michael later told ACNS that the presence of Sheikha Lubna at the service “gives substance to, and is further evidence of, the warm relationship and mutual respect that exists between the authorities in the UAE and the Anglican church.” [ACNS]

Archbishop Justin Welby joins new UN advisory board on mediation

Archbishop Justin Welby (Photo: Lambeth Palace)

Archbishop Justin Welby (Photo: Lambeth Palace)

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined 17 other global leaders and experts on a new United Nations High Level Advisory Board on Mediation.

The board was established by António Guterres, nine months into his tenure as UN secretary-general. It is part of a “surge in diplomacy for peace” that Guterres has called for.

The new board “brings together an unparalleled range of experience, skills, knowledge and contacts,” the UN said, and “will provide the secretary-general with advice on mediation initiatives and back specific mediation efforts around the world.”

Guterres wants to strengthen the UN’s work in conflict prevention and mediation and the new board is expected to allow the UN “to work more effectively with regional organisations, non-governmental groups and others involved in mediation around the world,” the UN said.

Archbishop Justin Welby said that he was “honoured” to join the new board and was “praying for its contribution to global peace and reconciliation”.

  • Other members of the High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation are Chilean President Michelle Bachelet; Sri Lankan lawyer Radhika Coomaraswamy; the 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee, from Liberia; former French diplomat Jean-Marie Guéhenno; former President of Finland Tarja Halonen; New Zealander David Harland, executive director of the Swiss-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue; Noeleen Heyzer, a trustees of the National University of Singapore; the former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, Nasser Judeh; former Algerian foreign affairs minister Ramtane Lamamra; Mozambique’s first education minister, Graça Machel; Asha-Rose Migiro, the High Commissioner of Tanzania to the United Kingdom; former Indonesia foreign minister Raden Mohammad Marty Muliana Natalegawa; former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo; former Kyrgyzstan President Roza Otunbayeva; former Haitian Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis; former Timor-Leste Prime Minister José Manuel Ramos-Horta; and the former Guatemala foreign minister Gert Rosenthal. [ACNS]

Sermon in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Sunday 17th September 2017, at a service of Commemoration of the Battle of Britain, 1940 - Canon Ian Ellis

St Patrick's.jpg

Wisdom of Solomon 3: 1: “The souls of the faithful are in the hand of God; and there shall no torment touch them.”

The Battle of Britain was a crucial event in the Second World War, stopping a potential Nazi invasion of Britain. It is of heroic proportions, as Sir Winston Churchill's famous words confirm, that never in the filed of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. Those words were preceded by Churchill's tribute to those involved: “The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion.”

At this service in the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, we commemorate the Battle of Britain in 1940. As anyone who has ever fought in a war will no doubt attest, it is best avoided. A retired colonel, a good friend who has since departed this life, once spoke to me of his action during World War II and particularly at the Battle of Cassino during the Italian Campaign; he told very solemnly that a soldier returns from war in one of three ways: dead, physically wounded or psychologically scarred. Fighting in the air also must have its traumas and, sadly, many losses and injuries. Cassino itself was a series of Allied assaults in a successful but very costly attempt to break through to Rome. By contrast, the town's geographic location, at the foot of the hill of the 6th century abbey of Monte Cassino, is very beautiful.

We live in a beautiful world – indeed a world of spectacular beauty. But it is scarred by many things, not least of which is war. And the beauty of the world is also scarred by natural disasters, disease, poverty and sin.

Why does it have to be so? Why do there have to be battles? Why do there have to be tsunamis and violent hurricanes such as we have seen only recently on our television screens? Why do there have to be earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that take lives with such brutal force? Why does there have to be illness, the suffering of so many in hospitals and in their own homes, everywhere? Why does there have to be homelessness? Why do so many people have to live without enough money to survive properly in a world of so much plenty? Why does there have to be sin, the ignoring of God's laws and of the light that he has given to enlighten every person? Why does our world have to be like this?

For sure, theologians have offered many answers. There is the doctrine of the Fall, although it is far from straightforward. And perhaps part of the reason why things are as they are is that if we do not know darkness we will not fully appreciate light, if we do not know sorrow we will not fully appreciate joy, if we do not know need we will never fully appreciate what compassion is. But of course there is no simple, neat solution to the question posed. There is a mystery in life that we cannot ever fathom, but we do well to remember that as well as all the ugliness there is also so much beauty, as well as so much hatred there is also so much love. And the Church proclaims the great good news that Christ, the Son of God who came to dwell among us and share all our joys and sorrows, himself suffered unspeakably and yet, in a deeply sacred way, through his glorious resurrection, we learn that goodness is stronger than evil, that holiness is stronger, so much stronger, than ungodliness.

A commemoration of a battle in a service such as this is not a time for the historical analysis of events, or for any kind of political or national point scoring, but it is a time for us to stop and reflect on these deeper things of life.

War is with us; as soon as one ends, it seems, another either starts or is in the making. Theologians also have debated the conditions for entering into battle in a morally justified way: the just war theory is a historic approach to the question but as warfare becomes more and more sophisticated and potential human loss rises in scale, even that theory is seen to have its weaknesses.

Today we are facing a very critical situation with North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. While mutual assured destruction is claimed by many paradoxically to have preserved peace between the superpowers since World War II, we really do need to move to a better place, a world in which there is no need for mutual assured destruction but rather a world in which there is mutual assured friendship. A pipedream, a cynic might say. But no, such universal friendship is a Christian vision well worth striving for.

As we commemorate the Battle of Britain, we remember those who fought. We remember those who suffered psychologically, those who where physically wounded, and those who died in the service of their country and in the defence of freedom and civilisation. As the Wisdom of Solomon so comfortingly reminds us: “The souls of the faithful are in the hand of God; and there shall no torment touch them.”

Reaching the traumatised after hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma.jpg

Christian agencies are working desperately to help communities across the Caribbean and South-eastern United States devastated by Hurricane Irma. More than 40 have died and tens of thousands have been left without homes by the storm.

 Episcopal Relief & Development, the Anglican Alliance and USPG are among those getting involved. ERD and USPG have launched appeals.

Communications have been badly disrupted but Anglican Alliance co-director, Rachel Carnegie, said harrowing stories were beginning to emerge.

“Describing the storm as a Category 5 just does not represent the true horror,” she said. “This is a whole new reality. The Alliance and ERD are starting to establish contacts with dioceses across the region and we are hearing dreadful accounts of what has happened.

“The challenge now is to get food and water to people. Our concern is also to care for the carers – everyone is traumatised.”

The Alliance’s facilitator in the region, Clifton Nedd, said Elenor Lawrence, the Provincial Secretary of the Church of the West Indies (CPWI), had been in touch with the Diocese of the North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba, which includes some of the islands most devastated by the hurricane. She said there has been tremendous damage and destruction of Church buildings.

Mrs Lawrence said: “The Bishop was able to inform ... through someone else's cellphone that all the church buildings in Anguilla are flat with the exception of St. Mary but that will also require extensive repairs.” She noted that there was only minimal loss of life and committed the province to “continue to pray for them."

Clifton added: "We thank God for the several entities, including churches, who are responding to the immediate needs."

“We must remember that the clergy were also affected and face personal losses yet they are on the front-line of the response to the crisis; helping to heal their communities,” he continued. “As we respond I hope that we can lift up these and all other carers - specifically considering their needs.”

Earlier the Mothers’ Union issued this statement. “We the Provincial Council of Mothers’ Union in the Province of the West Indies, representing the Dioceses of Barbados, Belize, Guyana & Suriname, Jamaica & The Cayman Islands, North Eastern Caribbean & Aruba, Trinidad & Tobago and the Windward Islands, wish to send this message of prayer and solidarity to those in our province and beyond affected by the devastation of Hurricane Irma.

We have heard with great sorrow news of how the islands of the north eastern Caribbean have been devastated like never before. We mourn with all those who have lost loved ones, especially with one of our own delegates who has lost a family member in the British Virgin Islands.

Mothers’ Union and Church teams on the ground in the Diocese of North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba (NECA) are assessing and monitoring the situation as it develops and will be identifying how they can respond. Grants are being considered from the Mothers’ Union Disaster Fund in the Province of the West Indies and the worldwide Mothers’ Union Relief Fund once plans have been made.

We continue to ask for prayers from Mothers’ Union members and the Church around the world for all those who have been affected by this tragedy and for all those who are acting to respond in the relief effort. [ACNS]

Television vicar to star in BBC series on the Camino

A pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago, where the Iglesia Española Reformada Episcopal is hoping to build an Anglican Centre. The pilgrimage route is to feature in a new three-part BBC television series. (Photo: xtberlin/Pixabay)

A pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago, where the Iglesia Española Reformada Episcopal is hoping to build an Anglican Centre. The pilgrimage route is to feature in a new three-part BBC television series. (Photo: xtberlin/Pixabay)

A new three-part BBC television series exploring pilgrimage will follow seven famous people as they embark on a 15-day pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The Revd Kate Bottley, vicar of Blyth and Scrooby with Ranskill, and Chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College in the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham, is one of those taking part. Bottley became famous in the UK after staring in the Channel Four programme Gogglebox, which looks at how people watch television. She now has a number of media roles, including presenting the popular Songs of Praise television programme and BBC Radio Two’s national Sunday morning early breakfast programme, the Sunday Hour.

Other participants include actor Neil Morrissey, magician Debbie McGee, M People lead singer Heather Small, comedian Ed Byrne, investigative journalist Raphael Rowe and Invictus Games medallist JJ Chalmers. Some are known for the strong faith beliefs while others are atheists.

“Human beings have been making religious pilgrimages for thousands of years and the 21st century has seen a marked rise in people making these moral and spiritual journeys,” the BBC said in a statement announcing the new commission. They said that the seven participants would be “stripped of the trappings and comforts of fame and celebrity to become modern day pilgrims for 15 days, travelling the famous medieval pilgrimage. . .

“Living as simple pilgrims, including staying in traditional hostels and carrying everything they need on their backs, [the participants] embark on their own spiritual journey of a lifetime and explore the spiritual meaning of pilgrimage.”

They continue: “Walking alongside thousands of other pilgrims they visit historic and religious landmarks, meet incredible people and encounter extraordinary events. But it’s anything but a walk in the park. The physical challenge proves too much for some, theology debates divide opinion but an unexpected confrontation brings the group together.”

The programme will explore how the experience impacts on their own faith, and ask whether medieval pilgrimage has any modern spiritual relevance. “As they learn about more about themselves and each other, they gradually reveal and understand their own beliefs more and discover a greater insight into the meaning of faith,” the statement said.

The BBC’s commissioning editor for religion, Fatima Salaria, said: “My ambition for The Pilgrimage is to show how a group of well-known faces, taken out of their comfort zone, discover what their faith means to them as they walk in the footsteps of ancient pilgrims.”

Tom McDonald, head of commissioning for the BBC’s specialist factual programmes said that religion was “at the heart” of his department’s offer. “We’re committed to growing our reputation for bold and contemporary ideas which bring religion content to the broadest possible audience,” he said. The series, and other new religious programmes announced by the BBC today, “in different ways, explores how the challenges of modern life and questions of faith intersect with surprising, moving and often uplifting results.”

The Iglesia Española Reformada Episcopal (the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain), is seeking to construct an Anglican Centre at Santiago at the end of the Camino – the burial place of St James and considered by many to be the third holiest Christian pilgrimage site after Jerusalem and Rome - and recently declared its cathedral in Madrid to be a welcome centre for pilgrims on the route. [ACNS]

 

Charlottesville clergy hold anti-racism prayer meeting

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists clash with anti-fascist protestors at Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday 12th August.  

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists clash with anti-fascist protestors at Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday 12th August.

 

Clergy from the US-based Episcopal Church joined other Christians leaders in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend in a show of solidarity with members of minority communities. Priests from across the Diocese of Virginia took part in the rally which was held to counter what became a deadly protest by white-supremacists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other extreme right-wing groups.

The right-wing protest was sparked by a decision to remove a statue of Civil War Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee and change the name of the city’s Lee Park into Emancipation Park. The decision to remove the statue is currently being challenged in court. There is growing pressure to erase Lee from public view, or celebration, because of the way that far-right groups across America have turned him into a rallying symbol and icon for racism.

Last Saturday’s 'Unite The Right' march was met with a counter-demonstration, leading to violent clashes in which around 15 people were hurt. A further 19 people taking part in the counter-demonstration were injured and one - 32-year-old legal assistant Heather Heyer – was killed when a car was deliberately driven at them. The alleged driver, 20-year old James Fields of Ohio, is due to appear in court today charged with murder, malicious wounding, and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.

In a separate incident, two police officers were killed when their helicopter, which they were using to monitor the protests, crashed.

Writing in advance of Saturday to invite clergy to take part in a counter-protest against the racist groups, the bishops of the Diocese of Virginia said that “together we will stand in non-confrontational and prayerful opposition to the rally… Our purpose will be to bear visible witness to the entirety of the beloved community in which people of all races are equal”.

Clergy were asked to join a prayer gathering organised by the Charlottesville Clergy Collective. The invitation was extended only to clergy, rather than lay members of the churches “for the purposes of crowd reduction and public safety.”

The clergy took park in a 7.30 am march from Jefferson School’s African-American Heritage Centre, through Emancipation Park, and on to the First United Methodist Church where they remained for a prayer rally while the main protests took place.

Clergy taking part in the march were asked to wear clerical clothes “to make the most visible witness”.

The bishops of the Diocese of Virginia - Shannon Johnston, Susan Goff and Edwin Gulick - concluded their letter saying: “Your voice is needed! As people who have been reconciled to God through Christ, we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). In our judgment, therefore, the Church cannot remain silent in the face of those who seek to foment division.”

The Bishop of Washington, Mariann Budde, responded to the weekend’s violence in a blog post. “Once again our nation’s demon of racism has reared its head, spewing hatred and inciting violence,” she said. “What we saw in Charlottesville was unmasked and ugly, culminating in a deadly act of domestic terrorism. But something else was also present in Charlottesville: the power of collective resolve and mobilised love.”

The bishop praised the work of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, saying: “Their witness was needed on Saturday, and they were ready. As white supremacists shouted words of hatred and violence, people of faith stood resolute in prayer and song. And the Episcopal Church was strong among their number.”

She added: “The Spirit of God is at work in our world and will prevail. The evil of racism is real, but it is not stronger than God’s love embodied in the lives of those committed to justice.” [ACNS]

Anglican Communion Secretary General reflects on second year in office

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, addresses members of the ACC in Lusaka

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, addresses members of the ACC in Lusaka

… I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
[Ephesians 3]

St. Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Ephesus is also my prayer for the family of the Anglican Communion as I mark my second anniversary of becoming Secretary General. Paul was confined to prison as he wrote. By God’s grace we have the freedom to travel with relative ease to almost every country in the world.

Our global family

One of my responsibilities is to ‘further the distinctive contribution of Anglican Churches around the world in witnessing to the reconciling love of God in Christ’. To that end, it is a particular joy for me to travel to many parts of the Communion. Indeed my role is becoming more ambassadorial.

Since taking office, I have accepted invitations to participate in synods, services, consecrations and meetings in 25 countries from Barbados to Zambia. I am encouraged by the vigour and variety of Anglicanism everywhere and am grateful for the hospitality shown to me. I have seen first-hand how churches act synodically. This process is fascinating and exciting and something from which other churches can learn. One highlight I have observed in parts of Africa and SE Asia has been seeing Primates eschewing doctrinal disputes in order to concentrate on the need to relieve poverty, and to challenge bad governance, corruption, ignorance and Islamic extremism. It is my ambition to visit all of our 39 provinces, to listen and learn from each and to share what I have found elsewhere.

Much of my time is spent at the Anglican Communion Office in west London, where my responsibilities include leading the Secretariat. To assist me, David White was appointed as Chief Operating Officer earlier this year. I also have a strong team of directors and staff, including the London-based members of the Anglican Alliance.

Change is a fact of life for any organisation. During this past year we have seen the departures of Canon Phil Groves and Canon Flora Winfield from the roles with the Indaba Project and at the United Nations respectively. Both served with great distinction and are missed. Our Director for Finance and Administration, Tim Trimble, will be moving to a new post soon, and my personal assistant, Christine Codner, has retired after 34 years service. We are grateful to God for our fellowship in the Gospel with all of them and pray his blessing on their future.

Communion growth

As I write this, I am preparing for one of the highlights of my time in office. I will shortly travel to Khartoum for a service to mark the inauguration of a new province: Sudan. It is a nation where Christians are in a minority. I have met federal ministers in Sudan who belong to the Muslim majority and who recognise Christians as believers with whom they are willing to work. When Anglicans change their approach to Islam, this leads to healthy inter-religious dialogue. I am optimistic about the possibilities ahead.

Chile presents an opportunity for the formation of another new province, as a result of evangelism, church planting and growth. I look forward to visiting three proposed dioceses there later this year.

Our prime calling is to proclaim Jesus and his world-wide mission and I have seen several examples of new outreach. In the US, for instance, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry took part in a conference in Dallas to promote new ways of evangelising; churches are being planted in new neighbourhoods there even before people move in. In South-East Asia churches are being planted to respond to the needs of the people. And in Kenya, the Primate has made it clear that he is not interested in a divided church, but will concentrate on development in rural and urban areas and on reaching out to Muslim neighbours

Looking ahead

Tensions within families - and that includes families of churches – are part of the human condition and were certainly experienced in the New Testament churches. While they were, and are, to be regretted, we are people of resurrection hope and must not be ground down by them. When divergent views are held with equal conviction, we are especially called to love one another. Such unity will be our witness “that the world may believe”

As bishop and archbishop in Nigeria I was called to be a bridge-builder between Christians and Muslims and was used to promote understanding and respect between previously warring factions. It was that experience which prompted me to apply for the post of Secretary General in the Anglican Communion, where there is an acknowledged need to build a culture of respect and mutual understanding.

The personal ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury is an exemplar of patience and humility. It has been used by God to bring about reconciliation between provinces which were at odds with the rest of the Communion. I believe the Archbishop demonstrates what it means to be gracious. I value deeply the regular conversations I have had with him ever since I was appointed.

The next phase of my work as Secretary General will be to promote understanding across the Communion of the different cultures in which member churches are rooted. We should not expect other parts of the Communion to be exactly like us when their culture and history are different from ours. I want the Communion to develop a better understanding of itself. Sometime deeply-held convictions about churchmanship and authority (including that of bishops and archbishops) are more influenced by local culture than Christ.

It may be painful for some to abandon the claim that they alone are the church, with the implication that others are not. But we cannot afford to say “I have no need of you” for that would deny the opportunity to give and receive the blessings which we owe one another.

Within the Anglican family, from whatever part of the Communion we come, we become members of the Church by accepting Jesus as our personal Saviour and by being baptised. Thereafter, even though we sin, we remain church members. So we cannot ‘unchurch’ one another on the grounds that we disapprove of their behaviour. In the final analysis, it is God who distinguishes between the faithful and unfaithful. It is for us to love one another and leave judgment to the Almighty.

There is no room in the Anglican tradition for dictatorship: decisions must be made in recognised, constitutional ways. The bishop is a servant, teacher, guide and protector of the people. The theologian Richard Hooker identified three sources of authority: Scripture, Tradition and Reason, with Scripture having the what we might think of as the casting vote. This analysis could be the means of shifting the logjam when Christians seem to have taken up intractable positions in opposition to one another.

My strong recommendation is that from the Anglican Communion Office we facilitate a series of intra- and inter-provincial visits, so that Anglicans meet and learn from one another, engage and support one another in mission, and attend each other’s synods as observers. Visitors could be invited to address brothers and sisters of the other province. Mutual understanding should result, especially as we see how authority is exercised.

The Primates’ Meeting and Lambeth Conference

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called a meeting of Primates for October 2017 and a Lambeth Conference in 2020. The ACO will provide the administrative support required.

A Primates’ Task Group, formed at the behest of the Primates to help the Communion walk together despite differences, has already improved our openness to one another, especially when considering authority. The bishops, clergy and lay members of the Group have come to recognise that the Anglican Communion is very diverse in terms of culture, ecclesiology and polity. They will return to their provinces as ambassadors with a broad vision of that diversity.

The 2020 Lambeth (Conference) Design Group has members from every region of the Communion. My hope is that they will correct any misinformation about the process, by demolishing the myth that the agenda is set by ‘the West’ and then foisted on the rest! There may also be regional meetings between primates with the Archbishop of Canterbury, to feed ideas into the Design Group. I am anticipating a wonderful and meaningful Lambeth Conference in three years’ time.

It will be our first Lambeth Conference for 12 years. It will be an historic occasion. The bishops there represent their local churches, bringing with them their good news as well as difficult issues. Throughout it, they are upheld by prayers from around the world. They meet to discern what the Lord is saying to his people, through the study of the Word and in waiting and sharing together. The conference carries a lofty moral authority. It is not legally binding on the provinces because they are autonomous. But when it speaks in a formal resolution, the whole Christian world, not just the Anglican Communion, should listen. In a Lambeth Conference resolution, the Anglican part of the universal Church has spoken.

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC)

Our next ACC is due in 2019. The ACC has a different composition with laity, clergy and bishops all represented. The other Instruments of Communion are also represented. It also has a constitution. The ACC has enormous authority and, like the Lambeth Conference, its resolutions can carry moral weight. There should be scope for these to be discussed at diocesan level, rather than subject to provincial filtering. That way bishops, priests and laity can see that ACC resolutions can lead to action at grass roots level. I would like to start a fresh reflection about the moral weight of ACC-16 resolutions and those which will emanate from the Lambeth Conference.

Development

My vision is to reshape our Communion. We have to change in terms of representation, partnership and mission. I foresee a Communion where:

  •     we will grow spiritually as well as numerically;
  •     there will be a growing recognition of our cultural differences;
  •     diversity will be respected;
  •     we will be proud to be Anglican

It is my privilege to serve the Communion in the role of Secretary General and I am excited to see what God will do during my third year in the post.

“… I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” [ACNS]