Category Archives: The Church of England

No enthronement for the Bishop

I don’t want the new Bishop enthroned.  For all kinds of reasons.  Firstly, this: “You know those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’  (Mark 10: 42-244)

I know Bishops see themselves as servants, and the term ‘enthronement’ is historical.  But it is an archeological relic of the days when church and state were politically interbred, and since the Bishop is no longer considered a prince, and he has (wisely in my view) decided not to live in the Palace, how can he be enthroned?

You might think it’s a fuss about nothing, but words are linguistic symbols.  The word represents something, the sign signifies a specific object, person or idea.  Enthroning someone must entail putting someone royal on a throne, and by inference, giving them the right to rule over their subjects.  This is not what bishopping is all about.  And so using the term ‘enthronement’ creates a gap between the word and what it signifies.  And if we’re telling the truth about who we are as church, we can’t have a gap between a word we use and the reality it is supposed to represent.

Could he be installed, then?  Well, no.  Not for my money.  These days we install software, fridge freezers and new bathrooms.  And unless the new Bishop is going eliminate our computer viruses, store our meat at a safe temperature, or give us a warm shower in the mornings, this isn’t appropriate language either.  I know the word ‘install’ refers to the fact that the Bishop has a ‘stall’ in the cathedral (quite a large one, rather like a throne), but that doesn’t help.  The primary and secondary meanings for ‘stall’ these days are both to do with housing cattle.  And although we are a rural Diocese, I doubt if we want to be telling the wider world that we keep our Bishop in a barn, charmingly Christmassy though that may be.

I also think being installed sounds very static:  ‘Our Bishop is going to sit here for a few years… ‘

So we’re left with ‘licensed’.   And you know what I’m going to say…   People are licensed to own dogs, to enjoy public broadcasting, and sell alcohol on their premises.  007 was licensed to kill….  Heaven forfend our Bishop should be licensed. Or the cathedral would be populated with beer-drinking canines watching ‘Beethoven’ on satellite.  With the possibility of the occasional unexplained shooting.

As I say, it’s not just about relevance.  It’s also about creating meaning.  The words we use must be skilfully chosen symbols for what they signify.  Or we lose meaning, and when we lose meaning, we lose listeners.

I’m going for ‘welcomed and sworn in’.  I want the Bishop to know he is welcome, and to receive the gift of our hospitality.  I want to know, too, he has taken solemn vows before God and God’s people to serve us faithfully, as God inspires him and gives him grace.


Riff on Galatians 3:28

Led to reflect on what had made the Diocesan Gathering so generative of rich kingdom-flavoured outcomes I realised how significant the underlying structures had been.  The whole gathering was shaped by a large team drawn from different parts of the Diocese in terms of theology, geography, and position in the hierarchy.  There were equal numbers of men and women, and throughout the conference they shared out the upfront as well as the servant roles.  The Bishop gave only a short opening welcome and preached and presided at the final Eucharist, modelling a  permission-giving and enabling leadership.

No one apart from the Bishop and one female member of the planning team wore anything (yes, this sentence does continue) that signified their status or churchpersonship.  We were all in mufti all the time, and I can’t describe how liberating that was.  We met each other as human persons, rather than meeting each other as signposts of particular theological positions.  It struck me how much our ceremonial clothes in the Church of England act like placards proclaiming our educational background, our interpretation of the ecclesiastical past, our current ranking in the Anglican Premier League, and the church tribe we align ourselves with.  Our vestments act as barriers to true encounter – they are all statement and defence and proclamation of power.

I can’t see how a congregation, church or Diocese constructed from such exquisitely shaded gradations of status and role, belief and belonging, will ever connect with a society discipled on the open-source, democratic, egalitarian principles of our time.  It is impossible to explain to those outside the Anglican Communion why it’s a social solecism for a clergywoman to wear cerise.  Or why pastors parade around in an academiBaKGAzWIEAA1Mkac hood.  Or why obligatory stoles can be replaced by a preaching scarf.

Could we simply go without the sophisticated, somewhat barbed language of vestments, and just talk to one another?!

I met a number of new colleagues at the Gathering and got to know them as people.  I don’t know what kind of churches they come from or how important they are or how much studying they’ve done.  I got to know them as fellow travellers, as colleagues, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  I enjoyed the freedom of ‘seeing’ them without having to put on institutional spectacles.

So here’s my attempt at a riff on Galatians 3:28 as it applied to the Bath and Wells Diocesan Gathering:

‘For here there is neither ordained nor lay, curate or archdeacon, conservative or liberal, graduate or non-graduate, charismatic or contemplative, low church or high church.  Instead, Christ is all, and is in all.’ 

In this regard the Gathering modelled a way of being together than offers hope for the future.  I’m grateful to all who made it possible and showed us ‘a more excellent way’.


Deluxe service

I’m not long back from the Bath and Wells Diocesan Gathering.

Three days of encounter, laughter, applied spiritual wisdom from varied speakers and sources, creativity in word, art, music, dance and (dare I say) theatre…  Worship, prayer, story-telling, carousing, and reflection.  It was great.

By the time of the farewell service of Holy Communion, the unseen bonds woven by a journey made in a spirit of openness and generosity were in place.  Consequently the symbolism of the whole bread divided between the many and the one cup shared had a power that was unusual in my experience.

As servants shortly returning to our posts, we were afforded – like long-neglected machinery – a deluxe level of service: nourished with bread and wine, sprinkled with cleansing water (lashed about by a determined bishop), oiled for our continuing ministry by our peers on forehead and hands (optional), warmed with the flame of a candle lit from a neighbour’s.  The sharing of the peace was characterised by a quiet tenderness; at other times a joyous spontaneity broke out in dancing and clapping to the spell of the songs.

Anglican worship at its very best.  Reconditioned, reunited, recalibrated, we set off for home.