Recent Blogs

The Leicester Challenge to the Parish System? Stephen Parsons

The Leicester Challenge to the Parish System? Stephen Parsons

Those of us who were ordained some years ago will sometimes express puzzlement at the terminology used to describe the work of the parish church today.

Those of us who were ordained some years ago will sometimes express puzzlement at the terminology used to describe the work of the parish church today. We may have a special problem with the word ‘mission’ as it is sprinkled throughout many church documents. I expressed bafflement at the use of the word by the diocese of Winchester. The diocesan slogan, ‘Living the Mission of Jesus’ has no obvious meaning, even though we could hazard a guess at what the author had in mind. I wonder what the next Bishop of Winchester will do with this catchphrase and whether it will be quietly shelved along with other initiatives designed to make the diocese more mission aware. For clergy of my vintage, mission in a parish was what we were trying to do all the time. The work of prayer and worship, good pastoral care, learning and spiritual growth gave to each congregation a spiritual dynamic which, we hoped, would overflow into the wider community. People did not necessarily come to the church, but the faithful living out of the reality of God by those who did, could act like yeast working on the dough. There was mission and growth, though such growth was seldom spectacular. The Church, in short, was an institution which, in many places, dovetailed into the wider society. This was in spite of the fact that only a small minority supported it by their presence and their financial giving. As William Temple put it, the Church is the only organisation set up for the benefit of those who are not its members.

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Bleeding for Jesus by Andrew Graystone. First Reactions: Stephen Parsons

Bleeding for Jesus by Andrew Graystone. First Reactions: Stephen Parsons

The book, Bleeding for Jesus, John Smyth and the cult of Iwerne camps (BFJ), which I received on Friday, has nothing resembling a good or tidy conclusion.

The book, Bleeding for Jesus, John Smyth and the cult of Iwerne camps (BFJ), which I received on Friday, has nothing resembling a good or tidy conclusion. There are indeed some good people scattered here and there in the narrative and these help to mitigate what is an appalling tale of cruelty, moral failure and indifference which fill the pages. The book by Andrew Graystone is one that shocks and depresses one at the same time. The only hero in the story is perhaps the author himself. Some in the story deserve our respect as innocent victims but only a small few deserve any admiration for their actions and Christian behaviour. Graystone’s narrative, in its clear simplicity, helps us to make sense of what is, much of the time, a total horror story. BFJ represents an extraordinary piece of research. The detail in it is mind blowing and, as far as one can tell, completely accurate. If there are errors, as some have already claimed, they do not detract from the main thrust of the book and its meticulous attention to detail. Graystone has evidently spoken to hundreds of people and mastered thousands of pages of documents. The work he has done is part of a wider but necessary movement to bring light into murky areas of Church safeguarding failures from the past.

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Save the Parish - a view from Peter Bellenes

Save the Parish - a view from Peter Bellenes

I think the time has arrived when the Church of England is at a crossroads

On country mornings sharp and clear

The penitent in faith draw near

And kneeling here below

Partake the heavenly banquet spread

Of sacramental Wine and Bread

And Jesus' presence know.

And must that plaintive bell in vain

Plead loud along the dripping lane?

And must the building fall?

Not while we love the church and live

And of our charity will give

Our much, our more, our all.

John Betjeman

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6 principles for a green and just recovery

6 principles for a green and just recovery

We need to come together to ensure that climate justice is central to the post-Covid future of our economy, says Olivia Hanks.

We need to come together to ensure that climate justice is central to the post-Covid future of our economy, says Olivia Hanks.

MPs and Peers returned to Parliament last week with a busy autumn ahead of them. Key milestones will include the Budget, expected in October or November amid a major recession, and the end of the transition period, probably with no agreement in place.

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The love affair with the parish — has it ended?

The love affair with the parish — has it ended?

In the second part of her study, Madeleine Davies looks at the forces for its retention and abandonment

In May 2021, the bishops of the diocese of Blackburn issued a letter setting out the way ahead. “We will never ‘manage’ or ‘decline’ our way out of a crisis,” they wrote. “Only faith can do that. As a diocese we remain committed to parish life, to maintaining our current numbers of stipendiary clergy, to forming excellent priests and lay leaders and to investing in the front line. We need more vocations to the priesthood and more lay leaders. And we need you!”

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‘Focal’. ‘Oversight’. The C of E of the future

‘Focal’. ‘Oversight’. The C of E of the future

In the Church Times on the 10th September Madeleine Davies began a two-part examination of the Church’s future.

IN 2019, Anglican worshippers in the diocese of Sheffield were informed of the existence of a “four-headed beast”. They were not alone in facing this creature, they were told: it existed in every other diocese, especially in the north and more urban areas.

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Participatory Morality: Richard Rohr

Participatory Morality: Richard Rohr

the vast majority of Christians made Christianity into a set of morals and rituals instead of an all-embracing mysticism of the present moment. Moralism—as opposed to healthy morality—is the reliance on largely arbitrary purity codes,

Jesus’ message of “full and final participation” was periodically enjoyed and taught by many unknown saints and mystics. It must be admitted, though, that the vast majority of Christians made Christianity into a set of morals and rituals instead of an all-embracing mysticism of the present moment. Moralism—as opposed to healthy morality—is the reliance on largely arbitrary purity codes, needed rituals, and dutiful “requirements” that are framed as prerequisites for enlightenment. Every group and individual usually begins this way. I guess it is understandable. People look for something visible, seemingly demanding, and socially affirming to do or not dorather than undergo a radical transformation to the mind and heart of God. It is no wonder that Jesus so strongly warns against public prayer, public acts of generosity, and visible fasting in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1–18). Yet that is what we still do!

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Tiny dioceses and bishopped subdeans / Diocèses minuscules et évêques-doyens. Georges francophone, pastoralia, theologia 2021-02-22

Tiny dioceses and bishopped subdeans / Diocèses minuscules et évêques-doyens. Georges francophone, pastoralia, theologia 2021-02-22

A couple of years ago, as I was studying in order to obtain my master’s degree in ecumenism, I was writing one of my essays about the steps the different Churches should take in order to achieve a worldwide full-communion agreement. One of my six key points was the episcopate. I was squeezing my brain to find a solution that would be acceptable to both episcopal and non-episcopal denominations. The solution I proposed seemed to work in the ecumenical context, and I dare put it again on the table, in the context of the financial crisis that the Churches are going through.

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My Truth

My Truth

Sunday, I attend a service at my local Anglican cathedral. The light, the music, the echoes, the history, the footsteps from so many generations – this all fills me with awe and wonder. The presence of the holy, the eternal breath, the heartbeat of the universe fills the magnificent space.

But the words, they make me tremble. I remain silent during much of the responsive reading, especially during ‘The Creed’. I wonder if those gathered think about the words and claim them as their ‘truth.’ I do not, yet my faith is strong and palpable here and now.

What do I believe? As I hear the cathedral congregation utter the Nicene Creed, I consider what I agree with and what I don’t agree with, what I believe and what I don’t believe.

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The Great Leap Forward (Part Two)

The Great Leap Forward (Part Two)

The Church of England’s Growth Fetish

The premise of the Church Growth Movement was simple: any enlargement is unquestionably good. Correspondingly, all available resources and thinking are placed at the disposal of such reification, in the wider cause of mission and ministry. Any conversation about proportionality (or obesity) cannot compute. Size matters; biggest is best; increase is indisputably the purpose of the church.

The missiology and ecclesiology of the Church Growth Movement are typically shaped by a cocktail of rational-pragmatic thinking. In the McDonaldisation of the church, this is the “go large” constituency. Thus, any kind of science, engineering, management consultancy, marketing, selling, marketing, group dynamics, communications – to name but a few – have an inordinate influence over the theological and spiritual character of the evangelistic programmes and any resources for multiplication. C. Peter Wagner expressed the growth-size worldview-horizon so typical of the time with remarkable clarity:

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The Great Leap Forward (Part One)

The Great Leap Forward (Part One)

The New Politics of Ecclesionomics for the Church of England

Your Church Can Grow! Nine outstanding alumni pastors join Dr Robert Schuller for a power-packed Institute for Successful Church Leadership… You will learn…how they made their churches grow, what makes success, how obstacles are overcome, ministry principles that work, and how to build a great church… (Advertisement for Church Growth Conference: Christianity Today Magazine, July 1987, p. 62).

I had to pinch myself the other day, when reading the Church Times. This doesn’t happen often – the pinching I mean. But pinch I did, as I read of plans for 10,000 new lay-led churches by 2030. Moreover, ones that did not costly need buildings, or costly well-trained and theologically-literate clergy. As these new lay-led churches will all be headed by the ‘right kinds’ of Christians, there should be no fear of heterodoxy being modelled, or heresy being taught and preached. Orthodox Christianity – the gospel – has presumably never needed egghead theologians or church fathers to guard the truth or correct error. There are many self-appointed purveyors of truth leading churches in London right now who can keep us all on the straight and narrow. These are the ‘right kind’ of Christians, so we can all relax.

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‘Key limiting factors’: the end of stipendiary parish ministry - Abp Cranmer Website

‘Key limiting factors’: the end of stipendiary parish ministry - Abp Cranmer Website

perhaps there are no lay leaders waiting and yearning to be ‘released’

Priests are expensive. Church buildings are expensive. Theological formation is expensive. So the Church of England has set out its ‘Vision and Strategy‘ for cost-cutting: 10,000 new lay-led churches over the next 10 years, to make one million new disciples for Christ. Far better to bring Jesus to the local school or village hall, where the people are, and have them led by ordinary people, like most people are, than to try to sustain a model of church which is, to speak candidly, unsustainable.


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Preaching “On the Mount” - Diana Butler Bass

Preaching “On the Mount” - Diana Butler Bass

Diana Butler Bass shares how Jesus’ teaching “on the mount” placed him in the lineage of Moses and other revered Jewish prophets

Popular religious scholar and friend Diana Butler Bass shares how Jesus’ teaching “on the mount” placed him in the lineage of Moses and other revered Jewish prophets. Jesus builds on his own Jewish tradition to call his hearers to transformative living.

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Be careful what you wish for...restructuring the CofE.

Be careful what you wish for...restructuring the CofE.

A shift to a conservative evangelical Biblical literalism?

Not for the first time, the C of E appears to be determined to promote its own worst interests in the modern world. In addition to prevaricating on its attitudes towards those who are gay, and turning down a plan to appoint Race Equality Officers in every diocese, Synod has now voted to ‘take note’ of a Vision and Strategy document that threatens to take us back to the Middle Ages.

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A new approach to living out our faith in action

A new approach to living out our faith in action

Robert Almond, co-clerk of Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee, reflects on developing a new strategy for Quaker work in the world.

We can achieve more by giving greater focus to fewer things.

Over the last month since the local elections I've been reflecting on a comment made several times by several Labour politicians, that "we need to spend less time talking to ourselves, and more time talking and working with those in the communities we seek to represent".

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