29 June 2008

Clerics on Zimbabwe

The Rt Revd Dr John Sentamu had more to say about Zimbabwe this morning on the 'AM' show. Mugabe compared to Amin

Also Desmond Tutu speaks out about Zimbabwe Tutu backs force for Zimbabwe.

(I confess to having committed a great blogging sin and I've changed this post to include Desmond Tutu's statement which I've just seen. )

Confessing Anglicanism

Dave Perry writes a helpful post on the subject of GAFCON and the Pilgrimage of Faith. I shall be lazy and leave you to follow the links in that blog article. Dave has some helpful thoughts on how Methodists on both sides of 'the homosexuality debates' might react to what is happening within the Anglican Communion and also what experience and suggestions we might have to offer our Anglican brothers and sisters about respecting different points of view.

I leave you to read his thoughtful piece with respect to the issues surrounding homosexuality and their potential to divide a denomination. For my part, I'm more interested in the fact that GAFCON are declaring a 'confessing movement' within Anglicanism.

Personally speaking, I don't want to be part of a 'confessing denomination'. I grew up in one. Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt. It's a painful place to be, in my view. Also theologically problematic.

I see that
The Jerusalem Declaration is starting out with fourteen points in its 'Confession'. My predication is that, within five years, there will be more than fourteen points. Or rather, I predict that there will be many new elaborations to the original fourteen points.  I predict that there be vital interest in, for example, what 'really' constitutes belief in holy scriptures as the word of God, or what is a 'genuine' upholding of the 39 articles or an 'authentic' upholding of Anglican clerical orders or a 'genuine' belief in the creeds.

Why do I think this? Because the underlying assumption in a 'Confessing movement' or a 'Confessing denomination' is that the true Church must identify false believers and separate itself from them. In order to do this the movement will need, over time, to increasingly define its core doctrines in an ever more detailed manner. Every time a new detailed definition is promulgated, someone will find that they cannot accept it. In my opinion, confessing movements are inherently unstable and apt to schism for this reason.

What does a person learn by example about God when they are part of a confessing denomination? In my case, it was that God was a perfectionist who would not have mercy on anyone with imperfect doctrine. The concepts of 'grace' 'mercy' and 'lovingkindness' (chesed) become legal concepts with no soul. The acted-out, lived-out experience is that God is always on the verge of throwing an omnipotent temper-tantrum if a person doesn't hold the right beliefs about the virgin birth or whatever. 

Not for me. Not ever again. God is more merciful and gracious than that - praise the Lord, or I'd be lost.

May God have mercy on his Church Universal and may he bless with much wisdom and patience to key decision-makers at the upcoming Lambeth Conference.

28 June 2008

Methodist Ordination

On the 6th of July five Probationer Ministers (including yours truly) will be 'received into full connexion' (see the article below for what this means) at the Methodist Conference in Scarborough. Then, at 4:30, five of us who trained at Wesley House will be ordained at Toll Gavel United Church in Beverley. I am particularly pleased that we will be ordained at a church which has a united Methodist and URC congregation as my 'sending church' is a united Methodist/URC congregation.

The article below is one that I wrote for the church newsletter to try to explain a bit about the process of ordination. If I got anything wrong, I'm open to correction by more knowledgeable readers of this blog.


If you are reading this July edition of the newsletter during the first two weeks of July, chances are that I will be away; first on retreat in Durham, and then at the Methodist Conference in Scarborough.

Along with four other Probationer Ministers who studied with me at Wesley House, Cambridge, I will be ordained at Toll Gavel United Church in Beverley at 4:30 pm on Sunday the 6th of July. A dozen or so people from Kidderminster will be there at Beverley for the ordination.

A number of people have asked me why I have to go all the way to Beverley to be ordained. The answer is that every year The Methodist Church holds an annual Conference somewhere in the country and all the ordinations happen during that Conference. This year, Conference just happens to be in Scarborough. There will be about 50 new ministers being ordained and we can’t all fit into one place with our guests, so we are divided up into different church locations according to the college or course we attended during training: for us, the nearest available church was in Beverley!

So what is so special about Conference? If we were a company, it would be like our Annual General Meeting, except that Conference has more authority than that. Conference decides not only what our procedures will be but also what our doctrines and disciplines are. We are a ‘connexional’ church (‘connectional’ in today’s language): neither a dictatorship nor strictly a democracy, but a community of Christians who seek to govern their affairs nationally as a connected community of congregations. This is why local congregations are part of a circuit and circuits are part of a District and the Districts send representatives to Conference.

If you understand the Methodist Church in this way, you can begin to see why ministers are ordained at Conference. Ministers may be called by God, but we are called to serve others: to serve the Church community as well as the community at large. The Church helps ministers to recognise our call in the first stages and it trains us. By being ordained at Conference, it is the entire Methodist Church of Great Britain that ordains us and not just our local church or circuit.

On Sunday the 6th of July, two things will happen to those of us about to be ordained. First, we will be ‘received into full connexion’ when Conference holds its morning worship service at Scarborough Spa. This means that Conference recognises us as brother and sister ministers and it is only from this point forward that the Church is obliged to ordain us! Then, we will all travel to the locations where we will be ordained later that afternoon.

The ordination for those of us who trained at Wesley House will take place at Toll Gavel United Church in Beverley. The Revd Ian White will preside at communion and the preacher will be the Revd Inderjit Bhogal; they are both former Presidents of Conference. Each of us Ordinands will have hands laid upon him or her by the Revd White and by a representative of Methodism abroad; in our case, this is Bishop Carlos Poma from the Methodist Church in Bolivia. In addition, a minister who we have each invited to assist us will lay hands on us; I have invited my friend, the Revd Mark Wakelin, to be my ‘assisting minister’.

The journey to ordination is one that each individual takes with the support of the Church and of many Christian brothers and sisters. I am grateful to all of you for your support and your kindness and the tolerance that you have shown me when I have put a foot wrong or come up with some wacky idea! May I take this opportunity to thank everyone for your love and prayers; please be assured of my prayers in return.

25 June 2008

Sermon Blogging

Catching up again on sermon blogging:

GAFCON - The Beginning of a Movement

The Church Times Blog reports that GAFCON - the meeting of conservative Anglican bishops who are meeting in Jerusalem after being asked by the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem not to do so because of tension in the Holy Land - have declared themselves to be the beginning of a movement.

In my view, this movement has no moral credibility as long as it welcomes - or even tolerates - the imprisonment of gay people for being gay. And then, of course, there were the 'unsubstantiated' death threats to gay Christian leaders.

This kind of thing is extremely frustrating. ('Extremely' doesn't even express it - bang-your-head-on-a-brick-wall frustrating, more like.) This movement purports to be a movement of gospel truth and it's condoning the imprisonment of gay people under the banner of the Gospel.

The Rt Revd Dr Nazir-Ali says he can't attend Lambeth as "...a matter of conscience. I would find it difficult to be in a eucharistic gathering around the Lord’s table with people who have, again and again, said no to the Church’s request not to do something that is contrary to the Bible and the unanimous teaching of the Church down the ages.”

Dr. Nazir-Ali and other British senior clerics should repudiate and discipline those in the conservative movement who continue to turn a blind eye to the persecution of gay people. I respect the theological position that says homosexual acts are wrong. I do not respect those who turn a blind eye to violence. Such actions have all the hallmarks of 'them-and-us' warfare rather than a desire for truth in the name of Christ.

I realise that, theoretically, I don't have a dog in this fight not being an Anglican, but sometimes you just have to say that wrong is wrong.

24 June 2008

Zimbabwe Petition

Please consider signing the following petition at Avaaz.com:
Petition to Thabo Mbeki and other leaders of Southern Africa: We call on you to hold an emergency meeting of Southern African leaders, to work by all means necessary for a legitimate Zimbabwean government that reflects the will of its people, and to decisively isolate those who stand in the way of a peaceful, democratic future for Zimbabwe.
The petition can be accessed here.

Hat tip to
Dave Faulkner

13 June 2008

James Alison on Forgiveness

Quotation of the day on forgiveness by one of my favourite Girardian theologians:
..this is what acting out forgiveness in the world looks like: it looks like knowing that you are dealing with dangerous people, who are more than likely to be deeply destabilized by your innocence and because of that to seek to lynch you.
I also recommend the Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary website from which this quotation is taken.

08 June 2008

Feeling a Bit Proud

We had a bit of a panic at one of my small churches because many of the usual collectors for Christian Aid week were away from home for various reasons. In the event, we were able to recruit a few new collectors at the last minute.

It turns out that we raised as much money from door to door collections as a number of churches with 3 to 8 times our membership.

I'm very proud of this church. Out of small acorns mighty oaks can grow. 'Even' small churches can make a difference.

(I wanted to give a link to Christian Aid but I don't appear to be able to do so at the moment.)

07 June 2008

Alum Rock

Here is a very interesting post on the subject of Christian/Muslim relations at Alum Rock by Richard Sudworth. Hat tip to Richard Hall at Connexions.

Richard Sudworth gives us some vital local information. His church stands across the street from the mosque in Alum Rock. He says:
Let me fill you on on some extra information:
1. the local Anglican church had a Good Friday walk of witness this Easter, singing choruses and handing out leaflets explaining the Christian faith. The local majority Muslim community welcomed this event and the police were informed and had a minimal presence as part of the gathering
2. every year, the local Roman Catholic convent and church parade a statue of the Virgin Mary, handing out flowers and rosaries as prayers. This is an annual part of local diversity expressed and hundreds of Muslims stand out on the streets to welcome the parade.
What we have here is some additional local information about the every-day context of real Christians and real Muslims living together in their own community. This sort of information is vital before Christians start repeating stories about the existence of 'no go areas' for Christians. 

In fact, I would assert that it is most certainly a violation of the commandment to not bear false witness to start making such accusations before having all the facts. As Christians, we are duty-bound to defend the truth. We may have theological differences with Muslims but those theological differences do not permit us to jump on the bandwagon of scapegoatting.  

06 June 2008


I have just had a Kiva loan repaid which reminded me that I had never blogged about Kiva.

Kiva is a microlending organisation that lends money at 0% interest to small business owners in a variety of countries. The lending is done through local agencies who develop relationships with the small businesses involved. You can lend as much as you like and Kiva aggregates the individual lenders until the borrower's target is reached. You can choose the person and business to whom you lend.

For instance, I just had $25 repaid by a lady in Latin America who borrowed $400 from Kiva for a year. I can now relend this money to someone else. I could also withdraw the money if I wanted to.

What I love about Kiva is that the money can get reused and recirculated. Although I also give money to charities, I try to initiate a new Kiva loan regularly and over the years my 'pot' of money to lend others will build up. And because the money is lent at 0% interest, there are no issues of exploitation. Kiva also give lenders the opportunity to contribute an extra 10% of the loan to Kiva's administration, but you can choose not to give to Kiva if you don't want to.

04 June 2008

Leading Worship

Stuart Blyte makes some good, sensible observations about leading worship on his thread 10 well in fact 5 Thesis on the Worship Leaders Door.

03 June 2008

Surprised by Hope

I've been travelling on a short break over the last few days and I finally had a chance to finish Tom Wright's latest book Surprised by Hope

I'm not even going to attempt to give a 'book review' as I'm still processing the experience of having read it which feels like one of those instances when a whole range of thoughts and experiences have converged. Ever since I had what I've called my 'Aldersgate Experience' I've been on a journey where I have been seeing 'the Good News of Jesus Christ' as being more and more of an event. No less a 'personal experience of salvation' but much more of a cosmic event: Jesus as someone who not only died to save me but whose life, death, resurrection and ascension are somehow events that really truly ('ontologically'[1]) changed the fabric of creation.

For me, Wright's book conveyed 'ontological salvation' in a way that I can get my brain and my heart around much easier than I could before. Hugely simplistically, I read the book as saying that scripture paints a picture of a Creator God whose purpose is to bring all of history to the point of New Creation (this is a very Wesleyan theology, by the way).

Jesus' own resurrection is the first of a general resurrection and is the sign that The New Creation has been inaugurated. The eschatological conclusion of history will not be some sort of calling of believers to a spiritual heaven, but it will be a 'heaven coming down to earth'. The reality in which we are living now is but an incomplete shadow of the reality of The New Creation, where heaven and earth will meet.

The Good News of the early Church was not only that the New Creation had been inaugurated, but that we can be part of it in the here and now as well as in eternity. In baptism, we die to the 'old Creation' and are raised with Christ into the New Creation. As his followers and disciples, we will not be held responsible for building the New Creation, only God can do that. But every good work that we do out of love and self-giving will be used by God in the building of the New Creation. Even actions that we might think have been futile.

Try reading the bible with this overlay: God's Kingdom - his New Creation - has begun, heaven and earth will unite in a new, more real reality and all believers will be raised to share in this Kingdom forever. This overlay makes much of the bible make a lot more sense.


[1] 'Ontology' / 'Ontological'

I try to write simply most of the time, but sometimes I feel that I have to use 'jargon'. 'Ontology' is one of those jargon-words that is hard to replace with one simple word. It means something like 'the core of one's being', 'what is really real'. To change something 'ontologically' is to change the very core of it's being and meaning; it's not just a cosmetic, temporary change, but a real, permanent change.