Church and gym

Phoenix rising

I’ve joined Instagram.  It’s the only way I can communicate with some of the guys at the gym.  My IG page has a few photos of me from former lives and clearly some gym “bros” have found them.  Last week one of them—I’ll call him Steve—came over and said “so you’re a priest”.   “Indeed so” I intoned, “though now retired”.   He said “I’m a Christian.  Which churches were you at?” I told him.

I asked Steve if he had a home church.  He told me he used to attend a big independent evangelical church in a nearby town and then for a while a smaller one nearer home, but no church at present.  “So you’re looking for something that suits you?” I said.  He nodded.  

Steve is tall, good looking, in excellent shape, mid 30s, well-spoken, highly intelligent, literate, imaginative, thoughtful, enthusiastic and vigorous.  He runs local businesses catering largely to people of his age group.

Can I suggest a local C of E church?

Not all local churches are the same: some are bigger in every sense and more active than others. Questions go through my mind, some relevant to this church, others to that.

What would Steve make of a huge church with at most twenty people?  Where there’s nobody under the age of sixty-five?  Where music is under-rehearsed and singing half-hearted?  Where readings are inaudible and some readers barely literate? Where preaching lacks a clear message? Where proceedings are unseemly? Where there is no sense of the numinous? Where cringeworthy in-jokes abound?  Where the heating is woeful?

What would Steve make of a congregation that says it’s welcoming, but that in truth welcomes only those who fit its preconceptions of appropriate appearance and behaviour?  What would he make of people cowed by conventions that have resulted in joy and spontaneity being replaced by repressed timidity?  What would he make of a church that’s become an arm of the Evergreen Club or the Women’s Institute?

Steve aside, for he was open about his faith, I wonder about most of his generation.  

Does anyone who had their formative experiences after the late 1960s have any need for God at all?  Ruined castles and abbeys have more meaning for them than cathedrals and churches which are, like homes and gardens featured in Country Life, merely showpieces in the landscape.  

Post-WW2 generations have no need of church for religious and numinous experiences, for these are provided by hobby groups and other associations.  Football is an example.  It has its own cathedrals, bishops, priests, wardens, acolytes, rituals, chants, denominations, rivalries, and public displays.  And football clubs do astonishing work in schools and the local community—far more than churches do.  People of Steve’s age are at least as altruistic and active in community welfare as are churchgoers.  But fund raising in church is about paying the bills and propping up the diocese—there’s nothing left for altruism. Anyway, what decent person of any age would support an organisation that has shielded abusers and whose hierarchs try to wriggle out of responsibility when victims seek truth and justice?  And yet the C of E thinks in its entitled arrogance that a few gimmicks will lead to people like him flocking to church.

I met Steve in a gym, so let’s consider gyms.  Church and gyms have things in common: community, rituals, teachers.  Both focus on ideals: spiritual and physical.  Let no-one suggest that the pursuit of physical health is solipsistic or self-obsessive: care of the flesh is at least as important as care of the inner kingdom.  Churches, in contrast, seem deliberately to foster ill-health with their farinaceous fare and, in some, gossip that murders the spirit.  

Churches claim to care for the mental well-being of members.  I fail to see how the emphasis on being unworthy and miserable sinners achieves that end.  Gyms do better: disciplined physical activity is well known to aid mental health.  Many of us are there for precisely that reason.

I’m amazed at how many gym members confide in me—far more than in churches where it seemed people were terrified that they might reveal something of themselves.  What have we priests done to wound people so?  There is not a great deal of discussion of ethical issues in the gym, but then neither was there in churches, and the urban churches from which I retired were so exhausted trying to survive that there was no energy for other matters.

Gyms encourage discipline and a sense of achievement as we aim for and reach goals.  There is no fat-shaming or any other kind of shaming.  There is no behind-the-hand whispering.  Is this true of churches?  Gyms include all sorts and conditions—women, men, young, old (at nearly 73 I’m not quite the oldest), fat, thin, muscly, skinny, tall, short, 4-limbed, 3-limbed, deaf, partially sighted.  There is no criticism or judgment, just support. 

Does church offer anything that the gym does not?

Stolidity or imagination

A homily for Easter 3 Year A at St Paul’s, Burton on Trent

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19. 1 Peter 1:17-23. Luke 24:13-35

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God .…  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth.

And a very happy Christmas to you all.

No, I’ve not lost my marbles. I’m drawing your attention to a wonderful exchange in which, as St Irenaeus wrote, “the Word of God … did become what we are, that He might bring us to be what He is Himself”. Or as Charles Wesley wrote in the hymn we’ve just sung “Made like him, like him we rise”.  Fr Columba Marmion, an Irish Benedictine, wrote a few decades ago “What the Word Incarnate gives in return to humanity is an incomprehensible gift … In exchange for the humanity which he takes, the Incarnate Word gives us a share in his divinity; he makes us partakers of his divine nature”. The Divine assumes the human in order to lift the human to the Divine.

This is the wonderful exchange recalled privately by the priest in the moments before Holy Communion. 

Today on the road to Emmaus the disciples are gloomy like Eeyore, and obsessing about the past, not recognizing their fellow traveller. Then just as they do so, he vanishes.

For me this is the completion of the wonderful exchange. He vanishes because he is incorporated into them—into all humanity. Or maybe all humanity is incorporated into him. Either way it’s a metaphor for us being made divine as the Divine and the human merge. There’s no more need for Jesus to be visible because he is part of us all, though in some cases rather well hidden by our pride.

Now, if you accept all that—and I think it’s a lovely idea—you should ask: “so what?”.

So this.

The theme of Easter is renewal. The Holy Week story is about a group of people who were so threatened by new ideas that they killed the originator. Look at the world today and see the same forces at work, all because governing cliques are threatened by new ideas. It’s a failure of imagination, a lack of courage, and most of all it’s about the entitlement and pride of the powerful.

At Easter Jesus opens the tomb of imprisonment in the past so that we can rise with him. At Easter Jesus tells Mary Magdalen not to cling to him—not to cling to the past if you like—for he has work to do. As we heard last week, Jesus disposes of the past when he says to the frightened and ashamed disciples “peace”. He forgives them. He wipes the past clean. 

Today I see the the disciples obsessing about the past, unable to see what is before their eyes, blind to the present and future. When their eyes are opened they begin to see things through his eyes. I hope we do too. “Don’t be afraid. Stop clinging to the past. Use your imaginations—you’ve got work to do.”

And that is what I want to say to you as you soon, I hope, advertise for a new incumbent. I’ve said it to St John’s and now I say it to you. 

Remember that though Burton has many good points it is not high on the list of desirable places to live. For every vacancy in the south east there may be five or more applicants, but north of a line between Gloucester and Ipswich you’ll find maybe one or two, or even none. The interviews are more about applicants judging you than about you judging the applicants.

So I ask you:

  • Are you forward looking? Or do you want to stay stuck in the past?
  • Are you hankering after the certainties of bygone days, or the ways of other churches you once attended?
  • Are you willing to imagine what the future could be?
  • Are you willing to ask young people what they would like or are you going to tell them what you think they need?
  • Given all the things people could be doing on a Sunday, is it worth their coming here? Is it safe? Is it comfortable? Is it warm? Is the PA system adequate? Are the readers, musicians and servers competent?
  • Is there joy in this place?

For example, when people our age start thinking about modifying churches for community use, they think of kitchens and bogs and not much else. All that is decades out of date. What you should be thinking about includes:

  • making space by getting rid of pews and clutter;
  • having the church fitted for Wi-Fi;
  • being able to send text, pictures and documents to people’s phones. Today’s people are not used to handling paper—they have screens in their hands. 
  • And more.

That’s just one example of the way in which congregations of crumblies like us are unable or unwilling to grasp the opportunity that modern culture presents. 

You could sit tight and carry on as you are. St John’s could do the same. As the local population becomes less and less Christian, which is inevitable, then I would predict that within 10 years, only one of the two churches will still be open for regular services.

Or you can grasp the opportunities offered by today and make the best of them using your imaginations and listening to the people you’re trying to attract. 

Jesus says: cast out into the deep; fear not; take risks for the Kingdom. 

Are you going to be stolidly human or divinely imaginative?

The choice is yours.

Atonement or fakery?

The Church Commissioners are to set up a £100 million fund to atone for past investment in the slave trade. This is so “worthy” and in the spirit of the age. To argue against it would without bringing down wrath from the guardians of political correctness. 

But why stop there? 

Why not atone for the Commissioners freeing themselves of the burden of clergy pay and pensions by dumping it on the parishes, thereby enriching their coffers and endangering parochial finances? Why not atone for foolish investments from time to time, or for squandering funds on untried and untested initiatives? 

Why not atone for the Church’s persecution of Jews and Catholics over the centuries—until quite recently in fact? Of divorcees? Of homosexuals? Why not seek out the families of the Catholic martyrs it torched in more turbulent times?

The CoE caused misery to the “first nations” of Australia and Canada, and must indirectly have caused misery in Ireland over the centuries—most English organisations did—so why not atone for all that too? (That the Irish subsequently allowed themselves to be screwed by the Catholic Church is neither here nor there, and anyway they’ve dealt with that.) 

Let’s rip out the only things on the walls of old buildings that render them interesting. Let’s smash all the stained glass windows since there’s probably something oppressive in every one of them. (Oh sorry, that’s been done before.)

In this new puritanism let’s burn down everything and sit in the ashes feeling smug.

I know I’m just a truculent old fart, but so many decisions the institutional church makes these days feel like quick-fix reflex reactions rather than thoughtful decisions made with consideration of immediate consequences or future implications. The response to the Child Abuse report * is anodyne and self-justifying tosh. It is at odds with what the survivors report. Someone is lying.

Speaking of which, why is the church dragging its heels over reparations to those whose lives were ruined by clerical abusers—such abuse as amounts to psychological murder?

Having devoted much of my life to the CoE for almost half a century, at some personal and family cost, I see how naive I’ve been. The Child Abuse response includes the word “fraudulent”. Well, I’ve come to the view that the CoE is fraudulent, a fake church, an organisation without integrity, the validity of its sacraments dependent in the eyes of some on the chromosomal constitution, or ventral morphology, of those who purport to celebrate them. 

My elder son once informed me that were I to bequeath the CoE anything he would make clay dolls in my image for the performance of Voodoo rituals to effect my eternal torment. He is dead, so I can only assume that he is doing exactly that from another shore, in a greater light, and with evident success.

* – Joint Response to Final Report Recommendations.pdf

Conversion: church and gym

A bit churchy but don’t be put off.

The Church of England is, to put it mildly, wetting its knickers about attendance. No punters, no moolah. In a bid to save money it’s dumping ordinary clergy and leaving posts unfilled. It’s still appointing bishops and administrators, but that’s modern management for you.

Church hierarchs – and let me assure you that I yield to no-one in my admiration for and loyalty to the church politburo – think that mission initiatives will sort it all out. There’s a whole series of blogs I could write on the idiocy of this, but though I’m convinced that there are too many people on the planet and humanity needs culling, death from boredom reading this blog is not the way to do it. So let’s move on.

In a recent Church Times piece, a senior cleric suggests that missions could be held in gyms and cafes. A retired colleague, Dean Henley, pointed out on the blog Thinking Anglicans some of the difficulties of this in a gym, bearing in mind “the sound of the thumping treadmills, the pop music, the grunting and the slamming metal of the weights machines” and that most of the participants wear headphones. “It might not be the right time to ask if someone is saved as they attempt the downward dog in a yoga class.”

He is absolutely right. I go further.

People who don’t use gyms often have a mistaken view of what goes on in them. Perhaps they see them as social clubs with people chatting, gossiping, making deals, arranging dinner parties, having a pint or a gin after sitting on a bike for 5 minutes in the latest designer gear, peering into mirrors saying “does my bum/belly look big in this?” Like a golf club, I suppose (I’m not old enough to play golf, so I wouldn’t know for sure).

I’ve been a gym rat for over 40 years on and off. What I see are people with focus, determination, discipline, and commitment to healthy living. They mind what they eat and drink, so church functions with their farinaceous and sugar-laden fare are for them (and me) evil. 

For us, gym = church. There are all sorts, conditions, faiths, races, ages, shapes and sizes. The atmosphere is businesslike and purposeful. No gossip, socialising or preening – there just isn’t the time when you’ve got to be back at work. The admiration of someone with a fine physique is not accompanied by snide remarks or by belittling those without, as would often be the case in equivalent circumstances in church where cattiness can be woeful. On the contrary, in gyms there is acknowledgement of the courage it takes to start a journey: mutual encouragement.

So I ask myself: what would anyone who takes physical wellbeing seriously enough to be a gym regular want or need of church? What does church have to offer that gym does not? 

Every good thing that church provides is available at the gym: companionship, common purpose, community, ritual, discipline, time out from the daily grind. People mind their own business but are happy to help when asked. No bossy interference.

And the gym provides one thing that church does not: a sense of achievement.

Does the church offer anything that gyms do not?

Yes. The threat of damnation. Indeed, the church harps on incessantly about this: after a good sing, it has people grovelling for being miserable sinners. Now, given that many of us use the gym as therapy for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, being brought down low by this medieval control-freakery (control is what it’s all about) is not conducive to mental well-being.

Gym wins hands down.

The church politburo has it the wrong way round. If they are serious about spreading the message of Jesus Christ – life abundant – then rather than running mission initiatives in gyms, they’d be better off making gyms of all the churches. A different sort of conversion.

Church Crisis

The Church of England has a problem. Money.

The English public, if it thinks of the Church of England at all, assumes it’s phenomenally wealthy, and that the church receives funding from the state or from taxes.

None of this is true.

The church is at a crisis. The history of how it has come to this is long and complex involving mediaeval laws and customs, agricultural and land legislation, economic changes, societal and cultural changes, the impact of scientific endeavour, and more.  But though the history is interesting, we must move on from where we are now.

Funds come from:

  1. personal giving by parishioners;
  2. fees from weddings and funerals;
  3. parish rental and investment income, if any; and
  4. subventions from the Church Commissioners whose funds are also dependent on rental and investment income.

As a result of lockdown, church closures and economic effects of government response to the virus:

  1. Giving has plummeted. Although some churchgoers give by standing order or direct debt, more do not, instead putting cash on the collection plate week by week—which of course has completely dried up. Most churchgoers are elderly and many know nothing of online banking.
  2. There are no occasional offices in church at present, and in any case they were in sharp decline before covid.
  3. Church halls are shut, so there is no rental income. Income from residential and commercial property is significantly reduced. Investment income has been decimated by the stock market crash.
  4. Commissioners’ funds have taken a big hit for similar reasons.

Funds from parishes, sources 1, 2 and 3, go to:

  • Pay, pension and continuing training for all clergy except bishops and cathedral deans. 
  • Diocesan advisers, administrators and secretaries
  • Parsonages
  • Local mission
  • Churches, parish buildings and their maintenance

Funds from Commissioners, source 4, go to:

  • Cathedrals
  • Bishops
  • National mission initiatives
  • Central administration (Church House London, Lambeth Palace), large and Byzantine.
  • Subventions to dioceses to help plug the gap between what comes in from parishes and what goes out in pay and pensions. Such subventions do not close that gap.

Most dioceses are using reserves or are already bust. 

  • Liverpool and St Albans have furloughed some clergy. 
  • Sheffield even before covid was aiming to reduce paid clergy numbers by almost a half in the next few years. 
  • Worcester has asked the public for donations to pay clergy. 
  • Chelmsford has told parishes if they can’t stump up £60K annually, they won’t get a paid parson, and has announced that paid clergy will be cut by a third.
  • It’s acknowledged or rumoured that Truro, Hereford, Sodor and Man, Blackburn, Manchester, Newcastle, Derby, Leicester, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, Southwark, Rochester, Portsmouth, and Guildford (Surrey of all places!) are at the edge or just tipping over. Others too possibly. 
  • One source who knows Carlisle diocese said that the only reason it isn’t bust yet is because it doesn’t spend anything – and as a Carliolian by birth and Cumbrian by descent and upbringing, I see this as admirable prudence.

Clergy pay and pensions

Consider these figures.

  • 1 Archbishop of Canterbury £85,070 
  • 1 Archbishop of York £72,900 
  • 1 Bishop of London £66,820 
  • 39 other diocesan bishops £46,180
  • About 60 suffragan (assistant) bishops £37,670
  • 43 Deans £37,670 (Dean of Oxford not remunerated by the Church)
  • About 100 Archdeacons £36,100
  • Ordinary paid parsons £25,265 minimum (about 5000 I guess)

Although the typical parson receives an annual stipend of just over £25K, the cost to the parishes is about £60K since the parish share also funds the parson’s pension and continuing training, parsonage maintenance, and diocesan staff such as mission advisers, safeguarding advisers, vocations advisers, and other advisers, administrators and secretaries. The church collects the money and passes it to the dioceses that then pay the clergy. Wealthy parishes that pay more than £60K in theory subsidise poor parishes that can’t afford to. Some do. Other wealthy parishes resent giving their money to an organisation that they disapprove of and withhold what they are asked to pay as a form of blackmail.

Since income from parishioners (source 1) has now dried up, the Commissioners recently loaned the dioceses £75 million to tide them over the covid crisis. Note: loaned—I’ll return to that. The pension is a significant call on funds, for it is a non-contributory defined benefit pension with a very generous lump sum. Furthermore, for Bishops, Deans and Archdeacons, the pension enhancement that comes from their increased pay is backdated to the year of their entry into clerical orders—this could amount to 20 years’ worth enhanced pension. That is scandalous.

Pensions used to be the responsibility of the Commissioners, but in 1997, after the Commissioners had had their fingers burnt, they were passed to the dioceses, that is the parishes. Parish income having now collapsed, the Commissioners will have to pick up the cost, and this will leave a big hole in their assets—unless of course clergy pay and pensions were to be slashed.

Sources 1, 2 and 3 also fund the building. Think ancient, damp, roof, structure, stained glass, organs, plumbing, electrics, heating, and more. Think of a building the size of a small cathedral, often to be found in inner city deprived areas, sustained by a regular congregation of say 25 people all over the age of 60. 

Remember that the vast majority of congregations are numerically tiny, elderly, and on pensions. As a result of the lockdown they have lost the habit of weekly attendance. Lost habits are hard to re-establish. Will they want to return given the anxiety that will persist about catching the virus? How many will still be alive next year? Another issue is that many churchgoers have loyalty not to Christianity, nor to the parson, but to the building and, in rural areas, to the graveyard where they wish to be buried with their ancestors. 

Why would these people continue to give to church funds if they’ve stopped attending? And it’s unwise to put any faith in online worship: it brings in no money, it requires web access and equipment, it is yet another task, and it is questionable how well supported it will be when people are able to resume “normal” activities.

Church Commissioners

The Commissioners fund, in short, cathedrals, bishops, central administration, training institutions and mission initiatives. In 1997 their assets were about £2.5 billion. After they stopped funding clergy pensions, assets grew to about £8 billion. As I said earlier, that’s being eaten into as I write: property prices and rental incomes are slashed, markets are depressed, and with working from home here to stay, rent from commercial properties is in short supply. And now they will have to take back most or all the pensions burden.

So far, then:

  • Parishes are in the red and reserves are being gobbled up.
  • Dioceses are in the red and reserves are being gobbled up.
  • The £75 million loaned to the dioceses some weeks ago won’t last long – it may already have run out. How can dioceses be expected to pay back this loan?
  • Prospects are gloomy.

You can see why there’s a money problem.

And I hope you can see that the biggest drain on funds is clergy pay and pensions.

What to do?

Closing and selling off churches has been suggested.

Who wants them? Few are amenable to other uses. They wouldn’t raise much cash given present property prices, and once a church is sold, it’s sold.

If they are sold, the heritage brigade will be up in arms: national heritage, part of the landscape. belong to the community, the people’s patrimony – all this they will cry. Morally, selling them to fund the religious activity of a dwindling sect is questionable since the buildings over the centuries were largely funded from taxation or levies and so can indeed be said to belong to the people.

Most significant of all, many—most—people are emotionally and atavistically attached to churches whether they attend or not: churches are community temples and memory deposits; they are often focal points of community cohesion. People care about churches and graveyards, but they don’t care about a resident parson. To them, buildings matter more than clergy or doctrine. Many clergy, and I suspect bishops too, find this difficult to stomach: they regard churches as inconvenient and expensive money pits and would rather worship in a warm industrial unit.

If churches were to be closed and/or sold, how would decisions be made and by whom? Many of the poorest churches are in the most deprived areas—the very areas where the churches do the most valuable work. Will the well scrubbed and well heeled of leafy suburbia be happy to see their money going to needle-strewn inner city parishes?

In summary, selling off churches would be a once-off; it wouldn’t raise much; and it would be hugely unpopular with a substantial and vocal section of the public. It would, truly, strike at the nature of the culture we have inherited. 

So how about reducing pay and pension costs?

  • Since all clergy will in future have to be paid by the Commissioners, change the whole basis. Abolish all differentials. Pay all clergy the same, bishops the same as parsons, and reimburse expenses in full according to the nature of the work. It’s worth noting that clergy in France, including bishops, get less than a half of what a C of E parson gets. Yes, French clerics are unmarried, but then most C of E clerics have earning partners.
  • Restructure the pension scheme to be more in line with almost every other: contributory, DC, realistic lump sum. 

Cull paid clergy

  • Reduce numbers by at least two thirds, those remaining being sited strategically in accordance with population or geographical factors. Most churches could be served by unpaid clergy living locally, selected by local agreement.
  • Stop – now – recruitment to paid posts. A few years ago there was a national drive to recruit more young people to the ranks of stipendiary clergy. This was immoral then, and is much more so now. There is no way that the church will be able to fund them for say 40 years, let alone provide a pension. 
  • All other paid clergy to take early retirement, packages funded by the Commissioners.
  • Ordain nonstipendiary ministers as required on the basis of local recommendation, and after rigorous training.

But: do turkeys vote for Christmas?

Administrative costs

Within one hour by road of where I sit there are five, maybe six diocesan offices, finance departments, safeguarding teams, mission teams … and so on. So:

  • Merge all 42 diocesan administrations into one central body, sited in the midlands or the north. Think of the likely savings and increased efficiency.
  • Dioceses should retain only pastoral functions.
  • Ordained diocesan staff now surplus to requirements should serve in parishes or use their skills in other careers.


  • Bishops don’t need cathedrals (Lutheran style), so cathedrals to become merely churches with historic titles only (Presbyterian Church of Scotland). Deans, chapters, residentiary canonries to be abolished. Musical and other mission activities could – should – survive, appropriately funded. 
  • Fabric and maintenance of large churches and “cathedrals” to be funded centrally, perhaps with the introduction of a voluntary church tax (continental style) to support only the fabric (but not the activities within). Maybe HMRC would deal with this. Or perhaps, French style, fabric could become the responsibility of the state given the payment by the Commissioners of a suitable dowry. Unfortunately, available funds are unlikely to be adequate, and the economic and political circumstances are far from propitious.
  • All other churches to be run by unpaid clergy and/or lay minsters living in their own homes. 
  • There are too many churches, especially in towns, so churches could be offered to local communities. Unwanted churches should be abandoned or demolished.
  • Sell all parsonages no longer required.

Bishops and dioceses

Some say we need fewer, some say we need more.

  • Option 1: reduce the number of dioceses and diocesan bishops from 42 to about 17, and the number of suffragans from about 60 to 14 or so, suggested * below, on the basis of population and/or area and communications.
    • Durham, Newcastle *
    • Carlisle, Blackburn, Sodor & Man  *
    • Liverpool, Manchester, Chester *
    • Lichfield, Coventry, Birmingham *
    • Hereford, Worcester, Gloucester 
    • Bristol, Bath and Wells, Salisbury *
    • Exeter, Truro *
    • Winchester, Portsmouth, Guildford
    • Southwark, Rochester, Canterbury *
    • London * *
    • Norwich, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich *
    • Ely, St Albans
    • Oxford *
    • Peterborough, Leicester *
    • Lincoln *
    • Leeds *
    • Sheffield, Southwell. Derby *

This would run the risk of fewer bishops feeling more important with a regrettable further increase in clericalism.

  • Option 2: 
    • Increase the number of dioceses and bishops from 42 to about 150 – maybe each deanery as at preset becoming a “diocese” (do we need the title?). 
    • No suffragan bishops needed, nor Archdeacons or Deans since a cathedral is now no more than a church with a history. 
    • No fancy titles. No House of Lords. No pay differentials. No purple shirts. No clericalism. No establishment. Perhaps these “bishops” would be the only paid clergy.
    • Increase the number of unpaid clergy. Ordain on the basis of local recommendation and need,


A difficult business, especially given the shortage of funds. At present there are nine residential institutions and a multiplicity of local part time courses. Some clergy are trained for three years full time, others (like me) for two years part time with a few residential weekends. There is no agreed national curriculum. Some students are grounded in New Testament Greek, some are not. Some are fed the arcane enthusiasms of course staff.

I don’t know what the future of training will be, but online learning and e-resources are essential. We don’t need so many training institutions, but we do need:

  • Standardisation with agreed curriculum.
  • Academic rigour.
  • Intelligent study of Scripture.
  • Instruction in basic liturgical history and praxis.
  • Instruction in church history.
  • Extensive e–resources in the widest possible sense.

And finally …

This is a great opportunity for radical action. The church does not need a sticking plaster, but rather a scalpel wielded mercilessly to drain the abscesses. “I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

I thank many people for stimulating me to think about this, and am particularly grateful to “Froghole”, Rupert Moreton, Andy Sparrow and Susan Monkhouse.

Horses for courses

Art (Manuscript) - variousAs is now well known, Church of England bishops have recently covered themselves in glory and ordure by reiterating the church’s teaching that hanky-panky is permitted only between people of contradictory gender that are married to each other.

Polygamy, entirely Biblical by the way, is out. Same-sex sex is out—no question. Opposite-sex sex if you’re civilly partnered rather than married is out. Adolescent fumbles behind the chip shop, or bike sheds if you’re at school, are presumably out, out, out. For heaven’s sake, how is a decent upstanding teenager to learn the ropes? And what about the Archbishop of York who said of a royal couple living together before marriage that people would be wise to “test whether the milk is good before they buy the cow”.

You couldn’t make it up, could you?

Church of England bishops, it seems, have a view on lots of things. People ignore them. They had a view on how we should vote. People, even their groupies, ignored that. They had a view on brexit. People, even their groupies, ignored that. So they changed their view.

It comes as no surprise, then, that at the forthcoming General Synod the agenda include discussion on the carbon footprints of churches. On the blog Thinking Anglicans, a correspondent has recently suggested tongue in cheek that each church should review how its carbon footprint is affected by people travelling to church. He points out that so many people came to one of the large evangelical churches in Bristol by car—Chelsea tractor I expect—that Sunday parking outside his house was a nightmare.

This set me thinking.

I wonder how many people attend services on foot or by public transport, well known to be reliable on Sundays. I see horse and cart soon becoming a necessity and imagine the conversations between the Mrs Proudies and the hapless Archdeacons when a new bishop arrives, to say nothing of discussions on the quality of locks and keys.

This would enable the appointment of diocesan stable-hands, grooms and cleaners-up-after to add to the growing army of diocesan posts—only these people would actually be useful.

There are many other benefits that I can imagine, not the least of which is a general slowing down, for I doubt the horses pulling clerical, nay episcopal, carriages would be capable of running at Ascot (a horse worthy of an episcopal employer would surely not be entered to run at Aintree: do they have champagne that far north?).

Another consequence would be that since it would take longer to travel between palace and parish, bishops would perforce visit the parishes less often. This could be seen as a bad thing, or a good thing.

There would have to be a position paper written on the carbon hoofprint of increased horse dung, but maybe not, for it might be that horses were merely redeployed such that it was not necessary to breed more of the elegant equines.

Having said that, breeding more would benefit the artificial insemination industry and enable bishops to produce episcopal guidelines on what was and was not permissible in that reproductive activity. And if there were more dung, just think how the rose gardens and vegetable patches would benefit—this latter being significant in carbon footprint reduction and “woke” ideas about diet.

Which brings me to a dietary question: why is the fare offered at church events so unhealthy? Chocolate, pastry, flour, sandwiches, cakes. General Synod should discuss this.

There is so much about which the bishops have yet to opine: as Alan Bennett remarked in his monologue Bed Among the Lentils, the role of the church is unclear in so many hitherto uncolonised departments of life—underfloor central heating for example.

But they need to get their fingers out, for soon there won’t be anybody to opine to.

Response to Retirement 1

c2RR writes: not long after I’d posted Retirement 1, I had this response from a retired priest. I have her permission to post it — it’s worth reading.

I can relate to a lot of what you say. I’ve been out of Church now for about 15 years and it took me an awful long time to get rid of enough rage to be able to recover the sense of the divine chuckle at the silliness of most of it.

When I went forward for ministry, women were not ordained at all, just licensed as Deacons, so I spent much of my time being regarded as the freak, and forcing a pathway to acceptance. Of course now the C of E is so desperate for ministers that women are accepted because they are willing, as a result of cultural pressure, to fill the vacancies. That, of course, will change as new generations of women, my children’s generation, no longer see that women have to be submissive, willing to do anything, to take on a job.

The saddest thing I’ve witnessed is the retreat of the Church from engagement with the world as it is for most people. When I was ‘called’, liberation theologians from South America were essential reading for us. David Jenkins was Bishop of Durham, and constantly in the media for standing on the side of the marginalised. In our own diocese, the then Bishop of Stafford was out on the streets marching against Thatcherism. I suppose this is what you mean by “being Jesus” rather than “talking Jesus” – the latter being something that makes me nauseous.

As you can see, the rage is still present.

As for speaking out—it takes its toll. The state of the Church Rampant (irony alert) now makes me sad. I see rural clergy with six churches and no ministerial help, up against all the things you mention in terms of nonsense from the institution. I would like to get involved but, as I’m constantly reminded by my partner, it is no longer my problem.

Maybe this is just as well, for beyond the confines of the institutional church there is plenty of life, and contributions to “The Kingdom” can come in other ways.

O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself

jesuswept-300x225The abuse scandals in the Church of England haven’t featured in this blog up to now. This is not because I don’t care, but rather because I care so much. I’m so incandescent with rage that I hardly know what to write.

Anybody who wants a flavour of what’s been going on could start by dipping into two websites: Thinking Anglicans and Archbishop Cranmer. If you can’t be bothered, then take it from me that the institutional Church of England is secretive, evasive, cruel and corrupt. The people who work at the coal face, paid and unpaid, are by and large utterly decent and thoroughly commendable, but they don’t know the half of what goes on in the sleazy corridors of power.

It’s difficult to preach about this because, to be frank, the bulk of the punters simply don’t want to know. They come for a weekly fix of what they’ve always done on Sunday before pootling off to the pub or the local beauty spot. The last thing they want is for their complacency to be sullied by deeply unpalatable facts about the organisation that they profess to be part of. The latest morsel to come our way is the extent to which the tentacles of the establishment infiltrate this fetid, decaying corruption. Read this: Nobody’s Friends

Of all the issues that the Church should be concerned with, this—abuse in all its forms—is the topic that eats away at me the most. I’ve no idea why this should be so, for I don’t recall ever having been on the receiving end, except as I relate below.

At school I was taunted for being fat, bookish, wearing specs, and being more interested in church music than in grabbing other boys’ scrotums in the scrum. But I didn’t regard this as abuse then, and don’t now. I wasn’t at boarding school so had no experience of what is alleged to have gone on in some of them. As a church musician I soon became aware of the need to maintain distance between young choristers and me, and on the two occasions when I felt I’d overstepped the mark I visited the parents to apologize.

So, as I say, I’m not sure why the revelations of abuse should so affect me other than being profoundly disappointed in an organization that professes to be Godly. Every fibre of my being goes out to those who have suffered.

I am ashamed to be a public representative of the Church of England. I was ordained at the age of 56 (now 69) and I wonder if I’ve wasted the last thirteen years of my life—a fool to have been seduced by the institution. Am I alone amongst clergy in feeling this? And there has been not a single word of encouragement from any bishop.

In other walks of life, the boss might sympathize with the plight of embattled foot-soldiers, assuring them (us) of support when needed. I can imagine a Brigadier encouraging the troops after a battle that didn’t go to plan, in order to restore morale.

But not a peep from Church of England hierarchs.

I must confess to a feeling of schadenfreude about the John Smyth and Jonathan Fletcher stories. At several points in my life I’ve been assailed by evangelical so-called Christians who have condemned my views, and assured me that I’m destined for hellfire unless I believe precisely what they believe. This happened in childhood (rural Methodism), at university where some of the most oleaginous and judgmental creeps imaginable (Cambridge Christian Union types) poured scorn on us “College Chapel” Christians, and since then at meetings of Churches Together, especially in Chesterfield and Burton.

All this could be regarded as abusive, so there’s a certain guilty pleasure in seeing that the scions of these corruptions of Christianity now stand with their reputations in tatters. To read that one of them beat the crap out of an adolescent boy, to the extent that blood was gushing down his legs, puts that form of “Christianity” in its proper place. Just imagine: eight hundred lashes—they had to break for lunch—as punishment for a wank, or some such. Ye Gods. Satanists would be more humane.

About five years ago my elder son told me that if I willed any of my estate to the church he would utter incantations and stick pins into a clay doll made in my image. There is no danger of that. After a lifetime of sacrificial giving to the church, not one penny more will go to this cruel, hypocritical and putrid institution.