Tag Archives: Church of England

Responses to my bosom text

You’ll see from my previous article that I’ve publicly left the church of England – I do not give a capital c for any church, save when speaking of all God’s people.

I’ve been circulating this to the media as well as among personal contacts around the world.

I won’t be mentioning names – especially individuals – but here’s some of what’s happened so far:

 

I’ve been thanked for my thoughtful loving words and also told I was too negative. Let us never confuse positivity with passivity. Speaking out is positive – it is a form of love. It’s not more spiritually evolved to never criticise – it’s a kind of spiritual calling.

 

I’ve been told that a church’s door is open should God call me to return – not of my own volition and inclination – and then swiftly closed. No responsibility or interest was taken in my experience – even under that vicar’s roof. He told me that Sunday was his day for the community I’d announced I’d left – ie don’t expect me to even email you today.

 

A friend said they felt pain on just hearing that – and it wasn’t even said to him. It both invited and felt like a slap. Given the circumstances I’d just revealed to that vicar, sorry, rector (more on such titles anon) this was an especially appalling response, and confirmed I was right to withdraw. And this from someone who self describes as “ever the listener”! Not to me.

I am pleased with my reply to him, which included dispersing to ovens, and:

 

“If I were the vicar of a church where a congregant felt so strongly that they left publicly with such needs unmet and sometimes exacerbated by us, I would want to reach out and understand and ameliorate.”

I waited to post this, in case of a better response – which I would have been glad of.

 

The bishop I mentioned was only concerned that he might be indentifiable and that he claimed I’d misquoted him. He didn’t assure me that he didn’t mean what had clearly been gleaned regarding his statement on parish share. I removed the paragraph as requested – not because a bishop has any authority over me, nor am I intimidated by one – but because I will never quote or publish on anyone unfairly. I pointed out that he hadn’t cared about the many charges brought about the church he represents, not least the damage done to me and others. He hoped I’d come to love the church again, but gave me no incentive to do so.

 

Editorially, I’ve been told I don’t fit a publication’s style. Well, I’m always proud of that. More about that here… [a link will appear to a forthcoming post on another site]

 

I’ve been attacked by the editor of a Christian magazine in the very manner of that which he accused me of doing to the church. But I’d expected attempts to belittle. Several publications seem too conservative to take this on.

 

But I’ve also had lots of well done, you’re brave, that’s what I feel… at least in part. And some of those are in the church.

 

What I’m certain of is that I’ve done the right thing.

 

I’ll be posting the director’s cut of my extended articles on here, expanding some of the points. It may become a book to buy and will be offered to the media.

 

For now, I close with what I said in an email when asked me to pray for grace for a church:

 

I pray that these communities and their leaders become all that they can be, see through the fug of institutionalisation to love and support in grace and openness, learning from courageous responses, and healing wherever they see a need

 

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Why I’ve left the church of England

That’s not a typing error – the lower case for ‘church’ is deliberate. As I’ll explain…

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Yesterday I attended a rite of passage – the ordination of priest into this church.  That event was my swansong – for it marked the end of my Anglican involvement.

I went with a message written on my bosom, seen by a bishop and much of the congregation – especially viewable at communion. I thought: if you’re going to make me kneel before you like Oliver Twist supplicating Beadle to receive from my Lord’s table, you can get an eyeful and see something worth taking in.

 

From now on, I’ll only consider attending events that support loved ones. As this was.

 

It’s not about her that I made her special day my swansong. This has come only from me.

 

I’ve thought carefully about ramifications – whom I may hurt, affect, exclude myself from.

I’m aware of course of good sincere people in the church of England, and some of these are not only known to me, but dear to me. But I cannot agree that all are good but human people trying their best, and that’s enough. That’s a delusional excuse. We often can and should do more.

This isn’t about publicly singling out individuals or churches; I won’t be naming or allowing others to name. The only scrutiny is for individuals and communities to do for themselves.

I’ve ‘walked with the Lord’ over 40 years and attended the whole gamut of the Christian church, often as an involved regular; I’ve had Anglican relationships for half that time.

I’ve felt for some years that the church of England is a chain that I’m uncomfortable being linked with. Studying my nonconformist roots as well as understanding more of how Anglicanism works, I’ve felt an ever rising ire.

My full reasons will need to be an extended essay, if not a book; in note form they are:

The Anglican church’s ethos often clashes with Christ’s teaching who inverts worldly values: it’s old wine in old wine skins (harking both to the Old Testament and pre-reformation). It brings back the middle man, priestly/congregant divide, law based stratified oligarchy.

The Anglican church claims itself ‘The Church of God’ but there are several Christian chains calling themselves The Church (Catholic, Orthodox, Scotland, Dutch, Swiss Reformed) – as well as the denominations who don’t.

It has a history of bullying: for 300 years it effectively barred all but its own from public office and actively persecuted others whilst expecting nonattenders to still pay for their upkeep!

Prestigious families and institutions dominated and recruited ‘livings’ for generations – some still do.

I’ve heard prayers for people dead 400 years because they paid for them in perpetuity.

Anglican churches are festooned with benefactors’ fat cat tombs and mayoral sword rests: I’ve seen a recent public service to install a plaque by a mayor no longer serving.

I’ve even heard of secret services for elitist sexist societies.

Some churches are more interested in promoting their history and quality of their music than their message.

The Anglican church puts its own tradition over scripture and inner guidance.

I firmly believe that church and state should be separate – not PMs and queens picking bishops, nor that the House of Lords is automatically populated by the leaders of one faith flavour. And that the law of one cannot steer the other – in either direction.

The C of E is usually the go-to for media comment, but it’s not representative of Christianity!

Many views it expresses – such as those recently on sexuality from Australian and English bishops – bring harm, for those in the faith and without. It makes sure that more are without. Both lower and higher ends are bigoted, regarding women and/or gay people.

At ordination, ministers swear allegiance to the Anglican Church, Queen and bishop but in the Bible, Jesus said: “Do not swear….Let your yes be yes and your no be no”.

Ordination is based on the fantastical fallacy of apostolic succession, passing down powers as apprentice/master. At the services where these powers are invested, the presiding bishop lays hands on the candidate and only those previously ordained may also do so and reach forth. The rest of the congregation looks on in excluded bewilderment.

Hierarchy features in the Anglican church’s theology as much as its structure.

Some vicars claim to be ‘sacramental priests’ – that is those whose role is mainly just saying the services, especially communion, but that’s a travesty of ministry: the heart of of what you do is your care and a message.

Ministers are given unbiblical titles of honour, such as reverend – who is revering who?

Only my God and my Dad are called ‘Father’.

 

Bombastic leaders raise congregations with an impatient jerk, push us out at the ‘dismissal’ (where else do you hear that word?) by the might of their hand and expect us to stand to show their authority, but this line between clergy and laity – which I’ve seen marked at coffee time with a top table – is imaginary.

 

Altar rails cut God’s meal off from the people. Do established ‘Churches’ get NT theology!? Jesus tore down the priests-only division at his death!

 

Huge favouritism is shown towards some members and candidates rivalling Jacob to Joseph and some ministers control who can be on committees and rush through PCC meetings to get to football matches and ovens.

 

Some vicars are more interested in showmanship than spiritual substance in sermons, have more ego than integrity, and all are under trained in the heart of ministry – care.

 

Vicars wear academic hoods at occasions that are nothing to do with their qualifications as if fitting in and showing you have a brain are what matters, rather than the act of worship.

 

The C of E is ageist regarding clergy – by 60, you’re expected to do the job for free.

 

You need licences from a bishop to distribute communion or preach or heal and you can’t use the pulpit unless you’re ordained.

 

So many clergy are patronising and distant: they lose sight of how badly, and how quickly adherents are institutionalised.

 

It’s heartbreaking to watch the colour literally drained from those joining the church.

 

Although some root for social justice, Anglicans are often not questioners and stand with other institutions and accept their practices, such as aggressive ‘security’ measures, which Anglicans themselves have allowed – armed guards, bag searches, and CCTV is prevalent and often the first sign you read on entering a church.

Some charities they support actually aren’t very just – they often resocialise people in need (Christians Against Poverty gets people paying taxes and their debts);

homeless people become ‘beggars’ you don’t give to directly (preferably via a charity we support).

 

The parish share is an onerous second tax for Anglicans, extracted by guilt, covering vicars’ salaries, homes and training (building maintenance is extra) but there’s no money for pastoral care whilst wealthy chain-within-chain churches get huge grants.

 

They’re forever fundraising, using outreach events for this purpose, such as passing a donation box round a pub event at point blank range.

 

Ministers made speeches about giving ‘folding stuff’ and that ‘nothing is not enough’ whilst I and others starved and they did nothing.

 

Some Anglicans hold Inclusive Church certificates, but oust their gay minister; and confuse inclusivity with compliant uniformity (such as churches in a benefice having to say the same liturgical words – that’s simply Tudor and Stuart attitudes resurfacing).

 

I can’t say many words of the service books – old or new. “We are miserable vile offenders… unworthy to gather the crumbs from your table…” are some of the worst most heard ones.  It’s not a theology I can uphold, and saying what I mean matters to me, not mumbling offensive words because they’re licensed and old and have a certain turn of phrase.

 

Most churches’ intercessions list sound as personal as calling the register (there’s a worrying correlation between high church services and public school assemblies);

their ‘welcome’ is more concerned with visitors getting out of processions’ way and taking off hats as a mark of respect – for whom? – even as heat visibly left our heads; vergers have told a deaf lady “shut that woman up!”

 

The biggest indictment and catalyst was my and loved ones’ experiences of pastoral care:

the preaching of a love not shown

the irony of safeguarding being about self protection in cahoots with other professions, signposting instead of succour.

 

I can’t and won’t give further detail to protect all those involved, but:

if a minister can’t or won’t support when most needed

at one’s darkest, if not final hour,

then the dog collar is meaningless and the notion of church is a farce

 

I am deeply concerned about some wearers of that collar’s suitability

 

This has led me to reject the Anglican church, which puts

hierarchy before humility

accolades before acclamation of a gospel that’s really good news (not bad news first)

spectacle before substance

privilege before innovation

protocol before pastoral care

terms of honour before terms of endearment

income before outreach

history before healing

formality before freedom

conformity before community.

It values are commercial and worldly;

as one visitor observed, much of the Anglican church is ‘plastic’ – including its wafers.

 

Some might read this nodding – amen, but this isn’t me or my church. (If you’re a minister who thinks of your church as yours, think again). And think again.

All these come from real church experiences.

 

I am a child of God

yet I’ve often been made to feel a lesser one.

 

Following the week of Christian unity, I am bringing a kind of love and light, but love that cuts through darkness as a laser, and that can feel the opposite of unity.

 

I cannot attend Anglican communities with integrity;

I and others feel damaged, used and abandoned

through negligence, through weakness, through deliberate fault – and just not being aware.

 

I felt I couldn’t just slip out, I had to speak out – publicly.

It is time for another reformation.

I will set up own church. It won’t be like this one and I’ll pledge to put right any wrongs.

You can read about it here at Between The Stools.

 

At the last service I attended we were given a candle each to depart with. It was to remind us of God’s love and to be light in the world. In that sense, my candle is inextinguishable; but it is also the time that my candle – for that place of candles – went out.

 

I’m looking at its smoke with relief and satisfaction.

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Anne Boleyn – champion of free thinking

Although Anne is the mother of Elizabeth, for me – Elizabeth begat Anne.

When Elizabeth (1998) became my favourite film, I wondered who “your mother the whore” was, and gradually took a step back in time to the previous generation – and there found an equally, if not even more remarkable woman. 

The first time I read about Anne Boleyn was in 2002 and I came to her almost in ignorance. I dismissed people in my lunch hour, saying I was in 1533 and not available. As I read Philippa Gregory’s novel about Anne’s sister, I suddenly remembered the rhyme about Henry’s wives and what was going to happen. 

By the time Gregory’s venomous pen had done depicting this conniving, hard, brutal woman, I was willing Anne to be executed; but by the time I picked up Vercor’s book, I wanted to put flowers on her grave. 

Vercors  is a photographer’s pen name, whose novelised biography says that the evil, grasping concubine did not make sense; and that underneath the deliberately etched layers was a heroine – for women, for  England – but most of all, free thinking believers. And strangely, it took a Frenchman trying to make sense of our independence from Hitler in the second world war to see it. 

Just as Joan of Arc was resurrected at a time of resurgent nationalism in France, it seems Anne Boleyn is ripe for a similar rediscovery on many levels – yet she has not really been used. 

The harsh view of Anne prevailed over four centuries, but there seemed to be a concurrent re-imagining in the 1980s. Professor Eric Ives, historic fiction writer Jean Plaidy, and Vercors all published in around the same year. Theirs was a different Anne to what had gone before – a maligned woman of sympathy, talent – though complex and potentially with a hard streak. And except for Philippa Gregory, books all have followed this portrayal since – whether they be fiction or academic – but not yet on the screen. Howard Brenton’s recent play is all about the debt that King James  and his Bible owed to the supposed strumpet a hundred years earlier.                    

Joanna Denny’s focus is summed up by her idea that Anne was a neo-Esther, something Anne herself propagated by having her chaplain preach on this in front of the royal court. Likening Anne to Esther recalls not wicked grasping Jezebel but another Old Testament queen, chosen by the king, which gave her an opportunity to save her minority group of endangered religious people. Denny emphasises Anne’s controversial new beliefs and her daring work to use her position to promote them when such beliefs were persecuted. Denny sees Anne as wooed against her wishes and morals, and argues that the portrait (quite literally) was deliberately obscured by her enemies. The dark features, mole and sixth finger are traits attributed in the 16th C to diabolism which were invented to destroy the memory of this powerful woman. 

Professor Ives and Joanna Denny write about her faith extensively, the latter making it Anne’s principle driving force.  

I’ve read in fiction and academic sources of Anne’s forbidden religious book (The Obedience of a Christian Man by William Tyndale) being stolen by Wolsey and given to Henry. Anne uses this opportunity to discuss the book’s radical ‘New Learning’ contents with Henry, and so influence him with protestant beliefs. 

Henry was not interested in reforming the church. After Luther pinned his 99 points on that church door, Henry wrote an impassioned, I think quite immature letter to defend the catholic church. It was his advisor Thomas Cromwell who is understood to have used Henry’s marriage and pope dilemma to allow divergence of belief to come openly and safely into England, and I believe that Anne and Cromwell initially worked together on this. 

What Anne’s beliefs were and how to term them might need some clarification. She has been called evangelical. The term ‘evangelical’ – not quite as we understand it –  was less radical than the Lollards, and not really heretical. It was not the same as being Protestant. The key features of evangelicalism, as today, were reading the bible for oneself; accessing God direct and not through a priest; being against superstition; and on one’s personal relationship with God – which are not unlike Unitarian principles. Anne is said to have exposed the fake miracle at Hailes abbey of Christ’s flowing blood (actually provided thought a duck’s blood dispensing machine). Anne has been spoken of as Lutheran .Yet Karen Lindsey and Ives claim that Anne’s faith was not wholly opposed to the established church, and that she had a confessor and took mass, and did not denounce transubstantiation – only its trappings. 

It might occur to some that if Anne had a reformed faith, that scheming involving adultery, wealth and power are incompatible with it. Ives says that 16th C didn’t see God’s and personal glory as incompatible; as some people today feel wealth is part of their spirituality.

Something which is not readily emphasised about Anne is her moral household –  and her generosity to the poor which went beyond the usual royal favour.  She expected her ladies to sew for the poor, and was likely to be behind a poor reform bill of 1536. She was also a patron of schools and universalise, and rallied for her patronees. Being a reluctant focus of passion and harassment is very different to pursuing Henry purposely – and she did refuse to be his mistress. 

Belief is a choice, and is ultimately, I believe what appeals rather than on argument and proof alone (that subject is another article). So I choose to see Anne as an Esther, a renaissance woman of power, taste and intellect, and I take particular interest in her reformed faith. Anne’s faith was of intellect and heart with practical outworking. And it allowed divergence into non conformism.

I therefore with others think that it was not Henry, and not really William Tyndale that caused the English reformation – but Queen Anne Boleyn of England, the Moost Happy [sic], who was crowned (depending on which calendar you use) this week, 480 years ago.

 

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