Wednesday, 10 June 2009

What the ...?

I was just reading Tim Goodbody's apologia pro vita sua, "Why I am still an Anglican" on the Fulcrum website when I was pulled up short by this bit:
I am a Canon A5 evangelical, which means I took my ordination vows very seriously; when I was ordained I had to prostrate myself before a bishop; I felt very uncomfortable about this, but when my friend (also an evangelical) standing next to me on the platform said “I will do whatever it takes to follow my vocation”, I saw her point and assented to the ritual. I was glad I did because at that point (during the singing of the Veni Creator) the Holy Spirit came upon me (indeed us) in an immensely powerful way.
I'm not sure which bit of this has my gob most smacked as it were: prostration before a bishop? had to? also an evangelical? whatever it takes to follow my vocation? the Holy Spirit came on us (implicitly because)?

The only bit I felt comfortable about was the bit that said, "I felt very uncomfortable about this."

I do not post at Fulcrum -and it might fairly be asked why I read (probably for the same reason that some people read this blog) -but I offer it to other readers for their consideration.

I am stunned - and I didn't think I could be by anything that still went on in the Church of England.

John Richardson
10 June 2009

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  1. Hmm, yes, my wording wasn't great. Put yer teeth back in John, and sit back for a detailed account.
    What actually happened was that we were on the podium with the bishop facing us, and for the singing of the "Veni Creator" all the candidates were asked to lie down. I'm from the "get with the programme" (thanks for the expression +Pete B) school of evangelicals, who tend to do what their bishop asks, as long as it doesn't involve donkeys and weddings! So, yes, we had to, but that was OK.

    My problem initially (at the rehearsal, when the converstaion with my friend took place)was that the appearance was that we were prostrating ourselves before David Stancliffe - you know John that ordinations are frequently well attended by non-Christian family and friends of candidates; I always knew we were bowing in the presence of God, but I was afraid that my actions would be misinterpreted. In the event, it was the highlight of the service for all of the candidates as we met with God in a tangible way. After all, the Veni Creator is a prayer asking for the Spirit of God to come ...

    You would do well to remember that this ordination took place in the city where George Herbert ministered, he who spent 6 hours prostrate before the Lord on the day of his licensing at Bemerton.

    In case you think +David Sarum has delusions of grandeur, let me reassure you by reporting that those ordained deacon by him have their feet washed and kissed by him on the same podium as I laid down on. As a liturgical model of servant leadership, after the pattern of Christ, that's hard to beat.

    Anyway, thanks for reading. I'm sure my friend Diana and I are not the only evangelicals who have resolved to do whatever it takes to fulfil God's call upon our lives.

    Tim (Essex)

  2. Great response Tim and surely a simple example of humility on your part.


    I'm pretty sure I would do the same thing in the circumstances.

  3. Tim, I'm not reassured by this at all! Actually, my first response is that it is rather an abusive use of the bishop's power. He must be aware that this is well outside some people's views of what is appropriate to membership of the Church of England - a Protestant body, after all. I feel the same about the foot-washing. Some people like it. I do not, and would not wish it done to me. (It was very different in a culture where it was itself an accepted and acceptable practice, so this is by no means the same as Peter's refusal of Jesus. I would feel the same about someone leaning on my breast -or leaning on someone else's breast - at dinner.)

    But to return to the bishop, at one level this is just like a Charismatic 'worship leader' saying, to a theologically mixed congregation, "Let's all raise our hands to the Lord." At best, it is insensitive. At worst, given the bishop's authority, it is not too much to call it spiritual bullying.

    I have much more to say, but cannot say it now!

  4. It was a very long time ago in a place far West of here. John I did not write of my experience in order to upset you, but to tell my story.
    If you are distressed by what happened to me for my sake, that's very nice of you but there is no need.
    If (as I rather suspect) you are in fact distressed because you consider the event I described to be inappropriate for the Anglican church, you are entitled to that opinion, but I happen to think you are overreacting to a minor event. as it happens, of the 8 candidates for priesthood that year, 4 were ordained elsewhere in a ceremony that did not involve the prostration, so anyone who wanted to opt out could have done.

    You seem determined to prove that something wrong was done, which is a shame as everyone involved was profoundly blessed.

    in peace

  5. Just as a PS for tonight, prostration is part of the contemporary Roman Catholic ritual:

    "We now give a short description of the ordination rite for priests as found in the present Roman Pontifical. [...] The bishop ... kneels down in front of the altar; the ordinandi lay themselves prostrate on the carpet, and the Litany of the Saints is chanted or recited."

    Now it might be stating the obvious, but the ordination of an Anglican priest is not the same as (indeed is deliberately different from) the ordination of a Roman priest - signified not least in the giving to the former of a Bible, whereas the latter was given a chalice and paten.

    The Church of England has long recognized the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi. In other words, that what we do in worship shapes and determines what we believe in our faith. This is why the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-nine Articles are very careful to circumscribe, and in some instances to forbid, old Roman rituals.

    The fact that these have been reintroduced to the Church of England does not make them right! On the contrary, I rather think it just proves the point that excluding them was actually important.

    What we apparently have at Salisbury is rampant private judgement again, only this time on the part of the Bishop, with the advantage of being able to force others to comply.

  6. Tim, you're right about me saying this was inappropriate for an Anglican ordination. You're wrong about saying this is a matter of 'opinion'. (The idea that 'we're all entitled to our opinions' is itself an absolutising of 'private judgement'.) It is clearly a ritual outside (indeed, contrary to) the Anglican understanding of ordination and orders, as can be seen from any reading of our history and our formularies. To say these things don't matter is, ironically, to undermine the very point 'these things' are done - because they do matter, they make statements and they establish concepts.

    However, there are things about your account I find confusing. You said originally you felt deeply uncomfortable, but that you and your colleague did 'whatever it took' to get ordained. This I did feel meant you'd be coerced into this. Yet you say in your last post you could have opted out! So it wasn't coercion, and neither of you had to do this.

    If I have over-reacted at this particular point, it would be through getting a different impression from the first account. If this action was, in fact, voluntary, it changes things somewhat.

  7. As a PS to the above, it seems to me that for a long time a certain kind of evangelical has fallen into the Corinthian trap: “Everything is permissible for me” (1 Cor 6:12). So I can embrace anything and everything that is available from the spiritual smörgåsbord of church traditions: vestments and incense here, icons and prostrations there.

    And that is true, as far as it goes, but we must remember Paul's rejoinder: "not everything is beneficial." There is, indeed, an over-scrupulousness in these matters, but there is equally a lack of discrimination.

  8. And as a PPS to the above, I grew up in a strongly Anglo-Catholic tradition, so I have 'been there, done that' with regard to many non-evangelical things. I do not regard them all as by any means inherently evil, but some - such as genuflecting to the cross - were erroneous, fostering superstition rather than faith, whilst others were just unnecessary. When I became a Christian, I continued to go to the same church, but I just dropped a few actions and attitudes.

  9. Morning John,
    You'd have to ask the Bishop about whether what he does/did is a re-introduction of Roman Rites to the C of E.
    I do know that the liturgy of ordination from that service was presented to a conference in Norway a couple of years before '99 when I was priested, and it did not ruffle any feathers there.

    Lex orandi lex credendi is, you rightly point out, a core part of our identity, but I hold it in tension with Canon Law's assertion that stuff we wear and postures we take in liturgical acts have no doctrinal significance.
    (or in the words of my liturgy tutor from college, "READ MY LIPS, NO DOCTRINAL SIGNIFICANCE.")

    In any case, prostration is what we do in worship, is it not, whether or not we actually physically lie down, we bow before the Lord our Maker.

    that's enough on this from me

  10. I vos only following Orders ... :)

  11. I have watched this thread with interest.

    John, drawing from your experiences then and your education in these matters, can you explain for me as succinctly as is possible, and in as few long and complicated words and with sensitivity, the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. I ask because it could take me several days to articulate what you might be able to articulate in a few minutes. We (husband and I) will need to communicate carefully to my husband's mother why he is deciding to be formally accepted into the Anglican church on the 12th July. He has been raised a Catholic. Bear in mind, my mother-in-law speaks broken English (she's Polish) so long words are a no-no and we love her very much and so do not wish to malign her faith. We are working on our own articulation but sometimes wonder if we are under-playing the differences.

    Thank you

  12. Rachel, my understanding of the difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant views is, in essence, this:

    Under Roman Catholicism, whenever we sin, God’s grace gives us, as it were, a ‘second chance’ to do better.

    Under Protestantism, whenever we sin, God’s grace removes his judgement, leaving us free to carry on as if nothing had happened.

    I hope this is a fair representation of the following from the Catholic Encyclopaedia:

    "The Church [Roman Catholicism] teaches that justification consists of an actual obliteration of sin and an interior sanctification. Protestantism, on the other hand, makes of the forgiveness of sin merely a concealment of it, so to speak [ie, as I think we would put it, sin is ‘covered’ by Christ’s death]; and of the sanctification a forensic declaration of justification, or an external imputation of the justice of Christ [ie, it is not an interior sanctification possessed by the believer]."

    The other thing I think needs to be said is that in neither case is this merely a ‘conceptual’ belief. Both Catholic and Protestant constantly relate to God on the basis of these understandings. Faith is always, in this sense, 'active faith'.

    So the Catholic Encyclopaedia writes of salvation for the Catholic,

    "[The sinner who has responded to God’s initial grace] believes in the revelation and promises of God, he fears God’s justice, hopes in his mercy, trusts that God will be merciful to him for Christ’s sake, begins to love God as the source of all justice, hates and detests his sins."

    The Catholic thus relates to God on the basis that what he (or she) is doing in response to God’s gracious ‘second chances’ will ‘fit him for heaven’ as a result of his eventual goodness.

    The Protestant also relates to God, but on the understanding that every sin is entirely forgiven by grace, and that he is thus ‘fit for heaven’, despite his sinfulness.

    The picture is more complex than that, I know, but you asked me to keep it short! The most important complication I can see is that the "revelation and promises of God" in which the Catholic must believe embraces the teaching of the Church, not a mere faith that God, by his grace, has given his Son to take away the punishment for our sins which is, I think, the essentially Protestant position.

  13. John,
    Why have you allowed an anonymous comment against your stated policy requiring name and location? And it's a comment that's a pretty cheap shot.

  14. Phil, because it's my blog and it amused me at the time.

  15. John,

    I must agree with what you have been writing. Prostration before the bishop decidedly is a departure from what historically has been acceptable practice in the Church of England. It is one thing to prostrate oneself before God as did George Herbert and another to prostrate oneself before a man. It cannot be dismissed as a minor thing because actions speak louder than words as my grandmother frequently reminded me as a youngester. Prostration before a bishop makes a statement about the office of bishop that is inconsistant with the Articles, the Prayer Book, and the Ordinal. In the Anglican formularies a bishop is first and foremost a minister of the Gospel. Nowhere does the Bible teach that we are to prostrate ourselves before a minister of the Gospel. The only one before whom we may rightfully prostrate ourselves is God. Prostration before anyone other than God is an idolatrous act. It is bending a knee to Baal, burning a pinch of incense before the image of Caesar.

  16. Thanks John, helpful.

  17. If they were prostrating themselves before God, not the bishop, shouldn't the bishop have been prostrate as well?

    Stephen Walton, Marbury

  18. To be frank, that ceremony as described doesn't seem at first blush all that in keeping with Romanitas either, but more akin to something an Oriental Potentate would do.

    M.T.A. Canaris, Sydney (NSW)

  19. The rest of us have very little control over what bishops do, don't you think?

  20. I have been thinking a bit about ordination services, as mine is (so far as I know!) impending.

    One thought that has occurred to me, which I think is not given sufficient recognition by Tim Goodbody's comments above, is that an ordination is a public event. As such, what is generally concluded as an interpretation of the event, by those aware of the liturgical actions, is very important. This is an important principle of liturgy.

    So, to make the point by means of exaggeration - If there is a public service at which the leader says he is doing something which is faithful to the denominational theology to which he is a member, but many others feel they can reasonably conclude that this is not the case, then the liturgy is either a) unfaithful or b) unclear. In either case it is not adequate to say 'Well it may look like that, but its not what I think I am doing.'

    In public services, how it looks really matters.... I think this insight has wide significance for liturgical ministry.