Sunday, 16 January 2011

A house divided against itself

The other day I was approached by my Archdeacon, who informed me that she was “on the case” regarding the impact of the new clergy ‘terms of service’ regulations on my own particular situation of employment. Not having been aware that there was a ‘case’ to be on, and having something of an allergy for paperwork, I was glad someone was watching out for me in this instance.
However, I cannot help reflecting, after the events of the past week, on the way that the Church of England is so assiduous about rules and regulations in one area and so slack in another.
It has been said that it must sometimes seem as if the Church cares more about how its clergy behave than what they believe. I would put it slightly different: the Church is more careful about applying the set standards in the first area than it is in the second.
This week, I have come across two instances where ‘official’ Church events have simply ridden roughshod over the Thirty-nine Articles. The first (actually where the Archdeacon spoke with me) disregarded a significant part of Article XX ‘Of the Authority of the Church’ and the second largely ignored Article XVIII ‘Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ’.
Now my point here is not whether those Articles — or any of the Articles — are right in what they affirm (though I happen to think they mostly are).
Rather, it is whether, as Walter Sobchak puts it in The Big Lebowski, “Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.”
What would have happened had I said to the Archdeacon, “That’s very nice for you, and I’m glad you take that view, but some of us see things differently. Though as our speaker has just observed, that does not mean we ought not to be in communion with one another”?
Someone may observe, “But there are legal consequences, you can’t ignore the law”, to which I would reply, “Why should there not be consequences — not necessarily in law, but in practice — for a departure from the parameters laid down for Anglican doctrine? What matters more in the long term, the housing I occupy or the ideas I preach?”
Someone else may say, “You cannot just ‘do it your way’. What would happen if we all did our own thing? The point of these regulations is to introduce consistency across the Church,” to which I would reply, “Quite so.”
John Richardson
16 January 2011
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  1. I found Canon Edward Norman's Lambeth presentation on authority helpful.