May 2010


Clergy in the Church of England are being asked to cut their cloth to suit the economic times and to prepare for mergers and staff cuts that could drastically reduce pastoral care and worship.

A report on finances has found that a quarter of all 44 dioceses are running deficits and plundering reserves to pay stipends and pensions. A similar proportion has liquid reserves to last them one month or less.

High staffing levels of clegy and laity are highlighted. The Church of England spends £1 billion a year in salaries and pensions for clergy as well as the upkeep of its buildings, an amount roughly matched by donations from parishes. But rising pension costs mean that every year churchgoers are asked to increase donations. The report, commissioned to help churches to improve “efficiency and effectiveness”, suggests that finances are so finely balanced in some areas that parishoners will have to dig even deeper or face cuts in provision. “Cuts are not inevitable, but are an option that needs to be thought through,” said Paul Gibson, of the accountant Mazars, and the report’s author.

The study of 42 dioceses found that although the Church has assets valued at £3.5 billion, its cashflow is parlous. Between them the dioceses had an income of £388 million in 2008 and spent £384 million. While some are extremely wealthy, 14 dioceses are running deficits.

The report suggests that staffing levels are high among clergy and laity and that dioceses as charities are top heavy with trustees. On average across the dioceses, 40 lay staff support 200 clergy: there is one lay person on the staff for every five clergy.

There are 180 Church of England clergy per million people, with each covering 1.7 parishes. “What changes in working practice could reduce the proportion of lay staff and enable individual clergy to support a higher population? What would be the effect of such changes on parishes, dioceses, staff and clergy?” the report asks. It also suggests reducing the size of trustee boards.

The Church Commissioners, who manage the investments and contribute to dioceses’ running costs, recently disclosed a 15.6 per cent return on investments in 2009 and a rise in asset value to £4.8 billion. Although they have pledged to make no cuts in funding to dioceses, this is only until 2013.

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Gone were but the Winter,

Come were but the Spring,

I would go to a covert

Where the birds sing.

Where in the whitethom

Singeth a thrush,

And a robin sings

 In the holly-bush.

Full of fresh scents

 Are the budding boughs

 Arching high over

A cool green house:

Full of sweet scents,

 And whispering air

Which sayeth softly:

“We spread no snare;

“Here dwell in safety,

Here dwell alone,

 With a clear stream

 And a mossy stone.

 “Here the sun shineth

Most shadily;

Here is heard an echo

Of the far sea,

Though far off it be.

Christina Rossetti (1847)

When we are bothered and bewildered it is doubly important that our thinking and reflecting are courageous and honest. And in particular it is necessary to avoid two ‘quasi’ intellectual habits:

  • The assumption that it is possible to impose solutions on people as a method of rekindling hope. Virtuous behaviour cannot be enforced. Whilst people might be forced to behave well, virtuous behaviour, enforcement does not foster hope that can counter dismay.
  • The habit of thinking in terms of ‘them and us’: the raw theology of video gaming – that things get screwed up by the fact we’re people, leaves no room for distancing analyses that put the blame on some and ignore the culpability of others. Solzhenitsyn noted how the dividing line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and this reality allows for no exemption. Christian theology does not divide the world into ‘bad guys’ and ‘us’; rather we are all in need of a saviour

Bothered and Bewildered, Enacting Hope in Troubled Times

Ann Morisy, Continuum 2010 page 5

 

The sign-giving does not aim to take us back to the first century; the eucharist is not a time machine.

Rather, it catches us into the stream of God’s continuing and liberating activity. It goes without saying that only the signs, rather than the symbols, can do this. The signs speak of a God who is humiliated, cursed and spat upon.

They take us into the heart of the darkness of the gospel, the folly which is wisdom and the wisdom which is folly, the weakness which is strength and the strength which is weakness. No symbol rooted in the order of creation could do this.

The symbols speak to us of God’s love but do not lead us into the mystery of redemption. They are ambiguous about the threat to creation by death, disease, wickedness.

The signs take us to the heart of that darkness and illuminate it with the light of redemption.

The Sign of Love, Reflections on the Eucharist

Timothy Gorringe, SPCK

Page 15

 This Sunday was originally so called because of the words in the Prayer Book gospel for the day: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you”.

(The Latin is ‘Rogare’ – to ask.) In the strictly biblical context, the chief thing to ask for is the spirit of God to enable us to be true children of God. By the 17th century, the old Roman festival of ‘Terminalia”, or “boundaries”, had been adapted by the church and served a practical purpose. In days before Ordnance Survey maps, there were not always clear lines of demarcation between the parishes, especially where there were open field systems. During the procession, boys were bumped on prominent marks and boundary stones, or rolled in briars and ditches, or thrown in the pond to ensure they never forgot the boundaries.

The Victorians made it more civilised by beating objects rather than people, in the context of a service and procession. In the Western Church, processions to bless the crops and to include “beating the bounds”, developed from the o1d Roman rites of “Robigalia” (“robigo”: Latin for “rust” or “mould”), when prayers would be offered to the deity for crops to be spared from mildew.

These rogation themes of blessing the fields and beating the bounds were commended in the 1630s by the poet George Herbert, that epitome of English country parsons. He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:

 1 A Blessing of God for the fruits of the field.

 2 Justice in the preservation of bounds.

3 Charity in loving, walking and neighbourly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any.

4 Mercie, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largesse, which at the time is or ought to be used.

Today the emphasis has shifted. A blessing on growing crops in fields and gardens, and on young lambs and calves remain. In the agricultural cycle, the main themes are seed sowing and the tending of the young plants and animals. This does not pre-suppose that all sowing takes place around Rogation. Sowing is done all the year round, as is the birth and rearing of the young, but it is convenient to fix on one particular festival as the time to remember these before God in a public way. Rogation takes place in the springtime, when there is a renewing of the earth. In this country, it follows Easter, the season of resurrection. Renewal and resurrection therefore are also underlying themes of this occasion. Contemporary concerns will include:-

1 The enjoyment by all of, and access to, the countryside.onservation of species not directly offering economic profit to the owner or occupier of the land where they flourish.

2 The ecological insight of the inter-relatedness of the created order.

 3 Reflection upon human-kind’s relationship to the natural order. What does it mean to “have dominion” under God over the fish in the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, the wild animals, and the reptiles, the plants bearing seed, the trees bearing fruit, the green plants? Are the words ‘stewards’ or ‘managers’ appropriate to describe this role?

 4 The relief of the poor. Rogation Sunday often precedes Christian Aid week. The Christian ‘virtues associated with Rogation are hope and justice – and as George Herbert reminds us – there is always room for charity.

Blessing:

May He that provided the seed for sowing, the hand for doing, the mind for thinking, and the heart for

loving, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless you and preserve you all the days of your life.

John chapter 16 and verse28 I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.  

 

A man arrives at the gates of heaven. St. Peter asks, “Religion?”
The man says, “Methodist.”
St. Peter looks down his list, and says, “Go to room 24, but be
very quiet as you pass room 8.”
Another man arrives at the gates of heaven. “Religion?”
“Baptist.”
“Go to room 18, but be very quiet as you pass room 8.”
A third man arrives at the gates. “Religion?”
“Jewish.” “Go to room 11, but be very quiet as you pass room 8.”
The man says, “I can understand there being different rooms for
different religions, but why must I be quiet when I pass room 8?”
St. Peter tells him,
Well the Anglicans are in room 8, and they think they’re the only ones here.

Where is home for you? How would you define your home? What makes it home? Familiar landscape, a quality of life, or the pres­ence of particular people?

Some people who engage this journey we call Christianity discover that home is found on the road, whether literally the restless travel that occupies some of us, or the hodos, or path, that is the Way of following the one we call the Christ. The home we ultimately seek is found in relation­ship with Creator, with Redeemer, with Spirit. When Augustine says “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee, O Lord,” he means that our natural home is in God.

The great journey stories of the Hebrew Bible begin with leaving our home in Eden, they tell of wandering for a very long time in search of a new home in the land of promise, and they tell later of returning home from exile.  Jesus’ inauguration and incarnation of the heavenly banquet is about a home that does not depend on place, but on commu­nity gathered in the conscious presence of God.

There’s a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work—shalom. It doesn’t just mean the sort of peace that comes when we’re no longer at war. It’s that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one goes hun­gry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it’s a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it’s a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, it’s a vision of a world where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God. Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation.  To say “shalom” is to know our own place and to invite and affirm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God.

This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years by our vision of shalom —a world where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, women and men treated equally, and where all have access to clean water, and adequate sanitation, basic health care, and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation. That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us. It is God s vision of homecoming for all humanity.

Augustine said that as Christians, we are prisoners of hope—a ridicu­lously assertive hope, a hope that unflinchingly hangs onto the possibilities of life. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.’  Jesus has come from the father asking us, inviting us to live for the common good, within the truth of God’s transforming love. Now he goes to the Father, carrying all the ambiguity of humankind to that centre where all the bits and pieces fall into their rightful place and become part of the greater harmony.

What a fascinating time and here are some images that sum up what we are all immersed in:

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