Saturday, 8 March 2008

Governments' way with words impacts all

[...] Document after document, all with their enormous numbers of kilobytes listed, sit there, each hatching out of the other. There is a Single Equality Scheme Delivery Plan. Every area of equality, since legislation in 1997, requires an Equality Impact Assessment (EQUIA). There is an EQUIA for Children's Play and an EQUIA for Early Years and an EQUIA for Special Educational Needs, as well "Narratives" and "Action Plans" so that equality may be delivered safely.

The department offers a "Proforma for an Early Years EQUIA". This is how it ends: "We will be working with partners to develop the 0-7 partnership into implementation phase, and to develop criteria to select pilot authorities, including criteria relating to equalities and gap-narrowing. The pilots will be monitored and evaluated, including for their impact on equalities and gap-narrowing." All helping make England the best place in the world for children to grow up.

Some might agree that all this is rather depressing, but say that bureaucracies always have their wordy ways of doing things: the rest of us should leave them to their pointless, nonsensical documents and get on with life.

But it is not so. The documents, unfortunately, are not pointless or nonsensical, though they are atrociously written. In the Style Guide that it attaches to its equality policies, the DCSF explains the power of words. It says that the meaning of words changes "because various groups and communities ('speech communities') gain greater power and influence than hitherto".

Yes. The "speech community" of the post-1960s Left has gained almost complete power and influence over the administration of government. Its concepts, its way of putting things, now have the force of law. It is producing the slow death of free institutions in this country. Read more

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Senior layman warns 'Time for English evangelicals to get their heads above the parapet'


The news that Dr Jim Packer has been served with a ‘notice of presumption of Abandonment of the Exercise of Ministry’ by the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada is a significant moment for ‘ordinary’ evangelicals in the Church of England.

For decades we have pursued our traditionally pragmatic, if somewhat intellectually deficient, ecclesiology that the CofE is ‘as good a boat to fish from as any’. Even with the turmoil engulfing the Anglican Communion, many evangelicals have focussed on getting on with the job. For better or worse, our (Anglican) priorities have been local rather than national. They have certainly not been international.

The suspension of Jim Packer’s licence to minister suddenly brings it all very close to home. The name of Jim Packer has an iconic resonance across vast swathes of English evangelicalism. If Jim Packer is being suspended from the Anglican Church in Canada today, then who knows what will happen here tomorrow?

This is not a time for knee-jerk reactions. There are notable differences between the situation in Canada and here, not least in terms of Church structures and polity. But it is a significant moment, nonetheless. These issues are not going to go away. We may feel deeply reluctant - but it is time to get our heads above the parapet.

Glynn Harrison

Clifton Bristol

Professor Glynn Harrison is Professor of Mental Health at the University of Bristol, Church Warden of Christ Church, Clifton Bristol, a member of General Synod, and of the Crown Nominations Commission.
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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Joint Standing Committee discusses Lambeth Conference, Windsor Process

The Lambeth Conference and issues relating to the Windsor Process were the primary concerns addressed at the February 29-March 4 meeting of the Primates/Anglican Consultative Council Joint Standing Committee which was held in private at the London-based Anglican Communion Office.

While much of the conversation focused on process and the respective roles of the Joint Standing Committee, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was elected to the Primates Standing Committee in February 2007, said it had been "enlightening, not only to get to know people and to build some relationships, but to hear more about the different contexts in which people function and the ongoing frustration with how much time we spend talking about conflict rather than mission."

The committee registered its appreciation for the work of the Lambeth Conference Design Group, but noted that particular details of the meeting are still being worked out and that fundraising is a continuing need for the once-a-decade gathering of the Anglican Communion's bishops. More than 800 bishops have been invited to attend the July 16-August 3 conference in Canterbury. A separate conference for the bishops' spouses will run concurrently.

The committee acknowledged that five primates have said their bishops will not be attending the Lambeth Conference, "but recognized that some bishops from those provinces are expected to attend," Jefferts Schori said. "The hope is that more will certainly decide to attend."

The bishops are invited to Lambeth on an individual basis and not on behalf of or through their primates, Sue Parks, Lambeth Conference manager, told ENS.

Jefferts Schori said the Joint Standing Committee occasionally acknowledged differences of language and understanding language. "We functioned in English but that does not mean we are still speaking the same language," she said. "It's not just American and British English, but also its usage around the Communion, and I wonder if that might not be a source of difficulty in our conversation, certainly in some of the responses the Joint Standing Committee has had to address from particular provinces around the Communion."

Those conversations about understanding language are particularly relevant to interpreting the Windsor Report, the Presiding Bishop said, especially since "there has been an assumption that in some parts of the Communion it means x and the faithful interpretation in other parts of the Communion that it means y or z." Read more
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Telegraph Obituary: The Rt Revd Kenneth Woollcombe, former Bishop of Oxford

The Right Reverend Kenneth Woollcombe, who died on March 3 aged 84, was Bishop of Oxford from 1971 to 1978; but the pattern of his career was unusual and, in some ways, disappointing.

During the 1960s and 1970s his star was clearly in the ascendant. A series of important academic posts was followed - to the accompaniment of much cheering - by appointment to the bishopric of Oxford. He was well known in international church circles and was associated with the movements for church reform and church unity.

His early years in Oxford were full of promise. Whereas his predecessor, Harry Carpenter, had been of a somewhat dry, academic temperament, Woollcombe's stylish and open approach was found refreshing. His sense of humour enabled him to break through many an icy situation, and he had great pastoral gifts.

The day-to-day demands of so large a diocese, however, proved testing; and there were surprising moments when the bishop forecast the imminent demise of the Church of England and spoke of his own intention to retire in 10 years' time in order to "run a pub".

The humorous, provocative element in such episcopal utterances was easily recognised, but so also was an underlying uncertainty about his role as a bishop and his ability to cope with its requirements. Read more
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Front Page Magazine: A Tale of Two Archbishops

"Democracy … is a beautiful and fragile flower and we should support it, value it and protect it. It allows for dissent, for freedom of expression and for rights for all. We should not give in to claims that Islamic countries are morally, spiritually and culturally superior to other civilisations and great cultures … Muslim leaders often tell Christians and Jews that 'there is no compulsion in religion'. This sadly is only half true. If non-Muslims are not compelled to become Muslim, Muslims are not free to choose another faith. There is, we find, some compulsion, after all."
– George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, March 31, 2004.

"It seems unavoidable and indeed as a matter of fact certain provisions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law … I think we need to look at this with a clear eye and not imagine either that we know exactly what we mean by Sharia and just associate it with what we read about Saudi Arabia, or whatever … I don't think we should instantly spring to the conclusion that the whole of that world of jurisprudence and practice is somehow monstrously incompatible with human rights … An approach to law which simply said, 'There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said'. I think that's a bit of a danger."
– Rowan Williams, current Archbishop of Canterbury, February 7, 2008.

In these excerpted statements from the heads, past and present, of the Church of England, we see encapsulated two approaches to democracy and the challenges posed to it so divergent that they look as though they emerged from different planets. Put plainly, Carey sees democracy as tender and in need of consolidation; Williams sees it as something rigid and in need of modification.

Williams might deny this formulation. After all, in his call for introducing sharia, he also stressed that he envisages a voluntary jurisdiction for Muslims freely wishing to avail themselves of it, not a coercive one without right of appeal. Yet British journalist Melanie Philips rightly points out that "his proposal would … mean that Britain would simply abandon its female Muslim citizens whose parlous position in respect of forced marriages, honour killings and all the other horrors that follow from their second-class religious status would be institutionalised by giving sharia law official recognition."

That this would prove to be the case is evident from Williams' assertion that sharia is a body of law that he cannot be reliably delineated. As it happens, however, its general provisions on family law are not in doubt. In short, whatever Williams might wish to envisage, a competing jurisdiction would indeed emerge. In these circumstances, equality under the law would become a thing of the past.

I belabor this point, not to demonstrate that Williams' inchoate ideas about democracy accommodating incompatible Islamic mores are eccentric but, on the contrary, to highlight how routine and reflective of British currents they have become.

Consider: in September 2005, the fast-food chain Burger King withdrew its ice-cream cones after the design on the lid of the dessert offended a Muslim in England's High Wycombe. The same month, London's Tate Gallery removed sculptor John Latham's work "God is Great," which included a Koran torn in half. If one doubts these to be exceptional cases in corporate and artistic self-regulation, try to imagine commerce and the arts being comparably deferential to Christian or Jewish sensitivities: no amount of (peaceful) protest ever saw the cancellation of any exhibition of Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, which featured a crucifix submerged in urine. Read more

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White working class 'voiceless'

A majority of white working class Britons feel nobody speaks for people like them, a BBC survey has suggested.

Some 58% said they felt unrepresented compared with 46% of white middle class respondents to a Newsnight poll.

White working classes were also negative about the past decade with 62% saying life had generally become worse in the UK.

In response to BBC Two's White Season, a special Newsnight on 6 March will feature full poll results and debate. Read more
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Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Chelmsford 'Ad Clerum' asks "What is God asking us to become?"

(Ed: An 'Ad Clerum' is a letter sent to all the clergy by the Bishop of a Diocese, usually to draw attention to some significant event or pastoral issue.)

February 2008
Ad Clerum 2008

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

I am very conscious that a time of change is also a period of uncertainty. I have often noted that the mood of our culture can be reflected in the life of the church. We know we are travelling through a time of change and that we need to make the journey. We also experience that uncertainty and even anxiety as to how it will all turn out. What is God calling us to become? What is God doing? A question for all of us Anglicans in the year of the Lambeth Conference. A question also for the church in England and especially in our diocese.

In my address to the Diocesan Synod in November I tried to remind myself and all of us of our Anglican heritage as evidenced in the thinking of Richard Hooker. I would describe his approach, and the character of Anglicanism, as one of "generous listening and mutual learning". All of us have vital things to contribute and all of us have crucial things to learn. We do so in an atmosphere of generosity and in a listening posture.

Some interpret this as leading us towards some safe middle ground. Those who know me would hardly describe my ministry as occupying safe or middle ground! Strong convictions, deeply held visions, a capacity to inhabit new places and themes for the sake of the Gospel, and even a sharp-edged awkwardness, are characteristic of our history.

We have always lived with conflict! This is hardly surprising when you consider how important and deep are matters of faith in human life. Indeed, the pure gold of Hooker was refined out of deep and difficult conflict in the life of the church in the late 16th century.

If we believe and trust in the life of the Spirit of Jesus Christ the future will be shaped out of the conflict and the encounter - not in spite of it! That journey is fuelled, however, by the opportunities to listen and to learn from what sometimes seem polar opposites. There are important things we all share. Not least the trust that has been placed in us to proclaim, share and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ with and for the whole community. In this coming year I will be seeking to press our responsibility towards the wider community - its culture and social experience. The arrival of Bishops from across the whole world into our diocese just before the Lambeth Conference will bring among us the challenges of a divided and needy world. Our own diocese contains levels of poverty, social exclusion and discrimination that are offensive to the heart of the Gospel. The deeper we have the courage to move into the meaning of our faith the more challenging we find the experience of our shared life in the community.

I am both proud of and humbled by the many in our own diocese who, often at great cost to themselves, not only challenge these things but seek to contribute to their finding a resolution.

You will, I hope, forgive me bringing some specific matters to your attention.

Mission and Pastoral Order
During this year, in the light of the profound work of the Deanery Vision process, we will be seeking to answer the question "What is God asking us to become, and to do, to better serve the presence of the Church and the provision of good ministry across the diocese?" We must not be afraid of some radical thinking! The 21st century calls us to move on into new territory.

No stone must be left unturned and our thinking must include:

o liberating the ministry of all God's people
o locally rooted ministry
o sustainable posts and benefices
o stronger support for the ministry of retired clergy
o new opportunities in a growing and developing diocese
o fresh thinking about, and fresh expressions of church
o good contextual and theologically excellent foundation work.

Just a few of the lines of thought being explored.

2008 will see the implementation of the provisions of the revised Pastoral and Diocesan Measures. These are important to our future. The Bishop's Staff Team, the Bishop's Council and the Diocesan Synod will be working on these issues throughout this year.

I am delighted to detect that this ministry is growing in places in the diocese. I want to encourage you to use the opportunity of confirmation as part of our ministry in drawing people deeper into faith and into the life of the church. Since people's needs do not always fit set dates, do not be afraid of crossing deanery boundaries to bring candidates to the Bishops! These really are great occasions!

It still remains the case that for children under I I clergy should seek the consent of the Bishop before proceeding to confirmation. I also want to encourage parishes to consider using the new regulations opening the door to the admission of baptised children to Holy Communion. In this case I would normally expect them to be confirmed by 18 - another useful milestone in their own discipleship.

Sabbaticals, diaries and admin!
My Chaplain, Chris Newlands, is on Sabbatical from Easter to the end of June. We are in the process of ensuring cover for his work during this period. My diary is managed by Jenny Robinson, my P.A., and she makes all arrangements for people to see me and for my programme. It is a great help to me to have a full brief on services in which I am participating in good time so that I can approve them and agree the details with the parish concerned. We will all do our best to maintain excellent levels of service to you!

Pastoral Review
With this letter comes a request from Sir Roger Singleton and Christine Daly to respond to their Review of Pastoral Provision in the Diocese by completing the attached questionnaire. We have much to learn and gain through this process - so do not be afraid of telling it as you have experienced it!

Maundy Thursday
Joining with you at the Lord's Table on Maundy Thursday, both to renew and refresh our ministry vows and to ask God's blessing on the oils is one of the occasions when the story and message of Jesus strike home to me! We meet at I 1.00 am in the Cathedral and I do hope that you and representatives of your parish and ministry team will be able to join us there.

The journey we make, following our Lord as he travels to Jerusalem and the Cross, is deep and demanding. It is also the way to life abundant! Let us continue to pray for one another that we might all be given the faith to make this journey with hope and joy in our hearts.

With my prayers and warmest greetings.


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Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Hodge attacks Proms: they're narrow and lack the common British values

Ed: I wait with baited breath for a speech by the culture minister in which she shows how Henry VIII was responsible for "separating state and religion" - shurely shome mishtake?

The culture minister, Margaret Hodge, will today criticise the Prom concerts as one of many British cultural events that fail to engender new common values or attract more than a narrow unrepresentative audience.

She will make her remarks in a broad-ranging speech that examines the role culture should play in developing a stronger sense of shared British cultural identity.

Hodge will also suggest that British citizenship ceremonies should be held in places such as castles, theatres, museums, art galleries and historic houses.

In a speech at the IPPR thinktank she will also propose that a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII to the throne next year could be an opportunity to explore the strengths and weaknesses of British history in the same way that the abolition of slavery last year looked at uncomfortable and sensitive issues. Insisting that she wants to play a part in championing the role culture can play in building a sense of belonging, she will argue: "All too often our sectors are not at their best when embodying common belongings themselves.

"The audiences for many of our greatest cultural events - I'm thinking in particular of the Proms - is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this.

"I know this is not about making every audience completely representative, but if we claim great things for our sectors in terms of their power to bring people together, then we have a right to expect they will do that wherever they can."

Proposing citizenship ceremonies in Britain's great historic spaces, she will say: "Being made a British citizen in those kind of surroundings allows people to associate their new citizenship with key cultural icons, and then offers them the chance to build a longer-term engagement."

She will admit that Henry VIII's accession, given the more unsavoury parts of his reign, is not a straightforward event to celebrate.

"Whether in separating state and religion, or in instituting English as a common language or in being the first clearly to define and map our boundaries, a deeper understanding of his reign may help the important debate on England starting to emerge," she will say. Read more
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