Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ruth Gledhill Witnesses

I have been following the Times (UK) religion writer for some time now, and have never quite been able to tell 'where she's coming from' as a churchwoman. I've often wondered if she was liberal, conservative, anglo-catholic, evangelical, modern, pre-modern or post-modern. Well, in this piece she tells us what she stands for -- in addition to being a journalist.

Ruth Gledhill: View from Fleet Street CEN July 17th

Just like the Church of my birth, I am inwardly divided. I’ve always believed in the adage, ‘bloom where you are planted’ and that has meant that I’ve resisted the temptation to move away from the Church of England when it has occurred. One of those occasions was many years ago when I was sent to interview a Sea of Faith clergyman who, until his stipend was threatened, didn’t seem to think it mattered that he didn’t believe in God. That sea seems pretty dead now, or at least its not floating any boats on my horizons these days. The diocese in question got rid of him before my own concerns cyrstallised into action, and things moved on. I got an insight back then into how many clerics had beliefs, or lack of beliefs, that even in today’s secularized society would shock.

Many of them have now retired and the Church, and along with it the General Synod, has shifted noticeably to the right. By ‘right’ in this context I mean in a conservative direction, whether to the ‘New Wine” style of evangelicalism of the charismatic movement, or the more hard-line, Calvinist-style approach of Reform.

And although church attendance is not exactly booming, the evangelicals are often not given enough credit for the fact that the decline that has been a feature of the post-war era is definitely showing signs of bottoming out. In some places, such as London, it is in reverse, and London is where many of the most thriving evangelical churches – HTB, St Helen’s – are based.

So the evangelicals, from my perspective formed out of 23 years on The Times , of which 21 have been spent on this beat, are winning the battle within the Church, and have been for some time. The battle they are not winning, yet, is that with the wider society. For all the posturing, sermonizing and clarion calls for gospel values, society is proceeded relentlessly along its secularizing liberal path.

Where does that leave people like me, and I believe there are many, many of us? My own background is Anglo-Catholic. I’ve become increasingly liberal as my one-time opposition to women’s ordination has melted away like the ice caps in an age of global warming.

My own church, St Ann’s in Kew, where you’ll find more incense than in Rome at Mass on Sunday morning, became a resolution A and B parish and almost opted for C. But we’re all changing. The only ABC we recognize is the one at Lambeth. The other day we even had a woman celebrant, and I don’t think anyone except me even noticed. Yet we still believe in God, love the Prayer Book, the rhythm of the liturgical year, go to ‘proper’ confession when necessary. Many of us, like me, also revel in the music of the evangelicals. Besides being stirred in our souls by the charismatic power of Peter Jensen, the best bits about the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans were the worship songs.

Yet how bizarre to see traditionalist Bishop of Fulham John Broadhurst up there on the stage talking about how when he was ordained he did not believe in the devil, but now he did and knew where he lived. Satan resides at Church House, he told us. Even Dr Jensen looked slightly startled by this one. Let’s hope Father John was just joking.

I confess I’ve ‘joined’ FCA and if you’ve tried to do this you will realize that this means ticking a box where you sign up to the fellowship’s beliefs. It seemed to be the only way to get on their email list to be kept in touch with events.

My conscience is only slightly troubled. There’s not much to disagree with in the Jerusalem declaration from Gafcon last year.

The trouble is, I support gay ordination, believe the Church should bless gay partnerships under the same principles as it does heterosexual marriage, and support the ordination of women bishops.

Given that, should I even be writing for this newspaper ( the CEN), you and others might justifiably be asking? My view on the above issues is that we should be allowed to confess according to our own conscience in line with our Church’s teaching, as set out by the Bishops, and there is nothing in my beliefs which contradicts what the Church of England teaches. Ultimately, I believe, God is the judge. Where there is doubt, charity must prevail, and this opens the door to justice and truth.

For me, one of the most significant aspects of FCA is the involvement of New Wine. This is a network that never gets involved in politics. Paul Perkin, vicar of St Mark’s Battersea Rise, who chaired the FCA launch is New Wine. And among the greetings, alongside those from the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury as this little noticed offering from Rev John Coles of the New Wine Network:

“This is a follow-on to GAFCON last year, at which I was present along with others from the UK. A conference is becoming a movement. Having talked again to Henry Orombi when he was with us for our Leadership Conference, I am sure this is an important movement and Monday is an important gathering. It’s important for us to show solidarity with orthodox and persecuted Anglicans in North America; it’s important for us to show that there is a strong group of orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England; and it’s important for us to stand together against the slow but steady conforming influence of secular humanism within the Church of England”

I wish the US Church had not split, and pray the same thing does not happen here. In spite of protestations that it is just a movement, there are worrying sings that it could be a ‘schismatic’ movement. These have been spelled out by the new Bishop of Sherborne, Graham Kings, on the Fulcrum site and others.

But maybe it will not split the Church of England. Maybe it is indeed simply ‘new wine’ in an old skin. The grace of the Spirit can be an extraordinary thing, and who knows what can happen. None of us, homosexuals, women, ordinary Anglicans, not even FCA, should give up on the Church of England yet.


  1. I've always noticed the same tensions in Gledhill and glad that she has come clean about her perspective.

  2. Yes, "who I am" is a good thing for folks to demonstrate, no?