I have Mondays off and I usually like to avoid household chores by going for a walk along the coast. I find it spiritually uplifting to find a place to sit and gaze out at the ocean, it is a little bit like prayer for me. And there are so many beautiful places to choose.. at the moment, I am drawn to Chapel Porth and the walk towards St Agnes. It is particularly beautiful right now to see the joyful signs of Spring emerging and with them a sense that anything is possible.
So, that was the plan, but then I looked at Twitter and spotted a tweet grumbling about an address given by the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell. Yes, it is true, the squabbling within the Church of England scuppered my plans and I should know better. However, because of all the furore about Bishop Philip North, I felt compelled to see what all this new fuss was about.
A Bishop prepared to be one of the first to unpick the phrase which will be at the heart of many a discussion for some time since the rejection of the House of Bishops’ report on sexuality…….”radical Christian inclusion”. And a phrase which ironically risks irritating and even alienating many within the Church.
The Church of England is now at a pivotal point in its history…striving to be inclusive but with a seemingly insurmountable task ahead.
The parallels between the sexuality debate and Philip North’s decision to stand down over his views on ordaining women are obvious. And an illustration of the liberal and conservative strength of feeling and power to exert influence when challenged. Each “side” believing theirs to be the “right” way, but to my humble mind, not prepared to enable the other viewpoint to “flourish”.
And that is why Stephen Cottrell’s words are so important now.
Brave enough to try to find a practical explanation of how this radical inclusion may work. And brave enough to articulate it among the first wave of Bishops…
It is difficult to see how the Church of England can survive unless there is some relaxation of the interpretation of original Church doctrine.
And is it so wrong as Christians who are called to live out our lives with Love, to baulk at accepting “prayers of thanksgiving” for same sex couples? Surely this is a true example of Christian inclusion?
Yes, to some this is controversial, but as Bishop Stephen says, “we cannot ignore the culture in which we are set.” He says ” we are all seeking to be faithful to scripture and how we interpret it within the contexts we serve.”
It seems to me that both liberals and conservatives now have to give a little because unless there is some leeway for interpretation of doctrine and in the case of Philip North, an acceptance and adherence to the settlement on women bishops, the Church of England’s days are numbered.
It is now necessary for those within the Church of England on both sides, to set an example to the wider world that they are able to ” compromise” on their firm held views and illustrate true ” mutual flourishing”. It will take courage, understanding and a huge generosity of spirit to concede to another perspective, but personally I believe that is the only option. And that is surely the Christian way?
There is a long way to go, but if the Church of England is to ensure its future, it needs to help disciples understand that ” in Christ there is a new humanity.”
Thank you for reading this, I am now determined that tomorrow, my ‘phone is off and I’ll be on the cliffs somewhere instead!