Church in Wales bishops applaud the election of the first woman bishop Source: Church in Wales
Guest post from Retired and Relieved.
[This entry was originally submitted as a series of comments under the previous entry which have been combined into a single entry. AB]
Sorry this is only tenuously linked to Una Kroll, but I was at a certain convent of Dr Kroll's acquaintance recently, where a group of former Church in Wales clergy (ie those now serving outside the Province) were meeting. They were being facilitated by a Welsh Anglican academic, and a copy of his paper was left lying around afterwards. It makes fascinating reading and, I think you'll agree, it was bang on the nail. The sentient passage is quite long, so I'll send it in sections. But there is clearly some thinking going on by the exiled about what the future of the Church in Wales will be - and they obviously don't like the Barry Morgan years. So here's the first bit with the rest to follow in about 4 or 5 posts.
The most obvious problem with Barry Morgan’s archiepiscopate is that it has been obsessed (and I do not think this is putting it too strongly) with things that are ‘less than God’. Most obviously, those things are all related to the gender and sexual revolutions of the last few decades: matters about which Jesus spoke very little; and matters from which the rest of the world moved-on long ago. The upshot is that, when Barry Morgan pontificates on the media about celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women in Wales, or the consecration of a female Bishop of St Davids, wider society’s reaction is ‘So what’? It is just another sign that, theologically, he is still inhabiting the 1970s and fantasizing about being ‘radical’ when, in fact, he is just being off- base.
A post-Barry Morgan Bench is, perforce, going to be obsessed with ‘growth’ (a euphemism for managing the decline over which Barry Morgan has presided). This obsession is, ultimately, grounded in fear, and will come across as fire-fighting. It will do nothing to express the abundant generosity and wisdom of God to the wider world. It will simply be seen in terms of institutional survival – and that inspires nobody.
What the Bishops have failed to do is articulate a coherent vision, not about what Christianity is in general; but what Christianity means for the Welsh people at this point in our national life. I would like to see the Bishops make some arguments in particular: that Christianity is Truth with a capital T; that Christianity is from where all the benefits of our culture originate (including the benefits of science and technology); that the rapid growth and displacement of Christianity imperils all those benefits; and that Christianity is unique. This is not a recipe for arid fundamentalism. Rowan Williams did it (even by being clear that readings from the scriptures of other faiths had no place in Christian worship).
The paradox – the irony, even – is that the Bishops do not actually understand secular culture; and, because they operate within the terms of what they ‘understand’ to be secular culture, they seem almost afraid to say that religion is the principal glue that binds together a community. The Bishops seem oblivious to the fact that the fragmentation of our society stems directly from the breakdown of a shared Christian faith. This has not been helped by the over- inflated sense of importance attached to non-conformity in Wales and its inevitable implosion over the past half-Century (just think of how much dwindling resources have been invested in the CYTUN project over the past 20 years as the world continues to say ‘so what’?). The shoring-up of failed institutions is unlikely to inspire the Welsh people with a vision of God. Whatever you make of his mode of communication, Bishop David Jenkins did precisely that, and got society in general talking about God. Although he was less exciting, but widely trusted as an intellectual force-to-be reckoned-with, John Habgood did the same.
So has another, very different Bishop, soon to retire, whose Diocese has experienced consistent growth over the past 20 years, and who has not been afraid to say the kind of things the Welsh Bishops have cowered from saying. Richard Chartres of London is grounded in a theological tradition much richer and deeper than the liberal Protestantism of Barry Morgan and his Bench. He has not been afraid to draw on that deep well in renewing the people of God. He has doggedly refused to allow the gender and sexual revolutions to hijack the impetus of the Church’s proclamation, thus denying the Church’s internal politics the opportunity to undercut the more vital task of engaging with the questions wider society is actually asking. If that means being opaque about where he stands in relation to womens’ ordination, or the ordination of non-celibate gay clergy, so be it.
Remarkably, a liberal Protestant, Martyn Percy has posted 95 Theses to the English House of Bishops (as a response to Luther’s act of 1517), castigating them for their obsession with institutional survival. Unlike Barry Morgan, however, Percy recognizes the fundamental theological vocation of bishops and their spiritual responsibility to the nation. He quotes the Anglican divine, Evelyn Underhill, as saying that the people are hungry for God. If people in Wales want God, and recognize their need for God, where do they go as the Church in Wales becomes less of conspicuous presence in communities, with clergy who receive scant training and formation, and an erosion of confidence in the distinctive calling of the ordained? As Underhill so perceptively recognized ‘The real failures, difficulties and weaknesses of the Church are spiritual and can only be remedied by spiritual effort and sacrifice [...] her deepest need is a renewal, first in the clergy and through them in the laity; of the great Christian tradition of the inner life.’
I began by saying that the real problem with the Bench of Bishops is that they are not spiritually serious. The population at large sense this, and ignores them. Would that we had a proper prophet – not the social-justice facsimile of prophecy which so many liberal thinkers champion – but one who insists on the priority of the first commandment over all else, and works out, in fear and trembling, the implications for the decisions that we face as a nation today.
Such a person would never have got through the Barry Morgan-controlled selection process to become a Bishop, of course. As Kenneth Stevenson, the wonderfully rooted yet anarchic Bishop of Portsmouth, was fond of saying, ‘We are desperate for prophets and all we get is prefects.’
Except…except, after 20th January 2017, the Church in Wales has the opportunity to stand back, to ask focused questions about what it has been doing over the past decade-and-a-half, and discern what its priorities are for the years ahead. Would it be too much to ask that this task is not left to the Bishops alone? And would it be unreasonable to suggest that, instead of rushing to fill an episcopal vacancy with an all-too-predictable candidate (thus showing the people of Wales that institutional survival is paramount), the whole Church might just start asking what its ultimate purpose is, and what Wales needs from its Bishops in the future when it is hungry for God?
This is rooted in a profound malaise: the Bench of Bishops is not spiritually serious. That is to say they do not seem to believe that the substance of Christianity is, ultimately, a matter of eternal life and death. The Bishops seem to be preoccupied with exactly the same sort of social-justice- pleading, and managing an institution at a time of decline, that any other liberal atheist would be perfectly at home with. Consequently, the Bishops sound just like NHS or education executives. Except that their institution is of infinitely less concern to most people than schools, hospitals and universities.
Why would anyone put up with all the manifold nonsenses of the Church in Wales if there is no sense of fundamental importance beyond HR, finance, health and safety, safeguarding or equality issues?
The basic problem is that the Bishops are there precisely to articulate the Christian faith in the public sphere and – surely! – to run the risk of offending, inspiring, challenging and engaging the population at large when they do. With one obvious exception, I cannot see how any of the Bishops of the Church in Wales are capable of doing this. They are (mostly) ecclesiastical functionaries, chosen by Barry Morgan because they were unlikely to eclipse him in the public glare, or ever likely to challenge his secularizing agenda (whatever they may have once believed).