Tuesday, July 15, 2014

General Synod votes in favour of women bishops

Sacrifice and compromise in abundance yesterday (Monday 14th July 2014) at the General Synod. Delegates, who had opposed the introduction of women bishops at the fractious 2012 synod, said that for the sake of the church they would agree to female consecration.

The path to yesterday's historic vote has not been smooth. Female ministry has troubled the church since ordination was first raised in the 1960's. In 1992 the synod agreed, by juts one vote, to ordain female priests.

Since then there have been turbulent debates, culminating in the 2012 synod, when the church's House of Laity failed to achieve the two-thirds majority in favour of women bishops.

The dispute has left the church falling behind others in the Anglican Community, infuriated politicians and - allegedly- resulted in a drop of membership. With almost 2,000 of its 7000 stipendiary priest being female, there were also concerns within the church's leadership that there were insufficient male candidates of the calibre to become bishops.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the approval carried "dangers and uncertainties" but pledged that after the "tortuous path we have taken" the church would ensure that those opposed to women bishops could still flourish within the Anglican Communion.

The long path to equality

1975 General Synod votes that there is "no fundamental objection" to the ordination of women to the priesthood.

1978 A motion to bring forward legislation to remove the barriers to the ordination of women to the priesthood and their consecration as bishops fails at the synod.

1985 The synod votes to allow women to become deacons

1987 First women deacons are ordained in the Church of England

1992 Synod votes to permit women to be ordained into the priesthood. Passed by one vote.

2005 Synod approves a motion to begin the process of removing the legal obstacles to women bishops.

2012 The legislation fails at the synod by only six votes in the House of Laity.

2013 New talks get underway to introduce simpler legislation. Mediators and conflict resolution experts are called in to help opposing groups in their synod to resolve their differences.

2014 Synod approves the introduction of female bishops.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Prepare to welcome our new Curate - Emily Gent

We look forward to welcoming our new Curate, Emily Gent, who will shortly be joining the clergy team at St Michael's. 

Emily will begin her ordained ministry after her ordination at St Albans Cathedral on June 29th. Emily is currently training at St Stephen's House, Oxford, and will be moving into Cowell House in June. We'll have the opportunity to welcome her in worship, on Sunday 6th July. 

We will pray for Emily over the coming weeks as she prepares for her ordination and will do everything we can to help her settle into her new life in Bishop's Stortford, and her new identity as a deacon. 

Look out for an article in which Emily will introduce herself to us in the next edition of this magazine of the Parish Magazine. 
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Monday, January 6, 2014

Revised Baptism Vows are "Dumbed Down".

The Church of England has - controversially - rewritten the Christening Ceremony by removing the section where parents have to promise to "repent sins" and "reject the devil".

The changes to the centuries-old tradition have been endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who officiated at the Christening of Prince George - though I'm not sure if the new version of the service was used at that ceremony.

The new version is being tested in more than 1000 parishes (is St Michael's one of the pilots?).

In the original wording of the ceremony the vicar asks parents: "Do you reject the devil and rebellions against God?" to which the reply is: "I reject them". They are also asked to repent the sins that separate us from God and neighbour.

In the new ceremony, parents and godparents are asked to "reject evil and all its many forms, and all its empty promises".

Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester, writing in the Mail on Sunday has dismissed the rewritten ceremony as "dumbed down", with the changes being the result of the church's anxiety to make everyone feel welcome and not to offend anyone.  A lay member of the general synod said the new version was "weak and woolly".

The changes follow calls from reformers who wanted the language in services to be easier to understand for those who go to church only for weddings funerals or baptisms.

I can understand how these changes will divide the strict traditionalists from the modernisers, and it is interesting to note that this is the third revision of the service since 1980, prior to which the service had not changed in 400 years.

My personal view (and to note this has not been discussed with the clergy at St Michael's) is that we do need to ensure the church remains relevant to a rapidly changing society, and if this means modifying centuries old liturgy then we should do so. Otherwise we might just as well revert to the original Latin. The only caveat I would add is that the changes should not undermine the spiritual and religious nature of the service or ceremony, i.e. become overtly secular. I don't think these changes do that, and I find it hard to argue against a form of change who's purpose is to make sure that people who attend a baptism service understand what is being said.

What do you think?

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Church Communication In The 21st Century

I was asked to facilitate a session at one of our House Groups recently. The topic was on communication, and specifically "how the church can get its message across more effectively in the 21st century".

I used the slides (see below) to help guide the conversation, which embraced the world of digital and social media. I was fairly clear at the outset that St Michael's is well behind the curve in terms of utilising social media channels for outreach to the community, or even tapping into the benefits (and significantly lower costs when compared to print) of digital media for publicity or communication. However, if the survey results from the 2012 Buzzplant Survey (slides 19 and 20) are to be believed, we are not alone in neglecting the benefits of social media, with 42% of respondents saying that they were slow to adapt, very conservative or resistant to using internet technology. The survey used US data, but I'd be surprised if there was any significant difference with UK churches. 

I've never believed that age demographics is the primary or only reason for lack of engagement with social media, with some surveys citing mobile users and older generations being the main drivers for worldwide social media growth. It seems more likely that it is the deep sense of tradition and conservative thinking of todays church-goers that is responsible for this "digital divide". More worrying is the fact that this divide is growing, at a time when we are seeking ways of making the church and Christianity more relevant to the younger demographic, who appear to be are far more comfortable with using new technology and social media. If the Church want to reach out to a new (and younger) audience, it really does need to start using the same tools, channels and technologies that they are using, otherwise irrelevance of the Church is a growing reality!


Bishops Stortford Flashmob

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Do You Know The Nativity?

Church123 has produced an infographic using data sourced from the Bible Society to show some statistics on how well people know the Christmas story. Are you encouraged or concerned by the results? How does your knowledge compare?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Alpha 10 Home Group 'Out of Touch' Programme

Alpha 10 Home Group are continuing with their topical discussions in relation to our faith. Our next series of Monday night discussions are entitled 'Out of Touch' and our programme is:

  • 4th November: 'Out of Touch' - we will be discussing ideas re communication and how the church can get its message across more effectively in the twenty-first century
  • 18th November: 'Out of Touch' - perhaps we are a bit too middle class in St Michaels. Bill MacDonald will be talking to us about his involvement with a local charity that helps those that are less well-off
  • 2nd December: 'Out of Touch' - keeping in touch with God, through prayer

Each session starts at 8 pm at Holly Tree House, Wilton Close and all are welcome to come along and join us. If you require any further information please contact the Parish Office (01279 654416)  or one of the following:-

Mike Ashwood, Beryl Jones, Philip Smith, Peter Watson

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Alternative Viewpoint

The last two sessions of the Alpha 10 house group were interesting. At the first one, we discussed Richard Dawkin’s book ‘The God Delusion’. Mike Ashwood led it and I thought he did a good job, as it is difficult to get a discussion going about a book if most people have not actually read it.  Dawkin’s book deals with facts, what you can see in front of you, and he has little time for those who use faith to explain something that cannot be seen. 

The second session was a discussion on a book by Reza Aslan called ‘Zealot, The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth’. Using mainly verses from the Bible, he propounds a theory that Jesus was the leader of an independence movement who was crucified (but not resurrected). Full of information about Jewish history, the book was interesting for just that. However, if you followed his conclusions through, it hardly makes it worth getting up earlier on a Sunday morning. The books were similar in that they dealt with fact only. Hard to argue with unless you had your own Wikipedia of information. 

How do you explain faith?