The Scottish Episcopal Church and the upcoming Primates’ Meeting

There’s been a little flurry of articles in the press this week about the Scottish Episcopal Church.

“SANCTIONS LOOM FOR SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCH’S PRO-GAY MARRIAGE VOTE”

“SCOTS ‘TO FACE CONSEQUENCES’ OVER GAY MARRIAGE”

“GLOBAL ANGLICAN CHURCH LEADERS CONDEMN SCOTLAND FOR ALLOWING SAME-SEX WEDDINGS”

And so on.

The only awkward thing about all these articles is that the Primates’ Meeting hasn’t happened yet. No-one has condemned anything and no-one really knows what is going to happen.

This press interest seems to have started in London in the middle of the week when someone gave a briefing to the likes of the BBC, the Telegraph and the Guardian. All three had identical stories which didn’t reference anyone in Scotland at all. It isn’t rocket science to come to the conclusion that someone in either Lambeth Palace or the Anglican Communion Office was briefing journalists against the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Now, the thing about this is, as our American Episcopalian friends would no-doubt testify strongly, that there are some things which put the Anglican Communion at serious risk. Off the record media briefings against churches in the Communion put the Communion at far, far more risk than any number of weddings of same-sex couples.

After all, Justin Welby’s own authority is undermined – seriously undermined, if people coming together can’t have any sense of confidence in those who work in Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office. Trust has been undermined this week and the Archbishop has the capacity either to regain it or undermine it further.

Once that is done, the serious business of listening to one another should begin.

For that is the point of the Primates’ Meeting – listening, not disciplining. When people talk about the Primates issuing sanctions, they have forgotten that the meeting is not a disciplinary body but is there to allow the Primates to listen to one another. The Primates have scarcely any power to discipline in any case. What can they do? There is no Canon Law that holds the communion together. Nor is there any legal mechanism that the Primates could take to chuck any of the churches out of the Communion. The Anglican Consultative Council is the only one of the fragile so-called Instruments of Communion which has a constitution and the constitution is there to hold people together not to break them apart. (And it is also regulated by English charity law and no-one wants the ACC to lose its charitable status because the Primates make an unlawful bid for power over an English charity that they are not the trustees of).

The truth is, no-one knows at this stage what the Primates will say or do. At least 16 of them are new faces who have never been there before.

One of them is the Most Rev Mark Strange, our own Primus. Mark will be able to speak directly about what has happened in Scotland. (He’s taking time to pray this week to prepare for the meeting and the Scottish Episcopal Church is praying with him).

The truth is, what has happened in Scotland is a model for how the Anglican Communion can move forward and move beyond the constant squabbles about human sexuality. Here in Scotland we’ve made conscience the thing that we argued about rather than what people get up to in bed. We’ve recognised that Episcopalians take different views about same-sex relationships and we have honoured all of them. We’ve said that conscience has to be respected.

Now the conscience thing is important to understand – for we have not simply made provision for the consciences of those who object to same-sex relationships being respected. We’ve also said that conscience clauses apply equally to those who do, sincerely and truthfully believe that God wishes to bless those same-sex couples who wish to be married in church. Those of us who believe in offering marriage to all couples have consciences too.

We’ve tried to make it so that individual consciences are respected. It was the only possible way we could hang together. Ultimately, that is the only way that the Communion can hang together too.

We have something to witness to that is good and godly and I’ve no doubt that Bishop Mark will be looking forward to sharing the good things that have happened in Scotland as we have discussed, wrestled, voted and prayed this through. Remember this – the Scottish Episcopal Church decided to stay together over same-sex nuptials and the Communion could decide to do exactly the same.

For myself, as someone who has been part of this argument for longer than I can remember, I would want to say to those interested enough to listen to what has been going on in Scotland, “taste and see that the Lord is good”.

What we are talking about are the best days of people’s lives. What we are talking about are wedding ceremonies that are full of love and grace and compassion and joy. What we are talking about is the sheer joy of welcoming diversity and setting our General Synod free from these squabbles to concentrate on the core task for our church of preaching the love of God to Scotland.

For the love of God is what we are about. The gospel is preached here. God’s grace is known here. And God’s love is shared here. And all this as much during same-sex weddings as any other time. We’ve seen it. We witness to it.

And nothing can separate us from the love of God. After all, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And as it happens, I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor sanctions, nor off the record media briefings, nor primates, nor consequences, nor GAFCON, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

75 questions for people who want to help churches to grow

Helping churches to grow is hard work but there are some things that need to be addressed to help congregations to grow which seem to be fairly consistent across churches which are otherwise very different in style. Some time ago I published two lots of 25 questions for people who want to help churches to grow.

I thought it was time for 25 more. The new ones are the first 25 below and then come the ones that I’ve published before.

 

  1. If someone were to hear about the congregation from a non-congregational member, what is the most likely thing they would be told?
  2. What is the smallest number of words you could use to accurately explain the ethos of the congregation?
  3. What are those words?
  4. What strategies do you have to get good quality photographs of life of the congregation to use online?
  5. Which of the arts does the congregation use in its worship and regular life?
  6. How do the church education programmes relate to contemporary culture?
  7. Do things start on time?
  8. What steps have you implemented to ensure you don’t have the same meetings over and over again?
  9. Do you have a set length of time for meetings and does someone stop them after they have gone on enough?
  10. How do you stop people making decisions in the car park before or after the meetings?
  11. Who chooses the hymns?
  12. Why do they choose the hymns they do?
  13. When was the last time the congregation learned a new hymn it sang more than once?
  14. How many different styles of singing the psalms do you use and is that enough?
  15. How many opportunities are there for weekly non-eucharistic worship?
  16. Which would attract more people, a course in meditation or a course on prayer?
  17. Is anyone working for the local congregation underpaid?
  18. Does your bishop/presbytery/judicatory body or person help enable growth or are they a distraction from it?
  19. Is there are three year budget?
  20. Is the congregation moving into or out of debt?
  21. What percentage of people in the congregation would have a basic understanding about the congregation’s finances?
  22. Does anyone ever break copyright law whilst acting for the congregation?
  23. How do you share good news about the denomination that you belong to?
  24. When did you last issue a call to prayer for the congregation and what was it for?
  25. If someone wants to make a confession is it clear who they should approach and how they should get in touch?
  26. If you didn’t have to go to your church on Sunday would you still go?
  27. Are the clergy happy?
  28. Are the musicians happy?
  29. Does the congregation have a stronger ethos than that of its denomination?
  30. What one thing could you change this week to make the worship better?
  31. Why didn’t you make that change last week?
  32. What steps are you taking to make the phrase “All are Welcome” come true?
  33. Do you do church business on a Sunday after church or is there a better time for that?
  34. In the next month are you more likely to spend time on ecumenical activities or church growth activities?
  35. Do people who leave become ex-members who have disappeared or do they still contribute to the life and ministry of the place?
  36. What is the noticeboard like?
  37. What is the first thing you see when you come through the door?
  38. Did you implement the recommendations of the last “mystery worshipper” you asked to give you a candid assessment?
  39. Which church events in the next six months will be newsworthy locally?
  40. Which church events in the next six months will be reported in the local media?
  41. Do you have enough staff and who decides this?
  42. What would your clergy really like to do that they can’t because of the laity?
  43. What would your laity really like to do that they can’t because of the clergy?
  44. Which would attract young families more – a bible-based week long summer activity for children or letting it be known that gay people are welcome in your church?
  45. Can you email those members of your congregation who want to receive regular updates?
  46. Do you email those members of your congregation who want to receive regular updates?
  47. Has someone done the work required to make sure emails sent to large numbers of people don’t end up in spam boxes?
  48. Who in the congregation has gifts that could be better used doing a different job in the congregation than what they are currently doing?
  49. Who is your volunteer co-ordinator and is it obvious how to contact them?
  50. Can you volunteer without being a member of the church?
  51. Do you have a decent church website?
  52. Is it up to date?
  53. Is it responsive – ie does it work on mobile phones?
  54. Does your own online profile feature your ideas and hopes and dreams other than a desire for people to turn up to church?
  55. Do you know what you are doing with twitter and facebook?
  56. Who could you learn more about social media from?
  57. Do you have a compelling reason why people should come to your church other than where it is or what denomination it belongs to?
  58. Can everyone in the church tell you in one sentence what that compelling reason is?
  59. What is your beginners’ course like?
  60. What comes after the beginners’ course?
  61. Do people like the preaching?
  62. Do people enjoy the music?
  63. Have you dealt with conflicts from the past?
  64. Are the people friendly?
  65. Do you have any new groups starting soon?
  66. Do you talk about making the world a better place?
  67. How will people experience joy if they come to your congregation?
  68. If someone from your past turned up unexpectedly at worship how would it make you feel?
  69. How do you identify newcomers and what do you offer them?
  70. What problems will arise if you do grow and how will you deal with them?
  71. Do claims that you welcome everyone stop you working at welcoming those who traditionally find it hard to find a home in church?
  72. Do you use language that is inclusive of everyone?
  73. How do you know?
  74. Is there any identifiable group of people that you can’t explicitly say are welcome because of how an individual or group in the congregation will react?
  75. Do you want to grow or not?