The C of E has forgotten the power of the parish
The Church is the last to appreciate this treasure
Yesterday, for the first time in months, I opened the doors of my church to local people that want to come in here for private prayer. After what feels like an age, the green shoots of church life are beginning to re-appear. And many of my church people are excited at the thought of coming back. It has been a great sadness to me that at precisely the moment when many people have been limited to their locality, the Church of England decided to re-invent itself as some internet phenomenon, transcending the confines of place.
This could have been an opportunity to re-discover the importance of location, and of the need for, and joy of, the steadying comfort of human rootedness. Instead, it became just another one of the church’s many ‘initiatives’. In church speak, these are called “fresh expressions” — a phrase that sends the chill wind of a dementor’s presence down the spine of many a parish vicar.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
It’s funny how the church is often the last to understand the treasure with which it has been entrusted. The day before yesterday I chatted on the phone with my friend Maurice Glasman. Always rolling another fag, always fizzing with ideas. And his big idea at the moment is… the parish. Now, I don’t need much persuading here. And as Maurice was enthusiastically eulogising the political possibilities of this ancient unit of both civic and ecclesiastical togetherness I did wonder whether I should interrupt him and ask about how this fits with his Judaism. But it’s hard to stop him when he’s on a roll. And he is right.
It seems that, in all the fuss of lockdown, I hadn’t properly noticed a fascinating open letter that he and a number of others had sent to the churches, offering some thoughts about where we might go from here.
I was very touched by these words. And, to be fair, the Church of England still does all this much better than most other institutions. My gripes about the church are always the gripes of someone who loves it so much he can be rude about it. Lord Glasman co-authored the letter with a number of notable Anglicans. And this is exactly the sort of vision that keeps me going as a parish priest. As I unlocked the doors yesterday, I did so with these words ringing in my head: “the elemental theatre of living community.”
Great column, Sarah!
It is not just J.K. Rowling who has faced horrible abuse from internet trolls for standing up for women’s rights. Paula Radcliffe, the UK’s greatest female marathoner, suffered in the same way last year when she defended keeping South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya out of competition unless she took testosterone blockers to keep her testosterone levels under control. Today, the transgendered are the flavour of the month, but intersex people are not going away. Women’s sport at the highest level risks being heavily dominated by intersex or transgendered athletes if women don’t stand up for their rights. To Sarah’s point, does Paula lean left or right? No-one should care. The issue of under what terms intersex athletes can compete in women’s sport is not a left or right issue. It’s a women’s rights issue, and all women should support her. All men, for that matter, who, like myself, take an interest in women’s athletics.
Seems to me the Anglican clergy, Giles excepted, are far too busy telling us what our political beliefs should be to have any time to attend to our spiritual needs.
I’m American and would describe myself as a classical liberal, anti-totalitarian, and a second-wave feminist, so my understanding of the author’s British experience and politics is admittedly limited. What I see as the elephant in the room, when the author states that feminism should not be categorized as necessarily completely on the Left, is that feminism became an express part of the radical Left sometime in the seventies. I was coming of age at that time and was very much on board with feminism as equal rights for women until feminism’s concerns veered hard left–although at the time I had no knowledge of the Left per se, so I didn’t have a context to explain why the articles in Ms. magazine no longer made any sense to me. In more recent times, intersectionality is a “must accept” theory for anyone who does not wish to be identified as being on the Right. A basic tenet of intersectionality is that all oppression is inextricably linked (I picture it as a tapestry) such that if you support feminism you must also support BLM and anti-colonialism and unlimited immigration etc. Given the current polarization and insistence on de-platforming and personally destroying those who contest whatever today’s current Left narrative happens to be, how could specific types of women’s concerns be effectively pursued? You aren’t allowed to pull one thread out of the tapestry.
The Church needs robust anti-woke clerics in the parishes if it wants to survive the next 10-20 years.
I for one am not holding my breath. The Wokeness of the church rescinding an ex Archbishop of Canterbury’s PTO is not a good look.
I would love the church to become the elemental theatre of community but fear that the CofE does too much talking and insufficient doing.
If you don’t go to church, perhaps you should, in order to see how much the church IS doing. My church certainly is, both locally and amongst certain disadvantaged people in Africa. If you do go to church, and you have genuine reason to feel this way, perhaps you should remind your fellow church members of James 2: 14-26.
I’ve been going to church since I was 17…now I’m an OAP!
LOTS OF ‘shoulds’ HERE?
Indeed. “… too much talking ” over and above their designated ‘role’ in English life and far removed from the thoughts and fears of the community they are ‘ostensibly’ committed to sustain and comfort. Archbishop Welby needs to step outside his ‘corporate’ instincts and backstep into a Christian seminary; for some retraining in the ethics and morality of that Faith..
Hi Kate. I suspect it’s more complex than this. Certainly the Salisbury diocese based around Sarum College and the cathedral close take the thoughts and fears of the community very seriously. I don’t see them at any point unconcerned. It’s always a hard job trying build the bridges, and being open to criticism. My own temptation would be to be generous.
I have been surprised, but impressed by Welby’s grasp on theology and the Christian tradition. His job isn’t easy.
Interesting Carol. It’s hard though. My own local church seems to do a lot (supporting many missions, children’s work, besom project, food bank, link visiting, art workshops, street pastors, etc,) but it isn’t always easy to gauge actual impact. Hopefully the local church is not just talking.
I’m new to this tiny parish but can’t see much happening, talk or otherwise. I also think some of my ideas and views would be too daring for our IMHO slightly odd Vicar.
Interesting article but surely we can muster a bit more hope for the future, we can’t just give up and let these woke lunatics destroy everything. E.g. refuse to be quiet and self-censor – take legal action if you’re discriminated against or fired for ‘wrongthink’, join like-minded people locally or online to campaign on issues but remember to call yourself something ‘nice’ like Anti-fascists or ‘Hope Not Hate’. Don’t we owe it to future generations to pass on something better than we inherited rather than something that resembles the end of the Joker film(2019)?
Yes you’re right but just look at the media furore over Dominic Raabs comment about kneeling. NOBODY should be expected to kneel to anyone or anything.
Holy cow! the burning flag pic looks like a sci-fi dystopian book cover from 20 years ago.
Thanks for this Giles. Of course in places like mine the power of the parish is still acknowledged. However given this is a poor northern parish and so many exciting initiatives are out there, our voice is often drowned out.
I think the power of the parish Giles and Maurice invoke is more imaginative. than a practical reality today accept in very reduced circumstances. I share and value that imagination and would love to see it inhabited more fully, but as a parish priest myself , I know the vision simply doesn’t have the resources of people, time, and money for it to be sustained. Covid may change the situation if its impact on a society changes the way significant numbers of people choose to live, ie more locally . We shall have to see .
Trump’s attempts to assert dictatorial power
Do you have any actual evidence to back up this assertion?
I read about two thirds of this article then got bored.
What the left-wing Democrats and the activists was is power and control. They nearly have it.
They never accepted the result of the last election, and before the CV19 virus hit us all, were seeing their chances of winning this year’s election going down the toilet.
Some of Bernie Sanders campaign workers vowed to burn down Minneapolis if Bernie did not win the Democrat nomination (see Project Veritas video recordings). The far left anarchists just waited for the opportune moment, then started their rampage.
The economy has been trashed by the severe quarantine lockdowns imposed on populations across the U.S. (although not all, i.e. mainly Republican-run states). Censorship of opposing opinions is rampant. Then they trashed their cities,
and are pushing to get rid of the police. Maybe they replace them in some cities with “rapid response social workers.”
What they can’t win by fair means, they’ll win in a coup against an elected president, whilst telling everyone that Trump may cheat during the election process, he may not accept the result, etc, etc.
They are happily destroying Western society so they can be in power, because they have been brainwashed into believing in socialism instead of capitalism.
People are not brainwashed into believing in socialism Mr Smedley. It has a fair historical tradition and the belief is based on the facts and political philosophy. From your political perspective you choose to disagree which I can understand.
Children and students are most definitely being brainwashed into believing in socialism by their teachers and professors.
When I was in school, I would not have been able to tell what the political views were of any of my teachers. Politics was kept out of school, except perhaps in the most general sense.
We did get to read Solzhenitsyn, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451. I doubt any students read those books now. We grew up under the Cold War, and saw the people shot who tried to escape communist East Germany.
Communist Soviet Russia is no longer a communist state. The Stasi are no longer spying on their own people. We heard about Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields.
If any of the young generation under the age of 30 have heard of any of those things I’d be very surprised.
A majority believe socialism is far better than capitalism, and I don’t suppose they decided that by themselves. Most of them couldn’t really tell you the difference between the two systems other than “socialism is fairer.”
Published on 18 Sep 2019
As generations come of age, the political landscape often shifts. Two recent surveys’ reporting that more than half of millennials identify as socialist should therefore ring alarm bells for people who support free markets and individual liberty.
College students stumped over socialism
Freddie really should have pushed back at Bregman’s confident assertion that there are a lot of experiments out there that all support the UBI and show that it doesn’t provide a disincentive to working.
There were only really two UBI experiments ever conducted in Canada, which is a lot larger country than the Netherlands. The first, which ran from 1973-78, was the Mincome experiment in the province of Manitoba. As University of Manitoba professor Gregory Mason notes (“It was time to walk away from Ontario’s flawed basic income experiment”, August 10, 2018), it was “a rigorous randomized control” involving both urban and rural low-income Manitobans. Pace Bregman, it did not show no work disincentive. Instead it showed a small work disincentive over the limited three-year period of the project. More important, as Mason writes, it really provided no evidence whether there was or was not a more important disincentive over the longer term in an ongoing program, not a pilot: “Despite many millions having been spent on income maintenance experiments in North America, we are still clueless about this central question.”
The Ontario UBI experiment, which made its first payments in late 2017, was supposed to run for three years, was terminated early by the incoming Progressive Conservative government, and the last payments were made in March 2019, i.e. it didn’t last for even two years. Moreover the Liberal government of Katherine Wynne that initiated the Ontario UBI quickly abandoned a randomized sample in a desperate search for volunteers. No scientifically reliable results could be salvaged from such a pathetically unscientific sample, although a number of academics, favourably disposed to the UBI project, have given it a gallant try.
The Canadian tax expert Kevin Milligan has said that the Ontario UBI pilot implied a 90% tax rate on the earnings of low-income recipients of UBI, if one piles the other taxes that working people would pay on top of the 50% phase-out rate. And there is a wealth of evidence that such an extremely high tax rate on earned income serves as a disincentive to work.
Bregman doesn’t know what he is talking about. He’s a historian, not an economist.
The alternative to President Trump was President Clinton Mk II. Personally I think Donald Trump has been the most refreshing leader of the USA for decades and spectacularly better than Clinton and the nut-jobs of the hard-left infiltrated Democratic Party.
President Trump stands for the US constitution. They don’t.
I may have missed something but as a retired priest of 42 years experience I am bemused by this article,
It seems to be suggesting that the Church of England has turned its back on its communities. The reason given is that its churches have been locked down. We need to be reminded that protection of health and compliance with government regulations made it necessary and any suggestion that this be ignored is highly irresponsible. Also this is very much a temporary and unique situation and to see church lockdown as in someway letting our communities down is frankly absurd. The Church of England remains absolutely committed to its communities in so far as finance and person power allows.
What exactly does Maurice Glasman’s phrase mean?- ” the elemental theatre of living community”.I presume it means that churches should be centres of community life. First of all many are, particularly where the congregation have financed interior re-ordering schemes introducing toilets,kitchens and meeting rooms into churches and opening them up to the community. But it also has to be said that the vast majority of people would see their school, shopping centre, pub, gym and bingo hall as theatres of community far more than their local church.
Interesting that Fresh Expressions of Church should be seen as denying the importance of location and human rootedness. FE in fact is based on the premise that the vast majority find this not in the parish church and what goes on inside it every Sunday, but in other groups and places. It is saying that church can happen in places and at times other than in church and on Sunday. My wife and I led a Youth Church for 12 years in our Rectory on a Thursday evening. Within 2 years the original youth group had become a church in its own right exhibiting all the marks of an authentic church including the preaching of the Word and celebration of the Sacraments. We had many Confirmations and one of our members is now a priest. The thing is that everything was done in ways that were appropriate for teenagers. This is where they found their location and rootedness in the community.
We need both traditional and fresh expressions of Church. Rowan Williams calls it “the mixed economy Church”.
I share some of these views. There has always been a tension between fresh expressions and the book ‘for the parish’ you may find interesting. It’s by Davison and Milbank. Basically it challenges the fx ecclesiology.
It was a joy to enter a church yesterday.
I’d like John Gray to discuss positive and negative liberty. For example imagine the BBC teaching Maori on its 6 to 9 am slot.
Espiner admitted he enjoyed infuriating such listeners and confirmed RNZ would not give into such complaints
Thank you for this, Giles – and thanks to Maurice, whose thought is always a stimulus to the common good. I agree entirely. I hope that the Church of England as a whole has not forgotten the power of the parish and the amazing buildings which lie at its heart. I have written a piece about it for this week’s Church Times.
I am one of those feminists who couldn’t possibly vote for the Labour Party although I did for most of my life. In my opinion the left have led the feminist movement neatly into a cul de sac where they cannot say a word about the dreadful life experiences Women endure because they are Women, both here and all over the world.
Surely the woke believe what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine and I do not have to work for it.
“feminism, which has to be about directly improving women’s lives and prospects if it’s to be about anything at all” Hmm. This statement is revealing. I thought feminism was supposed to be about achieving equality. ‘Equality’ implies social equality or equal rights with men. That is, men are part of the equation. Perhaps if challenged this writer would agree, but this statement suggests that men are not part of her picture, only women. It also implies an endless mission, rather than a goal that can be successfully achieved, for of course one can continuously improve women’s lives, on and on. But so can men’s lives be improved on and on. But that doesn’t matter to feminism. They don’t want to improve society as a whole; they only want things better for themselves.
Very interesting and insightful article. Lots of food for thought.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe