Thursday, 21 March 2013

On Real Authority in the Church of England

Just a hunch. But I'm thinking that, to a large extent, I've identified one of the major sources of authority in the Church of England. Possibly of more influence than the Bible, certainly than the Synod.

The clue's at the top of the page.

No, not Fawley church in particular. But you think about it. On the carefully-reasoned application of Scripture, after much consideration of Tradition, after seeking into his inmost soul and calling on the Help of the Helper, a priest decides it is time to go to Rome. A number of his flock decide to go with him. But turning round, he discovers that a number of people - as opposed to Gay/Female/Protestant Priests/Bishops as he, as completely in touch with Modern Catholic Thinking, as dedicated to a Y-Chromosomal monopoly on all things ecclesiastical - have stayed exactly where they were. They say it's a shame that he's gone, they respect his decision. But behind it all, there's just a sneaking suspicion that they wonder how he could leave the 13th Century rib vaulting behind.

Or a new priest arrives in the village. S/he is vivid, dynamic, progressive and in touch with the best theological and liturgical developments. Naturally, everybody in the parish is mortified. As Messy Churches, Electric Keyboards, drum-kits and Alpha Courses - or, alternatively, aves, rosaries and rose chasubles on Mothering Sunday - appear, the congregation are outraged. This is a New Thing to be resisted at all costs. Of course, they might fight and lose. And then, they're not going to walk out, are they? For the nearest church which is not led by this minister is 6 miles away. And it's hilly. And with all this climate change, it keeps snowing. And though there's a Methodist chapel nearby, frankly it's red-brick. And so any outraged walker-outer thinks, yeah, but in ten years' time, the minister will be gone. But the foliate heads and carved pew-ends will still be here.

Going nowhere
The thing is, your minister, a new Archbishop, or a minor matter like the Reformation or the Civil War, are blips on the historical timeline. They come, they go, doctrines are believed in, or rejected, or modified to be the opposite to what they were last time. The vicar can believe or not in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Lord of the Dance or that aliens from the Andromeda galaxy are living in the Big Barn. But when's all said and done, these things will all pass. And, when they do, Aunt Doris will still be in the graveyard, and the Rood Screen will still be in rood health.

You've got to know where your certainties lie.


  1. More than a kernel of truth here, Eileen, at least as far as the parishes I know are concerned. Shaking the dust from one's feet just isn't done....

  2. I've often wondered where the authority was?

    At first I thought it was the Parish Priest, but when I saw him being head butted by the Vestry Door (Church Warden on other side of it) I realised that it was really the Church Wardens. But, when I saw the Church Warden cowering to the organist, I realised that it was the Organist. But, when I saw her crying while talking to the flower lady, I knew I had found the real power base.

  3. As an ex churchwarden I know by experience that the lady who is in charge of the tea towels has the ultimate power....

  4. Now here's a worrying thought. Perhaps the call to ordination is only heard by those willing to move on, geographically and metaphorically.


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