God-shaped hole will lead to loss of national sense of identity

May 8, 2008 by

By Ruth Gledhill, The Times The crisis facing Britain’s Christian churches is linked directly to the crisis of British identity now being addressed by the Government. Oaths of allegiance and citizenship ceremonies are under consideration. But one thing lacking from so many conversations about “Britishness” is any reference to a link between religious and ethnic identity. In contrast to the decline of Christianity in Britain, Islam and Hinduism are thriving here. One reason is that for Muslims and Hindus, wherever they come from, their religion is inextricably linked with their sense of identity. Even though the last Prime Minister was devout and converted to Roman Catholicism soon after he left office, and the present one is a son of the manse, the Government remains strongly secular. This is an inevitable result of the liberalising trends of the last century, and one not necessarily to be lamented.   But the consequences, good and bad, need to be faced. As the Religious Trends Survey shows, an ageing generation of churchgoers is about to die out and there could be, within a generation, a God-shaped hole at the heart of our society. It is a hole in the shape of the old fashioned, liberal Anglican God and it is a hole that is at the heart of the present debate about British identity. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, suggested that an element of Sharia would inevitably have to be incorporated into British law, he sparked a storm of protest. But perhaps the situation highlighted in this report was merely the reality he was facing up to. The decline forecast for the Church of England is so severe that its position as the established church of the nation with the Queen as Supreme Governor can surely no longer be tenable. First to go will have to be the 26 bishops in the House of Lords. Then the Act of Settlement, which inhibits Royals from marrying or becoming Catholics, must go. Autumn Kelly, engaged to the Queen’s grandson Peter Phillips, had to relinquish her Catholicism because of it – a shameful demand for an enlightened Western state to make of one of its future citizens. Parliamentarians have always balked at disestablishment because of the time involved and the complexity. The Prime Minister a few days ago pulled back from reform of the Act of Settlement, largely because of the implications for Commonwealth nations. This recognises that there is still a residual Christian identity in Britain. Few were more surprised than the bishops of the Church of England when the Government’s 2001 census established that seven in ten people considered themselves Christian. Of the Anglican Communion’s oft-touted tally of 70 million members worldwide, more than 20 million are the baptised members of the Church of England living in Britain. But with church attendance hovering around the statistically critical 5 per cent mark, that figure becomes increasingly meaningless. Most of the Anglican Communion’s active members are in Africa and Asia. It is likely...

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Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour

May 8, 2008 by

By Ruth Gledhill, The Times Church attendance in Britain is declining so fast that the number of regular churchgoers will be fewer than those attending mosques within a generation, research published today suggests. The fall – from the four million people who attend church at least once a month today – means that the Church of England, Catholicism and other denominations will become financially unviable. A lack of funds from the collection plate to support the Christian infrastructure, including church upkeep and ministers’ pay and pensions, will force church closures as ageing congregations die. In contrast, the number of actively religious Muslims will have increased from about one million today to 1.96 million in 2035. According to Religious Trends, a comprehensive statistical analysis of religious practice in Britain, published by Christian Research, even Hindus will come close to outnumbering churchgoers within a generation. The forecast to 2050 shows churchgoing in Britain declining to 899,000 while the active Hindu population, now at nearly 400,000, will have more than doubled to 855,000. By 2050 there will be 2,660,000 active Muslims in Britain – nearly three times the number of Sunday churchgoers. The research is based on analysis of membership and attendance of all the religious bodies in Britain, including a church census in 2005. Coming just months after the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that the introduction of aspects of sharia into British law was unavoidable, the report is likely to fuel calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Martin Salter, the Labour MP for Reading West and a member of Reading inter-faith group, said: “I think all faiths could be treated equally under our constitution. These figures demonstrate the absurdity of favouring one brand of Christianity over other parts of the Christian faith and the many other religions that grace our shores.” Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary with responsibility for community cohesion, said: “We will look at these findings very closely. Britain is a secular democracy with a strong Christian tradition but many faiths have a home in Britain.” The report makes it clear that Christianity is becoming a minority religion. It also reflects the changing nature of religious practice worldwide and will further aid the stated aim of the Prince of Wales who, on his Coronation, hopes to become Defender of Faith rather than Defender of the Faith. Only in the large, evangelical churches of the Baptist and independent denominations is there resistance to the trend, but many of these churches also show some decline. One small area of growth is in Northern Ireland, where the enthusiasm of Pentecostals and other independents has led to a slight increase in numbers of churches – a trend expected to continue to 2050. The three growing denominations are the Orthodox, Pentecostals and smaller denominations, all dependent to a degree on immigration. The crisis is particularly acute for Methodists and Presbyterians, as many worshippers are aged over 65. The report predicts that these churches might well have merged with others by 2030....

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Pope Welcomes Archbishop Williams

May 7, 2008 by

From The Living Church Discussions of America, ecumenism and theology animated the May 5 meeting of Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was a “friendly and informal meeting in which we discussed a number of ecumenical issues; some of the Pope’s impressions of his American visit; and common issues in Christian-Muslim dialogue,” Archbishop Rowan Williams told The Living Church, as reported by his press secretary Marie Papworth. Speaking to Vatican Radio before his meeting with the Pope, Archbishop Williams said he hoped to inform the pope about the latest plans for the Lambeth Conference and touch base with him about churches in China, among other concerns. Archbishop Williams acknowledged the Anglican Communion was passing through an “unprecedentedly difficult time, no two ways about that.” He said, though, that relations with the Roman Catholic Church remained strong, partly through the work of the Anglican Centre, whose directors had laid “deep foundations” of “personal trust and confidence and in terms of ease of access and honesty of discussion, I think we’re in a very good phase.” On May 7, Archbishop Williams will install the new director of the Anglican Centre in Rome at an ecumenical service at the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Basilica. The Very Rev. David Richardson, the former dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia, will also serve as Archbishop Williams’ representative to the Vatican in Rome. (The Rev.) George Conger...

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Pittsburgh Bishops to attend Lambeth Conference

May 7, 2008 by

From  Pittsburgh Diocese Document Actions Bishops Robert Duncan and Henry Scriven confirmed today that they will be attending both the Global Anglican Future Conference in June and the Lambeth Conference of Bishops this July and August.    Bishops Robert Duncan and Henry Scriven confirmed today that they will be attending both the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jordan and Jerusalem in June and the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in Kent, England, this July and August. "After consulting with the people of Pittsburgh and our friends around the globe, we have come to the conclusion that it is necessary for us to be present at both gatherings," said Bishop Robert Duncan. The Global Anglican Future Conference is focused on moving forward with the work and witness of the church even as the crisis in the Anglican Communion over discipline and biblical authority continues. It brings together hundreds of bishops who have, as a matter of conscience, decided not to attend the Lambeth Conference, as well as other bishops who believe that global partnerships and the current conflicts necessitate their presence at both meetings. Among those going to Jerusalem and Jordan are many of the strongest supporters of orthodox Anglicans in North America. "We will be among friends, focused squarely on the Gospel, and dealing openly with how we build the missionary relationships, covenantal boundaries and responsible structures for the future of Anglicanism," said Bishop Duncan. Bishops Duncan and Scriven will then join some six-hundred bishops and archbishops (about two-thirds of all Anglican bishops) who will be attending the Anglican Communion’s once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of Bishops. "Given the expense and the stated-intent of the Archbishop of Canterbury that Lambeth can no longer be considered a decision making council of the church, choosing to be present was not easy," said Bishop Duncan. In an effort to limit costs connected to the meeting, an estimated $12,000 per attending bishop and spouse for the entire two-and-a-half week Lambeth Conference, Bishop Duncan will attend July 16-25 and Bishop Scriven will attend July 26 – August 3. Both bishops believe it is important that the diocese be represented throughout the Lambeth Conference, if for no other reason than to provide an alternative perspective on the situation in The Episcopal Church. "Those who accuse us of abandoning the Anglican Communion will certainly be present and vocal. It is important for us to be able to respond directly to their claims about the situation in The Episcopal Church and our place in the Communion," added Bishop Duncan. As with the Global Anglican Future Conference, both Pittsburgh bishops will also work to strengthen missionary partnerships with bishops from every corner of the world. Bishop Scriven asked that Pittsburgh Episcopalians pray for both meetings. "We hope that many join us in praying for God’s clear presence and guidance in the Holy Land and Canterbury. With God, all things are possible," he said....

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Archbishop of Canterbury – 'Religious Faith and Human Rights'

May 4, 2008 by

From ACNS The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams will gave a lecture yesterday at the London School of Economics entitled ‘Religious Faith and Human Rights’. Dr Williams sets out a fresh and original vision of how religious tradition – Christianity in particular – can help ground human rights thinking in ways that protect human life from violence, abuse or inequality. Dr Williams responds specifically to the challenge laid down by Alastair McIntyre to find a language, or ethics, for human rights which is robust enough to resist moral relativism on the one hand and political utility on the other. If McIntyre was right to say that the problem with the strict Enlightenment framework of human rights is that it leaves us ‘bereaved’, what might religion have to say about the ‘most secure foundations’ for a universal ethic of inalienable rights? In answering this question Dr Williams shows how theology can come to the aid of social, political and legal theory. Human rights cannot be allowed to become just a list of entitlements ‘dropped into the cradle’. If human rights theory is to be robust enough to rank as ‘the only generally intelligible way in modern political ethics of decisively challenging the positive authority of the State to do what it pleases’ it needs to be rooted more deeply than is possible within a purely secular rationale. Using the development of Christian thinking about slavery as an example, Dr Williams explores how the notion of bodiliness could be a key to a deeper rooting of our notion of inalienable human rights and how my rights and yours are inextricably linked: ‘my liberty not to be silenced, not to have my body reduced to someone else’s instrument, is nourished by the equal liberty of the other not to be silenced.’ ‘Equal liberty is at root inseparable from the equality of being embodied. Rights belong not to the person who can demonstrate capacity or rationality but to any organism that can be recognised as a human body, at any stage of its organic development.’ The full text of the lecture can be found HERE....

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No Pulpit Ban for Bishop Robinson

May 3, 2008 by

From The Living Church Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire has not been banned from pulpits in the Church of England according to a spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who denied press speculation that the Archbishop Rowan Williams was attempting to silence Bishop Robinson. A press officer confirmed on May 2 that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had not issued Bishop Robinson a license to officiate in the Province of Canterbury. However, Church of England canon law does not grant the archbishop the authority to ban preachers, the spokesman noted. While traveling in Britain to promote his book, Bishop Robinson told the BBC “in the past [Archbishop Williams] has… declined to give me permission to preach and to celebrate the Holy Communion and I would never do so without his permission.” Episcopal News Service reported April 30 that Archbishop Williams would not permit Bishop Robinson “to preach or preside at a Eucharist while he is in England, according to reports.” Under the Church of England’s Canon C17.6 “by statute law it belongs to the archbishop to give permission to officiate within his province to any minister who has been ordained” by an “overseas” province of the Anglican Communion. All visiting clergy who seek to perform the sacraments within the Province of Canterbury must secure the permission of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The same rules apply for the Province of York in the northern part of England. But another canon gives the authority to preach to a parish incumbent, with the permission of the diocesan bishop. Bishop Robinson has sought permission to officiate in the past and Archbishop Williams has declined to accede to the request, the spokesman said. Bishop Robinson broached the topic again in a letter to Archbishop Williams, seeking permission to officiate in the province this summer and seeking his endorsement to preach. Archbishop Williams again declined to license Bishop Robinson to officiate, and had given “no endorsement for any of the invitations [Bishop Robinson] has received” to preach, said the Rev. Jonathan Jennings, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s press secretary. The Rev. Arun Arora, director of communications for the Archbishop of York, said he was unaware of any request from Bishop Robinson to officiate in the Province of York. (The Rev.) George Conger...

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