There are days when being the Bishop of Bath and Wells is a tough job. Last week Peter Price gave a lecture in Wells Cathedral on 'the Future of the Church of England: the Next 25 Years'. Prophetically, he opened it with this:
There are few moments of regret in a bishop’s life, but agreeing to this somewhat catch all title for a lecture has been one of mine! Its somewhat disparate title requires me from the beginning to appeal to the Higher Power for grace and forgiveness. Ken Dodd was once asked whether he could make God laugh, and he responded, ‘Yes, tell him your plans.’
Attempting to prophesy the future of the Church of England, let alone the Anglican Communion, Christian churches and other faith traditions is to risk God’s hollow laugh.
It's an interesting read despite all that: he speaks of the 'half a revolution' of Vatican 2, and challenges the church to look outwards to the world and the poor, and not inwards to its own debates about sexuality and women bishops.
The years following the Vatican Council were heady times. Two of those present going on to be elected pope, Karol Wojtyla and Josef Ratzinger, John Paul 2 and Pope Benedict respectively. Despite some opposition, much energy was expended and expectations were raised of a new church vibrant with the possibility of a humanity and a planet finding its true purpose.
But, and it seems there is always a but, in McCulloch’s words Vatican 2 was only ‘half a revolution.’ Key among the areas which it failed to address were the issues of the role of women, contraception and celibacy. Perhaps the hidden agenda of what was not tackled was that of patriarchy, dominance of men.
Here in a sense we come full circle, back to the present realities of not only the Roman Church, but also the Anglican Church, and at this particular moment, the Church of England. For the issue of women in leadership, particularly as bishops is once again a hot potato. Conservatives and Catholics within the Church of England find themselves often in strange juxtaposition with Roman Catholic and Orthodox teaching on the ‘headship’ issue in relation to women.
Even more of a juxtaposition now...... but the key passage is on pages 7-8
It seems to me we have a choice at this moment in history. Either we face inwards and increasingly narrow the focus of our lenses on the minutiae of whatever we perceive as ‘deal breakers.’ Or we face outwards and have a radical change of heart towards the priorities determined by the plight of the planet and its people. We cannot do both. To do the latter will need moral imagination.
I may blog at some stage about this weeks Vatican manoeverings. But actually there are far more important things going on in the church, and in the world. In the grand scheme of things, how much does it really matter if a few dozen priests and a few hundred worshippers decide to become semi-detached Roman Catholics? Stick a couple of zeroes on the end if you want, it's still nowhere near the billions in poverty, the 800 million without clean water, the number of chronically depressed people in the UK right now, or pretty much any other indicator of human need and suffering you choose.
We love the intrigue, I'm not sure God does. I'm with my Bishop on this one.