COMMENT: OCTOBER 1997

MR. BLAIR HAS BLOCKED the appointment of the new Bishop of Liverpool. While Church House was denying it, sources at No. 10 were confirming it. Mr. Blair, despite the shrieks of hopeful establishment clergy, is well within his rights. If he is unimpressed he is, under the 1976 Callaghan settlement, entitled to ask the Crown Appointments Commission for more names and even to see the whole list.

Why would he do so?

According to rumour one of the candidates, while elderly, would not be as offensive a choice as many that have been made. The other, while younger, would be as offensive as many that have already been made but really no worse. Both are friends and protégés of the Archbishop. So what is the Prime Minister doing?

Firstly he is someone who goes to church other than on the Sunday before election, says his prayers and takes an interest.

Second, while we do not think the orthodox lobby should get too excited about the likelihood of his support for them, he is clearly a man who knows how to make an organisation work. A blind man in a blackout can see that the Church of England is not working: it will not have escaped Mr. Blair’s attention. He is unlikely to take any pleasure in rubber stamping the preferment of those who are part of the institutional problem.

Third, it is not inconceivable that once he gets his mind round the absurdities of the Crown Appointments system and its inability to deliver anything other than a self -perpetuating oligarchy he may decide on root and branch action. A man who has not hesitated to make historic constitutional changes in lightning speed nationally is unlikely to be detained from similar ecclesiastical reform by the empty threats of the disestablishment lobby.

Several years ago the Chairman of Forward in Faith, Fr. John Broadhurst, was sitting in the foyer of Church House as two members of the Crown Appointments Commission walked past.

"Time to get out a new barrel" called Broadhurst.

"What do you mean?" replied a baffled Commissioner.

"Well," retorted Broadhurst, "you’ve more than scraped the bottom of the old one. It’s time to get out a new barrel".

Indeed it is; and if Mr. Blair is the man to do it he will have the support of impatient and frustrated Anglicans throughout the land who long for the kind of leadership that will help them revive the church.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury went to the Trades Union Conference last month to support their work. Ironically his arch episcopate has seen the first serious surge in membership of a trade union by his clergy. The reason is quite simple. The increasing centralisation of power by the bishops, poor clergy morale, increasing job insecurity and high handed treatment has made clergy conscious of how little employment rights they have. Indeed what little they thought they had was recently swept away by a judge who ruled that the clergy were employed by God (and therefore the church owed them nothing) but could be sacked by the bishop - an interesting equation. For those whose previous interest in union extended only to Communion, solidarity with the clerical comrades becomes a less unattractive necessity every day.

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After the extraordinary scenes of emotion and affection which accompanied the funeral of Princess Diana the nation has settled down to something more nearly approaching normality. But for Anglicans there are a number of questions which will need to be addressed in the coming months.

What conclusions, for example, should the Church at large, and the Church of England Liturgical Commission in particular, draw from the fact that none of its authorised funeral services was thought to be adequate or appropriate to those national obsequies?

And what are we to conclude from the fact that there was no sermon at that carefully crafted rite - no preaching of the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ or proclamation of his triumphant Resurrection?

It has been said that the events of Diana's life and death have placed a question mark over the future of the monarchy. If that is the case her funeral places a similar question over the role of the national church. From Candle in the Wind to Lady of the Lake, the images which surrounded her passing were not primarily those of our religion.

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