Hugh Montefiore, a former Bishop of Birmingham, has underlined his reputation for charming eccentricity by a recent exhortation to the Church to take seriously ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night. Montefiore's warning about the dangerous activities of the undead could not have been more timely. After a prolonged period of welcome silence the former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, has come back to haunt the Church of England.
Jenkins, you will recall, could be relied upon to preface most major Christian festivals with outrageous statements calling into question central tenets of the faith. This resulted in maximum publicity for him and equal amounts of aggravation for front-line clergy (which Jenkins had never been) mopping up the results at parish level.
Nor were the results of his intellectual arrogance merely external. During his time in office, it is said, the House of bishops was paralyzed by indecision on any issue of significance until the ‘Great Mind’ had given them a steer.
In General Synod, as in the women priests debate, he was not afraid to hector with rank emotionalism and in his diocese any questioning of his policy was likely to be met with petulance and a short fuse. It is almost superfluous to add that his contempt for and exclusion of orthodox priests from senior office, wherever possible, was a hallmark of the regime.
So what does the great doctor have to tell us in his latest memoirs, the appropriately titled A Cuckoo in the Nest? Is it a sober reflection on his time in office? Penitence for mistakes made? An attempt to make peace with those whose ministries he afflicted or made so much more difficult? A vision of the holy life long unencumbered by high office? Naturally not. The man who lived high on the Church of England hog as a Prince of the Church pauses briefly and angrily on his way to eternity for one, we hope, final rant at the poor bloody infantry, the clergy and people of the Church of England.
The Church of England, claims the good doctor, almost drove him to atheism!
The sad fact is that it is unlikely any of us would have noticed.
By a curious coincidence it is nearly time for the Church of England to appoint a new Bishop of Durham. Jenkins successor, Michael Turnbull, is coming up to retirement after eight years in the post. While this magazine has always taken the line that, if the C of E took Scripture seriously, he should never have been appointed in the first place, this is not the time to revisit the difficulties of his personal life. But it is a time, perhaps, to review his tenure and examine the future for this historic diocese.
Turnbull, a protégé of Donald Coggan, was a man of very different ecclesiastical stripe from his predecessor. A liberal evangelical, a non-intellectual, Turnbull had at least spent seven of his 42 years ministry as an incumbent, albeit at Heslington while performing his duties as Chaplain of York University.
While less contentious than Jenkins in his opposition to orthodoxy, he was, in practice, just as thoroughly excluding in his appointments. It has also been his misfortune to preside over the most catastrophic decline in Church membership and attendance in Durham diocese's modern history while its finances are correspondingly parlous. No diocese in the CofE has declined more spectacularly in recent years.
While this was happening locally, George Carey was commissioning Turnbull to produce a plan to save the CofE. The Turnbull Report has been the basis of all the management style and restructuring on which Carey and his Lambeth's group of business advisers based their hope for institutional survival. It would be premature to dismiss it but early results are not encouraging and its imposed structures have not gained the confidence of the governed or the governors.
For nearly twenty years Durham diocese has not had a very happy time. Its precipitous decline has led some to argue that now is a good time to amalgamate it with another small diocese, Newcastle. That it is time to take the same measures with dioceses as with parishes. It is certainly an opportunity for that serious discussion to take place.
More important, however, must be the process of selection for the heir of Jenkins and Turnbull. It is true that many great men have held the post and often men of outstanding intellectual calibre. At the moment what Durham, along with many dioceses in the Cof E, desperately needs is a good pastor with a substantial track record, a committed believer in the historic faith, an encourager to understand and appreciate the dedicated hard work of priests and people and someone who will eschew the bureaucratic tasks of the centre for a major rebuilding of this once great heartland of the faith. It would be a tragedy if the unreformed appointment system simply threw up one of the many careerists who currently have their eye on the job and its prestige. Durham deserves better. Can Dr Williams persuade the Crown Appointments Commission to deliver?
The death of Monica Furlong was a significant moment in the Church of England’s long and tortuous journey toward the ordination of women. Monica was the seer, and in many ways the spiritual powerhouse, making the movement in England at once more mature and more Christian than its American equivalent. She died in sight of the promised land. The ordination of women as bishops, when it comes, will fulfil her dream.
As the great and the good gathered for the funeral, in the tasteful modernity of the restored Holy Trinity, Beckenham, there must have been as much apprehension for the future as remembrance of things past.
It was Monica Furlong, above all, who held out hope for the freshness of approach and change of emphasis in the life of the Church that women would bring. They would transform it in new ways of godliness, and deepen its ministry of reconciliation to the nation.
That hope must surely still be alive – and if Monica herself in her last big book CofE: the State It’s In seemed to take a dim view of the institution and its possibilities, those who follow her cannot afford to abandon the dream altogether. For Monica was not wrong. The CofE does need many of the changes of life and outlook which she believed the ordination of women would bring.
[The question has to be whether women priests and bishops can bring those changes about. The fear must be that, passing through the same mill, sifted by the same absurd mechanisms of preferment, they will deliver not revolution but more of the same.]
[But] [c]Call us cynical or sexist, [but] we do not hesitate to point out that many of the good qualities generally agreed to be present more typically in women than in men (the desire for consensus rather than confrontation; the instinct for nurture; the talent for compromise) are unlikely to result in prophecy; and more likely to produce a succession of corporatist apparatchiks. Just like the men, in fact.
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