Women sharing a Eucharist

‘Reform and renewal’ is the term used for the Church of England ‘s wide-ranging programmes of change. This post is about its proposal to rapidly increase the number of lay ministers : the unpaid to 17,500 (a 48% increase) and the paid to 2,000 (a 69% increase).

Reform and Renewal is a top-down initiative from the archbishops, so lay people may want a say. Laura Sykes has on her own initiative set up the Lay Anglican Public Colloquium to develop ideas on the best ways forward.

When I first moved to Liverpool a dozen years ago, I could not have imagined that I would be at Liverpool Cathedral to hear a keynote speech by the head of an LGBT rights charity. It was Friday the 13th - it happened, the Cathedral is still standing, and the times are changing.

The Mouth of Hell. From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 14th century
The door of the room has never been opened before since first she set her foot on that red-hot floor. Now she sees the door opening. She rushes forward… “Look,” she says, “at my burnt and bleeding feet. Let me go off this floor for one moment, only for one single short moment. Oh, that in this endless eternity of years I might forget the pain only for one single moment…” Oh, that you could hear the horrible, the fearful scream of that girl when she saw the door shutting never to be opened any more. The history of this girl is short. Her feet first led her into sin, so it is her feet which most of all are tormented.

This and similar stories appear in a series of fourteen books by Joseph Furniss, written for children in the 1860s. The most popular, The Sight of Hell, sold millions: that is to say, millions of parents bought them for their children to read. They wanted their children to believe a fate like this was a real prospect, and reflect on it.

René Girard

Thinking with gratitude about the passing of René Girard on 4th November at the age of 91. He is one of those people who, although I never met him, has made an enormous contribution to my life and faith.

He has been described as the 'Darwin of the human sciences'. He was particularly interested in the causes of human conflict and violence and the role of imitation in human behavior. In the Christian context his work discloses much about the meaning and significance of Jesus' death on the cross in a way that uncovers that wrath and violence come from human beings not God.

Detail from Filippino Lippi’s St Paul Visiting St Peter in Prison, via Wikimedia Commons. Caption: 'If in a sense we're all sinners, why aren't you here in prison with me?'

What the new Church of England booklet Talking Jesus actually says is that a group of Christian leaders, meeting in March, shared a ‘collective longing for God to move in this nation’. For those who do not speak fluent Evangelicalese this sounds like telling God to ‘shift your arse off that sofa and get with the program’. There are no further instructions to God, but what runs right through the booklet is an elitist distinction between those who know what needs to be done and those who need to be done to.

Talking Jesus is sponsored by the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and an organisation called Hope that arranged a social survey. Here I summarise the booklet, suggest a background explanation and offer alternative ways to talk about Jesus.