Editorial by Anthony Woollard
from Signs of the Times No. 67 - Oct 2017

An odd heading, perhaps, for an edition published in October, but we are at the beginning of a new academic year and not far from the start of the Church’s year (I have marked the latter by the inclusion of a book review from David Driscoll).

And, after a dramatic summer in the history of our nation, and so many developments in the life of our Church and of Modern Church itself, this is surely a good time to think about a fresh start.

As far as Modern Church is concerned, we welcomed at Annual Conference our new General Secretary, Jonathan Draper, who as a part-time paid officer will have the time to raise our profile and take forward our initiatives to a new level. As former Dean of Exeter, Jonathan is not an unknown figure in the Church. We were looking for a leader of ideas and activities in a society which represents the true Anglican mainstream at a time when all too many ideas and activities within the Church are now off-centre, and he is already proving himself in that role.

He was chosen from a strong shortlist, and I and the other Trustees who have met him support him totally, and were profoundly impressed with his engagement in the Annual Conference and with so many of those who attended. If the opportunity arises for individuals and groups within Modern Church to make themselves known to him, and to share with him what gifts they can offer to the total enterprise, I urge you to take such an opportunity. He introduces himself and his vision for Modern Church in an article below.

Perhaps less significant, but by no means trivial, is the change in the elected officers. At the Council meeting following the AGM at Conference, Jan van der Lely stepped down as Chair, but moved into the post of (elected) Secretary, with the new (employed) General Secretary reporting to her; she will continue also with the task of secretary to our exciting 2018 conference on Ritual, Worship and Culture. Alan Race – long-time member and trustee and our go-to person on interfaith matters – was elected as her successor in the Chair. Tim Stead (Vice-Chair) and Rosalind Lund (Treasurer) continue in their respective offices.

So much change, but nothing compared with what is happening in the wider Church, and, even more, the world. This is no place for any extended commentary on either, especially when political events are so fast-moving. But deep trouble and division seem to characterise the world in our times – far more complex, and therefore perhaps more dangerous, than the relative black-and-white of the Cold War.

Within our Church, meanwhile, as if in demonic answer to some seeming progress (at last) on issues of sexuality, the horrors of child abuse returned for a while to centre stage, followed closely by more schismatic manoeuvrings amongst GAFCON sympathisers and such worrying developments as the HTB takeover of the Musicians’ Church in the City of London (in which the new General Secretary intervened on our behalf via the Church Times – you can read his letter here).

Yet we trust in God.

What does that mean? Is there really a ‘daddy in the sky’ who ultimately pulls all the strings and will make everything come right in the end? How can we ‘trust’ a Mystery when, as Tim Stead regularly reminded us at Conference, we cannot know how such a Mystery could possess intentionality? The whole Conference was a most remarkable event, the reverberations of which will long resound throughout Modern Church and hopefully beyond. Perhaps it did not come to a final conclusion about whether God is ‘none, one, three or many’, but it certainly dug deeply into what we mean by the Divine, and the diverse spiritualities in which our understanding and experience are reflected. One of our planned contributors, Hugh Rock, was alas not able to be with us for tragic personal reasons, but a picture of his radical thinking is given in an article in the last (July 2017) edition of Modern Believing. For the rest, their contributions are on the website in recorded form, which alongside the reflections below give some flavour of their richness, honesty and bravery.

A common theme was what God is not, and the perils of idolatry in all our traditions. – not just the idolatries of doctrines, writings or rites (whatever legitimate place these may have as embodiments of the Mystery), but those of our own internal images of the Divine, of which we are barely aware. From David Stancliffe we got the idea that God lives, not in nouns and adjectives, but in verbs and adverbs. June Boyce Tillman’s song ‘Let’s go a-Godding’ was quoted. And we certainly did go a-Godding, not just in the lectures and our responses to them, but in our worship, and in moving discussions about our own spiritualities. The traditions of the via negativa came very much to the fore, and I was reminded of Henry Vaughan’s ‘There lives in God (some say)/A deep and dazzling darkness’. As to what we can do, as distinct from what we cannot say, our next two conferences, on ritual, worship and culture in 2018 and on public theology in 2019, may provide more answers.

One thing we need to do is to deepen our dialogue with Christians of other traditions. I find it intriguing that two articles in this edition mention John Henry Newman. Not a natural bedfellow for Modern Church – yet he did introduce to our Roman brothers and sisters the idea of development of doctrine, which arguably in the course of time made Vatican II possible. There may be more points of contact, of this sort, than we realise. The book review on the history of the Vineyard movement opens a window into a world perhaps more alien to many of us than that of Newman, but this, also, cannot be disregarded.

Another thing which we must do is to bring new blood into Modern Church itself and into its governing bodies, so as to secure the carrying on of our witness to Church and world. In particular, I referred above to Rosalind Lund’s re-election as treasurer, but she has made it clear that this is only for one more year. We had no response to her earlier appeal for a possible assistant and eventual successor, but we cannot believe that there is no-one amongst our membership able and willing to succeed her in 2018. The task is hardly onerous, compared say to the treasurership of a large parish (I know all about that), and there would be at least three members of Council – Rosalind, her predecessor Richard Hall, and myself – able to give guidance and support to anyone who feels anxious about the technicalities of charity accounting. The presence of a confident and IT-savvy administrator in the person of Diane Kutar, together with our communications officer Kieran Bohan, should also give comfort to anyone interested.

A new year, and therefore a time for resolutions. In the light of the above… what are yours?