STEPHEN Cottrell, Archbishop of York, must be feeling well pleased with himself, for it’s always an agreeable experience to see one’s schemes turning out to be successful.
Let me start then by reminding you of what the Archbishop’s scheme – aka Cottrell’s Wheeze – consists. It is, no less, his master plan for the destruction – sorry, I mean transformation – of the Church.
Over the next ten years, the wheeze will ‘create 10,000 new Christian communities.’ Also there will be ‘3,000 worshipping hubs for children and young people.’ Parish churches may be closing down left right and centre and there is a shortage of clergy, but never mind, for there is to be ‘a national network of house churches led by lay people’.
Don’t take my word for this: it’s all set out in fastidious detail in the Wheeze, Cottrell’s document Simpler, Humbler, Bolder.
Of course, the marvellous transformation will not happen all at once. You have to start somewhere. Even Stalin’s five-year plans had to start somewhere.
Fittingly, the revolution will begin in the Diocese of Southwark, where all new and exciting ecclesiastical ventures are launched.
Back in the 1960s, Southwark led the way with what was trumpeted as ‘the secular meaning of the gospel’ and became known as ‘South Bank religion.’ With clergy in civvies and Beatle haircuts, the twang of the liturgical guitar and crypt coffee bars innumerable.
Now, the Southwark diocese is nothing if not quick off the mark. Already there has been set up ‘a series of new lay ministries in September to work alongside the clergy in leading, enabling and serving parishes and communities’.
Of course, these new ministries have been given wonderfully trend-setting titles: Lay Children’s, Youth and Family Workers; Licensed Lay Pioneers; and Pastoral Lay Ministers.
Naturally, since these are jobs for lay people, there is no mention of ordination, novitiates, diaconates and stuffy old relics from our unsecularised past. Instead, all the new operatives will be ‘Affirmed’ or ‘Licensed.’
The local top brass is ‘excited’ about these innovations. The senior clergy are forever describing themselves as ‘excited,’ and I must say I find it rather unseemly to have all these excited bishops around.
The Bishop of Southwark, the Right Reverend Christopher Chessun, is positively bubbling over: ‘I am delighted that we are offering these new and exciting lay ministries. Our laity play a very important role in the Diocese working alongside the clergy in leading, enabling and serving our parishes and communities.
‘My prayer is that those who feel called to lay ministry will pursue it, in the full knowledge and assurance that they will receive excellent training and support, equipping them to carry out their calling effectively and to God’s glory.’
I know what this ‘excellent training’ will be about. It will not consist of those antiquated substances which I was required to imbibe in my seminary back in the olden days.
There will be no sound biblical theology, nothing about the Church Fathers, no devotional, spiritual content – you know, how to pray and other traditional rubbish like that.
For in our new and exciting Church of England, the former things are passed away. What there will be, exclusively and aplenty, are sociological jargon, social work, equality and diversity indoctrination, warnings against institutional racism and unconscious bias, along with medications for the avoidance of white privilege. In other words, the whole agenda of ideological wokery. Certainly, there will be training – but it will not be training in the Christian faith.
There is a lot more of the new, sub-ecclesiastical newspeak, such as: ‘Entry into the new ministries is via the three routes of Affirmed, Commissioned, and Licensed. The Diocese’s lay ministries are locally discerned and based and recognised at a local service of affirmation.’
Shape without form, shade without colour, paralysed force and gesture without motion. The complete exercise in futility. ‘Commissioned lay ministers serve in their parish or local community having gone through a discernment and selection process run by the Diocese.’
But there is no discernment here. If there were, its operators wouldn’t use language like that.
It’s all getting a jazzy send-off: Canon Wendy Robins, Southwark Cathedral’s Canon Chancellor and Director of Discipleship, Lay Ministry and Continuing Ministerial Education – how’s that for the full poker hand of bureaucratic nomenclature? – said: ‘We are very pleased that we are able to offer these new lay ministries in the Diocese of Southwark. This launch is the culmination of a number of years of dedicated work which began with the Lay Leadership and Lay Ministry Report and the establishment of the Lay Council.
‘We very much hope that these ministries will enable people from across the rich diversity of the Diocese to explore whether they have a vocation to an Affirmed, Commissioned or Licensed ministry and what that might mean for their future growth and development and that of their parishes. It is such a joy to be able to celebrate the gifts of all God’s people in this way and we look forward to a great many people coming forward for selection, training and ministry.’
It is the speech of an ecclesiastical Dalek. What of the Sacraments? What of theological scholarship? What of biblical and spiritual teaching?
A Christian leader, ordained or lay, needs to have been given devotional instruction, to have learned the art of spiritual exercises and by long novitiate the beginnings of wisdom. Only then can anyone be considered a suitable candidate for pastoral leadership.
But all these things, honed and practised down the Church’s centuries, are now cast away to be replaced by a new Caliban: Hideous, mindless, soulless and unworkable.