29 May

Hoo ha ha! Hoo ha ha!

A great part of the genius of the Church of England  authorities is their limitless ability to find ever new ways of wasting money to no significant purpose.

One of their wheezes is to finance congregations which model their worship on the pop concert. Prepare to clap and wave your arms in the air. Guitars at the ready. Bawl out times without number choruses so void of content that they weren’t worth singing once. This has been the trademark practice of Holy Trinity – chianti and pizza – Brompton for decades. It’s religion, but not as we know it, Jim. So what? It puts bums on seats and it brings in the cash.

Now the authorities are hoping it might just postpone the church’s final demise – for a few weeks, anyhow.

This method of “being church” has proved itself so successful that HTB now exports it in what are called “church plants.”  Churches in Derby, Portsmouth, Chelmsford and Bristol have…I suppose the word I am looking for is “benefitted” from this scheme and £1.35million has been given over two years to six of these HTB plants. In addition, St Luke’s, Birmingham, a church planted by the former director of worship at HTB, the Revd Tim Hughes, was given £350,000, while other HTB plants, St Swithin’s, Lincoln, and St Matthias’s, Plymouth, each received £200,000. St Swithun’s, Bournemouth, St George’s, Gateshead, and St Mark’s, Coventry, were each given £150,000.

Seven projects were paid for by the central authorities and, though six of the seven were operated by Holy Trinity Brompton, Andrew Brown, the secretary and the chief executive of the Church Com­missioners, insisted, “There is no bias towards HTB.”

Indeed not. For another new jape was launched in the Midlands when £2.6 million was given to Birmingham diocese’s Growing Younger programme.

I’ve just had a look at this jape and so I can tell you something about it.

It was started by the Bishop of Birmingham and the Archbishop of Canterbury with “star baker” Martha Collison. The two senior clergymen stood together on a platform in a darkened city centre church where they teased and chafed each other for a few minutes as if they were a comedy duo – which alas! they are not. Then they stepped down from the platform and called forth a group of teenagers called “The Sparklers,” Guess what they did next? That’s right, you’ve got it in one: they lit a sparkler and passed it around. This was supposed to symbolise something, but I forget what.

Those, myself included, who find it difficult to understand what Growing Younger is all about are in luck, for a commentary (in perfect Welby management-speak) is provided on their website. Let me try to give you the flavour…

There will be “facilitators” who will “work in a focussed way” be “highly skilled” (at what?) and they will “work flexibly.” The facilitators will bring “fresh thinking” to the project and “discern vision and strategy” while they will also “model good practice.” Then there will appear “a piece of commissioned evaluation” and the assurance that “research has been integrated” to provide “a baseline assessment” using “evaluation tools.”

There, there – don’t distress yourself: the mental nurse will be along in a minute, as soon as she’s finished tending to the Archbishop and the Bishop of Birmingham.

In fact I don’t feel very well myself. I know what usually wards of my hysterical collapses: it’s to quote Tom Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes:

“And perhaps you’re alive. And perhaps you’re dead. Hoo ha ha. Hoo ha ha. Hoo. Hoo. Hoo. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock.” 

There, that’s better – just a bit, anyway.

02 Jun

The Incredible Shrinking Church

The Anglican boat is still heading for the demographic rapids.

Official figures just announced say that between 25% and 40% of full time stipendiary clergy are aged over 60. Only 3.4% of all clergy are from black or ethnic minorities. In his commentary, the Church of England Director of Ministry, Julian Hubbard, writes: “While the number of stipendiary ordinations showed a welcome increase between 2012 and 2015, this is not sufficient to redress the gathering effect of clergy retirements predicted over the next ten years.”

He added, “The statistics on the age and ethnicity of clergy show that we still have some way to go to ensure that the whole cohort fully reflects the demographics of the wider community.”

Mike Eastwood, Director of Renewal and Reform, the Church of England’s main response to falling church attendance, said: “These figures support what we have been saying about the need for renewal and reform in the Church of England. Renewal and Reform is about a message of hope, through changed lives and transformed communities, as people discover their vocation to love God and serve others. Renewal and Reform is not a top-down project to fix the church, but a narrative of local hope in God shared throughout the church. As part of Renewal and Reform, we are currently consulting on how we better release the gifts of all Christian leaders in church and wider society, whether ordained or not.”

As a priest with 46 years service, let me try to interpret the ecclesiastical spin for you.

In a word, Mr Hubbard has looked in the cupboard and found it to be bare.  These numbers mean that the Church of England is very shortly going to be desperately short of full time, decently educated and properly trained priests. I will come back to the decently educated and properly trained aspect in a minute.

First, we notice the Church’s politically-correct obsession with racial quotas. St Paul said, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek,” but the talkative old tentmaker did not foresee the preoccupations of the modern C. of E. Why this obsession with colour and racial origins? In Mr Hubbard’s contorted language, why should “…the whole cohort fully reflect the demographics of the wider community”? Why should the racial origins of the ministers be precisely proportionate to those of the parishes they serve? Everyone walking about has a brain (we suppose), yet hardly any of us are brain surgeons. Millions take the tube every day, but few actually drive the trains. And the euphemistic phrase “positive discrimination” cannot disguise the fact that the obsession with racial quotas is itself an example of racism.

Mr Eastwood’s verbose exposition of the policies of Renewal and Reform are all blather and bluster – a species of what in RAF slang was always known as “flannel.”

His peroration about the “…better release of the gifts of all Christian leaders in Church and wider society” is a glossy way of saying that in future the cash-strapped Church will resort to appointing unpaid layfolk to do the work presently undertaken by the stipendiary priesthood.

This will, of course, involve a further dumbing down to follow that which has been the norm in the C. of E. over the last forty years. When I was training for the ministry, some ordinands took degrees and higher degrees in theology and philosophy. But the minimum educational standard was impressively high, consisting of the 13 papers of the General Ordination Examination (GOE) – affectionately referred to as God’s Own Exam. There were 3 papers on Old Testament and 3 on the New; two on doctrine, another two on history, one on liturgy, one on pastoral studies and a final one on Greek.

Since that time, there has been a relentless falling off in which all kinds of ad hoc training schemes have come and gone, with the result that most clergy under the age of 55 know very little theology. Most of them have never so much as opened The King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, let alone used those books which used to be the head and cornerstone of English Christianity. The worst of it is there now exists – under the shibboleth of “anti-elitism” – a perverse institutional pride in knowing nothing.

Under all the spin, smoke and mirrors, the truth is that congregations will continue their precipitous fall and increasingly be taught and ministered to by people who are hardly qualified for the task.

19 Aug

Is the social engineer here?

When you notice two items side by side, do you get the urge to join them together?

A report on the BBC’s Today Programme this morning told us that Tony Blair’s 1999 ambition – “Educashun, Educashun, Educashun,” remember – to have 50% of all youngsters attend university has been achieved. But the reporter confessed that this is not quite the roaring success it appears to be. For many graduates are going into jobs which don’t require a university degree.

This item was followed immediately by the announcement that the number of houses being built in Britain is a lot lower than the country’s needs. The main reason given for this was that building companies can’t find the carpenters, electricians and other skilled tradesmen they require.

I’m not normally fond of Americanisms, but their pithy phrase, “Go figure” seems apt here.

For when we’ve gone and figured, we understand that youngsters who might, better advised, have been inclined to learn a trade, instead found themselves saddled with a government loan in order to waste three years “reading” Golf Studies with Tourism or, as it might be Applied Social Policy and Hairdressing.

Quite apart from the important point that our higher education system is not producing the numbers of people to do the work that the country requires, Blair’s impudent piece of social engineering guarantees that many young people are not fulfilling their vocations, exercising their aptitudes and settling into suitable and rewarding work.

Square pegs and round holes. Lives are being spoilt – and all for Blair’s arrogant obsession.

We are now told, of course, that universities shouldn’t be elitist. What should they be, then mediocritist?

For centuries the university was a place where that minority of people interested in such things – and who perhaps experienced a calling to study them – devoted themselves to philosophy, theology, literature and the theoretical sciences. Most people were neither interested in these subjects nor called to study them. Fine – there are many other noble and respectable ways of spending one’s life. You could be an electrical engineer, a plumber, a joiner or any one of a hundred different trades.

Proficiency in a trade such as engineering or carpentry is not inferior to theoretical activity; only it is different. Wittgenstein was an engineer. Jesus was a carpenter.

Now we are living in the mess caused by Blair’s perverse desire to send half our youngsters to waste their time in universities

And what, pray, is Tony Blair? Is he an intellectual? Is he a practical man? No, he is that most arrogant and destructive of creatures: a social engineer.  

07 Jun

Ill Literacy

The Secretary of State for Educashun, Michael Gove, aims to “end illiteracy within a generation.” And when he’s finished doing that, he will abolish hatred and prejudice, present a cure for the common cold and make all people live in love and charity together. Then we shall all celebrate The Great and Notable Day of the Gove. I must say, I scratched my head when I heard Gove make that promise about ending illiteracy. He’s normally so intelligent and to the point and he has done more for schoolchildren than anyone since Robert Raikes (1736-1811). Gove is not given to making damn fool remarks, so why is he promising something which he can’t possibly provide? (You didn’t think I was going to say “deliver,” did you?)

And where will he choose to begin this soroptimistic project? He had better start with the teachers – and, while he’s at it, a great number of our “leading” commentators who write in the papers and talk on radio and TV. You know, people who say “begs the question” when they don’t mean ignoratio elenchi or petitio principii but only “asking the question.” They say “deteriate” and “mitigate against.” “Refute” when all they mean is “repudiate.” medical reports announce that the patient is “critical but stable” – when the meaning of “critical” is precisely that a thing is unstable. Then there are the worshippers of the spurious adverb, as in “actively seeking,” “communicate effectively” and sheer slang such as “going forward” for “in future.” The word “iconic” is used to describe a punk rocker or a television cook. “Crescendo” to mean “pinnacle of sound” when that word means a gradual increase in volume. They can’t pronounce “drawing” but have to put in an extra “r” – “drawring.” They start all their sentences with “So…” – so forgetting that nihil ex nihilo fit also has its grammatical context. And “centred around.” “pressurised” for “pressured.” “I was stood.” “I was sat.” “Disinterested” when they mean “uninterested.” “Run down council estate” for “council estate.” “Miniscule” for “minuscule.” “Burgalry.” “Decision-making process” for “deciding.” “Impact on” for “affect.” “Infamous” means that a thing is notoriously vile, abominable etc. Now it’s used in such as “the Liverpool striker’s infamous penalty miss.” “Trained marksman” – as if there were untrained ones! “Damage” becomes “negatively impact upon.” “Is comprised of” for “comprises.” “Murals on walls…”

Gove might like to start with the in-house journal of his profession, The Times Educational Supplement in which I saw an advertisement for someone to teach English in a “grammer school.”

26 May

C. of E. RIP

The Church Commissioners have kindly sent me a copy of their review of 2013. Nice coloured brochure stuffed with bullet-points, task groups, significant difference, something called the “Joint Simplification Group” and a smiling photograph of the Arch of Cant. We learn that the Commissioners manage a portfolio of £6.1billions. Then they tell us what they spend our money on. There are some exotic ventures. For instance a programme called “Jesus-shaped people” in Bradford with “special priority for those on the edge.” The edge of what – the Yorkshire Moors, the verge of insanity? This project “challenges evil and injustice” and operates a “development strategy.” I hope it’s a better strategy than the one employed by the Commissioners some years back when they lost £800millions of parishioners’ money donated through the collecting plate.

If it’s excitement you’re seeking, i suggest you go to Liverpool and pay a call on something called “Zone 2 – an all-age, cafe-style worship service that meets every Sunday at the same time as the traditional Choral Eucharist.” Why not just invite people to the traditional Eucharist? But it isn’t traditional in any sense other than that it’s not quite so barmy as as cafe-style worship. And it’s all modern language liturgy anyhow. They claim to be trying to “…replicate this type of initiative into deprived parishes.” So that these parishes become even more deprived? And St Mary’s Church, Bramall lane, Sheffield has “established a monthly Messy Church.”

The whole damned thing is a mess  

20 May

Hate Crime Corodinator

Sussex Police have just advertised for a Hate Crime Co-ordinator. I wonder why? I suppose they got fed up of all these random, unco-ordinated hate crimes, acts of violence, being committed more or less willy-nilly and decided it was time they were knocked into shape, so to speak. Hence the need for a co-ordinator: though I notice the advertisement calls her or him a “corodinator.” They kindly sent me a job description defining a hate crime as something that is targeted at a person because of hostility or prejudice towards that person. Well, that nicely helps us distinguish between hate crimes and other sorts – love crimes, perhaps?

These may be crimes directed against a person’s “disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender identity.” The job description then adds mysteriously, “These crimes can be committed against a person or property.” Property – if we discount our slaves – consists of inanimate objects and these too must be protected against hatred. So if you see a bloke kicking a bus just because it’s got itself transgendered from its former life, unhappily on the wrong track as a tram, shop him to the fuzz. The worst I’ve come across so far was seeing my auntie shouting at a – Methodist? – tube of toothpaste when she couldn’t get the cap off.

Mysteriouser and mysteriouser… They say, “A victim does not have to be a member of the group at which the hostility is targeted. In fact anyone could be the victim of a hate crime.” So why carefully list the categories which constitute victimhood? I’m confused. Moreover, I’ve read the whole advert twice but for the life of me still can’t work out what the hate crime corodinator is supposed to do. There are hints: “You will be required to be (sic) oversee the management of the Sussex Police (East Sussex) response to hate crime around audit and review of recording, processes and action taken.” Bureacratese gobbledegook like that tells me that Sussex Police also need to advertise for candidates with an expertise in English as a Foreign Language.

The word “Compliance” makes its statutory appearance of course. Then more bureaucratese: “Represent safer East Sussex Team/Sussex Police on multi-agency case panels, provide expertise and advice to key and local stakeholders such as voluntary and community sector businesses and registered social landlords.”

It was only when I arrived at the end of the advert, I think I got an inkling of what the job entails by noting the qualifications required. I had imagined these might include sharp eyes – (I suppose we could translate this into suitably mangled jargon and call it “observational skills.”) Sensitivity and a broad sympathy would surely be advantageous, as would a sense of proportion and an equal sense of the ridiculous. But no – none of these attributes is listed as desirable. At last we get to QUALIFICATIONS ESSENTIAL: “IT skills including Microsoft Office, including use of social networking.” Of course! What else? As with 99% of all the jobs in Britain today, the successful applicant will spend half of her or his working days staring into a computer screen and the other half talking or texting on a mobile phone.

Still, the pay’s not bad. Applicants are invited to contact Chief Inspector Rosie Ross DR497, the Safer East Sussex Team on Twitter and @safereastsx. Sounds cheeky. Dear Rosie – may I call you DR497? – I should like to be your coordinator.

25 Mar

The Narcissistic Camp Fire Song

It goes like this: “Free to be me….free to be me….free to be me…” The song is spin off from the new “Free to be me” badge just introduced for Girl Guides. There is in-depth training to be gone through before the award of this prized emblem. Candidates are instructed to “value their bodies” – I do hope this is not with the idea of selling them – and to “celebrate diversity.”

I read on the Guides’ website that the new badge is designed to increase girls’ “self-esteem.” These blind Chief Guides have forgotten that it is oneself that precisely one is not meant to esteem. Another word for self-esteem is phariseeism.

Here are a few more of the recently-introduced Guides’ badges:

Confectioner (“Know how to make three kinds of icing; know how to melt chocolate successfully….”)

Healthy Lifestyle (“Make up a TV or magazine advert that shows why it is important to look after your feet…”)

Discovering Faith (“With your Patrol or other Guides, take part in a ‘Reflections’ or ‘Thought for the Moment’ in your unit. Use songs, drama, mime, music and so on. You should use at least one story from your own faith.”)

World Issues (“Find out about as many peace symbols as you can. Why were things like the olive branch and the dove chosen? Design and make a mobile using peace symbols.”)

Music Zone (” Listen to pieces of music from other countries or cultures. Share them with your Patrol and explain what you like about them.”)

Culture (“Learn ten words and their meanings from your chosen culture’s language or dialect. Teach them to your Patrol.”)

Personal Safety (“Be able to describe three things that might cause you harm or make you feel unsafe, while (…) heating up baked beans on the stove and toasting two pieces of bread in the toaster”)

That noise in your ear  is Lady Baden-Powell spinning in her grave,

11 Mar

Hurrah for Thought for the Day!

Three cheers for Thought for the Day! You never thought you’d hear me say that, did you? Naturally, I’m not extending to the programme a universal enconium, but today’s talk, given by the former Chief Rabbit Jonathan Sachs was a model of what such things should be and a flash of light in the encircling gloom. Dr Sachs reported new findings to the effect that male birds do not, as Darwin preached, sing only as part of a show of sexual advertisement – in the attempt to find a lady bird and get their genes passed on – but to announce their presence and tell anyone listening they’re glad to be alive. And the lady birds do the singing too.

This is so refreshing for it pulls the rug from under the satanic hypothesis of genetic determinism, that reductionist notion that our whole sense of beauty, truth, value and love is nothing but the accidental and meaningless spin-off from ineluctable evolutionary theory.

While we’re at it, we should apply Dr Sachs’ antidote to those other two deterministic, reductionist monsters Freud and Marx. For Freud, we are little more than our unconscious motivation which we are powerless to influence – short of turning up on his couch for seven years’ worth of narcissistic blather and, of course, paying the psychoanalyst’s fees. For Marx, the motivations for all our human and political relationships are mere economics. The fact that Darwin, Marx and Freud have been for so long worshipped as our true – and perhaps only – teachers and prophets is the supreme intellectual tragedy of our time.

Satanic indeed. There is no better word to describe the dirt that these deterministic ideologists have done on human beings. For we are not entirely in the grip of unconscious motives, economic laws or selfish genes. There are first-order experiences of which we are all acutely and continuously conscious, and which are real: self-sacrifice, wit, humour, self-mockery, the power of music, poetry, fine painting. Beauty, Truth and Love – these three. And the greatest of these is love

Darwin, Freud, Marx?  Aw shucks, they’re just for the birds…

06 Mar

Dumber Still and Dumber the Church’s Bounds are Set

Love Life: Live Lent.

The Archbishop of York is taking seriously his responsibility for the spiritual life of the nation. He has written the Foreword to three booklets to guide us through Lent: one for “The Family”; one for “Adults and Youth” and the other for “Kids.” Or is that last one for nanny goats?

These glossy booklets feature Mr Men style cartoon pictures whom we must suppose are meant to represent the general public. Achingly politically-correct with all races represented – but no fat people or smokers. Dumbing-down beyond the farthest reaches of infantilisation, the booklets urge us to “Do fun things together. Create a space in your home…a corner of a room…an understairs cupboard… a shelf…make a prayer den using furniture and blankets…gather some objects that are fun to touch, feel and smell: a piece of velvet, feathers, a tray of sand, lavender bags or pine cones.” These should be enough to satisfy at least some of the more mentionable fetishists among us.

And what are we supposed to do in the prayer space? “Take in some pebbles, shells or feathers” – presumably to demonstrate impeccable ecumenical relations with primitive animists and tree-huggers. And prayers are supplied: “Dear God, make wrong things right…” But this is not God; only the sentimental wish-fulfilment of Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy We are even educated into the correct manual acts to perform while praying this desolate prayer: “Shake your finger from side to side for ‘wrong’ and then do thumbs up for ‘right’.”

You feel there should be a caution not to do this near a window in case the neighbours see you and phone for the men in white coats.

Lent involves us in acts of practical devotion too. So, “Give a lollipop to your lollipop person.”

Of course, as always in the Church of England these days, the sheer blithering inanities only faintly disguise the right-on political hard sell:

“Email or write to your MP about a global poverty issue… Buy a fair Trade Easter egg” But what, if you follow the advice of many leading economists who claim so called Fair Trade does nothing to help the poor, and recommend free trade instead?

The only orthodoxy we find in these booklets is environmentalist demagoguery and the pagan superstition of global warming: “Help lighten our load on the planet… defrost your fridge and find out how climate change affects poorer people…help stop global climate change: recycle your rubbish save trees, use both sides of the paper…”

(When doing what, by the way?)

Lent is supposed to be a time when we repent of our sins. But the only sins found here are those of not subscribing to the Christian socialist manifesto and global warming denial.

No wonder the pews are emptying faster than ever, when these booklets represent the mind of the Church of England. Lent is for deepening our understanding of the faith and for growing nearer to God. These booklets contain no nourishment for those tasks.

What might the Archbishop have offered, if he had been in his right mind? That we should all begin and end the day by saying the Lord’s Prayer. Read the Collect, Epistle and Gospel written in the matchless English of The Book of Common Prayer for each of the six weeks of Lent. Perhaps say the Psalms set for every day. Try to attend an early morning or lunchtime weekday service of Holy Communion. Competent shepherds of their sheep would also have recommended some spiritual reading.

These patronising booklets are worse than a joke, worse than useless. They ape the trite and gaudy language and images of a debased advertising culture, babyfied and debauched, and apply it to the Christian Gospel. But faith cannot be taught in this way. It cannot be communicated by the thing it is not, the thing that is actually anathema to it. People have to be taught. These booklets only insult the intelligence of the public. There is no Christianity in “Live Life: Love Lent” – only a blasphemous parody of the faith.