Friday, August 26, 2016

Youth at the Christchurch Diocesan Synod

The following is a post by Etienne Wain, a member of the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch, about the relationship between youth and the Synod. My posting it here is to assist public dissemination and discussion of Etienne's viewpoint ahead of our Synod which meets next week, 1 - 3 September 2016. One of the motions we will consider concerns youth representation and presence in the Synod. My posting does not signal agreement or approval of the viewpoint. I will be reading it as reflectively as other readers here.

It’s no secret that the number of youth attending Synods is low. Listening to a bunch of older people talk finances and strategic plans was never going to make it onto a teenager’s top ten ways to spend a weekend, so it was always going to be a hard ask.

That being said, youth care about social justice. The high youth participation in causes such as the 40 Hour Famine and the fairtrade movement is heartening evidence that youth want to follow in the steps of Christ and clothe, feed and minister to those in need.

Compare this with Synod. Synod is a way to influence the direction and behaviour of a Church that has concern for the poor and marginalised as a central tenet. It’s an instruments by which positive social change can be set in motion. However, youth, with all their passion for social justice, aren’t exactly filling up Synod venues.

So why the disparity? Why so little youth interest?

Part of the reason is that some youth aren’t interested in meetings and constitutions regardless of potential and cause, but this is certainly not all of them.

Another reason is youth not knowing that Synod exists. A motion at this session of Christchurch Synod looks to address this by encouraging ministry units to educate their youth on Synod and commit themselves to finding a youth representative. This is a step in the right direction.
Another part of the puzzle for those who might otherwise be inclined to go is that most youth representatives do not get a vote, which can make their participation look rather token. A number of dioceses are currently exploring the possibility of granting all youth representatives a vote. This is a vital discussion for the Church to have and it’s encouraging that dioceses are having conversations around it at present.

But there is a fourth reason that I believe raises a wider question for the Church. There is a perception that little actual change results from Synod motions. This perception can lead youth to dismiss Synod as irrelevant, which doesn’t exactly encourage youth attendance. To check if this perception was substantial or just cynicism some youth from the Diocese of Christchurch conducted a survey asking around 50 ministry units about their responses to past motions they had supported. The number of ministry units happy to respond was a positive sign. The actual results weren’t quite as encouraging.

One example was a 2006 motion encouraging all ministry units to become fairtrade. As mentioned earlier, many of the youth I know support the fairtrade movement as it guarantees producers in third-world countries prices that equitably compensate their efforts, rather than perpetuating the poverty cycle in the name of cheaper prices for consumers.

Becoming fairtrade is not difficult. It involves providing fairtrade tea and coffee instead of, or as an option over, their non-fairtrade alternatives and promoting the use of these products. Here are the results of the survey:

Of the 12 respondents, none became fairtrade, only a quarter often buy fairtrade products and two do not buy fairtrade products at all.

This is disheartening.

Yes, the motion was ten years ago. However, the fact remains that none of these ministry units follow the motion precisely and two don’t even buy any fairtrade products at all. This indicates that the motion achieved very little.

Another motion, this one in 2009, asked ministry units to approach their youth and provide mentoring to those who request it. It produced the following results in practice:

Of the ministry units with youth, a third have not been asking them whether they would like mentoring. The trend appears to be that Synods make aspirational promises that struggle to translate into effective action.

From a youth perspective, how do you inspire youth who might want to go to Synod to take part in shaping their future Church when the chance that their participation actually makes a difference in an area they care about is slim? Finances, working groups and canons can mean little to youth. Actual change in areas that matter to youth, resulting from debates, votes and conversations that include them, however, would inspire them.

Please note that this is not a criticism of the processes that shape Synod, or its constitutional framework. Nor is it an attack on the discussions on financial, strategic and doctrinal matters that Synod must discuss. It is an observation that these are less tangible and salient topics to youth, many of whom lack the clerical, financial or experiential knowledge to fully engage with them. What youth have to offer at Synod is not ideas on how safety policies should be amended, or questions scrutinising complex Bills. But youth have a passion for the least, the last and the lost, and the energy to fight for their needs relentlessly. To get young people to Synod, we need to recognise this passion and encourage it, not least by ensuring that motions result in actual change.

I have two suggestions. First, those attending Synod should not accept aspirational motions too easily. Debate them. Counter them. Bring any opposition against them out onto the Synod floor. Give yourselves no leeway to shrug them off in vestry meetings as too hard, too costly or referring to someone else. Build a culture that expects ministry units to turn motions into action.

Second, we should become a fairtrade Church. This alone wouldn’t solve everything, but it would show that the Church cares about the social justice causes that youth do.

In the end, the message is clear: if Synod started taking youth seriously, then youth would do the same for Synod.

Etienne Wain

Thursday, August 25, 2016

If we decide there are Christianities rather than Christianity, might we chillax?

Fascinating review of a biography of prolific Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner here. One of Neusner's emphasises has been on Judaisms rather than Judaism. Reading about that in the review got me thinking: is it better to think "Christianities" rather than "Christianity"?

When we think the latter then, positively, we have people such as moi trying (in an almost inconsequential way!!) to nudge Christians within the one Christianity to ever greater unity. But negatively we have interminable battles as the Church of X and the Church of Y compete for title of "true church" (all the while demonstrating various foibles and fallibilities).

If we think the former, might we stop worrying about unity, cease to compete for title of "true church" and generally chillax?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sudden surge of vacancies for archbishops

Fast on top of the news that Archbishop Brown Turei (Archbishop of Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa) is retiring comes news that Archbishop Barry Morgan of Wales is retiring.

Just before everyone starts tidying up their CVs in order to apply, I know it is important for the former position that applicants are fluent in Te Reo Maori (Maori language) and I wonder if it is a deal breaker for the latter whether applicants are fluent in Welsh.


Yes, I know.

It is not the applicant/application but the church/discernment which matters!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Still breathing

A busy week in a muddly, threatening against ever getting back to the blog kind of way ... so to assure readers this blog still breathes, here are some posts of interest to me and perhaps to you:

South African Anglican Church Charts Way Forward?

Is the Bible Wrong?

Does Acts 15 Help with Making Decisions?

But Is Conciliar Decision-Making Intrinsically Messy According to Anglican Articles?

Talking of Anglican Decision-Making, It is Percy v Welby in High Stakes Future of the Church Debate?

Human Biology is Complex, Not Always Binary in Gender Distinction and the Church Often Fails Badly to Understand This

In other words, in Anglicanland this week, we remain ever caught in the vortext between Scripture, councils, bishops, synods and pundits :)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Confirmation: A rite in search of a theology?!

A while back I promised to come back to the subject of Confirmation, a matter which our recent 2016 General Synod discussed and shelved for further discussion and study.

On the one hand, re-reading the Taonga report about the GS debate, I am heartened at the number of colleagues standing firm in resisting the abolition of Confirmation (via the then proposal that it become "Affirmation").

On the other hand, Bishop Jim White's statement re Confirmation, "There is nothing to confirm" offers a profound challenge to those of us who wish to see Confirmation retained and its name continue in the life of our church as one of five sacramental actions honoured alongside the Dominical sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.

Both before and after General Synod 2016 Bosco Peters made a couple of posts on Confirmation (here and here). I made a few comments to the latter post but I am not guaranteeing that I have not changed my mind between then and now.

Not much, it seems to me, has changed this year in ACANZPland re an old saying about Confirmation that it is a rite in search of a theology - a theology which makes this rite plausible, justifiable and even necessary in the journey of faith.

Here goes. My thoughts:

(1) Acknowledged here is that the decision of our church in 1990 to make (i.e. confirm an understanding of the meaning of) Baptism the full and sufficient rite of initiation into the life of the church, including access to the Eucharist, made Confirmation redundant as a rite of initiation. That is, since 1990 there has been a canonical redundancy to Confirmation as a rite that (rightly or wrongly understood) completed initiation by being a gateway to reception of the Eucharist, enabled reception of the Spirit through the laying on of hands of the bishop, as well as an opportunity for the confirmand to confirm that the faith of their parents was also their faith.

(2) Also acknowledged, noting some comments in the report cited above on the GS 2016 debate, is that there is no necessary connection between Confirmation and catechesis, that is, the provision of education on the Christian way of life (in general) or, say, understanding the Eucharist (in particular).

(3) Also acknowledged, is that there are ways and means of confirming and/or affirming one's faith as a young adult or a mature adult which do not require Confirmation as a rite. Opportunities, on a repeated basis, exist for adults to "renew their baptism". Opportunities can be made for the giving of a public testimony of faith and, again, this need not be a unique occasion in a person's life.

(4) Also acknowledged, noting an exchange between me and Bosco Peters, is that Confirmation is not necessary to strengthen bonds of unity between parish and diocese, between congregation and bishop via the bishop coming to a parish for the sake of  confirming people. Bishops these days visit parishes to preach and preside without any confirmands being confirmed and thus bonds of affection between parish and diocese are strengthened without connection to Confirmation. (Besides which, I have some openness to presbyters being able to confirm in some circumstances, as occurs in the Roman Catholic church).

So, what about Confirmation?

I remain loathe to change things without reference - to some degree or other - to the wider church. In this case 'Confirmation' (as I best understand it) remains a "thing" in Western Christianity, with a sort of parallel, Chrismation, in Eastern Christianity. Within churches (some? many? all?) of the Anglican Communion it continues to be held necessary as a step on the way to ordination. I suggest, first, that Confirmation being retained as a rite of this church is less problematic in respect of ecumenical relationships than either abolishing it or re-naming it (as the proposed motion to GS 2016 sought to do).

What might we then ask of Confirmation to do for us? Secondly, and contrary to Bishop Jim White's cited comment above, I suggest there is something to "confirm" which is appropriately even if not necessarily or uniquely done through Confirmation.

When baptised as a child I have no say in whether to be baptised and no say in being baptised. All statements are made by the baptising minister, the supporting cast of parents and godparents or the congregation (whether made on behalf of the child (BCP) or as their own statements of faith and commitment (NZPB).

When do I formally confirm in my own words that I wish to be counted in this world and in  the world to come as a person baptised into God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? When do I formally confirm that the faith my parents and godparents expressed at my baptism (and also the faith expressed by the congregation when it makes its confession "Jesus is Lord") is also "my" faith, the faith I myself wish to publicly articulate and claim as embraced by me?

The rite we call "Confirmation" is an already named opportunity for me to make that confirmation. And, yes, I understand that that is a shift in emphasis from the bishop "confirming" the confirmand through the laying on of hands and thus may require appropriate revision of the wording of our current rite. And, yes, I understand that what I have just written is a rationale for Confirmation for those Baptised as Infants, and not a rationale for those who have been Baptised as Adults. But on the latter, see below.

So far so words oriented, towards the words of our faith. "Ah," the critics of the current rite declaim, "nothing in this rationale for Confirmation requires that a bishop be present nor that the bishop lays hands on the confirmand. What you are talking about is talking not action such as laying on of hands and that underlines our criticism of the current rite."

This is true as far as it goes, but how might the church respond to a confirming believer? What might the church offer as its own "confirmation" that it has heard and applauds and celebrates a deliberate, considered public declaration of baptismal faith? What might the church offer as a sign of support and as an indication of its prayer for strengthening of resolve to follow Christ as a baptised person?

Framing questions in that way - of course - leads me, thirdly, to suggest in answer that it is not wrong that the rite of Confirmation continues to include the act of laying on of hands with prayer (as per NZPB p. 393). With this act of laying on of hands, as per most ancient custom of the church (various passages in Acts, James 5), the believer is strengthened for service in Christ's church through invocation of the Greatest Strengthener of All, the Holy Spirit. In this framing of the matter, of course we have a double confirmation: the confirmand confirms that the faith of the church is their faith and the church confirms that it has heard that confirmation and responds by praying for the confirmand.

On the one hand, framed in this way, I think it appropriate for such prayer with laying on of hands to be given to an adult person when baptised as an adult.

On the other hand, there is the question whether or not a bishop is necessary for such prayer. My own sense, fourthly, is that a bishop is not essential to the rite but definitely is a benefit to the rite. A particular benefit is that we when we ask that the norm for Confirmation be that the bishop if at all possible is the Confirmer then we are honouring the confirmand with the particular sign of the whole church as one body, the bishop, being present to hear the confirmand's confession of faith and to pray on behalf of the church for the strengthening of that faith through the Holy Spirit.

In other words, I am expressing an understanding of Confirmation which does not seek to do what is not now possible, that is argue that it is in some sense or another absolutely necessary for the faithful life of a believing Christian (e.g. to complete the necessary act of baptism).

Rather I am expressing an understanding of Confirmation which renews this ancient rite by finding again reasons to have a specific, once only rite in the life of the believer which draws together an aspect of baptism (formal, public, post-baptismal declaration of faith by the baptised) with an aspect of com-union (the church which hears that confirmation of faith confirms the believer belongs to the church and prays for the believer in a particular way (with laying of hands, with the church in its oneness in God represented, if at all possible, by the bishop) for strengthening in the life of faith through the power of the Holy Spirit, open to the gifts of the Spirit being released or re-released in the ministry of the believer within the church.

Pragmatically, such a rite is, in practice, very useful as a rite which can (but need not) be encouraged among young people in the church as they transition from childhood to adulthood (as indeed the rite has been useful, albeit with shifting senses of the most appropriate age during transition for which the rite is particularly encouraged (so, e.g., we find in our Anglican schools that typically students are confirmed in years 12 or 13 i.e. between 16 and 18 years of age.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Religious Decline (or Stability) in the West Island

"Down Under" is an amorphous term. It includes the large-ish island to the west of NZ, especially when fighting against a common foe as the ANZACs. But it means nothing much when it is NZ v Aussie in some sporting competition, such as yesterday when our women's Rugby Sevens' team lost in the Olympics final to the Australian team. Grrr. More grrr and sinking feelings in my stomach waking up this morning to one Olympics blow after another, and I am not referring to the boxing. NZ men's Sevens lose to Japan. Japan!? SBW out of Olympics with injury. Men's Hockey team lose in last minute to Spain. Equestrian eventing team in silver medal position going into last round of show jumping and four rails later are out of the medals. Top women's rowing duo fail to make final.

By comparison, news out of the West Island about church and belief census statistics, a mix of decline and stability, is quite cheerful :)

UPDATE: Note now these maps (and note the colours of NZ)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Decline in religion plateauing?

"But I can’t imagine any factor that would lead this long-term trend to change."
Linda Woodhead

I am, as all readers here know, a very simple man with a small brain, so maybe it is that small brain once again living down to its small capacity, but I find this Telegraph article, headed "Decline of religion in Britain 'comes to a halt' - major study suggests" somewhat confusing.

The key finding seems to be a snapshot, a slight pause in statistics of decline of religious belief and adherence in Britain. Naturally some fasten on that as a sign of a longed for hope being fulfilled. Surely the decline must come to an end. Surely there must be a point where all those lively congregations up and down the land count for something statistically.

But then there are the likes of religion-sociologist Linda Woodhead whose conviction that a long decline is inexorable means the snapshot is interpreted as a blip along the way. Even a tobogganist might want to stop to admire the view on the way down for a few seconds. The quote cited above (from within the Telegraph article) is Woodhead immersed in data about baptisms and funerals. Those kinds of stats are damning; here in NZ too.

Yet that cited sentence above also belies a missing element in any such narrative about Christianity. In that sentence there is no gospel, there is no revival, no Holy Spirit, and, in fact, no signal that God might exist and might be a "factor" in arresting the long-term trend.

Back to the article which I find confusing. I suppose the sub-editor provided the headline because it is a clickbait headline. Everyone expects the story today about religion to be the decline of religion, the dog bites the man. The sub-editor finds one element in the story which has a slight man bites dog twist to it so provides the headline. The article is then confusing because, in the end, with Woodhead driving the interpretation of the statistics provided, the story is just the old, old story of decline. There isn't yet any steady statistical trend as a basis for the claim of a "halt."

Be great if there was :)