C of E - The State It's In

David Jenkins, former bishop of Durham, contributed this review of Monica Furlong's 'C of E -The State It's In' to the SoF Magazine.

This book is a personal collection of reports and observations on aspects of the history and current affairs of the Church of England by someone who clearly continues to have a great deal of affection for it, despite her deep (and deeply justified) almost total exasperation with its organisation and institutional state. The book does not draw a clear picture, it does not put together a coherent critique; it offers only a collection of pungent and disturbing hints about what remedies we (members and officials of the Church of England) might attempt.

Thus in Part I—"The Church as It Was"—the author does not present her historical selections in such a way as to produce a personal diagnostic account of what matters to her in that history. Similarly, Part II—"The Church as It Is"—has thirteen chapters which offer cameos, starting with accounts of the Church's central administration (Lambeth Palace, the Church Commissioners and General Synod). These offer opportunities for a critical appraisal of the emergence of an Archbishop's Council from the Turnbull Report and its managerial spirit. Compare Chapter Fifteen entitled "Statistics, Spin and Management". Other cameos reflect on bishops ("In the Purple"), present a sympathetic account of the difficulties of parish priests ("The Poor Parson"), and relay some encouraging brief reports on "A Handful of Parishes" of very different churchmanship and congregational strategies. The section winds up with discussions of Cathedrals, liturgical reform and "Belief: the Longest Journey". This last is an inconclusive chapter which properly makes much of the current flourishing of the Evangelicals but does not face up to the author's obvious unease about what I would call "the truth value" of evangelical teachings and attitudes to authority and the Bible in today's world. The last chapter, entitled "Triumph and Disaster", tackles sexual morality, attitudes to women and the disgraceful mishandling of the Gay Issue. So we end Part II with a very proper and deeply felt set of complaints but no set of suggestions about where we go from here.

Part III—"The Church as It May Be"—is suggestively entitled "The Educated Heart". It is a mere fourteen pages long and ends the book with neither a bang nor a whimper, but rather a provocative and teasing whisper. The author explains her title on page 380. I quote at length because I think we have here the explosive and creative yeast which has the potential to turn the simmering confusions of the Church of England into a creative ferment which is truly of the Spirit.

"Part of the Church's problem is its unthinking 'maleness'. (It is not that I think that women are superior to men, but that their life experience has been, and is, a very different one, and it is one that is vital to the Church, as a number of excellent women priests have already demonstrated.)

"One of the things that often seems lacking in the Church is what Rosamond Lehmann calls 'the educated heart', the emotional sensitivity that responds delicately and gracefully to others because it has a developed imagination, and knows how to stand in their shoes. It is this quality, I suspect, which many people found irresistibly attractive in Jesus Christ. Imagination is perhaps the quality most strikingly lacking in public statements about sexuality. Can the Bishops imagine what it is like to be a woman, a homosexual man, a homosexual priest who has made a bad choice in marriage, a divorced person? Either they cannot imagine it, or they know it all too well and find it too threatening to deal with."

There is much carefully controlled anger in this book. Could our faith in the God shown in Jesus and at work among us in the Spirit set us free to trust this God—and one another—women and men, laity and clergy and bishops (who ought to be reinforced by women)? Can we employ our angers, our insights, our errors and our hopes, so that together we can contribute to the free, adventurous and communal faith which will assemble a Church sufficient to our pluralistic and globalised future?