Training Church of England Clergy for 21st Century Ministry

Ordination Training and the Church of England – 

The purpose of this article is to brief readers on recent changes in Church of England Ordination training and to help them pray for what lies ahead.

First some assumptions: I take it that we believe that well-trained clergy are essential.  Clergy need to be schooled in traditional disciplines such as biblical studies (so they have confidence to proclaim the Gospel), biblical languages (in order to study the text in detail), Church History, Ethics and Doctrine (to learn the lessons of the past and refute error). Alongside these subjects are the practical areas of Preaching, Leadership, Church Growth and Apologetics, all of which are best learned from practitioners and by having the opportunity to hone skills and grow in godliness during the training experience. Academic Learning; Practical Training; Personal and Spiritual Formation can only be truly attained when sustained attention is given to the training experience of an ordinand.

Jellyfish

J.C. Ryle, one of the founders of Wycliffe Hall (opened in 1877), wrote the following in an essay entitled The Importance of Dogma:

The consequences of this widespread dislike of dogma are very serious in the present day. .. It produces what I must venture to call, if I may coin a phrase, a jellyfish Christianity…: that is, Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power.

A jellyfish, as everyone knows who has been much by the seaside, is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little delicate transparent umbrella. Yet the same jellyfish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defence, or self-preservation.

[Such is] the religion of this day of which the leading principle is – No dogma, no distinctive tenets, no positive doctrine. We have hundreds of jellyfish clergymen who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have no definite opinions; they belong to no school or party; they are so afraid of extreme views that they have no views at all.

We have thousands of jellyfish sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge or a point or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint. We have legions of jellyfish young men annually turned out from our universities, armed with a few scraps of second hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth….

Never was it more important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to enunciate dogma very clearly and distinctly in their teaching. (Principles for Churchmen)

We might add, whilst the Jellyfish may look elegant, several species of jellyfish are capable of emitting a deadly sting, even without a backbone!

Tadpoles

 Ryle’s exhortation of the need for theological, doctrinal, equipped and godly religion remains as important today as they were 150 years ago. Wycliffe Hall alumnus, J.I. Packer put it well in A Passion for Holiness, using a rather different aquatic metaphor: we don’t want Tadpoles (those with stuffed heads and no body); nor do we want activists who are only focused on doing good and changing the world whilst neglecting the head (thinking) and the body (devotion and emotion).

Paul said “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:21) and we also read in 2 Peter 3:18 “… grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Head, Heart and Hands all need to be engaged in ministry, so giving attention to all three must be part of theological education today. “We need to engage the mind in order to truly know God; we need to engage the heart to truly love God” (John Piper, Think, IVP, p36).

Theological college should avoid producing jellyfish clergy and tadpole clergy. Rather, we want godly, learned, and articulate practitioners of the true Gospel of our Lord.

With this end in mind, how does the Church of England seek to train men and women for Ordination today?

What has been happening?

Following a report written by +Stephen Croft (Bishop of Sheffield) entitled Formation for Ministry and a framework for Higher Education Validation Phase 2 Report, approved by the House of Bishops, December 2011, the Church of England put out to tender the theological training of somewhere in the region of 1,000 Students per year (including Ordinands, Readers and others) across courses and colleges via a Common Award. The bid was won by Durham University and in April 2013 a Common Award was approved with the first cohort of students beginning in September 2014.

There were two key factors which motivated this change.

Cost is one clear constraint on theological education. Unlike many other denominations Ordinand training in the Church of England is funded from the “central pot”, although technically, of course, it comes out of the money given in the Parish Share of each Parish and put into a central fund known as “Vote One”. This pot of money has been put under considerable pressure in the last 5 years following Government changes to the allocation of HEFCE money since 2010. First, in 2012 most Ordinands found themselves designated as “ELQ students” (those who had already received funding for an Equivalent or Lower Qualification) and thus were not eligible for government assistance towards their training costs. Alongside this, the fee hike whereby almost every university now charges £9,000 per annum for Tuition fees has meant that something had to change with respects to the rising cost of Ordinand training. The deal made with Durham University does involve some considerable cost saving benefits, whilst still allowing students to be part of a rigorous Theology faculty.

Commonality is the other driving force behind Common Awards. What is the type of ministry for which we are training men and women today? What is the training which is best suited for this purpose? In seeking to answer these questions Ministry Division has come up with common learning outcomes matched to new Initial Ministerial Education Outcomes (so called, IME 1-3) which would extend across all who are training for ministry via a Common Award.

Some have expressed an anxiety that this means that the distinctiveness of evangelical institutions will be lost and that academic standards will be lowered.

I am less convinced that either of these things necessarily needs to follow. In the first place, Common Awards offers a much greater opportunity to integrate academic learning, ministerial training and spiritual formation. In my own area, preaching, students should view lectures in Homiletics, preaching classes, placements in local churches, writing essays and plenty of hours of reading, as all working together towards being assessed in preaching. The practical and formational aspects are core to the training, not added on to an otherwise totally academic experience.

With respects to the ironing out of theological distinctiveness, students will still choose to come to Wycliffe Hall for similar reasons: evangelical conviction, calibre of Wycliffe Hall tutors, Oxford location and relationship with Oxford churches. Common Awards allows for considerable flexibility as each Theological Educational Institution delivers them within the Trust Deed requirements of their College. Ordinands at Wycliffe Hall benefit from the status as a Permanent Private Hall of the University and will study alongside Ordinands who are pursuing Oxford University Courses (as exceptional routes, i.e. those who are on an approved pathway for a higher award in a University Theology Faculty).

Common Awards is not without its challenges but there is no need for academic standards to be dumbed down, but there are opportunities to produce clergy who are growing “in grace and knowledge” – neither tadpoles nor jellyfish.

What is on the horizon?

We consider that Residential Training is the pathway which is likely to be best for most Ordinands (certainly those under the age of 32). Three years full time training for a lifetime’s ministry does not seem overly excessive! I anticipate that there will be challenges to retain well-funded residential training, but I remain committed to it.

As General Synod votes on the allocation for Vote One funding, an articulate case needs to be made for Residential Training. Plus, within the original Croft document there is provision for so-called “exceptional routes”, namely those who will benefit from a University Education taught across the historic faculties of theology. It is from these higher degrees that we are likely to produce theological educators and senior church leaders for the future.

I also believe that there is benefit in developing a flexible approach to Ordinand Training. Students come to their training environment with a variety of church ministry experience, time spent in a career and a first degree usually in another discipline. Keeping these factors in mind when selecting the best training pathway for a given ordinand is important. Wycliffe Hall has recently embarked on training students on a Mixed Mode Pathway. This means that they will spend half their time in the Hall (studying alongside other fulltime ordinands) and half their time in a Church-based context. For self-motivated learners who are keen to continue serving their sending church, this pathway offers many advantages.

Theological Education is a changing and complex scenario. So,

What can you do?

  • Be aware that Parishes may need to play a greater role in providing funding. This may be in the form of topping up students fees so they can spend three rather than two years in training. It may be providing the context for Mixed Mode training, with local churches benefiting from the ministry of an Ordinand whilst covering their living costs.
  • Choose wisely. Even amidst the changes and challenges, students should look to the evangelical identity of their training colleges and make their choice on the basis of their teaching faculty, theological conviction, access to evangelical churches and the Gospel-focussed shape to the Institution.
  • Pray for those of us involved in training the Church leaders of the future, and pray that God will raise up a new generation of Ordinands who have a vision for winning England for the Lord, and who are released and equipped for this role.

Uganda today and the East African Revival

Why we need Ugandan Christians (and why they might need us)

As part of the Wycliffe Hall Mission Week I took a small group of Students to Uganda to work with our sister college Bishop Barham Christian University, Kabale. This is located in the South West corner of Uganda, in the District of Kigezi, just an hour from the border with Rwanda. Kabale is about 7,000 feet above sea level and set in lush rolling hills. The air is a little “thin” and temperatures are less oppressive than in the capital Kampala where we began our journey, although the town centre is bustling, noisy and mucky, with red mud over all the roads and in the air. With a population of 50,000 people, Kabale acts as a district hub for an estimated 2 Million people scattered around the nearby villages.

The location itself is significant. Church Missionary Society missionaries brought Christianity to Uganda in 1877, arriving in Kabale in the early 20thC. The impact of the Gospel was enormously accelerated by the East African Revival which crossed over the border from Rwanda. It was warmly received in Kabale and from here emanated throughout East Africa.

The hub from which so much evangelistic zeal and worship emanated is the site where Bishop Barham Christian University now stands. The theological college students make up a small fraction of the 2,700 University cohort, but the Christian ethos pervades throughout.

We had the great pleasure of preaching in the chapel and nearby in the cathedral, teaching the Ordinands and sharing part of their training experience. We also taught in the local prep school and high school and visited local churches.

Why we need Ugandan Christians

The East African Revival lives on! Evidences of revival are strong, revealed for me in at least the following four ways

  • Worship is at the heart of community life

With African rhythm and harmony all you appear to need in order to sing praise to God is a drum! In fact adding extra amplification and electronic instruments (in my view) tended to distract (plus the electricity supply itself is pretty unreliable!)

The Luganda theme chorus was sung several times at every meeting we attended “Tukutendereza Yesu, Yesu Mwana gw’endiga, omusaayi gwo gunnaazizza, nkwebaza, Mulozi” (“We praise you Jesus, Jesus the Lamb, your blood has cleansed me, Saviour, I praise you”). It is quite complex to sing because of the interlocking harmonies – but the power of the message is evident and heartfelt.

Another aspect of worship is the power of testimony: yes, the preaching is important, but so too is the lived experience of the gathered Christians. A couple of us attended a Testimony and Praise meeting at All Saints Church in Kabale. It was hard for us to follow (all in Luganda) but person after person told their story of God’s mercy and faithfulness, interjected by “Praise the Lord” to which the response is “Amen”! There is power in a living, recent testimony of God’s work in a person’s life.

  • They Pray like they mean it!

Worship and prayer, of course, belong together. But the prayer meetings are worth a mention on their own. We attended the Graduation Ceremony, a rather long and tiring affair, followed by several delightful parties and celebrations. I was very tired and felt a little tetchy at being woken up several times during the night by what I had assumed were student graduation parties. Contrition eventually set in when I realised that what actually woke me was an all-night prayer meeting – marked out by corporate and public repentance and intercession for God to pour out His Spirit again!

Think about how hard it is to revive the traditional midweek parish prayer meeting in England. If we could but encourage some of the urgency, repentance and expectancy that marked these meetings I am a sure that we would delight to gather together as they did.

  • They Demonstrate Sacrificial living

For many Ugandans life is pretty good. There is not the level of poverty which I have witnessed in other East African countries (particularly Tanzania). The land is lush and fertile and the economy in Uganda is growing. Nevertheless, clergy tend to be self-supporting through modest subsistence farming. There is plenty of fresh mango, pineapple and other fruits. But main meals are pretty much the same lunchtime and evening. It’s the “not-the-Atkins diet” – high carb content with Rice, “Irish” potatoes (roasted) and Matoke (cooked bananas) accompanied by a piece of scrawny chicken or chewy beef/mutton. Don’t get me wrong, we were generously and graciously hosted. But we were guests who were humbled by the sacrifices they made for us and mindful of the material trappings which tend to distract us western Christians from simple living.

  • Theirs are Mission-focused Anglican structures

The Diocesan office was a hive of Gospel focussed activity. Bishops, Archdeacons, 5 talents workers, theological college staff and diocesan educators were there to resource the local church, be active in evangelism and church planting. Alongside this was a genuine desire to serve the whole person: education, health, community care and church growth belong together. I guess in a previous generation that was true for England too. Now, it seems, the church looks after the narrow sphere of the “spiritual” whilst the state looks after welfare and other social needs. I think that things are changing in England, but it seems to me that for a long time we have made Gospel preaching the centre of evangelical ministry out of anxiety that we will slip into “social Gospel” (and that has been a real danger). But giving the Gospel feet and hands as well as lips and ears is surely something we need to learn again from brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

Why might Ugandan Christians need us?

Do we have anything to offer to Christians in Uganda? Not much, I think. But, they are keen for genuine partnership with us and it was great to be able to sit down with the Principal of Bishop Barham and confirm our mutual commitment to giving and receiving from each other in partnership.

Here are three things which with which I think we can be of some assistance.

  • Training

Even the undergraduate theology students who came with me were able to provide good pedagogical assistance to the college. Having enjoyed full time “High” School and, generally, undergraduate study in a non-theological discipline, and now completing another BA or higher in theology, they were able contribute to classroom conversation. Education is a gift! I come away from time spent preaching and teaching in Africa realising how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by such good teaching – which can easily be shared. And, they are eager to receive it!

  • Resources

The internet possibilities are opening up in East Africa with occasional wifi access, internet cafes and a computer lab in the library. Thanks to the generosity of Wycliffe Hall Students (and a generous charity baggage allowance!) we were able to take nearly 200 books for staff and students and a new laptop computer with logos software and office suite for the use of the teaching faculty. In England, we are spoilt for resources and when we share them, they are grateful! This extends to our time too. Short-term missions cannot achieve very much, but medium (3-6 months) or longer term is a great way to share your gifts with the wider church.

  • Preparing to live in a Post-colonial/post-Christian nation

I hesitate to write this point. What I mean by it is that colonial influence, whilst largely positively received in Africa, is an embarrassing topic in western culture, not least because of some the baggage we exported. Are the Anglican structures we exported the best way to manage an African group of Churches? Is it really necessary for Africans to wear a heavy, hot cassock and surplice to lead a service? These are relatively minor points, of course.

More significant though is the conversation about life the other side of Revival. Praise God for the evidences of its continuation. However, as we often say, God has no grandchildren.

I had a delightful hour helping an excellent female ordinand with her final project before graduating from Bishop Barham. She asked me for advice on how to go about evangelism. My initial reaction had something to do with grandmas and sucking eggs. But she had hit upon an area which with which I think we might be able to help.

Evangelism, for Ugandans is very much Church based, consisting of inviting people in to hear the preaching of the Clergy. In our post-Christian country we have realised that this is not necessarily the most effective strategy. Through the successes of “Alpha” and “Christianity Explored” we have seen that effective evangelism is not only a matter of explaining the Gospel clearly, but also of doing so on the territory of the non-believer. Although I would very much hesitate to recommend a strictly teetotal culture to do their evangelism in their local bar (nothing like a British pub, really!), the challenge to meet non-Christians where they are, is important.

It may well be out of desperation that we have arrived at innovative non-church evangelism. But, we now know that evangelism happens outside the boat, in the secular sea around us, seeking to drag as many souls aboard as possible. Out of necessity, we have been evangelistically innovative

Having said that, I found myself saying on more than one occasion: “Please pray for us because many of those who sacrificed greatly to bring the Gospel to you no longer believe it… we need you to remind us of the things we once believed”.

Our visit to Uganda was a wonderfully enriching experience and it was a great joy to be reminded that though cultures and nations separate us, what we have in Jesus Christ binds us to other Christians more than anything else.

 

  • I am very grateful to Jovahn Turyamureeba (Vice Principal Bishop Barham University College) for his book “The East African Revival and its impact on my life”, from which I have drawn several insights for this article

Feeding and being fed

Today was the first time back in my home congregation in Oxford since Christmas.

It was great to be among friends, familiar liturgy and good preaching.

I have been speaking and preaching at other churches during January. I find this to be a great privilege. I feel particularly energised when I preach, especially so when the passage has come to me with freshness, or when people speak afterwards about new things they have taken on board. Both of these happened over these past few weeks. On lady came up to me after I made reference to “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (see Mark 15:34). I said that this was single most influential verse in enabling me to grasp the Gospel. I had always been perplexed that the Son of God – who had been so close to his Father – was apparently abandoned at the time of his greatest need.  But of course, the heart of the Gospel is that the Son not only stood in for me at the cross (my substitute), but He bore the weight of the wrath of God’s punishment for me (providing propitiation):

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior! (Philip Bliss)

So, when a congregation member excitedly reports that they have understood this verse for the first time, well, it was worth preaching a sermon for that one person alone!

But I also felt fed whilst sitting back in the pew: participating in corporate worship and feeding on the word along with brothers and sisters in Christ. It is unhealthy to not want to be fed regularly yourself so we should receive as well as give.

Both giving and receiving is part of worship; feeding and being fed is necessary. Exercising our gifts is exhausting but often energising and generally encourages us. Being fed is also very necessary to build reserves for the week ahead. We must do both. Paul was particularly positive about the Philippian Church, and not least because of their partnership in the Gospel: “…you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.” (Phil 4:11).

Just as in the life of the physical body we need to feed, exercise and thereby be able to nourish others – the same is true in the body of Christ. Let us enter into partnership with one another in giving and receiving.

Preaching in the New Year

John the Baptist has dominated the readings and theme of my first two sermons of the year.

Actually, rather: John’s unflinching testimony to Jesus has been the main theme: John is the messenger, but Jesus is the message; John is the witness, but Jesus is the word: John must decrease and Jesus must increase. That’s not a bad way for me to start the year.

At St Peter’s Church, Lake Mary, Florida I preached on Matthew 3:13-17 and was struck by the thought that Jesus’ Baptism is not only the start of his public ministry, but also his inauguration as priest – preparation for his “second baptism” of death on the cross. You can listen to this sermon here.

The second sermon was preached at St John the Divine in Houston, John 1:29-42. John invites his disciples to “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, 36). Echoes of God’s provision of a lamb to spare Isaac (Gen 22)? Perhaps Isaiah 53:6-7? Or, maybe, the Passover lamb which substituted for the firstborn in every Israelite household thus sparing them from the angel of death? Whichever of these themes is more dominant in John’s thought, the Baptist invites us to “behold, consider, ponder and marvel at” the lamb…. more here

The 2013 phenomena which reveals a lot about ourselves

The 2013 phenomena which reveals a lot about ourselves!

Barack Obama did. David Cameron did it (see). Even the Pope is at it (here). And now, it finds its own spot in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The “selfie” is in fashion. Actually, it’s the word of the year for 2013. I’ve taken a few myself.2013-10-25 10.35.13

The self-portrait is nothing new: Van Gogh found the time to paint thirty of them. A certain artistic talent was essential to achieve this (which I know I don’t have!), but, perhaps more significantly, considerable time was needed too. You cannot paint them in an instant.

But why do we engage in this peculiarly modern phenomenon?

Technology

ImageOf course, we now have the technology, which helps. Picture-taking was revolutionised with the advent of digital cameras (so non-photographers like me can take lots of snaps and then select the best ones). But with a smart phone in our pockets, every moment can be captured in an instant – and uploaded for all to see.

Several British newspapers have picked up a piece of research pointing out that Facebook is becoming passé for teenagers with a friend-request from your Mum facilitating a hasty exit! (See). Instead, it seems, they prefer Instagram and Snapchat. The latter being particularly helpful because, once sent, the image is only viewable for a matter of seconds – any incriminating evidence can soon disappear! (see)

What does my selfie say about me?

Please like me?

Is the selfie a desire for approval? I think that this is part of the attraction.  How many “likes” will I get? I, for one, am glad that Facebook didn’t introduce a “dislike” button! For many people, perhaps particularly teens, our sense of self-worth is tied up with a feeling that I am “liked” by others.

Is this who I am?

At one level our identity is found – not online, nor in a virtual world – but in who we are as individual people. Both Cicero and Shakespeare thought that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” My face is uniquely me – like it or not!

Am I my public face?

Inevitably, the selfie is a pose. “This is the picture of me which I would like you to see rather than the images which you might already have of me.” Quite wise: I am glad that all the Christmas snaps of me have not appeared in public! Nevertheless the selfie is a projection. And, of course, true beauty and worth lies beneath the skin.

What does the selfie tell me about my desire to be “liked” by God?

We will see His face

God lives in unapproachable light; no one can see him and live (1 Tim 6:16; Exod 33:20). But, God has “shown his face”, so to speak, in the incarnation (Jn 1:14) and, Jesus promises that the pure in heart will see God (Matt 5:8).

Sin separates me from God and makes me self-absorbed. However, when I am in a restored relationship with God I long for him and his glory far more than for the approval of other people. Back in the 1970s Paul Vitz wrote of the danger of narcissism and self-absorption. He spoke about the hallmark of the modern age in his ground-breaking book “Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship”. The selfie is very much image of today. It says a lot about our desire to be liked, but this desire will only find fulfilment as we seek His face.

Wouldn’t it be great if the word of 2014 was Christ-“like”? Off-of self and fascinated by God’s true image bearer.Image

GAFCON2 reflections, Nairobi, October 2013

Reflections from Nairobi, October 2013, Simon Vibert

GAFCON2 (the Global Anglican Fellowship Conference) has just finished.

Choosing Nairobi as a venue has caused considerable anxiety over recent months. The airport was nearly destroyed by fire in the summer and the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab attacked the Westgate shopping Mall only a matter of weeks before the start. However, I am so grateful that it was held here.

Our hosts, All Saints Cathedral and Archbishop Wabukala, have done such a marvellous job, both in their welcome to us and the exemplary organisation.

I was not present in Jerusalem in 2008 for the first such global conference. I sense that the movement has gone from strength to strength since then. There were nearly 1300 delegates, 331 of whom are Bishops, and 27 Anglican Provinces. There has been a great spirit of unity among the 120+ UK delegates, although it is sobering to note that there were more Nigerian Bishops than the entire UK contingency!

The week began with a presentation of the impact of the East African Revival which swept Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and beyond, in the 1930s. I was deeply moved to hear of the key themes of brokenness, calls to repentance, Christ-centredness and visibly changed lives through the work of the Holy Spirit in individuals and communities.  In the 1970s these key themes were rediscovered and a new wave of revival swept through East Africa.

It was fitting that our closing Holy Communion service incorporated an extended time of individual and corporate confession and repentance. Whilst the Jerusalem Declaration rightly makes the following point (no 13):

 “We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.” (http://fca.net/images/uploads/jerusalemdeclaration.pdf)

 a notable feature of this conference has been the reminder that all of us need to repent as a necessary component of expecting God’s blessing, and also to do this together in corporate worship.

 Others will write more extensively on the conference (see http://gafcon.org/conferences/nairobi-2013) these are some of my highlights:-

  • The daily expositions from Paul’s letter to Ephesians have been of a very high quality and also they have been very pertinent. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that the unity they have in Christ transcends racial, sexual and religious boundaries. Christ achieved peace and reconciliation at the cross. This has been demonstrated so powerfully in the multi-cultural diversity of the conference delegates which finds a unity in Christ Jesus.
  •  An excellent and perceptive address was delivered by Dr Mike Ovey (Principal, Oak Hill College). I particularly resonated with his comment that liberal-minded preachers today think that they are being prophetic when their message chimes in with the dominant agenda of the culture. The hallmark of prophetic preaching, rather, is to faithfully preach God’s word, perhaps particularly when it challenges the prevalent pagan world-view.
  • I was amused to be told by a Nigerian Bishop that if they want to punish an errant cleric they send them off to teach in a theological college, which made me wonder what I have done wrong! This attitude also reveals a rather concerning under-appreciation and under-investment in theological education, a dominant theme of the conference.
  • We enjoyed a tremendous unity among British delegates discussing the UK scene and possible implications of the soon-to-be released Pilling Report. My own sense is that the AMiE (Anglican Mission in England) will continue to provide assistance with some of the tricky, albeit relatively isolated, problematic issues in England. At the same time, a broader conversation about the possible ramifications of a revision of the Church of England’s position on Homosexual conduct would have huge implications. For me, and for many others at the conference, this would reflect a departure from the clear teaching of the Bible and would lead to a fracturing of relationships within the denomination. It was particularly good to hear from British Bishops, all of whom feel intense pressure in seeking to maintain biblical convictions in a hostile culture. We prayed for them and pledged our support.
  • It was great to meet so many people whilst on the Wycliffe Hall stand. There was considerable interest in theological education, although for many delegates the expense and disruption of full time study would be difficult. However, it seems to me that Wycliffe Hall’s place as an excellent centre for undergraduate and postgraduate study and the commitment to training a new generation of evangelical leaders is critical. Nevertheless, I am also convinced that more short courses, accessible and cheap publications, as well as taking up invitations to teach around the world, will continue to be a great stewardship of our rich resources.
  • The process of arriving at the final words of the Nairobi Communiqué and Commitment was complex in recognising the need to:
    • Speak for Global Anglicanism;
    • Be aware of the varied (some negative, but many very positive) experiences of working within the Church of England.

    The final wording of the statement was greeted with much enthusiasm and thanksgiving (see http://gafcon.org/conferences/nairobi-2013)

  • I had a very stimulating lunchtime conversation with the Nairobi Cathedral Development Officer who gave some great insights into the troubles in Sudan and Somalia. He believes that Sudan will arrive at a peaceful settlement when the border issues are resolved (although this may take time). He believes the Somalian problems will go on much longer, mainly, he says because of the small Christian influence there. “In their language”, he told me “there are no words to say ‘I forgive you’, the only way you recompense is by paying a fine.” He urged me to pray for Christian growth in Somalia.

It is rare to come back from conferences like this feeling refreshed and energised. Yes: GAFCON2 was exhausting and the days were long and the politics continues to be complicated. But overall I feel nourished, encouraged and prayerful. I am hopeful that this will last! Thank God for the health of the world-wide body of Christ!

Twits with Twitter

Our stressful world is full of a lot of angry people

It would appear that people are angrier than they used to be. Anger, we know, raises stress levels sends adrenaline and cortisol pumping around your body. And there would appear to be some very pumped up people in our world.

Management consultants run anger management workshops to diffuse office tension. The “Speaker” in the House of Commons has to rein in intemperate outbursts. Peaceful protests on the street turn violent as people vent their frustration.

I suspect that one of the reasons why the world feels angrier is because the modern life enables us to communicate instantly and globally with no necessary thought to human relationships that might be involved.

For example, read any news article online and then look at the thread of reader comments afterwards. Some of the vitriol and venom is shocking. And yet, meet those same people face to face and most would never dream of speaking in such a cavalier way.

If you remove the relationship with someone then you are able to bypass any awareness of how they may respond to what you are saying to vent your anger and frustration. Once in relationship with someone language become more tempered and measured.

The current media controversy as I write relates to twitter posts directed at a feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez, and the member of parliament Stella Creasy because they campaigned for a famous female face to be printed on the new banknotes. Torrents of abuse, including threats of rape and murder, have come their way. The finger has been pointed at censorship of the social media itself and Twitter have attempted to absolve themselves by saying that it is individuals who should be punished. Fair point. However providing a medium for uncensored and anonymous hate speech should also, perhaps, be considered culpable. In fairness, they have now acknowledged that point (see http://news.sky.com/story/1122451/twitter-admits-failing-rape-threat-women).

Of course, this is not the same thing as saying that anger is caused by relative anonymity of what we are able to say in a facebook, twitter, etc. However it does illustrate the point that there is a two-way link between a broken relationship contributing to anger and anger being able to be expressed and left unchecked where there is no relationship with the person against whom you are venting. As one write has put it: “A perfect storm engenders online rudeness, including virtual anonymity and thus a lack of accountability, physical distance and the medium of writing.”[i]

Ephesians 4:26 contains some very practical advice. If you go to bed angry you won’t sleep. First, sort it out, then with a clear conscience you will be more likely to sleep.

But Ephesians is saying much more: the quotation from Psalm 4 is set in the context of dealing fairly and faithfully with our neighbour, practically displacing anger (and other sins, v31) with conversation which will build people up and not tear them down (v29) and acting in kindness, compassion and forgiveness (v28, v32).

Anger is controlled when God is first in control of your heart. His anger is just and righteous because human attempts to dethrone him and puff ourselves up. His wrath is turned away when our sin is atoned for, and it is diffused in our lives when we love God best and our neighbour next.

Simplistic? Maybe. But some of the best wisdom is just that: think about the relationships that should be healed and built up with words and actions, and try not to speak into an anonymous vacuum. Relationships matter.