Category Archives: Liturgy

Ex opere operato?

I think it is a matter of regret that Bishop Philip North felt constrained to withdraw his nomination as Bishop of Sheffield, but I feel that, like others in his position, he is the victim of a deep inconsistency in the approach that the Church of England has adopted to the question of women’s eligibility for ordained ministry. Bishop North is reported to hold the view that ‘Canonically ordained means a priest is a priest is a priest and a bishop is a bishop is a bishop.’ In the light of that, it is difficult to infer what he means by his next sentence, ‘The issue is not purely sacramental or about validity’( Furthermore, according to the same source, Bishop North has ordained more women than men as deacons. If the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy spirit is efficacious for the ordination of women as deacons (and presumably also for the episcopal ordination of Bishop North and that of other bishops who share his views), why not for ordination of women as priests and consecration as bishops, given that the key element in all three rites (the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy spirit) is identical, save for the insertion of the word deacon, priest or bishop as appropriate?



I recently took part in a concelebrated Eucharist, on the occasion of an ordination. I suppressed my long-held reservations about the notion of concelebration, out of courtesy to those whose guest I was, but I still have questions about the theology of the practice. It is clear that the role of president at the Eucharistic celebration was established from an early stage in the Church’s history, but there also seems to have been an understanding that the Eucharist was a celebration by the whole congregation. True concelebration would seem to me to require that the whole congregation be gathered round the table, rather than that some of the congregation be invited to join the president simply by virtue of the office they hold.

I miss my flock

As a non-stipendiary assistant, I find myself in demand to cover various vacancies and absences in the Diocese, and will have been away from my own church most of the summer. Mostly I enjoy this. There is the freshness of new experiences, different environments and worship styles, and one always gets a warm welcome from congregations who are very appreciative of the opportunity to have the Eucharist, which otherwise they might have to forgo.

And yet, doubts are beginning to arise. Am I becoming a ‘Mass priest’, parachuted in at short notice to do the stuff that others are not licensed to do? It’s true that I’m developing a rapport with congregations I have visited more than once, but I miss the deep continuous immersion in community that one gets from being in the same place relating to the same people over time, the empathetic awareness of who is troubled, who is at odds with whom, who is displaying gifts which have potential for the building-up of the fellowship of faith.

Over and above my own personal anxieties, however, there are urgent questions for the whole Church about future patterns of ministry and worship. Is it realistic to assume, as our recruitment and training practices and our territorial organisation seem to assume, that the traditional model of a congregation led by someone in presbyteral orders is going to continue indefinitely? And if not, how soon are we going to get to work on evolving alternative patterns of congregational life?

False spring

I’m reading at the moment Herbert McCabe’s The New Creation, a new edition of a book first published in 1964. It triggered memories of that time of heady excitement during and after the Second Vatican Council, when new possibilities seemed to be opening up. It was good to be an undergraduate and a young lecturer in those years and to breathe the fresh air blowing through the dusty corridors of the Roman Catholic Church. When V and I were teaching in Trinity College, Dublin, we were part of a theology discussion group, and Herbert, provocative and larger than life, was a frequent guest speaker, and seemed to embody the new spirit of adventure and fearlessness.

Of course, some Anglicans felt rather superior to all this. Renewed interest in scripture and the Fathers, liturgy in the vernacular, greater lay participation, episcopal collegiality – had Anglicans not had these for centuries? I remember that after a lecture by Hans Küng in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in the mid-1970s, a senior Church of Ireland cleric said that the content was ‘pure Anglicanism’.

If the said cleric were still alive, I imagine he would be strongly the tempted to indulge in Schadenfreude at the spectacle of what has been happening in the Roman Church since the end of Vatican II, especially under the present pontificate. To the considerable distress of many faithful members of that Church, episcopal collegiality has proved stillborn, liturgy which is not at all ‘understanded of the people’ has been rehabilitated, liberal theologians have been silenced (including Herbert himself once) and the reactionaries of the Society of St Pius X, who repudiate everything that Vatican II stood for, have been welcomed back into the fold.

Anglicans, however, should pause before succumbing to any feelings of superiority, for there has been, albeit in a less dramatic way, a comparable process of retrenchment in recent years. In 1992 I happened to be at home enjoying a rare sabbatical and was deeply moved when I heard on the radio the announcement that the C of E General Synod had decided to allow the ordination of women. Despite this, there is still, in some quarters, deeply ingrained prejudice against women in ministry. The leadership of the C of E criticises homophobic attitudes in the developing world, but the churches in the British Isles, to look no further, are still failing to take a decisive stand in favour of real inclusiveness in the area of human sexuality. Add to this the attempted move towards greater centralisation of church authority, with the implication that Anglican provinces which adopt a generous approach towards inclusivity can have penal sanctions applied to them.

A false spring is one which is followed, not by summer, but by a return to winter. I fear we may be contemplating that now.

This joyful Eastertide

All the stops pulled out at St N’s today. Episcopal ritual at its best. But tinged somewhat with sadness, because it is Gregor Duncan’s last Sunday as Rector. There were tears, but also laughter, love and celebration. And expressions of feeling about the last ten years in the life of St N’s which were not merely conventional but heartfelt.

Thank you, Gregor, for all you have done. You have helped us to grow in every way.

White smoke ascending

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum.

The Very Reverend Gregor Duncan, Bishop-Elect of Glasgow and Galloway.

Yesterday I was very proud of my Church and my Diocese. The electoral process for the episcopal vacancy was approached with deep, prayerful seriousness, and trust that the Holy Spirit would guide us to a good decision. The joy at the outcome was matched by pastoral concern for those candidates who had not been chosen.

Congratulations, Gregor!

And well done everybody, especially +David, who guided us through the whole process with impeccable clarity, good humour, patience and calm.

What is to be done?

One of my friends commented recently, in a characteristically lapidary phrase: ‘the church [is] an institution with voracious direct sacramental needs’. This is perhaps more of an issue in a relatively ‘high’ branch of the Anglican Communion such as the Scottish Episcopal Church. As part of  my own ministry, I have from time to time spent a fair bit of time away from my own charge, covering in others where there are vacancies. To be sure, many of these congregations where there are long-term interregna (compounded by a chronic shortage of clergy) have, to their credit, kept themselves going with lay Worship Leaders and the like, and this has produced significant gains in the discernment and deepening of individual and congregational gifts. But there is still huge hunger for regular and frequent Eucharist, to the neglect of the potential spiritual enrichment offered by the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

This has two effects. It tends to make people like me feel sometimes like a ‘Mass priest’, being parachuted in to do the special bits that others are not authorised to do. More seriously, however, it has led to a generalised practice of Communion from the Reserved Sacrament, administered by a Reader, Eucharistic Minister or Worship Leader. I’m increasingly unhappy with this, because it commodifies the Eucharist, encourages an approach focused solely on individual devotion,  and takes it out of the integrated context of community celebration: Liturgy of the Word, anamnesis, epiclesis (at least in the SEC), and distribution. I have been taken aback on occasion when visiting another charge, when I asked if I should consume everything left over from previous celebrations, or reserve the sacrament for the sick, and was told, ‘Oh, we have plenty’. I have heard of instances where the consecrated bread and wine have been kept so long in the aumbry that they have become unusable. I have even heard of occasions when a new incumbent or a visiting priest found they were expected to step aside in favour of a lay administrator of the Reserved Sacrament, on the grounds that it was ‘Jack’s turn’.

This is clearly not a good situation, and it makes me want to advocate a radical re-think about the place of ordained presbyters in the spiritual economy, and consequently about appropriate procedures and principles for selection and training. In our diocese, there are four people in training for ordained ministry at the moment, all just completing their first year, so it will be another two years before they are priested, and there is no guarantee that they will stay in the diocese. On top of that, in a few years’ time, something between a quarter and a third of the stipendiary clergy in Scotland will retire. I’m not (yet) embracing the notion of lay presidency, but I do wonder sometimes if there is a way to identify people who might be suitable for ordination on the grounds of their personal holiness and other gifts, with a view to authorising them in advance of undertaking the theological training. If the SEC remains as ‘voracious’ as it currently is with regard to its sacramental needs, something needs to be done about this critical situation.