British religious leaders are praising the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby for responding with “steadiness and honesty” to the stunning news that his biological father was not his mother’s husband. The revelation was expected to bring the image of the elite-educated primate closer to the people.
church of england
Church closings are nothing new in the United Kingdom.
In the past six years, 168 Church of England churches have closed, along with 500 Methodist and 100 Roman Catholic churches.
“Christianity in Britain has seen a relentless decline for over 100 years,” says Linda Woodhead, a sociologist at Lancaster University.
Almost 1,600 years after St. Augustine founded the first Roman Catholic church at Canterbury in 597 C.E., the British people have been told in no uncertain terms that they’re no longer living in a Christian country.
A sensational report released this week by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, challenges this country’s time–tested moral and public values system. In language that raises eyebrows — and tempers — the report says United Kingdom (U.K.) should cut back the Christian tone of major state occasions and shift toward a “pluralist character.”
Events such as a coronation should be changed to be more inclusive, it said, while the number of bishops in the House of Lords should be cut to make way for leaders of other religions.
The British government is launching an independent five-year inquiry under the leadership of a prominent New Zealand-born jurist to examine whether private and public institutions, including churches, failed to protect children from sex abuse.
At a news conference in London on Nov. 27, Justice Lowell Goddard, who will head the inquiry, said the investigation would focus on high-profile allegations of child abuse involving current or former members of Parliament, senior civil servants, and government advisers.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby asked Goddard to investigate the Church of England first, saying that he would order his own inquiry if there was a lengthy delay, the Anglican Communion News Service reported.
The Church of England’s commitment to advance the cause of women took another step forward March 26 with the appointment of Rachel Treweek, 52, as the next Bishop of Gloucester in the southwest region of England.
That makes three women bishops in the space of three months since the church overcame its long-standing opposition to women bishops late last year. On March 25, the church appointed its second woman bishop, Alison White, 58, as suffragan bishop of Hull.
But Thursday’s announcement was even more dramatic. Treweek will be the first to run a diocese on her own. She will be one rank below archbishop and will become the first woman bishop to sit in the House of Lords, the British Parliament’s Upper House.
Twenty-six “Lords Spiritual” — all Anglican, all male — sit in the House of Lords.
In a statement, Treweek said the appointment was “an immense joy and privilege.”
The Church of England was accused of double standards on Feb. 23 for offering jobs in cathedrals at lower wages than those it has called on other British employers to pay their workers.
Under the banner headline “Wages of Sin,” the Sun reported that it had found several advertisements for jobs in cathedrals that offered pay well below the “living wage” of 7.85 pounds ($12) an hour, endorsed by the Church and senior politicians.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church recognized that no employer could ramp up wages overnight, and was working hard to get to a point where it was paying all of its workers the living wage.
“It’s embarrassing. We’d prefer to be there. We’re getting there as quickly as we can,” Welby, the spiritual head of the 80-million strong Anglican communion, told the BBC.
“It’s not the only area where we fall short of our own standards. We work on it as hard as we can,” he said.
The Church of England announced on Dec. 17 that Libby Lane, a parish priest from Hale, a small village outside Manchester, would become its first woman bishop, ending centuries of all-male leadership in this country’s established church.
The announcement from Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence in London, came just a month after changes to canon law making it possible for women to assume the role of suffragan and diocesan bishops.
Lane, 48, a mother of two and the wife of an Anglican vicar, will be consecrated as the eighth bishop of Stockport, in the Diocese of Chester, at a ceremony at York Cathedral on Jan. 26. Her appointment is as a suffragan bishop — a bishop subordinate to a metropolitan or diocesan bishop.
On her surprise appointment, she said: “This is unexpected and very exciting. I’m honored and thankful to be called to serve as the next bishop of Stockport and not a little daunted to be entrusted with such a ministry.”
Twenty years after women were ordained as priests, the Church of England is set to appoint its first woman bishop by year’s end or at the start of 2015.
On Nov. 17, the church’s two most senior leaders, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu, signed the change into church, or canon, law after asking the General Synod, made up of bishops, clergy and laity, to signal their approval by a show of hands.
The shattering of what’s called “the Church of England’s stained-glass window” marks the culmination of years of campaigning for reform.
In July, the synod, voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation to create women bishops.
Hilary Cotton, chairwoman of Women and the Church, an advocacy organization, told reporters she is now hopeful the reform will lead to “changing the culture of the church.”
U.S.–born Christian Rees, a member of the synod’s House of Laity, said the Nov. 17 ceremony would change the public perception that the Church of England has “a problem with women.”
Anglican priests should no longer be bound by the centuries-old principle of confidentiality in confessions when they are told of sexual crimes committed against children, the Church of England’s No. 2 official said.
Speaking at the end of an internal inquiry on whether senior church officials ignored abuse allegations involving children, Archbishop of York John Sentamu said that “what happened was shameful, terrible, bad, bad, bad.”
He said that the Church of England must break the confidentiality of confession in cases where people disclosed the abuse of children. “If someone tells you a child has been abused, the confession doesn’t seem to me a cloak for hiding that business. How can you hear a confession about somebody abusing a child and the matter must be sealed up and you mustn’t talk about it?”
I met my wife, Joy Carroll, at Greenbelt, a summer festival of faith, arts, and justice held annually in England. It was August 1994. A few months earlier, in May, Joy was one of the first women to be ordained as a priest in the Church of England. We were both speakers on a panel one day at Greenbelt, in a tent with 5,000 young people. Afterwards, we met for coffee. Joy had been an ordained deacon in the church for six years and was a leader in the movement to recognize all the gifts women had to offer both to the church and the parishes they served. She was the youngest member of the General Synod that decided to ordain women, and she was there for the historic vote in Church House Westminster in London. That cup of coffee eventually led to our marriage in 1997.
I have a vivid memory of returning to Greenbelt as speakers in 2002 with our almost 4-year-old son Luke. It was Sunday morning, and Joy was up on the worship platform celebrating the Eucharist for 20,000 people. My little boy was sitting on my lap watching his mom lead worship up on the stage. Luke looked up at me and said, “Daddy, can men do that too?”