Thursday, 30 July 2009

a church beyond parody

bread-and-wine Sometimes the church is crucified for standing up for the Gospel but at other times we seem all too keen to invite the nails. There have been two stories doing the rounds in the media regarding the distribution of the elements in the Eucharist. The first relates to the pastoral letter issued by the Archbishops and their recommendation that administration of the chalice at services of Holy Communion be suspended in the light of the threatened swine flu pandemic. This is the advice being given in the Diocese of Chelmsford. The recommendation has been controversial and the bishops have come in for criticism, but there can be little doubt that they are genuinely trying to give guidance on best practice in a difficult situation.

The second story is just plain farcical. According to various sources including The Times Blackburn Cathedral has decided to offer communicants the choice of two wafers at the main 10:30am Sunday service. When the Revd Dr Sue Penfold, a residentiary canon of the Cathedral, is celebrating then the congregation are offered bread blessed by her, or the reserved sacrament consecrated earlier by a male priest if they find this unacceptable. “This situation is not ideal, but we are trying to be inclusive,” Canon Hindley said, adding that Rev. Penfold had been appointed to Blackburn Cathedral to reflect the “broad views” of the Church of England. So here we have two track communion for a two track church, to ensure that ‘untainted’ bread is readily available for those who require it and all in the name of being ‘inclusive’!

There are occasions when the actions of the church leave me almost speechless but not quite. At first I thought this story was a wind up, however, it does appear to be genuine, although there is little about it on the Blackburn Cathedral web site. What does this say about the church’s attitude towards female clergy and women in general? In what sort of Orwellian nightmare do we carry on talking about ‘two integrities’ and assert at the same time that we are ‘all one in Christ Jesus’? My concern is that we may still head down the same road for the consecration of women bishops. As a church we keep shooting ourselves in the foot; taking decisions and then apologising for them and undermining them at every turn. Sometimes the church is beyond parody.

If you want to read an account of how this decision is making women in the church feel then read Today I am truly ashamed to be an Anglican.

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