Gafcon Update 1 - the Anglican Family

Saturday 16 June 2018
Dan Leafe writes:

Yesterday Susie and I arrived in Jerusalem as English delegates to the third Global Anglican Futures Conference, which is something of a mouthful, so it is known to all as “GAFCON”. It is a conference of 2,000 Anglicans from around the world. Everything you might need to know can be found at www.gafcon.org

Heading for Jerusalem it is difficult not to think of the Lord Jesus doing the same: “As the days drew near for him to be taken-up, [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

The destination, however, is pretty much the only thing delegates share with the Lord’s journey. In particular, I have been struck that Jesus was heading towards a lonely death and an even lonelier tomb. The contrast with the experience of the GAFCON delegate - because of his death and resurrection - could not be greater. 

GAFCON is the international Anglican family coming together, a family created by and united in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is predictable to say so but this is a gathering if not, “from every tribe and language and people and nation”, certainly from an awful lot of them- around 50 nations…and I wonder just how many tribes, languages and people…perhaps someone will try and work it out.

For many here there is literal family - spouses, children, in-laws; Anglicans, just like the community of God’s people down the ages, have a tendency to intermarry! I have been looking forward to GAFCON so much, in part because for me it is a literal family experience - obviously Susie is here but so will be my sister and brother-in-law, who in turn are only able to come because our mother is caring for their girls.

Just as important is that GAFCON is a church family experience - Susie and I await the arrival of Philip and Ben tomorrow. Jerusalem will be an important week we share together. In fact, I see particular significance in Ben’s presence; it is a great blessing that at the last minute, a place came avaiable at no cost to the church, Ben has been able to join the conference because this GAFCON has a particular emphasis on young leaders like him. GAFCON only meets corporately every five years - Susie and I first came when we were 40 but Ben has the chance to get three GAFCON’s under his belt before hitting that milestone and that is how GAFCON will become the long-term, sustainable movement for the renewal of Anglicanism that it intends to be. 

It is a church family experience, however, most decidedly not just for the four of us but also for the whole church family at Fowey Parish Church as we seek to share the experience with you as fully as possible. Every day we will we will do our best to involve you all in what is going on here in Jerusalem with an email update but there are loads of others ways to join with us too:

  • much of each day’s programme will be livestreamed along with other great content - just go via the GAFCON website above. 
  • At about 4pm BST (we have to think in time zones here!) highlights packages of differing lengths will be posted. 
  • For those who tweet - follow #gafcon2018
  • By all means Whatsapp (07753 690120) or email us to keep the communication flowing. 

You might also pray for us as we will for you. There are resources to help with that privately - please use the 'Fuel for Prayer' leaflet available in church and the prayer points from the Gafcon website.  If you’d like to get together with others to watch some of the highlights and join us in prayer then email or speak to Polly Skinner (07737 281177). We’d all appreciate your prayers, but Susie has a particularly big task as deputy head of communications…perhaps more about that another time.

And if that was not enough, it is also a communion family experience. From the moment we got into Ben Gurian airport yesterday we renewed friendships with Anglicans from around the world - a couple whose daughter is going to work with our mission partners JP and Sue Arunzulla in Bologna nest year; a retired America archbishop who has helped so much in the always necessary work  of teaching the next generation to contend for the faith of the Gospel; Africans who have supported us at past international gatherings; Australians from whom English Anglicanism has benefited so much, and simply brothers and sisters - be they archbishops, bishops, clergy and lay people, from five continents who share our biblical, Anglican profession of the Christian faith. 

All healthy families need to get together from time to time - to celebrate all that is good, to strengthen family ties, to speak frankly, to reflect on the past and think about the future…and that is why we are here in Jerusalem…and why we hope you will “join” us in whatever way you can.

Vicar's letter for June Fowey News

Dear Friends

I have been struck recently how many people use the phrase ‘Touch wood!’ and seek to reach out and tap something wooden.

What does this superstition mean? It seems to be some sort of supernatural insurance policy and surprisingly it’s found almost globally.  Some suggest it’s about preventing malevolent wood-spirits from hearing and upsetting your plans. Others that it comes from auction houses when an auctioneer’s gavel falls, and your bid wins, your hope is realised. But it seems certainly to have a connection with medieval Christianity and its many relics which included pieces of the supposedly ‘true’ cross. It was then an expression of faith in Jesus’s victory over the powers of darkness in his death.

But why does such a superstition still persist in our modern age? Most of the people I hear uttering ‘touch wood’ are educated and intelligent yet they seemed utterly confident that ‘touching wood’ would avoid bad luck coming their way. Many people have a spiritual awareness yet often it is mixed with uncertainty and fear that fuels such irrational superstitions.

A Christian would say that muttering ‘touch wood’ is completely unnecessary. Our lives are in God’s hands and he is a good and gracious and generously heavenly Father. We sing, ‘In Christ alone my hope is found… No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me; from life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.’ Exactly! It is Jesus who commands and controls what happens in our life. We are in the safest of hands.

But what if you’re not a Christian? May I suggest you might think about why you say ‘touch wood’? Because performing this little ritual is actually making an admission. It is to concede that you are not the master of your own destiny.  In which case, who is?

In any case such superstition is misplaced because faith is not mechanical. Even if we were able to touch the wood of the cross on which Jesus died, it would make no difference.  However if, facing an uncertain future, you reach out in faith, not to the cross but to the One who died on it, that’s a very different matter. To put your life under the control of the God who in Jesus Christ loved you so much he died for you is, quite simply, the only safe way to face the future.

with every blessing

Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar

 

Vicar's letter for May Fowey News

Dear Friends

There are many values that the modern Western world prizes, yet increasingly these are assumed to have ‘just happened’ as accidents of history and have nothing to do with the beliefs that shaped them.The truth is that Christianity played a significant role in shaping what we call ‘the West’.

Consider human rights; the idea that every individual has rights and freedoms. It is the biblical belief that everybody is made in God’s image and as such has value that gave birth to the idea and it’s no coincidence that Amnesty International, the leading human rights group, was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson – a Christian.

Consider children. In the ancient world and in many cultures, infanticide was common. However, following the example of Jesus (Matthew 19:14), Christianity values children. That high evaluation led to the creation of orphanages by Christians such as Thomas Barnardo, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and George Müller, and in the labours of the tireless Lord Shaftesbury in creating laws to restrict the use of children in factories and mines.

Consider education. Today we believe in universal education but it was Christians who promoted education not just for an elite but for all. So while some have mocked the idea of Sunday schools, by 1830 they were bringing literacy to over a million children in Britain.

Consider the economic systems that underlie modern Western society and that have allowed health and prosperity to so many. The Christian attitude to labour and wealth, widely but simplistically termed ‘the Protestant work ethic’, was fundamental. Its attitude to wealth was summed up in John Wesley’s words: ‘gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can’. Possibly even more significant was the condemnation of those scourges of every economic system: dishonesty, corruption and laziness.

Compassion for people: who stopped the abominable slaughter of the amphitheatres and the trade in gladiators? Christians.The largest aid organisation working with the homeless, the Salvation Army started by William and Catherine Booth, proclaims its Christian ethos in its very name. The Red Cross was started by Henry Dunant – a Christian. The modern hospice movement was founded by Cicely Saunders – a Christian. The Samaritans, with their invaluable ministry to the suicidal and desperate, was founded by the Reverend Chad Varah. Care for animals? The RSPCA was founded by the Reverend Arthur Broome with that champion against slavery William Wilberforce. They considered the society ‘a specifically Christian enterprise based on Christian principles’.

In fact the Christian role in creating what we are today is everywhere. Now of course the record is not unblemished; history also yields the names of those who, despite naming the name of Christ, sadly perpetuated evil and ignorance. Nevertheless, the record of Christianity in creating much of what we value is overwhelming. Indeed, it’s a striking irony that those atheists who criticise Christians and Christianity prefer to do so from the freedom and protection provided by a culture whose very basis they despise.

Perhaps we should be wary of removing our foundations?

with every blessing, Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar

(I am indebted to J.John for the material for this letter)

 

Vicar's letter for April Fowey News

Dear Friends

The question Stephen Hawking couldn’t answer…

When I was studying to become a vicar in Cambridge, I was attached to a local church and Stephen Hawking was a regular, familiar and already world-famous face on Sunday mornings with his wife and carer. It impressed me that such an eminent physicist was asking spiritual questions - and - although, like most others, I never read it - his book, A brief history of time, ends in such a vein:  “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? . . . Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”

The obituaries last month for arguably the most famous scientist since Einstein have rightly focussed on how Hawking refused to let motor neurone disease disable his prodigious scientific mind, and brought new understanding to the question of how the universe began.  However, the genius who was elevated to Sir Isaac Newton’s chair of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in Cambridge at the age of 37, wasn’t able to give an answer to the question of ‘Why?’

Prof. Hawking returned to the mystery of existence in The Grand Design: “We wonder, we seek answers . . . Where did all this come from?” he wrote. “Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time.”

Hawking restated the ancient philosophical questions. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why this particular set of laws and not some other? “Some would claim the answer to these questions is that there is a God who chose to create the universe that way . . . We claim, however, that it is possible to answer these questions purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings,” Hawking replied. Yet, his answer is not an answer: “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” In other words, we exist because we exist. But the question remains - Why?

Oxford mathematician Professor John Lennox observed in response to Hawking: “To presuppose the existence of the universe to account for its own existence sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland, not science.”

To limit our significance and existence to simply what can be measured and observed - the scientific worldview - is self-evidently reductionist. But it is also a dead end. ‘Why?’ is as important a question as ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ - if not more so.

However, there is someone who does claim to have answers to ‘Why?’ and uniquely backed up that claim the first Easter. Might be worth checking out…?

with every blessing, Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar

 

Vicar's letter for March Fowey News

Dear Friends

There have been two blockbuster movie releases reworking some of my childhood favourites - Paddington 2 and Peter Rabbit. And strikingly they have received a very different welcome.

Peter Rabbit has been greeted by a howl of moral outrage. ‘Advocates’ for (young) allergy sufferers, are incensed that Peter Rabbit and his friends are seen to pelt Mr MacGregor’s nephew with soft fruit despite the latter’s known risk of an allergic reaction and anaphylactic shock. Only his EpiPen saves the poor lad. The mother of one child similarly afflicted questioned in The Guardian how she could possibly take her child to see such a film.

Yet Paddington 2 portrays a stereotypically white, middle aged, privileged and cantankerous judge who abuses the criminal justice system as a means of settling a personal vendetta against the bear. However, ‘advocates’ for the judiciary have not expressed outrage at the slight to their profession. Nor has there has been an uproar about the criminal justice system being portrayed as arbitrary and corrupt. Yet, arguably, encouraging wholesale disrespect for the rule of law amongst our children and youth is potentially far more serious than a fictional allergy sufferer being pelted with allergens.

The difference? Might it be that poorly children make good victims but judges do not? Given that  the movies both reflect and mould our culture, it may perhaps expose a worrying aspect of our public morality. For example, if the gravity of wrongdoing is only to be measured by the degree of public sympathy the victims can muster, that would be rather bad news if you were a black person in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s, a Jew in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, or a suffragette in the 1900s. In such a world it is the most vulnerable, the voiceless, the anonymous, who suffer and only the recovery of an objective standard of right and wrong - regardless of ‘victimhood’ - will protect them.

Some might say that the real difference between the rabbit and the judge is that the former is the hero of the narrative and the latter the villain. But that rather misses the point. Surely what we should be seeking to teach our children is that the world is not divided into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, but that, as the Bible repeatedly teaches with a long list of examples, the greatest of heroes may have clay feet and that even villains can have redeeming characteristics. Only such a more nuanced and realistic view of humanity will equip them - and us - to deal with the news that secular saints such as aid workers can also be the darkest of sinners. Indeed there is flawed and messed up shadow side to all of us which desperately needs the repair that only Jesus can bring.

with every blessing, Philip de Grey-Water, Vicar

(I am indebted to Dan Leafe for the idea for this letter)

Vicar's letter for February Fowey News

Dear Friends

Jordan Peterson, 55, is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. His book ‘12 rules for life’ has been in the news following a sold out associated lecture tour and a controversial Channel 4 News interview with Cathy Newman watched by over 3 million people. He is renowned for his blazing, outspoken opposition of political correctness, which he characterises as totalitarian, intolerant and a growing threat to the primacy of the individual – which is his core value and, he asserts, the foundation of western culture. His primary concern is the defence of the individual against ‘groupthink’.

Peterson’s worldview is essentially this: “Life is tragic. You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge, complex and overwhelming. Once, we had Christianity as a bulwark against that terrifying reality. But God died. Since then the defence has either been ideology – most notably Marxism or fascism – or nihilism. These lead, and have led in the 20th century, to catastrophe.” In particular he highlights an unpopular but perhaps vital realisation: that we are creating a generation of men who (especially if they don’t belong to any ‘minority’ group) are without hope, foundation or purpose.

In all this, the thing that resonated with me is that Peterson is very realistic about the essential darkness of humanity. He points to the flood of hatred, abuse and rage that is now clearly visible on anonymous Twitter feeds and that historically it was “so-called normal people”, not sociopaths, who were responsible for the atrocities of nazism, Stalinism and Maoism. We must not forget, says Peterson, that we are corrupt and pathetic, and capable of great malevolence.

At the same time Peterson believes that everyone is born with an instinct for ethics and meaning and so we have a responsibility to pursue those. He suggests this is what the biblical stories tell us. The great world stories have a moral purpose – they teach us how to pursue meaning over narrow self-interest. 

What ever you make of Peterson as a strange mixture of theologian, psychologist, conservative, liberal, wit and lay preacher, he is asking penetrating questions and exposing the ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ in much of our cultural assumptions and discourse.  For what it’s worth, I think he’s right about humanity - both our essential flaws and our amazing capacity which is part of the bedrock of a Christian worldview and why, for the Christian, Jesus is such good news.

with every blessing

Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar

Vicar's letter for January Fowey News

Dear Friends

December saw a new series of The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime. Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond are back with their banter and outrageously expensive cars. But Top Gear long ago ceased to be a programme about cars. It is pure entertainment. TGT is essential a never-ending middle-aged road trip. The jokes are the same as ever, the outcomes predictable, but the locations are stunning.

What, though, is the secret of the appeal of The Grand Tour? I think it is because Clarkson et al are the court jesters of contemporary culture, or more precisely the jesters of middle-aged male culture.

The 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal asked "Why do kings have jesters?" In human terms, they have everything anyone could want. The answer, according to Pascal, is that the jester prevents the king from thinking about the one issue he really needs to face up to – death.

Hugo Rifkind unconsciously recognised this when he reviewed the first episode of the new series of TGT in The Times. He wrote: “The presenters of The Grand Tour are not normal. They’re three florid multimillionaires in wallpaper shirts who only leave the Cotswolds for work… And yes, they are anti-PC, instinctively sexist and inclined to laugh at people for things like “being French”, but none of that is ever the point. They don’t talk like this because they mean it. They talk like this because life and existence is a gaping void of nothingness and we are all cold and lonely and going to die. All male conversation – cars, football, politics, woodwork, the merits of the M6 Toll, how you work a tank – is basically the same conversation. It is white noise. It blots out the fear… [it is] holding sadness and despair and terror at bay through the sheer power of inconsequential taking the piss… Weird, mad and pointless, but all the more real because of it. Bantering perennially into the void.”

In the end, if there is no hope beyond death, this makes logical sense. We need our jesters to help us make it through. Our culture craves entertainment to divert us from reality. But these entertainments cannot provide a real hope.

Jesus, however, does.  He is the answer to the deep angst we feel. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15v20), so that death has been defeated and can be faced head on with confident hope. There is no need to ignore it, or to just try to make the best of life before the inevitable. We are not condemned to “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15v32). We can look forward to being with Christ the other side of death, which is better by far (Philippians 1v23).  

So rather than a banter-full 2018, I pray you a truly Happy New Year founded on the solid hope that Jesus offers. (with thanks to John Stevens)

with every blessing

Philip de Grey-Warter,  Vicar