Thursday, 17 September 2015

A Parish Share Approach to Funding the Refugee Crisis?

Just thinking aloud...

Obviously, one of the major problems in practical terms with large numbers of refugees is paying for them to live. Fear of how much this will cost is a major issue in the discussions over open borders and resettlement. Even if they are settled in refugee camps, as they are in large numbers in Jordan and elsewhere, someone has to pay for the tents, the infrastructure, the schools, the medical care, the toilets, etc.

But particularly in Europe, there is the additional factor that the southern countries of Europe bear the greatest costs, as they are nearest. Greece, Italy, Spain - not the wealthiest of European countries - are on the front line. Understandably, they resent more northerly countries like the UK standing back with our arms crossed and saying it is nothing to do with us as the refugees reached them first so are their responsibility.

I wonder if the financial model of the Church of England could have something to offer?

I don't mean so much the 'charity economy', but the Parish Share system. This works in various different ways in different dioceses, but basically the idea is that costs are shared across all the parishes. The total bill for a diocese (mainly clergy stipends and pensions, with a few additional central costs, training and so on) is reckoned up, and then parishes each contribute as they are able. In some places this is shared out on a 'taxation' system, but in the dioceses that I know best, Durham and Newcastle, a voluntary offer system has worked best.

When I was in Newcastle diocese, the system was that the amount was divided between clusters of parishes who then got together, looked at each others finances, and decided between themselves what was the fairest way to divide the amount asked for. In Durham a couple of years ago, Bishop Welby startled everyone by proposing an even more radical solution: parishes would simply offer what they felt was right! The total has gone down - meaning some things have had to be cut - but not by as much as some people feared, and morale in the parishes in relation to their giving has shot up.

Parish Share is a system that means that rich parishes subsidise parishes in poorer areas. Some rich parishes don't like this, of course, and try to wriggle out of their obligations. But overall, the system is a wonderful expression of the commitment of the Church of England to being one body, providing ministry and worship to all who live in this country, without reference to the wealth or resources of the particular area in which they live.

So maybe something similar could work across the European Union, to fund the refugee crisis? After all, this is clearly not a one-nation issue, and it seems very unfair for a disproportionate burden of costs to be allocated purely according to geography.

Maybe the Church of England's Parish Share system is the answer? Could the UN or EU add up all the estimated costs of caring for the refugees, and invite bids towards it? The money given could then be allocated back to the countries in proportion to the number of refugees there.

Ideologically, I guess that if you don't want to express the view that Europe is united, you won't like this idea. But without any coercion or 'centralisation' (after all, the Parish Share system is essentially voluntary - bishops have far less power than people often imagine!), this could be a way of expressing the essential unity of humanity that the people of all European countries have been very clear about in recent weeks.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A brief history of the Anglican Communion

The Archbishop of Canterbury is calling a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion (ie, the archbishops of the various provinces - so a smaller meeting than the Lambeth Conference, which is all the bishops). The aim, among other things, is apparently to discuss the future organisation of the Communion.

Since its a pretty core belief of mine that we should understand where things came from as a background to discussing them, here's the potted history of the way the Anglican Communion, and the Lambeth Conference, developed. This comes from my book The Essential History of Christianity (SPCK, 2012) - more specifically, from Chapter 10, 'Globalising Christianity: c.1500-1900'.

"The British Empire expanded across much of the globe in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, superseding the earlier dominance of Spain, Portugal and the Dutch Republic. The work of the missionary societies ensured that the Christianity of the Church of England spread worldwide with it. At first, all colonial churches were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, but this rapidly became unsustainable and colonial bishops began to be appointed in the late eighteenth century. The first Church of England bishop outside of England was the Bishop of Nova Scotia, appointed in 1787. In 1814, there was an Anglican Bishop of Calcutta; in 1824, a Bishop of the West Indies; and in 1836, a Bishop of Australia. The pace of establishment of colonial dioceses quickly increased, and in 1841 a Colonial Bishoprics Council was established.

In some colonies initially the Church of England was the established church, but this was never universal. In 1861 it was ruled that (except where it was specifically established) the Church of England had the same legal position as all other denominations in the colonies. Thereafter, Anglican churches abroad were in a very different position to the Church of England, and evolved differently and independently. Generally speaking both the mission agencies and the Church of England bishops believed that local leadership was a good thing and was to be encouraged as soon as possible, and in time local bishops began to be appointed. As dioceses spread they became naturally grouped into provinces, under archbishops, and national synods began to legislate independently. The examples of America, Canada and Nigeria illustrate the very different histories of some of this family of churches. 

In America, after the War of Independence (1775-83) the Church naturally had to become independent of crown control. The Episcopal Church was therefore established to replace the Church of England, headed by the British monarch, with an alternative ecclesiastical structure. The first Anglican bishop in North America was Samuel Seabury, who secured his consecration from the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1784. Anglicanism was never, except in a few areas of New England, the established church; and even where it was the official religion, it was in practice only the religion of the elite. The proliferation of denominations in the Great Awakening meant that the American religious landscape was from very early on characterised by variety,diversity and choice.

After the War of Independence many of the defeated loyalists fled to Canada, and Anglicans were numerous among these. As a result, the Church of England became synonymous with the Church in Canada, despite the fact that Canada was not strictly speaking British territory. The first Church of England bishop outside England was one of these refugees, Charles Inglis, who was consecrated as Bishop of Nova Scotia in 1787. The anomalous position of the Church of England in Canada caused considerable unrest from members of other denominations, particularly over land privileges given to Anglican clergy. As a result, the Church in Canada was disestablished in the 1850s, giving all denominations equal civil rights. Until 1955, however, the Anglican Church of Canada was officially titled ‘The Church of England in the Dominion of Canada’.

In Nigeria, the first Church of England mission arrived in 1842, and a local church was quickly established. Henry Venn, Secretary of the Church Mission Society, was convinced of value of indigenous leadership, and championed the ministry of Samuel Crowther, a Yoruba freed slave who was already studying for ordination in London at the time. In 1864 hewas consecrated Bishop of the Niger. Crowther’s ministry was by all accounts a great success, but problems began when a different group of missionaries arrived in 1887 and began to evangelise in competition with the existing diocesan structures. These new missionaries were convinced that Crowther’s patient and gentle missionary work and dialogue with Islam were a disgrace, and after his death they campaigned hard (and successfully) for him not to be replaced by another African. When a European bishop was appointed, some Yoruba Christians were so incensed by CMS’s backtracking on its earlier commitment to local leadership that they formed independent churches; only in the 1950s was another African bishop appointed. Perhaps as a result of this in-fighting and loss of nerve, the church grew only slowly: in 1900, it is estimated that there were around 35,000 Christians in Nigeria, perhaps 0.2% of the population. In the last decades of the twentieth century, however, the church in Nigeria has become the fastest growing church in the Anglican communion, accounting for around 18% of the population in 2000. 

As new dioceses and provinces began to be established, and to develop increasingly independently from the middle of the nineteenth century, the question of what held the churches together began to be asked.

The only parameters of Anglican identity were the use of the Book of Common Prayer, and the 39 Articles, whilst the Archbishop of Canterbury was looked to for leadership effectively by default. 

The first Lambeth conference was held, in 1867, in the context of a widespread desire to condemn Bishop Colenso of Natal for his unorthodoxy. Colenso had been appointed bishop of the new diocese of Natal in 1852, a diocese that had been financed by fundraising by Bishop Gray, the first Bishop of Cape Town, and SPG. Bishop Gray was therefore horrified to discover that he had appointed someone he came to view as a heretic. Colenso threw himself into mission to the Zulu people, and was innovative in working to inculturate Christianity. He was assisted by a number of native speakers, especially William Ngidi, and was criticised for allowing Ngidi’s questions to shape his thinking. But most controversial was his commentary on Romans, which went beyond the bounds of accepted orthodoxy on sin and justification. In 1863 the Church in South Africa declared him a heretic, but Colenso appealed to the British courts arguing that his was a crown appointment not Bishop Gray’s. He won his case and remained in post, to the chagrin of Bishop Gray. 

The case of Colenso raised questions not only of orthodoxy, but of provincial autonomy. The Church of Canada, which had taken a lead in condemning Colenso, led calls for a meeting which would give definitive leadership. However, some bishops were reluctant to attend, fearing that it would become a legislative body and compromise their local autonomy. A commitment was made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, therefore, that the conference would be only consultative, and that any resolutions would be simply advisory. The Lambeth conference met again in 1888, and at that meeting made its most enduring statement, the Lambeth Quadrilateral. This set out the four bases of Anglican identity (the Bible, the creeds, the two sacraments of baptism and communion, and the historic episcopate, and was originally intended to provide a basis for discussions with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Incidentally, it established the most widely accepted parameters of Anglican identity."

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Project Padding1 and my daughter's tears

I'm almost tempted to call this post 'I suggested my children gave a teddy to a refugee. What happened next astounded me'...

A child with teddy and note to a refugee child, from the group facebook page
If you haven't heard of Project Padding1 yet, don't worry - it only started 3 days ago. But it has already attracted a lot of attention, has nearly 3,000 followers on its facebook page, and is establishing regional hubs as I write.

The idea is to get children to send a teddy, with a handwritten note, to a refugee child in Syria. The notes are heartwarming and tearjerking.

But that's not why I'm writing this.

This tea time, I told my children about the project and suggested that some of their vast horde of bears might be usefully shipped off in this way. My ten year old son nodded thoughtfully. My six year old daughter burst into tears.

Tears of real desolation and pain. She wasn't sniffing delicately, she was howling great, loud, snot-laden gulping tears.

'I - don't - want - to give - my teddies - AWAY!' she howled.

My husband and I patted her calmingly and soothingly said we understood, she hadn't got to, nobody was going to make her give one of them away, it was up to her.

That just made the crying worse.

'But I - don't want - them - not - to - have - a teddy - EITHER!' she bawled. 'I don't want - NOT - to give - one away. But I don't want them to go!' Cue a fresh explosion of tears.

And it seemed to me that in her childish honesty she had perfectly encapsulated the mixed feelings most people have about the migrant crisis. We don't want them to be suffering - it is almost unbearable. But we don't want to give up our valued stuff, our valued standard of living, either.

I suggested a compromise. How about we go and buy a new teddy?


Maybe just her brother would like to send a teddy?


We will send teddies. To be honest, she has so many she probably wouldn't actually notice a giant teddy cull if I didn't tell her about it - and we can easily afford to buy new teddies if sending hers is too much of a jump. (As her brother pointed out solemnly, he thinks of his teddies as almost like family, so it is a big ask to send one away overseas not knowing if it will arrive safely).

But that voice of her uncontrollable sobbing will stay with me, voicing the thoughts of our inner child - the young, toddler Brittania deep inside our country's psyche - who is struggling to hold together the two contradictory impulses, to help and to hold tight to what is ours.

So lets be kind to our inner child in these debates. Let's name and recognise the fact that it is hard to prise that toddler fist open. We know we want to be generous, but it is difficult. We have grown up being trained to hold onto what is ours, to be careful with it, to know the value of money, to know that things don't grow on trees, to know that we should share, yes, but that they should give us our stuff back at the end of playtime.

Shouting 'don't be selfish!' into the debate is unlikely to work. (My eldest tried it at the tea table. It didn't work). Acknowledging the inner struggle, and that it IS a genuine struggle, is much more likely to be succesful.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

'The Silver Sword' and migration

One of the books I remember most from my childhood is Ian Serallier’s The Silver Sword. It tells the story of a young boy in the war who is only just able, with his even younger sister, to escape from their house shortly before it is blown up by the Nazis. The two of them then journey through various occupied countries trying to reach Switzerland, where they eventually find a safe haven with other orphaned children. 

There are many other children's books about war that I remember, all of which stimulate the same empathy. From Children of the New Forest to Goodnight Mr Tom, stories of children forced away from home in conflict invite us to imagine how we would cope in similar situations, and give us a glimpse of the human reality behind today's headlines and statistics.

And yet the stories we tell ourselves can also obscure historical reality and so distort our present reactions.

The whole point of the asylum framework that was put in place after the second world war was to avoid a repetition of the situation where thousands more people who could have been saved died in Nazi concentration camps because of precisely the same rhetoric from the British public and press that we are seeing now. We could have saved more, but the population didn't want to be 'swamped'. 

History, as we know, tends to be written by the victors: and so the stories we tell ourselves of the war are primarily of plucky Britain in the Blitz, standing firm against the might of Europe. We conveniently forget the other side of things, the appeasement, the fierce debate about whether we should enter the war at all, or whether Hitler didn't really have a point. We celebrate those children who were rescued, but conveniently forget the thousands of children and less photogenic adults who we turned away to their deaths.

The silver sword has been brought back to me recently by images of children living in the bombed out ruins of their houses in Syria, or whole families fleeing before the advance of ISIS. Images of parents clinging to their young children as they attempt to reach Europe or Australia on an over-crowded boat.
(image from the independent's twitter feed).

As I write this, the papers are full of the Songs of Praise episode being broadcast from the Calais migrants’ camp. It has attracted a huge amount of comment, both positive and negative. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted his support: “The love of Christ is freely offered to all, celebrated everywhere, for everyone to know, well done #Songs of Praise”. 

Others were less keen, with papers such as the Sun and the Daily Mail deriding the broadcast. Michael Sadgrove, the soon-to-retire Dean of Durham, wrote on his blog:

“What's the answer to the scornful Pharisees at The Sun? It's pretty obvious. Just ask what Jesus would do. He would be in The Jungle, of course, just as he kept company with a lot of other people the establishment of his day found it difficult to tolerate. It's not that Jesus didn't maintain a clear head about the weighty matters of the law such as duty and justice. Nor is it that he didn't grasp the endless complexity of human life. It's simply that where he saw people in need of touch, tenderness and a listening ear without the threat of sanction and exclusion, he was there with them.”

I’m glad that most Christian commentators supported the broadcast. I was glad it was broadcast, though I was a bit disappointed, watching it: there was much more focus in the reporting on the migrants trying to reach England, than on their faith. There was a missed opportunity, I felt, to explore Coptic and Ethiopian Christianity, and the spirituality of people who wanted to build a church before a home. Some people mistakenly thought that because the women in the church were veiled, and mainly sat separately from the men, they were 'really' Muslims! There was a missed opportunity to correct such misconceptions.

But it was still good to see the programme engage with something that is a key talking point in most churches around England today. A 'Christian' response to migration must always begin with a recognition of our shared humanity, as human beings all equally created in God's image and for every one of whom Christ was born, lived, taught, died and rose again. 

Furthermore, Christianity is full of migration and refugees, both in this country and across the world. I've just returned from the Anglo-Nordic-Baltic Theology Conference, this year held in Finland, and questions of national identity, borders, and language were very real ones, particularly for countries such as Latvia where memories of Russian invasion are still strong and formational. We were very aware of how all such questions need to be discussed in the context of our Christian history of migration, evangelism (sometimes, particularly in Northern Europe, at the point of a sword), and inter-cultural engagement/encounter/conflict in so many different contexts.

St. George, patron saint of England, was a Roman soldier who was probably born in Syria. 

St. Alban, the first English Christian martyr, died to protect a Christian priest who was almost certainly an immigrant. 

The Bible is full of stories of refugees (most obviously the people of Israel, wandering in the desert in search of the Promised Land), economic migrants (think of Joseph and his brothers), and displaced people (‘by the waters of Babylon I sat down and wept’). Jesus himself, with his parents, sought asylum in Egypt when Herod tried to kill him in his infancy. 

Of course, we can be worried about the effect of widespread migration on our own standard of living and sense of home. But Christianity challenges us never to seek to protect our own standard of living at the expense of other people. 

Around the world, there are many millions of displaced people. The vast majority are given hospitality and shelter by neighbouring countries, whose generosity and welcome in the face of their own poverty puts us to shame.

Tensions between different countries and peoples is nothing new. A lawyer once asked Jesus: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ In reply, Jesus told one of the best loved stories in the Bible – the Parable of the Good Samaritan. There is nothing in the gospels that encourages us to think that our responsibility for others stops at our national borders. There is nothing in the gospels that encourages us to think that our own comfort is a measure of what we can afford to give to others.