Review of 2016

by
22 December 2016

CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL

The Primates in Canterbury

The Primates in Canterbury

January
A PLAN by GAFCON to orchestrate a walk-out during a meeting of Primates in Canter­bury did not materialise. Indeed, in a final communiqué, the Primates made a pledge to “walk together”, and a task group was appointed to mend the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church in the United States was chided for its acceptance of same-sex marriage: it would not represent the Com­mun­­ion on ecumenical or interfaith bodies for three years. The Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said that this would bring “real pain”. Conservatives argued that the sanctions were not painful enough.

Scottish Episcopalians expressed hurt after the Church of England and the Church of Scotland announced an agreement, the Columba Declaration, committing them to “grow[ing] together in communion and to strengthen[ing] our partnership in mission”. The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Dr David Chillingworth, said that the agree­ment would cause “real difficulty” for his province in relations with the C of E.

The singer-songwriter David Bowie died. The Archbishop of Canterbury described him as “an extraordinary person”. Lord Williams, the former Archbishop, argued that care for the environment equated with care for the poorest.

 

February
THE month began with the demolition by French authorities of a church and a mosque in the “Jungle” camp in Calais, “in the very place they have come to seek refuge from ISIS and other persecutors”, Archbishop Welby said. The closure of Third Way, a sister magazine to the Church Times, was announced by its owner, Hymns Ancient & Modern, because it was no longer financially viable.

The woman who had made allegations of child sexual abuse by a former Bishop of Chichester, the late George Bell, gave her first press interview. A group set up to defend his name found grounds for doubting her account.

The General Synod debated and approved the Columba Declaration (the Scottish Episcopal Church was like a “ghost at the party”, Dr Chillingworth said); urged the Government to review its “highly punitive” benefit sanctions; and heard the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, castigate the C of E for a “bias to the rich”.

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An independent review, to be led by Dame Moira Gibb, was announced of the C of E’s handling of the case of Peter Ball, a former Bishop of Gloucester, who was jailed last year for sex offences.

The Church Times began its “Theology Now” series, and ran its Bloxham Festival.

 

March
THE Archbishop of Canterbury said in an interview that it was “outrageous” to brand as “racist” people who had concerns about immigration. At the same time, he joined other cam­paigners in raising concerns for the welfare of hundreds of unaccompanied chil­dren in the Calais “Jungle” camp.

The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life sug­gested that there should be greater repre­sentation of non-Anglican religious belief in public life. This was inter­preted by some as an attempt to “end Chris­tian­ity” in Britain. A year of Shared Conversa­tions on sex­uality across the dioceses, in which more than 700 representat­ives particip­ated, came to an end.

An independent review by Ian Elliott found the C of E’s safeguarding procedures to be “fundamentally flawed”.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, pledg­ed a further £20 million to an existing grant-scheme for repairs.

In his Easter message, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, praised “Christian respons­ibility”. Terrorist attacks were a common theme in Easter sermons, in the wake of the Brussels bombings on 22 March. Later on Easter Day, reports came from Lahore of a suicide bombing that targeted Christians but also harmed many Muslim neighbours.

 

April
THE Daily Telegraph reported that the Arch­bishop of Canterbury had learnt, through a DNA test, that his biological father was the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne, Sir Winston Churchill’s last private secretary — not, as previously thought, Gavin Welby, who had died when the Archbishop was 21. “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity never changes,” the Archbishop said.

In Lusaka, Zambia, the Anglican Consulta­tive Council held its 16th meeting. Evangel­ism, refugees, and wealth distribution were among the topics discussed — although sexual­ity was, in the words of one delegate, “the elephant in the room”, and the reason that four Primates stayed away. Members departed with stories of unity, but also with differing interpretations of what had been agreed.

Archbishop Welby said that the ACC had supported the Primates’ Meeting’s com­muniqué, including the “consequences” (i.e. sanctions) for the US Episcopal Church, whose representatives took a different view.

The leaking of documents that showed how clients of a Panamanian law firm had been able to avoid tax exposed the prominence of British tax havens in a “rotten system”, Christian Aid said.

 

May
THE Archbishops’ Pentecost novena, “Thy Kingdom Come”, was observed in a variety of ways across the C of E. Paper aeroplanes inscribed with prayers were suspended from one church ceiling; churches installed prayer stations; hundreds went on prayer walks. Thousands attended “Beacon events” in cathedrals. At St Paul’s Cathedral, the Bishops of Stepney, Edmonton, and Willesden were seen to dance.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, finished his six-month pilgrimage around his province.

When the Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a comment to the Queen about the “fantastically corrupt” countries attending a summit he was hosting, Archbishop Welby interjected that the President of one of the countries, Nigeria, was “actually not corrupt. . . . He’s trying very hard on this one.” The Archbishop played host to the President, Muhammadu Buhari, at Lambeth Palace a few days later.

Sadiq Khan, a Muslim Labour politician, was elected Mayor of London. His signing-in ceremony in Southwark Cathedral was attended by the Bishops of Southwark and Woolwich.

A relic of St Thomas Becket returned Eng­land from Hungary after more than 800 years.

 

June
THERE was an upheaval in the British political system when, in a referendum on EU membership, 51.9 per cent voted to leave, and confounded the expectations of many, including the Prime Minister who had called it. He tendered his resignation soon after the count. Church leaders called for unity, among them the Archbishops: “We must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward-looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world.”

The Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in her Batley and Spen constituency by a 52-year-old local man, Thomas Mair, motivated by a white supremacist outlook. Services of thanks­giving for her life were held in the diocese of Leeds, and at St Margaret’s, Westminster.

A service at St Paul’s Cathedral to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday was characterised by affection and cheerfulness. Mr Cameron read a lesson, and Sir David Attenborough read reflections by Michael Bond. Archbishop Welby spoke of “profound gratitude”.

Church leaders around the world con­demned the attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed and 53 others seriously injured.

The Church of England announced an independent review of its handling of the George Bell case.

 

July
THERESA MAY, a daughter of the vicarage, suc­ceeded Mr Cameron as Prime Minister. She pledged “to unite our country” with a vision “that works not for the privileged few, but that works for every one of us”.

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General Synod members emerged from two days of Shared Conversations on sexuality in York in good spirits. Church House said that “deep convictions” had been expressed, and “profound differences better understood”.

A family of Syrian refugees moved into a cottage in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, the first to be sponsored under a new Home Office scheme designed to channel offers of goods and accommodation from members of the public into viable long-term support for refugees.

An RC priest, Fr Jacques Hamel, was murdered in an Islamist attack in Rouen. Police advised churches in the UK to check their security. Churches should be “alert, not alarmed”, Church House said.

Churches were urged to jump on the Pokémon Go bandwagon, as the game — catching animated monsters via one’s phone — soared in popularity across the UK.

Kynren, a multi-media show that harnessed the talents of the people of Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham, plus an army of professionals, opened to large crowds.

 

August
THE new Prime Minister announced a com­mit­ment of £33 million towards combating human trafficking in “high-risk countries”, and the creation of the first ever government task force on modern slavery.

War raged on in Aleppo, as opposition forces attempted to repel the encircling Syrian army, which was backed by Russian air power. As ground fighting and aerial bombardments intensified, thousands fled. An Arab League summit called for action, but offered no practical suggestions.

Justice Lowell Goddard, who was chairing the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales, resigned suddenly, with no reason given. She was the third to stand down since the inquiry had been launched. Professor Alexis Jay, a child-protection expert, was appointed in her place.

At the Olympics in Rio, many athletes who won medals thanked God, verbally or with a gesture, for their victory. One star of the Olympics was Wayde van Niekerk, a Christian from South Africa’s Coloured community.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was warmly received on his first visit to the Greenbelt festival. At the festival, Professor John Swinton was awarded the 2016 Michael Ramsey Prize for his book Dementia: Living in the memories of God (SCM Press).

 

September
THE Bishop of Grantham, Dr Nicholas Cham­berlain, became the first C of E bishop to declare publicly that he was gay, after being approached by a newspaper. He confirmed that he was living in accordance with the House of Bishops guidelines. GAFCON and LGBT groups complained that his relation­ship had not been made public at the time of his appointment.

Campaigners championed more than 380 refugee children stranded in Calais, who had a right to come to the UK, and urged the Gov­ern­ment to allow them to do so immediately.

The late Mother Teresa of Calcutta was canonised by Pope Francis, who described her as a “tireless worker of mercy”.

A Green Paper proposed lifting the 50-per-cent cap on so-called faith places in schools, and ending the ban on new grammar schools. The Church of England Education Office said that its policy was unlikely to change, since C of E schools were not faith schools but church schools that were open to all.

Cricket: the Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI met St Peter’s XI and the Mount, a Muslim side, once, and won each match. In the Church Times Cup final, London beat Leeds.

A group of ten bishops were invited “to take forward work on sexuality to assist the episcopal discernment process”.

 

October
THE Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, told an audience at a literary festival that France and Germany should resolve the problem of the Calais “Jungle” camp, and not try to pass it on to the UK.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu revealed that he wanted to have the option of an assisted death, and did not want to be “kept alive at all costs. . . . Terminally ill people have control over their lives; so why should they be refused control over their deaths?” he asked. “Why are so many instead forced to endure terrible pain and suffering against their wishes?”

Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury met in Rome, together with Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from around the world, to mark 50 years since the historic meeting of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

Protests by bell-ringers and others across the country followed the dismissal en masse of all 30 of the York Minster ringers. The Dean and Chapter initially spoke of concerns about health and safety, but it later emerged that a safeguarding issue was the cause. The bells are likely to be silent until next Easter.

The release of 21 of the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram was greeted with “delight, relief, and optimism” by the Church of Nigeria.

 

November
THE next President of the United States was elected: the Republican Donald Trump, who beat the Democrat Hillary Clinton after a campaign full of surprises. He received the votes of 81 per cent of white Evangelical voters, and 56 per cent of voters who attended church at least once a week, exit polls sug­gested.

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GAFCON published the names of people in the C of E who, it said, had violated Lambeth 1998’s Resolution 1.10. The list was called “outrage­ous” by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, and “misleading” by the Archbishops’ Council’s secretary general, William Nye.

Lord Carlile, the lawyer and former MP, was appointed to lead a review of the C of E’s handling of the George Bell child-abuse allega­tions. He insisted that his inquiry would deliver a robust and independent verdict. The national Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry heard praise of the reformed approach of the Ecclesi­astical Insurance Group.

It was announced that Manormead, the Pensions Board nursing home, would close in the New Year. The BBC reorganised its religious television, placing it under the head of radio and education, James Purnell.

A review of Fresh Expressions reckoned that more than 50,000 now attended one.

 

December
IN HIS first Lent book, Dethroning Mammon, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of Mam­mon as a personal force. “The more we let ourselves be governed by Mammon, the more power he has, and the more the vulnerable suffer.”

In a House of Lords debate, Archbishop Welby said that British values had “not emerged from a vacuum, but from the resili­ent and eternal structure of our religious, theo­logical, philosophical, and ethical heritage”.

The Prime Minister, speaking in the Com­mons, said that Christians should be able to speak freely about their faith. “We have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech, and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of.”

A forthright government review of integra­tion, by Dame Louise Casey, concluded that more work was needed to “repair the some­times fraying fabric of our nation”. It was given a cautious welcome by church leaders.

As President Bashar al-Assad’s forces regained control of Aleppo, news emerged of the scale of civilian suffering. There were reports that pro-government forces were entering homes and killing all the individuals they found, including women and children.

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