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Small earthquake. Not many fled

30 September 2016

Taking notice: the Times report on a potential conservative breakaway

Taking notice: the Times report on a potential conservative breakaway

I MAY be wrong, but it doesn’t look to me that the long-threatened schism is going anywhere very much. The Times duly reported: “A new network of Anglican churches is to be launched to rival the Church of England as a home for worshippers with conservative views on issues such as homosexuality.

“The project, launched by a group called the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), aims to plant hundreds of Anglican churches outside the control of the Church of England, and has the backing of a group of hardline Anglican archbishops from around the world.”

But no other paper bothered. This is, in part, because none of these churches actually exists. The seven congregations in the video all seem to meet in hired halls. The only novel things about the story were the explicit invocation of John Calvin as a precursor in their church-planting schemes, and the appearance of Archbishop Nicholas Okoh as a backer of the scheme. Neither of these are subtleties that one would wish to explain to a news desk.

This looks like good news for the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s a bit more than a year since hacks were summoned to Lambeth Palace for a briefing to announce the Primates’ Meeting last winter, and, so far as I can see, the plan that was set out then is still more or less holding. GAFCON remains irreconcilable, but its control over the global South is not as universal as is sometimes made out.

Nothing that looks like a bit of the Church has broken away from anything else that looks like another bit. This is perhaps a misleading criterion: if the Church of England were not here already, no one would think it necessary to invent it. None the less, it’s not much of a schism without bishops or buildings.

Talking to people who took part in the Shared Conversations, it is obvious that they have a greater sense of their opponents’ hinterlands as a result, even if they haven’t changed their minds on the central question. They just might think it matters less.


MARTIN BASHIR has been appointed to replace Caroline Wyatt as the BBC’s religion correspondent. Bashir got one of the great scoops of the last century — the interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, during which she came clean about her failed marriage. Stephen Bates, occasional writer of this column, emailed to say that the interview Bashir would now be after was one in which the subject said: “There were always three persons in the Trinity.”


THAT is a better joke than appeared in the Press Gazette’s version of the story, which did, however, suggest that the post would pay about £60,000 a year. This is about the salary offered for the C of E’s “Head of Digital” earlier this year: an interesting illustration of the way in which flaks are reliably paid more than the people who get their stories published. A cynic might say that this is because so many of the published stories are written by PR people anyway.


OTHERWISE, the death of Fr Gabriele Amorth led to a couple of exorcism stories in The Times and the Telegraph (Harriet Sherwood, at The Guardian, was on holiday). The Times spoke to two anonymous RC exorcists in England; the Telegraph had two in the United States. It was clearly pre-planned that the men be interviewed in pairs. Nobody sane wants to be the public face of the business.

Both pairs were, of course, asked about Harry Potter, but none of them produced the story that the news desks will have wanted. All four played down the glamour of the business: “Exorcists should not be treated as modern-day shamans or magicians that people come to with a problem, and the priest shows them a crucifix and throws holy water on them and sends them on their way. The goal is to help the afflicted person resume a normal spiritual journey and cultivate a relationship with God. Exorcism should always be seen in the wider scope of overall pastoral care.”

One of the American priests, Fr Vince Lampert, said: “A lot of times, people call me and already believe they’re possessed. I tell them that I think their situation is more psychological than evil, and they don’t like that answer. So they’ll go and continue to try to find someone to tell them what they want to hear.”

Neither piece answered a question that I find a little puzzling: a frequently reported symptom of demonic presence is the ability to speak in strange languages. There is a chilling account of this in one of John Cornwell’s books. But why should it be that the demons speak in comprehensible languages, while the outpourings of glossolalia don’t come in any human language at all?

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