THE New Churches brought a fresh Free Church ethos to the ecumenical scene in the 1970s. Today, their members can slip easily across into the Church of England, finding recognisable worship styles. The questions that trouble them as the years advance are familiar to the C of E: such as the agonising in New Frontiers about reaching working-class people. Now, it may seem self-evident that Anglicans should have the edge: it is costly to start from scratch, but the C of E already has its parish churches — and, indeed, many were raised in the 20th century on new council estates, with a sense of local ownership. Again, the C of E has a mechanism for redistribution of resources. On the other side, as in the famous Frost Report sketch about class (John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, and Ronnie Corbett lined up in order of descending height), an Anglican doesn’t have to be working-class to get a crick in his or her neck: the biggest name in C of E church-planting is an eclectic church with Harrods in its parish; a disproportionate number of bishops were independently schooled; and the parishes, with the potential to balance the tendencies of social networking, are being abandoned as unsustainable in favour of churches aimed at target groups. All this suggests that C of E priorities and assumptions may also be overdue for critical scrutiny.
Fifty years ago
THE Church Times was, it must be confessed, not part of the campaign that led to the 1967 change in the law on homosexuality, although the view that prevailed over its columns was not the only one held in the office. In 1988, a former assistant editor, the late Alan Shadwick, recalled his boss, Rosamund Essex, and her clerical advisers “all booming away and rocking with humourless laughter” in the conservative atmosphere of the late 1940s and the 1950s, and observed: “Yes, in the time of Miss Essex that lot might have been right in their fears on the Wolfenden Report — but it was still wrong to put homosexuals in prison.” The Church’s Moral Welfare Council, Wolfenden, Michael Ramsey, and others played their part in the change, distinguishing emphatically between sin and crime. That discourse seemed to echo in the two Archbishops’ joint statement last week, lending it an uncharacteristically lugubrious tone as they (presumably) sought not to depart from certain resolutions or pre-empt the Bishops’ working groups. In a different sense from the BBC drama broadcast the night before about the Montagu case, it was a period piece. Views of more progressive subordinates in a Christian organisation must again await their time.