*** DEBUG END ***

Angela Tilby: If one side wins, we will all lose  

28 July 2023

Sam Atkins/Church Times

The chamber during the meeting of the General Synod in York, earlier this month

The chamber during the meeting of the General Synod in York, earlier this month

ARCHBISHOP Michael Ramsey was reputed to have begun each day by announcing three times, “I hate the Church of England.” His press officer, Michael De-la-Noy, heard him doing this even when abroad in hotel rooms around the world.

The story raises a smile. I can’t quite imagine our current Archbishops expressing themselves so candidly, even in private. Their problem is more that they take the C of E too seriously, and believe that it can be reformed to fit their view of what the gospel demands. Ramsey did not have such ambitions. He realised that the C of E was flawed and untidy as a result of its history. Factions form, dissolve, and reform around irreconcilable theological differences.

The frustration expressed at the recent meeting of the General Synod was a reflection of expectations that are simply unrealisable. It all began badly, with the Archbishop of York’s sincere but naïve plea for unity. And then there were the endless presentations. Perhaps in trying to stop a bomb from going off, those who manage the Synod’s business unwittingly laid a whole series of landmines.

The fact is that, historically, the Church of England is an unstable structure. The only workable unity it has is around boring things such as an agreed scriptural and sacramental liturgy, and the threefold order of ministry — the very things that are being undermined by mission imperatives today.

In generating its current strategies, the Church has dug up some very angry ghosts. When I follow the debates in the Synod and elsewhere, it often seems to me that it is 17th-century Puritans, Laudians, Independents, and Latitudinarians who are really slugging it out through their present-day successors. Evangelicals go on about scripture, while Ritualists disappear into esoterica, and both are shouted at on social media by members of WATCH and supporters of Pride.

Abuse survivors continue to generate pity and guilt in everyone while they wait for something that might never happen. Then there are both sides of the sexuality debate, aggressive and sulky by turns, each totally convinced of their superior moral insight.

The Church of England is infuriating. But a study of its history might suggest that, if any side wins in its endless argument with itself, everyone, in fact, loses. Sadly, our two Archbishops, most of our bishops, and the Archbishops’ Council still believe that the C of E can be brought to heel by firm government and a clear goal. History suggests otherwise.

When I was on the Liturgical Commission, and discussions over the texts of Common Worship came near to overheating, Bishop David Stancliffe, who was chairing it, would rock back on his chair, join his hands together behind his head, and say, “Well, now, isn’t that interesting.” Immediate deflation of noisy egos and back to the more modest task of liturgical revision.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)