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After spending 9 years as a Church Army Officer, I went to Ripon College Cuddesdon in 2009 to train for ordination in the Church of England. I was ordained deacon in September 2011, and then priest in September 2012, serving as Assistant Curate in the parish of St. Botolph Northfleet and St. Mark Rosherville. Clare and I married in July 2000, and our son Nathan was born in September 2010

Monday, 18 June 2012

There's a Wideness to God's Mercy

If you follow the Christian blogosphere at all, you will have seen this statement published on the Church of England website. Reactions have been swift from all directions, from groups and individuals such as Inclusive Church on the one hand, and Church Society on the other. Many responses can be found at Thinking Anglicans, both in the links posted and in the individual comments.

I am not going to go into the minutiae of the statement itself - others have done that more comprehensively than I could do. But I do have a few thoughts on this whole situation.

Firstly, it is more than unfortunate that this statement has been published anonymously. For a statement purported to be on behalf of the Church of England, it would have been far better for the authors to have made it clear who they were. As it is, the anonymous publication has created a cloud of suspicion and mistrust which could have been mitigated, at least to a degree.

Secondly, I find it incredible that anyone could issue such a statement which claims to be the Church of England's response to the Government Consultation, without having conducted any consultation themselves. This is a huge and complex issue which many people in the Church hold diverse views on, and to imply that this is the Church of England's Response in this way is simply wrong. The increasing numbers of people disassociating themselves from the statement is testimony to that.

If, for example, there had been a debate in General Synod, with a vote taken, then there would have been a mandate for a response to be made in this way, albeit with an explicit clause acknowledging the diversity of opinion within the Church. I believe that, whatever the result was, people generally would have accepted that due process had happened, that the majority view would be expressed, and that minority views would have been acknowledged.

My suspicions are that there was probably a realisation at some point not too long ago that the date for the deadline was drawing near, and that there wasn't time to do a widespread consultation in the Church. With the debates in Dioceses on both Women in the Episcopate and the Anglican Covenant, it is quite possible that this is true; but in that case, a response could have been made which was far more reflective of the diversity of opinion throughout the Church, rather than the one which has caused such antagonism.

Frans Snyders [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Finally, this, to me, is yet another example of the infuriating habit we humans have in putting limits on God's love - particularly when we think about the parable of the mustard seed which many of us will have heard (or even preached upon) yesterday. The parable which talks of the inclusivity of God's Kingdom, as shown by this seed which grows and grows until all are able to "nest in its branches." The parable which emphasises how God extends his welcome to every single person, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever other difference/distinction we might care to think of. How ironic that this parable should be our Gospel reading at the same time 'the Church of England' puts out a statement which excludes people from the love of God, rather than includes them into God's family.

We sang a hymn yesterday which is well known to many: There's a Wideness to God's Mercy. It includes the following lines:

But we make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify his strictness
With a zeal he will not own.

Might I humbly suggest that, whatever our personal convictions with regard to the issues being debated, we spend some time reflecting on those words and asking ourselves the question: "what limits am I placing on the love of God in the way I think and speak and act?"

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