What's wrong with the Church of England

FAITH & REASON A commission chaired by the Bishop of Durham, the Right Rev Michael Turnbull, has made radical proposals for church reform. Paul Handley has his own ideas.
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The Independent Online
The Turnbull Commission's report, despite its potential for affecting a significant change to the way the Church of England works, hasn't yet been picked off the doormat, where it landed 10 days ago.

This is partly because it didn't make much of a thump when it landed: no public row, no column of priest-pundits lined up to tilt at it from the backs of their particular hobby-horses, no points of conflict with the Government, no sucker-lines for the tabloids.

It is partly because the commission might just have got it right. Dismantling the Church Commissioners (almost), taking some power away from the General Synod, not giving any more to the House of Bishops, cutting down the number of committees - these are all moves likely to increase the number of Christmas cards Bishop Turnbull gets this year (though the Church Commissioners might decide to save the cost of a stamp).

But it is mainly, I think, because the commission tackled the wrong problems. Ordinary members and, particularly, semi-members have their own shopping list of what's wrong with the Church of England - things far more serious and intractable than any of the tinkering that the Bishop and his team suggest. Here are just a few:

Sermons whose length is in indirect proportion to the experience, wisdom and rhetorical skills of the preacher.

Chasubles worn crooked.

No chasubles worn at all.

Worn chasubles.

Inelegant modern language ("The Lord be with you", "And also with you").

Incomprehensible archaic language ("The Lord be with you", "And with thy spirit").

Anglican priests who pray for the Pope, rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury.

People leading prayers who announce that

there will now be a time of silence, ask people to get ready for that silence, suggest what might be prayed in that silence, ask God to listen to any prayer said in that silence, then thank God for the chance to be silent together - without having had any silence.

All those half-empty churches which we have to pay for and ought to be closed down.

Except mine.

Victorian hymns that you think you know, but which someone somewhere has twisted round to get rid of anything poetic. (Like, in "Immortal, invisible", "We blossom and flourish, as leaves on the tree, and wither and perish, but nought changeth Thee", changed to "We blossom and flourish, uncertain and frail, we wither and perish, but you never fail.")

Jolly modern songs played slowly on the organ.

Organists who play loud voluntaries when you're trying to chat to someone after the service.

People who chat during the organ voluntaries.

Atonal choirs attempting any form of polyphony, ancient or modern.

Politically correct but tasteless instant coffee with long-life milk in smoked-glass cups.

Parish lunches.

Parish lunches with rice salad on paper plates.

Parish lunches with rice salad on paper plates and coffee (see above).

Churchwardens who stand at the back and jangle the loose change in their pockets during the solemn bits of the service.

The Decade of Evangelism (whatever that is).

Leaders who have "lost their way".

Leaders who know what everybody else's way should be, in general and in particular.

Too much compromise.

Too little.

People who think that being Christian means being nice.

People who know what being Christian means, but express it so nastily that you find yourself wondering if the satanists hold any services nearby.

Brown shoes on the clergy.

Clergy in vestments who cross their legs.

Clergy in vestments who cross their ankles.

Flames embroidered on to everything.

Copes that are too short.

Ancient Hebraic texts as guides to anything other than life in ancient Israel.

Four-week courses entitled "exploring sexuality" which run on Thursday evenings throughout November and are attended by people whose sexuality you'd rather not know about, if it's all the same to them.

A fundamentalist view on anything.

Clergy who think three slides on an overhead projector and a tape of "worship" music constitutes a rave service.

Dry holy-water stoops, especially with little bits of plaster and a dead moth in them.


Clergy who do everything right in a service, but with a total lack of style and no sense of occasion.

Substituting ethics and morals for the Gospel.

Substituting anything for the Gospel.

Not enough doughnuts.