Grassroots call for an inclusive C of E - by Simon Barrow
Over 300 people packed the historic London church of St Mary's with All Saints Putney yesterday, to launch a nationwide web petition for individuals, parishes and church organisations seeking to keep the Church of England inclusive and welcoming in the aftermath of the Canon Jeffrey John controversy.
The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, (Vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford) described www.inclusivechurch.net as "a gospel imperative."
Many present at the launch identified themselves as liberal or catholic Anglicans, but there were also strong evangelical voices. "This is not a party issue", said one speaker. "It is a call to faithfulness which cuts across the current divides in the Church."
Dr Fraser stressed that InclusiveChurch.Net is not a new organisation. It is a grassroots lobby of 'moderate and open opinion' within the Church, he stressed.
The hope is that the petition, which defines its aims in terms of the biblical mandate for mission, will attract many thousands of signatures. "We hope to have exhausted our need to exist by February next year," said Dr Fraser.
In a powerful sermon at the opening Eucharist, the Provost of Southwark Cathedral, the Very Revd Colin Slee, decried the atmosphere of 'name calling' in the Church and asked for open debate about human sexuality and other contemporary concerns.
The Church was biblical in its constitution, but those who claimed the Bible for their exclusive possession and failed to study it carefully and contextually were not taking it seriously, he declared.
At the 'open microphone' session afterwards a priest in the Church of England of African origin reminded the gathering that "these are matters for the whole Anglican Communion, not just the Church of England." The call by Rev Julia Adoyo for protagonists in the debate on sexuality not to stereotype African attitudes, to pay attention to the impact of culture on faith, and to recognise that a few vocal leaders did not speak for all was echoed by missiologist and African studies lecturer Dr Kevin Ward from the University of Leeds.
The Rev Simon Butler, Rural Dean of Streatham, declared his support for the petition as an evangelical. But he warned the launch that if InclusiveChurch.Net was seen simply as "a stalking horse for liberals" it would severely weaken its impact.
A speaker from London Diocese warned that, in spite of the much-vaunted census statistic showing over 70% of the population identifying themselves as Christian, "most people now see us as ridiculous."
Arguing against those who saw the campaign for inclusiveness in primarily political terms, he asked the gathering not to fear powerful conservative lobbies, because "we believe in resurrection!"
"This is a major opportunity for mission." declared the Rev Colin Coward, a priest who coordinates Changing Attitude, a network asking for a reconsideration of the meaning of Christian scripture and tradition in relation to sexuality.
Dr Fraser explained that the meeting had been convened at very short notice. "We sent out 200 emails and we got 600 replies. There are many more people who wished to be here today."
St Mary's Putney has a long history of grassroots activism. The famous 'Putney Debates' of 1647 took place there, launching the constitutional framework that eventually gave rise to the democratic settlement across the United Kingdom.
The InclusiveChurch.Net petition reads as follows:
"We affirm that the Church's mission, in obedience to Holy Scripture, is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every generation. We acknowledge that this is Good News for people regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation. We believe that, in order to strengthen the Gospel's proclamation of justice to the world, and for the greater glory of God, the Church's own common life must be justly ordered. To that end, we call on our Church to live out the promise of the Gospel; to celebrate the diverse gifts of all members of the body of Christ; and in the ordering of our common life to open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation."