How much further can the so-called Church of England sink? Already not so much a church as a national disgrace, it is making itself a laughing stock with feminist poets in residence, a new age festival, tarot card reading et al. You couldn’t make it up – but then, you don’t need to when the church that disgraces the name of England puts itself beyond parody. Need a palm reader or fire breather? Just apply to the nearest bishop? These extracts from an article by Charles Raven tell the sorry story. AF.
There is a project to reshape Anglicanism into a New Age style spirituality which bypasses the cross and promises personal fulfilment through connection with a mysterious and many faceted world of ‘the Spirit’.Some enthusiasts for this movement slightly overreached themselves and attracted headlines after it was announced that Manchester Cathedral would be the venue for a diocesan ‘New Age’ style Festival themed as ‘Spirit of Life’.
Planned for 2 May, Manchester Diocese’s website promised ‘about 25 workshops and stalls covering poetry, Franciscan spirituality, arts and crafts, healing, icons, angels, meditation, personality profiling, music and blessings, labyrinths, dream interpretation, Christian symbolism of gem stones, tarot and Celtic saints, prayer bead making, choral evensong, foot and hand massage, Jesus Deck readings, Taize chants and, finally, fire breathing!’ And the Bishop of Manchester, Nigel McCulloch was quoted as adding ‘Practitioners from all over the country will be on hand to offer their experience of how God speaks to us today through the cultural language and practices so common in mind, body, spirit fairs.’
Not surprisingly, the press ran headlines such as “Manchester Cathedral to host tarot card readers and healers at 'new age' festival”, almost immediately followed by the unmistakable sound of crunching gears as diocesan communications staff struggled to engage reverse. First, a disclaimer was added to say that ‘Contrary to media reports, the Spirit of Life is a Christian festival…. there will be no tarot card reading or fortune telling at the event’ while, bizarrely, still advertising the tarot workshop! Then the Diocesan Communications Office was unable or unwilling to confirm for me whether or not the statements on the website yesterday from Bishop McCulloch, subsequently removed, had been authorised by him, despite having being quoted by the press.
Next, the website page was extensively reworked to remove any ambiguity about tarot and Bishop Nigel McCulloch issued a statement this morning which concluded ‘The event seems to offer a clear Christian alternative to the usual offer at Mind, Body, Spirit events, and is doing what the Church of England has always done – being present within culture, coming alongside people and offering them Jesus Christ.’
So was the excitement in the press much ado about nothing, merely the result of some rather careless diocesan communication? Can we just settle down and go back to business as usual (whatever that might be). Unfortunately we cannot; as part of their attempt to head off adverse publicity, the organisers also added that all contributors ‘have undergone a rigorous application process’. So it is very instructive to see who is taking part. The programme for the day makes interesting reading; Bishop McCulloch was wise to qualify his assurance to the public about ‘a clear Christian alternative’ with ‘seems’ .
For example, one of the ‘performances’ will be poetry read by “Revd” Rachel Mann, the Cathedral’s ‘Poet in Residence’. Could this, I wondered, be the same Rachel Mann of whom the Daily Telegraph reported last August 'Miss Mann quotes lyrics by the famous thrash metal band Slayer that describe Christianity as an “abortion” and state: “I’ll take the devil any day, hail Satan.” But she claims: “Much of metal’s fascination with Satan or evil is play-acting, driven by a desire to shock’ and ‘many are yet to discover its potential as a place of integration’.
Again, the Diocesan Communications Office was strangely reticent, but Rachel Mann’s own website confirms that she is indeed the same person as the ‘Poet in Residence’ and she writes that ‘As a feminist and queer writer I try to ground my work in my own story and experience, producing liturgy that seeks to be critical of patriarchy and liberative for both men and women.’
So whatever the criteria used by the ‘Spirit of Life’ organisers in their ‘rigorous selection’, they clearly had no problem with a contributor who thinks satanic lyrics are therapeutic and has an ideological commitment to homosexual lifestyles.
Neither did they have a problem about including syncretistic healing practices which owe much more to Eastern mysticism than Jesus Christ. Another contributor is Pauline Warner who will be leading the ‘Healing Serpent’ workshop.
At her ‘Serpents Soul Clinic’ website she explains that ‘when Moses and Aaron confront the Egyptian magicians it is not so much a competition between them but rather, God speaking to the Egyptians in the stories of their own culture’ and ‘The snake I work with is kundalini which is part of the belief in chakras. These are Sanskrit words and the ideas come through Eastern philosophies. Put simply, chakras are key points in the human body which are especially sensitive in emotional and spiritual issues.’
Although the Bishop of Manchester is seeking to try and create some distance between himself and this event, ‘Spirit of Life’ is deeply embedded in the diocesan structures. It has its own website , ‘developed by the Diocese of Manchester, UK’ and some of the content is disturbing. The section on Liberation includes a link to enable visitors to find an LGBT congregation and recommends the work of Richard Rohr whose ‘rites of passage’ camps for men have become associated with nudity and who promotes, among other things, the idea that Jesus and Buddha provide complementary ‘paths to awakening’.
The 'Spirit of Life' website actually has a section themed as ‘New Age’ and, until the embarrassing paragraph was hastily removed earlier today, recommended the practice of nudity, affirming that ‘Naturism is a liberating lifestyle and belief which encourages self-respect, respect for others and for the environment, and embodies freedom and a unique sense of communion with nature’.
But what makes the ‘Spirit of Life’ website shocking is not just the willingness to promote practices which fly in the face of orthodox Christian faith, but the extent of its disregard for theology itself. Alister McGrath has defined postmodernity as ‘the deliberate and systematic abandonment of centralising narratives’ and this is precisely what we see in this eclectic New Age spirituality being promoted by Manchester Diocese.
‘Spirit of Life’ tells us that a relationship with God is ‘built on the experiences we feel in our communications with the divine’ and the Bible, as ‘the writing of the children of God’, is simply a source, albeit a significant one, for those experiences. Christian discipleship is no longer about faithfulness to Jesus Christ as Lord and to the inspired Scriptures which reveal him, but a personal journey in which the imperatives are to ‘Find who you are… Claim who you are… Name who you are…’
To some extent the Church has been here before. One of the earliest heresies it had to confront was Gnosticism as some Christians succumbed to the esoteric spirituality of the ancient world’s mystery religions, but these modern New Age Gnostics of the ‘via medium’ have introduced a radically individualised emphasis on self fulfilment and identity, not to mention a confidence in human potential to relate to ‘the divine’ which makes Pelagius look good. The biblical language of repentance and faith is conspicuous by its absence; that belongs to the past because the apostles of the ‘via medium’ know that the divine energy is already within, just waiting to be unlocked through the right spiritual techniques – and all this can be yours for a mere £5.00 admission fee at Manchester Cathedral.
I hardly need to point out the significance of this for the Church of England. ‘The Spirit of Life’ mindset cannot listen to the authentic Spirit of the Holy Trinity of whom the Apostle Paul writes when he reminds Timothy ‘the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons’ (1 Tim. 4:1).The ‘via medium’ spirituality which has surfaced in Manchester Diocese has the post modern wind in its sails. Unless it is challenged by the bishops, who are canonically required ‘to teach and uphold sound and wholesome doctrine, and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange opinions’ (Canon C 18), it will become embedded as the default spirituality of the Church of England.
Sadly, the bishops’ track record on upholding ‘wholesome doctrine’ is not encouraging and if they are joined by women bishops who believe with Christina Rees that ‘the divine spirit … is telling me and thousands of others that this basic inequality of the sexes is wrong and has been for so many centuries’, then who knows where these ‘winds of doctrine’ will take the Church of England? Orthodox English Anglicans need an anchor and they are unlikely to find it at home.Charles Raven
29 March 2011The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans
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