Thursday, July 26, 2007

School Holidays?

I recently went on holiday. Well that was meant to be the idea. No sooner had I left Hong Kong than I was phoned about one of the Schools of which I am the Supervisor. Since then I have been on the phone constantly and, if not the phone, then email. For legal reasons, I have to be careful what I say even here. However, this report from the agency WE reported the case to and one of the press reports about it will give you the idea. They are both substantially correct.

ICAC Press Release


Primary school teacher caught red-handed by ICAC for alleged bribery

A teacher of a primary school, who is also involved in admission procedures, was caught red-handed by the ICAC yesterday (Friday) after she took a bribe of $70,000 from a parent, allegedly for facilitating the admission of the latter's daughter to the school.

The ICAC commenced an investigation after receiving a corruption report.

Inquiries revealed that the teacher had allegedly solicited $30,000 from the parent, claiming that it would strengthen his daughter's application for enrolment to the school.

Upon the teacher's solicitation, the parent had already made a cash payment of $30,000 to her on Wednesday (July 18).

Investigation also revealed that the teacher had allegedly further solicited $70,000 from the parent for the same reason.

An ambush operation was mounted by ICAC officers yesterday inside a restaurant in a shopping mall in Kowloon Tong. The teacher was arrested after taking the $70,000 "bait money" from the parent.

Subsequent ICAC investigation revealed that the teacher had allegedly approached three other parents and solicited advantages from them, claiming that she could provide assistance in admitting their children to the school.

ICAC inquiries showed that two of those parents had allegedly paid the teacher $20,000 and $580,000 respectively.

The management of the primary school concerned has rendered full assistance in the investigation.

An ICAC spokesman reminds that parents should be cautious when seeking to enroll their children in schools of their preference.

"Should parents come across solicitation of advantages for admission, they should come forward to report to the ICAC.

"Information will be treated in the strictest confidence," the spokesman says.

Press Report

(Click on the above to enlarge)

Once this story broke everything went completely mad. The press and TV camped outside the School, even though it is the summer vacation, and I received many requests for information, even though the matter is subject to legal proceedings. It is a real temptation to think you must react and do something. Plenty of people are clamouring for you to do just that.

It is hard to see the wood from the trees at times. In fact, it is all very simple really. A teacher has been arrested, allegedly for taking money to facilitate the entrance of children into the School. If guilty, she will be punished; if not, she will be acquitted. It is not for us or anyone else to pre-judge the legal process and there is nothing for us to say or do with respect to the case in question except to co-operate with the legal authorities.

There is, of course, plenty to do in terms of managing the fall-out from the case, but nothing much to do about the case itself. Convincing some people of this takes quite some time!

What, however, the case does raise is the question I keep raising and have discussed here, namely the culture around our Christian schools. Leaving this case aside for one moment, the only reason people are tempted to take bribes is because parents are willing to pay them and because we in the Church have cultivated a culture of social elitism. A Christian response I would suggest is, of course, to expose corruption, but it is also to challenge the culture which makes it possible.

This may mean Christian schools having to cater more in future for the poor than for the rich.

Anyway, the story is going to run and run whether I am on holiday or not. I will keep you informed as it develops and as much as I am able.

Please pray that I may have the wisdom I need to handle it properly.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Well tonight I start a holiday. I can't remember feeling so much in need of one. I am truly exhausted. It has been a massive struggle finding cover for my services here while I am away and as always it is the busy people who are willing to help. I am extremely grateful to them. The end of the summer is always challenging, this year even more so, but now I am looking forward to a change of scenery and time spent with family. I will keep in touch as long as my internet access allows!

If you are planning a trip yourself, I hope it is a safe and happy one!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Where I am Now: 3. Liturgy and the Eucharist - Part Two

I did think that I wouldn't have a lot to say in this post having said most of it previously! However, I discover I have more to say than I thought!

It is the end of term here and I have loads of services and other school events to lead and attend. I was invited to two more today, I am afraid enough is enough! We are looking forward to our holiday which is creeping up at the moment. I hope to have more blogs posted before then though.

Have a good weekend!

Where I am Now: 3. Liturgy and the Eucharist - Part Two

When I became a Christian, and for many years afterwards, the Eucharist did not feature very highly in my life. My background was such that other aspects of worship were much more important. Even at St Andrew’s, the first Anglican Church I went to, the Eucharist was not a central part of church life or mine. At London Bible College, I started to think more seriously about it and, as I have mentioned previously, I came to see it as important.

I was, however, very much on the Protestant end of the spectrum in understanding its significance, not believing that anything particular happened in it. It was a memorial meal, that and nothing more. It was really only when I went to Banchory and was celebrating the Eucharist regularly as well as trying to bring some renewal in our services that I found myself thinking more seriously about what it actually meant.

A major consideration for me was Church history and tradition. The Eucharist has been at the heart of the Church’s worship in much the same form since at least the second century. It was sidelined as a consequence of the reformation in many Protestant churches. Protestants often played it off against the Bible and preaching and were highly critical of the Roman Mass. Calvin, one of the leading reformers, while critical of the Roman Mass, believed that the Lord’s Supper should be at the heart of the Church’s life and worship. An aspect of his teaching that most of his followers ignored!

Indeed, Calvin, in his belief and teaching that Communion should be offered to believers weekly, was ahead of most people at the time, Catholic or Protestant. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, people took communion very infrequently, often no more than annually. Calvin not only believed in frequent Communion, he also had a high view of what was happening in the Eucharist. He certainly did not believe in transubstantiation, the doctrine that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ, but nor did he see the Lord’s Supper as a memorial meal and no more. For Calvin, there was a real partaking of Christ in the Supper, but spiritually and by faith. Calvin’s negative comments about the Mass, as it was celebrated and understood in his own day, have perhaps meant that people have missed the emphasis that he actually does put on the importance of the sacrament.

I also think that Protestants today forget that the Roman Catholic Church of the present is not the Church that Calvin criticised. Roman Catholicism has changed and has perhaps come to express its teaching in a less crude way than was the case. I, personally, differ somewhat in my own understanding to the official Catholic teaching, but reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Eucharist again just now, I am struck by how reasonable and balanced it is, and how much I find myself in agreement with it. Now the way it is expressed is somewhat different to how I would put it. And there are things I am not exactly comfortable with such as the veneration of the host outside of the Eucharist and the belief that the Eucharist has benefits for the dead, but in its treatment of the Mass as a sacrifice, which has traditionally been a problem for Protestants, the catechism is very cautious in how it expresses itself.

For example, let me quote in full paragraphs 1365 and 1366:

1365 Because it is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: ‘This is my body which is given for you’ and ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.’ In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’

1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:

[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper ‘on the night when he was betrayed,’ [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.

This last paragraph is a quote from the Council of Trent of 1562 in which the Roman Catholic Church first attempted to respond to the Reformation.

The language in these two paragraphs isn’t language Protestants would use, but is it really so objectionable? The word ‘transubstantiation’, so hated by Protestants, is only used once. I am not trying to defend Roman Catholicism just to point out that many are reacting to a Roman Catholicism that no longer exists, if ever it did.

Roman Catholics believe that Jesus is ‘truly, really and substantially’ present in the Eucharist. Having also read Calvin again on this before writing this blog, I am sure he would agree. The issue between Calvin and the Roman understanding would seem to be not whether, but how? On a personal level, this remains the difference between my own understanding and Roman teaching. For the Roman Catholicism of the catechism teaches that Christ is physically present. For Calvin, he is spiritually present.

My problem with Roman Catholic teaching is that I cannot for the life of me see how physically eating Christ can be of any spiritual benefit. The RC catechism itself says that we are spiritually fed in the Eucharist, but if we are spiritually fed what use is Christ’s physical flesh? Chewing on Christ while he was alive on earth, if I can express it crudely, would have had no benefit whatsoever. Why would it make any difference now?

And yet given that the RC position is that in the Eucharist we spiritually feed on Christ, does it matter that some may believe he is physically present? It’s not something to fall out over surely? And not something that we ought to allow to divide us. What I am trying to say is that I think Calvin got it right, but that the present RC position is nearer to Calvin than that of many who call themselves Calvinists! Having quoted the RC catechism let me quote Calvin. He is talking about how Christ is present in the Supper:

‘Now, if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it. Therefore, I here embrace without controversy the truth of God in which I may safely rest. He declares his flesh the food of my soul, his blood its drink [John 6:53ff.]. I offer my soul to him to be fed with such food. In his Sacred Supper he bids me take, eat, and drink his body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. I do not doubt that he himself truly presents them, and that I receive them.’ (Institutes, Book IV, CH. XVII, paragraph 32)

This is the best one paragraph statement of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper I know. And while I am quoting Calvin, let me quote another helpful paragraph from him. Having criticized what he sees as a misunderstanding of the Supper, he writes:

‘But when these absurdities have been set aside, I freely accept whatever can be made to express the true and substantial partaking of the body and blood of the Lord, which is shown to believers under the sacred symbols of the Supper-and so to express it that they may be understood not to receive it solely by imagination or understanding of mind, but to enjoy the thing itself as nourishment of eternal life.’ (Institutes, Book IV, CH. XVII, paragraph 19)

Anyway, this was the understanding I came to at Banchory. Furthermore, I came to believe that the problem of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer wasn’t that it was too traditional; the common accusation against the Prayer Book, but that it was not traditional enough. The Book of Common Prayer while expressing a Calvinist approach to the Eucharist was moving liturgically away from the tradition and practice of the Church. It was prevented from moving further by the death of Edward VI and the eventual coming to the throne of Elizabeth I, which rather froze things where they were. This was how basically they stayed in Anglicanism until comparatively recently. The liturgy we use here at Christ Church, derived from what is known as Common Worship, I believe expresses a Calvinist understanding of the Eucharist while remaining in liturgical continuity with the great liturgies of the Church of the past. There is, I hope, nothing in it that a Roman Catholic would find offensive.

Would Calvin like it? I suspect not. However, not because he would object to it theologically, but because, I suspect, he was more austere in his approach to worship. Would he ‘freely accept’ it as expressing the ‘true and substantial partaking of the body and blood of the Lord’ he also believed in? I hope so and would like to think so. I think he, like me, would be appalled at how lightly believers value the Sacred Supper and how casual they have become towards it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Where I am Now: 3. Liturgy and the Eucharist – Part One

Thank you to those who sent good wishes on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of my ordination as a priest. I really, really appreciate your messages.

Today I post Part One of the third blog about where I am now. I was ordained just after the Alternative Service Book (ASB) had been published initiating a time of great liturgical change in the Church of England. As I began to write about the Eucharist, I realized that I couldn't let the process of liturgical change go without comment. My apologies to those who think that liturgy is a thing of the 'world and the flesh', if not of the devil. In Part Two, I intend to write more about the Eucharist itself.

Where I am now: 3. Liturgy and the Eucharist - Part One

Services when I first went to them were not Eucharistic. In the Anglican Church, they were mainly Mattins and Evensong and in other traditional Churches a mixture of hymns readings and prayers with a sermon thrown in. In the House Churches, services were much more exciting with just about everything happening - except Communion. Communion did, of course, happen at times in all these different Churches, but it was very much peripheral and easily missed. In none of the Churches I personally attended did the idea that you needed a priest before you could have worship make any sense at all. We believed in the priesthood of all believers.

It was while at London Bible College that I became convinced through Bible Study of the centrality and importance of the Eucharist. (I am using the word Eucharist as the most neutral of the available terms.) It seemed clear to me from 1 Corinthians 11 that what Paul refers to as the Lord’s Supper was frequent and central.

This was also the time of liturgical revision in the Church of England. Liturgical revision sought to translate the Church of England services into English. Well, from an English that no-one used to one that at least they could understand. It also placed far more emphasis on the Eucharist. In many Anglican Churches, this was a time when they switched to making the Eucharist the main service of the day on Sundays. I was very happy with this and still am.

One of the problems with liturgical reform in the Church of England, of course, was that it has always had people who believe different things about the Eucharist and about what is happening in it. This undoubtedly made liturgical reform harder. In the Roman Catholic Church, liturgical reform was more radical and more easily accomplished. In the Church of England, however, there was much resistance to change.

This said, however, much of the resistance to change had nothing to do with theology. People had developed a sentimental attachment to the Book of Common Prayer and to its archaic English. Attempts, normally initiated by the clergy, to change to a modern English service, which was often in every other way the same as the old service, were met with passionate resistance. The bandwagon against change was often joined by people who hardly ever attended Church, but who liked to think of it as a sort of religious museum preserving the traditions of the past to be viewed at will.

The attempt to change to a Eucharist rather than a Morning Prayer service for the main service of the day was more interesting, though no less divisive. The reason for the problems is interesting and instructive. For many, it was one thing to substitute an archaic language Morning Prayer service with an archaic language Communion service, but something altogether different to substitute an archaic language Morning Prayer with a modern language Eucharist. What mattered was keeping the language, the old language. Many churches were severely divided and damaged by the whole business of liturgical change.

Ironically, while those responsible, at Synod level, for re-writing the services may have cared about liturgy and theology most people who entered the battle in the Churches rarely cared about theology. It was all about language whether it was to be old or modern. It is a further irony that the reason for change often given by the clergy instituting it was that it was to aid mission, making our services more accessible to outsiders, and yet the process of change used so much energy that there was often little time left for mission or for anything else. Some of the arguments were very bitter indeed and some of the divisions went very deep.

There are still some pockets of resistance, but the modern language debate has largely been won by the modernisers. Concessions have been made and the old services are still used, but not normally as the main service of the day. You have to go at a different time of day or on a different day altogether if you want the old language and services. A significant number of Churches have made a modern language Eucharist the main service. How has this affected mission? Not in the slightest. Fewer people now attend the Church of England, for example, than ever. Does this mean that liturgical reform should not have been undertaken? Yes and no. It illustrates I think the danger of imposing liturgy on people politically without a concern for theology and for the reason why we are doing it. All too often the reason for change seemed to be fashion and trendiness. Nevertheless, liturgical reform was needed, I believe, not in the first place because of language, but because of the need to put the Eucharist at the heart of the Church’s worship and because of the inadequacy of the Eucharistic liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.

This is a long and complicated subject and it has been much written about. I won’t repeat it all here! The Communion service in the 1662 Prayer Book was a much emasculated service coming as it did out the debates about the meaning of Communion arising from the time of the reformation in the sixteenth century. Much was a reaction to and rejection of the Roman Catholic Mass. I felt that the attempt by those responsible for producing the new Eucharistic liturgies to go behind the controversies of the reformation and learn from the liturgy of the early Church was right. I also liked the fact that the resulting service was very similar to the modern Roman Catholic service. I liked it, not because it was modern, but because it restored what had been lost and gave us a fuller more complete service that brought us closer together.

I could live with the new Eucharistic liturgy in archaic English even if I preferred it in modern English, simply because it was a better service with a fuller understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist. I used to say that ideally we would have a Latin version given that this is the language underlying many of the texts we use in the service. I am mildly surprised to see that many Roman Catholics now feel the same and there is a return to the Latin Mass in some churches. Those with good memories will remember my own attempt to make use of the Latin Mass.

To those who say that Latin is a dead language that is irrelevant in the age we live, all I would say is that the Funeral Mass for Pope John Paul seemed to be very relevant and powerful. It was also in Latin. The loss of Latin at the reformation in the Protestant Churches and the subsequent near loss in the Roman Catholic Churches after Vatican II has meant that those in liturgically based churches have lost a common language that could have been a symbol of our unity worldwide. Of course, people must also worship in a language they understand, but you don’t need to be a classicist to know that ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ means ‘Glory to God in the highest’! But I digress.

The process of liturgical reform in the 1970s and 1980s at least gave us a Eucharistic liturgy that put the Eucharist at the heart of the Church’s worship and which brought the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches closer together in their official liturgies. I am less happy with the ‘pick and mix’ approach of more recent liturgical change, where liturgy is seen as a menu of texts that you choose from and put together locally as you see fit, but that is another matter. The Eucharist is still very much at the heart of the Church.

Now I realize that for those brought up in more charismatically inclined Churches or in non-conformist Churches all this sounds like another language in and of itself. Worship should be Spirit led and spontaneous not written and fixed. Well I wouldn’t want to exclude that. It is interesting, though, how quickly spontaneity takes a fixed form. We all have a liturgy of sorts consciously or unconsciously. What I think is a very fair criticism of liturgically based Churches is that the liturgy can become an end in and of itself and its purpose, to enable us to worship God together, forgotten.