Unsolicited advice to the new Bishop of Whitby

May 11th, 2009 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

The Church Times came this morning.  The jobs pages mostly make better reading than the editorial.  This week a bishop’s post is up for grabs – they are looking for a new bishop of Whitby, which is in the cold north and miles from anywhere  you might see Bruce Springsteen in concert.  The advertisement welcomes comments and nominations.

Well, I think my wife would make an excellent bishop, but the English do have a problem with women, lagging years behind Ireland, and the pay in the Church of England is significantly below what we are paid here.

So that’s my one nomination dismissed, what about some comments?

Well, I would say the bishop should look around at what works in churches and what doesn’t work.

Firstly, forget about all that ‘Fresh Expressions of Church’ stuff; it’s coming out of a culture of decline.  Where are there strong churches?  I’ll tell you, across the length and breadth of rural Ireland.  I have a friend who has 401 parishioners – more than 300 of them attended on Easter morning.

It’s not fresh expressions you need; it’s strong expressions.  The church is strongest where it is rooted in a place, where it’s part of the life of the community.  Go back to having a priest in every community – appoint your non-stipendiary ministers as parish priests.  People are not worried what a person does for a living all week; they want a sense that the church is among them and cares about them.  They want vicars they know, who they see in their villages; who are part of the community.  They want someone they see in the village pub, who walks their lanes, who waves as they pass.  Want a theological basis for ministry based in the community? Jesus of Nazareth.

Secondly, you don’t make friends with people by poking them in the eye.  If the crusties want to say their prayers in Sixteenth Century English, for goodness sake let them.  It’s not as though the new stuff is exactly packing in the young ones, is it? If you stop alienating the few supporters you have left, you might find they are more responsive. And stop mucking about with the hymns.  I saw one English hymnbook where the lines of ‘Be thou my vision’ had been changed; instead of saying ‘High King of heaven’ it said ‘Sovereign of heaven’.  This is PCness gone bonkers.  It didn’t say ‘High King’ to be sexist; it said ‘High King’ because the person who ruled the whole land in ancient Ireland was the ‘High King’, he was not the blooming ‘sovereign’.  It might stick in your craw to allow unreconstructed old conservatives to have their way, but you can regard it as obeying Saint Paul’s injunction to have regard for the weaker brethren.

Thirdly, would you ever pay your clergy a decent wage? You can afford it.  Stop wasting your money on constant rounds of meetings and ineffective projects.  Let your clergy keep the fees for ceremonies; if they have done the work why on earth should they hand it to the diocese?  What incentive is there for anyone to work harder if there is never any reward for effort.  Clergy are as human as anyone else when it comes to a bit of encouragement and Jesus is clear in saying that the labourer is worthy of his hire.  It is embarrassing to talk to English clergy at times, they express astonishment at Irish clergy getting four weeks summer leave – I never mention skiing to them.

Fourthly, would you ever look at how bishops look in the media? They look plain daft.  Get rid of the silly medieval mitres and silks worthy of Vogue; reconnect with people. I mean to say, you can’t do much worse than your colleagues are presently doing, and you might even do better.

Finally, please forgive this unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of another Anglican Province, I’m sure there is some Lambeth Resolution forbidding such comment.

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  1. it just occured to me…….the Church of Ireland
    must be the only place in these recessionary
    times that is actually taking on people !!!! 🙂 lol

    become a COI minister today ! – guarnteed employment !!!! lol

    nice blog, only found it yesterday- i like what i have seen.
    Keep it up !

    Perhaps you could do something on the ‘dippers’ or
    cooneyites – everyone i know is dying to know about them-
    are they cult or not etc. Nobody wants to ask though !
    when you ask one of them- they refuse to tell you
    anything of their beliefs etc.

    Also, many COI are related to Cooneyites- so they dont
    want to find out !

    But i have found out that they are a cult apparently,
    would be interested in your views on them.

    best reguards,
    A teenage COI member
    ( yes, you read right – a teenager !! long past
    confirmation and still attending !!! 🙂 )

  2. Hi Hamman,

    Love the pseudonym – I used to use it – I came from a village called High Ham, which we just called ‘Ham’ so used to use Hamman as my name on a forum.

    I used to know lots of Cooneyites – I shall try to put something together. They were very good neighbours and, although strict, were not a cult.

  3. The Bishop of Whitby eh! Perhaps he should have got a job as an extra in Hearbeat, Whitby often figures in the programme. Oops! sorry it’s being chopped in the ITV cuts

  4. Is that Heartbeat country? I didn’t know where it was – except up t’North!

  5. Like what you’ve written there Ian. And love the idea of “strong expressions” of church…food for thought. Thanks.

  6. Do you think I should copyright ‘strong expressions’? 😉

  7. Oh my goodness AMEN brother. Sorta on your first point, the church is far too cliquey, looking after their own, rather than their local community, and they worship only with the people they know and are nervous of outsiders and newcomers – main reason why I don’t go to church anymore.

  8. Hi Fi,

    The cliques are made worse by having alien vicars – if the vicar is someone rooted in the community and knows people, then no-one should feel that there is no place for them.

  9. Here here. Yet again you hit the point on what religion SHOULD be about.

    Bit disappointed you don’t know the whereabouts of Whitby though – thought with the Synod of Whitby and all that it would be in Geography (and History) lessons for the clergy. And it is a most charming little spot.

  10. Thanks for that,
    I often wondered why when i tried to register on
    forums etc. , my nick was already taken !
    I did think it was a rather obscure nick- but seemly not !

    I was once asked was it from Haman in the Bible, but it isnt.
    The meaning of my nick is: I am a ham radio enthuasist ( think
    CB radio) and im a man- so hence Hamman 🙂

    Well, i have had a chat with a good friend of mine
    about the cooneyites, we both agree that they are excellent
    neighbours etc. – they do lead a great example.
    But, my friend has conducted some research and has
    found them to be a cult ( more properly a sect) apparently.

    They seemly have notions that only a certain
    number of people will get into heaven- something like 114411
    ( dont quote me on that).

    Well, i conducted some research myself, and i refer
    you to these links-





    google provides many more, there is one excellent resource
    that i cant find a link for, but it has comments and
    testimonies from many people that have left this ‘sect’
    many of them from Ireland.

    It may seem far out- but all the facts do seem to fit together,
    and also, i see many of these traits that are described
    present in cooneyites that i have went to school with etc.

    You are in a better position to understand these things than
    I or my friend, we would be most interseted in hearing your views.

    Thanks again,

  11. Sorry, had to rescue your comments! Posting more than one URL link causes the spam defences to intervene.

    You definitely don’t want to be Haman – he gets hung in the book of Esther (the only book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God!)

    The Cooneyites would be biblical fundamentalists – 144,000 people into heaven from the Book of Revelation. To to be fair to them, because they do not have televisions or radios or read newspapers, and certainly would not have the Net, they are not in a position to respond to stuff said about them.

    They would be classified as a ‘sect’ in the sociological sense of the word, but would obviously not see themselves in that way. The nearest parallel I could imagine to them would be the Amish in Pennsylvania, although the Cooneyites do allow modern machinery. They marry within their own community and the women play a very passive role on their community, in accordance with their understanding of Saint Paul’s teachings.

    Because they have no churches, they have no burial ground, and the community to which my neighbours belonged would have bought graves in the churchyard attached to one of the churches where I was Rector. I attended to funeral ceremonies during my time there – there were no traditional funeral prayers, just very evangelical preaching. On both occasions, they wrote to thank me for allowing their ceremony to take place and for being present amongst them.

    They wouldn’t be my cup of tea!

  12. Oh, sorry about that, i didnt know.
    Im an engineer in training- we are supposed to know these things!chuckle

    I knew Haman was bad, i think someone did tell me he got hung,
    but it sounds like news to me tonight. I never knew that
    about the book of Ester, I have never really read the book
    of Ester, never got my attention. Im a big Corinthians
    fan, always seems to draw me back- i find it the most
    applicable to daily life, as i find it anyway.

    I didnt know that was what you called them, i heard
    Jehovah’s witness believe in the 114,000 people into
    heaven too, would they be Bibical fundamentalists ?
    I must check that out in Revelations.

    I suppose by right according to their religion-
    cooneyites arent allowed to do those things-
    but one i know buys all the daily papers, she
    is one of the most well read women around !

    I know they arent into radio alright, but
    I know members that i went to school with used
    to play playstation games- so they had tv.

    I know one family got a tv, but used to cover it
    with a sheet when their cousins used to come around.
    They also had a computer for donkeys years before i had !
    One of their sons is doing computer science, so
    he definetly has the internet and a computer.
    I think for people doing modern jobs, the computer,
    internet and paper thing might be relaxed.

    Yes, they do seem similar. They are great neighbours,
    very prosperous and they do keep themselves to themselves.
    Women with long hair or hair up in a bun is also very common.

    The strange thing i always found about them was, you could never
    draw them into conversation about religion or they would always
    clam up when you asked them about their religion.
    My thoughts were: If you believed you were so right-why not
    share and tell everyone your beliefs ??

    well, my parents expressed the views that cooneyites were
    great christians (judged by outward appearance ) and that
    they didnt see anything wrong with being a member of their
    church or even marrying a cooneyite !

    I was far from convinced and had no mind of ever doing such a thing and certainly never will !

    I must head on ( im supposed to be studying for a maths exam 🙂 )

    The exam is on tomorrow and there will be no questions on cooneyites !!! 😛

    many thanks,

  13. Hope the maths exam went well.

    A colleague in the Church of Ireland in the North, who had relatives who belonged to the Cooneyite community, once described them as “strong on ethics and weak on grace” – which in plain English means that they believed very strongly that their life should reflect some standard of absolute purity and that they had no great sense that Jesus came to bring forgiveness for everyone.

    I’m intrigued that some you knew had a television. When I lived in the country, an old lady lived in the bungalow between my house and the neighbouring farm in which a Cooneyite family lived – the old lady died and we were concerned about the safety of her house (she had no family). The lady from the farm said she would take the valuables for safe keeping, but felt that I should look after the television because they would not even have a TV set inside the house.

    There were far more scary people in the North than the Cooneyites! The Free Presbyterians used to persecute the Rector of the parish where I served as curate – taking out ads in the local paper, delivering leaflets door to door condemning him, and even disrupting services!

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