It appears Reverend Steve Hollinghurst was badly misquoted in a recently posted article about the Church of England’s nacent policy to recruit Pagans by starting a new “Pagan Church.” His response in its entirety is below:
OK if you have been reading the press over the last few days you may have come to believe the Church of England has a new policy to recruit Pagans by training pioneer ministers expressly to do this by starting a Pagan church – and that i am one of the key people doing this. Well that’s what this article in the Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10133906/Church-of-England-creating-pagan-church-to-recruit-members.html certainly implies and it has drawn a lot of comment both from Christians and Pagans. But there is a big problem with this article – it is highly misleading and there is no such Church of England policy. I thought it was about time to expose the spin and let the real story come out.
firstly it is not a piece of research based on interviews done by the Telegraph it is actually a rehash of a radio piece done by BBC religion correspondent Robert Piggott for the Today Programme – you can listen to it here for the next 5 days http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02x9f4j the piece comes about 1:25 into the recording – it went out just after 7.25 on the 21st June. The background to this piece was that Robert had seen research by people like Linda Woodhead on the rise of spirituality outside of religion as a counterpoint to declining church numbers. in particular she had recently written an article for the Church Times suggesting that the Anglican church should concentrate on the 50% of Anglicans who are non-churchgoing believers (this is the link but the full article can only be read by subscribers http://networkedblogs.com/KGTJa. Robert wanted to explore this and particularly to find if there where ways the Anglican church was connecting with spiritual seekers. I was along with three others interviewed for this radio programme. it went out on the 21st June to link it to the Sumner Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge.
what happens in such interviews is that a several minute interview is used to produce a small piece as part of a larger article, I’ve done this before and knew what to expect. in the piece there was a comment from the very good Pagan academic Graham Harvey explaining that lots of people went to the solstice as well as Pagans including Christians who weren’t tightly defined but more fluid. this was put in the context of growing numbers of spiritual seekers. Then the question of Anglican response was raised and i was introduced. i am an Anglican priest I research this area and work in evangelism so whilst i am not an official Anglican spokesperson on this i am often recommended as an Anglican to speak in this area.
two sentences were used from me firstly building on something that is a Church of England (along with a number of other churches) backed initiative to create fresh expressions of church within the different cultures of Britain recognizing that many people are culturally very distant from the church. http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/about/whatis This would indeed potentially include people of different religions and spiritualities as well as ethnicities, lifestyles, locations etc. we had talked about how one would do this for spiritual seekers or Pagans and I said that one would look to ‘create an expression of christian faith within that culture almost a Pagan church but with Christ very much at the centre’. i was asked whether that would look like a traditional Anglican church – i suggested not, and offered as an example the Forest churches that several groups have set up and how they would meet outdoors, might have a circle or a fire chanting and prayers and things that were very Celtic in style.
other interviews were with Andrea Campanale of CMS who train pioneer ministers, among other things. these ministers are likely to be helping create fresh expressions of church. Andrea and I have worked together on a few occasions, we helped run a Christian stall at the London Mind Body Spirit festival in May for instance. the third interview was from a member of an Anglican church who also uses Angel cards but who as far as i can tell has no official church role and isn’t part of any programme of church outreach.
so the radio interview showed there where Anglicans seeking to express christian faith in the cultural context of religion and spirituality outside of church and that might include Pagans. i have no problem with the radio piece – it was well researched and Robert is i am convinced quite genuinely interested in exploring this area. I also think it is very important and have argued for a number of years that the church needs to learn lessons from those expressing spirituality and religion outside of the church – especially those with roots in the New Age Movement or contemporary Paganism. i do not think this amounts to the Church of England having a deliberate policy of creating a Pagan church to recruit Pagans and training pioneer ministers to do it – the Telegraph article makes two and two equal a lot more than five. it takes the facts that pioneer ministers are being trained, some Anglicans think it important to engage with non church spirituality and that one of them talked of creating something that was ‘almost a Pagan church with Christ at the centre’. it takes those and assumes this is all part of the same policy of the church. it is all influenced by fresh expressions thinking, but that was not mentioned in the radio piece or the Telegraph article – i guess some may think that fresh expressions might therefore be what the Telegraph was talking about – i simply suggest you look at the site i posted above and you will find very little if anything about Pagans or spiritual seekers.
i have no problem with the radio piece, but James Naughtie’s introduction was i think a large part of what lead to the Telegraph story. as part of this, having suggested Pagans might meet to ‘drink dew’ at the solstice (yes it’s that old ‘daft Pagans’ insult) he then went on to say the Church of England was seeking to recruit Pagans and spiritual seekers and was training pioneer ministers to create different kinds of churches that might appeal to spiritual seekers. OK i guess you have there the phrase ‘recruit Pagans’ and the elements the Telegraph built their story on. having rehashed the radio piece (and quoting me incorrectly) they also made matters worse with, the frankly patronizing suggestion that ‘The new move could see famous druids such as druid leader Arthur Pendragon move to Anglicanism.’ i am guessing that Arthur is killing himself laughing – at least i hope that is what he is doing.
to fill in the picture there was also a piece in the Times, behind the pay wall of course. but at least Ruth Gledhill phoned me and this managed to straighten out some of the story – it still links things into a coherent plan but at least mentions fresh expressions http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article3797917.ece
OK that i hope at least helps explain how the articles happened and why i think they have been misleading.
i have been watching what has been happening on blogs and tweets and Facebook as best i can. in one sense i was tempted to let it play out – but i have become concerned about the possible harm and misunderstanding that may come from this. I am concerned that Christians will decide i am selling out the faith or someone who will do anything to recruit church members – I have no problem with Christians disagreeing with me but I’d rather they did so on the basis of what i really think and do. i am more worried about what Pagans may think , and indeed some are thinking, that i and others are creating some deceptive fake church in order to target Pagans and recruit them. i have a number of Pagan friends and i value being part of groups in which Pagans are included. so i was rather disturbed by a story growing up that i was simply deceiving these people in order to recruit them. and for this reason felt i needed to set the record straight.
i think i need to finish very briefly by explaining why i said what i did. my understanding is that in every age and culture authentic Christianity adapts to become at home in that new context. in the west for a century and a half it has done this less due to the establishment of the church – something i think was damaging BTW. i think we have been going through major cultural change from the later part of last century and the church has not adapted to this and is therefore declining. at the same time new expressions of spirituality have grown. at present i think such expressions of spirituality and religion are addressing the lives of many though not all people today far more effectively than the church and as a Christian i think we need to ask why and learn lessons from that. i do not believe that a Christian church could adopt Paganism and remain Christian nor that a Pagan group (or individual) could adopt Christianity and remain Pagan. i do think that Paganism has much to say and offer to the world today and much that Christians can adopt – for instance whilst Christianity isn’t polytheistic, the Trinity does include the divine feminine as well as the divine masculine and those, including Pagans, who have criticized an apparently male lone christian deity are right to do so, and we as Christians need to acknowledge that and recover out own tradition of the divine feminine. similarly Pagans have often put Christians to shame when it comes to the environment when St Paul time and again talks of Jesus not saving people from the world but wanting to set the whole of creation free from suffering – we need to recover this ecological vision. i could go on but i hope you get the idea – that is what i meant by saying a Pagan church – on reflection i think i should have said a church in Pagan culture or one that learnt lessons from Paganism. i do think such a church would be far more attractive to many people. do i want people to ‘join the church’ put like that no – i am not interested in a church recruitment plan that sounds like getting people to join a social club. However, i find the vision Jesus outlined for life, society and the future of creation deeply attractive and my belief as a christian is that God can work to change us into the sort of people who can live that vision out and i want to share that vision with others and i hope they too are attracted to it – that would be what i would mean by evangelism. i also want to live in a society in which all faiths are tolerated and given equal status. i could say more but this has been long enough. i am happy to respond to further questions and comments