Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dull and Boring Clerics

I have just listened to a very dull podcast by the Anglican Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali entitled, British Christianity dies while Islam thrives. Why? The title is exciting the content, not at all. Tim Stanley begins by presenting some rather impressive statistics and asks some rather good questions, Damian Thompson makes a few sharp observations, such as he can't think of a single thing either the present Archbishop of Westminster or the former Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he remembers. I am afraid the dullness comes not from Tim or Damian but from the Bishop, whose responses to their questions are both predictable and vague.

British Christianity dies while Islam thrives. Why? The answer could be Nazir-Ali  unwittingly provided the answer himself, we bore people and have nothing memorable to say.

Nazir-Ali is certainly not superficial but here he is decidedly dull. Unlike his interviewers Tim and Damian, he is not a natural or shilled communicator, it is not his fault, unfortunately  most clergy are not unlike him. Perhaps the problem with clergy is we are all too used to speaking to an audience that is reasonably deferential and hears us in an uncritical way, that is until it is too late and they are no longer there the following Sunday. I felt the Bishop wasn't really listening to the rather interesting questions put to him, which is another problem we clergy fail to address. Damian suggested that Islam is comparatively simple in its theology in comparison to Christianity, that it gives simple directives on how to live, and rather interestingly he raised the issue of how Islam seems to give a focus to anger, none of which received any considered response, just an answer most Christian clerics would give.

It is a shame that those commissioned with proclaiming the "Good News" all seem such bad and unconvincing communicators, we need to learn to use the sound-bite, we need to learn to focus our message, we need to learn to answer the question people have rather than pursuing our own interests. It is intersting that in a visual age our liturgy has become so visually dull.

Pope Francis in his daily Mass sermons or at least in the commentaries really does communicate well, lots of sound-bites and catch phrases that are often amusing and ideas that resonnate with modern anxieties such as the economy and unemployment, and that rather evocatively, if vague, "the poor". This really does resonnate in a world where youth unemployment is over 50% in many cities.

Aidan Nichols OP is at pains to point out that Apostle are sent out to "preach to the nations" an English bishop reportedly said that his colleagues did not engage in battles they could not win, which certainly seems to make a mockery of any martyrs struggle, though in most cases "war" is not called for, just a lack of ambiguity and clear teaching. Their failure seems to be that by not engaging in a any struggle they can so often appear to have nothing to say to anyone, even those who listen to them carefully, their own people. It is worth considering how the French bishops have gained considerable respect by actively becoming involved in the marriage debate, even the Irish bishops have earned a some credibility in their teaching on abortion. Pope Francis hasn't yet engaged in "war" but he has offered sharp and focussed criticism of the ills of contemporary society, often by contrasting the minds of politicians with simple clear and unambiguous Gospel imperatives.

Perhaps what we clergy need most, and in fact the Church in general, is some help in teaching us to communicate, perhaps Islam scores because it simply says "believe this", "do that", as Christ does and Catholics once did, before we got into, like the CofE, "on the one hand, but on the other hand, whilst on the third and forth hand ..."

Perhaps Tim and Damian should be invited to teach Bishops how to communicate but on the other hand... and then ... whilst it could be said... and despite... and yet... and then... And then there are more important things like global warming, feedback from Mgr Stock on the ACTA meeting, getting in with Stonewall etc.


JARay said...

A very poignant and witty post Father. Once I was a teacher and the Head of my a teacher of Religion, not the Head of my main teaching subject, which was now a Bishop here. As a teacher he was sincere, but hopeless! I liked him, but, I had no time for him as a teacher. I spent most of my working life as a teacher. It is, somehow, in my blood.
I truly believe that I could give better sermons than many, if not most, of the priests here!
Accuse me of lacking humility and modesty if you like, but I am not about to retract a word of what I have just written.

Delia said...

Well said, and an aptly chosen pic. I don't know where you find them!

EFpastor emeritus said...

Interesting post, as usual. Thank you Father.

It reminds me of the interviewer who asked a Catholic Priest " Are all priests ignorant and lethargic?"

The priest replied "I don't know and I don't care."

Physiocrat said...

A decent liturgy and a brief sermon that is right on the point will make people come back. Not forgetting decent coffee afterwards, that is the place for the Sign of Peace, not just before communion.

epsilon said...

We need a Michael Voris character here to take on the bishops like he is challenging Cardinal Dolan!

Ian Coleman said...

I think the English Dominicans have something to offer here, and have suggested as much to various clerics. They consistently impress me by living up to their title 'Order of Preachers', but are, perhaps, a little too self-effacing when it comes to bringing their talents to a wider audience.

johnh said...

Great post Father.
I agree with Damian Thompson - I too cannot recall anything that ++Nicholls has said.
At a time when our Bishops should be getting their feet wet and their hands dirty , they seem to just wring their hands and leave me with my head in mine !
There is no teaching or guidance from our heirarchy - with a couple of exceptions. It is simply not enough to say 'abortion is wrong'for example. Expand. Teach. Inspire.........I'm not holding my breath.

Deacon Augustine said...

"...he raised the issue of how Islam seems to give a focus to anger, none of which received any considered response..."

Liberalism has so infected this society that everybody is scared to give offense.

FWIW my response to the above point would be that religions reflect the character of their founders and if a religion is founded by a psycopathic, angry, murderous warlord, then it should not be surprising that it will induce a similar mindset in some, if not all, of its adherents.

Gillineau said...

Don't be so tough on yourself. You're alright. And anyway, we'll have another European/ world war soon then everybody will get faithful again, out of desperation. Rich, safe, fat people don't need God. Give me medieval terror and chantry altars over polyester cardigans and cushioned pews every single time.

(I have a headache. Where are those paracetamol?)

Mike Hurcum said...

They could not win.....that is the real problem...their example should be Christ, one Friday He took on the world which he could not win and yet he emerged victorious...ostriches the majority of them are

Misericordia said...

I can remember something that Archbishop Nicholls famously said! When asked about the Church's stance on homosexual unions, he declared "Who knows what's down the road?"

Jacobi said...

That the New Mass liturgy, as it has evolved since 1969, is dull and banal goes without saying.

As for clergy proclaiming the Good News, my experience is that they go to great lengths to proclaim nothing at all, presumably because they are anxious not to upset anyone. You know, sin and hell and all that sort of stuff.

At Mass, recently, in a “Catholic” country on the Continent, the congregation was circa 100, (40% tourists of course), average age including the priest, 70?, probably more. The number of people below 30, zero! That church building will be a tourist office, or whatever, in twenty years time.

My solution, for the Church somehow will survive, is to issue every bishop, yes, let’s start with them, with a copy of the “Penny Catechism” and tell them to read it!

johnh said...

Exactly , Misericordia. Exactly.

johnh said...

I walked away from my parish and joined the Oratorians in Manchester chiefly through banal liturgy and lack of reverance from parishioners. Some time after I left , I was told that the PP had been asked if he could tell people to shut up while in church. His reply was 'Oh no , if I say that people will stop coming'. This proves your point on not wanting to offend.

Sadie Vacantist said...

B16's SP was an opportunity to get things going again but continues to receive the V sign. I spoke to a bishop and priest both in their 80s recently and they struck me as intellectually immature. One of them repeated the lie about F1 and the papal MC on opening night. I responded that I didn't believe F1 was so rude. It's extraordinary finding oneself correcting an 82 year old.

Physiocrat said...

@Jacobi - It is traddie Catholicsm where the growth is happening. This is in Sweden, a pilgrimage organised from Stockholm by the Institute of Christ the King's parish, average age of the adults was about 30, the majority ex-atheists.

Recipe to grow a parish:
* Say Mass in the Tridentine form once a week and once on Sundays, also at other times so that everyone in the parish gets to attend.
* Accompany this by catechesis based on the liturgy so that people understand.
* Set up a Schola to lead the parish in the singing of Gregorian chant and sing the hard bits.
* Engage in some hands-on good work locally.

George said...


It's not how a priest talks but what he talks about.

The liberals normally are much more practiced at charismatic presentations and showmanship. Tradition-minded clergy tend to be less flashy and quiet. The traditional priest gets it. It's not he who inspires, but Christ. It's not his words which excite the intellect or prick the conscience, but the Holy Spirit's.

St. Peter left the upper room on Pentecost and gave a very simply, straightforward sermon - and received how many thousands into the Church that day.

JARay said...

I liked Physiocrat's pilgrimage pictures. Thank's for those.
I think his "recipe" to grow a parish makes a lot of sense too.
I was just reading on another blog that the author was in Mass and the priest was walking up and down the aisle asking who knew what the gifts of the Holy Spirit are. This person lifted up her hand and recited them off because she had learned them many years ago in school when they still used the Baltimore Catechism.
I see that Jacobi here asks for the bishops to be given a copy of the "Penny Catechism". This lady who knew her catechism, also remarked that too many of the folks helping out in parishes with teaching the Faith actually have almost no idea what the Faith is that they are trying to pass on. Why?
Because they have never learned the catechism as she did!
I know that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is excellent but few ever look at it.
Bring back the "Baltimore/Penny Catechism".

Gungarius said...

Fr Thwaites was never dull and boring ever.

And within six months of his death, we have the first ever Jesuit Pope who, the more we see of him, the more he seems to be in the same mould as Fr Thwaites

What exactly is Fr Hugh up to up there :-)

Rod George said...

British christianity dies while Islam thrives? Islam is aggresive in its aims and the weaker Christianity is the stronger it will become.The churches in this country have become weak and not only do nothing to combat Islam but in some instances actively encourage it.
As for bland preaching it will be so because the subject matter has itself become bland.What happened to the church militant on earth? What about the church suffering in purgatory? Not many sermons about these subjects.Then we have the church triumphant in heaven but apparently everybody is going there anyway.Good preachers are hard to come by but that should not stop the ordinary ones preaching the faith in season and out of season.

DrAndroSF said...

I will spare you my rant about the insanely suicidal immigration policies of Britain and the West. Lee Rigby can explain that to you.

One huge advantage Islam has --besides theological self confidence--is that it is a faith for men. For all its flaws and faults, it is a frankly patriarchal faith that appeals to men and gives them status, something men desire and need. (And which women, unless they be feminists or liars, want men to have.)

Christianity, in myriad ways, is a feminine religion, and its collusion with Western liberalism has only made that worse.

Physiocrat said...

There is nothing feminine about the Tridentine Mass. For many centuries, right up to and including the Second World War, armies of knights were inspired by it to defend Christendom.