Clergy who don't believe in God

London, England - Clergy and laity show signs of schism over homosexuality, miracles and the Almighty

HUNDREDS of Church of England clergy doubt the existence of God and fewer than two thirds believe in miracles, a study out today says.

The report, published on the eve of the General Synod, refers to “very fragile faultlines along which the Church of England could be torn apart”. Congregations are much more conservative than most of the comparatively liberal clergy preaching to them.

The report says that if committed Anglicans are clear about one thing it is the existence of God: 97 per cent have no hesitation in affirming His existence. Yet, it contyinues, one in 33 clerics doubts the existence of God. If reflected throughout the Church’s 9,000 clergy the finding would mean that nearly 300 Church of England clergy are uncertain that God exists.

Equal numbers of clergy and laity, eight out of ten, believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ but more laity than clergy believe in the Virgin Birth — 62 per cent compared with 60 per cent — and in the miracle where Jesus turned water into wine — 65 per cent compared with 61 per cent. The biggest division comes over the issue of homosexuality. One third of clergy are in favour of the ordination of practising homosexuals as priests, compared with one quarter of laity. Nearly one third of clergy also support the ordination of gay bishops, but among the laity this falls to fewer than one fifth.

Whereas 56 per cent of the laity believe that it is wrong for people of the same gender to have sex together, the proportion falls to 48 per cent among the clergy. The Anglican Church hasbeen brought to the brink of a schism over homosexuality, and the survey shows it to be at risk of further unrest.

“In many ways ordained Anglicans look out on to a somewhat different world from the world viewed by lay Anglicans,” says the 180-page report, Fragmented Faith?. “Overall, it is the faultline between the clergy and the committed laity on the issue of homosexuality which may take the Church of England most by surprise.”

The report suggests that, had he known how deep the divisions were, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, might have thought twice before he conducted his “courageous experiment” in recommending a celibate homosexual, Dr Jeffrey John, to be Bishop of Reading in 2003. The opposition forced Dr John to step aside and he was made Dean of St Albans instead.

The study, by Leslie Francis, Mandy Robbins and Jeff Astley, of Bangor University, grew from a partnership between Bangor’s practical theology department and the Church Times. More than 9,000 people responded, of whom nearly 8,000 were Anglicans in England, nearly 2,000 of them being laity.

Dr Francis says that the divisions “reflect clearly identifiable faultlines in the very structure and composition of the Church of England”.

Vicar who thinks expansively . . . and expensively

A clergyman who lives in a nine-bedroom vicarage has written to his parishioners asking for donations to help him to buy another house to use as an office for the parish.

The Rev Matthew Porter, Vicar of St Chad’s in Woodseats, Sheffield, says there is not enough room for him, his wife, his five children and the office in the vicarage.

He said that only a relative of a church member had complained. So far, £70,000 has been raised towards a £150,000 house.