I think there is an error in the name of our church.

I am a strong supporter of the “Oxford comma” (also known as the “serial comma”) – the comma that comes before the “and” in a list. Tweeter @ktheory says it all: “For teaching me that the Oxford comma resolves ambiguity, I’d like to thank my parents, Sinead O’Connor and the Pope.”

Last week there was a rumour spreading that Oxford University was abandoning the Oxford comma. I was thrilled that my efriends rioted. Clearly I pick the right friends (and they are right to pick me).

But the Oxford comma is actually safe. The news was merely the discovery of the usual English chaos where Oxford University’s PR Department is rejecting the style advocated by Oxford University itself.

Because you know I use the Oxford comma, you will understand what I mean when I say “The best available men are the two tall guys, George and Pete.” Those silly people who don’t use the Oxford comma will not be able to make sense of that sentence and the quite different one, “The best available men are the two tall guys, George, and Pete.”

Now to the name of our church. Much energy, meetings, and free flights were expended on making sure that one comma was in our church’s name: the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Now don’t distract us by pointing out that only the smallest minority of lay people and even only a minority of clergy are able to get the name of our church even remotely correct. There are no prizes any more for spotting errors in our name in official documents or websites – such errors are two a penny.

But there is a comma missing. It should be the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia! Silly General Synod people!

Now here’s where it bites.

The NZ Prayer Book was published with “breech” where it should have been “breach”, as in: “So you would have destroyed them but for Moses your chosen one who stood before you in the breech, to turn back your wrath from their destruction.” Psalm 106:23.

To make the change from “breech” to “breach” required a meeting of General Synod; every diocesan synod and hui amorangi had to debate it and vote on it; then a newly-elected General Synod debated and voted on it, and only a year after that, not having received any protests, we could make the change to the psalter (actually no new printing of the psalter has happened since then! So all our Prayer Books are actually Breeches Prayer Books!)

Bishop Philip Richardson, as you know, is calling for setting up a commission to explore sexuality – specifically “whether sexual orientation towards those of one’s own gender is a consequence of wilful human sinfulness, or an expression of God-given diversity.” (Yes, there apparently seriously are still people who think that even in the most homophobic of situations there are people who go, “hey, life is hard enough already, but let’s make it even more interestingly difficult – I think I’ll decide to be gay!” That’s wilful human sinfulness for you.)

I think far more importantly, we need to set up a commission to get the Oxford comma into our church’s name! That sort of really important debate can keep church politicians happily occupied for years!

Ps. And, for those who have ears to hear, there is an “Anglican Covenant” parable here. Many other languages are controlled by a central magisterium (often parliament). The English language is not. Some use the Oxford comma, some do not (silly people!). Some put the punctuation inside quotation marks, others outside (some use single quotation marks, some double). Some use capitals where others use lower case. Some start a sentence with “However”, some think that is wrong. Some spell it “humor” or “humour”, “sulphur” or “sulfur”, “programme” or “program”… There’s no international agreement, no final arbiter, no centralised magisterium, no final authority. Decisions are made locally. With even a university’s PR department contradicting its own university style sheet! It’s the Anglican English way. And it sort of works – although other languages may turn their noses up at this English-language way of doing things…

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