Is Anyone There?

The Light of the World

Here is one of three versions of this painting by Holman Hunt. One, first exhibited in 1854, is in Keble College, Oxford; another, painted in 1856, is in the Manchester City Art Gallery and the third (1904) is in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Which version this is and why the artist painted three versions is not what is important here.

It was inspired by these words from the Book of Revelation 3:20.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will sup with him and he with me.”

The door hasn’t been opened in a long while — weeds are already growing across the step and up the door. The people inside are completely self-sufficient, independent individuals who have no need of outside help.

Just like today. We are all shut up in our own homes, not even allowed to invite anyone in and dependent on the Internet for health and happiness. Fitness on-line is the big new thing. We are allowed out to shop for essentials. What are “essentials”? Food, obviously, and medicines. Bicycles, surprisingly. Churches? No, of course not. Mental health is of great concern but it seems that spiritual health couldn’t matter less.

The Right Reverend June Osborne hammers on the doors of Llandaff Cathedral before her installation as Bishop five years ago.

Nobody is going to answer the door for you, this time, June. That’s because everyone has left for the time being. Your worry, now, must be whether anyone will come back when they are no longer locked down. June’s Church in Wales profile describes her as ‘ground breaking’.

Closing her cathedral over Easter, if not ‘ground breaking’, is certainly unusual and sadly she is not alone. All bishops throughout Britain are obediently bowing to political and scientific advice and shutting up shop.

Until this century cathedrals and churches were where you went in times of trouble. It’s also where the clergy were, to comfort and console you.

This is the Church of England in 1866:

‘My curates were ill, unable to do any duty – I had been up for several nights running to two or three in the morning, attending to the sick, and more especially to the timid and fearful, – who would not go to bed for fear of ‘the pestilence that walketh in darkness’ – Wearied and at my wits’ end as to how I could possibly help my Vestry through their arduous duty, I had come down to a late breakfast at nine o’clock, when my servant announced Dr Pusey … he offered to act as my assistant Curate to visit the sick and dying … and to minister to their spiritual wants’. [The Revd S Hansard, quoted in Liddon’s life of Pusey]

The Church of England, 2020: ‘We are in a time of great fearfulness. The numbers of those becoming seriously ill and dying is increasing. It therefore remains very important that our churches remain closed for public worship and private prayer.’ [The Archbishops of Canterbury and York]

Now we’re in a time of great national crisis and what is the reaction of the Church in Wales and indeed the whole national church? Lock the doors and retreat to the safety of a recording studio.

A friend who has a medieval church on Exmoor had to send his churchwarden to the local iron-monger to buy a chain and padlock since no key could be found and no one could remember any time when the church had ever been locked.  Certainly, during the Black Death churches were not locked and who knows how many people benefited from being able to go to a sacred space to say their prayers

We are in deeper trouble than anything we’ve seen in over 70 years and our modern, liberal bishops are spineless and clueless. They tell us they are forward thinking, enterprising, enlightened, but they can’t find a way of working with politicians and scientists to devise ways in which committed Christians can go to church on Easter Sunday.

Perhaps Good Friday Meditations, alone at home or alone with Skype, will prove deeply satisfying, since all they need time and peace. 

No Eucharist on Easter Sunday will be devastating!

Modern Anglican bishops are extremely creative when it comes to anything to do with sex and gender. Couldn’t they be equally creative and imaginative and devise a plan that would allow those who care to receive the Body of Christ on April 12th 2020. Otherwise, I suspect, that will become a date of infamy throughout the Christian world.

Felix and Popcorn

Felix and Popcorn under the Endsleigh Pink

Just to cheer you up!

Felix and Popcorn are nine week old apricot miniature poodle puppies. The magnificent bush behind them is an Endsleigh Pink rhododendron from Bodnant Gardens.

One of the hardest things about the present situation is living not far from the National Trust’s Bodnant Gardens, which are at their most fantastic from now until the end of June, and not be able to go there. At least I have a little bit of their glory here.

They’re Still Not Around, Are They?

Every day, until he caught Corvid 19, the Prime Minister stood up and told us what was going on, both the bad and the good. Now we hear from any of the Ministers still left standing, as well as the medics and the scientists who tell us why this is going on and why we should do as we are told. There is good sense in it.

Later in the evening we have the media telling us what they make of it all. Some of that is very good; honest, straight forward, thoughtful comment. Some of it is emotional and heart wrenching; people who have lost someone or health workers who have given their all and are on the point of collapse. Sometimes there have been stories of greed and stupidity but increasingly these have been replaced by stories of generosity, unselfishness and charity. 

But, there is still something missing. 

We are, officially, a Christian country. So where, after the politicians, the doctors, the scientists and the journalists, are the clergy? Our religious leaders? The Bishops, the Deans, the Archdeacons? Why is there no God Slot every evening? 

For God’s Sake, Justin, show up and cheer us up.

The Archbishop of Canterbury conducts a Mothering Sunday service from his private chapel in Lambeth Palace on March 22nd.

The surroundings and the tone were more sombrely suitable for a funeral than a Mothering Sunday service. Nothing for children and not a flower in sight.

As the Leader (officially) of around 85 million Anglicans Justin Welby should be fuller of the Holy Spirit than most of us, shouldn’t he? I don’t want him laughing and joking in the face of this terrible plague but I think a bit of optimism about the strength of God’s love and “the sure and certain hope” in which Christians can live wouldn’t go amiss. 

NOT a truly uplifting comment from a man of God. Still, 3000 people liked it.

Surely, if a simple soul like me can have faith and hope, the theological experts should be proclaiming inspiration, encouragement, confidence and above all, the love and faithfulness of God, loudly and gladly. 

What’s the matter with the man? He has just been given TWO incredible opportunities which should gladden his heart.

The first, a valuable face-saving one — the postponement of the 2020 Lambeth Conference. He’s now got another year in which to resolve the pig’s ear he’s made of the arrangements so far. Surely that’s something he can take on board and rejoice about. 

The second, if he’s looking at it aright, is the most amazing opportunity for Renewal and Revival any Archbishop has had in centuries. I’ve been wondering for several weeks where are the likes of John Wesley when we so desperately need him. Mind you, John Wesley (1740-1791) lived through six Archbishops — none of whose names are memorable — so perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much of Welby and Sentamu.

Are there no John Wesley lookalikes out there to lead us spiritually? To teach us that there is light at the end of the tunnel? To reassure us that, with God’s help, when this crisis is over, we may actually find ourselves in a new and better world? A world of greater tolerance, less selfishness and self-absorption and with a true awareness of the benefits of generosity and community spirit.

NB I am indebted to Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla of http://rorate-caeili.blogspot.com for this suggestion.

“But instead of streaming (!) Masses and streaming Holy Week services, what about one bishop walking through the streets of his diocese carrying a crucifix and blessing every home and business on his way.”

Not Entirely Missing.

OK. I was wrong in my Monday blog. Neither of our Archbishops have been entirely missing.

Above is a screen shot from the Mail on Line

Here in Wales I wouldn’t expect to hear from either of the Archbishops but when I went to church on Sunday I did think there would have been some words of uplift and spiritual support from our Bishops. Here in the diocese of St Asaph there was lots of information for the clergy about the problems concerning Holy Communion. (No chalice for the laity and gallons of hand sanitiser.) We also had one collection plate on a stand in the middle of the aisle and — oh, joy! — no Peace.

Apart from that there was nothing to indicate that we are at the beginning of what is going to be one of the most desperate emergencies anyone can imagine. Well, anyone born after, say, 1950.

Came the Swinging Sixties, the War was forgotten and everyday life got better and continued to get better and better for many decades. (I haven’t been quite so confident about things this century, however.)

I can remember earlier and tougher times when buying even one toilet roll was a success. And what a welcome change it made from tearing up newspaper! In those rougher, tougher times we did at least get more support from churches and clergy. They were always THERE, a reliable, trust worthy presence in times of trouble and need, even if they were often a real pain in the neck much of the time. Their voices were heard and they let you know that they knew about GOD and they made sure you did, too.

On Monday morning — just a day late — the voices of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York were heard at last.

In the Daily Mail.

Well, perhaps that was wise. It would reach a larger audience than any church congregation.

Quite right. Be nice to each other. Just the sort of thing Jesus would say. Incidentally, the words above is another screen shot. I did not make either of the grammatical errors.

As in epidemics throughout history the fear we feel disturbs us very deeply, and dread comes upon us, the archbishops say.

Too right – particularly the fear of our own mortality.

And the answer to conquering this fear, according to the Archbishops “is the love that we receive.” 

What love? Whose love?

Since it’s the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the whole world wide Anglican communion speaking, you might have your own ideas about whose love he’s talking about. Guess again.

The examples given include a child embraced by “someone who loves them”; “someone of great age quietened with a familiar voice”; or the words of a friend. This seems to me to have more to do with Jayne Ozanne’s brand of ‘Just Love’ than anything you’ll find in the Bible. Apart from a reference to the Good Samaritan there was one subtle Biblical echo, when Welby and Sentamu warn us that “We must distinguish between a healthy fear — the beginning of wisdom . . . .” and unhealthy fear (panic buying?)

After 746 words (yes, I counted them) we get to what I think they should have been saying all the time. Politicians and social workers could have said all the rest of it.

“Finally, there is one more thing that everyone can do. Something we would expect from two Archbishops. We make no apology for saying Pray.‘”

Dear God! Has it really come to this? That church leaders, at a time of truly life changing crisis, feel they can only dare slip in 239 words about religion at the end of a generalised feel-good homily.

They recommend reading the 23rd Psalm and they suggest we recite the Lord’s Prayer while washing our hands.

Thank God we’re only fighting a virus and not a real war.

Thursday Postscript

“Ian” has commented that he thinks Psalm 46 is even more suitable for today. I agree with him. What could be better than this?

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.”

I could quote more but it will be better if you go away and read it for yourselves.

In fact, what I’d really like to happen is for the two Archbishops, the 100 and more other English bishops, the Archbishop of Wales and all five Welsh bishops to make a corporate decision. At certain times, five perhaps, throughout the day, they should stand outside their cathedrals, read from the psalms, from certain portions of the Bible, and then offer prayers and blessings over the cities they serve. All filmed from a safe distance. Other clergy could, perhaps, follow their example. It is good that Justin and John are suggesting what we should do.

Even better if they gave us a visual lead we could follow.

Who Is Missing?

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of Britain, warns us of the dangers of the coronavirus. He tell us that the government is doing all it can in the face of this particular enemy but that we must be prepared to face illness, hardship and, in some cases, to lose loved ones before their time.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, who is advising the government and the NHS on the best ways of coping with this horrible illness, unseen until it hits you. He and his team are also giving us daily advice of what to do to keep as physically fit as posssible. 

Chief Scientific Adviser to the government, Sir Patrick Vallance. He heads a team of 50,000 healthcare scientists working in the NHS, in more than 50 separate scientific specialisms. These experts are all working flat out to discover all they can about coronavirus,

So who are the missing experts who should be offering help and comfort at this time? Where are they?

Over the last year we have seen a series of almost biblical disasters world wide. Fires, floods, even a plague of locusts! Now we are at the beginning of something which people are already panicking about as though it were the Black Death.

Experts are giving us advice on how to cope with our physical and material lives, such as wash your hands and keep a metre away from anyone else. More than ever, faced with illness, pain and even death, we need spiritual strength and encouragement. We need men and women of strong faith, unbounded hope and the courage to offer charity to the suffering.

Has anyone seen any one like that lately?

Neither Archbishop Justin Welby (left) nor Archbishop John Sentanu (below) look very ready to lead us out of the darkness of a pandemic into the light and joy and gladness of complete trust in the Love of God.

Congratulations!

My hearty congratulations to the United Methodist Church in the United States. I congratulate them for their integrity, courage and sheer common sense. At least, I congratulate half of them, and only wish we in the Church in Wales could soon follow suit. 

There are around 13 million members of the United Methodist Church world-wide and half of those, living outside the States, maintain doctrinal clarity and honesty. The situation has been very different for the six to seven millions living in America.

I would prefer not to have to sit and face this

Those millions sound pretty much like the few hundred thousand Anglicans who cling to life in Britain. It has taken the American Methodists a long time to make the break because, like many of us, those who hold true to the gospel teaching on marriage, didn’t want to be the ones to divide the church. Like them we listen to our bishops who accuse us of bigotry and homophobia and lack of compassion. If the Archbishop of York designate knew my views on Same Sex Marriage he would consider me “immoral” and suggest I leave. 

I would, if there was anywhere else to go. 

I would like to go to a church which didn’t mix the Gospel with Star Wars and knew the difference between Jesus Christ and Darth Vader

Unlike the American Methodists we haven’t yet got the courage. We are still anxious to be oh, so nice. We don’t lack compassion, we are ever so polite and patient and we love our gentle Jesus, meek and mild. 

The other side are not like us and we don’t really understand what we are up against. The progressive modernists are aggressive, tough and determined never to give up. And they have managed to convince the moderates, who do politeness, compassion and niceness as a matter of course, that they must judge not, that they be not judged.

We’ve endured years of “good disagreement” which has got us nowhere. We already have same sex “married” bishops. How much more of this are the orthodox, conservative, traditionalists going to put up with, while still trying to be true Anglicans? We have no hope of beating them and I’m fed up being joined with them. 

What would happen if we left? If Bishop Gregory of St Asaph is right, the place for the modern church is in a shopping mall. Well, Debenhams are closing lots of stores over the next couple of years which the modern church could move in to. Which means there will be a lot of empty churches we could use. 

There is just one very big problem. Money. The Anglican church is quite indecently wealthy but would it be willing to give any to people who do not toe the line? Perhaps these words from the 2020 Vision Toolkit should give us encouragement.

“Although many parishes are feeling the strain of raising the parish share, money is not the real problem for the Church in Wales. 

It is not enough simply to cover the costs of ministry for one’s own church or area. Provision has to be made for those areas that at the moment, and for good reason, are not in a position to cover their ministry costs. Support for such areas should be ungrudging.” 

Yes, indeed. Surely ‘good disagreement’ should acknowledge this and support those of us disagreeing in the nicest possible way.

“Eccentric and Anarchic” again

After I had posted yesterday’s blog my brain was still buzzing with one particular word. Organogram. So I went searching for it and now I make no apologies for re-posting this slightly edited post from 2016.

I reason that if I could forget so completely, after studying Toolkit Two so assiduously, perhaps this repeat may help all the young, and not so young, clergy struggling with MAs and MALs and other horrors, which were created before they were even ordained. 

So here is some of what I posted under the title “Eccentric and Anarchic” on August 29th, 2016. But first I thought I’d add this selection of ‘Brand Images’. They will make the page look pretty and it seems a waste not to use them since they must have cost a lot to get designed.**

“I used to wonder how long it was going to be before Bishops worked out that ‘secular’ not only is not working but is actively putting people off. The answer isn’t going to be found in 2020 Vision – Unlocking Your Potential, Toolkit Part 2.

“For those who have been lucky enough to miss this blundering step forward in organising a church let me give a bit of history. This particular Vision applies to the Anglicans in Wales, but something like it could well be coming to a church near you soon. The Bishops decided to get three experts to review the situation, tell them why so many people were leaving the church and suggest what should be done about it. We all know what Experts are, don’t we? Ex-has-been; spurt-a drip under pressure. The experts they chose were a former bishop from the dreaming spires of Oxford, a former professor of the London Business School and a former Chair of the Scottish Episcopal Church Standing Committee.

“To get information for the Review they had a jolly around Wales, looking at various churches—I hope they took in a few castles as well; that might have given them food for thought—and talking to senior clergy, bishops’ advisers and staff from the Welsh theological college of St Michael’s, which was threatened with closure two years later. They also met 1,000 people in public meetings, which is the worst possible environment for voicing your deepest worries and fears. They then went away and produced a Review, published in September, 2012 which lead to 2020 Vision.

“When Toolkit Part 1 of this Vision landed in my lap in 2014 I was secretary to my Parochial Church Council so I had to struggle with it. The Bishop of St Asaph, when promoting this ‘Vision’ several times mentioned the word ‘radical’. Even then my over-riding thought was, ‘Radical is not enough. Revolution is what’s needed.’

“Now here is Toolkit 2 – still trying to unlock the potential of the remaining few.

“It is written in trivial ‘management speak’. Somewhere there are ‘Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ but if you are hoping for something worthy of St Paul you’ll be disappointed. This kit is definitely modern, secular, of this world—worldly.

“Here’s an example. ‘A SAMPLE Mission Area Decree with annotations attached explaining its purpose and effects.’ That’s eight pages (without the notes) of jargon. Skip it.

“However, “The Seven Steps to a Mission Area” has a bizarre fascination. The good news of Jesus Christ is mentioned, just in case we’ve forgotten that all this is happening in an attempt to revitalise His Church. I’ll reproduce Step Four to show what I mean.

“‘A strategic Mission Area Executive (MAE) is formed to look at recommendations and devise a development plan for the first five years. The MAE is accountable to the MA Conference (MAC) and led by a potential Mission Area Leader (MAL) or elected Lay Chair. The Shared Ministry Team (SMT) will represent those who offer a range of ministries. MAs need to be aware of existing training and how to access more specific and effective training to meet the needs of their MA.’

“The bit of the toolkit I found most fascinating is this Organogram. (The spell checker accepts it quite readily so it must be a real word.)” It takes up a lot of space but if I make it any smaller you won’t be able to read the bottom line which I think represents the individual church Treasurers. They are the people, apparently at the bottom of the heap, who undoubtedly have the hardest row to hoe.

[I’m sorry this image is cock-eyed but perhaps that’s appropriate.]

What isn’t clear to me is exactly to what or to whom the middle arrow on the left is pointing. Possibly no one knows, which would explain a lot.

“Here is another organogram.

“For a start I can’t work out what’s important here. With Flow Charts you start at the top and things flow down. And there are Venn diagrams and Pie charts, where size matters. With Mind Maps you put the most important thing, the reason for everything else that you want to say, very big and bright in the middle.

“I can see the circle for congregation but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It looks as though they are to be told what to do by the Church Committee (CC) and the Mission Area Conference (MAC), which may or may not include any ordained clergy, while collections of multi coloured conferences, groups, boards and teams float around doing – what exactly?

“After I’d written the rough draft of this blog I started to wonder what would happen if the Bishops and the Deans and their Chapters (DCs), and the Archdeacons and the Area Deans (AADs) and the Chaplains and the Licensed Ministers (LCs) and the members of the Nurturing Steering Group (NSGs) and all the other people in those circles, were to put on their cassocks and robes, best suits and smartest clothes and go into town centres and up and down village streets telling people about the simple rules for a good life in that little book called the New Testament. Of course they would all be arrested. That’s the point! Can you imagine the headlines? The list of broken laws would be long, beginning with breaching the peace for preaching it.

That would be eccentric and anarchic and it might just work.”

**The Brand Images may have come free. Bishop Gregory designs coins and it has just struck me these are reminiscent of the ‘Thrupenny piece.’

20:20 VISION

Here we are at last. 

This is the year that the Vision for the great revitalisation of the Church in Wales finally comes to fruition.

We have climbed the steep slopes to the top of the mountain and now we can stand and admire the view.

Trouble is, when I think about standing on a mountain peak I remember my New Zealand sister-in-law. On one occasion, while visiting us, she took the train up Snowdon. It was beautifully sunny when she left us but by the time the train reached the summit the weather had closed in and she could see little through the mist and cloud. She wondered if she could get her money back. Apparently, if you go whale watching in New Zealand you get your money back if you don’t see any whales.

I think I would like my money back from the Church in Wales!

Way back in 2012 the bishops announced an in-depth review of the state of the church in Wales on the run up to its centenary in 2020 as an independent church. The Chairman of the Review was the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, together with Professor Charles Handy, a former professor at the London Business School and Professor Patricia Peakes, a former Chair of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. (We all know what has happened there.)

At the time I remember thinking that the ivory tower of All Souls College, Oxford, home to Lord Harries, was not an obvious place to begin a review of churches in impoverished mining villages in the south of Wales or the dwindling rural communities in the north. Anyway, this threesome interviewed over 1000 people throughout the Principality and 2020 Vision was the result of their investigations, cogitations and, I hope, their prayers and meditations.

The Review reminded us that “the church is a great institution designed to carry the Gospel message through the ages.” No disagreement there.

It also challenged us on the need for “urgent” change, particularly in the way our churches were set up. The biggest change was the decision to ditch (the Review said “move beyond our system of”) parishes and deaneries and create Mission Areas. (I’m always on my guard when people use five words when one will do.) The fact that many of the clergy now refer to Misery Areas tells you all you need to know. This change would lead to a group of church communities no longer being “inward looking” but would go out into the communities they served. I hope this is true for big towns but it has had the reverse effect in the great, wide, magnificent countryside which makes up most of North Wales.

I only know what is happening in the Diocese of St Asaph, where we have been ‘Unlocking our Potential’ for the last eight years. In Wrexham, for example, Bishop Gregory has spent £2 million of the £10 million given to the Church in Wales, on buying the old Burtons/Dorothy Perkins store on, can you believe, Hope Street. It was clearly meant!

A “brand image” as recommended by the Bishop for use with 20:20 vision. A keyhole. Get it?

One of the things the Review pointed out was that people no longer have to go to church on a Sunday morning for a coffee and to meet people because shopping is the new leisure activity. So it makes every kind of sense to open a “Church/Shop” in the middle of a Mall. Also, an old department store will feel much more welcoming and normal than any of the eight churches in the Rectorial Benefice of Wrexham with their odours of sanctity, overtones of religion and sense of a sacred space.

In my Mission Area things haven’t worked out quite so well. The congregation has halved in number from 40 to 20 and three of those remaining members turn 80 this year! We don’t complain. We struggle on with amazing fund raising efforts and we still manage the occasional community event for the village. But we do it alone without the support of either the Vicar or the wider Mission Area, who, nevertheless, want us to hand over any money we make for the benefit of the wider community. I’m sorry if this sounds selfish. I am not alone in giving very happily to something tangible like more tiles for the church roof or dealing with the damp. Once my groat reaches the MAL who knows where it ends up! Administration? Support for a bishop’s jolly? Money for roof tiles for a church who has failed to fund raise adequately? 

I’m afraid the bishops are asking a lot and giving very little in return. The changes they identified to “re-energise and re-invigorate our life and ministry across the country” are not happening here — but the bishops are doing OK.

Lots more brand images the bishops would like you to use.

Rugby Sermon

I had intended to make one of my rare appearances in my village church last Sunday morning but clearly the Holy Spirit had other ideas. My old fashioned clock was running an hour slow so I got a much more interesting sermon by staying home and watching the Rugby World Cup.

There is so much more to watching sport than just sitting in front of a TV screen cheering or groaning as your favourite team wins or loses. It can be both a thought-provoking and a spiritual experience.

The game I watched was Wales v Australia in Pool D. It was an excellent match, ending on a most satisfying cliff hanger. We — I speak for Wales — were ahead by 4 points but in the last ten minutes it looked as if Australia were very likely to get another try and win by one point. There were many terrific, unrelenting struggles on the touch line. Exactly the sort of situation where tempers can fray, but they didn’t. Far from it.

At one point, a few minutes from the finish, both George North and an Aussie player leapt high into the air for the ball. It slipped through George’s fingers into the hands of his opponent, who then tripped and fell to the ground. The ball rolled into touch.

Were you watching? Did you see what happened next? George held down his hand to his fallen opponent and helped to haul him to his feet. As they walked back together George ruffled the other man’s head and they grinned at each other.

I can’t see that sort of thing happening during a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Englalnd. It’s even less likely in the Church in Wales. From all I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of the discussions in Synod, if I were there I would have many opponents. Anyone who supports Same Sex Marriage and all the other sex/gender shenanigans would undoubtedly consider me to be a homophobic bigot lacking any compassion. In which case, I suspect they would be more likely to push me over than give me a helping hand, and, when I staggered to my feet, would trip me up again.

That’s the difference between the Welsh Rugby Union and the Anglican Church in Britain. The former may be gentlemanly hooligans but they know there is a strict rule book which must be obeyed. Of course, the players will try what they can get away with when the Ref isn’t looking — the odd sly shove or a muttered rude word — but the players and the spectators know there are consequences for broken rules. You can get a Penalty against your whole team or you can end up in the Sin Bin.

It’s quite otherwise with the Church. For a start Anglican bishops don’t really do sin any more. Not only do the senior clergy not get penalised for disobeying the rules but they are much more likely to get promoted. It’s the traditional law-abiding Parish priests who land in the Sin Bin or act as scapegoats.

Could it be that falling church numbers have a lot to do with our competing love of sport. We admire and respect our top sports men and women for their single-minded devotion and dedication to what they love. Few of them would take time off from training to waste time on Brexit. It’s different for Bishops. Having thrown away the rule book they don’t know what else to do. Organise a fun-fair or a fashion show, perhaps.

**Computer problems, so no pictures I’m afraid though I do have a lovely one, on my screen, of George North racing for the touch line

Surely This is the Wrong Way Round!

A schoolgirl is offended by a bus driver’s view of Pride marches so she complains and the driver is suspended.

An habitual criminal, offended by a judge’s kindly meant advice, which he interprets as abusive language complains, too. The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice (no less) uphold the complaint and reprimand the Judge – twice. Once for making the remarks and secondly for refusing to apologise.

This seems to me to be completely topsy turvy, if not barking mad. Since when have middle aged bus drivers been told what they may and may not believe by school girls? And, even more bizarrely, when have judges been condemned for hurting the feelings of habitual criminals?

Let’s take the judge and the fat man first.

Recorder Julian Malins QC was the judge in a case that, in the end, was dismissed. The accused, who was so obese that he had had to be helped into the dock, said that the verdict was a weight off his shoulders. Mr Malins replied ‘You had better not worry about the weight off your shoulders, but should rather worry about the weight on your body’.  The defendant then asked the judge to repeat himself, which he did, along with sound advice about the benefits of losing weight and getting a job.

In the circumstances I think it was very kind of Mr Malins to take the trouble to bother with the defendant at all. Most people would have washed their hands of him.  He is now in his fifties, has appeared in court 40 times in 35 years, has accumulated 60 convictions and served several prison terms including a lengthy sentence for GBH with intent. 

Mr Malins, an eminent QC with an international reputation, on the other hand, took the trouble to tell him the truth. The obese gentleman in the dock, whoever he is, would definitely be better off if he lost some weight. In addition, if you are unemployed and have a propensity to commit crimes, it’s a very good idea to try and get a job. This shouldn’t be too difficult if you were a chef, as this chap was, given the way cafés and food outlets are replacing shops on every high street. These are common sense facts of life. If at all possible you are better off in work and healthier if you are slimmer rather than fatter. Mr Malins was telling the Truth. 

But in this mad world of 2019 the law was firmly in the side of the fat old lag.

Fortunately, Mr Julian Malins, QC is senior enough, eminent enough and sensible enough not to take his formal warning too seriously. Had he been much younger with a career still in front of him, make no mistake, the statement from the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office could have done a lot of harm.

The schoolgirl and the bus driver is less serious in some respects but just as worrying in other ways. To those of us who thought we knew the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, feelings and facts this incident shows how offended feelings trump common sense every time, particularly young offended feelings. Have you noticed how often young students win hands down over older, experienced, wiser, cleverer teachers? What makes it worse, though this is becoming increasingly common, the complaint was made and the driver condemned on Twitter!

This story begins with a Norfolk bus driver. 

“I am not driving this bus because it promotes homosexuality,” the driver told passengers at Norwich Bus Station. It was promoting something which was against his religious principles. He said they would have to “wait a minute” for him to swap buses.

This appears to have been a red rag rather than a rainbow flag to sixth former Rebecca Sears. While the bigoted driver swapped buses she complained to the front desk of the bus station, then she took a photo of the driver, then she twittered.

“Today I was waiting for the 501 bus to Thickthorn and we were told by the driver we had to wait for him to swap buses as ‘this bus promotes homosexuality and I refuse to drive it’ due to the multicoloured ‘501’ sign. Norwich doesn’t appreciate homophobia,” she tweeted.

 “I’m aware everyone is entitled to their own views however, if you can’t do your job properly because of your bigotry, maybe you need rethink your choices,” she wrote.

Quick as a flash the bus company responded.

“As a company we do not condone any behaviour from our drivers that does not support this view. The driver involved in this incident has been suspended and a full investigation is underway.”

Well, we can hardly blame the bus company for reacting like that since they have the example of the Lord Treasurer (David Gauke MP at the time) and the Lord Chief Justice jumping straight in to support offended feelings.

I still have limited hope for Common Sense because, in the eyes of the Law of this Land, discrimination on the grounds of beliefs is just as bad as discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Not in the eyes of all its minions, however. If we aren’t careful we will soon have Law by Twitter. Perhaps we should try and reach agreement over Brexit by Twitter.