When you leave something, whether it’s the Front Bench, a job, a marriage or a church, it may seem to onlookers that you have left after a row. When it becomes clear that it was a relatively small straw that broke the camel’s back, it may be thought that you left in a fit of pique, or on a whim, and that you’re too stubborn or too proud to apologise and return.
In fact, in almost every case, the small straw comes along after months, or years. In my case I came to the conclusion that I must sadly cut my ties to the Church of Wales after a couple of years of increasing frustration, irritation and hopelessness. After a Diocesan Conference in October 2014 which had left me feeling utterly disillusioned, the scales began to fall from my eyes the following month. That’s when I became convinced that the C in W was bumbling along a road I didn’t want to take, to a place I didn’t want to go.
Do you remember these boxes? The trendily labelled You Cubes.
For many years, in our village church, we used to fill old shoe boxes—at Christmas, or for Water Aid, or in response to a disaster like an earthquake. Some boxes were filled with baby clothes, others with small toys, games and crayons, and still others with toiletries—toothbrushes and toothpaste, scented soap, face cream and after shave. (In a crisis it’s important to restore self esteem and nothing does that better than a bit of luxury.)
The boxes in these photos are different. They are empty. Covered with shiny paper and all sorts of bits and bobs, they are supposed to tell the story of individual spiritual journeys. They seemed to me to be a perfect illustration of the saying “Fur coat and no knickers;” the complete antithesis of what our Lord Jesus Christ is all about. The more I looked at them the more I felt shock, puzzlement and finally outrage. Could no one, from Bishops, through Archdeacons, down to Area Deans, see the symbolism of the empty boxes, particularly just a few weeks before Christmas? Did no one in a lowly post in a Diocesan office dare say, what many must have thought, “this is a daft idea”?
Matthew 7:9-10 “Or which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?”
These empty boxes summed up what I thought of the Church in Wales. Empty boxes, empty gestures, empty words.