They Just Don’t Get It

Some people just don’t get it, do they?

The great majority of us understand what’s going on, and why.  We’re asked to stay at home and we do. But there are some people who seem to miss the point.

Take the Chief Medical Officer of Scotland, for example.

She explained to the people of Scotland that they must stay home, but, for whatever reason, she seemed not to understand that we are in a Me Too situation. She toddled off to her second home on two occasions, even after being stopped by the police. She just didn’t get it.

Then there’s Harry and Meghan Sussex. That’s another couple that don’t seem to have got it. To help them lead quiet, unpublicised, private lives they’ve moved to Hollywood! Not the best idea. While in a quiet backwater like Vancouver Island you can believe they want privacy, but Tinseltown? And then, they’ve hardly got settled in when they write to all the tabloid newspapers in Britain to tell them they want nothing more to do with them. What terrible timing!

If Prince Harry had really got it he would have flown not to LA but back to Britain. In a crisis you go straight home to join the battle, whatever the battle is.

I’m sure his grandparents would have been delighted to put him up in Windsor Castle for a few weeks. Since he has no official duties here (or anywhere else, actually) he could have spent hours and hours every day online and on the phone, just chatting to people in lockdown. He’s brilliant with people, especially kids and the Armed Forces. That sort of thing would have generated amazing positive publicity.

Here’s Harry doing what he does so well. Chatting and cheering up people in trouble — in LA. He doesn’t seem to understand he’s not an American filmstar; he’s a British prince.

However, the leader of the pack, when it comes to not getting it, must be the Archbishop of Canterbury. First of all he closed all the churches, then he stopped all the clergy from going into their own churches even when there was direct access from their own homes. Why on earth did he do it and why did his bishops encourage him? And what did he think the effect would be.

Remember, it was Easter — the holiest, most important season in the Christian year. In addition, we are in the midst of something akin to the great plagues of the past but in this one people are dying, separated from their families, few of whom can even attend their burials. It is a dark and fearful situation when we need all the spiritual help and comfort we can get.

At first, I assumed that the church closures were temporary, while the churches put in place the measures necessary to allow them to open again. Supermarkets and chemists organised themselves very quickly, knowing they were essential. If they could do that why not churches? Even bike shops are open. 

Does Justin Welby really think a bike shop is more essential than a church? Perhaps he does. Perhaps he was just anxious not to upset anyone by claiming anything special for Christianity. Many bishops are quick to point out that a church building is not the church. 

Quite right. We’ve always known we don’t need elaborate church buildings. People are the church — just as they were in the early days before church buildings or even bishops. The amazing endeavours of the ordinary clergy outside their churches have used every bit of technology to keep in touch with their congregations. As a result, the word of God is spreading around the internet almost faster then the virus that caused the lockdown in the first place. 

I’m afraid – no, let’s say, I won’t be surprised if — the Archbishop not getting it will have been a big blow to the Anglican church as we know it. Cultural Marxism, the Spirit of the Age and the forces of darkness may all have had a hand in closing down the churches at Easter this year.  But that’s all right. Many of us have been hoping for a revival — instead, I suspect, we are in for an on-line revolution! Glory be and Alleluia!

Where Now?

Another Sunday and another different experience.  Last week St Thomas’, Mellor, and this week St Paul’s, Colwyn Bay, by Zoom.  I’d got the time of the service wrong but I made it before the end and recognised all the usual crowd who were chatting happily after the service. In fact, since I didn’t know how to switch Zoom off I had more of the coffee time than I did of the Service!

St Paul’s Church, Colwyn Bay

This experience makes me sound like a real old not-with-it technophobe. Not true!

When I left my village church about five years ago over the subject of Same Sex Marriage in church (I disagree with it) I started to worship on line instead. I started conservatively but as time went on I got better and better at planning services and got more and more adventurous.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra – they can really belt out a hymn.

I chose my favourite hymns, sung initially by the choirs of King’s College Chapel, Westminster Abbey or Hereford Cathedral. Then I thought, why stop there? I found Welsh Male Voice Choirs and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and then, really branching, out I trawled through Gospel Groups (especially when I felt I needed an input of Glorious Joy), Gregorian Chant and even pop groups with guitars and synthesizers. I stuck to Morning Prayer because it didn’t seem right, somehow, to just watch a Eucharist Service; that only seemed to emphasise how isolated I had become.

I’m with Erasmus on “modern church music”. I only tried it once.

Then the Sermons. And, oh boy, this is where the Internet really came into its own. One of the greatest sermons I ever listened to came from a church in South Carolina but stupidly I didn’t make a careful note and could never find it again. Perhaps it was a one off programme, because the sermon alone lasted half an hour, kept me on the edge of my seat and made me sad when it finished. It was about Elijah and inspired me to go away and read all about Elijah again for myself.

Jules Gomes, then on the Isle of Man, was another preacher I listened to regularly. He’d already been kicked out by his bishop so I was expecting something a little different. The first time I heard him preach I was blown away. I hadn’t heard tough stuff like that in years, with forbidden words like sin, repentance, forgiveness as well as great dollops of sound common sense, backed up by a deep knowledge and understanding of the Bible. If you search, and I did, exhaustively, there are wonderful words of wisdom out there. 

I still found odd, old-fashioned churches where I could receive Holy Communion occasionally but in the end I went back to the village church. I missed worshipping with my friends — people who had loved and supported me through all kinds of joyful ups and distressing downs. 

But it wasn’t the same. It was good to be back in a community but in the interim the liturgy had changed, become simplistic and almost banal. We rarely had an Old Testament lesson and since we all read the readings for ourselves on pew sheets, the Readers, finding themselves reading aloud to bent heads who weren’t listening, became dispirited. We often missed out on the psalms and the sermons frequently followed a feminist agenda. By the beginning of this year I had begun to wonder what we could offer to anyone interested in hearing the true Gospel that was of real depth and value. I felt we were merely going through the motions. Sin was rarely mentioned, so no need for confession and repentance and the sermon message underlined this. God loves you, just the way you are. 

On September 22nd 2019 the bishops in the Church in Wales elected a new Bishop of Monmouth, and in doing so they really nailed their true colours to the mast.

The Bishop of Monmouth, the Venerable Cherry Vann

She is a lesbian in a partnered same-sex relationship — making her the UK’s first partnered “gay” diocesan bishop.

With her election the C in W must have become the most politically correct in the whole of the UK. Three bishops are men, two are heterosexual women and one is a “married” (she wears a wedding ring) lesbian.

+St David’s, +Bangor, ++Brecon, +Monmouth and partner, +St Asaph, +Landaff

That must surely tick all the right boxes. But now that people are discovering all sorts of different religious experiences on line why should any of them choose the pathetic present day alternative? Under the age of 50, or even 60, why would you want to go to worship in largely empty buildings with mainly elderly people ruled over by bishops who rate the Spirit of the age more highly than the Holy Spirit?

So that was Easter, 2020.

What a weird time! 

I pray that we never have to live through another Easter with all the churches locked and silent. Locked churches happen in dictatorships not in democracies. But it wasn’t the government who closed them down; it was the Archbishops.

On Good Friday I did not go to church. I could not go to church. For many people that would not matter very much. For some of us it was devastating.

I have been going to church on Good Friday since the Easter before I was confirmed, initially with my mother, for one or one and a half hours of the Three Hour Service. 

The Easter before I got married in the village church the Vicar’s wife mentioned, quite casually, that she always stayed for the full three hours.

“If Christ could hang on the cross for three hours the least I can do is sit in church for three hours,” she said.

After that I stayed for the whole time, year after year, and learned an enormous amount. I was given so much good sense and solid theology during that time, at a depth not possible in a short sermon.

Then the fashion changed and those Three Hour Services became hard and then impossible to find. I don’t remember why; I suppose we were given a reason. I was disappointed but not worried, because I had no idea then what was in store.

In recent years the Good Friday Service seems to have taken the form of wandering round the church being lead in meditation in front of the Stations of the Cross. We rarely have the Stations of the Cross as fixtures in Anglican churches, so we used to group ourselves around pictures blu-tacked to the walls. Well, I can sit and meditate in front of pictures just as easily at home, and I don’t even need to do it on line because I have many books. Even so, for someone my age, this was very strange.

Last Friday, instead of going to church, I was stopped by the police. They commented on what a beautiful day it was and how was I? Then they wanted to know the reason for my journey. When I told them — I had taken my husband to the Renal Unit of the local hospital for dialysis — I had a typical Welsh reaction. “Oh, bless!” In Welsh “pechod!” How was he? Was he doing well? Later in the day I went back to fetch him. I am so lucky being able to do this otherwise I would never leave home. I am sure the wild flowers along the banks of the country lanes are even more prolific this year; but perhaps they were always as magnificent and this year I am in the mood to appreciate them more.

St Thomas’ Church, Mellor, Greater Manchester

On Easter Sunday I followed a service on line from the church which I attended regularly for two years a few years ago. This is the church on the edge of the Peak District where my family received so much support, kindness and generosity and where my daughter lies in the churchyard. The service was simple and soothing but watching the Vicar eat a piece of bread, with the suggestion that at home I could do the same thing, didn’t make it any sort of a real religious experience and certainly no Eucharist.

As well as clapping and cheering all the workers and nurses and carers every Thursday evening we should also be singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving for our clergy. Many of them have been having a terrible time, not just not working but bereft of a whole way of life. They can go on reciting Morning Prayer alone — many of us do that anyway — but it must be disheartening never to get any response.

‘O lord, open our lips’, and not even one croaky voice to respond ‘and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.’

They have been doing a tremendous job, not only hanging on to their own faith but trying to help maintain the faith of people not only locked down but also locked out. They have been zooming, conference calling, e mailing, sending out regular briefings, all while they have been on a very steep learning curve in advanced computer technology. They have also been taking funerals, many of them in the most trying circumstances.

A politically correct Easter Sunday in the Kitchen.

They have been managing to do all this, having been utterly let down by their leaders. The Archbishop of Canterbury holding a service in his kitchen should be ashamed of himself. He is lucky enough to have two lovely Chapels right there in his house – one upstairs and a lovely medieval one in the crypt . . . so why the kitchen?  What was gained by being so very twee and trendy!
He just doesn’t get it. 

Supermarkets manage it. Chemists manage it. It involves queuing which the Brits are very good at. For some reason, Welby and Sentamu didn’t think churches could manage it, despite the fact that Christians tend to be every bit as law abiding as any other group, and despite the fact that, given the sizes of most churches relative to the sizes of their congregations, they would have plenty of space to stand 10 or even 15 feet apart and no need to queue. 

Even during the Plague and the Black Death Christians were never locked out of their churches.

People throughout Britain are staying at home, even if it’s driving them mad, they’re helping their neighbours and doing their bit. Within the medical world people have been putting their lives at risk because that is their vocation, which is why so many nurses and doctors are among those who have died. 

Don’t look for any martyrs among the bishops.

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.