Gift Direct – to the Bishops

At the end of last week the Mission Area Pew News popped up on my screen — 12 pages of it.  Someone must have been busy!

The first page was the usual stuff: names of people needing prayers; Sunday’s readings; thanks for emails and news of the on-line service from one of the eleven churches in the area.  And there was a nice quote about ‘listening’ from the Henri Nouwen Society.

The second page was about Gift Direct.  From this I learned that with this method “you, the giver, are always in control.”  Of what, exactly?  How my money is spent?  I don’t think so.

I also learned that the Diocesan Board of Directors DBF have “approved measures worth over half a million pounds to support Mission Areas.”  Which will be very good news for the Treasurer of our little village church.  Despite valiant fund raising efforts that yielded over £1,000 in the year before lockdown we can either pay the bills for insurance, clergy expenses, electricity and churchyard upkeep or next month’s Parish Share, but not both.

Only one person in this picture would ever be seen in our church. The man with the white hair.

Under the above photo the Pew News was followed by eight more pages of how to Gift Direct, along with an address label and instructions how to lick the gummed side.

All this stuff about money made me wonder what happened to the rest of that £10,000,000 the Bishop of Bangor gave us at Pentecost in 2018.**  We know how Bishop Gregory of St Asaph spent £2 million of it:  he bought a defunct clothing store in a shopping precinct in Wrexham, where there are already seven churches.  This was odd in a way, since the money was intended “to focus on people not buildings.”  

Bishop Gregory hopes these doors will be much less intimidating than normal Church doors.

In fact, ten million pounds was supposed to “grow” Christians “in vibrant and exciting ways” and that’s why Bishop Andy looked so joyful and hopeful announcing this amazing gift.

The Bishop of Bangor, Pentecost, 2018

 It clearly hasn’t done that; there is nothing less vibrant than a closed and locked church!  So I’m wondering what has happened to the rest of that money.  Is it still sitting in the bank waiting to be spent?  £8 million is a very large sum — probably enough to put technology in place in churches so that all services can be live streamed and the bishops will never have to open any of their church buildings to mere parishioners ever again.

It would be encouraging to know where and how those millions have been spent before we were harangued to give “more generously and efficiently.”  

Are the Welsh bishops especially blessed or are there several other countries in the Anglican Communion where six Bishops have £8 million extra to spend on their members?  The 2018 figure of 42,441 members in the Church in Wales is likely to be an over estimate in the present situation.  I’ll make my sums easy and say 42,000 people now belong to the Church in Wales, which works out at about 7,000 parishioners for each Bishop. If they each took £1,000,000, leaving £2 million in the kitty as it were, that – at a rate of £190 per parishioner – should be enough to give the poor old struggling pew sitters some of that promised “vibrancy and excitement”.  Once sufficiently excited we would be much more likely to give with greater generosity. 

Ironically, the Pew News ended up with this statement. 

“We are not people of fear, we are people of courage.  We are not people who protect our safety; we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.  We are not people of greed, we are people of generosity.  We are your people, God, giving and loving, wherever we are, whatever it costs, for as long as it takes whenever you call us.”

We are members of a very rich church but sadly we are led by some pretty duff bishops who have little financial acumen and seem capable of scandalously poor stewardship.

Is this where we’re going to end up — with kitchen sink Eucharists?

** I blogged about that back in June 2018 under the title “Golly, What a lot of Jolly Lolly”.

Faith not Angst

The Reverend Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury, has been lifting my spirits, restoring my soul and making me feel far less of a Misfit every day since just after lockdown.  The team at Canterbury Cathedral who appear daily on line from various places around the cathedral precincts provide Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Eucharist and Compline.  However, it’s the Dean who has stolen my heart.

The Dean of Canterbuy, the Reverend Robert Willis in the greenhouse in the Deanery Garden

Every morning, no matter what chaos has been caused getting the day started — six of us in a three generation family, plus two puppies — the Dean, in his garden, gives me sanity, security and the assurance that God is in his Heaven and all’s right with the world, really.  With consummate skill, he draws together the reading for the day, the needs of the day, a special person or event of the day and the wonders of the Deanery garden in a particular spot every day.  All these elements are woven into the fabric of Morning Prayer, directly, simply and with eternal truth.

On Wednesday morning I found it unusually powerful. The reading was Luke, Chapter 7 vv. 2-10.

The Dean among the irises – May 20th, 2020

It is a story about a Roman officer in an army of occupation and his sick servant.  However, the soldier, a Centurion, is a man of wisdom and understanding.  Far from being a hated enemy he has taken a keen interest in the local people, their culture and religion and has even built a place in which they can worship their God.  He also keeps abreast of local affairs and has the sensitivity to listen when he hears of a remarkable man doing remarkable things.  As a man of authority he recognises authority in another.

As the Dean tells the story it is all about Faith.  Jesus himself says as much.  “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Even as I was listening to the Dean amongst the irises the memory of another sermon on this story was bugging me.  At the same time, as I tried to concentrate on the prayers, two words from a poem were buzzing in my brain.  ‘Fools’ and ‘traps.’

The Dean with his cat.

Later, over a cup of coffee, my brain cleared and I remembered both the elusive sermon and the poem.  The sermon had been given in Liverpool Cathedral by Revd Jeffrey John in May 2016 and the poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

After a lot of history about homosexuality in the Roman Army the point of Dr John’s sermon was not faith, but, because Jesus would have known the Centurion’s servant was gay, proof that Jesus loves gays. 

Here is the bit of the poem I was remembering:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools . . .”

What I remember now of Dr John’s sermon was a complex convolution by an angry man. I still find those two lines of poetry most apt.*

Long may the Dean, in the company of his cats, continue to preach wisdom and faith amongst the flowers.

UPDATE Saturday, 23rd May

Oh, Joy! This morning the Dean was in the Wild conservation part of the garden. And we had pigs!

They are called Winnie and Clemmie, in honour of Sir Winston Churchill. He liked pigs. Cats, he said, look down on you and dogs look up to you but pigs look you in the eye. As well as the garden and the animals I also appreciate the fact that the Dean wears a cassock. No casual mufti for him. He is a priest, he looks like a priest and as a priest he looks you in the eye.

*I blogged about this sermon in a blog entitled “More than just good friends” on June 11th 2016