Bishops: Are they on another planet?

Bishop Olivia Graham (right) with the great and the good at her consecration as Bishop of Reading

Sometimes, though not often enough, I read something that makes me think, “Oh joy! There’s a bishop doing – or saying – the right thing.”  So I was delighted when I read that Bishop Olivia of Reading was making a series of four teaching videos.  I have been bemoaning the lack of any real teaching in the Anglican church for many years now.  Sermons telling me, week after week, that God loves me are no help at all.  I know God loves me.  That’s why I’m there. (To be honest, that is why I was there.)

I did think it would have been better to make them ten minutes long rather than just six. These days you have to allow for a woeful lack of even the most basic knowledge in most people because Christian theology isn’t taught anywhere now.  How on earth are children meant to make sense of anything when all they get, religiously speaking, is a quick canter through every known world religion, along with a lecture by Mermaids.

In addition, they pretty soon learn that their ideas and beliefs are as valid as anyone else’s and they can also just pick out the bits they like.  Mind you, I know plenty of long-time Anglicans who do that,too.

However, as soon as I looked at the Bishop’s video I was puzzled?  The Incarnation and the Environment?  And in six minutes?  And in the middle of increasing pandemic panic? I wasn’t the only one. All sorts of what I think of as ‘quality’ theologians weighed in to question the truth of what the Bishop was teaching.*

What she said seemed more than a little strange.  The word, Incarnation, relates to Jesus, the Word made flesh.  If you wanted to teach about the environment I think it would be better to start with Genesis and the Garden of Eden and God’s instruction to Adam to look after his world. 

And if that wasn’t odd enough Bishop Olivia wandered off down a way that quite definitly smacked of heresy.  In my eighties I have forgotten probably more than I now know but I do remember Pantheism.  At one time, in my youth I spent some time studying different heresies.  By learning what was wrong seemed a good way to help me understand what is right.  It’s actually not that complicated.  Human Beings are made in the image of God.  God made trees, but as trees, not in His own image.  Pantheism believes God is creation: Anglicans believe God is the Creator of the Universe. 

‘Godself’ is not a word I know, but at the present time, with everyone trying desperately to be one’s own self, to take the perfect “selfie” for example, I think it’s a most inappropriate word to use of God.

Do Bishop’s actually talk to each other, I wonder?  Bishop Olivia is a suffregan bishop to Bishop Stephen of Oxford.  Not long ago he had a plenty to say about listening and also how vital it was, not to preach, but to get along side people.  That is what people have been doing in the most amazing way since the start of the pandemic.  Some of the stories told about the recipients of the Birthday Honours were absolutely awe-inspiring.  Teaching where people are is much more effective.  Quote Scriptures** which describe what people have been doing as a matter of course and they can recognise themselves.  And while they are listening and you have their attention you can go on to explain what this Christ-like behaviour can lead to if you have faith.

Too simple?  Too naive?  If you have only got six minutes take an engineer’s advice.  KISS. (Keep it simple, stupid!)

  • *Archbishop Cramner and Psephizo, for example
  • **Matthew 25 vv35-40 eg

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” Bishop Love

“Rage, raged against the dying of the light.” Dylan Thomas

I posted a blog in January 2019 with the title “I love curry . . .”  In it, I ranted on about the inadequacy of the  English word ‘love’.

I also explained why Bishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the USA didn’t love Bishop William Love of the Diocese of Albany in the USA.  The issue was Same Sex Marriages, which Bishop Love does not believe in.

William Love, Bishop of Albany

Bishop Love’s problem is that the General Convention (the TEC equivalent of General Synod) has moved the goalposts since he promised in his Ordination Vows to respect the Discipline and Worship of the Church. They have re-written the Prayer Book to include the marriage of a couple of the same sex. The crafty Convention, suspecting there might be some dissent, put in a get-out clause – Resolution B012.  This lets a progressive bishop move in and cope with SSMs in a diocese where the orthodox bishop disagrees. They clearly think they have bent over backwards to accommodate any bigoted bishops there may be. There were a few but they have either knuckled down or left.  Therefore, Bishop Curry has been intensely irritated by Bishop Love’s intransigence.

I hoped the final outcome would demonstrate that “good disagreement” was a genuine, honest concept and that it was possible for the ‘new ideas’ and the ‘traditional’ to continue to exist in the broad, Anglican Church. However, I didn’t hold out much hope.Now it has been made abundantly clear. ‘Good Disagreement’ means you don’t have to do something which you know is wrong but you have to stand by while someone does it in your place.

It’s taken TEC nearly two years to judge Bishop Love guilty as charged, and he now awaits the verdict. I expect they were hoping, maybe even praying, that he would go over to the ACNA. Better still, that he would give in after a token fight.  But Bishop Love is made of sterner stuff and lives up to his name. No Jayne Ozanne “Just Love” for him. He believes that “marriage” is between a man and woman — just like it says in the Bible; in the Gospels; in Lambeth 1.10; and in the American 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the equivalent of C of E Common Worship. All of which he believes in.

I don’t know what punishment Bishop Love will receive nor what he will do in the future, but I pray for him. He is a brave and honest man.

Does it matter to us, over here? Of course it does. The wily Archbishop Welby is a firm supporter of the Episcopal Church in the US. He was over there quite recently preaching in one of their great cathedrals, and he has no intention of having Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church of North America anywhere near the next Lambeth Conference.

I checked with a wise clerical friend: “Could Synod re-write the book of Common Worship over here?”

“Of course they could. They could abolish the Nicene Creed if they felt like it.”

You have been warned.

Bishops. Lukewarm, Apathetic or Missing the Point?

I always seem to be ranting about bishops, but I also complain about shoddy service, low standards and a ‘whatever’ attitude. I’m sure, since that catastrophic decision to lock all churches, the bishops have been scurrying around, wondering how to pick up the shattered pieces. They have certainly succeeded in turning many of their clergy into successful on-line technocrats though some of the more meditative and spiritual priests may be finding it hard to cope.

Perhaps, rejecting modern methods, those have been reaching their parishioners by that good old fashioned gadget — the telephone. A voice-to-voice call could be every bit as effective as screeds of written pious thoughts.

Of course they’ve gone on working in as weird a world as we are all living in and I’m not blaming them when they appear to be less than firing on all cylinders. That’s the way it is.No matter how much we train or practice some of us rarely come first and ‘I did my best’ sadly, may rarely be ‘good enough’.

The bishop of my diocese wrote in his last newsletter about “Patient Endurance”, an attitude of faith which is described in several places in the New Testament. 

He quoted verses from Psalm 46.  “God is our refuge and strength, and a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”

I have been hanging on to those words through thick and thin although, in my case it wasn’t so much the earth being moved that worried as me, I myself, being moved! I was turned, every three hours, day and night, to save me from pressure sores, from the moment I got on to Ward 227. Initially it took five nurses to move me, without causing any damage to my spine but after a while one nurse and I could manage together. I used to complain that I felt like a sausage being turned to brown nicely on all sides. 

The Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, took a similar line when he spoke at his diocesan conference last month. He didn’t mention ‘patient endurance’ but he focussed on the humility and gentleness of Christ. The only sort of Christ who appeals to the Woke Brigade.

“This is the kind of leadership which draws alongside people . . . liberates the gifts of others. . which does not overwhelm. . . the leadership of gentleness and tenderness and patience.

The Bishop of Oxford

“The humility of Christ is not weakness, finally, but strength, tenacity and determination to effect change for the sake of the kingdom of God, stepping into difficulties to seek to resolve them, not stepping away. But that strength, determination and power will need to be mediated through humility as we face the challenges ahead.There will need to be a great deal of listening as we explore how best to re-open our churchesThere will need to be a great deal of listening, especially, as we seek to rebuild our ministries. 

I’m sorry, Bishop Steven, but in the present state of our nation that is nowhere nearly good enough. 

For five long weeks in Stoke I watched what was going on around me. 

Outside the NHS I doubt you’ll find that amount of getting alongside people anywhere. Everything from high tech procedures and highly skilled techniques to the most fundamental care. There are amazing machines that can detect everything going on in your inner body but only a person, male or female, black or white, young or old, can get right alongside you to cope, with complete empathy, with a ‘below the waist waste’ problem. The same people will grip your hand and breathe deeply with you when pain becomes intolerable and get together to make you laugh when you’re feeling blue.

That’s how NHS staff are. That’s how the Bishop of Oxford wants us to be. That’s how, as Christians, we’d all like to be within our own talents. 

Sadly, gentleness and humility are NOT enough. Nothing like enough anymore, because the Christian foundations of our country have been destroyed.  As well as love and understanding and commitment NHS staff have years of training. Do we? Do we read our Bibles, study theology, and discuss our beliefs? When we do get alongside someone do we know what to say? Do we dare to say it? Would Christ’s miracles have been enough without his words.

Royal Stoke University Hospital

In my weeks in hospital I had plenty of time to think and pray. But there was one person missing.

On the first Sunday I was at pretty low ebb. I was alert and fully conscious but a bit befuddled with drugs and I couldn’t remember my prayers. I even had to have several goes at the Lord’s Prayer before I got through it without getting muddled. So I asked if I could see the Chaplain, but s/he didn’t come. When I asked again a week later one of the nurses told me a chaplain might be able to pop up on Wednesday. They didn’t. There was something called a Faith Centre — I saw on a trip to X ray — but there was no clue as to what it might really be. Three more Sundays went by, plus all the other days in a week, but I never saw sight or sound of anyone claiming to be a cleric.

They are scared of Covid19 of course. Probably all the rest of the staff were, too, though I never heard the word mentioned. I had a broken neck not a virus. In any case, as a hospital Chaplain — a paid appointment, not a volunteer job — shouldn’t they try to rise above their fears of the virus, don the necessary PPE and trust in the Lord for the sake of the sick?

The Archbishops are Back and So am I.

I was in a car crash a few weeks ago and, since I still have a broken neck and ankle, the crutches and the collar symbolise me. That is my excuse for having been so quiet for so long. 

I presumed that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, having closed and locked all the churches, would be hellbent on inventing creative and imaginative ways to spread God’s message more loudly and clearly.

The pandemic should have been the wonderfully, rejuvenating clarion call we’ve all been waiting for. People were dying of something even the doctors had never seen before. We were all frightened by something no one could understand. We were facing a future that had become dark and unfathomable. We still are, but back then it was the old and the sick who were bearing the brunt. Now it’s the young; vulnerable and the least likely to have any remnants of Christianity to hang on to. That is where the church has had its biggest failure.

When I thought about what ideas the bishops might come up with I think I was imagining Salvation Army style bands and two metred space processions led by cheerfully robed clergy, snaking through the empty streets. And the rest of us could have used our permitted exercise times to join in when and where we could. God was certainly on the side of any outdoor activity; he sent warm, dry weather month after month.

Can you remember those early days in March? Some shops ran out of toilet rolls but supermarkets and corner shops reacted with amazing speed and efficiency to keep their  doors open and their premises safe. We did not starve. 

Instead, despite the fear and the fact it was Easter, the bishops slammed shut the doors of all the churches, denying us any spiritual sustenance. 

However, all the bishops were fairly swift to rely on their clergy to throw themselves into zoom technology and in subtle ways have been trying to convince us that this is the new way forward. They point out that more people go to church online at the moment, and in any case the Church is the people not the building. 

At last, on 25th September, 2020, Archbishop Justin Welby and Archbishop Stephen Cottrell have spoken out at a special session of the Church of England General Synod .

I wish the speeches had been rabble-rousers. Thunderous calls to arms that would have got even the most apathetic of congregations standing up to be counted. Sadly, Welby can usually be relied on to state the bleeding obvious. 

Archbbishop Justin Welby

The church, he said, “will be changed by the reality that for the first time all churches have been closed — the first time in 800 years. It will be changed because for the first time we have worshipped virtually.” 

It’s actually the first time in 800 years we’ve had the technology that will allow us to worship virtually, but just because we can I’m not sure we must. By embracing virtual church so enthusiastically I think the bishops may be shooting themselves in the foot. 

On the internet I am not limited to zooming into my local church. I can go anywhere — and I do.

Every morning I join the Dean of Canterbury, Robert Willis, somewhere in the Deanery garden, for a short service of psalms, readings, prayers and reflections. At the moment he is bringing alive scenes from the Acts of the Apostles, revealing a depth I hadn’t imagined. In six months I have learned more from him than I learnt in the last six years. 

In any case, once on-line, why stay in the UK? There are some excellent blogs from Australia where they are having many of the same theological tussles we have. Reading about the church in Africa reassures me that Christianity will survive very well, no matter what the C of E decides. Most hopeful, for traditional Anglicans in the UK, are the news and views of the Anglican Church in North America — the ACNA. It is the sort of Anglican church that I pray will finally be resurrected here. Its leader, Archbishop Foley Beach, preaches the sort of sermons, full of straight forward theological truth, I haven’t heard in years in my local church.  

On Saturday 26th, in an impassioned speech before thousands of men and women gathered in Washington, USA, for a Day of Repentance, Anglican Archbishop Foley Beach exhorted his hearers to repent, abandon lukewarmness and allow the fire of God’s Holy Spirit to revive them.

Unfortunately, Welby dismisses Foley Beach and the ANCA as a side show. Welby’s reaction is likely to have been “Good Heavens, what is he thinking of? He’ll be mentioning sin next.”

Archbishop of York

Archbishop Stepher Cotterell also shared the Presidential Address at Synod, but I don’t think he did any better. He lit no new sparks. In fact, I have to admit I thought it was a very odd speech, given we’re a religion of peace and love. He began by saying, “I hate this coronavirus,” and went on to list eight other things he hated. I won’t list them. They’re all the sort of things that we all hate about Covid19. It would have been better if he had told us, how, in Christ, we could set about coping with all these hates.

He’s grateful for the way we have been behaving during the crisis, which is nice to know, and then he shares with us, not his hope for the future, but his longing.

“And I am filled with longing: I long for us to be a more Christ centred and Jesus-shaped church witnessing to Christ and bringing the healing balm of the gospel to our nation for this is our vocation.”*

This all sounds too much like the lukewarmness that Archbishop Foley Beach warns against.

*my emphasis

Many thanks to my friend, Susan, who sent me this from the Daily Telegraph

CH ** CH …What’s Missing?

That’s right. You are; so am I. Regular church goers have been missing from our churches since the beginning of Lockdown; not willingly but by command of our bishops, who chose to lock our churches against us, despite government advice that they could stay open with safeguarding measures in place. Thank God the supermarkets were more efficient or we would all have starved.

I will leave out all the stuff about the Church not being a building but its people; that is repeated so often it is becoming trite. Church communities have been doing sterling work individually to keep the “show” — if not on the road — at least on line, but it’s not enough.

Front page headlines in The Times (L) and Daily Telegraph (R)

Of churches and spiritual life — not a word!

Beginning yesterday, Monday 22nd June, churches may now open for private prayer.  Last week our local Vicar sent out a 14-page downloadable booklet from the bishop. This we were to read and discuss, on a Forum, on how we can do this safely. In our church, this means how to keep 2 or 3 very old ladies safe in a building that can seat 200. 

In the many weeks of lockdown one might have thought the bishops, the diocesan office, the people who wrote the booklet and the individual vicars could have put plans in place in plenty of time for this day. After all, the local clergy are the ones who know the size of their churches, the odd nooks and crannies that could be safely used for private prayer and, most importantly, the people in their congregations who would be likely to respond to this opportunity.

I would love to be able to go into the church I have been at home in for 30 years but I won’t. I don’t want to cause so much trouble and bother to all the able bodied members of the congregation who will have to get the 14 pages of the safety measures put in place.

Also, I have taken the words of Bishop Gregory, of the Diocese of St Asaph in North Wales, very much to heart. 

“It is very important that we do not make the re-opening of churches a free for all…”

A “free for all”? What planet is this man on? What church is he Bishop in?

Jesus says “knock and the door will be opened to you …” (Luke 11.9) unless the bishop has locked it.

Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World

 Jesus also says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11.28)

I can’t think of a time since the end of the Second War when people have been more weary and burdened, and grieving and fearful or more in need of spiritual peace. To paraphrase George Herbert, “Love bade me welcome, but the bishops drew back.”

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

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.