Bishops. Why? Who? What?

Bishops: I seem to spend quite a lot of time thinking about them, probably because most of them are a complete enigma to me.  Why do they want the position in the first place, I wonder.  Status?  Power?  Gorgeous robes?  People to answer their letters.* I asked a friendly cleric:  “Bigger pensions” was his cynical response.

Small can be beautiful at all sorts of times and for all sorts of reasons.  Think of the Anglican church for example.  It has around 80 million members, give or take those like me, who can’t make up their minds whether Anglican Bishops still preach the same Gospel I have believed in for the last 80 years.  That Church has 77 Archbishops, with the Most Revd Justin Welby at the top, (first amongst equals) and 706 Bishops.  Thinking about all that lot as individuals is way too much.  So let me restrict myself to just the Church in Wales so that it can become much more manageable.

In Wales we have five bishops and one Archbishop, who has just announced his retirement next May.  It was this announcement that turned my mind to the subject of Bishops in general and Welsh ones in particular.

Dr Rowan Williams, a Welsh speaking Welshman, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, the first to be appointed from outside the Church of England in modern times.  But he is something of an exception.

Lord Williams of Oystermouth, as he is now, gained a starred First in Theology at Cambridge followed by a D.PHil and a DD from Oxford.  He then joined the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, Yorkshire, where he both trained and lectured, before returning to Cambridge as a lecturer in Divinity, and where he was ordained in 1976.  He returned to Oxford as Professor of Divinity before becoming Bishop of Monmouth in 1991 and Archbishop of Wales eight years later.

First Class degrees in Theology used to be quite normal amongst bishops in years gone by, but nowadays it’s rare to find a bishop with a degree in theology at all.  Certainly, the Church in Wales bishops have studied several different subjects but theology doesn’t come high in the list, if indeed it is there at all.

The next Archbishop of Wales will most likely be one of the remaining five and rather than being ‘chosen’ it seems more probable that it will a case of Buggin’s Turn or the next most senior bishop. 

That will be Bishop Andy of Bangor who was consecrated in 2008.  He was born in Wales, has learnt a sort of Welsh and read Law in Cardiff but then studied Theology for two years and Pastoral Studies for a year in Nottingham.  He is divorced from his first wife and has recently remarried one of his divorcée priests.  He is also a champion of Same Sex Marriage.

The trendy Bishop of Bangor on his recent wedding day

Next in line would be Bishop Gregory of St Asaph (c.2009) who is alleged to be the most ‘orthodox’.  Born in Wales but not into a Welsh speaking family, his first degree was in Law, at Oxford.  Then he studied theology at Cambridge and spent a year at the now defunct St Michael’s College in Wales.  He has one wife (a Roman Catholic) and three sons.  He, too, is a great champion of SSM.

The next three bishops are all much more recent appointments but on the other hand they are all women which may give them a great advantage.

Dr Joanna Penberthy was appointed Bishop of St David’s in 2013.  She was born in Wales though she is not a native Welsh speaker.  She has a BA from Cambridge but information about her doesn’t say in what subject so I am guessing it wasn’t in Theology.  She trained for the ministry in the evangelical Cranmer Hall, in Durham but her recent PhD (2019) degree was in Quantum Physics.  She is married to a Vicar and has one grandchild.

In 2017 Revd June Osborne was appointed Bishop of Llandaff in Cardiff having been Dean of Salisbury. She is described as a “ground breaking” figure — perhaps because she is not from Wales and speaks no Welsh and her degree, from Manchester, is in Social Sciences.  She, too, trained for the ministry in Nottingham and Cambridge and was a great committee member.  She is married to a barrister.

Left: Bishop of St David’s (the Quantum Physicist and Right the ground breaking Bishop of Llandaff

Finally, the Rt Revd Cherry Vann was appointed Bishop of Monmouth in 2020.  She is a graduate of the Royal Schools of Music and trained for the Ministry at Westcott House in Cambridge.  Before arriving in Wales she had no connection with the country or the culture whatsoever but she at least broke new ground by being the first lesbian bishop in a partnered same sex relationship.

I’m sorry to sound so negative about these five people.  I am sure they are exceptional human beings with all sorts of skills and talents and strengths that allow them to go about their daily lives lovingly and effectively. They undoubtedly run their offices and committees and finances much more efficiently than many of those saintly bishops of old; but they are not steeped in scripture, and they lack the deep fundamental biblical knowledge that would allow them to make wise judgements in a modern world.

I am dismissive of all of these Welsh bishops for a very good reason.  Despite their limited qualifications and their tiny congregations they seem to think they have some God-given right to re-write the Prayer Book in favour of same sex marriages in church in the sight of God.  They have been trying to force this on reluctant parishes for many years, most recently with —“A Bill to Authorise Experimental Use of Proposed Revisions of the Book of Common Prayer” at the end of December.  Despite the tremendous opposition in the Anglican Church throughout the world these few Bishops seem to think their learning and understanding trumps the wisdom of the ages. 

There is something vital here that these bishops, and many others like them, cannot understand. While telling themselves they are fighting a faith war they are merely engaged in a culture war. They have actually changed sides and it is a tragedy for all of us that this has happened.

*The Bishop of Llandaff, in these straightened times, has just appointed someone to “process correspondence.”   I’d like to assume that meant answering letters, except that the clergy don’t do that any more!

“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?

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.

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.