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.

Congratulations!

My hearty congratulations to the United Methodist Church in the United States. I congratulate them for their integrity, courage and sheer common sense. At least, I congratulate half of them, and only wish we in the Church in Wales could soon follow suit. 

There are around 13 million members of the United Methodist Church world-wide and half of those, living outside the States, maintain doctrinal clarity and honesty. The situation has been very different for the six to seven millions living in America.

I would prefer not to have to sit and face this

Those millions sound pretty much like the few hundred thousand Anglicans who cling to life in Britain. It has taken the American Methodists a long time to make the break because, like many of us, those who hold true to the gospel teaching on marriage, didn’t want to be the ones to divide the church. Like them we listen to our bishops who accuse us of bigotry and homophobia and lack of compassion. If the Archbishop of York designate knew my views on Same Sex Marriage he would consider me “immoral” and suggest I leave. 

I would, if there was anywhere else to go. 

I would like to go to a church which didn’t mix the Gospel with Star Wars and knew the difference between Jesus Christ and Darth Vader

Unlike the American Methodists we haven’t yet got the courage. We are still anxious to be oh, so nice. We don’t lack compassion, we are ever so polite and patient and we love our gentle Jesus, meek and mild. 

The other side are not like us and we don’t really understand what we are up against. The progressive modernists are aggressive, tough and determined never to give up. And they have managed to convince the moderates, who do politeness, compassion and niceness as a matter of course, that they must judge not, that they be not judged.

We’ve endured years of “good disagreement” which has got us nowhere. We already have same sex “married” bishops. How much more of this are the orthodox, conservative, traditionalists going to put up with, while still trying to be true Anglicans? We have no hope of beating them and I’m fed up being joined with them. 

What would happen if we left? If Bishop Gregory of St Asaph is right, the place for the modern church is in a shopping mall. Well, Debenhams are closing lots of stores over the next couple of years which the modern church could move in to. Which means there will be a lot of empty churches we could use. 

There is just one very big problem. Money. The Anglican church is quite indecently wealthy but would it be willing to give any to people who do not toe the line? Perhaps these words from the 2020 Vision Toolkit should give us encouragement.

“Although many parishes are feeling the strain of raising the parish share, money is not the real problem for the Church in Wales. 

It is not enough simply to cover the costs of ministry for one’s own church or area. Provision has to be made for those areas that at the moment, and for good reason, are not in a position to cover their ministry costs. Support for such areas should be ungrudging.” 

Yes, indeed. Surely ‘good disagreement’ should acknowledge this and support those of us disagreeing in the nicest possible way.

“Eccentric and Anarchic” again

After I had posted yesterday’s blog my brain was still buzzing with one particular word. Organogram. So I went searching for it and now I make no apologies for re-posting this slightly edited post from 2016.

I reason that if I could forget so completely, after studying Toolkit Two so assiduously, perhaps this repeat may help all the young, and not so young, clergy struggling with MAs and MALs and other horrors, which were created before they were even ordained. 

So here is some of what I posted under the title “Eccentric and Anarchic” on August 29th, 2016. But first I thought I’d add this selection of ‘Brand Images’. They will make the page look pretty and it seems a waste not to use them since they must have cost a lot to get designed.**

“I used to wonder how long it was going to be before Bishops worked out that ‘secular’ not only is not working but is actively putting people off. The answer isn’t going to be found in 2020 Vision – Unlocking Your Potential, Toolkit Part 2.

“For those who have been lucky enough to miss this blundering step forward in organising a church let me give a bit of history. This particular Vision applies to the Anglicans in Wales, but something like it could well be coming to a church near you soon. The Bishops decided to get three experts to review the situation, tell them why so many people were leaving the church and suggest what should be done about it. We all know what Experts are, don’t we? Ex-has-been; spurt-a drip under pressure. The experts they chose were a former bishop from the dreaming spires of Oxford, a former professor of the London Business School and a former Chair of the Scottish Episcopal Church Standing Committee.

“To get information for the Review they had a jolly around Wales, looking at various churches—I hope they took in a few castles as well; that might have given them food for thought—and talking to senior clergy, bishops’ advisers and staff from the Welsh theological college of St Michael’s, which was threatened with closure two years later. They also met 1,000 people in public meetings, which is the worst possible environment for voicing your deepest worries and fears. They then went away and produced a Review, published in September, 2012 which lead to 2020 Vision.

“When Toolkit Part 1 of this Vision landed in my lap in 2014 I was secretary to my Parochial Church Council so I had to struggle with it. The Bishop of St Asaph, when promoting this ‘Vision’ several times mentioned the word ‘radical’. Even then my over-riding thought was, ‘Radical is not enough. Revolution is what’s needed.’

“Now here is Toolkit 2 – still trying to unlock the potential of the remaining few.

“It is written in trivial ‘management speak’. Somewhere there are ‘Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ but if you are hoping for something worthy of St Paul you’ll be disappointed. This kit is definitely modern, secular, of this world—worldly.

“Here’s an example. ‘A SAMPLE Mission Area Decree with annotations attached explaining its purpose and effects.’ That’s eight pages (without the notes) of jargon. Skip it.

“However, “The Seven Steps to a Mission Area” has a bizarre fascination. The good news of Jesus Christ is mentioned, just in case we’ve forgotten that all this is happening in an attempt to revitalise His Church. I’ll reproduce Step Four to show what I mean.

“‘A strategic Mission Area Executive (MAE) is formed to look at recommendations and devise a development plan for the first five years. The MAE is accountable to the MA Conference (MAC) and led by a potential Mission Area Leader (MAL) or elected Lay Chair. The Shared Ministry Team (SMT) will represent those who offer a range of ministries. MAs need to be aware of existing training and how to access more specific and effective training to meet the needs of their MA.’

“The bit of the toolkit I found most fascinating is this Organogram. (The spell checker accepts it quite readily so it must be a real word.)” It takes up a lot of space but if I make it any smaller you won’t be able to read the bottom line which I think represents the individual church Treasurers. They are the people, apparently at the bottom of the heap, who undoubtedly have the hardest row to hoe.

[I’m sorry this image is cock-eyed but perhaps that’s appropriate.]

What isn’t clear to me is exactly to what or to whom the middle arrow on the left is pointing. Possibly no one knows, which would explain a lot.

“Here is another organogram.

“For a start I can’t work out what’s important here. With Flow Charts you start at the top and things flow down. And there are Venn diagrams and Pie charts, where size matters. With Mind Maps you put the most important thing, the reason for everything else that you want to say, very big and bright in the middle.

“I can see the circle for congregation but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It looks as though they are to be told what to do by the Church Committee (CC) and the Mission Area Conference (MAC), which may or may not include any ordained clergy, while collections of multi coloured conferences, groups, boards and teams float around doing – what exactly?

“After I’d written the rough draft of this blog I started to wonder what would happen if the Bishops and the Deans and their Chapters (DCs), and the Archdeacons and the Area Deans (AADs) and the Chaplains and the Licensed Ministers (LCs) and the members of the Nurturing Steering Group (NSGs) and all the other people in those circles, were to put on their cassocks and robes, best suits and smartest clothes and go into town centres and up and down village streets telling people about the simple rules for a good life in that little book called the New Testament. Of course they would all be arrested. That’s the point! Can you imagine the headlines? The list of broken laws would be long, beginning with breaching the peace for preaching it.

That would be eccentric and anarchic and it might just work.”

**The Brand Images may have come free. Bishop Gregory designs coins and it has just struck me these are reminiscent of the ‘Thrupenny piece.’

20:20 VISION

Here we are at last. 

This is the year that the Vision for the great revitalisation of the Church in Wales finally comes to fruition.

We have climbed the steep slopes to the top of the mountain and now we can stand and admire the view.

Trouble is, when I think about standing on a mountain peak I remember my New Zealand sister-in-law. On one occasion, while visiting us, she took the train up Snowdon. It was beautifully sunny when she left us but by the time the train reached the summit the weather had closed in and she could see little through the mist and cloud. She wondered if she could get her money back. Apparently, if you go whale watching in New Zealand you get your money back if you don’t see any whales.

I think I would like my money back from the Church in Wales!

Way back in 2012 the bishops announced an in-depth review of the state of the church in Wales on the run up to its centenary in 2020 as an independent church. The Chairman of the Review was the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, together with Professor Charles Handy, a former professor at the London Business School and Professor Patricia Peakes, a former Chair of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. (We all know what has happened there.)

At the time I remember thinking that the ivory tower of All Souls College, Oxford, home to Lord Harries, was not an obvious place to begin a review of churches in impoverished mining villages in the south of Wales or the dwindling rural communities in the north. Anyway, this threesome interviewed over 1000 people throughout the Principality and 2020 Vision was the result of their investigations, cogitations and, I hope, their prayers and meditations.

The Review reminded us that “the church is a great institution designed to carry the Gospel message through the ages.” No disagreement there.

It also challenged us on the need for “urgent” change, particularly in the way our churches were set up. The biggest change was the decision to ditch (the Review said “move beyond our system of”) parishes and deaneries and create Mission Areas. (I’m always on my guard when people use five words when one will do.) The fact that many of the clergy now refer to Misery Areas tells you all you need to know. This change would lead to a group of church communities no longer being “inward looking” but would go out into the communities they served. I hope this is true for big towns but it has had the reverse effect in the great, wide, magnificent countryside which makes up most of North Wales.

I only know what is happening in the Diocese of St Asaph, where we have been ‘Unlocking our Potential’ for the last eight years. In Wrexham, for example, Bishop Gregory has spent £2 million of the £10 million given to the Church in Wales, on buying the old Burtons/Dorothy Perkins store on, can you believe, Hope Street. It was clearly meant!

A “brand image” as recommended by the Bishop for use with 20:20 vision. A keyhole. Get it?

One of the things the Review pointed out was that people no longer have to go to church on a Sunday morning for a coffee and to meet people because shopping is the new leisure activity. So it makes every kind of sense to open a “Church/Shop” in the middle of a Mall. Also, an old department store will feel much more welcoming and normal than any of the eight churches in the Rectorial Benefice of Wrexham with their odours of sanctity, overtones of religion and sense of a sacred space.

In my Mission Area things haven’t worked out quite so well. The congregation has halved in number from 40 to 20 and three of those remaining members turn 80 this year! We don’t complain. We struggle on with amazing fund raising efforts and we still manage the occasional community event for the village. But we do it alone without the support of either the Vicar or the wider Mission Area, who, nevertheless, want us to hand over any money we make for the benefit of the wider community. I’m sorry if this sounds selfish. I am not alone in giving very happily to something tangible like more tiles for the church roof or dealing with the damp. Once my groat reaches the MAL who knows where it ends up! Administration? Support for a bishop’s jolly? Money for roof tiles for a church who has failed to fund raise adequately? 

I’m afraid the bishops are asking a lot and giving very little in return. The changes they identified to “re-energise and re-invigorate our life and ministry across the country” are not happening here — but the bishops are doing OK.

Lots more brand images the bishops would like you to use.

Twisted Truth

I saw this on the blog of Rebel Priest, also known as the Revd Dr Jules Gomes. He is a wise man, full of common sense and to be trusted.

A 15-year-old Polish boy is being hailed as a Catholic “hero” after daring to block an LGBT pride march with a raised crucifix and rosary in his hand.

After reading the whole story I was reminded of these lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”. 

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

I expect it’s one of many poems that have been banned now, having been written by what must obviously be a “homophobic, racist, colonialist bigot.” Quoting Rudyard Kipling probably makes me an HRCB too.

This brave lad, Jakub Baryła, was inspired by “a similar gesture by Fr. Ignacy Skorupko during the Warsaw battle with the Bolsheviks in 1920. Father Skorupko was a Polish army chaplain who was killed on Aug. 14 1920, at the battle of Ossów during the Polish counter-attack. Standing with soldiers leading a charge on the front lines, the priest was holding a cross to encourage Polish soldiers.

Jakob was, of course, removed from the scene. He must have known that would happen and he says the police behaved “impeccably.” Since he describes himself as “Catholic, traditionalist, conservative and patriotic” on Twitter, the other side are out to get him. Here’s where the truth gets twisted. 

The Monitoring Center on Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour, Warsaw, has issued a statement calling Baryła’s action “another example of nationalists using children for political struggle.”“Irresponsible parents have jeopardised the life and health of their 15-year-old child by sending him to a riot to intentionally hinder the police. The lost boy stood in the middle of the road clutching the cross. The child was confused and completely deprived of care by adult caregivers,” the statement said, insisting that Baryła was a child and no one had the right to send him to fight the police. “It seems that the parents have been indoctrinating their child for a long time,” the statement added, accusing Baryła of being “seen at meetings with racists and homophobes.”

The Monitoring Center on Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour said it intends to notify the prosecutor’s office of a “crime committed by parents who sent a child against police officers,” and will provide the Family Court in Płock with information “about a boy who, unaccompanied, hindered police operations.”

I’ve looked at those two pictures again and again and I can see neither ‘a lost boy’ nor a ‘confused child’. On the contrary. There has been plenty of praise for him on social media where people have remarked on his courage and his quiet confidence in his faith.

Please don’t ignore this because it happened in Poland. Think about it and about why it couldn’t happen here in Britain.

Why couldn’t it happen here?
Because the Bishops have already gone over to the other side

I love curry . . .

There’s nothing like a good takeaway curry on a Friday night for rounding off the week and giving a spicy start to the weekend. I also love reading and knitting and a good straight malt.

And I “love” God. For that reason I think the English word love is one of the weakest, niggardly, most pathetic words in the English language.

However, over in America there’s a Curry that doesn’t love Love and a Love that doesn’t love Curry! Which is awkward because both Curry and Love are Bishops in the Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) church.

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“Love” says Bishop Michael Curry

Over here in Britain millions more people now know about the Right Reverend Michael B Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church thanks to the impassioned sermon he preached at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, all about love. Not at all the sort of sermon we’re used to in your usual society wedding but certainly memorable.

This same Bishop Curry is now at odds with one American bishop – ironically with the name of “love”! The problem is simple. Bishop William Love is the only bishop in the Episcopal Church who believes, deeply and sincerely, that marriage is between a man and a woman. (There may be other bishops who don’t much like SSM but Bishop Love is the only one who is prepared to stand up and be counted.)

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Bishop William Love of Albany, USA

Bishop Love cannot support something called resolution BO12, which basically says if you won’t allow same-sex marriages in your diocese nor allow other bishops to come in and oversee them for you then you have to go. So much for good disagreement and embracing diversity.

Type ‘love’ into the thesaurus and you get dozens of synonyms, from ‘affection’ and ‘adoration’ to ‘mad for’ and ‘soft spot’! ‘Lust’ is also included but it’s interesting that the word ‘charity’ doesn’t appear. Perhaps wisely. Charity doesn’t always show itself in the best light these days. There have been too many charity workers who have clearly mistaken lust for love.

The Greeks had six words for genuine love, but Christians are usually happy with three. When we use love, and we don’t just mean “I very much like . . .” we mean eros, romantic love; passionate, over the moon love.

Romantic love is wonderful. Even thinking about it sends shivers up my spine! But, it has its limitations.

Imagine five years down the romantic line and you and your wife have three children. The youngest has a stinking cold, which she has given to you, a stuffed up nose so she can’t breathe and it’s three in the morning. Number one son has an ear infection and is screaming with pain.  Your wife has fallen and sprained her wrist. Half way through a full wash load yesterday evening the washing machine died.

I know, from long experience, that memories of candle light dinners, watching fireworks while drifting along on a boat on the Seine or tumbling abandoned in the hay, will be no help whatsoever in that scenario. If all you’ve got is Eros one or other of you will walk out at first light.

What you need – what we all need all through life – are masses of Agape and Philia.

Agape was a word we used to hear often in church years ago although Bishop Curry didn’t mention it and I never hear it in the church I now attend.

Agape is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. After five years of marriage and three children, don’t forget Eros, but Agape is the love that will get you all through. Marriages thrive on romantic moments but only Agape will get you through the inevitable grim bits.

Then there’s Philia. This describes brotherly love and true friendship and in family life you need a lot of this—shown by loving friends and neighbours who will rally around in a crisis.

However, the addition of Agape and Philia will more than see you through. Because by now your love will have deepened to such an extent that you have compassion and tolerance and generosity which has not only enriched your own lives but those of your friends and neighbours. You are no longer alone living in an exciting erotic bubble.

This is why I thought Bishop Curry’s wedding sermon was inadequate. This is why I don’t trust Jayne Osanne and her Just Love slogan. That’s why I think love is the most inadequate word unless it’s attached to Bishop William Love who is a brave man.

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And I just love Milly!