Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, the Dean of Canterbury suggested a Lent Project. He calls us, his video watchers, his Garden Congregation, and his project is as simple and encouraging as everything else about his daily prayers.
The idea behind it is, naturally, taken from his garden. You take a little shoot and transplant it and care for it and it will root and sprout and become a plant in its own right. And don’t complain that you don’t even have a window box. The leaf off a jade tree or a leaf of aloe vera put in a jar of water will do just as well. In any case, that was just an illustration of the sort of creativity the Dean is thinking of.
First of all find a little notebook and down the left hand side of the page number the days of Lent. 46 days. 40 and 6 Sundays. Each day write down a word, an image, an idea, a person — something that’s on your mind. Now, do something creative with that word or phrase or whatever.
Yes, it really is. You can use the talents you already have or find something to do that you didn’t know you could do. Thinking of a friend? Sit down and write to them on paper with a pen and POST it. When did you last get a cheering letter out of the blue through your letter box? Write a poem. No, not something overwhelming like Milton’s Paradise Lost. A nursery rhyme, for example. After all, ‘Ring a ring of roses’ was thought to have been inspired by the Great Plague!
Painting? Well, drawing, then; that only needs a pencil and some paper. Nothing to see out of your window? Don’t make excuses — think Lowry and his stick men and women.
You never know when some little thing will gain great importance.
My husband died just before Christmas and I have been amazed and heartened by the letters and messages of sympathy and condolence I have received. In this context one letter in particular stands out. At least 45 years ago Grete, the daughter of a colleague, needed a home for a few days and stayed with us. In her letter she remembered my husband’s kindness and then she said:
“I must thank you for saving my life in lockdown. While I was staying with your family you taught me to crochet.”
That was certainly some shoot!
Yesterday, the Dean read Psalm 87 and verse 3. “Glorious things of thee are spoken, O city of God.” Talking of his project he quoted the last few words of that psalm. “All my fresh springs are in you.”
Now’s the chance for all of us to find some fresh springs.
“One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth,” said Dorothy Frances Gurney. That’s an encouraging thought for people who love gardens but, actually, it isn’t strictly true. It’s one of those sweet, sentimental fallacies that can creep too easily into sweet, sentimental ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ type Christianity, as opposed to the ‘Jesus shaped’ Anglicanism that Archbishop Welby is now advocating. That is something much tougher and more honest, and truly joyful rather than merely happy.
Something else that isn’t true, though the bishops have been emphasising it during Lockdown, is the fact that we don’t need our churches, nor our cathedrals. I beg your pardon, bishops; you are wrong! I know perfectly well that God, being everywhere, doesn’t need man-made buildings — but we do. I certainly do.
I can say my prayers at the kitchen table, just as Justin Welby offered the Eucharist in his kitchen last Easter. I don’t need a Vicar and I don’t need to be ‘ashed’. I don’t need pews, an altar, a lectern or a pulpit. But I do appreciate being able to sit in a Sacred Space where quiet souls have been praying and repeating the psalms and meditating at least weekly for several centuries. I don’t see visions and I don’t hear voices but I can sense an atmosphere of holy peace in the silence.
Another thing that many of us are missing keenly is the singing. In our Welsh church we have several members of various local choirs in the congregation so the singing is pretty special. But it’s not just the music. The words matter mightily. With simple words and memorable tunes we repeat the words of Scripture until they are engraved on our hearts.
This morning was a case in point. As one of the Dean of Canterbury’s “garden congregation” I listened to Psalm 87 v3. and 1 Timothy 6 v 12 and knew what they had inspired. Even just reading these hymns and singing them in your head, in the church porch or at the kitchen sink, you learn a lot of the Gospels by heart without even realising it. Which is a very good way to begin Lent.
I don’t know exactly where the DOGO is situated — perhaps in the depths of Whitehall or even, these days, on a windblown island in the Outer Hebrides. No, that’s not likely. People who live up there are tough, down-to-earth, realistic and clear sighted.
However, even though I don’t know where that Department actually is I know it exists.
Here is the proof:
“We also recognise that there is currently biological essentialism and transphobia present within elements of mainstream birth narratives and discourse. We strive to protect our trans and non-binary service users and healthcare professionals from additional persecution as a consequence of terminology changes, recognising the significant impact this can have on psychological and emotional wellbeing.”
Policy statement of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.
One sentence of a mere 35 words made to seem much more erudite by all those wonderful polysyllabics.
Surely this lilting prose must come from the same stable as that other Load of Lovely Flannel (Living in Love and Faith) from the Church of England that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.
“Secure in its roots, the Christian understanding of marriage has been sufficiently supple to respond to changing cultures, and suitably rich in meaning to all God’s gift to be received in different ages even if its purposes have been lived out with great clarity at some times more than others.”
One clear link between the NHS and the C of E is the Bishop of London, Rt. Revd Sarah Mullally, who was Head Nurse before ordination and is the lead bishop on the Living in Love and Faith production.
essentialism* — [uh–sen-shuh-liz-uhm]
*a doctrine that certain traditional concepts, ideals, and skills are essential to society and should be taught methodically to all students, regardless of individual ability, need, etc. (My emphasis.) In other words even if you are never going to be in a situation where you will ever have anything to do with a transgender pregnant parent you’ve still got to be taught what vocabulary to use.
I’ve put this definition in for the sake of any readers who are as old as I am and for whom the word doesn’t roll as smoothly off the tongue as I’m sure it should. It isn’t in my SOD (Shorter Oxford Dictionary) but that dates back to 1970. How quaint!
I’ll try and translate what I think the NHS means with their statement.
At the moment there’s a skill shortage in Maternity Units — sorry, perinatal services. The midwives (that term will have to go) and nurses who are there are superb at delivering babies but their language leaves much to be desired.
“Now, Mother. Are you going to be breast feeding?”
Heaven forbid. Using that language is downright persecution.
“Now, parent. Are you planning to chest feed?” will be quite acceptable.
Mother, father, sister, brother — those words will all be banned, too. Parent and sibling will do. I don’t know how you cope with uncle and aunt.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic like never before. Hospitals and all the staff in them are stretched to the limit. Money is tight. Now is not the time to engage the services of exponents of any sort of alternative language. Now is not the time to start talking about psychological persecution — ridiculously emotive language — as the result of terminological changes. How much did all this New Speak cost? How many ‘pregnant’ (probably a banned word) transgender and non-binary people are we talking about in, say, a year? Surely, all that’s needed, in those rare circumstances, is for someone to forewarn the midwife/midperson involved to watch what they say. After all, workers in midwifery units are well educated and highly trained. If they spot that the human being in the delivery room is sporting a beard they’ll catch on quickly enough that the situation will need careful handling.
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury was on Premier Christian Radio today. During the interview he announced his new Jesus-shaped vision for the church in 2021. (I presume he was talking about the Church of England.) In the light of all he has learned since the start of the pandemic he has come up with the slogan “Simpler, Humbler, Bolder.”
Thank God for that, say I! It’s been a long time coming but simplicity, humility and boldness in the Anglican church will be warmly welcomed by many, if not most congregations
I will particularly welcome simplicity for a start because I have just been struggling with some more of the “Living in Love and Faith” document, produced by an assortment of bishops and others. When it came out at the beginning of November last year I tried to read the summary and then wrote an unpublished blog called ‘Loads and loads of flannel’. That tells you what I thought of it at the time.
Recently, being housebound, I have been making another attempt to get to grips with ‘Living in Love and Faith.’ That is until I got to the following sentence:
“Secure in its roots, the Christian understanding of marriage has been sufficiently supple to respond to changing cultures, and suitably rich in meaning to allow God’s gift to be received in different ages, even if its purposes have been lived out with greater clarity at some times more than others.”
Apart from being 50 words long it’s also overloaded with too many polysyllabic words. You don’t find many 50 word sentences in the Gospels. I would suggest the Archbishop begins, immediately (eufous), re-reading St Mark.
I’m still not quite sure what, exactly, the writers were trying to say. Perhaps that was the whole point. In fact, I think the whole of ‘LLF’ is a skilful mixture of gobbledegook and flannel, continuing the softening-up process until we all accept Same Sex Marriage as part of God’s new plan.
At least the six bishops in the Church in Wales, always ready to jump on any passing band wagon, seem to have taken up two bits of Justin Welby’s slogan even before he announced it. In the past I have often found them too lily-livered, slightly pompous and skilled in the art of obfuscation. Just before Christmas, simply and boldly they announced: A Bill to Authorise Experimental Use of Proposed Revisions of the Book of Common Prayer.
They blithely acknowledge that Scripture and Christian tradition have previously believed marriage to be between a man and a woman.
“However,” they say, “with new social, scientific and psychological understandings of sexuality in the last one and a half centuries, we believe that same-sex relationships can be understood in a radically different way, and that the teaching of Scripture should therefore be re-interrogated.”
On second thoughts, with a sentence of 42 words, nine of which have three or more syllables, perhaps they are not expressing themselves as simply as all that. It is a bold sentence at any rate.
I’d welcome humble, too. As many readers of my blog will know I am opposed to Same Sex marriage in church. I’m afraid to say I have met with no humility on that subject. Far from finding “good disagreement” the LGBT+ Chaplain of this diocese takes the attitude ‘like it or lump it.’ Regretfully, I have had to lump it because no one even wants to engage in any sort of discussion with me; nor wish to find out why I think the way I do.
Lastly, Bolder. Oh, please! At least allow the bold ones amongst us to go into Church during Lent to pray (behind masks) and praise (internally) and meditate together if we promise to sanitise our hands and stay two metres apart. Well, distancing won’t be difficult, given the size of our church and the tiny number in the congregation.
Since some cathedrals have been open for vaccinations, complete with organ recitals, there shouldn’t be any reason to prevent spiritual vaccination as well. I, for one, definitely benefit from a god-shot occasionally.
At last, Justin Welby has spoken out in praise of the wonderful Dean of Canterbury. Dr Robert Willis now has 40,000 tuning in to his on-line services of Morning Prayer, which he has been holding in his garden every single morning since lockdown began.
I hope his Grace watches the programme; he’d learn a lot. However, he made one mistake. He mentions the Dean’s cats and other animals who “kept on making un-invited appearances.” Nonsense. The cats all come and go as they please — they are in their own home, after all. Tiger, the three legged cat (he lost a leg to cancer a few months ago) is the only cat especially invited by the Dean to accompany him when he takes shelter from the rain in a greenhouse. All the other birds and animals are invited in and often given breakfast.
Most actors will tell you never to work with children or animals. There’s certainly no room for pomposity or arrogance when you’re surrounded by Winston, Clemmie and their seven little pigs. It was an incredibly bold idea to think of sitting in a garden, surrounded by a menagerie, and simply preach the Gospel, straight to camera with barely a note. His message is delivered with simplicity. And the Dean, no mean musician and hymn writer himself, frequently emphasises the joy of simple songs and poems. Gospel stories and psalms, translated into simple songs and poems, are easy to learn by heart and remain forever in your memory. The amount of interesting information the Dean slips in is impressive. He was the one who taught me (and I bet many others) the word eufous and thanks to him I now know the correct way to pronounce ‘pericope’. (I’d been saying perry-cope.)
Simpler, humbler, bolder. Yes, Archbishop. We’re with you, and the dear Dean, every step of the way.
As we pray for the end of lockdown and a great re-awakening we need to prepare, now. We — that is Church congregations everywhere — must use this Lockdown to PREPARE. Prepare for the time when we can get outside again and all meet again.
We need to be ready, knowing what we need to do. Not like the bishops who, last March, announced the closure of all their churches, at the same time re-assuring us that the clergy could hold services “on-line”, from their own homes, which would be ‘just as good’. They were wrong. The Easter Eucharist from Archbishop Justin Welby’s kitchen was not ‘just as good’ and he would have had plenty of technological assistance. Most clergy have done a magnificent job providing services, on line, on Zoom, on the phone, learning hi-tech as they muddled through.
Later, when the churches were allowed to open again, the bishops issued pages of rules and regulations and protocols to ensure that you would be far safer in a church than in any train station or supermarket. Again the clergy coped, with very little in the way of help and guidance. Perhaps there might have been a bishop somewhere who ordered all the sanitizers and cleaning products and safety tapes all the churches would need and went round delivering everything to the individual clergy, and checking how they were getting on. Sadly, I suspect that hope is pie in the sky.
What we have to do now is keep our feet on the ground.
That’s what Our Lord did, literally. He kept his feet on the earth as he walked through the Gospels, day after day, apart from when he walked on water. He was down to earth at our level until the final day, when he was lifted up on the Cross.
There is probably a PhD thesis somewhere that could tell us how many miles Jesus walked in the Gospels. There may be someone who could even tell us how many pairs of sandals He wore out. He walked from village to village and town to town talking to everyone he met. When he wanted to be alone to pray and think he walked up a mountain.
Bishops tend not to think down to earth. They prefer Big and Expensive. The Bishop of St. Asaph spent £2 million — two million pounds — a few years ago, to buy the old Dorothy Perkins store in Wrexham. The building is on Hope Street so it’s now called the Hope Centre. Clever, eh? Not so clever when you think about the six Anglican churches already in Wrexham and what their clergy could have achieved with a cool two million.
Let’s come down out of the episcopal clouds and concentrate on where to walk on earth.
When Lockdown began a priest here in North Wales went up into the mountains to pray by a lake. Wonderful, until they closed Snowdonia National Park. Then there’s Reverend Pat Allerton of St Peter’s Church, Notting Hill, labelled the ‘Portable Priest’. His parishioners couldn’t come to him so he took services around his parish. A hymn, a prayer and a mini sermon in 10 minutes at any convenient street corner. Perhaps the fact that he is an old Etonian gave him the confidence to thumb his nose at his bishop. He admitted to feelings of trepidation as he set off the first day. But guess what? People loved him; no one complained, no one was offended. He was even asked for an encore.
Surely that’s something lots of local clergy could do. If the bishops don’t want us in our churches so be it. There’s no law against street preaching so as soon as we’re allowed out on the streets again let’s get out there. The bishops have explained that we don’t need churches. God is everywhere. They are half right. But congregations that work hard all week running food banks, feeding people and other volunteer projects do need their churches on a Sunday. They do need to recharge their batteries and refuel their tanks to give them the spiritual strength to carry on. And those vital services can be held on the village green or in the town square or in a supermarket carpark.
Father Jonathan Beswick SSC is Rector of another St Peter’s Church, this one in London Docks. Writing in the Spectator on 16th January he has plenty of reasons why he is actually keeping his church open at the moment. Last Spring he set up an outdoor shrine and held services during daily exercise. He also rang his church bell which was much appreciated. I’m encouraged to think he would agree with me. In his article he says, “God did not reside on Mount Sinai reissuing successive tablets of stone. Rather, he got stuck into the mess and mortality that is the lot of the human race.”
Absolutely right. The same mess we should be walking through, with our feet firmly on the ground.
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.
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.
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!
One of the most fascinating things about blogging is the ‘stats’. They’re the amazing statistics that tell me the countries where I have been read. Today I added them up and discovered I have had readers in 60 different countries. How about that! It sounds much more impressive than it really is. Influencers are read by millions and even humble blogs may reach hundreds of thousands. My readers only number a few hundreds. Readers in many countries, from Afghanistan to Uruguay, have only turned up once – probably by mistake. And I can’t really count New Zealand either, because I have a lot of family there.
On the other hand I do appear to have one faithful reader in China, who has been following me for a year or more now. Of course, I don’t really know if it is one lone Welsh man or woman who suffers from ‘hiraeth’* occasionally, or whether it’s several people, of different nationalities, far from home. Perhaps it’s an English Language class taking it in turns to see what an elderly Brit has on her mind at the moment. Who knows? If it is someone other than an ex-pat I had better give more detail about Wales and Welsh in the future.
For example, the Archbishop of Wales has just announced his retirement. In China people may be under the impression that all Archbishops in the Anglican church are pretty much the same, and have the same status and power as the Archbishop of Canterbury. The fact is, size matters and whereas Archbishop Justin Welby has 80 million Anglicans in the world who look to him, the present Archbishop of Wales only has ultimate responsibility for 42,500 people. That is why I get so incensed when he and his five other Bishops take it upon themselves to re-write basic Christian tradition.
Another thing my “Stats” tell me is how many people read which of my posts. For a long time the clear favourite was “Empty boxes, empty gestures, empty words” but recently there has been a post many, many times more popular so I am going to re-post it. It was called “Faith not Angst” and I posted it originally on May 22nd, 2020.
For the sake of today’s reader from Algeria I must explain that the boss of a Cathedral is not the bishop but the Dean. In Wales the Dean of one of the cathedrals hasn’t been seen anywhere near the place for almost a year. The Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, the Reverend Robert Willis, isn’t like that. For a start he is incredibly learned. Since the beginning of Lockdown he has delivered Morning Prayer every single day from somewhere in the Deanery Garden. Last week he took refuge in a greenhouse and we could hardly hear him for the rain beating on the roof. The next day he peered out from under an umbrella. Day after day he preaches the Gospel of Christ. He has never let us down. May God bless Dean Robert.
*Hiraeth – a Welsh word difficult to translate. Richard Burton described it as “a nameless longing for home.”
I don’t know how to re-post blogs so I’ve done a cut and paste job. The following is what I wrote on May 22nd last year, but without the photos of the Dean, the cats and the garden. You’ll have to scroll down through the blogs to find that. Better still, go to the Canterbury Cathedral website and watch all the episodes. You’ll be astounded at what you will learn.
“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.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.
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.’ 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 of Canterbury, in the company of his cats, continue to preach wisdom, truth and faith amongst the flowers.
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!)
“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.
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.”
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, Imyself, 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 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.
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?