The Archbishops are Back and So am I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archbbishop Justin Welby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archbishop of York

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

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

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

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

*my emphasis

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

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.