“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.
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.
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.
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!
Here is one of three versions of this painting by Holman Hunt. One, first exhibited in 1854, is in Keble College, Oxford; another, painted in 1856, is in the Manchester City Art Gallery and the third (1904) is in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Which version this is and why the artist painted three versions is not what is important here.
It was inspired by these words from the Book of Revelation 3:20.
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will sup with him and he with me.”
The door hasn’t been opened in a long while — weeds are already growing across the step and up the door. The people inside are completely self-sufficient, independent individuals who have no need of outside help.
Just like today. We are all shut up in our own homes, not even allowed to invite anyone in and dependent on the Internet for health and happiness. Fitness on-line is the big new thing. We are allowed out to shop for essentials. What are “essentials”? Food, obviously, and medicines. Bicycles, surprisingly. Churches? No, of course not. Mental health is of great concern but it seems that spiritual health couldn’t matter less.
Nobody is going to answer the door for you, this time, June. That’s because everyone has left for the time being. Your worry, now, must be whether anyone will come back when they are no longer locked down. June’s Church in Wales profile describes her as ‘ground breaking’.
Closing her cathedral over Easter, if not ‘ground breaking’, is certainly unusual and sadly she is not alone. All bishops throughout Britain are obediently bowing to political and scientific advice and shutting up shop.
Until this century cathedrals and churches were where you went in times of trouble. It’s also where the clergy were, to comfort and console you.
This is the Church of England in 1866:
‘My curates were ill, unable to do any duty – I had been up for several nights running to two or three in the morning, attending to the sick, and more especially to the timid and fearful, – who would not go to bed for fear of ‘the pestilence that walketh in darkness’ – Wearied and at my wits’ end as to how I could possibly help my Vestry through their arduous duty, I had come down to a late breakfast at nine o’clock, when my servant announced Dr Pusey … he offered to act as my assistant Curate to visit the sick and dying … and to minister to their spiritual wants’. [The Revd S Hansard, quoted in Liddon’s life of Pusey]
The Church of England, 2020: ‘We are in a time of great fearfulness. The numbers of those becoming seriously ill and dying is increasing. It therefore remains very important that our churches remain closed for public worship and private prayer.’ [The Archbishops of Canterbury and York]
Now we’re in a time of great national crisis and what is the reaction of the Church in Wales and indeed the whole national church? Lock the doors and retreat to the safety of a recording studio.
A friend who has a medieval church on Exmoor had to send his churchwarden to the local iron-monger to buy a chain and padlock since no key could be found and no one could remember any time when the church had ever been locked. Certainly, during the Black Death churches were not locked and who knows how many people benefited from being able to go to a sacred space to say their prayers
We are in deeper trouble than anything we’ve seen in over 70 years and our modern, liberal bishops are spineless and clueless. They tell us they are forward thinking, enterprising, enlightened, but they can’t find a way of working with politicians and scientists to devise ways in which committed Christians can go to church on Easter Sunday.
Perhaps Good Friday Meditations, alone at home or alone with Skype, will prove deeply satisfying, since all they need time and peace.
No Eucharist on Easter Sunday will be devastating!
Modern Anglican bishops are extremely creative when it comes to anything to do with sex and gender. Couldn’t they be equally creative and imaginative and devise a plan that would allow those who care to receive the Body of Christ on April 12th 2020. Otherwise, I suspect, that will become a date of infamy throughout the Christian world.