The Joy of Blogging Blogs

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. 

Revd John Davies, Archbishop of Wales

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.

Faith not Angst

“The Reverend Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury, has been lifting my spirits, restoring my soul and making me feel far less of a Misfit every day since just after lockdown.  The team at Canterbury Cathedral who appear daily on line from various places around the cathedral precincts provide Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Eucharist and Compline.  However, it’s the Dean who has stolen my heart.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.

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

Faith not Angst

The Reverend Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury, has been lifting my spirits, restoring my soul and making me feel far less of a Misfit every day since just after lockdown.  The team at Canterbury Cathedral who appear daily on line from various places around the cathedral precincts provide Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Eucharist and Compline.  However, it’s the Dean who has stolen my heart.

The Dean of Canterbuy, the Reverend Robert Willis in the greenhouse in the Deanery Garden

Every morning, no matter what chaos has been caused getting the day started — six of us in a three generation family, plus two puppies — the Dean, in his garden, gives me sanity, security and the assurance that God is in his Heaven and all’s right with the world, really.  With consummate skill, he draws together the reading for the day, the needs of the day, a special person or event of the day and the wonders of the Deanery garden in a particular spot every day.  All these elements are woven into the fabric of Morning Prayer, directly, simply and with eternal truth.

On Wednesday morning I found it unusually powerful. The reading was Luke, Chapter 7 vv. 2-10.

The Dean among the irises – May 20th, 2020

It is a story about a Roman officer in an army of occupation and his sick servant.  However, the soldier, a Centurion, is a man of wisdom and understanding.  Far from being a hated enemy he has taken a keen interest in the local people, their culture and religion and has even built a place in which they can worship their God.  He also keeps abreast of local affairs and has the sensitivity to listen when he hears of a remarkable man doing remarkable things.  As a man of authority he recognises authority in another.

As the Dean tells the story it is all about Faith.  Jesus himself says as much.  “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Even as I was listening to the Dean amongst the irises the memory of another sermon on this story was bugging me.  At the same time, as I tried to concentrate on the prayers, two words from a poem were buzzing in my brain.  ‘Fools’ and ‘traps.’

The Dean with his cat.

Later, over a cup of coffee, my brain cleared and I remembered both the elusive sermon and the poem.  The sermon had been given in Liverpool Cathedral by Revd Jeffrey John in May 2016 and the poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

After a lot of history about homosexuality in the Roman Army the point of Dr John’s sermon was not faith, but, because Jesus would have known the Centurion’s servant was gay, proof that Jesus loves gays. 

Here is the bit of the poem I was remembering:

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

What I remember now of Dr John’s sermon was a complex convolution by an angry man. I still find those two lines of poetry most apt.*

Long may the Dean, in the company of his cats, continue to preach wisdom and faith amongst the flowers.

UPDATE Saturday, 23rd May

Oh, Joy! This morning the Dean was in the Wild conservation part of the garden. And we had pigs!

They are called Winnie and Clemmie, in honour of Sir Winston Churchill. He liked pigs. Cats, he said, look down on you and dogs look up to you but pigs look you in the eye. As well as the garden and the animals I also appreciate the fact that the Dean wears a cassock. No casual mufti for him. He is a priest, he looks like a priest and as a priest he looks you in the eye.

*I blogged about this sermon in a blog entitled “More than just good friends” on June 11th 2016