There’s hope for Merrie England

In posh frocks and best suits, we took train in the rainy morning up to London Bridge. It was that kind of fine rain that gets you wet. The event we were invited to was not a wedding, but it proved to be more like a wedding than anything else. We were going to Southwark Cathedral for the Ordination and Consecration to Bishop of our friend and former rector, the Reverend Doctor Andrew Rumsey.

At the cathedral we took coffee with a lady we know who must use crutches to get about. She bears considerable pain and disability in her life with a very English stoicism and understatement, and she often looks rather tired and drawn. But today she had battled through on her crutches and was looking very well, pushing the boat out to join in this important celebration.

And then we were all seated. There was a short warm-up act, a deacon or dean or some such, who made everyone laugh while explaining how things would go during the service. In a more secular gathering, he would have been the person who had to start his short speech by saying “There are no planned fire drills today”.

Then there was a procession. There were dozens of richly robed prelates and lords spiritual. Bishops, deans, deacons, priests, acolytes and singers. A number of people carrying shiny sticks, or candles, or holding up Bibles. And amongst this procession, all our clergy friends. In all this colour, pomp and pagaentry, a connection to people we knew. A young priest I know touched my shoulder as he walked past. Hey Nick!!

The final person in the procession was the Archbishop of Canterbury, who took the service. Our former vicar was presented to Canterbury by two mentors, one on either side: the Bishops of Salisbury and Southwark. Questions were asked, “Do you believe him to be of Godly life and sound learning?“, using a form of words that must be centuries old.

Canterbury went on to cause a clerk – “the Provincial Registrar” – to read out the whole of the letter of authorisation for the ordination of a Bishop – the letter patent. Here was language linking the everyday of the here and now, to the sweeping arc of history; here were words from the seat of power, from the Queen herself, relating to someone I’ve sat and had a pint and peanuts with. Just remarkable. One might feel part of a nation, tribe or group as it exists across the land today, but less often, perhaps, might we feel that sense of belonging across time, stretching back through the generations. And listening to this letter being read out, we were all part of Merrie England. Someone else deserves the credit for saying this, but there is hope for Merrie England when people like Andrew Rumsey are appointed to posts like this.

The sermon was given by the Reverend Canon Chris Russell, the Archbishop’s Adviser for Evangelism and Witness, and parish priest in Reading. And what a sermon! Of the art and craft of sermons, my old vicar used to say, “always start with personal stories”. Chris Russell did just that and took us from the inessential (in his family’s case, a shower head that lit up) to what we really need. What do we really need? What do we really want? What MUST we have? God’s call on our lives: all of us are called by God personally, and by name. We are called by name because we all matter, each and every one of us. God has questions for us, which must be answered – again, because we all matter to God.

Later on, the college of Bishops laid hands on their new colleague Andrew at the actual moment of his ordination. There were dozens of them; not all could get near him. The further away Bishops laid hands on nearer Bishops who in turn laid hands on Andrew. To see this very physical act, this laying on of hands, right at the pinnacle of the Anglican establishment, was a remarkable sight. History, tradition and the teaching of Scripture brought right into the present. The laying on of hands is a common enough practice in house churches and in Charismatic churchmanship, but perhaps less common in the grass-roots Church of England.

There was a giving of appropriate and symbolic gifts. A Bible, a ring; a cross, a crozier – all the “stuff” a Bishop might traditionally use to exercise their office. A word on the crozier. My wife organised that. It was again, a moment of connection. We’d driven across all England, all the way to a former mining village near Durham to collect this fine piece of work, which was now in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury. A craftsman by the name of Tom Keers made the Cleek (that is, the curved part made of horn at the top) and another, named Roger Marwood, made the shaft of oak- from Acstede – “the Place of the Oaks.” Both will be proud to see their work in such hands.

And then it was over: the rector was become a Bishop. The gathered prelates and lords of the church started to process down the aisle with their newest colleague among them. As they did so, there was a spontaneous round of applause and cheering for Andrew Rumsey, which he acknowledged with a smile. It was another human moment in a big, portentous, important occasion when powerful forces for good were at work.

As the procession of lords spiritual, prelates, clerks, singers, acolytes and men carrying shiny sticks made its way out, I saw the Archbishop of Canterbury stop, greet and touch fists with a ten year old boy, who like me, had an aisle seat. Canterbury didn’t need to do that. In doing so, in stopping to greet that lad, he made his day. And mine too.

A sermon from the late Rt Revd Richard Hare

Here is a sermon that was preached at St. Alkmund’s, Derby, sometime in 1994. It was towards the end of Paul Corrie’s time, and occurred on the eve of the congregation moving to two morning services, St Alkmund’s having grown massively in the previous ten years, and the hall was no longer large enough for just one service of 500 or more people.

Richard Hare was a suffragan bishop well-known for his Charismatic tendencies. Though at this point he had been the Bishop of Pontefract for 21 years, he was heavily supportive of the Charismatic movement. He speaks here after his retirement, at the invitation of the vicar Reverend Paul Corrie.

I vividly remember the sermon being preached. Richard Hare’s beautiful spoken English, his “cut-glass accent”, and his exquisite professional timing as a public speaker, have remained with me ever since. It is fair to say that such public speaking and preaching as I have done myself, has been influenced by this one sermon – most particularly his professional timing.

At one point he recounts a poem created by a nun, in which the nun says to the Virgin Mary, thinking of her saying “yes” to the angel, as a young girl, when she replied, “it will be as you say”:

“In nine long months, in thirty-three short years, in three eternally long hours, did you never wish that yes…………………….unsaid?”

His pause between “yes” and “unsaid” was theatrical – and just exactly right.

Listen and enjoy here.

An Anglican temperament?

A faint disdain for enthusiasm is the mark of a decayed and effete culture

Paul Goodman posts today in Conservative Home on “What Cameron can do next for the churches”. I’m not a natural Tory, I’m too right-wing – but the title caught my eye and so I opened it and started to read. I didn’t finish it; I’ve no slight interest in the details of what the Prime Minister can do for the churches. Some way into the article there was a wonderful statement of what Mr Goodman calls the “Anglican temperament”, which was of interest because it defines almost everything that I am NOT – member of an Anglican church though I am.

He writes of David Cameron that he “brings to politics what might be called an Anglican temperament: a certain moderation of tone, a reluctance to get hung up about doctrinal differences, an attraction to consensus, an aversion to “enthusiasm”, a sense of establishment and his own place in it, and good manners (most of the time).”

It’s worth going through clause by clause!

A certain moderation of tone – I’ve never been accused of moderation of any kind, much less of tone.  I have been accused of being “abrasive”, “alienating”, and “undiplomatic”.  As an older man I acknowledge the importance of moderation of tone, but it’s not something that comes naturally to me – I have to work at it.

A reluctance to get hung up about doctrinal differences – here is the heart of modern Anglicanism and one of the core identifying features of Englishness. The English, Anglicans or otherwise, don’t really think that what they believe matters. But doctrinal differences do matter. What we believe is a matter of life and death – in fact, as Mr Bill Shankly famously said of football, it is much more important than life and death. For me, both as a Christian and as a political animal, I do embrace doctrinal differences – I am partisan. The challenge for me and others like me is to be partisan without being tribal, to allow doctrinal differences without violent disagreement – in other words, agreeing to disagree.

An attraction to consensus – Mrs Thatcher infamously had a low view of consensus. I recall that the vicar that married my wife and I telling us that he required his PCC to be unanimous in their decisions. While consensus has it’s uses in places, at the point of crisis, it is a way to avoid making a decision. Colin Powell says that the true leader will have to annoy all of the people some of the time. At the end of the day, someone has to decide – and “consensus” may have to be over-ridden for the greater good.

An aversion to “enthusiasm” – Having spent 25 years in churches where there is a drum kit and people wave their hands in the air, I am not averse to enthusiasm. Bring it on: in fact, a faint disdain for enthusiasm is the mark of a decayed and effete culture.

A sense of establishment and his own place in it – I owe nothing to the “establishment”; I came from nothing. I am the first person on either side of my family in all of the twentieth century, to attain to higher education. I’m not part of the “establishment” – I went to a comprehensive school and a polytechnic, and many people in the “establishment” would likely cross the street to avoid a meritocrat like me. If I could say anything to the “establishment” it would be this: the status quo is never acceptable.

Good manners (most of the time) – As my kids would say: weeeell. Mr Cameron is well known as someone who can be quite breathtakingly rude to people below his station – yet without once being guilty of what he would call “bad manners”. Being decent and courteous to others and “good manners” are not the same thing.

The creeping secularism that permits no dissent

“Nyarlothotep…the crawling chaos…I will tell the audient void” – H.P Lovecraft

Today the Scout Association has published a new Scout Promise that permits atheists, or those of no faith at all (although it seems to me they are two different kinds of people) to be Scouts without having to lie about what they believe. It all sounds rather fine. On the surface this looks like rather a grand gesture to make, all about inclusivity, all about ensuring that everyone who wants to can have the chance to be a Scout.

Surely, anyone who opposes this, is opposing inclusivity? You might think that to oppose this development would be reactionary and inappropriate in the modern world. It is rather like that classic old question with no right answer: “When did you stop beating your wife?”

In today’s Metro, the Chief Scout has published an article with rather interesting wording.

He says: I see this as a positive and inclusive way of allowing young people who do not have faith in their lives still to enjoy the Scouting adventure…

As regards young people who have “no faith” – do we not think that we as adults should be teaching young people to have faith? Do we not think that it is our duty? Oh…just me then.

And you can see in here the real issue underneath – it’s not about “inclusivity” or anything like that. It’s about creating a secular society – it is about actually stamping out faith and removing it from the public arena.

I’ll steer clear of any discussion of Scouts as such, as it is not really the issue here, except to say that to be fair, Scouts is not faith-based or church-based youth work. It never has been and nor should it be: at Scouts we have never really required young people to have faith – not really. It’s always been secular, right from the start. All very relaxed and anglican and it doesn’t really matter what you believe – until you make an issue of it. And then, of course, you are in trouble. We English have never really got on with people that “make an issue” of faith matters.

The real issue is creeping and insidious secularism. Writing very much as a Christian now, I think secularism has a spiritual origin and needs opposition. It is evil. This is why I opened the article with a quote from a H.P Lovecraft horror story.

Alice Bailey (1880-1949) was a 20th century “new age” guru who proposed a ten point plan to destroy Christianity. Some promoters of secularism remind me of the the expression Stalin used – “useful idiots”. They are going unwittingly about the work of the likes of Alice Bailey. If they are not careful they will place themselves and others in our society into the hands of one who is very much more dangerous than Josef Stalin. But then, secular liberals don’t believe in the devil any more than they believe in God.

Collectivism and Christianity

I’m no collectivist and have always struggled with what I see as rampant collectivism in the charismatic church, particularly the house-church movement and New Frontiers.

We’re asked to make an offering publicly, i.e put money in a box at the front of church where everyone can see us. It is a right, good and noble offering the church is taking up. But why would I give money publicly unless I wanted there to be a public witness to the fact that I was doing so? Why would I be concerned what anyone else within the household of faith sees or thinks about my giving? Does it matter? I think it does. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:3 that when we give, we should give in secret, not letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing.

So to me, giving money publicly – and being seen to do so – is a big no-no. That’s not Christianity – that’s collectivism.

But being against collectivism puts me on the back foot both in church and the wider world. People say I am selfish and care only about myself, merely because I argue that the individual is generally – by no means always – more important than the community.

“Collectivism can refer to any ideal, social, or political thought that puts emphasis on interdependence and the group above individuality or identity. Collectivists seek to be part of a greater whole–a larger scheme that is greater than the individual parts of that whole.”

And that is right and good – as Christians we are indeed part of a greater whole, and we should and do place emphasis on interdependence and the group. That is what small groups are about. But…

Individuals matter. Communities are made up of individuals, just as tables and chairs are made up of individual molecules. The properties of the materials used to make tables and chairs comes directly from the qualities of those molecules. And unless I am very much mistaken, we stand before God as individuals, and we were and are redeemed by Jesus Christ as individuals. There will be no communities judged at the Great White Throne – just individuals.

The importance of the individual over the community, over the collective, is what separates modern western cultures (i.e those arising since the Reformation) from the feudal societies they replaced, and what makes them more open to democracy, more open to freedom, stronger and more flexible that the Confucian cultures of the East (like China) and the Collectivist culture of Russia. All these cultures have strengths – but I believe the West is stronger, because of the importance of the individual.