Many of those in the pews share my perception (until now) of the Church of England as a monolith not unlike Kafka’s castle:
The narrator, K, arrives in a village governed by a mysterious bureaucracy that resides in a nearby castle. An official named Klamm tells K he will inform the Council Chairman of K’s arrival. This Council Chairman then tells K. that, through a mix up in communication between the castle and the village, his presence was requested by mistake, but offers K instead the position of caretaker. Meanwhile, K, unfamiliar with the customs, bureaucracy and processes of the village, continues to attempt to reach Klamm, which the villagers regard as strongly taboo. The villagers hold the officials and the castle in the highest regard, justifying their actions even though they appear not to know what the officials do. Assumptions and justifications concerning the officials and their dealings are set out in lengthy monologues by the villagers. Everyone has their own explanation for the actions of any particular official, but these are all founded on assumptions and gossip. Actions by the officials are often impenetrable and contradictory, but the villagers continue to praise the officials who, in their eyes, can do no wrong. The castle is the ultimate bureaucracy with copious amounts of paperwork that the bureaucracy maintains is “flawless”. This flawlessness is, of course, an illusion; it was a flaw in the paperwork that erroneously brought K to the village… The castle’s occupants appear to be all adult men…
In the case of the Church, it is the chancel steps which divide ‘castle’ and ‘village’. The castle-dwellers, with all the advantages of possessing the hill-top known to combatants of old, let loose well-aimed arrows at those in favour of women bishops, the autistic, members of the LGBT community and others in unproductive marriages (presumably including the childless).
But this may all be about to change? Like a butterfly beating its wings in the Amazonian jungle, scattered and puny efforts by hundreds and thousands of individuals seeking a rainbow Church, in which all of God’s creation is welcomed into a loving, inclusive Body of Christ may, just may, be about to bear fruit. As we look back in years to come, I think Bishop Nick Holtam’s interview will stand out as the moment that the tide finally turned. Also important, however, in the same week (just before General Synod) was a group of clergy in the Diocese of London signing a letter calling for the Church of England to reverse its ban on civil partnership ceremonies being held in churches.
I won’t quote Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem ‘say not the struggle naught availeth‘ yet again (though it may tempt you to follow the link if I tell you the lines are spoken by Paul Scofield with ‘Nimrod’ in the background). Instead, I offer a short extract from the lyrical description of the end of winter and the reign of the White Witch in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’:
Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller…soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs…then the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away altogether. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down on to the forest floor and overhead you could see a blue sky between the tree-tops. Soon there were more wonderful things happening…he noticed a dozen crocuses growing round the foot of an old tree – gold and purple and white. Then came a sound even more delicious than the sound of the water. Close beside the path they were following a bird suddenly chirped from the branch of a tree…’This is no thaw’, said the dwarf, suddenly stopping. This is Spring. What are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you! This is Aslan‘s doing.’
If we are to have a Spring in the Anglican Church, it will not be like the October Revolution of 1917: I foresee no storming of Lambeth Palace, its residents may be relieved to hear. The nature of the revolution (and, if it comes, it will be a revolution, not a mere revolt) is more akin to the wisdom of the Eastern book, the I Ching: The overlapping hexagrams 39 and 55 read:
“An obstruction that lasts only for a time is useful for self-development. That is the value of adversity…the obstruction is overcome not by pressing forward into danger, nor by idly keeping still, but by retreating, yielding…water on the top of a mountain cannot flow down in accordance with its nature, because rocks hinder it. It must stand still. This causes it to increase, and the inner accumulation finally becomes so great that it overflows the barriers. The way of overcoming obstacles lies in turning inward and raising one’s own being to a higher level.”
I pay tribute to my fellow-campaigners, who have almost universally had the spiritual strength not to storm the barricades, but to retreat and yield until the water should reach a higher level. But has that moment finally come? Is it premature to dream of singing in unison Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy‘ (which needs liberating from its EU national anthem status to an expression of heavenly ecstasy as intended)? Will Hyde Park be big enough to contain us all for a big sing, do you think?