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The Church and Discipleship – a Problem of Expectations? – Andrew Bennison

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Valentina Razumova via Shutterstock Image ID: 132844280

 

The soft bigotry of low expectations’. It’s a phrase oft-quoted in education circles: the idea that poorer pupils are disadvantaged by the well-meaning, but ultimately pernicious, attitudes of their teachers, who assume that certain students are unable to achieve highly – assumptions which then become self-fulfilling. Thankfully, considerable attention and resources have been committed in recent years to tackling this ‘soft bigotry’ in education, and there is evidence that these efforts are beginning to pay off: raising our expectations does result in real positive change.

What relevance does this have to the Church? Well, to put it bluntly: could it be that a similar problem of low expectations inhibits the mission of the Church of England? In our parishes and congregations, do we actually expect people to be transformed ‘from one degree of glory to another’? If this isn’t visibly happening, are we concerned about it? More fundamentally, do we actually believe in the transformative power of the gospel we seek to proclaim?

Reading accounts of the early Church and patristic writings, one cannot help but be struck by the dedication and perseverance displayed by the early Christians: through their wholehearted commitment to prayer, worship and community life, their lives attested to the demanding, countercultural nature of Christian discipleship. The Church grew as people encountered the mystery of God in Christ and orientated their lives around it, pursuing what St Paul described as ‘the renewing of your minds’. In contrast, much Anglican parish life today seems to ‘be conformed to this world’: lacklustre worship, a dearth of prayer and spirituality, and overstretched clergy contribute to a culture of low expectations, in which widespread theological illiteracy amongst the laity is tolerated. Recently I read through the ‘Grow Stage’ of the Church of England’s flagship Pilgrim resources, which seeks to help Christians ‘continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship’. As the material encouraged me to reflect on and establish a ‘pattern of worship and daily prayer’, it struck me that I almost never discuss my spiritual growth and discipleship at church: a culture of etiquette and small talk ensures that we – the laity – are rarely challenged to discuss the depth and development of our faith. A forceful speech made by the Archbishop of Canterbury last week surprised me in its willingness to confront this culture of mediocrity: his uncompromising assertion that ‘the quality of our Christian lives matters very seriously to God’ took aim at the ‘cultural Christianity’ which implicitly views the laity as consumers to be satisfied, rather than ‘living stones’ to be built into ‘a spiritual house, a holy priesthood’. Low expectations are not clearly confined to one wing or tradition of the Church.

To state this critique plainly is not, of course, to invite blame and recrimination – particularly as I am aware of my own complicity in this culture of low expectations. I should also be wary of exaggeration: there are many examples of church communities who are committed to deepening the holiness and discipleship of the whole people of God. The Revd Dr Ian Mobsby has written at length about how ‘new monastic’ communities, for instance, are enabling ‘the empowering of the people of God, the laity, to be the Church, moving away from passivity and “church going” to participation and “church being”’.[1] Moreover, we are rightly suspicious of an overbearing clericalism which seeks to impose a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of discipleship, based on crude understandings of theology and spirituality; many Anglicans would push back firmly against such a model, emphasising instead the need for humility and freedom in discipleship, open to the promptings of the Spirit. Nonetheless, it is appropriate and necessary for clergy and lay leaders to provide resources, guidance and teaching to support ordinary Christians in their spiritual journeys. Often, this will involve explicit guidance in the practice of contemplative prayer – described by Rowan Williams as ‘the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit’.[2] Seeking to live as a Christian in today’s sceptical postmodern climate can be a difficult and bewildering task; providing spiritual guidance and direction is thus vital to the priestly role of guiding God’s people ‘through [the world’s] confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever’.[3] To affirm that Christian faith is ultimately a mystery does not mean abdicating responsibility for helping the faithful to plumb the depths of this mystery in prayer and wonder, and in doing so to grow into the likeness of Christ.

The Church of England is currently facing an existential crisis. Disagreements abound over whether the Church should be prioritising spiritual or numerical growth. The answer, of course, is that these priorities can’t be separated: the Church becomes attractive not through its hyperactive apologetics, or through the frantic multiplying of worship styles and ‘fresh expressions’ to meet consumer demand. Rather, the Church becomes attractive when it models a new way of living: when a gathered community of disciples worship God in faith, hope, and love, bearing witness to the image of God in Christ through their very being and living. ‘You are the light of the world’, said Jesus. Perhaps it’s time to raise our expectations.

 

[1] Ian Mobsby, God Unknown: The Trinity in contemporary spirituality and mission (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012), p. 65.
[2] Rowan Williams, ‘Archbishop’s Address to the Synod of Rome’, 10 October 2012, available here.
[3] Extract from the Church of England Ordinal for priests, available here.

The Seven Disciplines of Evangelisation: Bishop Steven Croft

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The following is an important paper on the future of the Church of England, which is to be discussed at General Synod next month. I am grateful to The Revd David Keen for alerting me to it, and for Bishop Steven Croft for generously suggesting that his readers share it widely to promote discussion throughout the Church.


Over the last six weeks I’ve been trying to develop a discussion paper on evangelisation in dialogue with a number of groups locally and nationally. The paper is a reflection arising from the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October.  It was originally prepared to introduce a discussion among diocesan bishops in the Church of England.  I developed it further after that conversation and have now presented the ideas in a couple of dioceses to groups of clergy and in a variety of other places.

The feedback has been largely positive and so I’m posting the latest version of the paper here as very much “work in progress”.  Feel free to reproduce it for discussion in any way that is helpful.


The Seven Disciplines of Evangelisation
A discussion paper
Steven Croft
June, 2013. 
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” John 3.16
In October 2012 I was the Anglican Fraternal Delegate to the Synod of Bishops in Rome: a three week gathering of Roman Catholic Cardinals and Bishops with Pope Benedict to explore the single theme of the new evangelization.
The Synod of Bishops was a rich experience of listening to another Church reflect on the challenge of growing the Church and of the role of Bishops in leading that process.
This paper is a reflection arising from sharing in the Synod and my own experience thus far of attempting to develop vision and strategy for growth within the Diocese of Sheffield and more widely.
The paper is framed as a series of brief propositions and questions for discussion.
The paper was originally prepared as a discussion paper for the annual meeting of Diocesan Bishops and Archbishops of the Church of England on 10th April, 2013. I have made some revisions to the paper following discussion with fellow bishops.  The original paper had five disciplines. I have now added a sixth (placed first) following a suggestion made by the Bishop of London and a seventh (placed last) taking up a number of suggestions made by colleagues, including the Bishop of Connor whose diocese I visited the day after the English bishops meeting.
The original title of the paper was “How may bishops lead in growing the Church?”.  I have retained some of the emphasis on the role of bishops specifically in the text of this version of the paper.  However I believe the questions of how to give leadership in this area is relevant to all ordained and lay people who share in the oversight of God’s Church.*  I therefore hope that the paper will be relevant to a number of groups across the Church of England and not only bishops.
1.         Growing the Church in the present context is immensely challenging
I returned from the Synod of Bishops convinced that the Church all over the world is having the same conversation about the challenge and difficulty of evangelization.  I expected to hear about challenge and difficulty from Europe and North America and about growth and hope from Asia, Africa and South America.  There were some contrasts but in fact the picture was much more one of challenge in the face of a uniform, powerful, global secularizing culture.
The difficulty in the transmission of the faith in the face of this secularizing culture is at the root of many of the other difficulties we grapple with as Churches (apparent lack of finance, vocations, the need to re-imagine ministry, decreasing resources to serve the common good).
The questions we are grappling with in our dioceses and in the Church of England are not unique to Anglicans or to Christians in Britain or the Church in Europe.  They are global questions and, I would argue, the single most serious challenge the Church will face in the next generation.
How should we lead and guide the Church in this aspect of our life given this challenging context?
We need to be realistic about the challenges.  We need to practice and live hope as a key virtue in leadership.  We need to be deeply rooted in prayer and in the scriptures.  We need to be aware that the leadership we offer individually and bishops, clergy and lay people sets a tone and makes a difference to the whole church. We need to prioritise thinking and reflection around this issue.  We should beware of simplistic rhetoric and easy solutions. 
2.         We need a richer dialogue on evangelization and growing the Church
The Synod of Bishops was able to set aside three whole weeks to deal with a single issue and was itself part of a longer five year process leading up to and from the Synod.  This meant that there was in depth engagement with the subject over many hours of listening within a coherent and transformational process.   Major theological and practical resources will in due time emerge from this process.
By contrast, many discussions of growing the Church and evangelization at senior level in the Church of England are superficial, skate over the surface of the issues and make little progress.
Some of the reasons for this are:
·      The agendas of bishops meetings and other meetings are dominated by questions of gender and ministry and human sexuality leaving little quality space for deeper engagement with evangelization.
·      We feel a constant need to balance our agendas between serving the common good on the one hand and evangelization/growth on the other as if they were in competition (there was no evidence of this in Rome).  It becomes impossible to devote even a whole day to growth and evangelization.
·      The evangelization and growth agenda is seen as the province of a particular church tradition and which is regarded with suspicion by those not of that tradition (again there was no evidence of this in Rome).
·      It is also possible that, as individuals and as a body, we see the complexity of the call to grow the Church and we are in danger of being overwhelmed by that complexity.  It is easier to address the more specific questions.
·      At the same time there is a prevailing myth that we ought to be (and perhaps some are) competent at leading the Church into growth and therefore we don’t need to focus our conversation here.

How can we better develop this richer dialogue on evangelization and growing the Church to nourish our individual and corporate leadership as bishops?…

 


[Please now go to Bishop Steven’s blog to read the rest of this important piece…]

* The highlighting of this sentence, which seemed particularly relevant to Lay Anglicana, is my own. Ed.

The image is via Wikimedia.

A New Evangelisation: Taylor B. Carey

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‘Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here’

To walk through the centre of St Andrews of a Sunday morning is to bear witness to the magnificent reality of those words, taken from David Evans’ popular hymn. It is to see Presbyterian, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Free Church and Anglican alike prepare to meet God in prayer and praise, each with overlapping traditions and rituals, customs and perspectives. This is sacred time, an atmosphere of which pervades the ancient town – itself a product of the astonishing faithful witness of its founder, St Regulus.  The stones which line the walls and pave the streets of St Andrews have seen all too much suffering and human failure in their often violent history, yet there remains an inescapable sanctity which seems to lie precisely in their longevity. St Andrews constitutes a continuing, unobtrusive act of witness to the love of God on earth.

As I walk to the University Chapel for a weekly non-denominational act of worship, I pass churches and congregations proclaiming their welcome. Some have representatives outside the doors – even on the street – supporting and urging pilgrims on their way. Others have loud banners proclaiming the loving welcome of God. Above it all echoes the peeling of St Andrews’ many bells, dutifully proclaiming and reminding – not least if I find myself running late.

This, we might say, is all tied up in what it means to ‘evangelise’. The word – a piece of jargon meaning quite simply to bear the good news – routinely produces embarrassment in certain Christian quarters, and attracts particular hostility from a secular society for whose enlightened soundscape it entails a form of noise pollution. From these common perspectives, evangelisation is prone to descend into distinctly alien emotivism, and revolve around a handy self-help manual called the Bible, with Christ acting as something of a personal trainer. ‘Just believe in Jesus’, I have been told, with some fervour, on the streets of my university town. To which my only possible reply can be to point out that the word ‘just’ looks conspicuously out of place.

I suspect quite a few people who have no real desire to explore the Christian faith feel similarly. How can they ‘just’ believe in Jesus when the kinds of life solutions being presented are straw men bearing little relevance to contemporary realities? How does the divorced single parent or the homosexual adolescent ‘just’ believe in an account of reality which seemingly writes their role out of the script? And why do we need this Jesus? Occasionally, he helps someone pass an exam (or so they say), but what about someone with terminal cancer? The ‘Jesus pill’ being offered seems scandalously unreliable, regardless of how much the patient might ‘just’ want to believe in its efficacy.

And so ‘evangelisation’ becomes synonymous with that comfortably weird, marginal and eccentric behaviour so inherent in religious types, and so easy for secular society to reject. It frequently bemuses and occasionally offends. It provides for a literary career for a certain type of atheist, and precipitates all kinds of idiotic debate over religious expression. It is met with an equally shrill, reactionary and unthinking response, culminating in a kind of intellectual race to the bottom. Amidst this downward spiral, positions are hardened and ignorance is reinforced – on both sides. Indeed, the language of war and martyrdom is frequently flaunted in a self-justificatory tone; the ever-menacing presence of ‘the other’ forms something of a psychological comfort blanket. Underlying insecurities are pasted over with Pharisaic mantras – ‘We’re not like them’ – which divide and devalue. All the while, unconditional commandments – of which love is the most important – are qualified, re-hashed and domesticated.

And yet, amidst all of this, God seems to point to another way of doing things. I remember being at a particularly squashed house party, in a room with deafening music and free-flowing alcohol, when someone I didn’t know very well tapped me on the shoulder. Cupping their hands to my ear just to be heard, they began to tell me – quite independently of any prompting – why they had begun to go to Church. Some months earlier, their closest friend had died suddenly of a heroin overdose, fuelled by a hitherto unknown addiction. This had caused such astonishing pain and shock among friends and family that it had torn apart whole networks of relation. One day, feeling lower than ever and on the brink of despair, they had decided to go to their local church. They didn’t think much of the rituals and patterns or the hymns and prayer, but they did sit there and feel – perhaps for the first time – unconditionally loved, embraced and supported. They felt safe, not put upon or the object of unwelcome attention. Sometimes they sat there in complete silence, sometimes in an empty church long after its services had concluded. But they came back, again and again, to a place where they sensed there was always more to encounter. Somehow, there was a depth and integrity to this space, opening up like one of those Russian icons of the Transfiguration, which provided a context into which they could sink their deepest anxieties and fears.

Hearing that story made me think about what it means to ‘welcome the stranger’ into our midst. All too often, we have visions of a triumphant celebration – perhaps the story of the Prodigal Son comes to mind – which are far too much on our own terms, and a product of our own egos to be of any use. Amongst the most wonderful sayings of the fourth century Desert Fathers is the statement of Abba Moses the Black:

‘Our life and our death are with our neighbour, if you gain the neighbour or the brother or sister, you gain God, you must die to your neighbour and never judge at all in any way whatever’.

On the surface, the exhortation to ‘gain the neighbour’ seems to be a straightforward sanctioning of stereotyped evangelism. Yet, probing deeper, it is precisely this vision which is disrupted. To die to the neighbour is to relinquish any private realm in which difference can be turned into advantage. It is to commit wholeheartedly to a Christian vision of community which sees putting others in touch with God as a basic, structural task. As Abba John the Dwarf explained:

‘You don’t build a house by beginning with the roof and working down, you begin within a foundation…The foundation is our neighbour whom we must win. That is the place to begin. Every commandment of Christ depends on this one’.

Creating a context in which people may encounter God thus becomes a basic pillar of justice in the Christ-shaped community. After all, perhaps this is all we can say the Church actually is – a succession of people who have been touched by God, by a transformative encounter (and that doesn’t necessarily imply a ‘moment’ of assurance) with Jesus Christ. And key to the provision of this context is the removal of obstacles which may hinder that free-flowing, kenotic relationship between God and His people. As the Desert Fathers recognised, the most common obstacle to this remains the most difficult to remove: us.

Thomas Merton once spoke of entering the desert not to isolate oneself, but to find God in others. His insight cuts to the heart of the problem so many of us face in our communal relationships with our brothers and sisters. The temptation in ‘winning the neighbour’ is to begin with a fixed idea of where God is, and what His relationship with the neighbour ought to look like. But the Desert Fathers are clear: all judgement, all separation of knowledge from love, must be utterly abandoned. We can’t compete for space with one another in an effort to circumscribe the workings of God. Rather, we have a commitment to access that transcendental presence of God at the absolute centre of the human person, and in so doing tear down all false constructions of ‘otherness’ towards our brothers and sisters.

The Egyptian desert in the fourth century provided the setting for one such renewal of communal spirituality; perhaps today’s churches and congregations, gathered for weekly acts of worship, provide the context for another. If so, how might this transform our vision of ‘evangelism’? For a start, there simply could not be a context in which the Christian faith could be ‘prescribed’ by another. God is so utterly mysterious that any attempt to sketch out His ‘effects’ would inevitably lapse into heresy – if not outright blasphemy. Furthermore, the basic foundation of evangelism would not be didactic; rather, it would be an ‘unselfing’ activity in which a community found its Christ-oriented life in seeking the transcendental presence of God in each of its members. The stranger thus becomes not an object for faceless assimilation, but a divine anarchist, unsettling a community’s comfortable patterns of glib domesticity with their radical freshness. It is the community who must find a way of resonating with the Grace of God present in them, through providing a context in which all might be able to offer their gifts free from interference. St Paul certainly realised this in exhorting the Christians at Corinth to recognise their individual gifts as given ‘for the common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7); the well-being of the Body of Christ as a whole depends upon a foundation of unity in which individuals have ‘died’ to the neighbour and withdrawn from intruding on the relationships of others with God.

Every week, in the College Chapel of St Salvator, students, staff and townsfolk gather to worship God. The non-denominational service includes hymns, choral anthems, prayers and a sermon, often with visiting preachers from diverse backgrounds and Christian traditions.  Not surprisingly, each service has something of a different flavour. The liturgy is relaxed, reverent but accessible. An optional service of communion follows the main act of worship. Throughout the two years I have been attending, one thing has repeatedly fascinated me: there are always new faces each week. Sometimes, these ‘strangers’ seem to leap into the rhythms, patterns and rituals, evidently at home. For others, the real meaning of being welcomed is to be able to sit quietly at the back, absorbing, questioning and being still. Could it be that here, for just a moment, that vision of non-interference, that humility of communal life which involves ‘dying to the neighbour’, might be glimpsed? Has the real meaning of ‘evangelisation’ been rediscovered, consisting not in prescriptions and human solutions, but in attentiveness to the presence of God in the very core of each and every person, and the provision of a context in which people can encounter Jesus Christ? As I ponder these things on my way to each service, the words of the hymn form again and again in my mind: ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here’.

God is here, and sometimes we need to recognise when to let Him work.


The illustration is  a 16th century Russian icon of the transfiguration in the Hermitage Museum. Via Wikimedia.

 

Back to Basics: Aristophanes Was The Original Complementarian

 

I expect you know from your own experience, as do I, that in the workplace you need input from both men and women to achieve the best results. But this is a subjective statement – how can I prove it to you?

Well, if you watch ‘The Apprentice’, I think you will agree that, year after year, the initial single-sex teams are much less successful at the given tasks than when the sexes are mixed up at a later stage.  Stereotypically, women bring a priori  thinking, commonsense, intuition and imagination to the table, whereas men bring a posteriori   thinking, logic, ‘inside the box’ and clear-headedness.

 

Christian Complementarianism

This commonsense wisdom has been transmuted by some Christian denominations into ‘complementarianism’ (not, please, ‘complimentarianism’ which, if it were a word, would mean paying each other compliments!). I have no problem with the idea that the sexes are complementary (or complete each other) – this is exactly what I believe. I have always found wisdom in the eastern idea of yin and yang, the two opposing but complementary harmonies, each of which carries the germ of the other: none of us is 100% male or 100% female.

But these denominations then make a huge leap (with no logical justification that I can see, other than selective editing of the Bible) to say that women may only serve the Church in subservient roles.  There is a wealth of material on this in cyberspace: James Prescott blogged on 8 November;  Rachel Held Evans makes a lot of sense to me in ‘Complementarians are selective too‘; Krish Kandiah blogged today on ‘Women, Men, Church and Twitter‘ , summing up the debate. He concludes:

I know there are evangelical Christians on both sides of the debate. I know there are good and bad arguments being used by both sides. I know there are actually a range of egalitarian and complimentarian positions. There are “hard” and “soft” proponents. There are those that are lead more by the scripture than by the culture and those that are lead more by the culture than the scripture – on both sides. I know there are people that have been hurt on both sides of this debate, and I recognise that women who have felt their God given calling have been dismissed have been particularly hurt. My hope is that we can build a centre ground coalition that champions the centrality of the gospel, the authority of scripture and a gracious respect and honouring of women and the recognition of the need for a hermeneutic of humility when it comes to the scriptures and a spirit of generosity when it comes to those we disagree with. I want to start a peace process – not just that we agree to disagree but that we find a way through an issue that is splitting the church right down the middle…I’d love to know why you think this is the issue that is dividing the church at the moment?

The Wisdom of the Ancients

But  is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us (Ecclesiastes 1.10). In this case, it was in 385 BC that Aristophanes’ spoke on the origins of romantic love at Plato’s Symposium, here described by Dr Edward Spence, in ‘A Tale of Two Loves‘:

Aristophanes offers a story dealing with human nature and the human condition. Human beings were once spherical, with eight limbs like an octopus: four arms and four legs, one head with two faces and four ears and two sets of genitals, male or female, or both, so that they were any one of three kinds: male-male, male-female, and female-female. One day they offended the gods and to punish them Zeus cut them in half, scattering the two severed halves in opposite directions. Since that day, we are always searching for our other half. When a half meets its other half, each is overcome by Eros and each delights in being with the other. The reason for this is not, or at least not merely, a desire for sexual intercourse: on the contrary, the soul of each wishes for something it cannot put into words. Lovers desire to live a common life and die a common death, to become One again, in a complete and lasting union. The reason for this is our ancient nature: we were once a unified Whole. ‘Eros’ Aristophanes tells us, ‘Is the desire and pursuit of Wholeness’.

 

Aristophanes’ Story is the Story of the Fall

Aristophanes’ story is the story of the Fall; not dissimilar to that of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Heaven. We need healing, precisely because, when whole, we were impious and arrogant, prepared in our wholeness to challenge the gods. We find an analogous story of humanity’s fall from grace in Plato’s dialogue the Phaedrus. In that dialogue, Socrates relates to the character Phaedrus, (who also features in the Symposium) how our souls were once winged and circled the heavens with the gods until – getting too close to earth they became enamored with its sights and sounds and lost their wings, crash-landing to earth like Ikaros. But once in a while,upon encountering the face of the beloved, our souls become amorously and strangely agitated, and growing wings again long to take flight to the heavens from which they came.

 

If you want to understand ‘complementarian’, I suggest you need to look hard at the yin and yang Taoist symbol again:

Yin and Yang illustrated from the Tao Te Ching

 Being and non-being produce each other.

Difficult and easy complement each other.

Long and short define each other.

High and low oppose each other.

Fore and aft follow each other.

 

How did the idea of yin being superior to yang, or yang being superior to yin ever come into it?

 

 

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This post is based on ‘Why we need both women and men in the church’ first published on 4 November as a guest post on Anna Blanch’s blog, Goannatree.

Complementarianism is part of the much wider topic of Dualism, which you can read a short introduction to here.

 

Image Credit: ‘Stained glass in the university’ by Nikita Starichenko licensed from Shuttercock.

Image Credit: The Tao image is downloaded from wikimedia under a creative common licence.

Why ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ Is Sometimes Not Enough

Seen here from the Millennium Bridge, this picture makes it very clear that St Paul’s Cathedral is at the heart of the City of London. The past turbulent week has made it equally clear that the Church, while offering the vision of ‘a shining city on a hill’, needs also to be in the very midst of its people. Whether the ‘Occupy LSX’ protesters’ encampment was diverted to St Paul’s by a quirk of fate or, as some have suggested, the hand of God, they represent those with whom the Church needs to engage in this 21st century.

The  protesters have been criticised for not having solutions to the problems we face, but then no one else has the solutions either. What they do have is a series of questions which society as a whole, and the Church as part of that society, needs to debate. The Bishop of London offered a debate under the dome of St Paul’s, but a better response from the Church might be a ‘Fresh Expression’ of worship and debate, a more informal way of doing things. One can imagine the cry: ‘we asked for bread and you gave us petits fours‘.

The situation has precipitated a crisis at St Paul’s, with the unprecedented resignation (for different reasons) of its Dean, Canon Chancellor and Chaplain. Part of the reason for the resignations is the prospect of forcibly evicting the protesters. Although it is understandable that the reaction of the civil authorities in the City of London is that this ‘eyesore’ should be cleared away as soon as possible, and certainly in time for the Lord Mayor’s Show on 12th November,  those outside this charmed circle of plutocrats can’t help feeling that they still don’t ‘get it’. Tumbrils have been mentioned on Twitter (though admittedly in the context of ‘Downton Abbey’) but the plutocrats’ reaction is unfortunately reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, on being told that the people had no bread to eat, asking why on earth they did not eat brioche instead.

‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ did not work for Marie Antoinette, and I fear it will not work for St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Church as a whole either.

Some leap of the imagination needs to be made. Some way of connecting with the protesters needs to be found. If the cathedral authorities have really decided that the single most important objective is their removal, then let it at least not be by riot police.

What about rigging up some amplification system and then, borrowing from our Catholic friends the system of Canonical Hours, broadcast at full volume the various offices of the day? These begin at 3.00 a.m. with Lauds and finish about 9.00 pm with Compline. Since the volume would need to be quite loud to have the desired effect, the clergy (working to a rota of course) might need to wear ear muffs. I suggest that after a day or two only the deafest and devoutest of the protesters would still be there, the others having decided to seek asylum elsewhere.

 

For me, the most encouraging photograph was of Bishop Richard Chartres sitting on a camp stool  in the thick of what looked like friendly but lively discussion. The questions that the protesters are asking are existential ones: why should the Christian faith not provide some of the answers? Over the last five centuries, the management of the Church of England has become as baroque as the architecture of St Paul’s. For those of us who appreciate that sort of thing, its baroque – or even rococo – qualities are part of the attraction. We know that underlying it all is ‘the old rugged cross’: perhaps we need to get it down from the belfries of our churches and show outsiders the essential simplicity of Christ’s answer to some of the most difficult questions, such as the rich young man who wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19.16-30).

 

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Note

The photograph was taken by Kunstlebob on 22 July 2011 and is made available under CCL via wikimedia.

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