MAGGI DAWN’S DYING FROM POLITENESS - as so often with Maggi’s posts – speaks so succinctly for me of precisely the predicament I find myself in, in company with countless women and men of goodwill I encounter in a really very ordinary pastoral ministry. For so many of us it’s just such a complete no-brainer that the Church must open its doors wider for ALL of God’s people – all of whom fall short of one person’s “ideal” or another. Moats and planks-in-the-eye come to mind when I witness prurient obsession with the perceived failings of others.
But at the same time I’m really not insensible of the complexities of the current situation. On the one hand Jane Shaw’s observation that TEC “is not going grey in the pews” is one we’ve got to take seriously – “inclusion” is really not an “issue” for most young people, here or in the US, it’s just a given – and one I thank God for. And I’m with MadPriest’s “accept diversity and leave the hard work to the Spirit”. And Kathryn at Good in Parts is certainly not alone in believing that “catholicism and inclusion should be synonyms”. But the weight of opposition – in some even to the word “inclusion” – does bring wearied ones to their knees.
Sincerity is patently observable in the rank and file of all sides of the argument. But argument it nonetheless remains, and ordinary democratic process just doesn’t cut the mustard here. Is the majority view to prevail or is the minority to be presumed right because of a noisier show of faith-full-ness? How are we to arrive at a place where the Anglican Communion can truly and peacefully say “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us”. We’ve prayed often enough that the Spirit of God might “disturb our false peace”. Maybe the prayers are in the throes of being answered in ways we didn’t expect – or pray for! Certainly we should be waiting more keenly upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit than upon the reflections of an always beleaguered, whichever way he turns, Archbishop of Canterbury. How we love to find someone to “wait for”. Someone to blame for failing to do or to be what we told him to be or to do. René Girard’s Scapegoat comes too readily to mind.
“God will send an angel into this”, said a wise and faithful (Roman Catholic) priest to whom I once poured out my troubled soul over some (now forgotten) situation. “I don’t know how or whom but I know that God will send an angel into this.”
Many, of course, believed that Archbishop Rowan’s appointment signalled the arrival of a modern-day Archangel Gabriel. Someone who’d do all our growing up for us, keeping the always-expected sibling rivalries at least at bay if not entirely subdued. Rowan the Brave. Waver of the magic wand. But that assumption and that hope was neither fair, nor realistic, nor Christian, nor, actually, the vocation of an angel. Angels are messengers, neither politician nor diplomat, and they don’t carry magic wands.
Archbishop Rowan’s task, like Gabriel’s, has been that of the messenger, the bearer, in many and divers times and places, of the good news that “shepherds on the hillsides” are no longer to be afraid. “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, for to you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord”. A Saviour who conquered the world by means of a vulnerable love and not by the introduction of a whole new menu of fears. And he has said (in this St Oswald’s Day Gospel) “take courage: I have conquered the world” – John 16.33. No breather of threats, this Saviour, but a baby (someone whose destiny is to “grow up”). One in need of a loving relationship. Urgently. No-one ever put this more beautifully for me than Austin Farrer, in a sermon entitled “A Grasp of the Hand” …
we will not lift our hands to pull the love of God down to us, but he lifts his hands to pull human compassion down upon his cradle. So the weakness of God proves wiser than men, and the folly of God proves wiser than men. Love is the strongest instrument of omnipotence, for accomplishing those tasks he cares most dearly to perform; and this is how he brings his love to bear on human pride; by weakness not by strength, by need and not by bounty
We’re called, every man, woman and child of us to grow up ourselves. Called to recognise that a gracious God “brings love to bear on human pride” – and sets us an example to follow thereby. And we’ve done quite a bit of growing up in the Church, even in my (50 year) lifetime. I remember being told (and being at times persuaded by the notion) that the life and mission of the Church would be irreversibly, irreparably damaged were it ever to be the case that new liturgies superseded the English Book of Common Prayer on anything more than a very occasional basis. And God alone knew how dire would be the consequences were women ever to be ordained. And it would be no less than mortal sin were I not to be daily concerned with “the blessed unity for which Christ prayed” (but it had better be Rome-wards).
God wrote the prayer book. God called men and he didn’t call women. God called Peter and Peter built the Church for him. And Peter was a Catholic, a Roman Catholic. We know what God wants. The same as he always wanted, now wants, and always will want. All we need to do is do it. ‘Cept we can’t stop fighting each other whilst we try to decide what the kernel of the “it” is.
But then Archbishop Michael Ramsey gleefully reminded us, mobile eyebrows pointing heavenwards, that “We’re the early Christians!” – and I found and I find that I do not know the mind of God. I find that neither Scripture, Tradition nor Reason – all of which give me a great deal to work with, all of which are firm foundations for Christian faith, give me anything like the confidence I’d need to be able to say that I KNOW, definitively, what God WANTS. I believe that there are Christian people, and women and men of good faith and goodwill, all over the world, who are growing up. A lot. And the up and coming generation are helping us to grow up some more, even as they are. And in the growing I think of God as ever greater, not in any way diminished, more widely valued, worshipped and adored. Lord and God. Creator of everything that is. Seen and unseen. I believe that I can and do know that God is love. And that his love is intended to cast out fear.
Imagine a new world in which people of faith were less sure of the detail of their religious faith but more sure of God’s love for them and for all humankind. Imagine.
Who, then, might be the angel for our time, who the angel that Canon Chris Dwyer was sure would come, when I spoke to him years ago. Are even the angels dying from politeness? Could it be that the messengers are actually meant to be you and me? “God will send an angel into this”. Maybe the angel for today is the ordinary woman, man and the child in the street, people just like thee and me. The hitherto shy souls, the none-too-sure-of-themselves souls, the “light on their wings” ones who hear and proclaim a new song. Maybe the angels for today are the people who’ve hitherto left “The Message” to the trained, the articulate, the highly educated, the sophisticated. “Let the little children come to me. Do not try to stop them.”
Maybe those of us who are inspired by some if not all of the prophetic voices we hear in The Episcopal Church in the US, maybe those of us who were quietly thrilling, hopeful, smiling and laughing as we watched video broadcast of Bishop Barbara Harris’ preaching at the Convention’s Integrity Eucharist, maybe those of us who admire the grace of Dean Jeffrey John, maybe those of us who warm to the simple goodness of Bishop Gene Robinson’s broad smile, maybe those of us who hear Archbishop Tutu’s message as a word for the world, maybe those of us who’d love opportunity to work with and alongside some of the brave new pioneers in the US – ought to SAY SO! It’s not warlike uprising I want to encourage. More a much broader, maybe even an angelic conversation. For …
… “with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long. Beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong. And man at war with man hears not the love song which they bring. O hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing” – E H Sears
I’m a lucky man, for day by day and week by week I live with and look upon hundreds of godly people who gather to hush the noise. And, in a parish church, under the patronage of St Michael & All the Angels, that really tries to hear what God’s messengers of peace have got to say, today.
There was grace aplenty to be seen in Archangel Gabriel, and grace aplenty too in Archbishop Michael Ramsey. And grace all abounding in Archbishop Rowan. May each of them stir in us the will again, to be the early Christians.