Just back from a wonderful week at New Wine in muddy Somerset! It rained every day, but at least our tent didn’t flood. We went as Grange Park church – the irony being that there were no members of Grange Park church in attendance this year…
One of the questions I was asked in a seminar was what gets me out of bed in the morning. I struggled to answer that for a while, torn between the alarm clock and breakfast! But actually the answer is from John 5. Jesus said he did what he saw the Father doing – I get out of bed to watch what God is doing. I hate missing out on a party or an adventure, so I get out of bed to watch and see what God is doing in/to/around the people I will meet today!
In the prison, watching what God is doing is the best bit of the day. On Monday I knew I needed to talk to a member of staff – she looked most emused when I told her I had been praying for her, and was anything wrong. But it turned out that her husband was about to have an operation and she was concerned that they would find he had cancer.
I don’t know why Jesus tells us to talk to some people and not others, but I know that if I don’t follow His lead, and bless what he is doing, I miss out on the heavenly party somewhere in heaven. That’s probably worth getting out of bed for.
The church is full of snobs. I don’t know why or even how we encourage it, but we clearly do. The worst of the snobbishness presents itself in hymn choices. In the place I work as a chaplain, I am always being asked for ‘All things bright and beautiful’, Morning has broken’, ‘Shine Jesus Shine’, ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’. I can’t say I enjoy any of these very much, certainly not week after week. But music has such an important place in worship that I believe it is vital that we include music that people know, and warm to, whether thay come to church regularly or not.
This morning in church I was asked what we should sing – there had been a bit of a breakdown in communication and no-one chose the hymns until 5 minutes before the service. Luckily, we had a musically literate vicar who covered on the organ! When I was asked what we might sing (as Junior Church leader today) I suggested ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’, only to be asked if I was serious. One of the clergy told me how much they hated it.
The fact that the children know it, it links with their school worship, it is often known by strangers in our midst, and it makes ecological sense was irrelevant to musical snobbery. Very frustrating! The same snobbery prevails in prison, diocesan services, everywhere I seem to go. No wonder our church is so often empty of strangers in our midst.
Must stop being so cynical… It’s summer holidays – perhaps that’s why no children other than mine were in church. And we did sing ‘All things’; Hugh said, ‘We sing this at school’…
The Times suggested this week that bishops “represent a pre-modern for of Christianity, rooted in nostalgia for a powerful, authoritarian Church” (Theo Hobson). They have doubled in number over the last 100 years, while Church attendance has shrunk by 50%. For any Episcopalian, they are a sign and symbol of unity. I wish!
Three weeks on, and I’m still angry about the aftermath of the debate on women bishops at General Synod. As I see it, the House of Bishops brought a motion to Synod that they had voted for by a majority of more than 2/3s. I have always understood that when something is debated and voted upon in committee, it is a matter of honour that those present keep some integrity about supporting the decision made in that meeting.
Not so for the bishops. They seemed to be having a dog fight on the floor of Synod during the debate, quite unable to support each other (or trust one another). And when Synod voted for the motion supported by the majority of the House of Bishops, one bishop told us we should be ashamed of ourselves, and another told us that he thought Synodical government was inappropriate for the church, and we should be led by the Bishops!
This week they meet at Lambeth, and most people, church going or not consider that to be irrelevant. What a mess; no visible unity (though there may be behind closed doors). And while the Church eats with the Queen, avoiding at all cost talking about sex and gender (though the press still thinks that’s all we, the Church, talk about), millions around the world are suffering. Relevance?
Hugh (age 6) took part in his first public stoning today. At his leavers assembly, the children took painted stones to the front of church. For a moment, I wondered if the children were preparing to take part in a stoning of the teachers. Maybe the vicar would call for a ‘Paul’ to stand up and hold their sweaters, and the experience a Damascus moment!
Unfortunately, the reality was far more mundane. After laying the stones in a cairn, the teachers laboured the point that the life of the school was founded on Christ. Like so many similar experiences of school worship, it was difficult to tell whether this was a performance or worship. If worship, why did we clap, and why read out names of those moving to new schools – and an interminable list of the schools they are going to? If a performance, why did we use the church?
Enough of being grumpy – this is the end of a decade at St Oswald’s School, and that is something to celebrate as well as something to be sad about! I’ve made it through babies, and toddlers, and now primary school. Roll on the summer holidays…