Wednesday, 21 November 2012

So, Farewell then, Church of England

Letter from Littlemore No. 27 Wednesday, 21st of November 2012 So, Farewell then, Church of England Dear Friends, Some years ago there was a hugely entertaining cover on the periodical magazine Private Eye with the heading “Women Priests – Yes, It’s No” and a photograph of two newly ordained bishops camply holding hands with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, on the steps of a cathedral, with the speech bubble “who needs women priests when they’ve got us?” If memory serves – and I am too old to believe that it often does – the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was against, had voted for, because they’d won the argument, and the Archbishop of York, who was for, voted against, because he didn’t think the time was right. The General Synod had done its evil mischief then, as it has this last week, leading some of us to despair of the Church of England. Intransigent conservatism, absurd politics and psychopathic misogyny were allowed to get in the way of theology and good governance – not to mention the more important and vital matter of the calling of many good and faithful women to serve their church as ordained clergy. It was dismaying then (although later the Holy Spirit’s call to women to serve within the Church as priests was admitted) as it is dismaying now, for those of us who would wish women with the right gifts and skills to be ordained to the episcopate if and as and when it is right and fitting for them to do so. It is hard to convey just how awful this feels to me. I don’t know any women who want to be bishops – although I know several who could do the work well and with immense distinction – but that isn’t the point. The point is a much more personal one. I was doing the sums this morning and it seems that for twenty-four years I have watched the Church of England abuse, dismiss, disdain, and vilify, people I love, people who wanted nothing more than to serve God within its hallowed portals, and in his name to serve the people of this country according to the ancient tradition of Anglicanism, the English church, for all the people of this land. And I’ve been one of them. For years, I only stood up to the hierarchy in private – often in no uncertain terms that they found challenging and shocking. And it got worse. Then I started to do it more publicly, in the newspapers, and on the telly and radio. And it got worse. Now I have nowhere to go, because I simply do not believe any longer that it will get better. Several years ago I said as much to Rowan Williams, the present but soon-to-retire Archbishop of Canterbury, and he agreed. It will not get better. So, my time with the Church of England is at an end. I am, will always be, an Anglican to my fingertips. It’s a way of worshipping, of thinking about God, of turning belief into action, that is entirely natural to me. I didn’t grow up with it, it found me, long years ago, when I was an undergraduate, in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, at evensong each day, and at our little 9 a.m. College Holy Communion services every week. Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, not to mention the whole created order, all helped me on the journey. They made sense of the God I knew was there but whose presence I didn’t know how to honour. So I am forced to a new way of being. I can’t become a Catholic because the claims of the Papacy are absurd (those born in that tradition never have to think about it, and, I find, don’t really think it’s very important); I can’t become a conformist of any other kind. Orthodoxy has its theological charms, but with its attitudes to gay people and women priests, well, that’s not really a promise of a welcome haven. I hope my friends, the Sisters of the Love of God at the Convent of the Incarnation here in Oxford will continue to invite me in to celebrate Holy Communion with and for them. I have no intention of resigning my Holy Orders, as, in the words of the lovely old song “they can’t take that away from me”. But I have became an Anglican without a church, as my own church - not the parish church here in Littlemore which has always been kind and accepting - but the wider institutional Church of England has wandered too far from its own path to be credible any longer. I have felt more at home in the last decade or so with Anglicans in the USA and in Brasil than in my own country. Jumping ship feels like a cowardly thing, but I hope in over twenty years of being faithful to the Church of England, in its mission, in ministry, in worship, preaching, and teaching, I have done the best I could, and not always in the best of circumstances. Tomorrow I will be sending letters to Archbishop Rowan (who once gave me and my first partner a temporary home at Oxford long years ago), and my diocesan bishop, my PCC, my MP, and the chairman of the Parliamentary Ecclesiastical Committee. The spirit of agitation is deep in my soul and I will not let up being a thorn in the flesh of those in power. But 26 years since my confirmation in Christ Church Cathedral on S. David’s Day 1986, by Bishop Patrick Rodger, who was himself confirmed there at the same stage of his own time as an undergraduate, it is time to part company with a church I can no longer respect nor defend. Maybe a new journey begins. I doubt they will miss me; but I shall miss them. With love Richard

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Letter from Littlemore No. 26 Sunday, 11th of November 2012 In Remembrance

In Tesco’s just now it went quiet, for the Two Minutes’ Silence. Not absolutely quiet; some people took their chance to zoom round otherwise busy aisles. But most of us kept the peace for the sake of those who lost their lives in war. I’d say “gave” but I don’t think in most cases it was a very willing gift. And whether they’d look at today’s world and think they gave it for something good, well, I can’t know. And all morning – and most of the night, as His Lordship wasn’t well, and I was playing Florence Nightingale – I’ve been thinking, “what is there to remember?”.

Like most people my age, I don’t know anyone who died in war. So I remember those who didn’t. I remember my father, who was born in the Blitz in London in 1943, and who dimly remembered air raids, and whose acid wit and rationality I miss every day. I remember my cousin Doris, who departed this life last December at 93, but whose father, my Grandad’s favourite brother, Uncle Harry (we always referred to him as “Uncle” even though no one alive had ever known him as that), set things up for his wife, and the daughter he never saw, to become Australians. Uncle Harry died in 1919, having served for the duration in the Royal Navy, and died as a result of the after-war ‘flu’. Sixty-odd years later his daughter took up that citizenship. I remember Sister Cynthia, who perhaps knew Edward VIII’s governorship of a nearby island to her home before she came to England, and became a cornerstone of Fairacres Convent, and who looked after me so kindly and so effortlessly, when I stayed there twenty years ago. I remember John, who served as churchwarden of my favourite church for many years. One of the most civilised men I ever knew. “What do we do now?” we asked after the 9-11 disaster. “We have to convert them …” he replied … “…by example.” And I remember my Great-Uncle John, who did serve in WWII, who taught me about snobbery. He didn’t mean to, he was working on some plumbing at my school long ago. We recognised each other, and chatted until he had to get back to work. “Why did you talk to him?” said my soon-to-be-ex-friends. “He’s my uncle!” I remember the young man who had served in the army all his brief life, then when he fell awkwardly out of a helicopter, he wrecked his back; and the threat of having to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair made him take it. What is there to remember? Rather a lot as it turns out.

Happy Remembrance Day.
With love
Richard