Sunday, 17 January 2016

Dear Archbishop Justin,

I've not troubled you before, and have little hope that this letter will make any impact or difference, but after the goings-on at the Primates' Meeting in Canterbury this week. I feel compelled to write about something you might not have had the opportunity to ponder in your thinking about gay people and our relationships.

Overall, the hierarchies of the various nominally Anglican churches would seem to have regarded the proceedings as a success. The Americans aren't particularly crestfallen at being marginalised for refusing to treat LGBTI Christians as second-class members, the Africans are feeling encouraged in their view that we are not Christian at all. The "Anglican Communion" still exists. And you have issued a fulsome apology for the way we have been treated over the years, and continue to be, and will be in the future.

And we're not very grateful. The reason for this is that we understand a lot more about truth and lies than the hierarchy of our church does. Growing up gay, and eventually coming to terms with it, in a world which because of attitudes like those espoused by the Primates' Meeting last week, is fundamentally hostile, is a costly business. Many of us go through phases of lying to others, family and friends as well as strangers, and even to ourselves, about who we really are. And then the pretence ends, and we take the leap of faith that "the truth shall make you free", and it does. And telling the truth hurts. It can break up friendships, and wreck family love. It is a scary business, and we cannot know its outcome. But telling the truth does make us free. And once the truth has set us free, we are free for the love that casts out fear too.

This is why the finding of clever forms of words which manage to conceal, or avoid, the truth leave us cold. We've taken the chance, we've been brave, we've risked our lives and happiness, for the sake of the truth, and for love.

And we do not find you doing so.

Don't tell us you love us, when your actions show you don't. Don't apologise for past offences against us when you do nothing to stop their being repeated now and in the future.

If you want to impress us, then telling the truth in word and deed will achieve it. Even if it's not what we want to hear. But we're sick of being lied to, and lied about. We understand lies, and we see right through them.

Yours sincerely,

(The Revd) Richard Haggis
formerly a Church of England, but still an Anglican, priest

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Thought On A Day Off - after a week's work!

It's been eight years since I had work like this. And the Night Shelter wasn't quite like this, as it was three days on, three days off. A most peculiar regime, and I should have thought an absolute nightmare for anyone with children who needed looking after (and do any children not?). But here it was, 9-1, then 8.30-12.30 the last day to let me get to my other job, every day, Monday to Friday. And today was a day off work. Unheard-of!

Now, as Max Miller might say, here's a funny thing. It's a new thing to be respected (bear in mind, I live alone at present, and am butler to two difficult cats). Not in any pathetic and subservient way, but in a "you're doing this thing for us, and you're going to be OK" sort of way. There was a new desk, a new chair, a new computer, and a new printer. They all work. People telephone asking for the last chap who ran the office, and I have to say "no, but there's me". And they are generally OK about that. And usually they ask after the last chap, because he is the soul of kindness and generosity, and has obviously given a good impression of my place of work these long years. Happily, he is still around to give much needed advice and direction.

For me the church is a sympathetic building. I've never been a rococo Anglo-Catholic, and its clean Georgian lines remind me of my favourite church ever, S. Giles-in-the-Fields. I think perhaps the lines are just a little too non-conformistly clean to count as "Palladian", but it's not far off. And there is a commitment to welcome, to anyone who comes in from the street, wanting a cup of coffee, or to look round, or even to pray. They can light candles. I didn't think Baptists would approve of candles. I was wrong. I tried to introduce them at S. Giles, but I was narrowly outvoted.

The dynamic of me - an Anglican - working for them - Baptists - feels good. The reason is that I have no idea how to be a good Baptist, and wouldn't presume to tell them. The different church polity, the ten deacons, the monthly "church meeting" for every one to chip in, this is all so very new. It's fascinating. If I were working in this capacity (administrator) for an Anglican church, I'd be telling them how to get it right. It's really rather liberating to know nothing, and to have to learn.

There have been spikes and prickles, of course, but also little triumphs, like securing a room booking which should make a decent amount of money for relatively little effort apart from the toil that went into creating the room in the first place. On Friday it was time to print the Sunday service sheet. The photocopier wouldn't switch on. Friday is the one day I have to leave smartly on time to attend to my wheelchair-pushing other job. Should have checked the thing on Thursday. First thing next week, it will be fixed, but at least we know we have a spare printer that can do the job more laboriously and probably expensively, as a stop-gap.

After these long years mainly alone in my intravert's cave, I find it stimulating to be around cheerful people. This is a very good thing.

The journey there and back - walking, of course - is also a part of it. I have generally resented having to go into central Oxford these last months, as I was being required to turn up by the Jobcentre or Maximus (the outfit they farm out the no-hopers to in the expectation that they will either be bullied into submission, a lousy job, or an early death). It's rather different when you're going to earn your crust, and quite voluntarily. The mornings are beautiful. The birds, rain or shine, shout the heavens down. It's glorious to listen to - as you follow early-bird schoolchildren with plugs in their ears from the bundle of plastic and string they're holding in their hands, which mean they can't hear a real thing.

The school children can be amusing in their way. The last time I posted, I'd noted some girls, and a correspondent wondered why there were no boys. A day or two later there was a boy - those same girls were ahead of him - an aficionado of the cult of the skin-tight trouser leg. Apart from his good head of hair, he resembled Max Wall, as he ambled along. I doubt many people have the slightest idea who he was! You often saw him on "Variety" shows on the telly when I was small. He was a bit creepy. I hope this particular fashion soon dies its natural death.

Walking back one afternoon, round the edge of a playing field, beyond Mesopotamia, I was thinking to myself "well, there's a pretty, fair, little thing". As he passed me, I saw he was wearing a dogcollar. That must surely be the definition of middle-age - that even the clergy look like youngsters.

But in my new job I am no longer clergy - although I've been invited to take mid-week prayers (as a layman!) - I am just trying to make things work well for this rather interesting, well-resourced, hopeful, church, in the centre of our town.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2016

Monday, 4 January 2016

Thoughts On A Walk To Work


Needless to say, it was a sleepless night. You apply for a simple job, after years of not being employed at all, and your mind can't settle. Nor be realistic. I got up shortly after four. The World Service was very interesting. I was going to iron my trousers, and then decided against, as I'd only get it wrong and I couldn't afford to make them worse. I chose a jacket. They are pretty informal types at the Baptist Church, and I'd have worn a jumper, but all mine are in the wash. Or rather, in the laundry bin, waiting for enough jumpers to justify a wash, and the central heating required to dry them. And then I posted things on Facebook. It must have been five by then, and still dark. And the cats demanded to be fed, and that done, to be let out into the unknowable gloom. Tea, of course. Shoes. Diary. Notebook. Nearly out the door, and then remembered the church keys. All 40 of them. And then out into the light that would smack you in the face if you called it twi.

At the top of the hill, at just before 7.30, I looked over the reluctant dawn over an even more reluctant Barton. It is always a most inspiring view. So English, tranquil, uninterested. It invites you to play, but if you don't want to, well, it doesn't much care.

Through the underpass, following three girls on their way to school. Teens of some sort. Two quite modishly skinny, the other broad as a bus. Fat or thin, they couldn't work out that to get through the bars that are welded into the pathway to slow bikes down, you can't go two abreast. I sped up, pondering whether the plump girl was keeping up with the cool girls, as her face hung around them like a nosebag. It was a nice face, compared to the other two. But what do I know about girls?

I overtook, and carried on through Old Headington, and the newly-tarted-up tower of S. Andrew's Church, and through into Marston. It was a nice time of day, not night, but not light. I saw early starlings flittering and hoped for brief moments that they might be late bats. Of course, you never see bats that size in England. (You do in Brasil, though, and they're fruit bats, and shit all over the cars, and are VERY unpopular.)

Then through Mesopotamia. The waterways have never, in the two and half years I've been walking this route, looked so high so busy and so furious. Like angry, but milked-down, streams of irate coffee, with the mud and silt all stirred up. No roe deer. Some determined people cycling or jogging or just nose-down and power-walking into work. The University is still asleep - Hilary Term doesn't start for a while yet - but we were told on the Farming Programme at 5.45 that there are not one, but two, agricultural conferences going on in Oxford this week. I'd rather like to listen. But that would be eccentric.

And then I was there too soon. What to do? Anxious enough for the loo, that was open. And wandering round the market, to see that the Poles haven't quite finished off all the carp (did you know Eastern Europeans like to eat carp at Christmastime? Tried it once, thanks to my friend the Gastronome. Fiddly, and fatty, but once you've got over that, not bad meat).

I couldn't find Werther's Mints in Sainsbury's (they never melt, depressingly, in your pockets), so suddenly it was time. I walked to the door. There were no lights on. Would one of my keys open it? What if an alarm went off? Better to wait. Others arrived, for a different part of the building, so I was admitted to another, in which I could try out my keys. I felt quite clever. Two out of forty isn't bad odds. I rootled round the drawers in the desk. And then someone arrived, a grown-up, to show me around and what's what. And gradually this knot of uncertainty became little problems that could be solved. With other nice people who also wanted to solve them. It was very different from being at home alone. I always want to solve problems - so do the cats - but we're not so good at the nice bit.

And eventually, far sooner than I would had guessed, the time had passed, and the computer and the printer and this and that were set up, notes made, and a fire alarm test done, and there was a real small sense of achievement in my (I was alone now) office.

I hadn't worked like this for years, if ever, and I had survived. And I had enjoyed it.

But the day wouldn't be complete without my last visit to Maximus. Although officially signed-off, I was told that this could be beneficial. I am a compliant beast, as anyone knows. The deal is not miserably ungenerous, although it is certainly eccentric. Maximus can't give you money to tide you over, but it can give you vouchers. Not any old vouchers (what is cash but a voucher?) but for favoured, very large, stores. I made a fuss about the sum not being enough to get me a free delivery. I got my wish. We shall see what arrives.

Home was more than welcome by then, through streets now darkened by the dying of the light, but not, I'm sure, as badly as just before Christmas. I passed the tall elegant figure of a jogger wearing that rather odd modern combination of stockings and shorts, and thought "how nice" until he coughed violently into a hedge (whilst still jogging), and changed my mind. He was followed by two equally athletic, but diminutive girls. I suppose another man might not have still been thinking about that nasty cough.

And so I happened again on my view of Barton, now in darkness.

Well, that had been a new thing. And it would continue tomorrow. But it was a good thing, and that too might continue. Until the cats caught sight of me and berated me soundly for stranding them outside all day in the rain. We went indoors, and I consoled them with ham.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2016

Saturday, 2 January 2016

My Sixth Year Of Six

A friend on Facebook was pondering the anniversaries that this year will bring round, so I got to thinking too. For good measure, I thought I'd add in the half-decades too:

1966: I was born. Something happened in the world of football. Landslide General Election for Labour. Good year for claret and port.

1971: We moved to the house in Wimbledon where I spent most of my childhood. Decimalisation.

1976: The year of the Great Drought. Harold Wilson unexpectedly resigned as PM. 150th anniversary of London Zoo (that's a sesquicentenary).

1981: My paternal grandfather died. First O-levels. We moved to Sussex, and my father and I became commuters.

1986: Irene, my maternal grandmother, died. Went to Ireland to meet her brother. Changed course to Theology.

1991: Left teaching training course. Left first ex after (nearly) five years.

1996: Became an uncle & member of the Older Generation. Was ordained priest. Met second ex. Went to the Holy Land.

2001: "9/11". Second ex left after five years. Became a charity trustee.

2006: Sacked by the C of E. Lived in Brasil for 4 months & saw the Falls at Iguacu. Started work in a homeless hostel.

2011: Cats arrived. Appendix departed.

2016: Starting work for the Baptists (admin, not vicaring). Intending to get published. Will (almost) inevitably be 50.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2016