Whither do we go – and how?
THE ANGLICAN CHURCH has a three-year plan. It’s called “Being a Beacon of Christ’s Presence In The Community”.
It’s a wonderful idea which has a deep significance for you and me – for Dr John Holder, the Anglican Bishop, has called upon us all to contribute, to participate.
The idea most certainly resonates with me, an Anglican priest of this diocese, who for years has perforce sat beyond the boundary as a mere spectator. It’s good to be part of it all again and, accordingly, over the next months I intend to take Dr Holder at his word and offer my own reflections on the “plan”.
They may not amount to being a “beacon”. But at least think of them as a “kindly light” from one, “far from home”, who never quite made the team but at least can still be seen – and heard – from the shade of the stand.
Accordingly, allow me to share some thoughts upon what Dr Holder, at the annual diocesan service, said about the plan which, using the language of the market place, he asserted is meant to demonstrate that the Anglican Church still offers a “core service or product”.
So: the church is a tradesman. Does that image really help?
He says that it’s a “living document” which must be implemented with a “flexible approach”. I’m unclear what that means precisely but, at least for its first year, as Dr Holder says, it’s about “doing instead of talking”.
So yes, the plan is centred on “activities and events” – a studies programme, a this-or-that month, meetings. Lenten services, a rally, a panel discussion, a national consultation.
It’s certainly going to be a busy time, but let me simply express the hope that in all the rushing around, we won’t be left with a sense of “same-old” wrapped in “feel-good”, mere window dressing, the rending of garments rather than hearts.
Dr Holder focuses on two things particularly. First, there is the family, “including developed world-driven attempts to redefine it”. We are left to guess what he means but, broadly, I imagine he’s referring to that old “thorn in flesh”, gay marriage. There’s certainly much to be said about that.
Secondly, he refers to values and morals. In particular, he says, though we live in a world of constant change, we need to restore “traditional values”, particularly in relation to the family, and concern ourselves especially with young people, many of whom have “disconnected from the traditional moral and spiritual anchor offered by religion and are morally adrift”.
It’s not all a tale of woe, surely, and there’s still room, isn’t there, to splice to the old all that’s good in the new? Or should we go for new wine in new bottles? In any event, Dr Holder wishes us all to show “by example” why we need to explore these things – which might just prove a sticky wicket job.
It might entail a frightening level of self-scrutiny, which I rather doubt, or yet another tasteless Pharisaical public display. Doubtless the church will give the lead.
And this brings me to the nub of it. It’s not enough for our church to be a “beacon of light”, for the light may be neon not living flame, if it’s not also a beacon of truth. This truth may seem as elusive as the song the Sirens sang and it’s so readily manipulated.
Spirit of truth
It’s not a “Sunday-best” truth, the “truth” of Pharisees and bigots, the truth of those whose religion comes neatly wrapped and in which mere “doing” may still leave us wanting and vulnerable.
No, it’s the spirit of truth, the truth of the cross, which brings not peace but a sword and at times demands a good deal of courage to express it.
It’s not about conjuring tricks with ideas; this truth, or force-feeding through repetitive misrepresentation which amounts to a lie at worst and at best a dereliction of responsibility.
Ultimately, it comes from within, not somewhere “out there” or “up there”. It lies at the deep heart’s core and our task, as our plan progresses, is to allow it to be revealed and then to live it.
Who knows, it may even guide us into “all truth”. God help us if it does.
– FATHER CLIFFORD HALL