A return to something more-or-less topical.
The conservative Roman Catholic bloggers hate Pope Francis. They hate the fact that people like him, they particularly hate the fact that non-Roman Catholics like him, because that isn't the business of a Pope. A Pope is supposed to be a mixture between a tribal war-leader and a tribal battle-totem, who encapsulates the sense they want to have of being in a war against a Satanic world. This is why they've been rejoicing over what looks like Francis's humiliation at the weekend when the special Extraordinary Synod on the Family refused to endorse the draft document the Vatican had prepared stating that the Church 'respects and welcomes' homosexual people. You can go to Rorate Caeli if you want this kind of thing, although be warned, it's horrible and depressing.
Of course in fact the Synod didn't actually vote down the draft document, it merely declined to endorse it by a sufficient majority for it to pass, although you could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion from Rorate Caeli that something entirely different had happened. There is every likelihood that when Francis has another go next year he will get his way.
You will recognise a certain pattern here which mirrors the Anglican Church's anguished attempts to sort out how to ordain women to the priesthood and episcopate; the pattern of it being very clear indeed which way things are going to go, but there being not quite enough enthusiasm for it to happen in one go, instead inaugurating a lengthy process of to-ing and fro-ing until the vote manages to get over the Church's traditional two-thirds-majority hurdle. Anglican Archbishops are used to sitting in Synods watching their opinions being thrown back at them and votes mounting up to achieve a lack of decision yet again. Anglican Archbishops are used to it; Popes aren't. The Roman Catholic Church isn't. The Roman Catholic Church is far more used to telling itself a completely fantasised story about magisterial consensus and Spirit-guided authority which completely ignores the way structures composed of human beings actually work.
The abiding significance of these gatherings, and of Francis's pontificate as a whole, is the destruction of this fantasy. Francis has gathered a group of people who haven't taken the decision that he very clearly wanted, although diplomatically he refrained from stating too openly that that was what he wanted. Familiar though this way of working may be to the likes of Rowan Williams and Justin Welby, for a Pope, in the context of Roman Catholicism, this is an act of almost incredible boldness and hope. This is the end of the dream world trad Roman Catholics live in, and the irruption of reality, not in terms of gays, not in terms of admitting divorced people to communion, but simply in terms of the way things really are, and always have been. It's the end of fear, the end of control, the end of power, of a certain conception of auctoritas. It's a revolution that potentially puts Vatican II in the shade.
No wonder the conservative bloggers hate Francis: it's a bit like the disorientation that must have befallen Japanese nationalists at the end of World War Two when the Emperor renounced his own divinity. What do you do when the centre of absolute authority refuses to play that role any more? When they get down off the pedestal? Do you try to find someone else? But it's too late. The spell is broken. The old world ain't coming back.
Monday, 20 October 2014
Saturday, 18 October 2014
As usual I look out for representations of St Catherine when I'm out and about and found several in Norfolk. This one is on the 15th-century rood screen in St Nicholas, North Walsham. I only just about spotted it, as holy Catherine is now rather ignominiously covered up by the pulpit erected almost against the screen, which wouldn't have been there when she was originally painted.
Then this one is in the south aisle of Norwich Cathedral. The saint looks about to nod off here, though she has enough presence of mind to wrap her hand in her cloak so she doesn't prick a finger on the spokes of her wheel. Actually the cloak looks strangely like a chasuble, but we'll ignore that. The window was given by five sisters 'in thankfulness to God for a lifetime of happy worship in this Cathedral Church', and I wonder whether the ladies chose Catherine as she is the patron saint of unmarried women.
The last two images here come from the gigantic church of SS Peter & Paul, Salle, of which more on another occasion. This early 20th-century window (one of a set Pevsner gaily describes as 'hideous') seems to show Catherine wearing an Edwardian lady's driving hat, tied under the chin so it doesn't blow off. But it's in ermine and so a bit medieval.
The final image is also from Salle, a bit more of a conventional 15th-century depiction: a tiny window right up at the top of one of the walls. Very sweet.
Friday, 17 October 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed my week at The Old Chapel. Banningham proper, such as it is, is about a mile away from this bit, Mill Road, a dead-straight line of mixed old and new buildings which peters out in the fields and turns into a footpath after about a quarter of a mile. Its straightness gives it a strange end-of-the-world feel, although I can confirm there is indeed something beyond the end of the footpath as I went walking out that way. The Chapel has TARDIS-like qualities, appearing a very compact building outside and managing to fit within its modest space a lofty lounge, double bedroom, kitchen and two bathrooms. In the pattern of Landmark's Abbey Gatehouse and Ty Capel, the bedroom has been put on a mezzanine and the Necessary Facilities beneath it, a neat way of making use of the space. I'm not sure about the history of the building - it's too humble for the Buildings of England to have noticed, apparently - but looks early Victorian or before, the kind of humble structure that even the Primitive Methodists would have scorned after about the 1860s. When the current owners, the Greens, bought it in the early 1990s it was fairly much derelict after being used for various utilitarian purposes, but some of the chapel's former congregation were still living nearby, and behind glass in the bookcase there are some items relating to its time as a working building - including a small penny loaf, which must be pretty stale by now. My stay in the Chapel gave me great respect for anyone who must have played the harmonium for these small congregations: my attempts to keep the thing going while trying to produce anything resembling a tune were not especially edifying.
Tuesday, 14 October 2014
I spent last week in Norfolk and will be talking a bit about that in the coming days. To get me in the frame of mind (perhaps), here's a grouse! I had no idea that the Norfolk town churches are sometimes so huge, arising from the considerable wealth of the region towards the end of the Middle Ages. They vary in 'churchmanship', as you can sometimes pick out from the fantastic Norfolk Churches website maintained by Simon Knott; St Nicholas, North Walsham, is moderately Anglo-Catholic, with its statue of its patron saint surrounded by candles, as is St Michael's Aylsham, the only church where I've ever seen the traditional Epiphany cypher (20+C+M+B+14, this year) chalked on the wall; St Peter Mancroft in Norwich is the grandest of civic churches; SS Peter & Paul, Cromer, is evangelical, with a fabric 'flame' rippling away in a side chapel to encourage visitors to reflect on the action of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
I note that Simon Knott hasn't been able to get into Yarmouth Minster yet, either.
I note that Simon Knott hasn't been able to get into Yarmouth Minster yet, either.
Sunday, 12 October 2014
In his book Sacramental Worship with Children Fr Simon Rundell, late of the much-lauded St Thomas the Apostle, Gosport, says 'If our liturgies are creative, innovative, and yet still correspond to the shape of the liturgy, and are done in sincerity and authenticity, then the liturgical police should not come knocking at your door in the middle of the night'. I bore his words in mind as we broke a lot of rules the other Saturday and did communion at Messy Church. 'As we know', remarked one of my colleagues a couple of weeks beforehand, 'you can call it an agape and do whatever you like'. The trouble is that if you call it an agape nobody will know what you're talking about, so I merely said as we began whatever it was that we were going to do, that the Church was gathered, God was there, and whether it was a real communion service or whether we were just pretending was up to them to decide. However, I pointed out, 'If you ever meet a man in a pointy hat who says, "Hello, I'm the Bishop of Guildford", you are to swear blind that nothing happened.'
Everything passed off with great quietness and dignity and the simple service - following, as Fr Simon would put it, 'the shape of the liturgy', was much appreciated and worked very well. I know that many of the people I trained with, and many others besides, would probably throw up hands in horror at this debasement of the holy rite of the Eucharist (if it was a eucharist, which of course I am honour bound to dispute). To an extent I know exactly what they might mean and sympathise. As my experience of Christian life and ministry has gone on the ideal of the Eucharist as something which expresses the mind of the Church, something we all serve and in which we discover God, has grown. You don't muck about with that because it isn't your property, which is why I cavil a bit at Fr Simon's use of words such as 'creativity' - I don't necessarily regard creativity, as such, as a liturgical virtue. However, within the liturgical experiments suggested in his book, as, I hope, in our 'Messy Communion', there is a very definite determination to concentrate on what God is doing, not on what we think, feel, or are trying to do, which I would hope is the essence of a Catholic liturgical approach, no matter how wacky the form appears to be.
This will be in the forefront of my thinking as we start to consider how Swanvale Halt church responds to the social shifts which are necessarily forcing change on virtually all sorts and brands of church. The liturgy is how God speaks to us, and is not our plaything to do with as we choose. But we have to make sure, as best we can, that there are people there to listen to him.
Saturday, 27 September 2014
Many people across the diocese had a peculiar email on Thursday from our suffragan bishop inviting what appeared to be everyone on any kind of diocesan mailing list to Evensong at the Cathedral on Friday 'to welcome a significant Visitor'. It would be very odd, we thought, to announce a new diocesan bishop this way, so who might it be? Jesus? A former parishioner from Lamford commented 'It's me, but I wanted to surprise everyone'. In fact, as it turned out, the mystery guest was indeed our new diocesan. Andrew Watson has been Bishop of Aston in Birmingham for a bit and seems to be a sort of moderate Evangelical in the way his predecessor Bishop Christopher was a moderate Catholic. He has four children as Evangelical clergymen are apparently supposed to, although his wife is also ordained which is a bit more unusual, and ran a very big church in Twickenham. He's written a book whose title The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus makes you want to run away and hide under a stone, although another one (The Way of the Desert) offers more in the way of hope. And you do find stones in the desert.
I was very fond of our former diocesan Bishop Christopher. Although I found his keynote policy, the diocese's 'Common Purpose' statement, a bit wide of the mark, he obviously cared about the local churches and knew about the clergy, and you were aware that he knew his stuff. I was once told that Christopher's predecessor Bishop John was persuaded to allow and actually take part in the technically illegal service of Benediction at the Cathedral because he didn't know what it was, but the Dean assured him that everyone would enjoy it.
Bishops have less influence on their dioceses than they may like to think, and thanks to the wonderfully anarchic mechanisms of the Church of England that influence can more often (sadly) be felt in making life uncomfortable for people rather than anything positive. I suppose a bishop who was really committed to making a difference could embark on a process of change in the diocesan administration, or even insist that parishes produce mission plans as many already do and we are groping in the direction of doing in Swanvale Halt. But churches are so diverse, clergy are so diverse, the work of the Church is so diverse, and the work specifically of bishops is so ridiculously disparate that it makes it a very hard thing to do.While we were in the early stages of the business of seeking a new bishop, we were all asked what we wanted. I've only really just worked it out. As far as clergy are concerned our bishop is supposed to be the diocese's Father In Christ, and what I think I would like is somebody I can love as that without feeling too clearly fraudulent. I wonder whether Bishop Andrew will fit that bill.
Thursday, 25 September 2014
I have for some years carried the first edition of Gwyn Headley & Wim Meulenkamp's Follies on holiday to help me locate worthwhile structures in whichever area I may be visiting. The other day I found a new edition (well, new-er - the very end of the 1990s) in a local charity shop, right beside Edward Gorey's The Gashleycrumb Tinies as it happened. It's entirely different, written as a gazzetteer rather than a narrative, and whereas the original was characterised by a fine style of writing which in some cases, I've found, is almost more fun than visiting the buildings themselves, this new version perhaps reflects another couple of decades of its authors hunting out mentally-unsound architecture, and has an edge of hysteria running through some of the entries. There are places where G & M admit this themselves, and it's very pleasing to observe. It's also pleasing to find a couple of follies I have noted before, such as Chapel House at Blackfen, making their first appearance in the pages of the definitive handbook of Britain's nutty structures. Queen Adelaide's Grotto at Rame still eludes their attention, however.