One or two have written to me concerned about my quietness on the blog. I am away from home in England for a few days. We had our diocesan Synod in Lancashire last Saturday and I am spending a couple of days with my father. I haven’t had much time for blogging!

I don’t want anyone thinking I am offended by their comments, because they have brought positive and interesting contributions to our thoughts about labels and titles of institutional Churches and personal identity issues.

I’ll be back…

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The old label thing…

The subject keeps coming up, especially when it’s a question of “You’re a false one masquerading as one of us true ones“. In the heyday of vagante churches, would-be prelates would invent all kinds of combinations of names to try to describe what they wanted to be and to distinguish themselves from what they were not. It all has a weary effect. The Church to which I belong had to combine the words Anglican and Catholic to come up with some description. To most people, Anglican means Church of England or some foreign member Church of the Lambeth Conference communion. My father doesn’t even use the word Anglican, but simply says “I’m Church of England“. To most people, Catholics are those who are in communion with the Pope through their parish and diocese. Labels and titles are very imperfect things.

I have already written about another neologism, independent sacramental, which is generic. However, one wouldn’t say “I belong to the Independent Sacramental Church“. I used to peruse websites and Facebook pages of those who seemed to have something of an original idea rather than ape what they couldn’t belong to for whatever reason. Most of those sincere men seem to have tired of it all and present a secular image of themselves. Had I been down that path, I fear I might have gone the same way.

Here on the internet and in the blogs, such discussions often revive old passions and press old hot buttons – as when I re-stirred some old TAC embers. The problem is always the same: either the Church is defined by the country where you live and it merely pays lip service to the old Christian idea: it becomes an influence for moral living and conformity with social norms. Alternatively, as in the ideas of old high-church divines, Methodism and the Oxford Movement, there is a higher spiritual ideal and space for human inspiration and initiative. The theme is always the same. Those involved did not want to set up a new church, but a new movement to influence the mainstream church in which they had always lived and ministered.

Anglicans belonging to the kind of Church to which I belong are conventionally called Continuing Anglicans. We continue the way of our old mainstream church, but we belong to separate institutional bodies. There is the old overtone of comprehensiveness, relativism, indifferentism, latitudinarianism you name it – which is appealing to those who are tired of sectarian conflict. We in the ACC tend to be more than simply high-church in the way Wesley and the Caroline Divines were. Most of us tend to look like traditionalist Roman Catholics with the exception of using English in the liturgy. I am too untypical and eccentric to be considered as any kind of reference, influenced as I am by French Catholicism and flights of the imagination into Sarum dreamland!

It is good to think about the various things that mark us out and give us some kind of foundational myth and reason for existence.

The negative rejection of why we left the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church or whatever tends to come to the fore, and that is unfortunate. It is a part of our human nature. We reject a church that has become an inhuman and anonymous bureaucracy, which in many ways emulates the eighteenth-century church in its secular moralism, materialist rationalism and political commitment. The ordination of women and the acceptance of the LGBT movement are only symptoms of a wider malaise.

In positive terms, we tend to identify with a Church of the people, a notion of serving ordinary people and helping those whose needs are not served by the Welfare State. Like the Methodists, we in the ACC do not belong to any elite club. Rather, we are considered as challenges to the established order and social conformity. Firstly, there is the priority we give to the sacramental and spiritual dimension, taking inspiration from monasticism.

Another aspect is that we are not into historical reconstructions, not even myself with the Sarum Use and my copies of nineteenth century editions. Sarum is no different from the wider tradition of the western Church of before the Counter-Reformation, when some correlation could be made between the western Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, a kind of “natural” religious lay of the land. Communities of traditionalist Roman Catholics living in places like Milan or the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland have successfully revived the Ambrosian Rite. A few Dominicans use their old rite. In both these examples, there was a clear break, albeit a short one. The French diocesan uses are gone other than Lyons (Ludonensis) and nothing remains of the Norman uses that were so similar to pre-Reformation English usages. I “do my own thing” and no one cares. Why should they? At the same time, I just try to keep things going.

We believe in the need for a Church structure. The ACC has a very solid basis in an ecclesiological theory that is very similar to Eastern Orthodox conciliarism. We are heading towards having three Provinces, and therefore a Holy Synod – something like the Russian Church outside Russia – no Patriarch but a governing Synod of Archbishops and Bishops. This confers ecclesiastical legitimacy on the whole and each part. The Communion of the Church is rebuilt from the base and on the Bishops consecrated by the mainstream Church via a documented lineage of episcopal consecrations. At this early stage, we are free from self-serving bureaucracy and the weight of structures that preserve corrupt humanity and evil. That is a blessing, but it won’t last forever.

Modelling diocesan or parish life on monasticism has its limits, since not all can be called to a particular vocation. Another thing that is clear with us in the ACC as in the Church of England some decades ago is that we are not stuck in the Reformation polemics or the ideal of defining ourselves with professions of faith like the 39 Articles or the 1662 Prayer Book. We have clearly moved into a generic mainstream Catholic style of life and worship. It would be good simply to be able to call ourselves Catholics without incurring accusations from those in canonical standing with the Pope. It all seems to be without any solution.

In the ACC and some other Continuing Churches, we tend to call ourselves Anglican Catholics. We have the Anglican Catholic Church, and restrict the use of this label to those who are actually members of our institutional body. On the other hand, if someone says I am an Anglican Catholic, the term becomes generic like Ibuprofen, a remedy against pain and inflammation which is sold under several trade names. We see the analogy. It should be possible for us to call ourselves Catholics, as in generic Catholics, but most Roman Catholics object to what they consider as people abusively claiming to be them.

Continuing Anglicans seems to be good, just as long as it doesn’t get monopolised by low church people opposed to “Roman” or “Sarum” Anglican Catholicism. There is a problem of conventional usage.

Some ideas might come in useful…

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Organic Development

In have just come across the article The Laws of Organic Development. It all brought me back to my student days as a Roman Catholic trying to conciliate traditionalist ideas with “ecclesiastical bureaucratico-socialist” (a neologism I have just invented) ideas about the liturgy. In time this entire conflict was discredited in my mind. I too at one time was seduced by Newman’s attempt to channel the emerging Modernism of his day and express it in the context of nineteenth-century reactionary Catholicism, whilst at the same time giving some justification to the new papal dogmas.

The problem of language is always the same: analogy, euphemism, literal use. One person says something with the meaning he intends, and the listener understands something else. A second listener and a third listener will understand something else still. Finally, we have to understand that our comprehension of language is based on the level of our human culture and spiritual growth away from literalism.

I suppose we are trying to understand what happened with the transition from the pre-Reformation situation of the liturgy in Europe and the momentous movement of the Counter Reformation and what that set in motion. At one time, liturgy was quite neglected or was just a fact of life in a diocese. It was interpreted quite loosely and people took liberties, a little like in Greek Orthodoxy. All of a sudden, it got taken over, made uniform and became tightly controlled on pain of severe sanctions. The attempt to reverse that situation in the 1950’s and 60’s created another situation of total control and ideology which would not produce anything positive.

The problem of the Church is one of wider society, the relationship between the person, the small local community and the State. From the Counter Reformation, the Church emerged as a kind of spiritual “state” with its unified system of law enforcement and control. I don’t find the idea of “organic” liturgy at all credible. What I would see as a positive move would be the removal of the “state” bureaucracy and huge structures and leaving local communities (based on people knowing each other) to govern their own affairs. Someone has to do the controlling and regulating, but on the basis of reality rather than ideology. That might seem to be a more credible notion.

What if this “state” were jettisoned now? This is what has happened for everyone who has left that Church which no longer has any temporal power, and is despised by our modern Socialist states. We have our little independent Churches like the ACC. Some grow and acquire “critical mass”. Others don’t. What happens to the liturgy is what we do to it. I use something that is in very rare use, but actually is no more strange than similar rites that larger numbers of priests and their communities use. Some do it with military precision. Some take small liberties and others take bigger liberties. An example is the Good Friday prayers. It makes no sense to pray for empires that no longer exist or pray for the return of all “heretics and schismatics” to the stable when we ourselves are horses that have bolted. We are faced with many such contradictions in the liturgy. What about O beata nox on a sunny Saturday morning?

Many ideas behind the Bugnini liturgy were not bad, creating a loose structure on the basis of which local communities would rebuild the old diversity of local usage. The trouble was is that it was enforced by the same “state” that enforced the Tridentine liturgy. That was accompanied by an iconoclastic movement, just as intolerant of difference and humanity. The categories of immobilism and “organic development” were a brave attempt to justify change but to prevent it from becoming “abuse”. It might work as an analogy, but a very imperfect one.

The traditionalist position of returning to the Counter Reformation status quo is naive. It’s over. The only future of liturgy is doing it, not waiting for someone to make it “official” for us. The alternative is accepting what the ecclesiastical “state” will give us (the usual novus ordo fare) or giving up on organised and liturgical religion, as most have done. The “consensus of the people” is gone and we are all atomised individuals. Some of us are able to reconstruct minimal communities in which liturgy would have some meaning.

At a “state” level, the future is bleak and Christianity is beyond its sell-by date. On a smaller scale, if we are prepared to accept that reality and make the best of it, there is a chance. Of course we will no longer have money for the churches that face demolition or conversion into secular use. We have to make do with what we can afford and what we have the skills to make ourselves.

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Mysterium Paschale

avel-droI would like to wish all my readers a glorious Easter full of the joy of this emerging spring (at least those of us in the northern hemisphere) and faith in the victory of life over death that this mystery represents in continuation and fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the great mystery religions of the ancient world.

I have greatly appreciated Fr Hunwicke’s nod in the direction of the Sarum tradition in Easter Morning where he makes allusion to the The Easter Sepulchre. (Also see The Easter sepulchre) Those of us who use the Sarum liturgy will have remembered that we have no altar of repose on Maundy Thursday. Three hosts are consecrated on Maundy Thursday, one to be consumed at the Mass itself, the second at the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday and the third is put into the Easter Sepulchre after the Mass of the Presanctified with the wooden crucifix that has been venerated and left until just before the Mass of Easter Sunday. The Sepulchre remains through the Paschal Vigil of Holy Saturday. I use a wooden credence table and the urn I used to use for the altar of repose when I used the Roman rite, and cover the whole with a white humeral veil. The medieval Easter Sepulchre is usually a recess in the north wall of the sanctuary, and is still found in many parish churches. Its purpose is largely forgotten, and was often transformed into an elaborate memorial for a deceased big-wig of the eighteenth century or somewhere to put a nice vase of flowers. I use what I have for the purpose.

Holy Week is always in my experience a strain. I had translating work to finish on time and there was the chapel to be got ready for each ceremony. My boat club has its annual general meeting each year on Holy Saturday for practical reasons, and I succeeding in inviting a correspondent of mine to come and give a talk on dinghy cruising. This meant going to fetch him from the sea port of Caen on Good Friday morning and putting him up for a couple of nights at my home. By Maundy Thursday, I began to feel a sort of feverish weakness coming over my body, something like the beginning of a bout with flu. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might become, but it sapped my energy and made everything that much more of an effort. Without the altar of repose and the Roman rite Blessed Sacrament devotions, Maundy Thursday took on the character of what is intended in the Sarum tradition, a Passiontide liturgy with the commemoration of the Last Supper and the treachery of Judas. Only the Bishop sings the Gloria at his Chrism Mass at the Cathedral and the vestments were bull’s blood red. My passiontide vestments are black with red orphreys. I will probably make dark red ones for next year.

I set off for Caen on the Thursday evening after a lot of cleaning and tidying in the house with my wife, and spent the night at Caen camping in the back of the van. I awoke groggy on Friday morning at about 5 am and willed myself to sleep until about 6 am. I was to meet the arriving ferry at 7.30. It was better like that than sleep in my bed and get moving at about 4 am. I had the tail end of a translating job to do, and set up a camping chair and table in the back of the van and connected my computer to the van battery. Good Friday morning was gloomy and the air was filled with the end of last week’s north Atlantic gales and drizzle. It was almost symbolic!

The meeting with my guest was a new chapter in this Holy Week that seemed to take so much out of me. The foot passenger terminal opened and out came a cheerful bearded man carrying a bag and a folding bicycle. The handshake was firm and he appreciated my offer of a good coffee and croissant in a local brasserie in Ouistreham. I then drove him to my home in the drizzle and spray from the wheels of so many freight vehicles. The dreary journey of driving my van was offset by stimulating conversation with this highly cultivated gentleman. The person in question is Roger Barnes, often mentioned in this blog in my sailing posts. He and I are of almost the same age and the same part of England, myself from Kendal in Westmorland (now located in the administrative entity invented in the 1970’s called Cumbria) and he from a little further north.

Good Friday was rough. Both Roger and I were tired out, and I still felt weak from whatever it was (a little paracetamol helped). After a few finishing touches to preparing the chapel for the Mass of the Presanctified, he and I had a nap. Mass of the Presanctified was in English. I found Roger very interested in church architecture and theological questions, and he happily attended the ceremonies. A simple lunch of fish fingers and instant mashed potato preceded another siesta and various tasks. I finally found the courage to get the chapel ready for Holy Saturday, take the Lenten veils down, sort out the Paschal Candle and everything.

The Paschal Vigil had to be on Saturday morning because of the AGM of our boat club in the evening. Roger and I had a conversation about the issue of times of the Holy Week services. I have always objected to the 1950’s reforms in the Roman rite Holy Week services under Pius XII, but I found it strange that those doing the old ceremonies were so insistent on doing it on Saturday morning. These are among the oldest rites of the liturgy, whether descended to us via the Germanic and Franciscan traditions from the Ordines Romani or through the French traditions and Sarum. What was most regrettable about what the RC’s did in the 1950’s on the fiat of the Pope was that the rites were mutilated on a whim. On the other hand, how does one sing O beata nox in the bright sunshine of the morning? Fortunately, from this point of view, the weather was dull and gloomy as on Good Friday and the anomaly was felt less acutely!

The hour came to leave home for Veules les Roses and the meeting. We were met by a howling force 6 wind and breaking waves as far as the eye could see. There were no boats on the water. We found that the club got the use of a projector that was perfectly compatible with Roger’s computer to show illustrations of the talk on a screen, and this made everything a great success. Roger Barnes is the president of the Dinghy Cruising Association based in England, and this is clearly a growing movement, taking the monopoly away from racing and highly technical modern boats. The basic idea is using a workmanlike traditional open boat, the kind that would have been used for small-scale fishing a hundred years ago, and cruising in it in a group of a few friends or alone. It became clear that in France, we have some extremely well-organised events like the Semaine du Golfe, the Route du Sable and the Ronde des Pertuis, and nothing of the kind in England. On the other hand, we English like less formality and less in the way of regulations. The sea is a place of freedom, and we adults are responsible for our own risks and safety. Precautions can remain reasonable and not be conditioned by legal entanglements. The Dinghy Cruising Association has the most amazing characters as members who organise weekends of sailing involving people camping in their boats in many parts of the country, both at sea and on lakes like Derwentwater, Coniston and Windermere. We find the spirit of the old fishermen and people with values other than money, materialism and status. This is something else that emerges between the posh yachting clubs and social standing – and the democratisation of sailing that began to come in just after World War II. Sailing is no longer the sport of kings, but is accessible to anyone. No doubt, the sea will become increasingly regulated and taxed – but we are fighting against the encroachment as best we can by means of petitions and discussions with politicians.

Easter Day began with sunlight streaming through the window. I felt as though a weight had been lifted. I no longer seemed to have the virus or whatever, and felt a lot stronger. My guest pursued his plan to spend a couple of days in Rouen doing some architectural drawings, and I took him to Yvetot so that he could take a train to Rouen with his bag and bicycle. He reminded me of my own arrival in France in July 1982 with a couple of bags and a bicycle. He was visibly happy with his little stay with us, the Nautique Club Veulais and his exposure to medieval church services. I returned home and turned to the chapel. I was on my own. There was first the third host to put into the hanging pyx and the Good Friday crucifix back to the sacristy, the Easter Sepulchre to take down and the Bishop’s seat to put back in place under our diocesan arms. I sang Christus resurgens and then put on my vestments for Mass, which I said in Latin. There was a feeling of lightness, of rising and shaking away the cloying gloom of Holy Week and the efforts to deal with all the things that drag us down, hinder us and turn us away from the way we are trying to go. I have always felt Holy Week like that. I would almost call it the priest’s Hell Week like in the American Navy and their Seals! That being said, there are illuminating moments in the midst of the gloom and cloying human wickedness (the narratives of Judas and the awful hypocrisy and duplicity of the Temple clergy and the canaille), and some wonderful moments spent in conversation with Roger and with our folk of the sea at Veules. The Mass came to a close in the gentle April sunshine and the cheerful birdsong, a feeling of relief, of gratitude and peace. Thus I lived through the Paschal Mystery this year.

In a way, I envied those who would spend their Holy Week entirely focused on the mysteries being played out and the Mystery of our Redemption, whatever that means to each of us. Some people go to a monastery and spend the time in silence and relating the Mysteries to their personal renewal and transfiguration. Some of us found peace and light after a time of confusion, stress and weakness through being unwell. Who came out of it better? I have no way of knowing. Sometimes we just give without counting the cost, knowing that others will reap what we have sown.

Resurrexit sicut dixit! Alleluya!

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The Myth of Genius

This is a subject that has haunted me over the last few months. Many of us look at the music of great composers like Bach, Mozart or Beethoven and the scores of books written by the likes of Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo. Man has achieved so much, but most of us don’t. Why? Most of us would say that we lack talent or inspiration.

There is a false letter going about attributed to Mozart, saying that he had his entire works in his head and that it sufficed to write it all down effortlessly. Have you any idea how much work there is just in copying out a few bars of music, even in short score? Modern computer music programmes make the copying easier, more editable, but the music has to exist in the first place. In reality, like writing a book, it takes an idea and long planning, and then the meat is laboriously put onto the skeleton. The themes have to be sketched out, subjects and counter subjects, the form of the piece. Prior to all that, the composer has to have a solid knowledge of harmony and counterpoint, as the writer must be able to write in his own language correctly and according to the laws of grammar and spelling. Mozart related that the process was laborious, trying everything out on a keyboard. I proceed in the same way, deciding what I want to do, planning it and working it all out.

I am not naturally a hard worker, so I have paid for it in my life. I have not achieved what I could have achieved, and no doubt there will be the laws of karma to suffer. Perhaps the Lord will grant me a few more years. Much of my time has been taken up with sterile religious polemics, but the experience was a necessary part of my life. From the time when I ceased to live by the Church, I had to earn my living in different ways. I recovered old church organs in England and installed them where someone was willing to pay me for the job. I was seen as some kind of genius, but not a bit of it. You just have to have a level of training in organ building, and then go about it with method and concentration. You keep at it until the job is done, and then you have the satisfaction of doing the opening recital or hearing a better organist do it. Since then, I have become a writer.

When I was a little boy, I had an essay to write each weekend, just a page and a half of a schoolboy’s exercise book. It would be a story from my imagination or a description of a family day out, just a couple of hundred words. How difficult it was to get me down to the job! Any excuse would do. Now I translate technical and industrial documents of ten thousand words in two or three days, admittedly with professional translating tools, and I have to meet the customer’s deadline. If the job doesn’t get done, I will lose the customer. The choice is mine, doing this kind of work, or working in some crappy job for a boss who does the motivating – and not always very pleasantly. Self motivation…

I know a film with a Monsignor in Rome during the war working at the Holy Office. A priest asked him, “How do you get through it all”. The gritty Irish prelate answered, “I used to work on a farm. You start early and you stay late“. My own work is just like that. You have to put the hours in!

The trick in life is deciding what we are and why we’re here. We can’t do everything in life. Advancing age is also a limitation. OK for now, but in twenty years time I might get arthritis in my hands or go blind – or simply die. Then what? Get on with things whilst we still can! There must be a sense of urgency. What are we good at and what interests us? What characterises our world view? What kind of people, either historical or in our own time, most inspire us? We need time alone for our work, and with other people to recharge the batteries of our “vocation”.

As a musician, I have always been blessed with the gift of good sight reading. I can take a score, if it does not require too much in the way of keyboard technique, and play the piece. My technique is limited, because I ceased to work at it from a certain stage, and the result will be full of bum notes and errors of notes and rhythm. It’s the same with singing. I have sung in choirs for decades, but real singing involves the use of the diaphragm and stomach muscles to give power and support to the voice together with the use of the sinuses and head to produce the characteristic voice quality of each person. It takes practice, and the days go by between one lesson and the next… If no work is done, no progress is made. With composition, I have only written short pieces for SATB voices, but it all goes flat when I neglect to work. I resolved to work on fugue writing from about this time last year, and I have done too little.

I haver had to learn the hard way and with regrets that I am doing in my fifties what I should have done in my twenties: write books, compose significant pieces of music, learn to sail a boat and work with the sea. I read pieces in the blogosphere about those who regret the state of the liturgy in the “mainstream” Churches, often beautifully written pieces, but from a tormented soul who allows his life to slip away as I have done.

Anything worthwhile comes with perseverance and concentration, just hard work. The trick is knowing what we want to do in life and what we can do, what is within our reach. A seminarian vainly aspires to be the Pope or the Archbishop-Primate, but hard work and dedication will get him to the priesthood. There are the thousands of mistakes to correct and the steps back for the number of steps forward. Fragments often have to be abandoned because the motivation is gone, but they should be kept all the same and used when the weather is fair again. We have to learn to fail in order to succeed. Never regret experience of life – O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem. O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

To create, we need to be nurtured in the culture of those who have created before us. There are whole libraries of books to read, music to play on our instruments or to sing, recorded music and live concerts to listen to. One early lesson to me was to take a distance from religious polemics and the conflicts that plague us by working at our contribution to human culture and art.

I am very lucky that I have a publisher who wants me to write something for them. I won’t say anything about it yet, but it is a great privilege for me and a challenge to work constantly and conscientiously at the task until the job is done. Blogging is easy. The pieces are very short and need little in the way of preparation and planning.

I also have a Veni Sancte Spiritus to write for next month. It will be a simple alternation between the plain chant and faux-bourdon verses. Still, it’s got to be done. Yes, we do need a certain amount of talent and training in the job. We learn to write English at school, and I had plenty of classes in musical form, harmony and counterpoint. The essential is a sense of vocation and dedication, and this brings the motivation for the effort and suffering. We often doubt the value of what we do, but we must go forwards. Put the mediocre stuff aside, store it for a better day, and get on with what’s white-hot and going.

There are no short cuts, no magic or blinding revelations, at least not for me. I have my moments of “writer’s block” which are really sins of sloth and acedia. The beached ship has to use the tide, currents and the sheer effort of the crew to get free. We have just to pull our fingers out and get on with it, just as when I was writing those two hundred words each Sunday with all the motivating effort coming from my despairing parents!

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A Meditation for Holy Week

I found a quote from Monsignor Alfred Gilbey (1901-1998). It follows on very nicely from my reflection about ecclesiastical bureaucracy and middle management. Many of us find ourselves in a situation of conflict, namely believing in an ideal (Catholic tradition) and finding that the reality does not correspond. We either adjust to correspond with the reality or we venture out into “eccentric-dom” and live with our cognitive dissonance. Alternatively we can give up and adopt Gnosticism or Materialism as our philosophy of life. Perhaps these are things for the generality of Lent and not just for Holy Week, where the focus is the battle between death and life, between human wickedness and the Redemption.

I wrote a comment on a blog:

I think we can make a difference by quiet study and getting on with life and the things we do liturgically in chapel. Everything positive we do makes a difference, especially by “escaping the Matrix” and being ourselves. We can write, compose music, promote dinghy cruising (as I do), whatever floats your boat – everything we dedicate ourselves to.

We won’t feel that we have made any difference, and most of us will die in obscurity, and most of us will be forgotten within 50 years of our deaths. Something will remain if we meant it for the common good or some little contribution to our world. Vivaldi was forgotten and his music was only discovered in Venice in the 20th century. We don’t matter. The little we can leave to posterity does, and it won’t matter very much to us.

I can only suggest that degree of detachment, and you will better be able to focus the positive you have in you. I think the old priests you mentioned would have said as much.

Detachment is something age brings us. My own life as a priest is laden with compromises, and they can be difficult to live with. There are few options, and they become narrower as time goes by. Monsignor Gilbey’s quote was written in response to the fashionable attitudes in the RC Church and the Church of England consisting of believing that we are called to put the world right without first attending to the Kingdom within. It can equally apply to traditionalists and those who bewail the conflicts they experience.

“………. so much of our modern Christianity gives the impression that what we are here for is to put the world right. To make a true contribution to putting the world right, we must first establish the kingdom of God in our own hearts. This primary duty is ours all the time and any effect we have outside ourselves will be either an overflow, a consequence or an instrument of that. The primary province for each of us is not the Third World but our own hearts…… Each of us has a combination of gifts and handicaps and tasks to perform which is true of no one else at all. Each man’s vocation is unique and peculiar to himself and he achieves sanctity by trying to fulfil it. It is something solely between himself and Almighty God……. One analogy—not often seen nowadays—is that of people making a tapestry sitting on a row of stools, working on the canvas from behind, each of them trying to carry out perfectly the bit of design that is in the space allotted to him. Only confusion ensues if any of them think that the man five stools down is not getting on very fast and goes to help him, to the neglect of his own work. If he has done his own patch, well and good. For that is what he is there to do. If each man does his piece perfectly, when they all go round to the other side the whole design comes to life. But if any of them thinks he can improve or change the pattern he has been given, or thinks he should neglect it to help someone else, he causes nothing but confusion”.

We each have our own job to do.

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La Nausée

existenceI left the Church of England 34 years ago for my badly-advised swim over the bit of river that flows through Martigny and Riddes in French-speaking Switerland. Ony five years later did I actually go to that country, but no longer having anything to do with the Society of St Pius X and further to the north-east in Fribourg.

Had I remained and been anything other than an organist and choirmaster, I might have been sitting through the most boring meetings human beings can devise in their little games of power and influence. Looking out of the window on a rainy day, one might have seen drops falling from a leaf on a tree again and again as the speaker drones on and on about nothing. Indeed, I picked my title for today from a book of Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist.

Just this morning, a kind soul gave me a heads-up on an article on clergy recruitment in the Church of England – I know just the vicar for my parish church. Pity he’s fictional. The article quotes The Spectator:

For cheap laughs you should look at the situations vacant column of the Church Times — pages of jobs for Anglican clergy. The language, with its dreary emphasis on compliance and its neglect of individualism, may help to explain why the Church of England has become the Labour party at prayer.

Number one word in these adverts is ‘team’. Applicants need to be ‘team players’. Other hot words: ‘passionate’, ‘change’, ‘management’ and ‘skills’. A couple of weeks ago the Diocese of Lichfield needed a ‘team rector’ near Tamworth — ‘a visionary, imaginative and inspirational team leader, passionate for evangelism and discipleship, with experience of managing change and able to enjoy modern styles of worship’. ‘Managing’ change may be a euphemism for ‘enforcing’ it.

The Diocese of Oxford, plainly feeling the Cross to be insufficient, illustrated its job ads with a multicoloured baby-bricks corporate logo saying ‘Living Faith’. The subtext might as well be, ‘Don’t come here if you are looking for grown-up worship.’ Oxford was looking for a rural mission dean — ‘an effective communicator who understands the complexities of envisioning traditional structures’. After reading that several times I still haven’t a clue what it means. Meanwhile, Chelmsford’s archdeacon was seeking a priest-in-charge for the Southend area — ‘a strong collaborative and compassionate leader who can grow mission and outreach’. The use of ‘grow’ as a transitive verb for anything other than fruit and veg always worries me. The Southend job will include ‘nurturing and discipling all in the church for every member ministry’. You may wonder if the Archdeacon of Chelmsford is an ‘effective communicator’. Is English even his first language?

The article goes on, by way of contrast, to describe the kind of priest who ministered to souls during the war and the situation of extreme adversity.

In France, we call this kind of stuff langue de bois, wooden tongue. I came across quite a lot of this pseudo-intellectualism in the RC Church in France. My old “pastoral theology” courses at Fribourg with Fr Marc Donzé consisted of the same kind of language. No one can understand it. The very concept of language is distorted. To me and many others, this kind of behaviour indicates a struggle for power and influence by very insecure and inadequate persons hiding behind words and organisations. It is the very definition of bureaucracy. In the Church, it is cancerous.

Perhaps this is something we can reflect on this Holy Week, as we consider human wickedness in general. I belong to an organised Church and am on the Bishop’s Council of Advice. We have ordinary routine things to discuss like money and who does what. Mercifully, those things only take the time that is really necessary. Beyond that, it becomes more human and spontaneous between people who know and trust each other. What a blessing! The smallness of our Church keeps us simple and teaches us humility.

We can all make efforts with language and the use of words, expressing ourselves transparently and in a way that people can understand us. Above all, we need to use our time for work and play, or for time together in family intimacy or friendliness with people we know. Manual work is very useful, as it is to contemplative monks. You need both prayer and work – ora et labora. It’s strange how both those Latin words contain ora!

It is truly tragic to see the Churches and churches we knew and loved, which were a part of our lives, have lost their salty taste and are only good to be discarded, abandoned and forgotten. Materialism also gets to the end of its tether and the future becomes uncertain. We face the spectre of faith without reason or experience.

May our little Churches continue in their witness and prophetic ministry!

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