Of Rudders, Boats and Churches

It was a great pleasure for me to meet Deacon Jonathan Munn in London last Friday evening and during the day of the Saturday preceding my reception into the ACC. One incredible thing is that people are usually completely different from the images we make of e-mail correspondents and those who comment on our blogs. I found someone of keen intellect and youthful charm – together with his beautiful fiancée.

He has written a new article in his blog Compassion, Coracles and Continuity in which he gives me a good swing of the thurible! I was also at the Synod, but as I was not yet received, I had not to vote. I was able to observe the brisk and businesslike proceedings and the refreshing way of avoiding any waste of time. For example, documents previously sent to us all had not to be read out. It was all very efficient unlike many meandering and boring church meetings of self-important narcissists. Bishop Damien Mead has a keen sense of getting on with the job!

Indeed, this was something encouraging and uplifting. There were no polemics or contentious issues, just a good rousing Charge to the Synod and swiftly concluded business. In the Bishop’s Charge, we heard much about confidence, and that is something many of us lack. We need to sail out into deeper water and cast the nets over the other side of the boat – and catch fish!

The ACC in England is indeed a small local Diocese of the wider Church. It wasn’t much bigger in Bishop Hamlett’s day, but it has become quiet, serious, realistic and credible. It has also become more southern English and cosmopolitan – though I say this as a northerner myself! We are small and marginal, but yet we are what we say we are – no exaggerated numbers and no playing games. We are part of the great alphabet soup of continuing Churches, often told we have to stop “deceiving” people and become “real” Catholics. We are like a tiny boat bobbing up and down on the waves of the sea, and we sailors are lashing the boats together to weather the storm. The analogy has it limits, because a boat can often do better on its own in rough weather, with shortened sail and careful steering, than lashed to another or being towed. But the meaning is understood.

Coracles? The coracle was a primitive form of boat – animal skin stretched over a frame made of branches cut from trees and propelled by oars or paddles – and therefore has no rudder. Of course, there are many other types of small boats propelled by oars, sails or engines – and which also illustrate the purpose of considering our little family-like and intimate Church. My boat is a sailing dinghy, gaff rigged with mainsail, jib and a rudder. I have never had the occasion of hauling Deacon Munn out of the sea – though I have towed de-masted catamarans under sail to the shore. I have also been de-masted a couple of times due to shoddy rigging (which I have since replaced). Once I got to the beach with a jury rig, and the other time, there happened to be a motor boat that kindly towed me in. But, I thank him for the analogy. The sea of Catholic Christianity is also a dangerous place where one can get into a load of trouble. I intend to help the ACC in every way possible especially through the more intellectual and cultural aspects, together with hands-on experience with things like fitting out places or worship and installing pipe organs in places big enough to house them. Unlike Captain Nemo, I won’t be installing organs in submarines!

He tells of my adventures with trolls and how I recognise them not only in their rudeness and incivility, but their loading comments to provoke the endless obsessive threads that ruin discussions. It is tempting to be scrupulous and think of them as human beings with freedom of speech – but it’s them or me, kill or be killed – so I just delete them. Life is too short to be worried about trolls. Otherwise they win. It’s like negotiating with terrorists or restricting everybody’s life because someone might be an evil doer. We have to be positive and make life go on.

The internet, like any written medium, deprives the writer of much of his humanity. So the way we write has to compensate for this handicap, like a blind person developing a much more acute sense of hearing. It comes with intuition and experience, and I’m not there yet. So, we have not to give up, but to contribute to making the Internet a more edifying and worthwhile place. The intention of the trolls is terra cremata, scorched earth. They are nihilists. They silence the blogs, and then we’re back to where we were before the Internet – no communication. A Church that doesn’t communicate dies.

Occasionally, you meet trolls in real life. They might have genuine grievances, but watch out when they start kicking you when you’re down, wanting to humiliate you to the extreme. But we shouldn’t dwell on that. Many others are constructive commenters, even when they show us we’re wrong in something. We need to be open to learning new things, but constructively – not by having someone destroy and annihilate our self-confidence.

Indeed, we cannot consider the Internet as our sole “niche” ministry. We should use it to the full. We also need to meet with real people and converse with them, even if they don’t want our particular religious “product”.

It truly makes a difference when two bloggers get together “in the flesh”. I have read about the idea of Fr Zuhlsdorf’s blognic. You get a group of bloggers together in an English pub and talk about things over pints of bitter. I met Deacon Munn in a hotel in Bloomsbury with our Bishop and others from our Diocese. It makes all the difference. The Americans seem to be able to afford to hop on planes all the time and travel to blognic places. We English can surely make it to a place a few times each year.

So, now we steer away from the wind and haul in the sails – and go our way to the Light of the world. Thank you, Deacon Jonathan.

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