Today has not been a day I've been proud to wear my dog collar, but I think I've calmed down enough to blog about this now.
Having read through the House Of Bishop's response to the consultation on marriage being made available to gay people, and discussed the reaction to the response in the press with my good, dear friends on twitter, my issues seems to boil down to two simple problems:
- When it is reported that "the Church Of England says", who is actually doing the 'saying'?
- Can the definition and institution of marriage be as changeable as any other word and institution?
Issue one has come up many times in the past, and will no doubt do so in the future. Clearly the statement is from the house Of Bishops of the CofE, but are they the Church Of England? Certainly they have an important role to play within the church, as pastors and symbols of unity. Of course, it's the latter feature that's problematical- how can you be a focus of unity, when clearly not everyone in your diocese let alone your whole church is going to agree with all the things you believe? The bishops themselves don't agree with one another on everything, let alone the people they represent. So when the press reports 'The Church Of England says', the actuality is usually, 'some of the significant members of CofE say'. Such accurate statements don't sell papers or garner attention on TV & radio though, so the press are as much to blame in some ways for my anger today.
But surely there must be some issues the church can speak about with one voice? Historically there have been basic issues over which church unity has revolved, key issues of doctrine that early on in the life of the church got enshrined in what we call creeds. Marriage of any kind has never been in them though.
'Traditionalists' would argue that marriage is a credal issue (hence risking disunity), since scripture's primacy is affirmed by the creeds, and the Bible clearly says that marriage is between a man and a woman. But there are many things that to quite a few Christians are not as cut and dry as the Bible makes out. Our understanding of mental illness for example has come a long way from the times of Jesus, when those who were mentally ill were seen as being possessed by demons. Our attitude to slavery, the position of women and children in society, the relative worth of various makes of mobile phone*, our attitude to family and society in general- all have changed from the days of the good book. And that is natural, because change is natural and from God.
Which brings us onto the second point- can our definition of marriage change? The House Of Bishops (or at least a majority of them) thinks not. Some of my colleagues in the ministry that I met over lunch today clearly think not, with one clearly harking back to a medieval definition that quite frankly gave me a case of the screaming heebie-jeebies in it's harshness and lovelessness.
But not all the Church Of England believes this. Not even all the bishops think this. Yes, in Biblical times getting married was all about children, dating from the days of the OT when the Israelites saw it as the mission from God to multiply and be fruitful and fill the promised land.
But now? Really? What about those who are married and can not have children? What about those of us who think it responsible for the good of the environment to limit the number of our children (to say nothing about the consequences on our bank balance and the mental well-being of older siblings)? Is marriage really all about becoming a baby-factory?
And can marriage never be between a man who has fallen in love with another man, or a woman who has fallen in love with a woman? I've met gay partners who have displayed far more love and affection for one another than straight couples. Was that not real, not God given?
Thought I aught to fill in the rest of Holy Week- the Holy Saturday Vigil went well, though there are a few things I'll be changing for next year. Got to find a new tune for the Exultet that the poor curate had to get through, and we'll be replacing the chant calling upon the saints to pray for us cos I just can't stomach that as an idea. The whole point of Jesus was to give us access to God, why bother then with the saints as intermediaries? Plus the list of saints called upon seemed pretty random, and if I had been doing it I would have been tempted to add a few of my own- "St Garak of Cardassia, pray for us"?
The highlight was definitely entering the darkened church with just the paschal candle providing illumination, then the light spreading to other folk's candles.
Sunday morning went well too, though my second attempt to sing a Eucharistic preface was only marginally less rubbish than Christmas. When I practice before the service I sound fine, then I start out on the wrong note during the actual proceedings. I will get there.
The last week was mostly time off, with sprog2 staying with mother-in-law, leading to a very quiet vicarage. I took the opportunity to have a drinking afternoon in town with my old mukka Captain Limbo, though it would appear my stomach is not as forgiving of 6 pints of Guinness as it used to be.
There was a pleasant trip to pick sprog2 up from rural Buckinghamshire, with an over-night stay. Then a big wedding to conduct on Saturday, complete with spontaneous Nigerian singing from the families involved, all very jolly, if nerve-wracking.
A Sunday off, with me not getting out of bed until 10am rounded off a pleasant break.
Now it's getting back into the swing of things time, with works on the church heating on-going, and the school routine starting again tomorrow.
I've given up Twitter for the few days leading up to Easter, so feel strangely dislocated, but am benefiting from not having it as a distraction. The following are my reflections on things so far, in rather more than 140 characters!
It's with a degree of nervousness I've begun the Tridium (Maundy Thursday-Holy Saturday) in my first year as Vicar of St Michael's. Worry about remembering how the services worked here over 7 years ago has mixed with the fact my predecessor changed things after I left anyway, and so there's been quite a bit of catching-up to do. I've been very grateful for the assistance of the Curate here, without whose guidance I'd have made a right mess of things no doubt.
Yesterday evening's service went really well, with oils received, having been blest by the Bishop in the morning, and then there was the foot-washing. In my previous parish the congregation had refused to have their feet washed, and there was no way I could force them to, so I reluctantly gave up the practice. I'd forgotten how moving it is to kneel down and wash the feet of the people I am called to serve. It's a right and proper reminder that I'm still a deacon as well as a priest, and being vicar should never become a power-trip. So, humbling in a very good sense.
We also stripped the altar, and benefited from music on the piano for a change, along with having the choir down from the gallery and at the front, making for a more reflective, intimate service.
Finally there was the Watch, something else I'd not done for 7 years. Three hours in silence and darkness in the church. Wonderfully atmospheric, and there was just enough light for me to work my way through Mark's Gospel. Made it to the end of the Watch without dropping off too.
Today was the ecumenical march of witness up Welling High Street. To be frank, I'd been dreading it, not being a fan of militant Christianity, but the march was conducted without fuss, and was as un-intrusive as a procession of 100 or so Christians up a busy high street can be. We stopped a few times to sing hymns, but there was no preaching or banners, just a wide range of Christians from different churches walking together in remembrance of Christ. Powerful stuff.
I'd also been dreading the 2pm service at St Michael's with the veneration of the cross, and I could feel every protestant bone in my body shuddering as congregation members knelt down to kiss the feet of Jesus on the crucifix held before them. But whilst it really isn't me, those who came forward did so with reverence and a simple desire to make a symbolic show of their love for Jesus, and who am I to get in their way? The service ended up having a simple beauty that I was more than comfortable with.
The next service is the Vigil Mass at 8pm tomorrow, another complicated affair which I remember not enjoying much when I was here last. Hoping this will be pleasant surprise too.
Finally gave in and went to the docs today. I've had what I put down as being a cold since Christmas, and it's got better then worse too many times now to ignore. The final straw was last Friday, when my head was so woozy with gunk I couldn't get up until the afternoon. As suspected, the doc diagnosed a chest infection, and I now have a week on anti-biotics.
The doc was a really sweet young woman who seemed quite impressed with the scar on my back. I should have told her it was a Bat'leth duelling scar, but instead settled for the more boring truth that it was as a result of me disagreeing with a car as a teenager.
As an ex-smoker I also need to go to the hospital to get a chest X-Ray, but that's just a precaution (I hope).
Work-wise I'm struggling with the pace of things thanks to my illness. Really enjoying the work, it's just there's too much of it. Both the parish and I will just have to be happy with the amount I can do.
Lent-wise I've taken up facilitating a weekly Lent group for Churches Together in Welling, and we met for the first time last night without me causing an ecumenical incident.
I've not settled on what I've given up yet, if anything (definitely not chocolate, I've been eating a lot to cope with the manky-ness of my bug). I've not touched a drop of alcohol (beyond the occasional sip of communion wine during Mass, naturally), but that's only because I've been taking various pills. I may well want to celebrate feeling better in a week or two's time, so am not sure a Lent-long fast is realistic.
Oh, and I'm still fuming at the Archbishop of York for writing in the Scum On Sunday, including an endorsement to buy the dreaded rag seven days a week. Unbelievable.