Thursday, 16 February 2012

God Jeering

A good article from Alison Pearson on Christianity and the modern world. Here she expresses the views of many not so regular church-goers who value the tradition and saving grace within it. A refreshing start to the day....

Last September, in the final weeks of his life, the New Labour strategist Philip Gould gave a moving interview to The Guardian. Dying of throat cancer at the age of 61, Lord Gould had done a lot of thinking about the meaning of life in a short time. The interviewer mentioned, in passing, that his subject had found religion, lost it briefly when he had witnessed terrible pain in intensive care, and then rediscovered his faith.
That was all. They moved on swiftly to politics. I found that article so frustrating. Here was a highly intelligent, worldly man, a superb operator in a party which famously “didn’t do God”, who had chosen to become a believer. It was a position I knew Philip Gould would not have arrived at fearfully or lazily, but, rather, spiritedly, and maybe even full of hope. For Christ’s sake, if one of our leading pollsters had cast his vote for the life to come, then why didn’t he get the chance to tell us about his Christianity?
My guess is the interviewer found the subject hideously embarrassing. Too uncool for words. The fact that Gould, a brilliant moderniser of the Left, had chosen to be confirmed into the sad old Church of England! These days, celebrities can confess to pretty much anything – drugs, facelifts, deforestation of the front bottom – but when it comes to religious belief suddenly everyone squirms and studies their shoes. Homosexuality is no longer the love that dare not speak its name, Oscar; now it’s Christianity.
For a liberal elite, religion is amusing mumbo-jumbo at best; at worst, it’s Catholic priests who are always molesting choirboys (amazing how they find time to run all those missions in dangerous places, isn’t it?). As a nation, we have gone from god-fearing to god-jeering faster than you can say the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.
This was the point made by Baroness Warsi during her visit to the Vatican this week. British society, she warned, is under threat from a rising tide of “militant secularisation”. Naturally, it took a Muslim to mount a vocal defence of Christianity. Actually, I reckon that Lady Warsi understated the case. Mocked, marginalised and increasingly absent from people’s lives, the Church of England is on course to disappear from these isles within three generations, unless there’s a miracle. Anyone who doubts this thesis is simply not paying enough attention. At my funeral, still a few decades away, God willing, I expect the congregation will know the prayers and the hymns that have sustained mankind for centuries and are part of the mental furniture of my own life. But at the funerals of my children when they are old or at those of my grandchildren yet to be born? I seriously doubt it. Christianity may yet return to where it began; a faith practised in secret by small, devout sects poring over illuminated iPads.An English professor at Cambridge tells me that, for the first time, they have put the Bible on the undergraduate reading list. “We can no longer assume students will be familiar with it,” he says. So Christianity will die of ignorance because, shamefully, so many of our young people haven’t been taught the tenets of the great Judeo-Christian tradition which underpins their country’s laws, institutions and culture. Christianity will die of materialism, which measures out life in phone upgrades. Finally, Christianity will die out because people like me, who are supposed to believe in it, are too hesitant to nail our colours to the cross. Lord knows, many of us have sighed with Woody Allen, “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank account.”
And what will we have instead of the C of E – Richard Dawkins? God help us. The high priest of atheism – known as The Dork to his students at Oxford, and not affectionately – has been everywhere this week trumpeting a poll by his foundation, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for the Worship of the Supreme Rational Being (Richard Dawkins). A jubilant Dork pointed out that his poll showed that even those of us who say we are Christians don’t always believe in its teachings. As a result, he says Christianity should be banished from the public realm; we should evict bishops from the House of Lords, abolish faith schools and get rid of chaplains in NHS hospitals for the crime of bringing comfort to the lonely and the dying.
Dawkins is incapable of understanding why people would go on calling themselves Christians when they don’t read the Bible or go to church. Words like ritual and mystery are, well, a mystery to him. When the National Secular Society won its case against Bideford council last week and had prayers banned at the start of council meetings, I could see how certain councillors might object to addressing words they don’t understand to a supreme being they don’t believe in. Who couldn’t? But I still felt the decision was wrong. It was the start of the erosion of something precious which, once lost, we can never get back. Just as we are now desperately trying to pour education back into schools where tradition, respect and even learning itself has drained away.
A week ago, I attended Evensong at Jesus College, Cambridge, where the Small Boy is a chorister. I hadn’t been to church in a while and it took me a few seconds, waiting for the faith muscle-memory to kick in. The choir sang. They say the Devil has all the best tunes. Well, they’re wrong; Jesus has Hubert Parry and Johann Sebastian Bach. We knelt. We stood, then knelt again. We sang “Immortal Invisible God Only Wise”. We turned to face the altar. “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth.” I’m not sure what I believe, but I do know every word of the Creed, and when I say them I feel I am joining myself to generations who spoke those words centuries before I was born, and that custom is deeply consoling. I thought about my friend, stranded in New York by snow when her son was hurt in a car crash. Ann hadn’t prayed for years, but she slipped into a church on Fifth Avenue, “I can’t manage it alone,” she emailed, “I know that sounds strange.” Religion is strange, infinitely mysterious and easy to mock, but all I can say is that its rituals feel full, not hollow, as so much of modern life does. The Dorkists argue that you don’t need organised religion to hand down the wisdom of ages or a system of morality. Don’t you?
And so we come to the story of hundreds of commuters in Greater Manchester who stepped over 14-year-old Oliver Tiplady as he lay unconscious for 20 minutes after falling and striking his head. The boy was clearly not a drunk; he was in school uniform holding his satchel. Oliver’s mother Susan said: “This walk-on-by society has got to stop and think. How can people justify leaving a child, or anybody for that matter, on the floor like that? They must have lacked any basic humanity and obviously had no compassion.”
Lacking in basic humanity and compassion? Sounds remarkably like the Dork, high priest of atheists. By the way, there’s a story telling you not to walk by on the other side when a vulnerable stranger is in trouble. It’s in this rather good book.
reference DT here HERE

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Bishops who will be Women

A Well Known River in Italy
Unlike many I am not particularly getting excited or flustered about General Synod's decision to go ahead with ordaining women bishops or what "safeguards" are being argued over (or rather omitted)  for those who can't accept the innovations of the Anglican church. After all we are only watching in slow motion what was begun years ago and is coming to its natural conclusion, very sad though it may appear. What is even sadder is to see the desperation of those who have lost a long time ago clutching at anything they can on the hoof without proper thought for either themselves, their consciences and the position of those who have looked for leadership. These words of William Oddie are in todays news; 
"If a woman is a priest, she can also be a bishop: if she’s not, she can’t. Either way, there is now only one way out for Catholic Anglicans: it’s over the Tiber"
These are pretty stark words but will be read and re-read by loyal Anglo- Catholics over coming months and even over some years for some; for there is no need for rushing and panic, the only timescale is one's own in discernment of God's will for each. The whole article is HERE

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Moving Forward; tribute to a friend.

After the initial weeks of shock since Jeremy Winston's untimely death I realise that it is nearly a year ago that we went together with friends to see the marvellous film "Of Gods and Men" and I wrote about it HERE. Yesterday's obituary in the Daily Telegraph hit the spot exactly with wonderful photos both in the printed editions and in the online version HERE taken at Glastonbury Abbey pilgrimage. However, there could be no space in the Telegraph or for that matter at the recent memorial service at Abergavenny to give a fuller understanding of what could and should have been (see the final words of the obit.). If the words "always show graciousness" is to be a two way grace and not a self-serving one sided soundbite, the other side of the story in many events; and indeed I believe in lives lived pursuing truth and holiness in all conscience, needs to be told by those closest to those events and lives themselves. This post is in part a response to "anonymous" who left a comment on my blog (if you want comments published please be good enough to declare yourselves) after I published THIS. In tribute to my friend I therefore publish the homily which I gave for his Requiem:

Requiem Homily. Jeremy Hugh Winston, Priest.
St Arvans Parish Church, Chepstow. 10th December 2011 12 noon.

From the Gospel of St. Jn. Chapter 6v 58
“The one who eats this bread will live forever”.

It is entirely appropriate that we have chosen to mark the death of dear Fr. Jeremy in our parishes with a celebration of the Eucharist. The daily Mass was what sustained him throughout his busy and sometimes turbulent life. It is the way in which he is now re-united with his Saviour Jesus Christ and it is in direct obedience to the Lord’s call for us to “do this in Remembrance of Me”. The Eucharist here on earth foretells the banquet that we hope to share in, in heaven.
Jeremy knew how to throw a banquet didn’t he! Many is the time we have left his table swimming on the homeward outgoing tide of butter and cream and five courses of exquisite food, washed down by gallons (sometimes literally) of lovely wine! But even that will be nothing to the banquet that we hope that he and we shall share in there in heaven. For every time we share in the earthly food of the Eucharist we through this Holy Sacrament share together both here and there with the whole Church living and departed the heavenly food in the real presence of Jesus.
There were so many talents and gifts that Fr. Jeremy had and which he shared with us and with the whole church here on earth. I hope to at least recall some of them.

Pastoral Gifts.
Throughout his ministry he was a great doer of the word and not a hearer only. He sacrificed himself in more ways than one. A celibate by vocation, he could not ever stand being inactive. He came to these parishes in 1983 (for ten years as it turned out) a young lean thin beaming Priest itching to make a success of his first incumbency…. He loved the five churches of this group very much and the people too and most of them loved him greatly in return. He set about restoring and repairing the buildings and re-invigorating the faith and the liturgies with many services, having little regard for himself. After only a few madly overactive and impossibly overworked years and with frustrations with a few people who didn’t or wouldn’t share his dynamic vision or speed for the mission of spreading the Gospel, he had to have a period of enforced time off to recover. This he did and others began to realize that this was a vocation that needed to be better supported and shared in. So it was that renewed with greater help and better delegation and teamwork he was able to empower the laity and others to grow the congregations under his care. 

So many people have said to me that he had a great gift to give confidence and a true sense of purpose and vocation to their lives. Some were ordained and are serving in all parts of England and Wales. But many are lay people supported to be Christians in that world in a myriad of situations
Now I don’t want to give the impression Jeremy was perfect! All of us are sinners, even those who the church has later called Saints. But his theology was very much to do with the Incarnation; all of us are called to be Saints and faithful followers. This is the same Incarnation the feast of which we shall celebrate on Christmas Day. He believed that Jesus was sent into the world to make everything holy and that we are sent in to this world to live and live to the full and share in that task too. To live out our vocation as Christians in the everyday details and the sometimes messy, imperfect and sinful situations that we humans manage to get into. The Gospel imperative he lived in his life was very much that of the harvest being plentiful but the labourers being few and he did his best to address that need.
He was a sought after Confessor absolving the sins of penitent people under his charge, both laity and sacred ministers, with kindness and strong spiritual direction. As a pastor he was skillful and wise. There are large numbers of people who recall the care he had for them and their loved ones, this ministry of healing to the sick, the dying, the bereaved and those searching for something meaningful in life is spoken of wherever you mention his name. The people he baptized and married, the anniversaries and the holy days and holidays were what he and they loved most.
Remember the wonderful pilgrimages he led us to; the visits to Walsingham, Rome, Llantony and the Holy Land (three times no less), these will never be forgotten by those who went with him. He was teacher in schools, baptizer, confirmation preparer, friend to servers, and Minister to countless marriages; sponsor and encourager of many men to be Deacons and Priests, Missioner who brought many especially young people to know Jesus Christ, Ecumenist, faithful celebrant at Mass.
To say nothing of his work in the Christian Men’s societies, the choirs and choral societies he worked with. The Ordinations, Chrism Masses and large liturgical events he planned; the obtainer of Royal patronage for mission-based projects that achieved more than anyone else we could name. He was the best Bishop the Church in Wales should have had, and was so willfully negligent and partisan and ungracious to deny itself.

As Producer and Musician.
A pianist and choir leader; one most memorable concert he conducted in Chepstow (Oct 1991) was the Mozart Requiem but being Jeremy he performed the Solemn Vespers and Exultate Jubilate all on the same night and all 24 parts! Handel’s Messiah always the three parts in full! Nothing was ever done by halves everything to fulfill the utmost potential and always to the greater glory of God, this having gathered a group of local musicians he called the St. Arvans Festival Orchestra and Chorus with the Kingsmark and Martin Singers. Some of you will have been performers and soloists. It was a most ambitious and wonderfully happy time, and a triumph; it worked, as did so many of his projects. And it brought people together didn’t it?
Do you remember the Passion Play that he promoted? Nothing done by halves again, leading Christians of all denominations within the town of Cheptow. Closing the whole place down; traffic diverted and the most magnificent procession of witness with Ralph and Jean Davies’ Donkey leading with men women and children fully costumed and made up in a cast of hundreds all singing and acting the passion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, ending with the most realistic and moving scene of Jesus being crucified on a huge high scaffold at the top of the Dell. This was a mega amount of coordinating, vision and hard work from Fr. Jeremy. His Missionary zeal to turn heads, to turn hearts and to turn lives to Christ being his driving purpose.

The Wider Church.
Fr. Jeremy was always much more than a Priest to the Church in Wales. He saw himself as priest of God in the wider Universal, Catholic world. He was in England a Theology Student; trained at St Stephen’s House Oxford, he had the future Archbishop of York, David Hope and the future Provincial Assistant Bishop David Thomas as his Principal and vice Principal respectively. He was Chairman of the Additional Curates Society, member of SSC, a Priest Associate of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, a Chaplain to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and to countless High Sheriffs, Mayors and civil office holders. He surely ought to have been made a Diocesan Bishop in England or Wales years ago but was blocked most likely because of his position as a:-

Champion of Traditionalist Anglican Catholic beliefs. 
He was steeped in the Anglo-Catholic tradition that underpinned every single thing that he did in the priestly ministry. His devotion to Our Lady and all the Saints sustained him in his faith, as did his daily prayers from the Divine Office and the extracts for daily Mass from the Roman Missal. A fierce and loyal supporter of the Anglican tradition, he taught many of us that the Anglican Church was not something new in the way of a sect that had been created at the time of Henry VIII but a continuing if reformed church from within the Catholic Church from which it is hewn. He was always direct but scrupulously gracious and polite to those with whom he disagreed, which was mainly in his objection to the innovation of liberal changes and also to the Ordination of women as Bishops and Priests. Like many of us he would never go as far as to deny their supporters anything. He was, however, deeply shocked when the promises which were given that objectors who wished to continue the previously held beliefs of their church, would be catered for with their own Provincial Assistant Bishop was ditched and those promises broken. He made those views known to those in charge in no uncertain terms. Let’s face it Jeremy should and would have been made PAB when Bp. David Thomas retired (not that he sought it or wanted it), had the graciousness and tolerance which he always showed others been reciprocated. Christian graciousness, which is a word bandied about liberally, surely needs to be two sided if it is to be recognizable as a Grace at all.

This was memorably a sad lapse of judgment by the current Archbishop and whole bench of Bishops of the Church in Wales. He felt he should stay and support those who agreed with him; although the Ordinariate, which is in its infancy, was available to him the moment women would be made Bishops. That would have been another sad loss to Wales and Anglicans more generally. He was faithful and constant on matters of conscience, truth and principle to the end.

However, on a lighter note: -Sense of Humour.
This could be quite outrageous sometimes couldn’t it?!! How many times he used to say out loud from his great height how that bench of Welsh Bishops in the 80’s and 90’s resembled a committee of Pork butchers! Often so loud that their Lordships would definitely hear it!!!
Do you remember how he insisted that if you were a lady and came to Church you should always wear a hat and by that he meant something at least three feet wide and worn at the correct angle!
What about the Diocesan Mission festival that we had for the renewal of the Diocese of Monmouth here in our own Parish at Chepstow Racecourse? (“Which Way?” July1989). He shoved and placed and shepherded Archdeacons, Bishops and Archbishops all over the place, making sure they were dressed correctly and when they were emerging from the Members Dining Room to begin the procession quipped that he wasn’t going to humiliate them too much more by making them go twice round the parade ring, so that the open-air congregation could judge the best turned out and to study their conformation and place their bets on who would win the race to their next promotion! On the way back from the outdoor Mass attended by thousands (and beautifully MC’d by him), he showed them the sign to the weighing room and again quipped that there was a steward there awaiting their weighing-in before they could depart!!
All this and the other jokes that will have to wait for another day were never rude, only extremely funny; somehow he seemed to get away with murder! There was never any maliciousness or harm to them!

Ministry to the Young.
His greatest talent was his ministry to children and the young. He was always in the schools especially our village ones before they were closed; he promoted Sunday schools and youth groups, servers and young choirs and musicians. Young people were attracted to his charisma and many owe him much.
Fr.Jeremy was an impresario for God! He brought everything and everyone together for all sorts of events and projects secular and religious but if secular always with a mission plan in place to steer God onto the agenda, to make Christianity the most natural, the most singular reason behind everything and whether people realized it at first or not the most important part of the whole thing, whatever it was.
At a time when cassocked clergy were fast disappearing from the public streets and village pathways or in the pub Jeremy still got on with quietly continuing those traditions of the heroes of the Catholic part of the Anglican church, whose illustrious ranks he must surely be destined to join if history is to be brought up to date one day. Not in the urban slums of London or Portsmouth but in the valleys and suburbs and then the market towns and villages of his beloved rural Monmouthshire.

So how can we make sense of all this and the huge hole his death has made in our lives? Well I suggest if we really appreciate his influence, his love and his friendship, if we wanted to do something long lasting to continue what he has begun then we could do no better than follow his example and do a little bit more for our community, a little bit more for our neighbours, a little bit more for our friends and family, do a lot more for our tradition and parishes, do a lot more for Christ’s broken church and re-union however that may affect our earthly ambitions and do more to make the world a better place; to make the saving grace of our Lord made known more widely in a truthful and dynamic traditional way, free from trivial innovations and secular influence in an increasingly ignorant and unknowing world.
And so may Jesus Christ soon to be present here in the bread of heaven, the food of Angels keep us and Jeremy safe for eternal life and may the prayers of Blessed Mary the Mother of God and all the Saints pray for us as we too pray for the soul of Jeremy Hugh Winston our Priest and Priest of God and may he receive the reward “Well done good and faithful servant enter into your Master’s joy”.

“The one who eats this bread will live for ever”. Amen. +
Fr. Mark Zorab.