I liked the quote from Rowan Williams in his New Year message on the eve of his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury.
He said religion ‘isn’t a social problem or an old fashioned embarrassment: it’s a wellspring of energy, and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated. ’
But when I looked up the quote I realised that he was talking specifically about social projects run by Churches. He was not talking about religion or the Church generally. I was pleased by this. When I trained for ministry I was shaped by what is now called Community Ministry – the local church engaging with local residents about shared issues.
So Rowan Williams is making a positive claim about specific parts of the Churches work- that of service to others. Recent events – the failure to vote for women bishops and the limited (and surely impractical) step to allow celibate priests in civil partnerships to be bishops- have shown that the Church of England is not seen by many as ‘a life giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated’.
To be seen in this way it will need to accept unconditionally within its structures both women and those who are gay.
In the meantime I am glad when local Churches, especially together with partners with different religious and secular beliefs, can show how people should be valued and treated – the Food Co-ops now springing up for those looking for their next family meal, the visiting schemes for the ill or housebound, the car share journeys to distant hospitals, initiatives to give vision to young people, and all those quiet AA meetings that happen invisibly everywhere…
Inspite of the social/sexual/gender embarrasment of the Church there is a vision of human flourishing to be glimpsed – just.
With the Cathedral reopened I was due to go to St Paul’s last week with a group of students. We were planning to attend a discussion by a theologian and a psychologist was the Biblical character Judas. So I was looking forward to an upbeat evening of theological reflection about betrayal, despair, truth, friendship and suicide. I was wondering how the discussion would be handled after the resignation of Canon Giles Fraser, the regular chair of this forum, and with the context framed by the Occupy London campsite outside. However, the event was ‘postponed’. In the afternoon we heard the announcement that the Dean, Graeme Knowles, the head of the Cathedral, had resigned.
In the last week the legal process to evict protesters has been put on hold. It seems to me that St Paul’s, the great Cathedral of the establishment Church, is now able to act like a church responding to its locality. Although rather unusually its locality includes the UK’s financial zone and now a protest camp. The first is part of the world’s financial system and the other part of a global protest movement echoed in cities around the world. Church is itself a global network of local communities many of them extremely poor and suffering from the effects of the banking crisis. Surely there is possibility for the Church, which is rich in symbolic actions and images, to find some creative and distinctive ways to engage with these issues of finance and economic justice? Especially as these issues are central to its own Gospel concerns about ending poverty and building a just future?
For an informed and sceptical view of the ways the Church of England might be caught up in the discussion and how it might move forward see Jonathan Bartley’s blog on the Ekklesia site http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15643
For a view from one of the people involved see Giles Fraser’s weekly column in the Church Times http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=120132
(p.s. ‘ the lectionary’ that he refers to in the opening sentences is the three-year scheme of daily readings used for services throughout the Church).