Monthly Archives: May 2011

The responsibility of each and every one of us

‘Disgraceful’ hardly covers the behaviour of the two English archbishops reported in The Guardian.’ Today I am ashamed to be an Anglican and ashamed to be a Christian. The shouting matches and arm-twisting described have no place in the selection of bishops – and no place in deliberations over the role of gay clergy in the church.

This kind of ungodly, and I use the word advisedly, failure in decent behaviour can only happen because the selection of English bishops happens behind closed doors. It happens because the Church places too much confidence in the wisdom of bishops and senior clergy and too little in the laity – it is a symptom is a symptom of failing to believe the the Holy Spirit is present to the whole Church. Too many members of the clergy tacitly, or even overtly, beginning to believe that clergy are are not merely Christian leaders who have the very special role of being responsible for the Sacraments in the church, but that they are ‘really’ Christians and ‘really’ understand the mind of Christ in a way lay church people cannot. Of course this idea then feeds upon historical periods when it was still seen as acceptable that serious people chose other like-minded serious people for all positions of responsibility. So in England, it is somehow, bizarrely, acceptable to appoint bishops behind closed doors.

Before we north of the border become too smug, considering our duly-elected bishops, we need to consider why this kind of thing happens.
There is a kind of viscous circle in the church.. The lay part of many congregations fails to grow up. They fail to study. Many know little of the contents of the Bible, and even less about the current state of scholarship concerning it. Too many lay leaders in congregations take the astonishing position that they will only lead worship of a kind they personally find enjoyable. Too many congregations contain many only too happy to bully other members of the laity or their own clergy. I could go on, but won’t. It all adds up to failing to take the quest of following Christ at all seriously.

Oh yes, of course there are many conscientious committed lay Christians, and I live in hope some might even count myself among them. That is not the point.. The point is that for all the struggles of my generation, and of the ones who have come after mine, Christian maturity is in many congregations a rarity. I don’t blame the clergy, or even the laity, or rather I don’t blame one more than the other. I do know that unless and until the overwhelming majority of Christians step boldly up to the mark, we will see utterly shaming and disgraceful scenes like that reported being repeated at different levels all over the church. It is not the job of archbishops to discern the will of God and enforce it – it it the job of each and every one of us, working together, disagreeing without bullying, struggling without squabbling, and learning each from the other. No secrets, nothing kept by ‘adults’ from ‘children’ (because we are all learning to be adults in Christ) no collusion, but frank, kind open debate on all things, and each man and woman seeing the face of Christ in each and every face before them. Simples!



I have been in the Mild, Mild West, visiting family and a new-born and poorly grandson, now happily recovered and flourishing. I was away much longer than usual, and when I came back Ayrshire had been transformed. Every roadside was white with cow-parsley, or Queen Ann’s Lace, to give it its more poetic name, and russet, cream and purple with water avens, and the hedgerows covered in May blossom, just at its fullest and finest, the first flowers not et dropping much, while the middle flowering branches were open. Every tree is still a distinctive green, hawthorn, beech, rowan at once distinguishable by colour alone. And scent everywhere – the scent of May, and behind it, a tang of sea, and often, oddly comforting, a faint whiff of sheep. This is the most abundant moment of spring, and in a day of so it will slip over into early summer. There are only a very few days when it is like this – stunning, abundant. One feels that one should do nothing but stare and stare and try to fix the memory.


There are ways and ways of handling the sacred, you know. I offended somebody this week by repeating a bit of traditional theology – that when we are in pain, we associate our suffering with the much greater suffering of Christ. We offer our suffering to him, and it becomes transformed in his suffering. The somebody in question was outraged that we could imagine human suffering could ever be associated with the Christ in this way. Oh dear. Those most reverential of him, take the greatest liberties.