I’m not thinking of leaving the Church of England at the moment. Periodically I do consider it of course. This is partly a sane response to the problems we face along with frustration, anger and sadness about the very significant limitations of the institution. And it is partly a kind of childish “running away from home” mentality that imagines that there is a perfect world/ Church/ life out there, if only I can find it.
I was talking to a very reflective member of one of our congregations the other day. He was saying how he frequently goes into York Minster – he feels drawn – compelled even – to go there. Yet when he gets there, he finds that it doesn’t quite speak to him spiritually the way he wants it to. Still he goes. It is a kind of calling that I can understand and respect. For those of us brought up in the ’80s, we might finding ourselves humming, like Bono, “but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.
Recently, I have been reminded, through various groups and interactions, of how much of our society sees the Church of England. We are perceived, by significant numbers, to be manipulative, political, resistant to change, and more concerned with appearances than the truth. This makes me sad – very sad. Because whilst we try to be much more than this, try to be better than this (and if this was a different blog post I would tell you about Foodbanks and debt counselling and community centres) I cannot deny that there is some truth in what they say. Over my sixteen years in the Church I have often been treated with great kindness. I have been prayed for and given practical support, I have been shown great patience, I have been given more than I deserve, and I have been trusted to do my job. But I have also sometimes been hurt, ignored, undermined and dismissed, as many others have.
I believe the salvation of the Church of England will be in honesty and humility. We must stop pretending to be better than we are, for it can be our saving grace to remember that we do not have all the answers, to acknowledge our failings and to make the effort to change. I used to find it hysterical that amongst the first Canons (laws) of the Church of England, you can find the sentence, “The government of the Church of England” (and it goes on to specify the orders of Bishops, Deans, Archdeacons, Clergy and Laity) “is not repugnant to the Word of God”. It’s not exactly boastful or even confident, is it? “Not repugnant” – is that the best we can hope for? Some days even that feels like a challenge…
You may have heard Christians talking about “speaking the truth in love”. It comes from one of the letters written to the early Church. It is sometimes used as a reason for saying something difficult but important to someone else about their behaviour. But what if we applied “Speaking the truth in love” to ourselves instead? “Speaking the truth in love” as I see it, is a command to openness. It is a commitment to political idiocy – to putting honesty and integrity and compassion at the centre of who we are. Christians sometimes seem to fear that by being brutally honest about our failings, we risk diluting the Good News of Jesus’ love and call on our lives. In fact, this kind of integrity will show the good news for what it is: the commitment of God to all people – all us failures, all us anxious, scared, vulnerable, competitive, angry, sad, hopeful, confused people – to love, forgive and work with us, helping us to move on.
I went in the Minster myself today. Not for any particular spiritual purpose – we had left a school bag there the day before during the choir concert and I had to persuade the police officers who had tidied it away that (a) it wasn’t a bomb and (b) it belonged to me. This involved me having to describe the shoes inside the bag in some detail (which was a challenge in itself – turns out I have no idea what my children are wearing). As I walked through the crossing to the exit, I noticed (bizarrely for the first time) a massive crucifix in the south aisle hanging above the many individuals, couples, and tourist groups who were meandering around taking photos. I have no idea why I have never seen this before. It is about twenty foot high – not easy to miss you would think, but I had missed it nevertheless. Perhaps I am just not used to looking upwards.
The organisation is deeply flawed, just as I am deeply flawed. We must do better, and we must remember that Jesus came not to condemn but to save. We must speak the truth and allow others to speak their truth, and trust in God’s love to overcome all. Pray for General Synod this week, and for all God’s people who are connected, however loosely, to this Church of ours. May God bless what is good, and tear down what is destructive, and lead us into life.