Tomorrow, Monday, the Priest-in-Charge at Barton-upon-Humber, David Rowett, begins a three month sabbatical. It involves privacy, some holidaying and a spiritually based walk in Spain with wife Viv. I thought I'd break from my usual lack of commentary locally because by the time he comes back into public work, I may well have changed circumstances and moved on. I don't know, but three months is a long time in religion; indeed, they might themselves just get used to a different life and then come back into the public realm.
There is no doubt that I would not have been attending at St. Mary's had it not been for David Rowett. I somehow spotted him coming and warmed to his theological enterprise from the very beginning. Secondly, and particularly in 2006 and 2007, David and Viv gave Elena and me some crucial pastoral support that was open and generous and just basically adult friendly.
Without wishing to pigeonhole, or damn with great praise, David does represent the thoughtful, generous, and broad (and, yes, inclusive) approach to theology and pastoral relationships that, sometimes, you think might be under threat at large. He is assisted too by the fact that Viv is a Hebrew Bible scholar in her own right. He is also assisted by the team around him in Barton, and you do notice how cleverly he leads from the back: that people get on with their jobs, and he sees that people do what they are good at.
I have theological differences, of course, and they have been identified over time. I am a selective liberal and without boundaries to what I select. David instead is a 'whole Christianity' moderate Anglo-Catholic, and draws on the Church and its ages of spirituality and its spiritual people. Some of these characters I find trivial and even unholy. He also treats the whole lectionary seriously, including the difficult or nastier stuff, whereas again I would select in and out. He knows the comparisons and contradictions and works with them, whereas again that takes me towards selectivity. He has a keen eye for the postmodern - certainly understands it thoroughly, as far as I can tell. My use of postmodernity is a liberal postmodernity, although he is only towards a Radical Orthodox in contrast. I have learnt from him a little more transcendence and a less hard-line non-realism. Indeed, rather than Radical Orthodox escapism, his Christianity is entirely intelligent along with the Darwinian and the social scientific, whereas for me (rejecting Radical Orthodoxy as a fantasy) the latter two seriously qualify the former. Many a sermon of his takes the Christian tradition as presented for that day and works with it, often to ask, from the challenge, his own challenging questions about the spiritual path - and presented as something being shared. He also associates the richness of Christianity with the richness of the arts, and Alan Wright's efforts at Barton have helped that no end. Both of them lay a generous space for Kathy Colwell and her curacy.
In the end I am too much of a traveller. I don't circulate around and around something that becomes, for me, exhausted by the critical process. Nevertheless, despite me dropping communion well over a year ago I'd listen to a sermon by him. I still went along with a tiny handful on a Tuesday evening because he can stand and do a good ad-libbed sermon. So I have listened and reflected on these, and participated where I could on a Tuesday, before I went to the pub. I'll hang about too in so far as I still relate to the community, usually some Wednesday mornings (more ad-libbed sermons) and most Sunday evenings (written sermons unless the concert-like Evensong).
The Church of England gains a lot of its actual characteristics from the characters within it. Looking at the media, the pressure groups and many of the blogs, one wonders about its future. There are increasing incompatibilities being expressed. Can it maintain the breadth of its own tradition, or is it going down an increasingly sectarian fellowship path? Where are its loose ends and spaces being maintained so that it can still fit in the misfits? People like David can remind the committed that it may not necessarily be as straightforward as they think, and yet at the same time boost their resources, and then create the spaces for the enquirer and the traveller.
So he is going on his travels (partly) and, in public as in private, I wish him good refreshment.
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