Arthur Francis: No, the YUU is the meeting of Yorkshire churches and, er, Stockton, but not Yorkshire as in around Sheffield because they meet in their own grouping.
Lara Crofter: Oh, so why are we here then?
Arthur Francis: I don't know. Would you like to meet my wife, Rose Francis? She preaches to Unitarians, but processes in an Anglian cathedral.
Harry Tickpaper: I mentioned it to your producer. So he thought he'd do something different, different place. Anyway, I'm going behind the curtain, like the Wizard of Oz.
Arthur Francis: Would you like to meet my wife, Rose Francis? She preaches to Unitarians, but processes in an Anglican cathedral. And this is Catherine Snelgrove, who is also from my Unitarian church: plays the organ and is an Anglican canon now.
Lesley Bloke: [Leaning over] Really?
Arthur Francis: Hello again. Yes, really. Strange how these connections aren't supposed to happen.
Rose Francis: I'm a theologian of early Christianity.
Lesley Bloke: How interesting are these movements of people, back and forth.
Arthur Francis: Are you prepared then? I'll go and join Francis Healy.
Lesley Bloke: As I'll ever be. A few pages of A4. I'll go forward for the prayer.
[The church is an oblong with a maroon curtain across at the front, and to the right (looking forward) a curtain on a screen behind which Harry sits with the mixer desk. From the left of that curtain is a fold down long table is set out across the front, behind which are seated now Rev. Francis Healy and Arthur Francis. There is a mobile pulpit and microphone to the far left. Harry can see them and anyone stood at the pulpit.]
Francis Healy: Turn the music off Harry. Hello ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls [only one child is present], and haven't we got a very good show here today which is a little bit different from the usual, isn't it, because there are all these different and unusual people here now that we're on the radio today for a change, yes. Now my name is Francis and when I go around wearing me clerical collar people on the housing estate call me Father Francis, you see, and they don't really know anything about Unitarians and old fashioned theological disputes - but so glad to see another good Yorkshireman here and that's the Archbishop of the North. Hello me old mate.
John Sendmehome: I came here because I heard it was on the radio. Anyway, it is a good opportunity for me to ask if you'd like a boyd box here. I see you have a nice little garden at the back and you could have several boyd boxes if you want them. Why did the parrot wear a raincoat before it spread some margarine on its bread? So it would be poly-unsaturated.
Flora Faunamor: [Sat next to him] I'm Flora - and not the margarine variety. I'll help you put some bird boxes up. When I heard about this I thought humm I bet you come Archbishop and I bet you bring some bird boxes and I thought great I'll be there and meet my friend Harry again. You haven't said hello Harry.
Harry Tickpaper: [Audible from behind the curtain] Sorry. Mind is on other things.
John Sendmehome: And if you like, we could do another radio programme here where I can go into this lovely kitchen behind me and cook breakfast for one of your presenters. You know a chicken crossing the road is so graceful: it's poultry in motion.
Lara Crofter: [Standing at the side, not far away] Weren't you banned from our studios?
John Sendmehome: I'm not in your studio, am I? Why don't owls make love in the rain? It's too wet to woo.
Francis Healy: Well I used to work in the clubs. I always used to wonder - here, Flora, I bet you'll know about this, given your T shirt, love - why Flamingos stand on one leg. And I asked this expert about this, you see, and he said if it stood on two it'd fall over. So there we are. Like that one? Well you know I live on the edge of this real rough housing estate, and I went to one door, when doing me visiting like, where they call me Father Francis, an' it says on the door 'Beware of the Budgie'. I saw this big beefy skinhead guy who'd come to this front door, like, and I asked him "What does it say that for?" 'Beware of the Budgie' it said. And he said because this budgie can whistle for the rottweiler. Yeah yeah, I like that one. Good clean fun isn't it? We like to keep it clean. Well, you're all not here - and aren't we ecumenical this meeting, and you know I'd be interfaith - but you're not here to listen to a couple of Yorkshiremen tell jokes but to have our important meeting. That's why we're here. And it's a bit different because of the radio like and we have here a Rev. Lesley Bloke who's going to give a talk but, sorry, I don't know you yet and I don't know if it is him or her at the front row here, and you've both got long hair. I keep out of the way of all the business things, you know; keep my nose clean like. They just said it's the one with the long hair.
Adam Tilgate: Okay, well it's not me. It's Lesley e y. I'm just the driver, okay.
Lesley Bloke: Time it was cut. He was going to cut it [turning around to the people behind]. Oh crumbs, see who's arrived. [Adam also turns]
Lara Crofter: Ah I see that Bishop Harold Wilson has come in and has been joined by our very own David Froth, our rather unknown Bishop of Wikkyfish. Hello, why are you two here?
David Froth: Hello. A new place for me.
Harold Wilson: I'm trying to find out what is going on and visiting David while here.
Lara Crofter: So you don't know what is going on?
Harold Wilson: I sort of know what is going on, but here we are. [Takes out a pipe from his jacket pocket]
Lara Crofter: You can't smoke in here I don't think.
Harold Wilson: There's nothing in my pipe. I'll just suck it.
Lara Crofter: Why have you never been on our programme, Bishop Froth?
David Froth: Well no, because I like to keep a low profile, in contrast to my predecessors. That's my explanation. What a strange place. Where's the cross?
Arthur Francis: [From the front table] You won't find one here, though you can in some churches. We start our proceedings with a hymn and a short prayer.
Francis Healy: I don't like this green book.
Arthur Francis: Well most of us use it, and served us well since 1985. Surely you approve of this one? This tune is the Ralph Vaughan Williams one, Danby: Hymn 130, All Faiths. Harry [who is behind the curtain] - the tune please.
[The music starts coming through the four speakers, people stand and a few voices can then be heard singing as follows:]
Our faith is but a single gem
Upon a rosary of beads;
The thread of truth which runs through them
Supports our varied human needs.
Confucian wisdom, Christian care,
The Buddhist way of self-control,
The Muslim's daily call to prayer
Are proven pathways to the goal.
From many lips, in every age,
The truth eternal is proclaimed,
By Western saint and Eastern sage,
And all the good, however named.
Beside the noblest of our race
Our lives as yet cannot compare;
May we at length our truth embrace
And in their sacred mission share.
Rachel Marsovenus: [As everyone sits she speaks to Jade Stowaway next to her] Not sure I can endorse those words from where I sit.
Francis Healy: Where do you sit, love?
Rachel Marsovenus: Space, Intimacy and Transformation. Sit with Jesus! But that was more like a park bench, sitting with everybody.
Jade Stowaway: It's feeling very strange here.
Adam Tilgate: [Turning around] Okay but might be just too far for Affirming Liberalism too; after all, we are only revisionist Christians. We could, okay, dialogue with this. Like, okay, I wonder what Keith Realist thinks to all this? Perhaps he should be invited along next time.
Arthur Francis: Well let us pray, and when I was asked who Unitarians pray to I have said, 'To whom it may concern'.
Harry Tickpaper: [Mutters] Not that old joke again.
Arthur Francis: Well, given the wider representation here, I'd better underline that sentiment, old joke or not. Did Kenneth Patton write this? So let us pray. [pauses]
Let people worship with their eyes and ears and fingertips.
Let people learn to love the world with their heart-mind-body.
Let people worship with the opening of all the windows of their being, with the full outstretching of their limits.
Let people learn to worship and let people learn to love.
Jade Stowaway: Did anyone mention God?
Arthur Francis: We haven't finished.
Lesley Bloke: [Comes to stand at the pulpit, looking at the top sheet of her pages placed down] This is a prayer by Abu Bakr, the father in law of Muhammad.
I thank you Lord for knowing me better than I know myself
And for letting me know myself better than others know me.
Make me, I ask You then, better than they suppose
And forgive me for what they do not know. Amen.
[She stays stood at the front]
Jade Stowaway: I'm not sure where I am.
Rachel Marsovenus: I'm really puzzled. Is she Church in England?
[Lesley Bloke looks across to Harry Tickpaper, and he to her; he indicates she should stay there like with a hand stop-sign]
Stephen Preson: [Comes forward from the third row and stands in front of the pulpit] Lord Lord, say the Jews and Christians; and Muslims have the ninety-nine names, and the Buddhists have emptiness like a divine non-space, and "neti-neti" say the Hindus, not this and not that. Whatever we may call him or her, this or that, or not this or not that, let this spirit be available into our proceedings today. Amen. [Goes and returns to his seat, his young son next to him]
Jade Stowaway: Ah so they do mention God then, sort of.
Rachel Marsovenus: Where's Jesus?
John Sendmehome: He must be in the pub. He meets a chap in the pub, who couldn't see, touched his forehead and his vision was restored. He walks across from the bar, and there's a chap with his leg in plaster. He touches his leg and tells the chap he can take all that off now. Then he approaches a third chap, who from his wheelchair grabs a nearby seat to violently sling it at Jesus, see, and the seat just shatters as it leaves his hand and drops safely to the floor. "What troubles you?" Jesus asks him and he says, "Stay away from me, I'm on Disability Allowance."
Francis Healy: You know, we could do a double act John. Now then ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, so we come to the highlight of the little speech we have and something to think about, isn't it, and then a question and answer session, and before the microphones go off, and we get down to business; but we have the little speech to get the old grey matter going from Lesley, now I know who she is. I should have known who you are, my dear, but I'm a bit of a loner as you might find out if or as you get to know us. There's not many of us, but we're big in heart you know. Ordinary people, that's all we are. You're enjoying yourself Archbishop, me old mate. Fancy having an Archbishop here. Good though isn't it. Hey a few bishops too.
John Sendmehome: I have a very boring collecting hobby, you know. I'm sitting here collecting dust.
Mary Birro: There's hardly any dust in this building.
Francis Healy: Well if you don't like it it's not to everyone's taste. Look, be honest, you're so actually boring John, if you threw a boomerang it wouldn't come back.
John Sendmehome: You know when a pretty lass has been to a boring party: she comes back with the same amount of lipstick on her as when she left.
Rachel Marsovenus: Did someone mention lipstick?
Lara Crofter: How much time have we got left?
Lesley Bloke: Perhaps I'll start.
Francis Healy: Good idea love, I would like to go home before my car rusts away.
Arthur Francis: She can't be that quick.
Lesley Bloke: [Looks at Harry with a glance, then at page two, then up at the gathering.] I think we all change, don't we, and are involved in a search, and we look for integrity and honesty. And like Stephen Preson's prayer, a Quaker has said, 'God is like a guest, and yet sometimes we haven't the faintest idea that he is in the house.' You must look everywhere, to find real religion.
The question is what is God and what is ministry to help see that God in the house. One of my great spiritual heroes is Gandhi. Gandhi had bias to the poor, and operated within the context of a foreign empire dominating his land. Where have we heard that before? And we have the history about Gandhi so well recorded, and his political-religious action against oppression.
Now I also think Muhammad was a compassionate man, and the Qur'an is wonderful, truly inspired but I cannot say it is God's literal wording. But it leads to Muslims caring for each other communally, and that isn't actually oppressive to women, though I have some questions like why women cannot enjoy the polygamy that men can enjoy, apparently. I don't want Muslims, or anyone, to be vilified. I'm sure there must be liberal Muslims we can ask about this.
Arthur Francis: We know of Muslims in our denomination: one has been at Wykkyfish here and one in Rochdale.
Lesley Bloke: Oh right. [She looks at Adam in the front row.] Muslim people sometimes seem cagey about their faith. I think when it comes to Muslims and integration, and understanding, time will help and with the generations Muslims will be more Westernised.
I don't want to talk why I am here explicitly; it is not the time or place and we have the business meeting coming up. But I come from, part of, a Church that is like a superego, a controlling parent, and I think that parent is out of control, whereas the Id is the free child and the free child is becoming scared, turning us into like an adapted child. I have a lot of time for Freud but I'm framing it within transactional analysis, I think. Creativity will come from the free child, although I accept that voices or beliefs need to be weighed carefully, and none of these board members must oust the Adult from the chair. And I know that in this denomination, the adult rational person has remained in the chair. Perhaps too fixed in the chair, if I may be so bold. What happens then, though, in the Church in England, when the controlling parent is in the chair as now, and has ousted the nurturing parent?
I just think that legalistic religion is wrong, wrong, wrong, and the reason is because it lacks love. I'm looking forward to the day when I don't want to wail when I hear the words 'Church in England'.
My theology of ministry, really, is that we are all priests. Some of us do it face to face, like here, and increasingly online. I want to think that being a priest means that we take down our masks together, and we stop pretending that one of us is right and the other wrong. I understand the tradition here of individual liberality. None of us are all completely wrong and completely right. God is so big that there is room for difference.
My way of being is postmodern, but with the emphasis on the individual. That means journeying, and sharing stories, and includes elements of a mystical and monastic faith. I've debated with Catholics and Evangelicals: the latter seem to me to be modernist. Perhaps you folks are modernist too, but you do have difference. The Church in England is becoming like a bad marriage, banging in stiff rods and hammering rivets to try and hold itself together. And don't get me talking about the Anglican Communion!
Any Church is just a vehicle, and I have a longing for the Kingdom of God to come more fully on earth. Actually, I would now tend to talk about making the world better rather than use a term like 'Kingdom of God'. The Church in its different forms is God's principle way of bringing that in. It is all about becoming more ethical, more fair, more righteous, and more loving than the surrounding culture. We ought to be in advance of these things. The Church in England seems to have less respect for fairness in our Church life than in our secular life.
The inequalities in the Church were less obvious to me as a lay person, less obvious before divorce, less obvious when I didn't have friends who are gay and present, less obvious before I read job adverts telling me that women need not apply. But this is a strong priestly vocation I have; that's what I have to point out. To find it was like falling in love, and so I found out new truths and realities about myself. So there is a real tension here given the hatred within the church; and it makes me cry. It is always packaged as something else too: those theological reasons that cover up a basic sickness.
I've read about Blanco White in the past, of Francis Newman, of even Francis Simons of recent decades. Aren't there a lot of Francises, Father Francis!
Francis Tealy: There are.
Arthur Francis: Don't forget the founding one in Transylvania, Bishop Francis David. A Catholic, a Lutheran, a Calvinist and a Unitarian in that order.
Lesley Bloke: Once upon a time so many bishops came from Cuddledown Theological College, by and large. I really hope that Martin Pinky becomes a high flying bishop, though when I put that online it might have ruined his chances. But now so many of them promoted have been to more Evangelical colleges. That shows how things are changing.
Jade Stowaway: Good thing too - but balance it as well.
Lesley Bloke: Er... When I say this, I say it as someone who was Evangelical once. First I was Catholic and didn't support the ordination of women; then I became evangelical in the sort of church where hubby was supposed to be the boss, but when I did that hubby said I was not the one he'd married. Now, apparently, I pass the look, walk and quack test for Liberalism and some wonder how I can call myself Christian. Well I follow the compassion of Jesus don't I and want God in people's lives. Is that enough? By the way, I believe in the Virgin Birth and a Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, but in a mythical way that is more important than the physical truth, so if it was proven that they were not literally true it wouldn't matter to me at all. I have said at times I feel like blaming the Bible for my strong opinions: it's when I try pretending that the Bible says the opposite of what I think it says. Anyway, I tend to go by experience, by the way: your James Martineau went on to say much about this. [Looks to the side towards Harry Tickpaper. He looks back.]
And I have said that I would hate it if the church was all liberal or all evangelical. So there's the dilemma, now, without going into detail.
We all make choices, and it is one choice to stay. But suppose there are forks in the road at the time of a great storm. You can simply quit a road that is going nowhere. Or perhaps pause and shelter in a cage with a few friends waiting until that institutional storm settles. The third choice is not to be so slow, but to move from the decadent present and insist on celebrating the coming of the unknown, but holier future.
Em, Christians and others are a motley bunch, with a wide variety of world-views. What they share is the pilgrimage - a spiritual discovery about themselves and about God, and they are also intent on changing the world for the better. It is not about saving the Church from the world and keeping it pure. I think what liberals do is to see Church only as a place to meet other people on the pilgrimage, who with others can band together to help society. So it is not about the will to power, but the very opposite.
On the other hand, I could be tempted to the will to power when it comes to that Anglican Covenant. But I'm not talking about that here.
Yet I want to add a caveat to this Kingdom of God stuff. I'm not suggesting we go back to Victorian days. I know that churches like this one, the older building with its big steeple, had such social and educational outreach and a large Sunday school. The middle class reached out to the working class. Actually, you couldn't do it now: we need professionals these days and volunteers can only do so much. We can't let the government off the hook. So I speak about a better society in the sense that it starts from the inside of each and every one of us.
So where do we stand? I don't know about the future of the Liberal or Progressive wing of the Church in England any more. John Sackme has gone, and other progressives have died or are silenced. The emphasis is on power, on aligning Anglicanism with Rome and Constantinople. It is about purple. No wonder the Methodist double act was ignored when they offered to close their Church down and join the Church in England.
Sometimes it's about Western fundamentalism using Africans to create unity through uniformity. That's even worse, and means an international pressure to force more conformity.
Here is what I think. There is no overarching 'metanarrative'. There is no single story. 'Postmodernism' has caused a distrust of those who claim to know the Truth, from which we get both relativism and religious fundamentalism. Some Churches have become just too spreadeagled, like sitting across huge tectonic plates separating. So we ought to let these things develop, but whatever the institutions do I remain an idealist wanting equality and peace reign in our world. I am an activist and all my heroes are activists. Can we try some activism?
[Everyone claps, but some Anglicans only briefly.]
Lara Crofter: We've hardly any time left.
Arthur Francis: Well thanks for that talk, Lesley Bloke, and I'm sure we all thought it was very interesting. And you do know that there are lots of vacancies than just here, desperate for high quality candidates. Just time for one question then?
Mary Birro: That was a most interesting talk and is food for thought. We are not bothered about things like the Trinity any more.
Lesley Bloke: I don't think I mentioned it: Adam was saying more heresy is preached on Trinity Sunday than any other day.
Adam Tilgate: [Shifting in his seat.] Okay, I seem to remember I said that somewhere.
Lesley Bloke: Online.
Adam Tilgate: [Shifting in his seat some more] Yes all right.
Francis Tealy: Go on, let's see if we can fit in another question? Have you got one Harry?
Harry Tickpaper: Not for now, no. I have heard this material before.
Francis Tealy: That good looker in the lovely shiny dress. Sorry love, I'm of a previous generation.
Jade Stowaway: Struth.
Rachel Marsovenus: Lesley, can't you believe in the Jesus of the Bible and still believe in equality? It's so exciting to open these pages of this book in my hand and see that women can be ministers.
Lesley Bloke: I don't know any more. Jesus, probably; the Bible, probably not. It's more than about women ministers. You can't choose some equality and shut off other equality.
Lara Crofter: Can I say thanks on behalf of Radio Chadderbox about coming to the first part of your meeting, and let's just ask about that weather. George?
George Hudson: [Overheard through the sound system.] I'm at Wakefield Westgate station, right near that chapel that some with you have come from. At last it is getting milder.
Lara Crofter: Over to Peter Levite then to read out all your text messages and emails sent after last night's Television North in his programme!
Arthur Francis: As for us: to business!
[Most Anglicans present then get up and head rapidly for the exit, but Harold Wilson comes forward.]
Harold Wilson: [Leaning over to Adam Tilgate] I want a word with you.
Adam Tilgate: I said I'm the driver. Okay I'm going to go and sit in the car.
Arthur Francis: About an hour.
Adam Tilgate: I'll go to that big Tesco then, okay.