Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year Message

A New Year Message to the Church from John Sendmehome, Archbishop of the North.

Well here we are at that time of the year when an extra day means an extra year. The Pagan ancestors of this country would celebrate this, but as Christians we just mark the turn of the year. Nevertheless, like northerners of old, it is a time to look ahead, and this I wish to do, just as it is a time to look back and consider where we are at this moment.

Indeed the life of the Church is all about looking forward, as it is about looking back and being where we are, and there is no doubt that this Church in England is facing its greatest test since Henry VIII put skittles on his lawn in order to take Anne Boleyn. Or perhaps you are average at golf, like Catherine Parr. In facing our challenges, we must not drive ourselves out of our minds, but rather putt things right.

So, accepting that all generalisations are false, here is the issue: are we to always exclude, on some principle, or should we include everyone regardless, and not be like Leif the Viking who went home one day to find himself off the civic register, to find the council clerk of the day explaining that he must have taken Leif off his census. No, ordinarily, he should not have taken Leif off his census especially if it leaves six unhappy when seven eight nine. Yes, we want justice for all, of course: not as if the thumbs are excluded when we have just his fingers presiding.

It is natural for humans to be together, and yet they are equally divided, when in teams. You are red, and we are blue. That's good, but what we don't want when we bring them together is for anyone to become marooned. This is how I like to see our progress towards an Anglican Covenant and the challenge facing us next year.

The burning issue here is sexuality and a moral framework. When the fork asked the spoon, ''Who was that ladle I saw you with last night?" The ladle replied, "That was no ladle, that was my knife." But note that, according to some people, the knife, the fork, the spoon and the ladle fit together. If we then say, "Ah, but I want to be a garden trowel," then we have to tackle this problem, and this requires, we think, keeping these together but having arranged in different cupboards; indeed, one collection can be inside and the other a short walk away in the garden shed. That could be a problem if there is a bigamist like an old fashioned London fog.

Some say this is all so ancient, and that it's like a key in a Georgian desk that can only turn antique lock-wise, but the wise bit we see as continuous, at least until a consensus thinks otherwise and the clock can go forward. To be more direct, we don't accept as normative that Harry can marry both Kate and Edith, because if he did that would be like having his Kate and Edith too. And we wonder whether Kate will sign up and be a good girl. We are trying of course to hold this situation down, not inflate it; not like the Dutch woman who wore inflatable shoes to hear that one day she'd popped her clogs. But far better to sign up, than a situation like a man wearing a hat who could hear music, to solve the problem by removing the band.

Perhaps one day all personal relationships can be blessed, and not be a bar to ministry. But we have to get this right, not like the foreign man asking a waitress if he can have a "quickie", getting a slap, and getting a slap from the next waitress, to be told that the item on the menu is actually pronounced 'Keesh'. For once we do understand each other, perhaps that will be when we can go forward as one. But for that we need a process, and a good process. When the waitress was told that the egg was bad, she said, "Don't blame me sir, I only laid the table."

Well such are the ongoing concerns. And it is sad in again considering 'exclusion' that so many will this new year join a different Communion. It reminds me of the similarity between the Christmas tree soon to be taken down again and the ordinary Roman Catholic priest, that the balls are just for decoration.

I am acutely aware, meanwhile, of the terrible effect all this internal wrangling is having on the public's perception of the Church. People who live in glasshouses, of course, should change their clothes in the basement (and not in view); the public is like a washing machine laughing, laughing because it is taking the piss out of the undies, and we keep displaying our undies. But we must not be scared by the issues of difference: like the cow who asked another cow if he was scared of mad cow disease and he said no because he was a chicken. It is important how we look, and we have to beware of modernism: after all, who would go to a plastic surgeon whose favourite artist was Picasso? And perhaps we can moderate our language, taking our cue from my friend the other Archbishop, given that exaggeration is a billion times worse than subtle understatement.

Yes, the New Year will be challenging but we are a Church and we live in hope. We must become more like a genealogist and less like a gynaecologist, looking again at the trees of human life rather than just into the bushes.

John Northern

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