Decades ago we can suppose that a city changed its name to Wykkyfish and the old Church of England was disestablished and became the Church in England. In recognition of a Saint called Chad, and given a town council once adopting that name, Radio Chadderbox was formed. Yet the issues faced by the disestablished Church and its Communion, and by some of its people in a kind of Liberal Protestant to Evangelical Protestant line, and Catholic traditionalist versus Catholic progressive outlooks, are pretty much the same as we face. Here Rowanov Treetri, the once renamed Archbishop of Anglicanism thanks to his Russian literary work, is driving the Church in a centralised Catholic direction many would not like it to go. But what has been happening behind the scenes as the recent discussions have come to the microphone? Harry Tickpaper has organised an outside broadcast for Radio Chadderbox now facing the severest of economies as so much of Britain in this consolidated universe has gone bust.
Lara Crofter: Well listeners, you'll have all heard the news of the cutbacks and we are just going to have to wave goodbye to the religion section at Radio Chadderbox - but if this is a final outing, it's a special, because we have an outside broadcast. In fact, there is even a TV camera here for viewers of Northern Catch tonight, presented by my colleague also here, Peter Levite. Sorry Reverend Adam Tilgate, we've had to finish with your training. Are you sad or happy about what is going on today? It's an installation service but the only thing I've ever installed is my Windows XP.
Adam Tilgate: Okay but not happy at what has transcribed.
Lara Crofter: Oh. Why not?
Adam Tilgate: Well let's put it like this: I'm Anglican and I'm not up north.
Lara Crofter: Some Anglicans are up north.
Adam Tilgate: Okay, but not me at present and not by preference. Hey, I know them.
Lara Crofter: Yes, people are arriving still, and I see that Bishop Harold Wilson has arrived with another chap in purple. Hello bishops.
Bishop Harold Wilson: Hello. We are here to find out yet again what on earth is going on. We don't take to losing one of our kind so easily here. This is Jean Proudie, Bishop of Wokingham.
Lara Crofter: Hello Bishop John.
Jean Proudie: No, Jean, as in the French. French design specs, French ancestry.
Lara Crofter: Is that what is happening? Are you losing someone? Why don't you want to lose - we're talking about the new minister here? Ooh here she is.
Jean Proudie: Lesley Bloke, it is not too late.
Lesley Bloke: Sorry bishop, and I am very busy right now.
Harold Wilson: We brought you up, we made you who you are, we even tolerated you. We formed your early attitudes to religion, love and art. You should be in your prime.
Lesley Bloke: I really must get on.
Jean Proudie: You were far from your prime when we trained you. We brought you up. We showed you goodness, truth and beauty. You are one of our girls, and you cannot abandon us like this. Do you not realise: you are our creme de la creme?
Lesley Bloke: I resigned, last Sunday evening. I sent my letter to Miss MacKay at Lambeth Palace.
Jean Proudie: We are proud of the strong influence on our girls. We influence them to be aware of all the theological possibilities of life... of beauty, honour, of courage.
Harold Wilson: You don't get it; we are soon to be in the business of ordaining women bishops: our girls, all of them.
Lesley Bloke: I'm fed up with all that hierarchy now.
Harold Wilson: You really don't get it. Bishop Proudie and I want you to to be the first female - even the very next - Archbishop of Canterbury. Can we not offer this to you, and for you to come away from here right now?
Lesley Bloke: Crumbs, that is a tempting offer. But you can't offer this to me.
Jean Proudie: Yes we can, yes we can. You could keep your semi-ecumenical religious interests, and they would be most useful as Archbishop.
Harold Wilson: I said to my wife Muriel, this girl has such potential we must travel north today and bring her back, bring her back.
Lara Crofter: Here, listeners, we are live at a crucial moment of decision - a last moment of decision?
Lesley Bloke: Gosh I would do so much as the ABC. I mean, no Anglican Covenant, a worldwide communion of independent Anglican Provinces; gosh: doctrinal flexibility and Anglicanism according to bonds of affection.
Jean Proudie: We can't stop the Covenant, Ms Bloke.
Harold Wilson: But it will be useless, Lesley, be assured: well, unless others start to use it.
Lesley Bloke: Ah stuff it, I've had it with all that.
Harold Wilson: You more than disappoint us. We are here to bring you home. You won't come will you.
Jean Proudie: Assassin! Assassin!
Lesley Bloke: Anyway, think about it: you're either nuts to become Archbishop or it makes you go nuts.
Bill Dialazodiac: [Just coming along to join with Lesley Bloke] What's happening? Go and sit down gentlemen and watch the proceedings. Enjoy the service.
Jean Proudie: Assassin! Assassin!
Bill Dialazodiac: What's he saying that for?
Lesley Bloke: Must be some divine spark, or not.
Bill Dialazodiac: Hey? Come into the vestry first.
Lara Crofter: Well we were right in the thick of it there. Hang on, what's all that noise from the toilets. Hello, here's a face I recognise, it must be Jade Stowaway. She's often joined us for our discussions.
Jade Stowaway: It's Rachel: she's locked herself in the toilet and is screaming out loud. Come along and help.
Lara Crofter: Is that Rachel Marsovenus, your Civil Partner? Let's open the door here and go in.
Jade Stowaway: [Going in] Yes, it is Rachel but she's not my Civil Partner. She can't be - we are both Open Evangelicals. And she's married. But, er, I love gay and lesbian people now.
Lara Crofter: And here we are outside the cubicle she's locked from the inside. Ah, some concerned people here.
Mary Birro: No, we just want to use the toilet.
Rachel Marsovenus: [From inside the cubicle] Yeah, I'm married baby but hubby, I never see him: when he's not at work, he's in the supermarket. Have you seen their hymn books, Jade? It's all John Hick; I'm not singing John Hick. I'm singing D'Costa baby, or even more. Here we go: [Still inside the cubicle, singing in high pitch even screaming]
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cubicle, this solid seat,
Firm through the toilet drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strainings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I sit.
[Still inside the cubicle] How does the second verse go Jade?
Jade Stowaway: In Christ alone! who took on flesh.
Rachel Marsovenus: Oh yeah, so:
Fullness of God I'm your helpless babe!
Er, Your what is it?
Jade Stowaway: Your gift of love and righteousness
Rachel Marsovenus: Yeah yeah:
Scorned by the someones you can then save:
Till at the checkout Jesus queued...
Jade Stowaway: Have you been drinking, Rachel?
Rachel Marsovenus: Drunk on the love of God, Jade.
Jade Stowaway: Come out of there, Rachel. Treat their hymn books as a bit of interfaith. You believe in interfaith prayer don't you?
Rachel Marsovenus: Like D'Costa?
Jade Stowaway: Yes, during coffee afterwards with these different religious people. And why can't you do Indaba here?
Rachel Marsovenus: Slippery language, too slippery.
Lara Crofter: This is live, everyone, and it's all happening [Rachel Marsovenus emerges from the toilet] Crumbs Rachel. Pull your dress down. [Someone goes in and bangs the cubicle door behind them]. Er, you lasses, like, before we are going back in the worship area: what is it about these knockout dresses you two are wearing?
Rachel Marsovenus: Recommended, like, by evangelical theological colleges.
Lara Crofter: They are telling you how to dress, and like this?
Rachel Marsovenus: Prayer has got to be like breast feeding.
Lara Crofter: You're kidding!
Rachel Marsovenus: No, they say make it real, like in your prayer groups.
Jade Stowaway: Yeah they do say that. Make it real. Like breastfeeding and childbirth.
Lara Crofter: Crumbs. I wouldn't want to come to your prayer groups.
Rachel Marsovenus: It's all to do with the womb-likeness of Jonah's fish.
Jade Stowaway: Let's go in Rachel and sit down [Which they do]
Jean Proudie: [Elsewhere, he and Bishop Wilson are now sat down] Hello, what's your name?
Elena Kushdy: [In a Russian accident, sitting next to the aisle] Yelena.
Jean Proudie: I'm Jean Proudie, Bishop of Wokingham.
Elena Kushdy: I've come from Reading.
Bill Dialazodiac: [Passing by and stops dead] So you are Elena, Harry Tickpaper and all that?
Elena Kushdy: Yiess.
Bill Dialazodiac: Will you do me one of your charts? Look we're just about to start, but I'll catch you later.
Elena Kushdy: You have a good future.
Bill Dialazodiac: You already know?
Elena Kushdy: No, I am just saying 'have a good time', you know that.
Lesley Bloke: Hello Elena; I've heard about you.
Elena Kushdy: I've heard about you too.
Bill Dialazodiac: Lesley, let's get into position.
Jean Proudie: Oy! Lesley. It is still not too late; it's not is it Harold?
Harold Wilson: You know how it works, Lesley: nudges and winks. You're the first woman Archbishop of Canterbury. Not this tiny congregation.
Bill Dialazodiac: What are you on about? Come on.
Lesley Bloke: Must get on; it's starting.
Lara Crofter: People are getting into position and so now the service begins...
Bill Dialazodiac: Phew! Welcome one and all to this Service of Installment of the new Unitarian Minister here at Wykkyfish, and in a symbolic gesture I will ask the new Minister to be to light the chalice. May I welcome guests from mainly the Anglican Church I think and some other Unitarians, including Norway and a representative from a new group in Africa, namely Alice.
Knut Edelweiss: Greetings from Norway, the rest of Scandinavia, and the Superintendents in Hungary and Transylvania and all their congregations.
Alice Margaret: Hello, including greetings from my bishop husband and his other wives.
[The service proceeds and arrives at the first hymn: 181 in Sing Your Faith, sung to Toby 10.10.10.10. Dactylic, words by Tom Mikelson.]
Wake, now, my senses, and hear the earth call;
Feel the deep power of being in all;
Keep with the web of creation your vow,
Giving, receiving, as love shows us how.
Wake, now, my reason, reach out to the new;
Join with each pilgrim who quests for the true;
Honour the beauty and wisdom of time;
Suffer thy limit, and praise the sublime.
Wake, now, compassion, give heed to the cry;
Voices of suffering fill the wide sky;
Take as your neighbour both stranger and friend,
Praying and striving their hardship to end.
Wake, now, my conscience, with justice thy guide;
Join with all people whose rights are denied;
Take not for granted a prvileged place;
God's love embraces the whole human race.
Wake, now, my vision of ministry clear;
brighten my pathway with radiance here;
Mingle my calling with all who would share;
Work toward a planet transformed by our care.
Rachel Marsovenus: Lofty crap.
Jade Stowaway: Behave Rachel; you should show the world how we evangelicals behave.
Rachel Marsovenus: Well it's bottled milk not breastfeeding. Who is this all about? Is it God?
Arthur Francis: Did I ever tell you the joke about Unitarians praying 'to whom it may concern'?
Celia Dunham-Skipton: [At the front, next to Bill Dialazodiac] I make the charge to the new Minister and to this Congregation here in Wykkyfish. We make no doctrinal demands on ministers or lay people, but we do ask for your trust and faith in serving this congregation. Lesley Bloke, will you serve this congregation to the best of your ability, in faith and trust, to build it up in terms of its spiritual life?
Lesley Bloke: I will.
Celia Dunham-Skipton: I now turn to members and friends of this congregation. Will you support your Minister also in faith and trust, and give her every encouragement in your joint tasks of ministry.
Congregation people: We will.
Celia Dunham-Skipton: Bill and I and a member of the congregation will shake your hand to welcome you in to this ministry.
Bill Dialazodiac: We sing Hymns for Living number 158 to the tune of Orientis Partibus [77.77 Beauvais Liturgical Play, words Anonymous]:
Dare to think, though others frown:
Dare in words your thoughts express;
Dare to rise, though oft cast down;
Dare the wronged and scorned to bless.
Dare from custom to depart;
Dare the priceless pearl possess;
Dare to wear it in your heart;
Dare, when others curse, to bless.
Dare what conscience says is right;
Do what reason says is best;
Do with all your mind and might;
Do your duty and be blest.
Harry Tickpaper: [Sitting down after the hymn] So what do you think about these hymns then, Adam?
Adam Tilgate: [Also sitting down] Okay. They're okay. That first one would pass the Keith Ward test, but not sure about that. I just think all this could be done inside the Church in England, well hopefully.
Harry Tickpaper: I've never asked you: how is your emotional life?
Adam Tilgate: I'd have to write to John Sendmehome to see if he's got a parish up here.
Harry Tickpaper: That'll make an interesting reply. He's not here is he. No publicity value.
Adam Tilgate: Okay. How's your emotional life, for that matter?
Harry Tickpaper: A bit more optimistic than it was.
Lara Crofter: Ah now the new Minister is about to give her sermon.
Lesley Bloke: First of all can I thank everyone for this service and for your welcome over these weeks of travelling north and south, and to say we are happily moving in to the accommodation. I made lots of relationships where I used to be, and some of you have travelled up here, but I hope to make new relationships in my new locality.
Some of you may have heard of the ordinariate, where former Anglican priests become Roman Catholics but carry on doing Anglican things. They get reordained, indeed. But there are more Roman Catholics who simply become Anglicans, and given scandals and the new Roman Missal imposed on people there may well be more in that direction. But there are also Anglicans who become Unitarians, and as well as present day folks who have crossed over there are the historical big figures like Blanco White and Francis Newman. But there were also friendships, such as James Martineau with Bishop Colenso, Dean Stanley and Benjamin Jowett. They might these days, at our time of disestablishment, be called "Affirming Liberals" but the question becomes, I suppose, what it really is you want to affirm, and what it is you must reject. It is much more than just not taking the Bible literally, but where you centre your spiritual quest. In recent years I have encouraged people to question their beliefs: for example what do they believe about the Resurrection, and of course that begs the question what I believe about the Resurrection.
I've always worked for progressive employers and worked in progressive areas all my life, but then I worked for the Church in England. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty that is good in it, but in its loss of Catholic traditionalists there is now a straight battle there between the unprogressive and the progressive, and the new Covenant really supports the unprogressive, who are themselves upheld by creeds and articles.
Wherever you are, why should a minister not be able to say more openly in church, "I'm scared God doesn't exist," or "God loves and accepts all including Muslim and gay people," that "I don't approve of the shallow, anachronistic theology that gets fed to the congregation" or, especially, "Vicar, is it possible you might be wrong?'" and for the minister to say, "I have doubts."
At least this is what can be said here, and in churches like this one on the non-credal side of the line. Is this still Christian? After all the questions have been asked, it's just the way one is Christian or otherwise. Jesus can still be a model for my life, and we can be Christlike, which means being who we are designed to be, like loving, hopeful and joyful. Being this sort of Christian does not mean being a clone of Jesus. But I also want to affirm Gandhi and the entirety of his ministry: one can see this in John Hick's book The Fifth Dimension in which several chapters are given over to Gandhi. And what Hick says is that so much religion is a human construction all pointing to a real. Even the Trinity is constructed and points to a higher real.
Rachel Marsovenus: [Said quietly] Read D'Costa.
Lesley Bloke: Yeah it is costly. Costly to come over to a much more uncertain existence, but that is the faith and trust side of it. Jesus: yeah I'm sure that he was a deep listener. But, humm, Mohammad. You know, I got my Qur'an from Bahrain, and although my Arabic is rubbish I want to be able to read from the Qur'an its beautiful single-handed sound in our services. It is harder to be a non-literalist Muslim than a non-literalist Christian, but in this ministry you can be both. If we can develop an interfaith outlook we forward the progress of peace.
I think I am truly rubbish at ambiguity and I did try vagueness but in the end you have to say what you think, and you go on making affirmations ever more vague in intention and meaning and it becomes a self-deception. And yeah especially when candidating, the candidates and the churches advertise themselves in increasing market-speak. Here, well, we know struggle is struggle. I am broken and fail to meet my own standards regularly, and a perfect church would not be for me. You get my meaning. One of Rowanov Treetri's favourite words is "unclarity" but that is nothing to be proud about.
They - I suppose I say 'they' and 'them' now - have so many different beliefs around the Eucharist. There is the usual: "So do people in your church believe that?" with the answer, "Err.. no.. well yes... well no.. well some do.. I think.. sort of." Sometimes that is the best any of us can do, and such weakness was a strength of being Anglican just as such weakness in doubt is a strength of Unitarianism. Living with ambiguity is part of the job: but so much in church life is like not telling the kids that Santa Claus doesn't exist. It is like the day that it dawns on you that Santa Claus can't come down the chimney because you don't have a chimney. And what do you do then? Do you carry on being a priest?
I have been quite fearful as an ordained person and more than I ever was in other careers. I have been busy blaming the Church for fear instead of being able to recognise what has been happening and taking responsibility for it.
But what about the person who tells you about being hit by a train on a level crossing, taken to a hospital, suffering much pain, but all so she could open a Bible left in the side cupboard drawer, to read some Bible verse and tell me about it. Perlease! Let us just get sensible. I cannot nod to this supernaturalism; no one can after the holocaust. But the reason that I became fearful is probably just that the job is more scary because I challenge taboos, in that I put my head above parapets and I try to tell the truth.
But should one give up the big still-a-national Church of parishes, which does, after all, keep some space for varieties of belief, even if it is becoming a straight fight of evangelical versus liberal?
My answer is this. In the classical age we all belonged to one Church, and then in the modern era we had Churches, denominations and sects. But now in the postmodern era we are all denominations or sects, all in the margin, all in our various corners. Size doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, really, if you are in a corner of the C in E or here, except that you must be able to function with less of that unclarity I mentioned.
Yeah, I don't plan to change my ways, really: tending to be vulnerable and trying to be honest; engaging with all: no matter how much they challenge my beliefs; I do tend to challenge all that I see to be unjust or unloving or plain wrong. I can't live with myself if I collude with stuff just to feather my own nest or further my career.
What can I do here then? Well, treat others as the owners, and 'this is indeed your church'. Listen properly, at the empathetic level to everyone. Enable the implementation of your ideas. Inspire more ideas, enable brainstorming. Encourage, motivate, energise. Delegate authority properly and clearly - but it is already yours. Provide all the resources required for that delegation. Provide training and information. Agree together the direction for the next few years, and we will.
Here we are - and beyond hierarchies there's no more being, in any way, fearful of your leaders. We are more than allowed to freely discuss teachings, prophecies, and so-called new revelations. We are not going to have people become a problem when the idea is the problem. And so much the better when this is not the Only True Church.
Yeah, here we are and here we go. This is both a place of old expression and fresh expression. Here I want to be like Gandhi - you have to completely embody the change you would like to see. I want to change the world, but this is impossible when being negative or snide or grumpy or without hope and joy. Instead, I'll connect, communicate, and understand, without the need to convert or control. The key is that we need to expose our fears – to bring them into the light, in a place like this that we trust, hopefully in that it will not collude with us, but challenge us and encourage us. So let this ministry be a catalyst for change, and bring in the light. Amen.
[The service continues, as Lara Crofter leaves the church and goes outside]
Lara Crofter: Hey good timing, that sermon: well I'm sure the service inside will go on for some time, but we have come to the end of our coverage here. But do join Peter Levite on Northern Catch on TV tonight for a full report. Oh here comes two bishops, leaving.
Jean Proudie: Assassin, Assassin.
Harold Wilson: Very disappointed, given all we've done and offered. Where is my pipe? No interviews.
Lara Crofter: Oops, two are arriving. Hello, you're a bit late!
Melanie Pritstick: We're just going to have to add this lateness to our life stories.
Stephen Preson: Huge tailback on the motorway. We should have left an hour earlier at least.
Lara Crofter: She's already given the oath - is it? - and a sermon too.
Melanie Pritstick: I engaged with her, you know, on one visit to Wakefield. Very closely, deep issues of biography. Very important, quite personal, confidential.
Stephen Preson: Anywhere to sit inside there?
Lara Crofter: Two have just left. Oh crumbs, Rachel has just come out now. Rachel Marsovenus it is.
Stephen Preson: Hey Mel, what the hell, let's go in.
Rachel Marsovenus: What have they taught me at theological college? Has it all been just such a load of rubbish? Gosh, have I been deconverted in there? Anyway, what has happened to Jade recently? Would Jesus be a heretic like this lot, and does it all go Kaputto?
Lara Crofter: I don't know love but your make up is running. I've got some spare lipstick.
Rachel Marsovenus: Put it on me. Mmm, mmm. Mmm, tell Jade I'll be in that big Tesco over there.
Lara Crofter: George, get me out of this. George, where are you?
George Hudson: I'm at Kings Lynn station. Do you know, Northern Catch occasionally has a news story for Kings Lynn. Does anyone watch it from there?
Lara Crofter: I've no idea, George. What's the weather?
George Hudson: Windy.
Flora Faunamor: [Coming from the garden behind the church] Hello, I'm Flora.
Lara Crofter: You going in?
Flora Faunamor: No no, my religion is the birds. If I go in there I say yes to everything, as I do in Chad's C in E church; and anywhere I go, like, it's water off a duck's back; so I may as well watch the birds. Bye.
Lara Crofter: Due to cutbacks, dear listeners, in the studio they are now going to play the old side 2 of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and when it's finished my programme will start in the studio. I've got that long to get across town over to my mixing desk! Byeeee!