Sinking into ecclesiastical despair

I usually look forward to getting the Church Times. Usually I browse it on a Saturday but often it has to wait until Monday before I can open its pages and see who’s doing what to whom in ecclesiastical circles. This week it took me down, down, down into the depths of despair. There was little within its pages to make you glad to be a member of the church.

There was a report from the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly which I suppose might have lifted my heart, reporting as it did on the continuation of the moratorium on accepting people in same-sex relationships into ordained ministry. It seems that it was a good debate, dealt with sensitively.  Sadly, on the same page, there was a report about an email sent by Colin Slee, now deceased, about a vile meeting regarding the selection of a bishop in which the Archbishop of Canterbury lost his temper, people were in tears, and Jeffrey John missed out once more. It seems that the Church of England process for electing bishops (well, its not really election is it?) is not terribly healthy and makes me feel decidedly queasy.

A few pages on and I came across an article on Clergy Stress carried out by St Luke’s hospital. Stress and anxiety were cited as the most prevalent reason for sickness absence in a survey. It is a stressful job and sometimes you do feel as if you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It can be isolating, lonely and exhausting. Thankfully I have some really good clergy friends who empathise, sympathise and will share their hilarious stories at the drop of a hat. But I wonder why we don’t cover more about this in CMD and Clergy Conferences.

Over the page and I see an evangelical pastor is slating the Richard Chartres’s royal wedding sermon. This American visitor to our shores complains that it didn’t preach the gospel. (He was speaking to a Men’s Convention – grrr.)  He is unhappy that the Bishop didn’t talk about sin, about repentance, about the Lordship of Christ. I just despair when I read stuff like this. You know, if we can’t respect one another in the Church what hope have we got of earning respect from others?  And no, I shall never ever preach on sin and repentance at any wedding I take.

In my temper I almost overlooked the wee snippet that said that Religious Hate Crimes have gone up in Scotland by 10%. Sigh.

On the facing page there is a picture of an alarming looking man who looks like he’s sitting on an electric chair at a medium voltage and he turns out to be Harold Camper, the radio evangelist who told us all the Rapture was going to happen last week. Why do we even give column inches to this kind of nonsense?

Scotland didn’t make an appearance in Margaret Duggan’s map of Britain again.

Then we get on to the two big main articles: one on Walsingham and the other on Women Bishops. (I could hear my teeth grinding at this point.)

Walsingham is always a sore point for me. A place of pilgrimage and peace for many and a place of hurt and pain for others. I don’t want to delve into this more closely or I get a pile of hate-mail, but being a priest who happens to be a woman means that I won’t go there until I am permitted to celebrate Mass.

The Guide on Women Bishops covers the same old arguments and again I thank God that I don’t work in the Church of England. Some women bishops interviewed talk of it being a non-issue, and about being accepted for who you are in their own countries. Alongside those stories of affirmation there are the tales of the most shocking behaviour at the last Lambeth conference, about being called names, being sent to the spouses group several times, about 100 bishops walking out of a talk on women and human rights, and about not feeling safe. This is absolutely shocking. Disgusting. That this behaviour goes on in Britain in a church I am in communion with. I think not.

So I’ve folded up the Church Times and put it in the recycling bin. Let’s hope something more positive can come from it now.

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6 thoughts on “Sinking into ecclesiastical despair

  1. I look north with all the hope I can muster: somehow, with the grace of God [working overtime?] Scotland can give us the lead, with a gifted female Bishop. We have got our prayer group onto this [!] For the rest, your summary is pretty much what I felt: utter despair at the wrangling and arguments, the loss of focus [was THIS what caused 5,000 people to turn out to listen to Jesus?] and the loss of joy.
    One bright note: we have a new Bishop elect for Salisbury Diocese, Nick Holtam, coming from St Martin in the Fields. Hastily reading his book ‘A Room with a View: Ministry with the World at Your Door’ (SPCK 2008) I’m struck by his emphasis on important characteristics of parish ministry and mission. Like Trafalgar Square, it should be open to the world, not inward-looking; it should be a place of prayer and it should be open to the poorest. This was the vision which shaped Dick Sheppard’s work at St Martins – as the ‘ever-open door’.
    He’s got encouragingly wide experience: ministry in Stepney, the Isle of Dogs and Lincoln Theological College, prior to the last 16 years at St Martin’s: where he led the transformation of the church[small c, too] into a major hub connecting with countless aspects of the life of central London, not least outreach to the homeless and poor.

  2. You’re in good company, Ruth. Some days I just have to turn off the news or stop reading the blogs or whatever and go out for a walk and reconnect with God or otherwise reconnect with those beautiful and true things in the world so that I can keep going.

  3. I did once go to a wedding where the celebrant said to the couple “there will be times when you are tempted to commit adultery” – and he wasn’t wrong, they did. Stayed married less than a year.

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