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London Times Crossword

August 14, 2010

Today I finished the London Times Crossword, and the first thing I wanted to do was to phone Pat McBryde in Scotland to announce this unusual event. Pat could sit down with the Times and solve the crossword in half an hour or less – every day. Several times she came close to winning (and once won in the pairs section with Bishop Ted Luscombe) the Times annual national crossword competition. It was she who got me hooked on what another Scottish Bishop (Alastair Haggart) called sheer time wasting.

But Pat died last year, and I can only hope my triumphant whoop was heard in Heaven.

Bishop Haggart may have been right about wasting time, but I doubt it. A crossword like the Times’s covers such a range of subjects and requires such a lot of lateral thinking that I am sure it helps keep my mind from total stagnation.

In today’s (successful, remember!) crossword, I had to have at least some knowledge of Greek mythology, pastry-making, computers, proverbs, card games, Near Eastern history, Italian geography, English novels, French composers. Now, those who know me will laugh at such claims (at least as far as computers and pastry-making go) but I hasten to add that it is not a deep knowledge that is required but more a mind that is “a picker up of unconsidered trifles”. That may explain why Bishop Haggart disapproved – his was a mind that knew some subjects deeply and brilliantly, but had no idea about lots of others.

Ah well, when you next hear me say “I have a lot of paper work to get through” you will know that some of it is the Times Crossword – well it is printed on paper!

Bishop Bennison wins his appeal

August 5, 2010

The news that a Church appeal court, consisting of eight Bishops (a ninth recused himself) has reversed the findings of the verdict against Bishop Bennison has burst upon an astonished Church.

But I cannot understand why this should be so. As the appeal court said, the Bishop was never at any time accused of an immoral act, and it has now been shown (as he always asserted) that he had no knowledge of his brother’s crime until long after the event. Then, he remained silent at the request of the parents of the girl involved, who felt that publicity would hurt her.

It may well be that Bishop Bennison should have been more suspicious of his brother and made more vigorous attempts to find out what was really going on, but this hardly constitutes condoning immoral (and criminal) actions.

In the appeal court’s judgement, it is interesting that they make it clear that it is quite improper for those who disapprove of a Bishop’s theological opinions or use (or abuse) of Church funds to use an accusation of “conduct unbecoming a clergyman” as a way to remove him, which makes me think that they saw some evidence that this was what was happening. After all, it was only when another court found that there was no evidence of Bishop Bennison’s misusing Church monies that the present charges were brought.

The Bishop may choose to return as our Diocesan, or he may choose to retire and pursue his ministry as a Bishop of the Episcopal Church
elsewhere. I, for one, am glad that the ludicrously severe sentence of (purportedly) reducing him to the lay state has been shown for the nonsense it always was.

God’s Apology

August 1, 2010

When a relationship is broken, the only way friendship can be restored is by one of the parties saying “I’m sorry”. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But these words are among the hardest things we ever have to say.

And sometimes it is the innocent party who has to say “I’m sorry.” The one who caused the breach in the first place may not have the strength or the courage to summon up these words, so the stronger partner has to be the one to do it, even though he or she was the one sinned against.

This is what happened with God and Mankind. We caused the mess of sin by our pride and selfishness, but we were trapped in human weakness and could not say Sorry in our own strength. So God, in the Person of his Son (the totally innocent party), came and said Sorry for the sin and evil and hatred and wickedness which had broken off man’s relations with God. And the costliness of this love was demonstrated by the form of the Apology – the Cross of Calvary.

I preached on this subject this morning, because our Gospel reading was the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. I love the way the story says “The Pharisee prayed thus WITH HIMSELF” – not a word of his smug prayer got through to God. And all the Publican could do was say “Kyrie eleison” and this prayer winged its way to the throne of grace.

That’s all we can do too, but thank God we now have the strength to do it; now we can say “I’m sorry” to God and to anyone we have hurt, because we do it in the strong union of Christ. Then love jumps like an arc of electricity from person to person, healing, reviving, glorying in the freedom of God’s life.

The Fame of St Clement’s

July 27, 2010

A visitor to St Clement’s on Sunday told me a surprising story. He and his family have just returned to Philadelphia from a cruise to Alaska. In Juneau, he went to see the little Russian Orthodox church, and there met the young priest. After buying some CDs of Orthodox music, he explained to the priest that his daughter sang in the choir of an Anglo-Catholic church in Philadelphia. He was astonished when the priest said: “Oh it must be St Clement’s!” He explained that he knew the church well through its wonderful website and listened to the choir singing the Masses throughout the year.

This warmed my heart, and I was able to tell our visitor that I often heard from a priest in an Episcopal parish in Hawaii, who finds our website a source of inspiration in producing the Mass in his own church.

We have thousands of on-line visitors from the Continental 48 states, but how wonderful to hear of fans in the two others.

Gay Bishops are good for you

July 9, 2010

What a mess the Church of England has made of the latest appointment fiasco. Someone – presumably a hard line Evangelical – leaked the fact that the Dean of St Albans, Jeffrey John, was being considered for the Bishopric of Southwark. You will remember that JJ was nominated for the suffragan see of Reading by the Bishop of Oxford even though he was openly gay, but after another Evangelical outcry, the Archbishop of Canterbury convinced him to step down.

What are the Eveangelicals playing at? JJ has testified that he is in a loving relationship with another priest (male) but that their lifestyle is completely celibate. It is true that he advocates a very liberal line on even actively sexual gay relationships, but so do many heterosexual Bishops, and there has never been any attempt to block their appointments.

I have known many gay Bishops, and can testify that most of them have been faithful preachers of the Gospel and wonderful pastors of souls. The fact that they were gay has often been a gift to them, making them available to married and unmarried alike, but especially to the marginalized and those who find life hard because of being gay and finding little understanding or compassion in society and the Church.

The Church used to bless same-sex friendships, as long as they were celibate. Indeed, some of the great communities of the Church started off that way. But latterly our Holy Mother has got cold feet (and a bit of a stony heart) and, because of the ghastly child abuse cases of the Roman bit, and the super-liberal excesses of the American Episcopal bit, has lost all sense of proportion and of history about the God-given gift of love for members of one’s own sex. Surely if anyone can demonstrate this tough love it should be some of our Bishops.

Married and divorced heterosexual Bishops are much more of a departure from the tradition of the Early Church than unmarried ones living with a loving partner. If the Diocese of Pennsylvania has to choose a new Bishop in the near future, we could do much (and I mean Much!) worse than the Very Reverend Jeffrey John.

What Anglican Communion?

July 1, 2010

When I was growing up in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I never heard of the Anglican Communion. Even the Church of England was referred to as a suspect body, and indeed it had two churches, St Thomas’s in Edinburgh and St Silas’s in Glasgow, who owed no allegiance to the Scottish Bishops, but took their candidates to England to be confirmed.

And when I worked in the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe, there was not much talk of the Anglican Communion except that we were in full communion with the Spanish Episcopal Church and the Lusitanian Church of Portugal. Also there was the Convocation of American churches in Europe, eight of them, who were run from New York. Otherwise, we were a Diocese of the Church of England, welcoming English-speaking Christians from all over the world.

It is only since I have been in America that I have realized how fixated Episcopalians are on “The Anglican Communion”. It is American money that supports the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ meetings and other central bodies of the Anglican Communion. British Anglicans pay very little attention to what the Archbishop of Canterbury says, but some American Anglicans agonize over his every word, as if he were their Pope. But the whole point of Anglicanism is that we don’t believe in a Pope, and surely this should be most true of American Anglicans who threw off the tyranny of English monarch in the 18th century?

The proposal for a punitive and prescriptive Anglican Covenant should be rejected totally. We are a loose confederation of non-Roman Catholic Churches, with a wide variety of liturgies and beliefs, owing our origins not to any Protestant reformer, but to the very English desire to be free of foreign rule and taxes (Henry VIII and the Pope) and the equally admirable American desire to be free of foreign rule and taxes (George Washington and George III).

Of course, there are lots of other lovely things about the Episcopal Church, which only they who live in its spirituality and life can testify to, but that is for a more poetical and lyrical post. Maybe I’ll rise to it one day.

New Roman Offices

June 29, 2010

It is reported that the Pope has established a new office in the Vatican to examine those countries which once had a deep and vibrant Christian faith.

Some commentators have assumed that this refers to the post-Christian situation in Europe, and that may well have been the Pope’s intention.

But “countries which once had a deep and vibrant Christian faith” could apply even more to North Africa and the Middle East where for centuries Islam has tried to eradicate the Christians. The ancient patriarchal sees of Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople are shadows of a shade; the Ecumenical Patriarch is constantly harassed; Syrian Orthodox Christians have been fleeing their ancient homelands for Sweden and the United States; the Christian population of Palestine grows smaller and smaller every year.

The Islamic countries are the real threat, not just to Christianity but to the peace and stability of the world. The real danger of the secularism of Europe is that it leaves a vacuum of faith which may well be filled with a fanatical Islam.

So I hope the new Roman office will study and find ways to re-evangelize both Europe and those countries where the ancient Christian Churches have been all but eliminated.

And the next Roman office that needs to be set up is one to examine the crazy, unhealthy, fanatical and fundamentalist Christianity that afflicts so many in the United States!