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Posts Tagged ‘Hanslope’

Victorian sentimentality still pervades the Church of England, never more so than at Christmastide.  Sometimes the imagery threatens to overwhelm the message, or even common sense, and collides with itself.  A good example of trying to get both feet into the same sock is presented by two much-loved Christmas carols.  Away in a manger coos over “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”, while Once in Royal David’s City assures us that, through out his childhood, “tears and smiles like us he knew.” Which is the soppiest?

Anglican hymnody is full of such clunkers (rhyming ‘God’ with ‘sod’, for example) but it is often difficult to sacrifice the whole hymn just because part of it refers to some obsolete belief, is written in arcane language or is just plain ridiculous.  Hymns have a long shelf life. We treasure them still, because they still – just – get away with it.  Victorian sentimentality gets us over the difficult bits.

It’s not really a big problem, not least because this Christmas, our local church choir here in Hanslope is booked to sing carols in a local pub and no-one there will think any the less of us if we merrily trill “Seraph quire singeth, angel bell ringeth” over the real ales.  We’ll all be part of a joint, gladsome conspiracy to suspend our disbelief, for once, and genial bewilderment at some of the expressions used.  Hey, it’s Christmas!

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As an institution, the Church of England can sometimes seem rather like retail banking: as soon as you get to cultivate a good relationship with the local rep, they get moved on.  No doubt it is all for the best.  There must be quite a few parish priests who would make good bishops. Better that the institution should benefit from their qualities across a slew of parishes than restricting them to just one or two.  So it is with distinctly mixed feelings that the congregation ‘losing’ a beloved pastor knows that the diocese to which he (or she) is being transferred is thereby receiving a singular stroke of fortune.

So it was in the 1990s, when the parish of St George’s Parktown, Johannesburg came to realise that their ‘man of God’, and the very model of a vicar,Gerard Sharp, was being considered for the succession to Duncan Buchanan, Bishop of Johannesburg.  In the event, it didn’t happen.  There came a Sunday when Gerard addressed us on the matter, disclosing the fact that he was against his name going forward; he would rather stay with us.  God, how we stood and clapped.  Tha applause went on and on, and he was clearly moved by it.

Now, some 20 years later, there is a rumour in Hanslope that our outstanding vicar, Fr Gary Ecclestone SSC, is ‘coming under pressure’ to accept some important benefice elsewhere.  He has said that he has no plans to move on; we know he loves the two parishes in his cure and we love him.  He wants to stay.

But I can’t help feeling that as soon as the idea is made known, it generates a momentum of its own.  It is a proposal which sotto voce  persists and is not going to go away soon.  It will happen.  The best get moved on so that others may be blessed as we have been blessed.  Please God, not yet.

And Gerard Sharp?  Well he’s now Dean of Johannesburg.  We miss him.

 

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Hanslope Church

Hanslope Church

Every year at about this time, Easter, the media strike up the band with some old favourites:  the church is dying, it’s irrelevant to people’s lives and concerns, churches are empty, clergy mouth platitudes or are too wet.  It’s a seductive old tune.  But is it true?

Casting my mind back 20 – 30 years, I recall a time when the following things were true for the church in England: cold and empty churches; the services still held in 1662 language, with silly Victorian hymns; Anglican participants in an ecumenical gathering being told that they could not share in the Catholic’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer; all priests were male and the idea of there ever being a non-white  bishop, let alone archbishop, preposterous; the Dean of Winchester – one of the last to be seen dressed in gaiters – saying that there was a Christian case for nuclear weapons; narrow-minded interpretations of salvation and threats of damnation; an air of hopelessness and decay.

Now we have increasing numbers: standing room only in Catholic churches in West London as Polish residents flock to mass; a galaxy of Afro-Caribbean churches seemingly in every town; the present Archbishop of York from Uganda; the next Archbishop of Canterbury being chosen by the church, not the government; a canon of St Pauls Cathedral warning the police not to break up the protestors camping on its steps; the other archbishop cutting up his dog-collar on TV;  church schools oversubscribed; services in contemporary language; women priests, though not yet bishops; Thought for the Day regularly explaining Hinduism; the spread of purpose-built mosques; the television series Rev; the crucifixion re-enacted in cities in the UK; to my certain knowledge, at least one gay bishop in England and a gay Dean (what of it?); the New Atheism failing to find traction in our community so far.

Tonight we go and share the Easter Mass with our fellow congregants in a country church (pictured), and see that there are more of them than 20 years ago, and of all ages.  Our mass will be participatory, and moving.

No, I don’t think the church is fading.  It’s actually being reborn.  That’s a good feeling to have at Easter, when we celebrate renewal and resurrection into new life.  God bless us all.

Happy Easter

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