The Economist meets evangelicals

The Economist has published an article titled Hot and bothered: The rise of evangelicalism is shaking up the established church. It’s evenly reported and balanced yet still begs the question: “um, why now?”, because not a single thing in it is new or in any way newsworthy.

But still, as it’s here …
For all the impression it gives that the reporter might have picked up an old Alpha leaflet and decided to write the story as though it’s breaking news, it is absolutely not a scare-mongering “look out, the Christian Right are coming!” article. Nor is it the kind of Radio 4 report you get, warning that our dearly beloved traditional CofE that no one actually believes in but everyone values as part of our national heritage will wither away and die in the face of these horrible people who actually believe what they preach and want to make it accessible and relevant to everyone else. You know, the kind of thinking that goes “We may gain souls but we’ll lose the Book of Common Prayer, and that’s not a trade-off worth making”.
No, it’s not like that at all. I say, well done The Economist for actually presenting a balanced article on this topic. Albeit one that’s a few years behind the times.
What I have issues with are some of the facts reported in it, which sadly I have no reason to doubt.
1. “Of the 515 people accepted as candidates for ordination in 2010, fully 108 were under 30, up from 74 the previous year.” No doubt true, but I’m agin it. I don’t want children being ordained. I want a clergy who have been soured and stained by real life and can bring some real-world thinking to their job. Not that clergy under the age of 30 can’t do this, of course, and of course they can always get soured and stained on the job, as it were. But. Still.
2. “Many of the rising generation of keen young clerics already make it clear they wish to work in large evangelical churches, ripe for American-style mission, rather than in slums or charming villages where social views are relaxed and doctrinal purity is not prized.” Oh, now here is where I just give a big T.S. to the whinging brats. You go where you’re needed, mate, and it may be you’re needed just as much in Dibley or St Mary Mead as in St Shiny’s Church Plant, Newtown. In fact, probably more so. Get used to it.
Okay, rant over, get on with your lives.

The day I met a Knight of St John

Many years ago my good wife was au pair to the families of a pair of sisters, whose mother was one of those ladies often described as ‘indomitable’. The kind on whom the British Empire was built. I had the privilege of meeting her once but could happily have done with more. She died at the age of 92 and on Friday we were at a thanksgiving mass for her life.
Born in Kenya, she apparently had this recent exchange with a Kenyan immigration official:
“How long are you staying in Kenya?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you visited Kenya before?”
“How long did you stay then?”
“Sixty years.”
Anecdotes about her life included finding a gun lying around in the house of one of the suspects in the White Mischief murder. “Don’t ask,” she was advised, so she didn’t, and quietly put it back.
A lovely service with some good tunes: ‘How great thou art’, ‘I, the Lord of sea and sky’ (a surprisingly modern choice) and, um, The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I’d quite like that last one at my own funeral, but for me the only version worth having is performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the vicar might have something to say about that.
Anyway. I was moved by the service and also by something else even closer to my heart. There’s a biblical passage where we’re enjoined not to take the seat of honour at a gathering, because someone more important may turn up and we’ll be hideously embarrassed to have to go and sit somewhere else. Instead, says Jesus, sit at the back so that you can be guided up to a more important position by the host.
Which is exactly what happened to us. All prepared to sit quietly at the back, one of the grandsons that Beloved had looked after as a small boy firmly guided us further up the church, assuring us (well, her) that we’re family. That was just the start of an afternoon that made me feel truly privileged, because men and women she hadn’t seen for decades were falling on her and hugging her and thanking her for coming, and I realised how much she had touched their lives way back when, and now I have the blessing of being married to her.
And the Knight of St John? He was actually the priest conducting the service. I noticed this strange cross a bit like the Blue Max bobbing at his throat as the service went on, but as he probably wasn’t a German WWI fighter ace I had no idea what it could be. Afterwards we shook hands, and I asked, and he told me. Cor, knock me down with a feather.
The Reverend Father knows, let’s say, how to work a room. Voice trembling with emotion – he was an old friend of the departed – he told during his homily how, on the day she died, he had been driving in the country, and stopped for a sandwich, and a little robin alighted upon his arm, whereupon he fed the small creature a few crumbs and it flew off again. “I don’t know what you think of that,” he finished.
Later the oldest grandson privately told us exactly what he thought: “I think you’re a f&^%ing liar, Father!” But he said it with a big smile, and grandmother would have had a good laugh.

Prayers for Hallowe’en

There aren’t any. At least, none that I was prepared to use when I led the service this morning.
There are people around who distinctly don’t like Hallowe’en. I’m not one of them – or rather I am, but only because I find it irritating to be dragged down two flights of stairs to find a group of munchkins demanding trick or treat with menaces. I don’t have a problem with the supernatural aspects. (I remember Giles in Buffy revealing that supernatural activity on October 31 is decidedly down because the vampires all find it rather vulgar and embarrassing.) But there are people who have deeper issues with it and chances are good some of them are in the same congregation. So I did some searching for a good prayer.
First category: the type I couldn’t say with a straight face. Only one that I found actually falls into this category, the traditional Scottish prayer:
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
Anyway, the only thing that goes bump in the night around here is an extremely non-supernatural teenager stumbling sleepily to the bathroom. Though I will grant he falls into the long-leggedy camp.
Second category: the, let’s say, trans-Tiber camp, which I might be tempted to say at Christ Church on Long Furlong just to see the reactions, especially when invoking or addressing Michael the Archangel. Some good All Hallows Eve examples here. But a good chance I wouldn’t be asked back, so maybe not.
Third category: okay, straightforward prayers against the powers of darkness etc, all much closer to the Thames than the Tiber but still … No. If I say a prayer, I have to believe it first. If I don’t then I keep quiet. If I could find a prayer against crassness, commercialism, creeping Americanisation of our culture then I’d say it: but there’s nothing about powers of darkness on this day of the year that isn’t equally valid on any other.
So I redefined the problem and looked ahead to tomorrow. All Saints Day! What could go wrong with that? The Collect for All Saints Day goes:

Almighty God,
who hast knit together thine elect
in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of Your Son, Christ our Lord:
Give us grace so to follow Your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living,
that we may come
to those ineffable joys
that thou hast prepared for those
who unfeignedly love thee;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth,
one God, in glory everlasting. Amen
(Book of Common Prayer, 1979)

And if you can’t see at least two mines in that particular field then you haven’t been around.
1. Saints? Saints?? We’re Protestants, Godda- I mean, God bless it. We’ll have none of your papist-deriving-from-Roman-paganism saints, thank you very much.
2. “All virtuous and godly living?” We’re Protestants, etc. etc. and it’s all about grace, thank you very much, mutter, grumble, where’s my hammer I need to nail some theses to a door somewhere ….
And so on.
So in the end I settled on the Collect for Grace, which I’ve always liked anyway and which surely can’t upset anyone:
O Lord our heavenly Father,
almighty and everlasting God,
who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day;
defend us in the same with thy mighty power;
and grant that this day we fall into no sin,
neither run into any kind of danger,
but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance,
to do always that is righteous in thy sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen, and so there.