It certainly took me back to what my job seemed to be all about in those days,
Sid was a whisky man and he liked it straight. He regarded water with suspicion, as if it were a particularly inadequate mixer.
During one spectacular coughing fit caused by his choice of solids to accompany the whisky - 40 cigarettes daily - he was offered a glass from the tap. 'No thanks, son,' he said between wheezes. 'I tried water once, tasted of nothing.'
And that is what some people think about the Church of England, too. That it tastes of nothing. They would prefer something stronger, with a bit of oomph, a little more fire and brimstone, a greater commitment to the cause. Yet no religion could have given Sid a better send-off than he had that day.
The vicar held a service for a man who never set foot inside a church unless he had to, yet did so with dignity and humour. He introduced faith for those that sought comfort from it, and displayed humanity and respect for those who were there just for Sid. And, in doing so, he converted a room of people, not to the beliefs of the Church of England, but to the idea of it.
The very modern, very civilised, concept of a faith that can be all things to all men with a common decency that may come from the teachings of God, or the teachings of Man on subjects as wide-ranging as conservation and contraception. A faith that embraces the Bible and Dean Martin, Charles Wesley and Sid.
Can any good thing come out of the Daily Mail? Apparently, yes. The fact that Martin’s experience goes on all over England any day of the week, goes a long way to explain where the real energy lies in the Church of England, and the very serious way the vast majority of my colleagues try, not always successfully, to take their responsibility, as an established Church, to be there for anyone.
Jesus preached a kingdom where the first were sometimes last and the last first. He said the real kingdom was hidden deep within, like a seed or yeast. Our job isn’t to manipulate, bully or coerce people, just pray for them, whoever they are, be there for them, and, based on trying to grow a Eucharistic community in every community, bear witness as best we can (being all of us sinners) to the way home to God. It may not sound like much, but it’s we’re there for...
[the] Church is not redundant, but more relevant than ever, precisely because it resists dogma, hectoring or the fanatical, because it does not move people to acts of violence or cruelty.
The Pope proposes to welcome Anglicans to the Roman Catholic Church, but the ones most eager to take him up on the offer will be those out of step with society, who vehemently oppose the ordination of women as priests, for example.
They see the Church of England as feeble and compromised, they hear Dean Martin where a church organ should be and think it has lost its place in society. They are wrong.
There is great modernity in the inclusiveness of the Anglican Church because it places human kindness to the fore. And that simple grace should never be mistaken for weakness...
I have to say, however, I contest any impression the papers have been giving that Fr Ed Tomlinson is some kind of twisted misanthropic oldie. Fr Ed and I come from different ends of the candle, and disagree fundamentally about women’s ordained ministry, but when I visited his parish earlier this year it was obvious that his work, about which he cares passionately and sincerely, is very outward focussed in a community which hasn’t had many advantages in the past. Catholic in every sense of the term, it encompassed prayer, hospitality, a commuity play, and the renewal of a school and playgroup, among other big pieces of outward focussed hard work.
I don’t know what his local paper’s on, or maybe they were just sexing up a story to sell it, but grateful as I am for the discussion the story stimulated, and much as I agree with Martin’s conclusion that the simple inclusive grace of the C of E (where it can manage it) is its greatest strength, not a weakness, I’m uncomfortable about any injustice about the priest whose blog it was orignally based on.