At a recent confirmation, I saw a louse in Church... It was a bonny evening with many candidates of all ages and a congregation of several hundred, and great joy and celebration. As I sat in the hall afterwards signing gifts and cards, a candidate in his late 20’s came up to me and, as often happens, we began talking about about his coming to Christ.O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
Formerly an atheist, he had found faith in a flourishing Evangelical church, but the biggest obstacle in his way had been what he called the Church of England’s sexist senior leadership structure and poor record on human rights. If his workplace behaved like that they'd be closed down. Here was a national institution claiming some kind of moral authority, but behaving in a way which he, and everyone in his office, found morally disgusting.
Steady on, I thought, and trotted out a line about tradition and variety. How could I say that? he asked. Everybody knows that in the workplace discriminatory is as discriminatory does. It’s no defence in an Equalities case to say you didn’t consider your discriminatory behaviour to be so, far less that the Pope told you to do it, or that you’d always done it, or that God does it. Anyway there was a happy ending, he said, because after four years’ delay, he had eventually found in his local Church a genuinely open and apostolic community. But when was the institutional national Church going to catch up?
As legislation for female bishops goes out for consultation, everything will be framed in terms of the problems experienced by a tiny minority of churchy dissidents. I don’t suppose anyone will speak up for those who don’t yet go to Church, like my confirmation candidate and his work colleagues. They don’t show up on our radar. Maybe that’s why there aren’t more of them being confirmed.
Great Soapy debates will be held in the next day or so, with much lather produced in good faith and many croc tears about mission and why congregations fail, and how sad it is that the average English Anglican is 61. It’s not going to change, though, is it, until we accept the hard truth that some of our cherished behaviour and attitudes can be a real stumbling block to those on the threshold of faith. The problem is with us and either we don’t really care that we are blocking the gospel, or we have to do something, perhaps the obvious, about it.