Anglican newsletter - February
A few weeks before Christmas I attended the funeral of a friend – a Roman Catholic. There were a number of us non Catholics there, including an Anglican Bishop and an Anglican priest (who actually gave a very moving xxx ). The service started with the presiding priest welcoming the Bishop and the Rev, without commenting on their denomination. During the service the Holy Communion was shared by those present, excepting the non-Catholics. However, after everyone else had taken communion the Bishop and the Rev rose and took communion from the priest, again with no comment or disapproval – indeed I assume that they had agreed beforehand that it would be appropriate for them to do so.
For me that was a truly great moment. Dogma, not practice, separates the Roman Catholics from the other Christian denominations, when to some extent at least, it is practice that separates many of the Protestant Churches. Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists and so on share services, swap churches and generally get on pretty well, but it has been difficult to bridge the gap with the Catholics. How nice to see a coming together without fuss and without semantic and academic negotiation – a coming together specifically to honour the memory of a friend, and setting an example for future behaviour.
This was recently echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s public recognition that Pope Francis is one of the great men of 2013 – a beacon of light for the future – a hope for us all.
To many of you this is just a discussion about a family’s inability to get on together and not really earth-shattering or necessarily very interesting to the world at large. But I hope it is really much more than that – at two levels. Firstly, an enormous proportion of the world’s population professes to be Christian. If they can learn to put up with each other’s foibles then that is a start to a coming together in friendship between the great religions, such as between Christianity and Islam and within that other great religion – Islam – between the Sunnis and the Shia. Surely the most fanatical atheist can see that that must be something to hope for and to work for.
Secondly, it is an example for the non-religious to follow. If religious dogma can be set aside to enable people to grieve and love together, then maybe others can see that it is possible to love and work together, rather than fight.
One swallow does not make a summer. One funeral service does not break down all the barriers between the Christian denominations. But nor did the removal of the first brick knock down the Berlin Wall. It takes many small steps to travel a long distance.
All times have been times of great change to the people of those times. But I really feel that we are in times of major and irreversible change now – and that does not necessarily mean turmoil. Our weather is ambushing us time and time again – ice in the USA, floods in Western Europe, typhoons in the Far East, unstoppable bush fires in Australia. China is rapidly overtaking the USA as the biggest economy and the biggest scientific researcher and the biggest whatever, shifting the centre of the world back to where it was millennia ago. The financial structure of Europe and indeed of the whole of the Western financial empire is cracking, being shored up and hopefully being re-established (albeit unrecognisably). Are we ready to see that we cannot continue without more co-operation between cultures and peoples, between the rich haves and the poor have-nots, between the old and the young, the employed and the unemployed, ultimately between you and me?
I have always been an incurable optimist, but it is not possible to be a Christian and not to be so, so I am locked into that mode. (I think it is in Anne of Green Gables that Anne’s aunt says that it is impossible to believe in God and to be depressed!) So, I see these changes as leading to better times and better people. It is only a few weeks ago that Nelson Mandela died, revered by everyone. But what was he revered for? Not for being a terrorist, not for being a reformer, not for being a great politician, not for being a great African – he is revered for coming out of prison and from a society where he was treated as being of nothing worth and for forgiving his tormentors and asking if he could work with them.
When we have a Mandela as an example, when we have a Pope whose main interest is not the machinations of a secretive and essentially bad Curia, but the needs of the poor throughout the world; when we have these men as examples of what can be, and in despite of the attempts this year to remember how awful men could be 100 years ago, then what room is there for pessimism about the nature and future of man?