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Thursday, 27 December 2012

God Save the Queen!

Before I set off with my wife to spend Christmas with family I read an advance report of what the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury would say in his final Christmas sermon as Archbishop. My heart sank. I comforted myself with the thought that the headline remark may have been taken out of context. But no, in his sermon there was indeed another dig at those accused of damaging the credibility of the church in the vote over women bishops. The Archbishop added: "Faith is not about what public opinion decides, and it is not about how we happen to be feeling about ourselves. It is the response people make to what presents itself as a reality – a reality which makes claims on you". You can listen to his remarks here and make of them what you will but this part of his sermon is clear enough: In the deeply painful aftermath of the Synod’s vote last month, what was startling was how many people who certainly wouldn’t have said yes to the census question [referred to at the beginning of his sermon] turned out to have a sort of investment in the Church, a desire to see the Church looking credible and a real sense of loss when—as they saw it—the Church failed to sort its business out.

I interpreted Rowan's contorted departing message as meaning that while "Faith is not about what public opinion decides" people outside the church have some sort of investment in the church which they desire to see looking credible. In other words, they have no real interest in the church and support her even less but public opinion in its ignorance is a useful tool which conveniently 'supports' the view that Rowan and his entourage are correct on the question of women bishops while the rest of us, including the much larger universal church of East and West, are wrong and simply don't understand Jesus properly.

In the 'women bishops at any cost' campaign, the Queen's position as 'Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England' has been tossed into the debate to justify the call for women bishops with remarks such as: "The queen is the head of the Church of England; if the Queen can head the Church of England why can't we have female bishops". This shows either a lamentable ignorance of the Church of England and of the priesthood itself or it is an attempt to influence those outside the church who feel that they have some sort of an investment in the church which entitles them to an opinion on the faith of people who are being unfairly criticised by their own clergy.

It was most heartening therefore to watch the Queen's traditional Christmas Day broadcast. Her Majesty delivered a simple Christian message that could be readily understood by all with the words: "This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son 'to serve, not to be served'. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ. It is my prayer this Christmas Day that his example and teaching will continue to bring people together to give the best of themselves in the service of others. The carol, 'In the Bleak Midwinter', ends by asking a question of all of us who know the Christmas story, of how God gave himself to us in humble service: 'What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part'. The carol gives the answer, 'Yet what I can I give him – give my heart'.

A clear simple message to live by Christ's example, not from a priest but from one who clearly understands the meaning of 'to serve, not to be served'. Something that the laity recognises but which has been largely forgotten by the clergy in their quest to see the Church of England relegated to the status of a Protestant sect.

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