The moment I was ordained as a young curate I, together with the senior curate, were sent out afternoon after afternoon to visit specific roads in the parish, knocking on doors to talk to the inhabitants about the parish and what we could offer them. It was soul-destroying; very often the door-knock was ignored, or swiftly the door was opened, seeing my dog-collar with the brief message of “Not today, thank you”!
It has been my lot as a priest to have spent most of my time, both in stipendiary ministry and voluntary (retired) ministry taking responsibility for parishes with problems.
The first was Holy Trinity, Taunton (Gosh” that was a problem indeed) and my final “Swansong” at St. Michael’s, Swanmore from 2011-2013..
With a population of 3,000 people, but welcoming only 12 on a Sunday morning, there was an air of neglect and little or no pastoral care for most of the years between 1944 and becoming vacant in 2011, Archdeacon Caroline asked me to “have a go” to change things for the better, if we could.
St. Michael’s had a reputation for extreme High Church worship, and neglect by the clergy of the parishioners’ needs, hence the decline of what had once been a lively family-type parish.
My recipe for renewal at several parishes over the years was to try and illustrate, by means of a Newsletter distributed to every house, free of charge, a vision of what the parish COULD be, if people were to think what St. Michael’s might have to offer, with a new regime.
This had worked previously and over just 2 years, the parish attitude had softened and apart from Sunday worship it seemed that the message was getting home,
I called this “My silent visitor”, for it could get past the front door and take a message with it, and to make it more friendly was rather like a tabloid newspaper, with a large striking headline
My favourite regular critic shot off a letter to the Bishop, complaining how the Rector was vulgarising The Church (but so was Jesus).
A headline “Idol worship in Taunton” with a picture of a man bending and anointing the bonnet of his car reached the very heart of the Somerset County Gazette.
Yes it was slightly vulgar, but it worked, because people talked about it.
The report “Towards the Conversion of England” set out the needs of The Church to use modern methods of communication. Some 50 years later, we have progressed little in that direction.
“How shall they know unless they have a preacher?” asked St. Paul? The truth is that very little knowledge of the Gospel and its implications regarding daily life can be found in the majority of the population.
Children grow up, and even if they attend a Church School, as I was an Inspector of such, with rare exceptions I could not but see, that the teaching they experienced was having little effect on their lives (and that of their parents}.
If people won’t come to church to learn about the Faith, then a “Silent Visitor”, written with imagination can start people thinking (and talking), and that’s how the first preaching was so effective.
I realise this is Jarge promoting himself, but if something works, then I feel that it must be shared, even if others think it impractical or undesirable.
Being part of the post-war intake of ordination candidates, obviously I was an enthusiastic supporter of new ideas that were floating around theological colleges in the 1950s, which, to some extent, were mirroring tthe immediate priorities of the Early Church.
“Heal the sick” was a priority in the “Outreach” of those whom Jesus had commissioned in the Upper Room (John 20) and in the whole of Jesus’ Ministry.
From the beginning “Good News” was the entry point for the preaching that “making people “whole” was a priority (as a study of Acts will demonstrate) just as it had been for Jesus as the early chapters of Mark will show.
There is a failure in much of what has been said about Healing within the Church’s Ministry over the years, where prayers often include the words “if it is your will, O God” implying that God may will the patient to die. Jesus shows us this is a nonsense.
It gives the lie to the idea that illness is a punishment for sins committed; if it were, why was it the bedrock for all the post-Whitsun activities described in the Gospels and Acts?
Healing is part of the “Good News”, so it would be surprising if it were not part of the “Outreach” and The Church needs to have it as a priority Ministry today. All of a sudden, Mental Health has become a topic for great discussion and people in high places draw attention to how it has affected their lives for ill.
It should be no surprise that Mark in his Gospel lays emphasis on the relationship between our mental state and our physical. Dr. Iken an American doctor in the 1950s in her book “New concepts of healing” wrote that in her long experience, 50% of patients in mental care could go home cured tomorrow if they could be sure that their sins could be forgiven.
She drew attention to the relationship between Italians and Americans, that the former (mainly Roman Catholics) were less likely to suffer serious mental ills than the latter. The reason? Because the RCs were accustomed to making their confession and receiving, not only solemn absolution, but also advice as to how to deal with their problems. Americans, where the Evangelical nature of its religion shies away from the idea of Confession in this manner, missed out on this that gave the priest an opportunity to provide “tailor-made” advice under conditions of complete privacy.
It is interesting that with all the Protestant pressures of the age, the 1662 Prayer Book makes provision for auricular confession in the presence of a priest and believe me, from my own experience I have witnessed healing through this Sacrament, giving both priest and penitent the opportunity to examine their feelings in a unique way.
I remember a particular case where one parishioner who had endured every type of medical approach to her mental problems with no positive result, went home after her confession a transformed person to her and her family’s delight.
For a while after the war there was a revival of Healing Services and various societies formed to accentuate this physical/mental approach, but now (when it seems most needed) this seems to have disappeared. We’re poorer as a result
We’ll talk about this next week if you can bear it
My ‘phone rang: “This is the Bishop’s Secretary; the Rural Dean has sent to the Bishop to ask what should be done as Mr. Rayner (Vicar of Holy Trinity, Taunton) is holding services that are not in conformity with his Induction promise, “That all services must be in conformity with The Book of Common Prayer of 1662”.
What was the problem? Only a parish of 10,000 people of which only 35 were seen regularly in church on a Sunday, and something drastic had to be done.
I explained to the Secretary that these were limited “Outreach” services, “Family Services” that would be teaching families what the Eucharist is all about, with the intention that they would last for a limited period with the hope that families would transfer to the regular Sunday Eucharist
Remember, we are talking about 1957, unlike the present day when the one thing you will rarely find is a service that bears any resemblance to the only legal book of 1662.
I waited anxiously for the Bishop’s reply, which said that he would allow this divergence for a limited period (i.e. a year) and would not supersede the regular worship forms.
So it was, “Outreach” was viewed with some doubt in high places and it was decades before we reached the stage where we could tailor our services for a “missionary” purpose.
Other clergy were reluctant to break the rules, and so such services were a rarity, until the new worship forms came too late to have much impact.
The lack of suitable worship forms was a hindrance to Evangelism, although I do not believe that it was language that kept people away but the very limited approach to necessary changes in the presentation of worship and its aftermath.
We had the same response from the Bishop’s Palace, when it was made known that we had begun to serve coffee in the adjacent church hall after the service.
An angry parishioner had written to the Bishop that their Vicar (me) was turning their church into a Coffee Bar! Fortunately this was ignored by the Bishop (had it been served in the church itself, I suspect it might have had a different response).
However, the “Parish Outing” became the next bone of contention.
The Feast of the Holy Trinity is usually celebrated in the summer and I (and the PCC) thought it might be a good idea if we held the Eucharist at 10 a.m. and then took a coach to Sidmouth, for a picnic lunch en-route, an afternoon enjoying the seaside, and gathering for a “High Tea” before returning home.
It was a lovely day in every way!
It brought headlines in the local paper, and a lively correspondence *both supportive and condemning”, but it signified that something different was happening in a local church, providing good publicity.
Much of this had been suggested in the Report ”Towards the Conversion of England” instigated by Archbishop William Temple, who died before it could be put into action.
As a result, Temple’s successor, Geoffrey Fisher ignored it and much that was good and desirable within its pages failed to receive the support and attention it deserved.
Holy Trinity was a problem parish and in the main our unorthodox approach was supported by the authorities, for as the Bishop had told me after the Induction, “One thing is certain, if you can’t make it any better, you certainly cannot make it any worse”.
Next week, we shall examine initiatives that followed, part of which has been discussed previously, thinking of what could now be done towards the “Conversion of England”.
Looking around the Public Bar of my father’s pub (the 'Brewers’ Arms at the top of Ryde High Street, now demolished) surveying the customers, I thought to myself, “Can I imagine many of them would be comfortable in the average parish church, except for the occasional wedding or funeral?”
Class is (and can be still) a barrier. This was certainly a barrier in mining districts, even in the 1940s.
The miners, (if they worshipped at all), would gravitate either to the Methodists, or were (mainly) ex-Irish immigrants who attended the local RC church.
The local Anglican parish church was (even then) sparsely attended, and whilst there was a Sunday School, few were confirmed, to become regular worshippers.
The miners were (and always had been) considered to be rabid Socialists and when you study how they and workers like them were viewed, it was understandable if they were.
Social conditions were changing, with people leaving the rural areas of Britain, finding work during the 19th century in the fast-growing factories and the rise of a “slum culture”.
The Government, viewing the post-revolution agonies in France, fearful of matching uprisings in the 1830s, paid for the building of new churches in the fast-growing cities in the hope that this would help to create new attitudes, hence, more acceptable behaviour among the working classes.
What had the Church of England been doing in those post-Reformation years?
Actually, fighting between factions that sought to make the Church more Evangelical and those who wished to retain some of the Pre-Reformation ceremonies and doctrines.
There was a period of cruel persecution of those who were on opposite sides of the divide.
Under the Commonwealth of Cromwell, much associated with Catholicism was forbidden, such as Christmas, celebrations, and England became a dull place and no longer could one find the “Joy” in religion.
Catholic priests were executed, some burnt alive and there was much unhappiness among the ordinary folk, for most, their social life revolved around the parish church.
The Church of England abandoned the round of Festivals, for congregations had been accustomed to celebrating their favourite Saints, particularly those associated with their daily work.
The Church services were dull, and sadly, many of the clergy did little pastoral work and not until the 1830s, was there any attempt to bring back those alienated by the inaction of the clergy.
Horrified at the state of Christianity in England, a small band of rebellious priests sought to reform the Church of England, but they were ill-treated by the hierarchy of Bishops and some were imprisoned for breaking the rules.
They started a movement to bring back many of the pre-Reformation services, but the damage had been done and generations have grown up unaware of the Gospel and why it is “Good News”.
Studying the state of the CofE in the post-Reformation period, shows that there was a complete absence of “Outreach” in the minds of the hierarchy. They were more concerned with upholding the Church’s discipline regarding the conduct of public worship, than making changes that might make worship more relevant to the fast-changing age.
This was particularly evident, when some attempts were made to make changes to embrace the non-churchgoers and so we were guilty of “betraying” Jesus” and His command to “Go into the world and proclaim the “Good News”.
“Betrayeth the Son of man with a kiss?” Jesus asked Judas Iscariot, and for thirty pieces of silver, that is exactly what the traitor did, without which the authorities would have been unable to arrest Our Saviour to be executed the next day.
True, that same traitor, having realised the enormity of his actions died, either by some sort of haemorrage (Acts 1, vv15-20), or another tells us that Judas hung himself in despair at what he had done.
However, before we condemn Judas, should we not also call Peter a “betrayer”?
He had denied any association with his Master in fear lest he also might be arrested as a fellow conspirator and suffer a similar grisly death. Words are easy, fulfilling them are less so.
Jesus’ conversation with Peter (John 21, vv15-end) shows that the shameful denial was forgiven, and as a token, Peter was given a status he certainly could not have expected.
The suggestion is that the activities surrounding the arrest and execution of Jesus were part of the mind of God the Father; that in fact in Jesus, God was offering Himself and the horror is that humanity (whom He had come to save) crucified God, the God Who is Love.
Other betrayals: but the Old Testament is a sad commentary on those whom He had chosen to be His holy nation; prophet after prophet over the centuries had to warn of the dangers of the rebellious Hebrews turning to false gods and idols, forsaking the One who had selected them from all the people on earth.
There were times when the people heeded the prophets’ warnings, returning to serve and worship God, and with that return came a period of peace and prosperity.
But it didn’t last, as a perusal of the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, but beginning with Moses and lesser prophets will show.
There is this constant theme of the need to pursue the right way, which is God’s way that brought Plenty and Peace, or put their trust in false gods and values that brought nothing but hunger and conflict.
The truth is that in order for mankind to flourish, we need (in modern jargon) to have a “Road Map” enabling us to chart our way, and the Father and Creator’s way which can lead us to those same gifts of peace and plenty.
The prophets showed generations that road map that was finally given through God the Son, summed up in Old Testament teachings.
Along the long line of religious history the pattern of betrayal can be found and it is clear that the high aspirations set out in Jesus’ teaching were not met by action.
A perusal of the Epistle of James, where he shows that from Faith there must be matching actions, and this teaching has been ignored at various stages in the life of the Christian Church.
The horrors of religious persecutions of the Reformation go clean contrary to the love and reconciliation which is God’s will as taught through the early history of the Church.
Persecutions continued on a lesser scale, particularly during the post-Reformation times, where the Church of England strayed far from the ideal.
The great betrayal is apparent in the history of the various sections of the Christian Church and continues with its disunity and lack of missionary zeal as we shall see next week.