Tinkering, till Mum calls tea

02 November 2006

WHAT IS the shelf-life of an institution? At what point should Johnny's mucome out and call him in for tea? How long after the founder has stood, bravand alone, saying: "Here I stand. I can do no other," should the institution iquestion go and do precisely that - something other?

There is a cleansing savagery in institutions belonging to the world obusiness, politics, and sport. The vaulting ambition of a once proud empirwanders vain and stupid into oblivion. Boardrooms of once thrusting businessegather the dust of takeover or bankruptcy. And one day even Chelsea FC wilchoke. It's always the same: a story of energy and vision, success and conceitdecline and fall. This is how it is.

Religious institutions are different, however, being entirely divine anexempt from such human cycles. But this truth is universal: when leaders saone thing in private, and another in public, the end has already come.

The Archbishop of Canterbury celebrates the Anglican Communion as a "vasnetwork of informal contacts and exchanges". The formal structures are strainesometimes, he says, but they serve a purpose. Without them, the genius of thesinformal links would be lost in their current form.

This is true. People at work always say "I'll stay in touch" when they leavthe company. They never do.

Equally true, however, is that nothing celebrated above is unique to thChurch. It could also be applied to Freemasonry, and the pagan network of GreaBritain.

I cannot tell how Nigeria will continue in communion with the east coast oAmerica. But then neither can I tell how I continue in communion with my owmany and varied selves. I do, however, and with increasing happiness - savetime and again by my non-existence. Simon is no more a precise entity than thJuly cloud, and this is a particular salvation.

Being nothing is best, and being something is dangerous. When we perceivourselves as something defined, with strong reason to be, everything becomepersonal; and all but beauty becomes intolerably important.

Every night at the royal feast, the Fool undermined the institution of thmonarchy. Everyone else bowed, but the Fool just joked. The king dutifulllaughed, but one day he stopped laughing, and dismissed the Fool. Enough othis childish play! said the king: from now on, he would be the only fool acourt.

We might decide that, sometimes, institution is better than no institutionWe might therefore tinker with its random structures, as times demand. But wdo this with the humility of one who knows that every institution is aorganised lie - until Mum calls time for te

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read up to twelve articles for free. (You will need to register.)