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29 June 2012

by Sister Rosemary


I AM writing this diary in Glad­stone's Library, Hawarden (formerly St Deiniol's). After three years, I have returned here as chaplain for the month, and I have rediscovered the delights of a residential library.

In the library itself, there is an atmosphere of studious quiet. This library has not succumbed to any pressure to provide background music; nor have its holdings been supplanted by DVDs or e-books. Books here are books, with bindings and pages.

An addition to the library since my last visit is the Islamic reading room. Gladstone (ahead of his time in so many ways) was open to the wisdom found in other faiths. This room is a treasury of books on Islamic theology, history, philosophy, and literature, as well as present-day Muslim society.

In a world in which the word "Mus­lim" seems to be interpreted as "terrorist", we would do well to acquaint ourselves with a more wholesome view of this faith.

MY FIRST week here gave me the opportunity to take part in a course rivetingly entitled "Sodom". Despite what might have been some people's initial interpretation, this was a scholarly course on controversial passages in Genesis, based on the Hebrew text.

Other popular courses offered here include "Hebrew in a week", "Greek in a week", "Latin in a week", and "Welsh in a week". If I were ever here when this last was on offer, I should love to take part in it: it is always good to speak the language of the country you are in, and Welsh, I know, has a rich literature. The ser­vice book from which I lead the eucharist here has the text in Welsh on the opposite page, but, fortun­ately, I am allowed to stay with the English.

The library's location in north Wales means that it is ideally situated for studying the Celtic Church, with visits to local sites, including St Winefride's Well at Holywell - an excursion that I am promising myself before I leave.

IN THE convent, I am used to meals taken in silence, and I am happy with that. In the library, all meals (includ­ing breakfast) are volubly commun­icative. Initially, this is a shock, but I quickly adjust to it, and there are enormous advantages, because the people who come here are so inter­esting.

Some are scholars, taking advant­age of the library's holdings; others are giving concentrated attention to writing a book or a thesis. You do not need to be a scholar to stay here, but others who stay appreciate the context of learning and thinking, and the stimulating conversation.

On a previous visit, I overheard a discussion at the table between two mathematicians who were arguing over some point of contention in their discipline. I did not understand a word, but it was exhilarating to hear the passion with which they engaged with the subject.

Other visitors include clerics or other busy people who enjoy the space for reflection away from the demands of their normal lives. They have an opportunity for rest and refreshment - but it is emphatically not a retreat.

WE HAVE heard recently the official response of the Church of England to the Government's consultation on same-sex marriage. Predictably, it was unequivocally against the proposal, in spite of the very public disagreement within the Church on this question.

Less predictable, though, was the apocalyptic tone of the response. Should this law be enacted, we were told, it could threaten the continu­ance of the established status of the Church of England. I thought im­mediately that this was a dangerous strategy. I could well imagine that the reaction of many people - some within the Church of England itself - might be: "Good. The sooner the better."

What, after all, is the advantage of the current arrangement? In the Baptist church of my youth there was considerable resentment about the privileged status of the Church of England in comparison with other denominations.

Now, of course, concern is more likely to be about those of other faiths. Ironically, as with church schools, they seem happy with the Church's central place as the voice of faith in an increasingly secularised world. Opposition is more likely to come from the aggressively atheist, or those indifferent to religion who dislike any interference with their daily lives from the institution of the Church.

Within the Church, also, there are those who feel that we would be better off without the interference of the state. It is well known that, at the time of the legislation for women priests, Parliament was instrumental in securing further provision for those opposed. Now, the probability is that there would be pressure from Parliament to avoid making dis­criminatory provision. Would dis­establishment be a calamity, or a liberation?

 The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.

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