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
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
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
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
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
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.