Ticks in boxes
IS BRITAIN a Christian country? David Cameron's assertion was
predictably followed by howls of agreement or dissent. It fell to
the dependably rational, though not headline-friendly, Lord
Williams of Oystermouth to make the obviously true reply: "It
depends what you mean by. . ."
It is true that a majority of people in this country tick the
"Christian" box on the census form; and that, although far fewer
attend church regularly, many others do so on special occasions, at
times of national grief or personal stress, or as part of a tourist
It intrigues me to see how many of those who would normally be
dismissive of "nominal Christians" like this appeal to the census
figures to justify their claim that this is still a Christian
country, and that the Church of England is still entitled to its
privileges. Nominal Christians do not count, it seems, except when
it is convenient for us that they do.
"YOU love Rev, I love Rev, everybody loves
Rev." So reads a review that goes on to complain thatthe
programme "undermines the Church". The programme is not, the
reviewer says, what it is sometimes claimed to be: an insider's
view of the Church of England.
I love Rev, and, no, it is not an insider's view, or it
would not contain those irritating howlers about liturgy and church
legal procedures (where are the programme's ecclesiastical
consultants when we need them?)
In spite of that, it is a brilliant programme - hilariously,
achingly recognisable to those familiar with the Church of England
beyond the leafy suburbs. Adam Smallbone's dogged attempts to
remain faithful and hopeful in the face of repeated disappointments
must surely resonate with us all.
The programme is actually at its best when it forgets that it is
supposed to be a comedy, and engages seriously with important
issues. The last two episodes of the third series were of this
kind, and were absolutely gripping and unforgettable.
But the reviewer's chief complaint is about one such occasion,
which mercilessly reveals the mess that the Church of England is in
over same-sex marriage. He takes exception to Adam's - and the
programme's - sympathetic approach, which is at odds with "the
I have news for him: many clergy and laity throughout the land
heartily agree with Adam, and are increasingly furious that the
opposite line is being vociferously presented as "the Church's
"Will God bless our union?"
"Of course he will."
Well done, Rev.
(But no, Adam, you cannot perform a wedding for a couple who are
already married - another howler.)
Thou shalt not kill, but need'st
Officiously to keep alive.
THIS couplet is often quoted, with approval, both by those who
are pleading against the continuation of burdensome and ineffective
treatment for the dying, and by thosewho advocate euthanasia or
They seem entirely unaware that the lines come from a savagely
satirical poem that castigates the self-serving and hypocritical
morality that the writer, Arthur Hugh Clough, saw as prevalent in
Victorian England. Anyone who knows the source of the lines would
regard them as ammunition against bringing about, or allowing, the
death of another.
Our Community is, at the moment, deeply concerned with
considerations about old age, disability, and death. Modern
medicine, which has produced such great benefits for us all, also
presents us with new problems. When, if ever, is it right not to
prolong life at all costs? And are we really prolonging life, or
just postponing death?
These are difficult questions, and we gain nothing by pretending
Rejoicing in her faith
WHILE we are thinking about death, I have just been to a
funeral. Not an uncommon event for a priest, or a Sister; but this
was no ordinary funeral.
It was that of Denise Inge, the wife of the Bishop of Worcester.
The invitation said, "All welcome," and the great cathedral was
packed to the walls with a congregation that included numerous
bishops. Both Archbishops were prominently involved.
The service was a high mass, with clouds of incense, the
cathedral choir and a praise band giving their all, and the
congregation raising the roof with numerous hymns and songs in
And was all this to celebrate Denise? Certainly not. There was
much in the service about her, but, as in all the best Christian
funerals, the focus was not on her, but on God. We were remembering
a woman of radiant faith - won not by denying the hard facts, or
avoiding the difficult questions, but by facing them, and working
through them to a genuine Easter hope.
I was streaming with tears for much of the requiem, as were many
others - grieving for the bereaved family, of course, but also
overwhelmed by the intensity of this presentation of resounding
faith. "And weeping at the grave, we make our song:
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the
Holy Name in Derby.