Exchange of views
IT IS often alleged that the proceedings of the General Synod are “too parliamentary”. The experience of Parliament, and national politics generally, in the past few weeks leads me to reflect that they are not parliamentary at all, thank God. Personal attacks in the Synod are almost unknown, and, if they do occur, they are universally condemned.
What is true is that synodical processes involve debate, where contrary positions are maintained, sometimes vigorously; and votes, in which there are winners and losers. It can be bruising, but it is how decisions are made. The recent “shared conversations” were, by most accounts, useful, and, in some cases, healing; but they did not decide anything — nor were they intended to. The hard and painful work of actually making a decision is yet to come, but without that process nothing can be changed.
And, of course, there are those whose dearest wish is that nothing should be changed.
Synod members have difficult times ahead, and we can only pray for them.
MY PATERNAL grandfather died long before I was born, but my father’s vivid and affectionate recollections of him made me almost feel that I knew him.
My great-grandfather had an alcohol problem — although it was really more of a problem for his wife and children. That was true of too many families in Victorian industrial Lancashire, and it made his son a lifetime passionate campaigner against the demon drink, and a Baptist lay preacher.
My grandfather’s other passions were political. He was active on the radical wing of the Liberal Party, although at the time he was married he did not have a vote. He, with other working-class men, acquired the franchise in 1884, but, unlike many who benefited from this reform, he was not content with anything less than universal suffrage; he continued to work for votes for women, and supported his two suffragette daughters.
He was a regular reader of The Manchester Guardian, which in addition to being politically congenial was almost a local paper for him. His religious principles meant that he did not read a Sunday paper, but they led him also to an even greater act of self-denial: he did not buy the beloved Guardian on Monday, because people had worked on Sunday to produce it.
He would not allow my father to join the Boys’ Brigade, church organisation though it was, because he regarded it as paramilitary; nor did he let him have a paper round, because he saw it as child labour, which he was determined to see abolished.
My grandfather was a great encourager of education, especially for the poor, and two of his daughters became teachers, but he himself had little general education, and no interest in literature or culture. Apart from The Manchester Guardian he read only the Bible, which he studied constantly; he dedicated himself to frame his life according to its teaching, which he took for granted to be inerrant, and to the example of Jesus.
IT IS on record that Pope Francis, invited to choose his favourite Bible stories, mentioned the wedding at Cana, because it showed Jesus helping people to enjoy themselves. “After all,” the Latin Pope remarked, “they wouldn’t have had such a good time drinking tea, would they?”
I asked my father how, in the face of this story, his father could reconcile his determination to follow the example of Jesus with his belief that total abstinence from alcohol was the only Christian option.
His reply was that his father simply believed that any reference to wine in the Bible meant unfermented grape juice.
My grandfather was clearly guilty of an assumption that we all fall prey to from time to time (at least I know I do): “This is so obviously a good thing that Jesus must have approved of it.”
A FEW years ago, the National Theatre put on a play, translated from the Italian, under the title One Man, Two Guv’nors. Presumably wanting a title that sounded snappy and modern, the company had avoided the literal translation: “The Servant of Two Masters”.
At a stroke, they had removed both the reference that the author undoubtedly intended, to the warning of Jesus about the consequences of trying to serve two masters, and the audience’s enjoyable foretaste of the likely convolutions of the plot.
And yet, if the title had been left as it was before, how many of the audience would have caught the resonance? Is our common culture now so impoverished that we have lost the rich hinterland of our literary history, as well as its religious content?
My grandfather would have got the point at once; but he would not have seen the play, because, for him, the red carpet at the door of the theatre marked the entrance to hell.
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.