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Diary: Chine McDonald

29 April 2022

ISTOCK

Extinction theologian

IT’S not often that one gets cancelled for the Archbishop of Canterbury. On the morning after Russia invaded Ukraine, I had been due to deliver Thought for the Day on Radio 4’s Today programme. I had written and recorded a Thought about the deaths that week of two men whose lives were very different, but whose commitment to raising up the voices of the sidelined and marginalised was the same: the global health-care advocate Paul Farmer, and the British entrepreneur and YouTube star Jamal Edwards. The script had been approved, the audio sent, and I went to bed thinking that I would hear myself on the airwaves at 7.48 a.m.

I awoke instead to the horrifying news of the invasion of Ukraine, and became increasingly uneasy that my script — delivered into the middle of such a historic programme — would seem tone deaf. The time for the usual slot came and went, and it was shortly afterwards that the presenter announced that there would be a special Thought for the Day to mark the momentous occasion — from the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less. “To wake up to the news of war is terrible,” Archbishop Welby began. “To wake up to its reality is orders of magnitude worse.”

At times of national and international crisis, so many seek wisdom from global faith leaders, finding comfort in their words in the midst of uncertainty — whether or not they themselves are believers. I wonder, however, if these are a dying breed: whether the future will have enough faith leaders of gravitas to speak into the biggest issues of our day.

Neighbourhood God

IF YOU were to ask members of the British public to name prominent Christians in public life in the UK, Dot Cotton, of EastEnders, would surely feature alongside Archbishop Welby in the list. This month we heard of the death, at the age of 95, of June Brown, who had played the iconic role in the popular soap series for the past 30 years.

Described by Kathryn and Philip Dodd in their book From the East End to “EastEnders” as an “evangelist-cum-laundrette supervisor”, and by Rupert Smith, author of 20 Years in Albert Square, as a God-botherer for whom nothing shakes the view “that the world is good because the creator made it so”, believers have often bemoaned the way in which Dot Cotton caricatured the Christian faith. We’re nothing like her, we believe, just as we might cringe at the portrayal of the Christian Ned Flanders in The Simpsons.

But I think that there are positives to be taken away from such depictions of faith: these are ordinary men and women who live alongside their neighbours and in their communities. They are not distant, but relatable. Maybe, if we all adopted such an incarnational approach to our faith, it would make Christianity more attractive to others.


Home church

I HAVE given up being embarrassed by my four-year-old’s antics at church. On Sunday, he took it upon himself to sit under the bass-guitar-player’s feet on stage during worship, and press his head up against the amplifier to feel its rhythms. He attempted to take the microphone from me, while I led the service with him dangling from my legs. The other Sunday, he decided to wave his woolly hat in front of the faces of every member of the congregation, weaving between the rows of chairs as if conferring some kind of woolly-hat blessing.

Instead of being anxious about it, and trying to force him to sit still and listen, I’ve realised that the freedom that he feels is a working out of the comfort that he feels in this space. When he speaks about church, he emphasises that it is “Our church” — a place where he feels at home.

He understands nothing, of course, of the theology behind why we gather, nor does he understand what or who God is. But I’m feeling increasingly hopeful that, because of the sense of welcome which he feels, he just might stick around into his teenage years to find out.


Future promise

EARLIER this month, at eight months pregnant, I waddled to 10 Downing Street for the Prime Minister’s reception for faith leaders. Gathered around the drinks and canapés and awaiting the PM were women and men (predominantly men), many of whom were attired in clerical outfits of varying degrees of elaborateness.

As is obligatory, when one visits No. 10, I had a photograph taken of me standing by the front door to capture the moment. I’ll savour the image of pregnant me outside the door of the most powerful office in the land. In the years to come, as my son grows up, maybe we’ll look back and see that pondering look on my face in the photo as I cradle my bump and wonder: What, then, will this child become?


Chine McDonald is a writer, broadcaster, and Director of Theos.

Noah Thomas Ekene McDonald was born on 22 April.

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