BISHOP ROBERT ATWELL and I touched on the convergence of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ in a stimulating conversation the other day. Both of us were speaking of inclusiveness, accessibility, direction, purpose, of a church’s special charism or gift of grace – of getting back to grass roots. And “the Spirit is moving” it seems, because ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ featured frequently and prominently in our excellent Church Council deliberations about Growth Action Planning here last night. (Where are we? What are we? Why are we? Where are we heading? Where could we be in 5 years? Where do we want to be in 5 years?)

Sandcastles and temples

It doesn’t take much effort to enumerate some of the ways in which church and society are changing before our very eyes, and at a rate of knots. Frenetic building (or perpetual ‘repairing’) of even our strongest sandcastles is – history shows us time and again – sooner or later to be inundated. Baptism. The ocean prevails. The proud are scattered “in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek”. (Magnificat – Luke 1)

Justice and peace

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

George Matheson

It’s no accident that ocean breeze and flow keeps blowing the words ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ back into the faces of a Church comprised of many who lived through the human turmoil of the twentieth century – during which more human beings killed members of their own species than at any other point in history. We simply MUST aspire to richer, fuller, brighter, fairer, tearless promise. And our Growth Action Planning last night had the current atrocities in Syria as a backdrop to concentrate the mind, whilst one of our Council reps teaches in a school in which over 35 languages are spoken amongst the small children.

Open plan … and the old glass ceilings

Oceans level sandcastles and temples and leave beaches washed clean. And golden. An invitation. Like fresh snow the shoreline swept clean invites new footprints. “And we therefore will not fear, though the earth be moved and the hills be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46). And we ask the question, “so where are we headed now?” Levelled, shaken up a bit and cleaned, both the ocean and the land are still here. Shall we build the same old castles or shall we have a rethink? Shall we go for a bit more “open plan”? Shall we leave out the old glass ceilings? Shall we thank God that all the Synodical and Parliamentary minutes about the difference between men and women, and straight and gay, and the world’s faith traditions, and political ideologies, and representation rules – got washed out to sea, whilst the ocean and the land and the better memories – one might almost say the “divine memories” – are still here.


Once again there’s a fabulous little parable in this week’s UK Church Times. The visionary and prophetic Bishop Kelvin Wright of Dunedin, New Zealand, is reported as saying

my diocese faces extinction … but I’m not losing any sleep over this. I think several other dioceses will be watching what we do with interest

We are. And thankfully Kelvin will be as familiar as I am with an older parable

unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12.24

What will it mean for the Church – “the Body of Christ now on earth” – and for the World of the future to be both liberal and radical? Bring on the ocean – an inundation worth learning to swim in, and that right early.

Jerusalem the golden with milk and honey blest beneath thy contemplation sink heart and voice oppressed. I know not, O, I know not what joys await us there, what radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare