THE BLOGOSPHERE has been alive with joyful stories of the first same-sex marriages in the UK today. There’s been an air of celebration the length and breadth of the land – and I want to add my own warmest congratulations to all who are celebrating with joy on this bright day. Yes, an air of celebration, notwithstanding the sound of the opposition, for whom I feel today too. I feel for hurt people whoever they are, and wherever that hurt is experienced. The prayer of the Church must surely be for healing – wherever it’s needed. The prayer of the Church must offer thanksgiving too for existing and abundant blessings of happiness, love, security and peace for all. Equally.
One of the Tweets I followed up this afternoon was a piece by Damian Thompson of the Telegraph – Gay marriage will change the Church of England forever. And the line that’s been milling around in my head all afternoon is this:
It’s hard to overestimate the weakening effect this will have on the central structures of the Church.
What I’ve been wondering, for years, is whether a “weakening effect” might, precisely, be a good thing for the Church – and for all the religious traditions of our world. “Central structures” too easily represent too much power being held by too few hands. I’ve been hearing tonight of the horribly tragic story of a Syrian mother setting herself on fire to protest having been turned away once too often from relief provision desperately needed by her family – whilst her poor children looked on. “Central structures” are not helping them – and minor “churchy” preoccupations do seem obscene in the daily presence of such atrocities. If we really must get excited and insistent about a few scripture sentences let’s at least concentrate on some real LIFE priorities.
Tyrannical powers – political or religious, national, local or personal – will need to be shown the door in the twenty-first century. The God I worship doesn’t wield power in the sometimes brutal ways that some (by no means all) religious people do. All the world’s faith traditions constantly run the risk of anthropomorphising God “in our own image”. That’s hideously dangerous, not to mention presumptuous. No defence of selective readings of Scripture, Tradition or Reason can be defensible whilst people continue to be deprived of food, water, loving relationship – or even their very lives. And I’d rather forego “Church growth” for the time being if, by growth, is meant a grasping after imagined power to tell other people what to do with their God-given lives. There’s a better way – a more excellent way, that may well involve a weakening effect upon the central structures of the Church, and of all the world’s religious and political traditions. What is it about Pope Francis that’s touched a chord in multi millions of people worldwide?
Some glad day, God willing, I’m going to make a pilgrimage to the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco that I so admire from afar. Stephen Hough, another Telegraph writer, wrote in mid-February of a visit he made there, and of his having been so taken with words of welcome penned by former diocesan bishop William Swing that he quoted them at length. Here’s just a paragraph:
A Place of Anonymity – If you are passing by and feel hesitant to join the ranks of a particular denomination or to buy into the creeds of millions, please know most people who enter Grace every week are practicing no regular religious discipline. The rule of Grace is the stranger making himself/herself at home. All names are sacred here, but no one has to contribute one’s name to a membership list to be taken seriously. Perhaps you quietly dropped by wanting to reconnect in your relationship to God. Or to confess shame. Or to surrender a burden. Or to pray for a loved one. Or to bask in the beauty of holiness. Or to meditate on a hard personal dilemma. Or to find a moment of peace. A cathedral has a high ceiling and long aisles to allow the contained soul multiple directions without the encumbrances of forced community. Grace offers ages of spiritual space to which anonymous individuals may be on pilgrimage – Bp William Swing
Yes. Perhaps today’s air of celebration has something to do with a work of Grace being realised in the world at this very moment in the long and troubled history of our humanity. Perhaps we’re all heading for lives in which power plays a much less prominent role; lives in which every child, woman and man is encouraged and honoured in their “reaching for the sky.” God’s Grace offers ages of spiritual space to which anonymous individuals may be on pilgrimage. A weakening effect upon central structures? – well maybe; but a making space for each and all. Thank God.