Wednesday, 22 September 2010

survival, or blessing?

"Well, did you survive seeing the Pope?" - one question I've been asked this week, which I guess was not asked with the intention of the literal meaning of those words, but did highlight one of the words, which kept coming into my mind - 'bizarre'.
"Well, are you going to blog on your response tot he service on friday?" was another question, which has prompted me to stop and try and verbalise one or tow thoughts.....
Bizarre - why? For me to be there seemed odd to me for all sorts of reasons. In terms of social background, (I told Maggie she had to wear a dress - clearly wasn't brought up to understand 'day dress' meant something else) ecclesiology, political leanings, theological perspectives, having better things to do with my time. 
Yet I was there. Maggie and I went as a couple. I had the opportunity of two tickets and chose to take my wife. I don't habitually invite her to inductions, or other representative events I have to attend, but I did this one. We went to see the Queen too at a Maundy service, we were disappointed not to be able to dine as guests of the Royal navy when in Bristol, but such events are few. Basically, it was a 'social' occasion and on that level it was significant. I enjoyed spotting some of the 'great and good' (this comes into the bizarre nature of my own feelings about being there - Baptist Ministers have not historically been perceived as great, nor good, but then neither have Pope's from our viewpoint!). Douglas Hurd, Norman St John Stevas and other notable ex political leaders, as well as the necessity to be seen present brigade. It was good to see Tony and Gordon apparently enjoying a laugh together. Having said that it was not the most significant social occasion for us even at the weekend. Our 30th wedding anniversary - close family boat-trip above included - took precedence.
Would Jesus have got in? A thought, which struck me in the queue to get through security. We had to have a passport, or photo ID, a utility bill with an address on, a security search. Would Jesus with 'no fixed abode' have got through? Probably not. Does this imply I don't think Jesus was there? Well, actually, I think he sneaked in past the security guards somehow, or another.
It was political. I cheered inwardly at many of the comments made by the Pope and Rowan Williams. I rejoice in the fact the Pope says it as he sees it and challenges governments to pay attention to the claims of Christianity, points our Britain disregards the moral and ethical fabric of our background at our peril and people seem to listen, at least politely. Christendom is not entirely dead, but whether it will be promoted from the air of the ceremonial and traditional frameworks of Britain, or be relegated down to the traditional historical frameworks remains to be seen.
It was historical. First time, this that and the other and I was glad 'to be there'. But was the historical significance an indication of the radically reduced significance of the church in UK society, which is one factor in the greater willingness and tendency to focus upon Christian unity. I would not have been there, I suspect twenty years ago and I probably would not have been invited then either.
As a service for Christian worship, I benefitted from the opportunity, although it was difficult to fully focus on the task in hand (think about that one and you'll see the problem). I thought someone somewhere put some great thought into the choice of hymns and wording used for prayers. Very clever, some provocative. I appreciated the first line of the first hymn "Christ is the sure foundation'.
"Did you actually see the Pope?" - well, I saw his head one way up the aisle. We were ten metres away from the action, but it was hidden behind an impressive bit of Westminster Abbey. Impressive building, but theyw eren't built for participatory worship of a present kind, enjoyed the incense though! Of course, that was the root of the my problem - I went to an Abbey to see the Pope - and that's not why you're supposed to go.

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