The Anglican Communion, France, and Life: 27 July

A British Crash has its Birmingham launch this coming Saturday, when I will be signing copies in Borders, 11am to 2.30pm. All welcome.

The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church in America is now saying that, actually, the General Convention votes have changed nothing substantial and they should continue to be regarded as full faithful members of the wider Communion. Rubbish. Or, as Jordan Hylden puts it: ‘All in all, one is left with the spectacle of the Episcopal Church’s leadership trying desperately to convince the Anglican communion and countless onlookers, by the artful use of lawyerly nuance and political hair-splitting, that they did not do what they did.’

Jordan H goes on to argue, as I have done, that space needs to be made for those who do not want to go down the ‘affirming gay marriage’ route: ‘the many Episcopal bishops and parishes that have long sought faithfully to remain Anglican are now hoping that Williams, along with the Anglican primates, will give them a place to stand and a way to move forward with clarity and hope.’

Rowan Williams has shown no inclination up until now to give that ‘place to stand’, to challenge what Jordan calls ‘the imperial road of majority tyranny, coercion, and lawsuits.’ Anglicans in the US are going through a divorce. Rowan Williams should not be sitting back allowing the stronger party to take possession of the whole matrimonial home and assets. He should indicate, as in many good families, that both parties to the divorce are still counted as part of the wider family – or at least be open to this idea. His silence on TEC’s belligerent legal actions is another case of good people doing nothing.

My guess is that Rowan W is too much of an inclusivist at heart. He dearly wants everyone staying at the table talking. He turns a blind eye to those who pretend to stay at the table while ‘walking away,’ who talk the talk of fellowship and walk the way of legal property-grabbing. Rowan W knows the possibility of ‘constituent’ and ‘associate’ membership, core members and fringe members, but he cannot bring himself to embrace this semi-excluding option.

Jordan H is right to state that Rowan W is a key figure, however much Rowan W may himself play down his position. It is just possible that he could turn round and change strategy. But I think a new strategy would be better coming from a new leader.

One lasting impression of being in France for Bastille Day was the oddity of their huge military parade. The French military record is not glorious. They alone in Europe hold such a march-past. No doubt the Russians copied them. The event was instituted not by the original revolutionaries but by the Second Empire, late in the 19th Century. (It seems it coincided with the rebuilding of Paris. Was it a case of ‘We have the Champs Elysees. We have to do something with it?’) Idolatry (‘honour’) of the armed forces dwarfs attempts to work for peace. A new memorial, displaying the word ‘Peace’ in many languages, is being built – between the Champs de Mars, dedicated to the Roman God of War, and the Ecole Militaire. The French should instead celebrate that they are not a naturally war-like nation. They enjoy life, especially food, too much to train for death. ‘For goodness sake don’t tell them that!’ said an Englishman having breakfast in the same hotel.

The triumph of the flower power of 1968 over the hammer of authoritarianism was celebrated at the wonderful son et lumiere with fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. ( ) 1960s flowers were projected creeping up the tower, before a vicious hammer beat them down again a few times. Eventually flower power covered the tower.

Many firework displays culminate with multiple huge bursts to the 1812 Overture. The French put 1812 near the beginning! They also made the Tower sway and dance. Formidable indeed!

The Englishman at breakfast had come up to us and greeted us at our table. This more-than-usual greeting alerted me that he could be the ‘man of peace’ whom Jesus had prepared to meet me there as a messenger of the Kingdom of God. He also said he was suffering from a nasty cough and needed to find a chemist – a need for healing prayer. All in all it fitted the pattern of Luke 10. He and his companion welcomed me at their table.

The Englishman, whom I will call Derek, turned out to be a childhood Buddhist. His father had returned from Japanese prisoner of war camp and gone to church. The vicar had been talking about the justness of the war. Derek’s father punched him on the nose. The Daily Sketch reported it nationwide. This soldier had no time for warrior Christianity and turned to Buddhism instead. (What a pity that he, and many others, had not read G A Studdert Kennedy aka Woodbine Willie.) When he died, a few years later, he made the Buddhist Society guardians of his son. Derek’s mother took him to sing in her local parish church choir, but it was the spiritual exercises of the Buddhists which formed him.

‘We like to joke that any restless spirits must be Christians,’ Derek said disarmingly, ‘because they don’t know where they are going. I know exactly where I am heading after death.’ Detailed Buddhist mythology had given him a map of the afterlife so he could plot his route. I agreed. For Christians the important thing is to know who you are going with.

Derek described helping to move on a restless spirit in his Lincolnshire village. An old man had kept his wife’s ashes with him, on his bed. After he died, all his neighbours said funny things were happening; the whole street didn’t feel right. ‘On the anniversary of his death,’ Derek said with relish, ‘I stood in front of his house. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. “I don’t know what you believe,” I told the man’s spirit, “but I’m a Buddhist and I know there’s somewhere better to go. Please move on.” After that the problems disappeared.’ His companion shook his head in disbelief.

I was looking for an opportunity to offer prayer for Derek’s throat, but the conversation kept flowing and diverting here and there. Eventually Derek stood up and offered me a handshake. It was time for me to go, before I had slipped in my offer of prayer. I think the Buddhist spirits in Derek had sensed an impending challenge from me. A worthwhile Kingdom encounter nonetheless.

Last week I was asked to go and pray in the house of a woman who has heard strange noises there. Another ‘house blessing’ has been requested. I also visited a woman recovering from an operation who was sitting in her lounge armchair. After prayer I sensed it was right to ask her to stand up and walk round to see if there had been any improvement. She said there had been some improvement. That was the first time I have ever had someone stand up and walk.

My mother is back at my sister’s, ‘up and down like a fiddler’s elbow’, as my brother-in-law says. Some days she’s lucid and able to walk with a frame, other days confused and off her legs. My sister is planning to care for her permanently, which will be a great ministry.

Roger Harper

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