My parishioners used to say that they ‘did not know what they were supposed to believe.’ I never quite knew how to respond to that. But I always wondered. Because when the moment came ……….it was very clear that they knew exactly. They might not have been able to speak it. But they were experts in deep faith deployed with dignity. Or, to put it another way, they had the ‘faith thing’ of being able to face both life and death calm and unafraid.
Those wonderful people taught me that the church doesn’t function primarily on theological concepts or dogma elegantly defined. What builds it and sustains it is faith and trust, relationships, openness and honesty, a passion for justice .. and many more. As I write that, I wonder if that kind of faith maybe doesn’t transmit very easily to those who are not part of it. And it may just be vulnerable to idealised pictures of how things were in the past. But that isn’t its fault.
Stephen Cottrell, the new Archbishop of York, has just written a book called ‘Dear England.’ He is a person worth listening to because he has a breadth of involvement – being both President of Affirming Catholicism and Chair of the Church Army Board.
I slightly tripped over ‘Dear England’ – immediately brought back to John Major’s George Orwell reference to elderly ladies ‘bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist.’ And then I wondered what a ‘Dear Scotland’ letter might look like. And I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
He began at the Costa Coffee stall at Paddington Station where a young woman asked him ‘why I was a priest.’ To which he replied that it was because, ‘I believed in God, that I believed that God was made known in Jesus, that I believed that God wanted, through Jesus and through me, to change the world and that God was going to do it by changing my heart.’
This not a ‘simple guide to Christian faith’. It is a passionate attempt to set out a coherent way of coming to terms with faith and living it with integrity in society.
I’ll come back another day to what he says about Covid – and about the relationships of the nations of the British Isles and the relationship with Europe.
But for now I’m going to go on thinking about that Dear Scotland letter