Will you accept the discipline of this Church and give due respect to those set over you in the Lord?
With the help of God I will.
The question at tomorrow afternoon’s service to ordain four new clergy evoked memories of rules in times past.
At school there were so many rules, it was impossible to know them all. The discipline ran from merely strict to the bizarrely absurd.
School uniform was black blazer, trousers and shoes, grey socks and grey shirt with a green and grey tie. There was no variation allowed. Anyone returning at the beginning of term with anything that diverged from regulation wear had it confiscated and were issued with ‘house’ items until the offending garments or footwear had been replaced. On Sundays, a different black blazer was worn; the grey shirt was replaced by a white one; and the green and grey tie was changed for one that was maroon. No-one had any idea why the idea of ‘Sunday best’ included wearing a tie of a completely different colour.
Everything was done according to rules: there were parts of the school where black leather shoes were to be worn; parts where training shoes were to be worn; and parts where slippers to be worn. Everyone got up at a prescribed time, not before and not after. Everyone took meals together at set times, eating at any other time was not possible.
Once a fortnight, there was a cross country run, even if there was snow on the ground. It doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider the fact that the school was in the middle of Dartmoor, a high and wild part of England.
Half the time, you didn’t know what the rules were until you had broken them. I once borrowed someone else’s football boots. When I admitted the boots had been lent to me, I was made to clean the gym for three days in a row as punishment.
The most stupid rule concerned changing the sheets on one’s bed. The sheets removed had to be folded into neat squares, before they were collected, bundled into a bag and thrown into washing machines. If the dirty sheets were not folded into squares of the specified dimension, some punishment would ensue.
The final term was a time to break as many rules as possible. Climbing out windows; trespassing in staff quarters; going for walks at midnight; drinking cans of fizzy cider; playing Radio Luxembourg in our rooms; sometimes silliness for the sake of it. Subject to absurd strictures for so long, we became as absurd in our response.
The church can be as absurd as any school; absurdities such as senior clergy presuming to tell others what colour of shirt they should wear, and other, equally bizarre, behaviour. The key to the response in the ordination service lies in the qualification of the word ‘respect’. ‘Due respect’ it says; the respect that is due to those set over us. Where the church moves so far from anything that Jesus might have said or done, that its authority is called into question, then that respect ceases to be due – and, what’s more, the church can’t make you clean the gym.