“Ah, an old style Church of Ireland clergyman”, said the man, “racing around the country like a hero”.
“Not really”, I said. Driving the roads of the Irish midlands may be many things, but heroic it is not.
I worry sometimes that apart from the fact that my heroes are all dead, or, like Inspector Morse, never existed in the first place, there are very few clergy in their ranks, unless you count Don Camillo, who, even had he existed, would by now be dead.
Heroes for me are people like Churchill, fighting with the British establishment on one side and with the “black dog” of depression and self-doubt on the other, and Gandalf, the wizard from the The Lord of the Rings, who struggles alone against overwhelming odds and when faced with death just sees it as another step to be taken.
If one excludes Desmond Tutu, I can’t really think of any Anglican churchmen who fit into the category of heroic. Does the Archbishop of Canterbury strike anyone as a hero? There are Roman Catholic priests whom I have met who do wonderful work in the face of adversity and, in places like the Philippines, in the face of threats intimidation and violence, but Anglican heroes are rare.
Anglicans are altogether more moderate. Heroism and the middle way of which Anglicans are so fond don’t really go together. We sit easily with the idea that our sister church in England should be the established church of the state. How can a church that participates in the House of Lords and gives its blessing to the whole aristocratic system seriously consider that it might ever have a heroic role as a voice of dissent and radicalism?
Anglicans do maintenance tasks, not heroic deeds. Today I discussed gutters, accounts, school admissions – not really the stuff to stir the heart and soul.
Heroes are troubling because they ask questions of ordinary people. For me they point out the huge gap between the expectations of the Kingdom of God and Anglican reality.