Our three day diocesan clergy conference may become a thing of the past: our diocese is threatened. Of course, the argument will be couched in vague theological terms, there will be appeals to higher principles, but, at root, the issue is about numbers and money. If bishops and clergy cost nothing, no such changes would be contemplated: every church would have its own priest and dioceses would multiply.
The preoccupation with statistics can lead to a forgetting that people themselves are of unmeasurable worth. A century ago, WB Yeats expressed a sense that people needed more than just that which could be numbered, that, if people were to soar like eagles, beauty in all its forms was important, that life was more than money. How might Yeats have reacted to the proposal that centuries of history might end and that ancient communities might be no more? Yeats wrote in defence of an art gallery, might he have written in defence of tiny Christian communities?
In December 1912, he wrote:
TO A WEALTHY MAN WHO PROMISED A SECOND SUBSCRIPTION TO THE DUBLIN MUNICIPAL GALLERY IF IT WERE PROVED THE PEOPLE WANTED PICTURES
You gave but will not give again
Until enough of Paudeen’s pence
By Biddy’s halfpennies have lain
To be “some sort of evidence,”
Before you’ll put your guineas down,
That things it were a pride to give
Are what the blind and ignorant town
Imagines best to make it thrive.
What cared Duke Ercole, that bid
His mummers to the market place,
What th’ onion-sellers thought or did
So that his Plautus set the pace
For the Italian comedies?
And Guidobaldo, when he made
That grammar school of courtesies
Where wit and beauty learned their trade
Upon Urbino’s windy hill,
Had sent no runners to and fro
That he might learn the shepherds’ will.
And when they drove out Cosimo,
Indifferent how the rancour ran,
He gave the hours they had set free
To Michelozzo’s latest plan
For the San Marco Library,
Whence turbulent Italy should draw
Delight in Art whose end is peace,
In logic and in natural law
By sucking at the dugs of Greece.
Your open hand but shows our loss,
For he knew better how to live.
Let Paudeens play at pitch and toss,
Look up in the sun’s eye and give
What the exultant heart calls good
That some new day may breed the best
Because you gave, not what they would
But the right twigs for an eagle’s nest!
What would be a Yeatsian response to the plans for ecclesiastical change? Might it not be that instead of closure, there might be found resources for renewal, twigs for an eagle’s nest?