About a dozen of us gathered at the war memorial outside of Worcester Cathedral at 11 am on the anniversary of VE Day. We stood, distanced, and kept the two minutes in absolute silence.
No priest stepped out of the cathedral to join us. There were no health risks, no-one compromising rules, simply people standing in respect. The objection that might have been raised that it was a “non-essential” gathering would seem nonsensical when the queue of people going into The Range to buy entirely non-essential items stretched around the store’s car park.
A search of websites revealed that the cathedral was livestreaming an act of remembrance. If that was the case, why could one of those involved not have stepped outside for two minutes?
Up and down the country, ordinary workers have carried on with ordinary tasks. Undoubtedly, there are some priests who have worked to continue to support their communities. However, there seem to have been many clergy who have retreated behind their doors, content that other people will continue work, content that while the supermarkets and the postal service and the filling stations and a whole range of other activities have continued, the doors of the churches have remained firmly locked. The Covid-19 crisis has revealed that the Church of England is entirely at variance with the example of Jesus in Saint John Chapter 14.
“In my Father’s house,” says Jesus in Saint John Chapter 14 Verse 2. The word John uses to record the words of Jesus is “oikia,” it is the word for an ordinary household.”House” gives a picture that suggests something warm and welcoming. There is space for everyone who wants to be there, plenty of room for guests who accept the invitation.
“If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus speaks to the disciples in a personal way, “for you,” he says. In the following chapters of Saint John, the disciples come to realize how costly it would be for Jesus to prepare that way.
If a priest had been prepared to defy the strictures of the prelates and open the doors of the church, simply for the faithful among the passers-by to stop for a moment’s quietness, who was going to act against them? Can you imagine the media coverage if a bishop had attempted action against someone who had tried to serve their people?
Writing in this week’s edition of the Church Times, Canon Angela Tilby says, “the Church’s position looks uncomfortably like moral cowardice.” Canon Tilby suggests that the archbishops have done more to marginalise the church than the National Secular Society has done in generations, she concludes that when the bishops do allow the doors to be reopened, she doesn’t think people will have forgotten what happened.
After two months of closure, there will be many people who will have realized that their faith does not depend upon the creaking, archaic hierarchy that is the Church of England.
If teaching religious education to hundreds of secondary school students had not taught me the irrelevance of the Church of England, then its conduct since March has shown that it simply no longer has a place in the national life.