#Reaffirm5?

For those of you inside or near the Church of England bubble, you’ll have been aware of some media furore over the last week about the incoming bishop of Sheffield, +Philip North.

In brief: Colin Podmore of the Society of St Wilfrid and Hilda (a conservative doesn’t-approve-of-women-priests society) has lamented (in laypeople’s terms), “How do we know who’s an acceptable priest now that WOMEN BISHOPS are a thing? These priests might have been ordained by a woman, or have been ordained by a bishops who has ordained women — therefore the are not ‘real priests’ and we ‘cannot accept’ their ministry. Perhaps we should have some kind of identification system so we know who’s OK and who’s not.”

In response to this, Martyn Percy, a priest and currently the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford, has called for +Philip North, who helps to lead the Society of S Wilfrid and Hilda (hereafter, SSWSH) to either radically distance himself from this group, or to not take up his post as Bishop of Sheffield.

Much opinionating has followed. As always.

The Church of England currently recognises 5 ‘Guiding Principles’ regarding this ongoing conflict between traditionalists and progressives, which point to a goal of ‘mutual flourishing’ for all. At their heart these principles are about inclusion and tolerance — not values, notably, that all in the CofE prioritise highly (especially not those opposed to women priests). In the course of this debate, a Twitter hashtag has sprung up in support of +Philip’s appointment to Sheffield: #reaffirm5. The argument there is that there church will never not be diverse and will always require the laying aside of differences for the sake of the kingdom; that Philip’s work especially promoting the causes of the least privileged make him a great bishop and a focus of unity, even though he doesn’t believe that 1/3 of the clergy in the Diocese of Sheffield are ‘really’ priests, because of their sex.

I have stayed fairly quiet during this debate, partially because hey, there’s a passel of fascists running the USA and so I’ve been preoccupied with that more than church politics. But also because, deep inside, I’ve never been certain that the 5 guiding principles can mean anything of value to anyone outside the church: the very people whom the church (should be) seeking to serve, love, and point Christward.

‘Mutual flourishing’, as Percy points out, cannot really be ‘mutual’ if one side is still denied full humanity before God. I do not doubt that +Philip has much compassion for those experiencing poverty, for the north of the the UK, and that he is a wise person who, many tell me, is a good, pastoral overseer. However, he is also a key player in the SSWSH which does two harmful things. Firstly, it believes that women cannot exercise priestly or episcopal (or in some extreme cases, diaconal) ministry, therefore denying the ultimate equality of women and men before God. Secondly, it promotes a system of ‘alternative episcopal oversight’ whereby those who do not agree with their local bishop can seek a bishop they do agree with, usually over the issue of women’s ordination. This, which a few of my colleagues refer to as ‘Tesco bishop-ing’ (in that you go to the bishops and just pick one off the shelf you like the best), undermines the collegial and ecclesiological fabric of English Anglicanism, furthering sectarianism of many kinds. So this ‘mutual flourishing’ at its heart is actually about preserving a corner of the church where it’s OK to reject women’s ministry, on either traditional or biblical grounds.

The leaders of the SSWSH have condemned a theology of ‘taint’ whereby their members refuse to be ordained by a female bishop, a male bishop that has ordained women, or where members might refuse to concelebrate with male priests who’ve worked with women or concelebrated with women, trained female curates, ever dressed in drag, etc. The reality is, however, that such a theology is alive and well amongst traditionalists on the catholic and evangelical ends of the Anglican spectrum, whether it is acknowledged or not. (If I may be permitted the innuendo: a taint by any other name would smell as sour.)

Of course the great beauty of Anglicanism is its breadth and, in theory at least, its lack of a ‘thought police’ (though it sometimes seems to be moving in this policed direction). People and priests are free to have their private beliefs so long as they show up, worship God the Holy Trinity, engage with the historic creeds and the 39 articles, and worship using the approved forms of the Church of England.

Naturally, this freedom means that sometimes people are going to pick up a bible or a bit of the historical church doctrine and see ‘Women are subhuman, women should be silent, I do not permit a woman to teach,’ etc., and decide to take these things uncritically. The bible is a beautiful, inspired book, but it was penned (mostly) by men in a thoroughly patriarchal society which didn’t have a lot of time for women. It’s a patriarchally-infused, often outright sexist, book. As are many of the writings of the church fathers, from which the earliest notions of priesthood in the western and eastern churches were drawn and developed in later centuries.

I write ‘decide to take these things uncritically’ because that is what a rejection of women’s full humanity, women’s ordination to all holy orders, is: a decision. It is not a moment of submission to a text (though it might be couched as such); nor is it a moment of seeing through to the ‘true textual meaning’. It is a decision to privilege the patriarchal content of the text as the full content of the text, rather than engaging with the text as a living document reflecting both the culture in which it was produced, and the cultures (still quite patriarchal) in which it is today read.

Naturally, as a woman in holy orders my approach to the text and the tradition are different.

And yet, I do thoroughly value a church where people are allowed to differ in opinion, allowed to doubt and challenge and change. In my life I have been a person who wasn’t OK with women’s leadership in church, much less women’s ordination; I have been someone who used the bible to excuse my own homophobia; I have been someone who could not see the grace of God for the legalism in which I bound myself. And yet, I found churches that let me exist there, let me encounter a God of grace and love who broke me — slowly, painfully — out of these places, and many others.

So, do I think there’s a place in the church for people who refuse to accept the sacramental ministry and leadership of women? Yes. Because I was once one of them.

However, do I think the Church of England should be ringfencing un-collegial, ecclesiologically unsound, sexist and donatist arrangements with the 5 guiding principles? I admit, I do not. I currently affirm them because my church — the one who trained, ordained, and supports me — requires me to affirm them, to respect my brothers and sisters who differ from me in their views. But I think this is an insufficient solution, one that is promoted by the SSWSH whose agendas and practices I find quite shocking. The SSWSH uses the language of ‘ministry we can receive with confidence.’ They reject the notion of will, of choosing to receive women’s ministry, instead suggesting that ‘there they stand, they can do no other.’ (An interesting sentiment from an often highly Reformation-skeptic group.)  I myself am highly suspicious of this passive language, as it removes the agency from the members and seeks to put it elsewhere — the church? Christ? The Godhead? Who knows. It is a triumph of the passive in English language and culture. But, as those who study grammar know, the passive does not connote inaction, or lack of will on the part of a subject. It simply is a linguistic convention designed to speak around something, for the comfort of the speaker, the listeners, the whole society. The language of ‘cannot receive’ is just an encoded language of ‘will not receive’; such resistance to the teaching of one’s church used to be called heresy, apostasy, or at the very least, canonical disobedience. These days it is given special protection.

If +Philip North cannot distance himself from this group which promotes this unjust canonical disobedience and seeks special protection for it, I have trouble seeing how any flourishing for women and men he can (or will) promote would be truly ‘mutual’. And what’s more important, I don’t know how the church of England, if it promotes sexism (even in God’s name), can speak with integrity to people and societies worldwide that are slowly but surely coming to recognise the full humanity of women as a lynchpin for human justice.

__

note:  Until very recently my own diocesan bishop has been +Richard Chartres, who took a similar line to +Philip: he was a diocesan bishop who would ordain women deacon but not priest, and he would never concelebrate with anyone, to avoid that debate altogether. Luckily I’ve had a brilliant suffragan bishop who is totally supportive of my ministry, but I would be lying if I did not say that the Bishop of London’s refusal to make women priests did not (a) hurt personally and (b) exacerbate unhelpful and sexist politics in the diocese.

 

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Romance and charismatics

I.

Someone with a surname I envy because it sounds a lot like my home state (Fr Jonathan Mitchican ) recently posted an article on the Covenant blog entitled, The romance of the priesthood. You should probably stop and go read it right now, if you want to understand most of what I write below. (It’s about Call the Midwife, sorta, if you need some motivation to read it.)

…OK. You’ve read it and came back here? Good.

Waxing lyrical about the undoubtably remarkable lives of women and men who joined Anglican religious orders, Mitchican writes:

We are missing the heroism of our forefathers and foremothers, the confidence that allowed them to wear habits and take vows even when they could be arrested for it. We still have our convictions and our doctrine, but we have lost so much of the romance that goes with them.

According to him, Anglican catholics are ‘in a funk’ and are missing ‘the pioneering spirit’ which once propelled them to plant churches, to be proud of their worship, to care for people with no expectations, and to brave the condemnation of the larger church and/or society for any of the above.  The swashbuckling romance of the Jesus-loving, revolutionary, inspiring priest or nun/monk/friar – where has that gone? Is it still compelling?

clare
Clare of Assisi. Kicking arse for the Lord since 1212.

II.

Because I am a nerd* I read and write about Anglican ecclesiology – that is, the part of theology that pertains to how the church talks about itself, shapes itself, polices itself and sometimes shoots itself utterly in the foot.  One of the most significant and coherent voices in contemporary ecclesiology from an English Anglican perspective is Martyn Percy, whose trilogy of books on the subject are fascinating. Percy is a theological educator, priest, Oxford college Dean** and Canon. In the truly horrifically titled first book of this trilogy, Engaging with Contemporary Culture, Percy writes about global ecclesiological trends by riffing*** on the dramatic theory of another dude with an excellent name, Northrop Frye.  Using Frye and James Hopewell, one of the first English writers in Congregational Studies, Percy constructs a church typology, which I reproduce here with reference to Anglicans:

  1. Those churches who focus on Frye’s category of the Tragic are expressed as Canonic/Dogmatic. These Anglicans prioritise dogma and obedience as central to church.
  2. Those who focus on the Comic are expressed as Gnostic. More otherworldly and/or contemplative, they are less concerned with arguing about particular shapes of church.
  3. Those who focus on the Romantic are expressed as Charismatic. They require adventure, nostalgia and heroism in their narrative of church and spirituality.
  4. Those who focus on the Ironic are expressed as Empiric. They are realists looking for the proof in the pudding for what the church is and can be.†

I think Percy’s onto something. Instead of following another popular theorist, James Fowler, who talks about ‘stages of faith’ – of reaching towards spiritual maturity –  and constructing images or ideas about churches more or less hospitable to Christians at different stages of maturity, Percy argues that the Christian life is not a straight line. One doesn’t simply progress from immature to mature and need different kinds of church along the way.  Rather, individuals and communities learn to value different aspects of life and spirituality more or less highly, to perform these values and perform behaviours that generate these values. And so to dramatic (performance) theory.

III.

Percy’s third type of church is based in Frye’s category of Romantic. He writes that Christians who highly value the Romantic want to swept away by amazing stories of people whose faith was remarkable. They want to be inspired to act, inspired in prayer, moved in worship, connected to and motivated by the past. The word he chooses for this type is Charismatic.

You’ll not find many catholic Anglicans who look overly fondly on the word charismatic. It can smack of anti-authoritarian ego-inflated leaders, of disorganisation and awkwardness in the rather fuzzy name of the Holy Spirit, of trying new things that might fail. But you will find catholic Anglicans who speak of ‘being faithful rather than being successful’, of recovering enchantment and holiness and silence at the heart of Being, of re-associating all that is with God Who Is its creator and redeemer and sustainer.

A longing for a romantic, compelling narrative at the heart of the Christian faith, in the lives of brave Christians is not new – this Mitchican gets exactly right. What Percy gets right is how he identifies that some churches, particularly charismatic churches, have demonstrated that they value precisely these things. They value compelling narrative, vibrant and tangible spiritual experience from which people can learn and benefit, saints and heroes, and they seek to cultivate these things in the hearts and lives of the people in their churches.

IV.

STATUE OF MARY SEEN DURING MID-ATLANTIC CHARISMATIC RENEWAL CONFERENCE IN DELAWARE
C’mon Mary. Get into the Spirit, gurl.

So again I find myself where I’ve found myself so often: at the catholic-charismatic convergence.  Because, irrevocably, I am a charismatic. By this I mean I love hearing people’s stories, especially stories of those who overcame great difficulties in their struggles of faith and of justice. And I don’t think I’m alone in loving those stories, yes, in romanticising them, in wanting something of those real physical and spiritual experiences for myself.  And if that sounds like you and you’re a catholic Anglican – guess what, you’re a charismatic, too.

It is at this point that, if one is a catholic Anglican, one talks about the mysteries of meeting Christ in the bread and wine, in the silence of prayer, etc. If one is a charismatic one talks about extended period of singing and praying, of the laying on of hands, maybe of glossolalia.  Sociologically speaking, these are all powerful cultic rituals which make real that which the participants long for – those narratives they romantically imagine and desire to embody in their own lives. It lies to the theologians among us to quibble about what happens in each of these sacramental(ly charged) moments.

Mitchican, towards the close of his article, reflects that even changing the toilet paper†† in the men’s room of his church is part of his priestly vocation – even if that task may seem utterly mundane and unromantic. It is part, he says, of sharing God’s ‘most beautiful and unexpected light’ with the world.

So we must return and dwell on the beautiful and ever-unexpected nature of how we meet God and God meets us. The words ‘romantic’ or ‘romanticise’ can bring a criticism: they can mean that we don’t take full account of the hardships that accompany the bravery, the sacrifices that made possible the extraordinary life of faith, the failures that pervaded  the memorable missions.  The changing of the toilet paper that we do in the half hour free before the bible study attended by four people. The evening service we had to stop running with no assurances something would start up in its place. The community project that seems to be a bit aimless at the moment. The endless prayers said in hospitals, in hope, in hope, in nothing but hope.

Romance is inspiring, beautiful and unexpected, and lest we forget, especially when it involves God, it is always bloody hard work.

 

___

* And an ordinand doing an MPhil. Insert complaints about privileged academic lifestyle.

** Boo…hiss…the Other Place where they punt backwards…

*** ‘Riffing’ being the proper academic term, obvs.

†  Percy, Engaging with Contemporary Culture, pp. 105-107.

†† Brits, that’ll be ‘loo roll’. Americans, laugh with me at this saying, please. And also I’m really sorry for all the UK English spellings.

Catholic church planting, take 2

‘Church planting was originally a catholic thing!’

‘All churches are church plants. And all priests should be planting churches.’

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 16.44.19
(You would not believe how few pictures of female priests there are on the internet.)

We cannot indulge in talk about the Glory Days of C19 Anglo-Catholic church planting in the East End unless we are willing to resume that same confident, evangelistic, entrepreneurial spirit. That was basically the thrust of the recent ‘Catholic church planting’ day held at All Saints Margaret Street, London, which had been organised by Anglican Catholic Future.  This is the second of two such discussion days that ACF has held, somewhat beyond the organisation’s original remit (which was to ‘do something about catholic vocations’).  Both days have had moments of being thoroughly encouraging, practically minded, and generous. Some of the highlights of yesterday’s discussion, in rather disorganised bullet points:

* Emphasis on generosity in practice as well as in ecclesiology. Catholics may well believe that ‘the mass makes the church’, but when it comes to planting, a trajectory towards the fulness of the sacramental life is what we are aiming for, rather than refusing to start something new because that fulness isn’t present, or present in precisely our own style. If we truly believe that being church means this fulness occurs, we will have faith that new plants, or new expressions of church, will start showing signs of this fulness: asking for baptisms or for communion, people feeling led toward ordination, individuals feeling they should make confessions, etc.  Sacraments, after all, are not ‘the outward sign of an inward grace’; those outward signs point to the sacraments, which are when Jesus shows up.

* What constitutes ‘church’ in our plants might not be precisely our cup of tea (aesthetically speaking), but if it brings people to Jesus, then what are we waiting for? There is simply no time for preciousness amongst people interested in seeing people deepen their faith in Christ. It is a Jesuit insight that we all ‘pray as we can, not as we can’t’, and perhaps the same should be said for Catholic (and indeed evangelical) church plants as well: if either our dry-ice-and-drum-kits OR our incense-and-NEH are getting in the way, chuck ’em. And listen for how God might more fruitfully be worshipped in that community.

* The recent church growth report offers 10 ‘models’ of planting: everything from re-invigorating an 8am BCP service to going whole-hog ‘we give you a massive budget, a new-old building and three years off your parish share’ planting.  That’s a lot of breadth, and there are many, many new ‘plants’ in churches of all sorts across the C of E that need to be celebrated. Let’s do the celebrating and the story-telling.

* A reminder that statistically speaking, churches tend to grow (numerically) the most during the 7th to 10th years of an incumbency. This shows something important about priestly presence, stability, and trust to be central to growth/planting – something that can never be instant, and something that can keep church planting from being a contemporary form of cultural imperialism/gentrification.

'You're not using that right.' 'Oh yeah? That's what she said.'
‘You’re not using that right.’
‘That’s what she said.’

* Preserving what’s unique about Catholic Anglican understandings of church can be very important indeed. Speaking as a foreigner to ‘Anglo-Catholicism’ in more ways than one, and yet as one who has grown to love it, I can say that if there were nothing unique about these ways of being a Christian, I would have not begun exploring! If Anglican Catholicism did not offer other ways of understanding the atonement besides penal substitution, if it did not celebrate those holy women and men who have gone before us, if it did not insist that ritual is good and yet never ossified, if it did not engage my body and my senses, if it did not make affirming space for my sexuality, if it did not know how to laugh, if it did not deeply value prayer and silence, if it did not claim an ecclesiology very different to the ‘ark of salvation’…I would not have bothered with it.   All this is to say: confidence in our theology as well as in our practice must be the corner of any planting and any renewal.

* The decline in organised Christianity as a whole, and the C of E in particular, in the last several decades has in fact given lay and ordained Christians a tabula rasa when it comes to sharing the good news. Fewer and fewer people in England today have ‘Jesus Baggage’; fewer and fewer will have ever been into a church; fewer and fewer will have massive church-y expectations.  Tabula rasa – good or bad or a bit of both?

* There was a lot of talk about sluggish or resistant PCCs or congregations. How do people ‘catch a vision’? We discussed the fact that most of the time, only 10-20% of people need to really get completely on board with the vision of planting or revivifying a congregation; the rest just need to agree not to be blatantly obstructive! This seemed to be a manageable percentage. It was also brought up that the official ‘job description’ for a PCC member is ‘to cooperate with the all concerns of the minister: pastoral, social, evangelistic and ecumenical’. All of those things, not just one, and to cooperate. It was brought up that church councils need to be growing together as a faith community within the church in order for this vision to spread.

* The open table.  Fewer and fewer people these days will have had any contact with Christianity before they (maybe) walk in our doors, or meet us in our ‘cafe church’, or come along to our prayer/liturgy as part of a political demonstration, or bring their kids to be baptised. It is crucial that we really practice table fellowship, opening up to all whom Christ is calling. The church’s (relatively recent) fuss about confirmation and first communion is shown to be increasingly pointless, and – some people in the cold back room at All Saints Margaret Street even said – inimical to the gospel.

There were many more things, but those were the points worth taking away. As you can tell I found the day full of good, challenging discussion.

A crummy Greenbelt

Ah, have I made it in time for the post-Greenbelt post deadline? Excuses for tardiness include: finishing up at my last stint of gainful employment before throwing myself whole-hog into studenting en route to vicaring*, working on Ye Olde Dissertation, getting ready to move house (tomorrow!), and The Great British Bake Off having begun on telly.

Now those excuses are out of the way: Greenbelt.

I’ve kind of got ‘It feels like the first time’ going ’round in my head when I think about this Greenbelt, my second. Does it, though? Feel like last year, my first time in attendance? Last year will go down in Greenbelt history as the Muddy 2012 of Doom, on account of which the festival had completely reconfigured where all the tents and stalls and stages were, having been forbidden to put any of them on Cheltenham Racecourse itself. It actually worked much better and made camping a significantly quieter experience. I for one was glad that Saturday night I could drift off to sleep to stray laughs and child-squeals rather than oh-so-passionate late-night worship led by Graham Kendrick.

Graham Kendrick, you say? What ho, Greenbelt? Isn’t he a little Evangelical for Greenbelt, bastion of fringey Christians, hippies and heretics? Which brings me to my first reflection about Greenbelt. In answer to that question: No. Graham Kendrick isn’t too Evangelical for Greenbelt, though many of us in attendance //cough cough// might have chosen not to attend worship of his style (though it’s admittedly of the highest quality). The point of Greenbelt is that it encourages you, Madame Punter, to engage with those drastically different to yourself. That includes people who are off circle-dancing and praying to Holy Wisdom (or other names for the divine feminine) in ‘the grove’, blisteringly literalistic conservatives (theologically and/or politically), the so-called ‘radical’ theologians, artists and poets of varying stripes (and hairdos), collared priests, priests who wouldn’t be caught dead in collars (or caught dead being referred to as ‘priests’ because PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS, YO!), yoga instructors (no one’s favorite person at 8am), passionate activists, and, lest we forget, the hapless, hopeful lot running all the incredibly overpriced food vans and info stands and merch stalls.

Am I waxing overly Anglican with all this ‘everyone’s different and everyone’s here’ fluff? Maybe. But let us not forget Anglicanism’s sleight-of-hand trick, you know, the one where it purports to know all about containing different viewpoints and encouraging diversity and then BLAM before you know it, everyone’s ghettoised into cliques of people identical to themselves.  Anglicanism, and more to the point, Christianity in Britain and all over the world needs Greenbelt just because it can be so uncomfortable. As one speaker reminded us  (over and over and over): confronting otherness is of astounding importance, both because it forces us to engage on an immediate level with that person/group, and also because we can begin to acknowledge something of  the lack and otherness and fear that we have within ourselves.

So yes, Greenbelt may be peopled with discontented Christians, post-Christians and non-Christians. But, if the looseness with which the term ‘evangelical’ was bandied around is any indication, it’s also peopled with plenty of people for whom Christianity is the water in which they have always been swimming – including plenty o’ evangelicals.

Next excellent thing about Greenbelt: camping. Yes, I am one of those people who loves a good four-days-without-a-proper-shower, cooking-on-campstove, village-of-tents, oh-look-at-the-stars-and-breathe-the-country-air sort of thing. Yes, there are plenty of ways for this to go wrong. Yes, I was obsessively checking my Blackberry at times (I have a good excuse**). Yes, camping at a festival is nowhere near as pleasant (or as tough) as camping somewhere more remote. But as I am resisting the Glamperisation Tendency within myself with all my might, I feel it is important to be reminded regularly what a good few days camping is actually like. And turns out, it’s lovely. Always. Even when the tent floods. Feel free to argue with me on that last point.

As Greenbelt has changed somewhat into a festival that is not ‘heavily musical’, it was never going to be a place where I discovered the Five New Bands I Shall Listen To Obsessively Until Christmas. I did thoroughly enjoy sets by Sam Lee, Grace Petrie and Hot Feet, and I wouldn’t want to begrudge festivalgoers their folksy-singer-songwriter ‘stream’ or their hip-hop/R&B ‘stream’ of musicians that seems to be present each year. I did attend a number of poetry, drama and storytelling events this year that I managed to miss last year (shame!).

As for the alt worship – ah yes. I will admit that the alt worship hasn’t lost its shine for me yet. I just love the weirdness. I think it comes back to what I was saying earlier about being uncomfortable – so many of these alt worshippy things are just awkward, time consuming, and obstructive to a nice, soothing worship experience. I almost wrote ‘normal’ after ‘nice, soothing’ just now – and then stopped and realise that that is precisely the point! When Christians start thinking of worship as something that has to be done all ‘hush-hush, presence of God, fall to our knees and/or raise our hands’, I think we’ve completely missed the point. Worship, in my completely not-humble opinion, is as much about laughter and oddness as it is about symbolism and familiarity. Worship is not a time in which I come to have my self groomed by the great Barber God who gives me the same haircut every time (trim away some sin there, dye a bit of heresy there back to the orthodox color, dry and straighten to the same safe length and style). Those of you with anything longer than a buzz cut will know that immediately upon leaving Supercuts*** one’s hair will go absolutely crazy and will never look like what it did in the stylist’s chair.

Nope: if anything, I think, worship is that blast of frustration that you have when you walk out of Supercuts and immediately the hair goes wrong. Why, God? Or it’s the pleasure in getting it to do something like that original style – but never quite the same. Thank you Jesus. Or it’s the desire to meet and speak with the stylist again, because hey, she’s always got some hilarious (if slightly off-colour) jokes and always makes you feel like pouring our your deepest self to her.

Have I worked that illustration too hard? Deal with it.

That’s another great thing about Greenbelt – I come back from it ‘Spunky! Erin’. Meeting others there who are trying to juggle the same things I’m trying to juggle – this Christian thing, this love-your-neighbour thing, this priest thing, this some kind of normalcy thing – it’s just incredibly affirming. Catching up with co-workers who are there with non-work hats on felt a validation of both our roles at work. Sharing hot chocolate with friends I only ever see at Greenbelt and showing my ignorance about Russian literature but giving as good as I got on theology – it’s delightful and a reminder that though I try, I’m not as socially or academically inept as my inner voice whispers, in darker moments, that I am.

But the best thing about Greenbelt this year, better than the sheer breadth of different types of people, the camping, the music, the alt worship or the affirmation, was a tiny little moment on Sunday. I went to the Sunday service despite knowing it was going to be twee and I’d have enjoyed a serious lie-in****. Besides the awesome fact that all the bread for the communion had been baked over the past 48 hours in the Christian Aid stall, the wine was (as it usually is) of the sort you find in single servings in grocery stores. Praise thee, O Lord, for bread and wine that are actually bread and wine, not wafers and grapey water.

The tiny moment came after we had passed the bread and the wine around and were waiting for the music to start up. We had some wine left and I was staring it at in the plastic cup on the ground, wondering what would be different church traditions’ approaches to disposing of all that extra wine (NERD! – see, I knew you wanted to say it). As I stared, I noticed that lots of people in our group had not quite gotten all of the bits of bread into their mouths. Baked as it had been the day before, it was crumbly and poor quality. (My inner baker rose up a bit in indignation til I told her to settle down or go read Sunshine.)

crummy breadThe ground in our circle – the whole field of people had formed circles of a dozen or so – was flecked with tiny white bits of bread. Again – the wondering. Oh dear! How to dispose of this? It’s the body of ChristOn the floor. The very dirty floor. Wait a second. On the very dirty floor. Being trod on, returned to the dust from whence it came? Yes.  And.

I couldn’t help but mull over the layers of imagery. Even when Christians fail to grasp all of who Jesus  is – maybe it’s too much for us all to chew on all at once – do we realise that he’s and stranger and crumblier and harder to box up than we’d like? In a place like Greenbelt, where a significant number of the punters probably struggle with that ‘who Jesus is’ thing, the spreading of the crumbs of his body all around the field, seeping into the midst of us, lying on the battered earth (which we’d battered, btw) – well, I can’t think of a better way to sum up what seems to me a perfectly good theology of the incarnation. Crumb-y-ness. Actually, that looks a little too much like a Welsh place name. Crummy-ness, perhaps? 

Either way, when I get it published, I’ll make sure to credit Greenbelt with demonstrating it first.

___

* Interesting note: spell check corrects this as “stunting en route to vacating”

**PaperworkVisasVicaringNonsenseStressAGHGHGH

***I’m poor! Suck it!

**** NB:  The Jesus Arms tent serves a dozen types of ale. To Bearded Hipster Christian Dudes. It’s like a thing. They serve women, too, bearded or otherwise. The tent I and my friends shared, hereafter known as ‘The Spital & Fields Lot’, served whiskey, with or without hot water to dilute it.

___

p.s. American friends: brought to you by the same minds, hearts and bodies as Greenbelt: Wild Goose Festival! Check it out, now.