Too much time has passed since I last blogged and my new year commitment to regularly do so has long since vanished into the mist. However sufficient time has now passed since the pope’s UK visit to reflect more calmly on it and surprise blog land by making a few comments on this as my first outpouring of the new season.
I had been an enthusiast for the visit – indeed I had lobbied for the pope to make a stop off at Coventry Cathedral – in the 70th anniversary year of its bombing by the Luftwaffe I thought it would be good for a German pope to come and ring the peace bell and lead the litany of reconciliation. A constructive PR engagement if nothing else.
On reflection I am glad that the lobby did not reap dividends on this occasion. The visit produced some unexpected reactions which I have found interesting to reflect on. The first is personal, in that all the ritual and ceremony reminded me of how Protestant I really am. Rather than being awed and moved, I found it cold and remote. I wasn’t present in person at any of the events, but I usually enjoy big occasions from the comfort of my sofa – and as political theatre it was grand. But spiritually it left me cold, despite my new-found enthusiasm for high church drama in a sterile secular world.
Secondly, I got very grumpy. Some of what the pope said does need to be heard – by us as a country and by the church. And if said as part of a PASTORAL visit, then fine. But this was a STATE visit and no other head of state would be able to make such a critique of the host country without causing a major diplomatic incident. It should not have been tolerated – if visiting in papal political mode, then criticising the country should be off the agenda. The Vatican cannot have it both ways. And this made me unexpectedly cross.
Third, I became increasingly dismayed. It actually was the service at Westminster Abbey that did it. Apart from the exception of a female Abbey Canon, Rev Canon Jane Hedges, the cameras revealed an overwhelming facade of male bishops and clergy. And this is where we have to say that the church – both Anglican and Catholic – doesn’t get it. Before anything is said, whether prayers, sermons or words of worship, the picture has said everything. And that everything not only puts the church in a place of cultural irrelevance, as it fails to honour and promote women in leadership of the body of Christ, it more significantly presents a distorted witness of God’s self and the nature of the human community for which Christ died.
Maybe it should be more pope here, for it reminds some of us what we truly stand for!