Last week some people became pretty much incandescent when they discovered that Archbishop John Sentamu was writing for The Sun. It was not so much the column itself that caused the shock waves, but the very idea that a prelate might be colluding with the enemy (read page three rubber stamping, Murdoch mysteries and the like). A few of us clerical types reiterated one of his comments variously: wow!
It wasn’t until I was sitting in a hotel restaurant where one still dresses for dinner (having been taken as a s surprise by the very same friend that took me to a ‘night out with the girls’ (read black tie ball, attendance of thousands*) wearing cords and striped socks just a few weeks previously that I got it.
Thankfully, on this particular evening I was wearing an ivory fleece fresh from the wash and some pale green jeans that *breathe* passed the ‘No jeans or trainers’ rule so we were duly seated and a roulade was placed before me by an extremely pleasant waitress who was actually smiling. The conversations around us varied, but it is true to say that they were of a certain ilk. I was just being accused of naughtiness (inverse snobbery) when the chap on the table behind us declared to his wife, ‘My dear, this isn’t the aristocracy but the hoi polloi we are talking about!’ Sadly I have no idea what precipitated, and on one level it was mildly amusing, but it was then that the penny began to drop.
Back at the vicarage on Sunday evening as I put some handout notes together for a session on ‘Christian mission in the real world’ for want of a better title, I centred – yes, even emboldened – the words Have we become the enclave of the great and the good and the gifted? Beneficently bestowing our gifts on those that are ‘less-than’ as the penny dropped a little farther, and I must admit to feeling duly convicted by my judgement of ++John as I grasped the idea that he had stuck his neck out to speak to the seven and a half million readers who read The Sun far more religiously than many of us read our daily scriptures.
Wasn’t it just last week that he was grumbling about how middle-class the Church of England is, wanting to reach out to the working classes? Don’t working class priests have the hardest time getting through selection, never mind training and negotiating the reigning culture? And then today, the reminder story of Faith Schools privileging the middle classes where entry is based on a points system.
Having completed some of those school forms I can see the difficulties inherent within them. My dad, a passionate atheists banned us all from going to church and I – with my Mum’s help – snuck out to Brownies, and then Guides (well technically, there was a parade of them involved in the service). I – for some reason God alone knows – developed a very young and deeply held experience of the divine which matured into a faith that was entirely contrary to my parents understanding of the world. Back to the forms: do your parents attend church every week, once or twice a month, once a month, major festivals, never? Does the child attend church every week..? Are the family regular givers? Do they take part in church activities? Talk about bearing the sins of your fathers, I would have had no chance. Yet anyone who watches third division football knows that sometimes we pitch up for the atmosphere and the social life, never mind the game, the keenest footie fanatic is likely to be found running around a field somewhere or saving for his place in the not-so-cheap-seats.
So today, I’m thinking to myself, you know, ++John might have a point. Yes Chris Evans can be a bit too bubbly for the morning rush, and you may well arrive at work having no idea of the political storm that’s brewing or the latest on the Euro, but again, Radio 2 boasts almost 8.5million listeners for Chris’ morning slot. Is ++John communicating with 15million people the Church doesn’t ever get close to speaking with?
For much as I love the Anglican Church and all she has taught me about a certain mode of life, and thankful as I am that I was Grammar School educated and find this lifestyle accessible, I do recall quite literally weeping all the way home from my selection conference (to be recommended for training for ordination) as I reeled from three days spent with a combination of middle class people retiring early ‘with a bit of time on their hands’, and people who would describe me as the hoi polloi, speaking so rudely and crassly about the working classes at the dinner table that I spent the entire four-hour journey home wondering how the church could ever reach any man in a factory, or people who never picked up a book in their life and wouldn’t countenance being told to stand-up, sit-down, read, listen, respond as directed for two hours on a Sunday morning and expect it to feel remotely connected to anything but their irritation. It’s as if Jesus the man somehow ditched the carpentry apron and the larger than life fisherman friends with their barbecue-on-the-beach-breakfasts to become Christ the Divine Being, sole founder of Gillow’s, taking Himself off for afternoon tea at a National trust property so that He might think on greater things than these.
Working with media and with communications in the church, I am aware of the polarities that these ideas raise, and the temperatures that soar across people’s faces as one side argues for the maintaining the thinking person’s theological profundity registering only radio 4 as suitably worthy for such beauty and depth, while those with Radio 2 waking them with glee every morning would most probably argue that we need to hear voices speaking in a language that resonates with the everyday, using modern cultural – yes popular and potentially irreverent – references as a means of communicating what is basically a message of God’s love and self-sacrifice for all.
Me? I’m sorry I was so quick to judge ++John myself, just because The Sun isn’t my cup of tea and rankles with my passionately held faith-based politics. For the bare bones of my wanting to be a part of communicating the gospel is that I don’t see why we can’t be all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22) and keep the rumour of God alive for everyone. After all, if I were going to start a slimming club, where better to snaffle people’s attention and get them thinking about what they were doing than in the pages of a foodie rag? As that working class heroine Ena Sharples would say, perhaps we ought to think on and look sharp.