Friday, 1 August 2008

What's for Dinner?

What is the purpose of a table? To eat from, you would be forgiven for thinking, for the ritualised consumption of food and the sustenance of humanity. You, like me, may eat in places as diverse as the old folks's home, a primary school, a Pall Mall club and your own table, be it great or small. Who you eat with and how you eat and how you understand the manners and etiquette of each table will say much about you, your upbringing and your aspirations, whether you like it or not. Your socialist-leaning scribe may not like it very much at all, but like a proper socialist, he will eat wherever he is invited and where he is made welcome.
The same rules and etiquette also seem to apply at the table of the altar in our Church, do they not? I have been to a Church where I was asked if I was a member and then it was suggested that, after a brief series of questions concerning my background and schooling, that I maybe should be a member and that the usual fee would be waived. They regretted that one, I can assure you. I have been to Churches where they were so pleased to see anyone at all that I had no peace from the moment of entering to the moment of leaving and I have had a time in a rather musical Church where my foghorn-like voice ensured plenty of personal space. I have been to a chapel where the man in front of me in the line for communion, obviously another newcomer, put his hands out for communion and the priest, holding Christ in his hands, bellowed 'put your tongue out man, further, come on, further!'. I have been to many wonderful Churches where I have been very regretful when the time had come to leave. I thought long and hard about never leaving one Church I went to and one thing is for sure, that I will never leave the Church of Christ or abandon His calling to serve in it, no matter how peculiar that calling may seem to some who know me and wonder what on earth I am doing training to be an Anglican Priest.
This calling is at the centre of my love of hospitality and it is a hospitality which the Church of England possessed so totally, a gift of such greatness that we had, that it can take an outsider like me to realise what a wonderful thing it was. This is exactly what we stand in danger of losing if we allow the Church of England to slip away, to be replaced by a Protestant Liberal sect of no assured longevity past the egos of a handful of radical aging Bishops. This is why I am committed to the Church of England, maybe this is why God seems to be calling a number of Catholic men to serve in this Church at the moment when, lets face it, we would seem most unwelcome.
There needs, as the Cardinal said, to be another Oxford Movement, another fight for the survival of this Church as a Church, confessing the creeds and doctrine which the Kingdom of God is built on. England is once again fast becoming a mission ground, not only in the streets, for it has always been there, but in the Cathedrals of our land and in the synod. Thus are we all trying to elect more Catholic minded people onto General Synod, thus are men like Mike Heppleston seeking election in Manchester, for just that purpose, thus is God sending men to be Priests in His Church, even this difficult end of it and thus are people coming through our doors each day and Sunday, where the first thing you see is a statement saying that we preach the faith delivered by Christ Himself. God is moving in His Church and thus is He slowly making the need to fight and stick together more and more clear. For it would be a real disaster and just the thing our opponents, for let us not kid ourselves, this is what they have shown themselves to be after a lifetime of gentleness from us, want if we were to split and show a disunited front. We may not like the detail or the style of each other, but we must see the faith in our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we fall apart, it is all over. What will happen after Lambeth is unclear, as seems to be the fashion now, but let us all be clear in our aims and our support for each other.