Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Have We Been Here Before?

The altar of the Frankenberger Church in Goslar.

And the minister and Bishop.

More lions. Elsewhere, I forget where.

The town of Goslar in Lower Saxony is well known for the Frankenberger Church, pictured above. One of the 'attractions' is the figure of Christ on the rood, which is deathly white and topped with a wig of the artists own hair, a once common fashion in the Harz region. I was reminded of this Church yesterday as I sat in Baghdad, under fire, eating dinner in a back street cafe hastily erected in someone's back room with Trish, the Parish Reader at Holy Innocents Church, Fallowfield, which is in South Manchester. Pardon? Yes, OK, we were taking a dinner break from our respective classes in Luther King House and walked up the road to Rusholme where I was lured down a seedy passageway utilised for the smoking of shisha pipes into a, as I said, hastily erected cafe in someone's back room, where we ate surprisingly well to the sound of cars backfiring and buses merrily mowing pedestrians down. For the gourmet wanderers, we had what we were given, which seemed to be the order of the day, the menus being purely decorative, which was a plate of salad, hummus and pink gherkins (!) with a bowl of okra soup and then plates of rice and chopped up noodly things with casseroled meat on top. This, followed by baklava and mint tea was not only good, but also very reasonable.

Trish was able to answer a query of mine which I have long wondered concerning Holy Innocents, Fallowfield which has been chopped down the middle to provide a community room and Church, but the West end is used for the Mass, with a nave altar, while the East end, resplendent with stained glass, painted ceiling and flooded in light, is used as the community room. I am told that when it was decided to chop the Church up, everyone was keen on a nave altar, but half of the congregation were unhappy about the Priest facing West, so the nave altar was put in the West end, facing East and the people in the East side, facing West. Eastwards facing Mass versus populum. You may sigh, but that is the reality of synodical government, half baked theology and ugly compromise.

I was reminded of the Frankenberger Church by this because they have a much more direct way of dealing with the East/West debate. Or at least the original builders had. In my study of the eastern movement in European Literature I have always realised that at some point I would have to give serious attention to the origins of the figurative West - where did it come from, of whom is it and is it possible to regress to the metaphorical, literary West without employing religious terminology? The Frankenbergers have a simpler answer, they believe that Diabolic Evil comes from the West and therefore at the West end of their Church they have two fierce lions facing each other to absorb the evil from the West, so that one can walk safely to the guarded presence of Christ, the bright morning star, in the East. This is a not uncommon motif, you can see above a photograph of a similar thing at another German Church, the lions guarding the West door from harm, kept in place physically and metaphorically by the pillars of the Church. (Compare this scheme to the Tympanum of many a medieval Cathedral, showing the theology of the Medieval Church in stone relief and (inside) in the perfection of the spacing of glass and wall, mixed with the quasi-mystical golden measurement).

Lions aside, for I feel we will come back to this point in another post, the people of Holy innocents, Fallowfield found a way to disagree and live in harmony with those whom they disagreed with. Good. It was put to me last night that the interesting times which we live through can be compared to the split in the Evangelical wing of the Church a number of years ago when the Church Missionary Society split and a number of dissenters formed the (more fundamentalist) Bible Churchman's Missionary Society. This was not a split between conservatives and liberals, my correspondent assured me, but a split amongst fellow conservatives on the question of whether or not they could work with those who do not agree with them. A similar thing happened at Lambeth, did it not, most obviously when Uganda and Kenya, two neighbouring countries with identically conservative views, were invited to the conference. One country went, one did not. One made their commitment to the process of trying to heal wounds clear, one made their withdrawal from that process equally clear.

Our dilemma may seem on the surface to be similar. We are, though, generally, willing to do what we have done since our inception, which is to work with people who disagree with us as are many who disagree with us inclined to work with us as well. It is the new breed of cleric which is the problem, this is no battle between conservatives and liberals, it is a battle between faithful Anglicans and Neo Liberals. The sort of Liberal who is not happy until they have squeezed every dissenting voice out so that all they hear is a chorus of identical 'liberal' voices singing happily the song of sin, for sin there will have been if there are those who are bent of breaking up the body of Christ to further their own Neo Liberal agendas. As I have said before, we are the first to feel the squeeze, but certainly not the last. This is why we need a separate province, I believe, not so that we can withdraw from co-operation, for we will still be next door to those who may not agree with us, we cannot and I do not believe want to ignore our fellows, but so that we can pursue our beliefs in integrity and faith without the constant threat of persecution from a small band of narrow-minded bigots who cannot see that there is more than one way to be Liberal.

We do not need Lions of stone to guard us from the West, we need the ability to keep walking to the East, in freedom, integrity and in the ways which the Saints and Martyrs would have recognised as truly theirs and truly ours. Only jurisdiction will do that, but what we hope to achieve may take time and is certainly of God. Therefore it needs to be true to His commandments and His way.

And he began to teach them saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Hand of Saint Stephen.

I have had brought to my attention another blog which has recently sprung into life, written by students at Saint Stephen's House, the Anglican Theological College at the University of Oxford. It is well worth a read. It may not be written by the hand of Saint Stephen pictured above, but it tells of the current life of the College dedicated to him. Take a look HERE and on the sidebar.

Fr Norman in the centre.

May I also ask your prayers for Fr Norman Price, associate Priest at Saint Hilda's, who is having a double heart bypass tomorrow. Keep him, his wife Jane and their children in your prayers this week. Update (but probably no picture!) later this week.