Reader Writes, March 2018
Like many I have been enjoying catching some of BBC’s study of three Hereford Diocese parishes in A Vicar’s Life, still available on i-player. They have been fair and sympathetic and portrayed our clergy as the community heroes they very often are. But I also detect, or anticipate, a bit of controversy below the conventional surface. There is a great deal of fund raising by the ranks of elderly church members, and there are touching pastoral moments when our vicars look after people at the key milestones of life, from weddings to life’s end. The producer has also picked up a universal concern that congregations are mostly lacking younger generations. Notwithstanding a reported surge in hits on the Diocesan vacancies page, one can’t help wondering how the non-churchgoer sees us.
Surface quaintness was quickly redeemed for me by Father Matthew’s dash to Calais with a van load of sleeping bags, clothing and food for refugees and asylum seekers. That is loving your neighbour and the homeless amongst us in a practical and compassionate way. I enjoyed seeing him going ‘off piste’ so to speak, when he climbed into a hedge, huge cassock flapping, to pray for some Eritreans. I guessed they were Eritreans because they crossed themselves vigorously, like good Orthodox, as Father Matthew blessed them with a benediction of the Virgin Mary. Their vigorous crossing might merely have signified alarm at being accosted by a large priest in the shelter of their hedge temporally called home.
But to stir below the surface – and here’s a vital question – how do the young see God and his relevance to their world? Prayer is a very good place to start. No need for rosaries, unless you personally find them helpful; no need for archaic formulations. Jesus told us “Ask, and you will receive”; as simple as that. And so often Jesus and his disciples upset the religious establishment by their confident direct appeal to God the Father. After the resurrection, Peter and John went to the temple and found a crippled man begging; Peter responded, moved by the Holy Spirit, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, get up and walk!” And he did, jumping and praising God. If we are God’s children we have the privilege of coming straight to the Father; just faith in the unlimited power of God, even in the dismal depths of a foreign hedge.
And where are the young converts? In cities you would find them packed into a hall or church praising God, normally with loud music. Their minister probably chooses jeans over a cassock, although there is no cause and effect. There are epicentres of revival in Roman Catholic churches, and somewhere certainly in Orthodox congregations. Peter makes clear in his first epistle, something the Reformers felt strongly about, that all we who believe are a priesthood of believers. Thanks to Christ, we all have access to God, personally and directly. Guitars or organs, jeans or cassocks, under hedges in a border wasteland or a medieval cathedral, all are called and received.
So bless you Father Matthew for your compassion and love, and thank you BBC for a sympathetic look at a vicar’s busy calling, but let’s all of us be bold and start a conversation with God.