FROM THE BOUNDARY: Towards religiousness … Arrival
Three years ago, another newspaper very kindly invited me to tell my story. I didn’t go ahead with it for two reasons. First, I still hoped, against all the odds, that things would work out. Secondly, I was told that I wouldn’t see copy before publication. The risks of error were too great. Allegations of lies, wilful misrepresentation, failure to answer correspondence and to honour undertakings accepted in good faith, breach of natural justice, unconscionable delay, suppression of documents and discrimination obviously dictate you can’t afford to make mistakes. In essence, I suppose we’re talking about breach of trust and abuse of power – offences against truth, and so also Christ, and laced with a fair share of arrogance, ignorance and cowardice.
At our Ordinations, we all give certain undertakings. As a priest, I undertook to endeavour to minister the Word of God and the sacraments to further the reconciling love of Christ, and to “reverently obey” my Bishop in accordance with the Canons of the Church. Very well. But what if a Bishop fails to perform his own obligations – for Christ’s sake to guide and strengthen those in his charge, to promote justice and love, to be merciful and defend those who have no helper? What then? How can any man “obey” what he takes to be dis-Grace and dis-Honour?
Now, why has it all happened as it has? Beloved ‘F&B’ has never spoken to me about any matter, other than in terms I’ve written about, which might properly cause concern and, given my Licence, I remain in good standing. Did he succumb to the poisoned, piggy fingers of village gossip, I wonder, for there’s surely been plenty of that? Is it because, as one dear clergy friend has suggested, though to avoid a more obvious possibility, there’s envy of a sort, combined with fear of differences and wariness of strangers? Surely not. So why is it that a Church, with something over 80 ordained priests, can’t accommodate one Englishman, one different face, in the fold?
Interestingly, Corey Worrell, in another newspaper has recently asserted (22 September) that “Whites are Bajan Too”, this in relation to the “issue” arising from a white female star winning the Miss Universe Barbados competition. Why on earth should there have been an “issue”? How petty. What does it say about us? But then, you know, years ago I heard a senior cleric from the pulpit at the Cathedral declare, in relation to the progress of the Anglican Church since Independence, that it was all due to the “man from Africa”. Apparently, we’re not, after all, a universal church and the Holy Spirit runs in blinkers. We all know that there are those in our society, some highly placed, who’ve demonstrated time and again their own agendas in promoting racial division. And I’m sorry, I can’t avoid “casting a cold eye” on people like ’F&B’ who in July, at a regional Youth Gathering in Grenada, actually suggested, without qualification of any sort, that there is ”abundance evidence” (sic) that in the US “black lives do not matter”. He goes on to say: “this type of discrimination leads us to a very slippery slope where we draw God in on our side to support our prejudices, and claim that he loves some of his children far more than he loves others.” You what? Which century did that come from? Is that how we advance the cause of justice, love and reconciliation to our young people? Oh well. Actually, in many respects it’s a fine address and I’ve worked hard trying to determine how its generous sentiments have been applied to me – with not much success, I’m afraid. But then again, beloved ‘F&B’ is an OT man, isn’t he?
Well, there you are. That’s been my Diocesan life over the past 16 years. It’s now out there in the ether, as it should be. I just hope that it will never repeat itself for some other intent only on serving Jesus. Surely, there’s been enough mean- spiritedness, enough hypocrisy, enough Pharisaism in the name of Christ – for God knows that’s not how He intended it, surely.
Now I’ve no doubt that some of my readers will have been shocked by my candour and will charge me with disrespect. A former colleague told me only today that I’d been “pushing the envelope” – which I suppose means taking too many free kicks. First, though, you must understand that there’s a form of exorcism in what I’ve written – “in the name of the Father who created you…”. Again, you must also understand that there’s no element of ‘Yes Sir-ism’ in my character and that my guiding principle, as with many of the young these days, is ‘I respect you as you respect me’. Born, as I was, in the back streets of Birmingham you had to be pretty tough to survive and, frankly, that’s left me without fear of ‘mixing it’ if I have to. My Mother, bless her, was a fighter and I take after her. In practice, that means I will fight for you in the face of injustice, whether you’re friend or foe, as for myself. But, of course, how you see me is a matter for you.
Recently, I met a former colleague from the Community Legal Services Commission, on which I served for a few years, in the Holy of Holies car park. He greeted me and hugged me. It was like a blessing and I loved him for it. I shall never tire of saying how much my friends mean to me. Their affection makes Diocesan doings very small.
As I now realise, wherever I am is where I’m meant to be – wiser, more understanding, more compassionate hopefully – and what I’ve experienced is not so very different from what we all experience on life’s journey. Perhaps, for me, it’s been a rest stop. But now, it’s a bit like waking up one morning after a sordid love affair and realising suddenly that all the pain has gone. That’s a wonderful experience, isn’t it? You go out and the world seems new again. Good – bring it on!
The other day, I was reading Frederick Buechner’s ‘The Alphabet of Grace’. There he recounts, as priest-writer, a meeting with a friend, unlike him “a real priest with a parish who also dresses like a priest”. But he goes on using the analogy of the marriage ceremony as if to say the priest is a bride of Christ: “For richer, for poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, I am a priest of Christ, who knelt down in a circle of priests with all their flap-jack hands on my bald spot…” Well, that’s me too despite everything, and though I’m now in the open sea – yet with my Master’s kiss ever on my forehead and the orange scarf of religiousness about my neck.
Go safely, then – until the next time.
‘Of great place’ from the boundary: “Certainly, men in great fortunes are strangers to themselves” (Francis Bacon).