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When I was a teen we read as part of the English Literature syllabus “The History of Mr. Polly” by H.G. Wells. I confess that I don’t remember much about the book but I loved the made up words Polly came out with. One was “lugubriosity”. It conjured up a list of people I then knew whose outlook on life was negative and dismal, whose motto was “Things ain’t what they used to be”, and who seldom uttered a word which was not gloomy.

During my years in the ordained ministry I have found it axiomatic that every congregation has at least one “lugubrious” parishioner or perhaps at least three in order that they might take it in turns to be elected to the vestry aka the Parochial Church Council. I do not suggest that these people never had moments of some sort of joy, but evidences of such a state were encased in long reminiscences of what things were like when Father Fontwater was rector before all the changes were made to the look of the church, or when the old liturgy was used, or before the servers began to appear in Nike’s.

I would not want to suggest that these gray and dusty people are invariably to be found among the laity. I have known lugubrious bishops and parish priests but I confess I have only met one miserable deacon and he resented the fact that he’d never become a priest.

Yet as I’m speaking only to you in private, as long as you promise not to tell anyone else, I have to confess that I am becoming lugubrious particularly when blogging. I find myself going to those web sites which delight in telling us what is wrong with the church. As I read the purple prose descibing bishops who would make a Unitarian blush, or who are caught out as being paid up members of a Buddhist group, or are also Moslems, I groan and suggest that I may now be “on the edge”. When I read long dissertations in prophecy confidently claiming that the Covenant won’t satisfy Gafconites or lamenting that no one takes St. Paul seriously when he commands women to cover their heads and be quiet at the annual meeting I feel miserable and reach for a dram of single malt. Between you and me I even despair when I see a bishop in the National cathedral surrounded by Roman Catholic prelates who know better, processing down the aisle carrying his crozier in his right hand, or a priest wearing a stole covered in butterflies and the words “Kiss me quick” jumping around behind a Table looking like an ornate bar tender in an upscale bar.

Then, like Don Camillo I go into my old-fashioned church, kneel before the altar, gaze up at its enormous crucifix and the Lord says to me:

“Tony, you are still an active priest at 68 years of age. No one is preventing your celebrating from the eastward position using Cranmerian English. No one is preventing your preaching the Gospel or leading Bible Study using a commentary by Tom Wright. You are not being thrown to the lions because you are a Christian. You are not being persecuted by your bishop, indeed he’s asked you to preach at the annual Chrism Mass. The worst you suffer is having your reputation trashed by an anonymous contributor to Wikipedia. After all if it makes who ever it is happy or lugubrious, what’s the beef? Such a comfortable martyrdom!  If only he knew the true story! Now get on with being my curate in this parish and care for those I have given you to love.”

I’ve survived cancer, a near terminal bout of pneumonia and a broken hip all in a couple of years. I have over one hundred and ninety friends on Facebook and hear regularly from bishops, priests and laity some of whom I ordained and some of whom were parishioners. I have a comfortable home and a beautiful wife. I have four loving dogs, one devoted cat and two talking parrots. I have wonderful children and grandchildren, a priest son who is reading for his doctorate and teaching a course in the Divinity faculty of one of the best universities in the world. I have a loving sister and lots of cousins who I rarely see but who keep in touch and are always there for me.

I am free to wander through the riches of Anglican tradition and visit my favorite characters in its history. I can join Parson Woodforde and his friends as they eat huge meals, stroll around Wales with Francis Kilvert or parse the extraordinary prose of Richard Hooker. I can read Herbert’s poetry or glory in his description of the ideal life of a parish priest. I can puzzle over Trahearne’s verse and re-read Eric Mascall. I can be naughty and place a book by John Spong next to a volume by Michael Ramsey on the book shelves in my comfortable study. When I meet people in the street, at the library or the supermarket they smile and greet me with good cheer. I can even slum by watching CSI or Law and Order on the television or reach for Rumpole of the Bailey and laugh out loud.

And when I go to bed I can read Compline, and then a good book as Hemingway purrs contentedly at my side. What on earth have I to be lugubrious about? True in my American exile I miss kippers for breakfast, a splendid sausage and fried bread with my eggs, and the London Times as it once was. But one may be nostalgic without being lugubrious. True, the church seems to be going to hell in a hand basket but there’s nothing new about that.

Jesus says to me from that crucifix above the High Altar: ” What you think to be the church is only the church as you see it. I see it dying and rising again. I see the saints and martyrs, confessors and divines, and that host of the unknown struggling in a disorderly procession into death and emerging is a wonderful procession, dressed in white robes, joining that company which cannot be numbered who sing with joy, Holy, holy, holy.”

Lord give me faith and hope, a sense of proportion and a sure hope and a constant love for those to whom I must minister. Amen.

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