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70 eh?

It’s my seventieth birthday today.  I remember thinking that Granddad was frightfully ancient at this age. Now I am grandpa to my three wonderful descendents, blessed by two wonderful sons and their wives with whom I “Skyped” earlier.  Last evening the parish held a lovely party for me, attended by my bishop and his wife and the bishop who was my assistant when I wore purple and a goodly sprinkling of fellow priests and those from my former jurisdiction, one of whom flew in from California and many of my present parishioners. Facebook and email greetings have been coming in all day.

When I was a lad the CofE was in that period of growth and self-confidence which suddenly evaporated in the 60ies as it did here in TEC.  Liturgical “confusion” abounded, although everything bore some relationship to the BCP. People still attended Evensong!  The vicar was still a person, “parson” in the community.  The seminaries were full.

I am grateful for those memories although not geriatrically nostalgic. I remember the psalms from singing them each Sunday. I remember the memorable prayers of the old Liturgy, still a very present help in times of trouble and joy. And at the closing time of my public ministry God was good enough to place me in a parish where Cranmerian cadences resound.  A priest who was in church on Sunday said he felt it was the first time he had really worshipped in years!

My birthday is no time to wax lugubriously about why we are now in decline. I am still convinced that most unchurched people in England and America haven’t abandoned faith. They just don’t think that what we all do inside those red doors has a thing to do with the life they live. In large measure we seem to be obsessed with our internal interests, whether internal means inside the national churches or inside the parishes. Whatever language used, ceremonial espoused, modern or traditional, it all seems arcane.  We have become prisoners of our structures and of our obsessions.  Where we seem to succeed it is all too often because there are still enough people around who are “like-minded” and that “like-mindedness” is often more about our social and political enthusiasms and little about the Gospel.

Yet it is at times like this that God acts. Perhaps the caretaker church, introverted and self-obsessed, hanging on, is the guardian of the Holy Flame, which awaits catching fire in God’s time and by His means?  I so believe.