Saturday, April 22, 2017

Still learning from FabBishop

As might be expected, I have spent much of the past week remembering. 
Remembering Bishop Michael teaching the art of leading intercessions (and the most wonderful spoof intercessions he produced as a "how not to" caricature of the worst we might hear...I still remember "And we pray for Emily, our tired vicar, whom we do so appreciate with all her little ways" ). 
Remembering him striding out on pilgrimage across Minchinhampton Common, as he walked his way around the whole diocese, less energetic clergy like me trailing in his wake for a few short miles. 
Remembering him in that most beautiful chapel at Bishopscourt, helping us, his first cohort of deacons, to approach our priesting with a proper understanding of what the liturgy sets out to accomplish and suggesting how we might deliver it (I've just re-read the notes and find I have settled into pretty much exactly what he showed us that day, though his teaching came with the advice "Experiment, explore, then settle with what feels comfortable for you - as long as you know WHY you are doing whatever it might be" )
Remembering the look of comical amazement when he encountered me en route to my car at the end of a diocesan conference, laden with all the paraphanalia of alt worship, including several broken flowerpots and a roll of barbed wire.He knew such things happened - he just hadn't associated me with them, I think!

But I also remember a time when I was deeply disappointed with his refusal to go out on a limb, his loyalty to the episcopal role as a focus of unity when I wanted him to man the barricades and speak out for a truly inclusive Church. I hated feeling at odds with him (I didn't actually see him at the time, so he was totally oblivious)...but when the opportunity came to tackle him at a training day I made sure I was sitting close enough to get a chance to speak. Then something else happened.
This is what I wrote at the time

We were thinking about the urgent need to translate the gospel into a language that makes sense to the huge numbers for whom traditional church will never connect.
As part of this, we were asked to think about the cost of mission...of how it might feel to respond positively to that question
"Will you go where you don't know and never be the same".
We thought about being vulnerable in strange situations, with people whose language, lives and priorities were unlike our own.
But we didn't just think in abstract. We were led to experience it for a few minutes...and I learned alot.

To begin with, we were invited to lay aside an object that we valued, to place it on the table in front of us.
Most of the time I wear a heavy silver bangle I was given in Bangalore...
I think it's beautiful in itself, and for me it carries the added beauty of memories of my wonderful weeks in India, all the learning and growing, the friendships made and prayers offered...It's one of my most precious possessions - so off it came, leaving my right wrist feeling a bit naked.

After just a few seconds to adjust to this, we were next invited to pick up something that our neighbour had placed there.
Then we were told to put it on.
And there on the the table was my bishop's episcopal ring. Around me, sensible friends were picking up phones, photographs, - gently personal items with no added significance for anyone beyond their owners. But this was his RING. The item he wore all the time, as a sign of his episcopacy.
Everyone held back from picking it up - til he pushed it gently towards me.

So it was that for a good twenty minutes I found myself wearing FabBishop's episcopal ring.
It was heavy....both literally and figuratively, as I imagined how it might be to wear it all the time, a constant reminder of the responsibilities he bears for us as the Anglican church in this diocese, and as a leader on a wider stage.
It didn't fit me very well - I was uncomfortable with it in every respect.
No surprise there. Being a priest is quite enough of a leadership role for me, thank you kindly!
But it taught me something too.
You see, +Michael showed me how, around the stone is engraved in tiny letters 
"ut unum sint" "that they may all be one".

Whenever I preside at the Eucharist I'm reminded of the day when I knelt before +Michael while he anointed my hands, and made them forever a focus of the priestly ministry of consecration, reconciliation and blessing entrusted to me at my ordination.
I'd imagine that when FabBishop looks at his hands he remembers not only that shared experience of priesthood but the particular focus of episcopacy.
"That they may all be one"

Since news of his death broke on Tuesday, I've been heartened by the tide of loving tributes that have flooded my part of the internet - and specially some words from Colin Coward, who spoke of Bishop Michael's own longing for a fully inclusive church. I've remembered the reassurance that he gave me when I wondered if it would be right to be ordained into a church whose teachings on "human sexuality" were so different from my own understanding of God's love and justice.
And I've realised once again that being where Christ places us won't always make us feel warm, fuzzy and flourishing...Sometimes we'll find ourselves in places we never chose, wondering how on earth to be our best selves for God in this context...and sometimes all we can do is be faithful.

I guess that Bishop Michael will be teaching me things for a very long time to come, and I pray that I will always notice, and be thankful.

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