Every now and then (about twice a day) I think about giving up blogging. I think it is the enormity of it all and the capacity to get it wrong or say silly things that then stick with you for ever. I sometimes wonder if it is worth all the effort.

But then something comes along that gives new energy and renewed vision: the Pope tells us to do it. The Telegraph reports the Pope’s latest message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Communications on Saturday and quotes him as saying:

Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audio-visual resources – images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites – which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelisation and catechesis.

Church Mouse picks up on this and comments:

…the Catholic Church seems to be getting the web and new media in a way that the Anglican Church hasn’t yet, and in his speech yesterday, the Pope was spot on.  You can engage with the Pope on Facebook, on your iPhone and the Vatican has a pretty natty website.

Oh dear. Several points to bear in mind once you have read the message itself through the link above:

1. The Pope didn’t actually write his message; I’ve got a shrewd idea who did and he works in the Pontifical Council for Social Communication. So, all the ‘he’s 82 and he can manage it, so why can’t we?’ stuff is a bit off the wall.

2. The Church of England is accessible on phones and web – that’s how I access its stuff most of the time. No, we don’t have the variety or range of access that the Vatican has, but neither do we have the cash to do it. (And, though this is screamingly obvious, the Vatican heads a multilingual but monolithic worldwide Communion – the Anglican Communion has a different (provincial) ecclesiology and a different approach to resourcing its work.)

But, the real point it this: naive (but understandable) appreciation of the Vatican’s operation ignores some pretty significant features which I reported on directly from Rome back in September 2009. (Go to the link and then read back for a few days to get the full picture.)

Vatican Radio (for example) has a budget of 23 million Euros: no one could tell us who set the budget, according to which criteria it was agreed and where it ultimately came from. The total communications budget for the Roman Catholic Church is enormous, but try getting that sort of operation through a General Synod containing (lay) people with views on accountability…

Secondly, what came out of our discussions in Rome was that however flash and wonderful the Vatican’s webby stuff might look, it is a one-way operation. The Church propagates, tells, informs and instructs: it does not need to discuss or debate. Indeed, when I specifically asked about the impact of ‘social engagement using new media’ – that is to say, how such engagement changes the relationship and sometimes means that the interlocutors change their mind as they learn to see from a different perspective – I was told that this is a way of getting people to then join a real community ‘where we can tell them the truth’.

Now, I am not criticising the Vatican for this approach. It is entirely consistent with its understanding of itself as a church (or, more precisely, the Church). It puts on a good show when it comes to communication, but that communication is intended to be one-way only. This became clear at a meeting at the Salesian University back in September which exposed a gap between the aspiration and the reality of Vatican communications.

Look at the wonderful Pope2you site aimed at young people, for example. I have just had a quick look at it and noticed a significant difference from when it was introduced to us in Rome: Wikicath has gone. The single defining characteristic of a ‘wiki’ is that it can be amended, edited, supplemented etc in ‘democratic’ fashion. You couldn’t do that with Wikicath – and now it seems to have disappeared.

I thought the whole point of new media was that it allowed for conversation, engagement and mutual learning. That is, basically, why I started blogging – and I have learned a lot in just over a year.

But, if we are going to romanticise the Vatican’s very impressive and hugely resourced operation, then we must first recognise the theology and ecclesiology that dictate its missiology and communications principles. Secondly, if we are going to compare this with the Church of England (or, even, the Anglican Communion), we have to ask who will provide the financial resources, who will set the priorities, who will dictate the boundaries of engagement and what will be the fundamental purpose of it all.

Incidentally, the connection between communications, Gospel and world is rooted in the priests. When reading such messages as the Pope’s latest, ask if lay people have any role other than to learn ‘the truth’ from the priests – who are the ones who really matter. The Anglican way?

I’ll probably keep blogging – for a while at least.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is in Rome and will meet the Pope today for a private meeting. The impression given in some media is that this visit is a response to the Pope’s establishment of a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans who want to join the Roman Catholic Church. But two things need to be said about this: (a) the visit was scheduled many, many months ago, so has been coloured by recent events, but not determined by them; (b) according to a RC bishop with whom I spoke recently, they do not want ‘disaffected’ Anglicans who would prefer to remain Anglican really, but only those who positively want to join the RC Church – in other words, those with positive and not negative motivation.

Now, that will be an interesting one for the RC authorities to work out when they engage in the discernment process in each individual case.

However, I was asked to do an interview with John Humphreys on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning and the thrust of the question put to me was about ‘leadership’. Has Rowan Williams’ authority been undermined by the Pope’s offer and is his leadership (particularly in comparison with that of Pope Benedict) too equivocal to be effective?

My response was simple: leadership is not about shouting loudly what people want to hear… now. yet that is what many people think it is. If they don’t hear Rowan saying what they want to hear him saying, then he isn’t leading. What Rowan is doing is taking the long-term view. Well, what about the lack of ‘robustness’ in his leadership? I wasn’t being facetious when I noted that Jesus wasn’t being exactly ‘robust’ when he allowed himself to be nailed to a cross.

Isn’t it more ‘robust’ (and doesn’t it take more nerve) to resist the clamour for statements, simple clarity (where it may not exist) or irrevocable decisions before the time is right to give them? It could be argued that to stick to your course in the face of competing demands for statements shows not leadership but weak (and short-term) populism.

So, you may not agree with Rowan, but you have to give him some credit for not being pushed into a corner by the strident voices of competing factions or the comment-hungry media. His conversation with Benedict should be just that: a conversation with Benedict. Why can’t we learn to respect context, relationship and confidence and then see where the two leaders go from here?

The contrast with Benedict is an interesting one, however. It is illuminating to listen to Roman Catholics who are alarmed at the way the Pope has pushed this Apostolic Constitution through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and by-passed the appropriate body, the Pontifical Council for Ecumenical Dialogue. If this ‘leadership’ undermined the Archbishop of Canterbury, then what does it say about the leadership of the Archbishop of Westminster who was given the same notice of the Constitution as was Rowan? And does it undermine both Vatican process and the authority of the Roman Catholic bishops of England, given that they also had no notice of what was proposed than their Anglican counterparts?

It is often said that Rowan could sometimes be clearer in what he does say – given that even academic lectures will still get reported in popular media – but intellectual laziness should not excuse us from working at what he does say in order to get to the heart of how this holy man sees God, the world and us.

This morning the Times asks Rowan to by-pass the tanks parked on the lawn at Lambeth Palace and speak truth to the heart of Rome. The challenges he posed to Rome in his lecture yesterday are serious (and not simple) ones – as recognised by Cardinal Kasper and Bishop Brian Farrell. It will be interesting to see if and how Rome responds.

The sheer bizarre awfulness of the Telegraph‘s Blogs Editor, Damian Thompson, has been a constant mystery to me since I first came across him. Well, actually, I had never even heard of him until I wasted an afternoon writing a diary piece for the Daily Telegraph during the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Within minutes of it going online, Thompson had posted a nasty little piece with a deliberately misleading photograph.

Ever since then I have followed his stuff on Twitter with incredulity at the frequent nastiness and perversity of his views. Does he have any friends anywhere? Does he have contempt for everyone other than himself?

Damian ThompsonSo, I find myself in a difficult position today. He has posted a clear piece about the decision of the General Synod Revision Committee on Women Bishops and what he has written makes sense. I suspect that he and I come at the matter from different perspectives, but I guess we would agree that some opposing positions cannot be resolved by compromise and that we just have to face reality – however painful that might be. (And although I agree with his logic, I don’t agree with his silly headline: ‘The Church of England washes its hands of traditional Anglo-Catholics’.)

The issue about women bishops is tortuous. If you don’t believe a woman can be a bishop, then you cannot accept any authority delegated by a woman bishop to a male bishop: the authority still derives from the female bishop. On the other hand, however, you cannot divide up a diocesan bishop into ‘bits’ of authority, some of which can be ignored by those who don’t like the gender of the bishop concerned. If a bishop is a bishop, then he/she must be the bishop with all that means. To do otherwise is to negate any concept of catholicity anyway.

These positions have always been irreconcilable and it is only the desire to keep as many people together as possible that makes the attempt at compromise worthwhile. And that search is worthwhile. Thompson is right, however, to point out that Anglicans who want to go to Rome whilst keeping the flexibility and freedom to dissent and negotiate, etc. that they have in the Church of England might not be welcome in Rome after all. He put it more eloquently, quoting Jonathan Wynne-Jones quoting Fr David Houlding:

“This is a great piece of wickedness. The committee knew what was needed and have refused to provide something that will hold the Church together. This forces people out of the Church who otherwise would have stayed. We didn’t want to go to Rome, but now have been left with no choice.”

On the whole I’m thrilled by the prospect of Anglo-Catholics seeking comunion with the Holy See – but with that sort of stroppy attitude? Houlding is wrong on two counts. It is not “wicked” for a self-governing Church to say to its members: this is the decision of our bishops and democratically elected representatives, and if you wish to stay then you must accept it. Nor do people with Houlding’s views necessarily have the option to become Roman Catholics. The Holy See is not interested in receiving into full communion Christians who would prefer to be in another denomination. In fact, I suspect it will refuse to do so, and much as I expect the Ordinariate to flourish, I hope it does.

Rome 1 002Many of those who approve of women bishops have a great concern to keep as many traditionalist Anglicans in the Church as possible. But it might be seen in the future to have been a mercy that the issue has now been forced, that reality has to be faced and that the time for clarity – however painful for everyone in the church – has come.

It is still possible that some workable compromise might be found, but it isn’t looking likely. Which means that we need to pray for and offer support to those who now find themselves in a ‘crisis’ (in the proper sense of the word) – that is, a time to decide and then commit themsleves to the consequences of that decision.

There is an interesting report in Ecumenical News International about Reformation Day celebrations in Wittenberg – where Martin Luther set in motion what became known as the Reformation. It shines an interesting light on the Pope’s recent venture into disaffected Anglicanism.

Cardinal Walter KasperCardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, joined other Christian leaders at a tree-planting ceremony ahead of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. He said:

It is possible for us today to together learn from Martin Luther… This newly planted tree reminds us that Martin Luther’s call for reform in the Church was a call of penitence that also affects us today.

Cardinal Kasper went on to say that he hoped the 500th anniversary of the Reformation would be marked jointly by Catholics and Protestants. The 16th-century events,

divided our people and divided the Church… It is a day we hold in common and for which we have a joint responsibility… Now again that which belongs together grows together.

Read the whole report and read in what you will.

Guy Fawkes anarchist posterThis is a weird time of year. I remember Ned Sherrin on BBC Radio 4 welcoming Guy Fawkes Night (5 November – commemorating the attempt by Guido Fawkes and his mates to destroy Parliament in 1605) by saying that at least we had got past the spooks of Halloween and could now get back to the real business of burning Catholics. This, of course, was a response to the complaints by Christians about the commercial and cultural promotion of Halloween with its demons, devils and death. So, we have our bonfires and fireworks and forget what lies behind it.

Well, perhaps this year it is worth remembering. I heard this morning that the Vatican has warned against the dangers of Halloween and its association with all the spooky stuff. It might help if, instead of complaining, the Church worked positively at explaining that Halloween is a Christian festival that forces escapists to take seriously human mortality and questions of the meaning of death and beyond. Many churches will be celebrating ‘Bright Lights’ parties that hold together All Souls and All Saints and keeps the integrity of the two.

But, I think we can go one better. A couple of weeks ago the Pope very kindly offered to take some disaffected Anglicans into his fold. Today we would like to make a reciprocal offer to help his Church out over Halloween.

Miscellany 2006 018Today might be Halloween in the UK, but in Germany it is Reformation Day – the celebration of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg in 1517 and setting off the Reformation in Europe. Three years ago I was in Wittenberg with the Archbishop of Canterbury and some others. The German Protestant Church (EKD) is going through a serious Reform Process which is intended to change the church and fit it (in the spirit of reformation) for the 500th anniversary of Luther’s action in 2017. I asked if the Roman Catholic Church would be involved in the celebrations in 2017 – and I didn’t get a clear answer. So, I wondered aloud if the RC Church would be celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s ordination to the Catholic priesthood in 2007.

Er… no answer was forthcoming. Which was probably wise.

Schlosskirche Wittenberg 2006But it was a serious question – to do with how we cope with our histories and the bits we find uncomfortable. Do we just pretend they didn’t happen and wish they would go away? Just think of the damage such escapism or denial does in the life of an individual.

Anyway, I would like to offer the Vatican a way out of the Halloween conundrum. The German Pope Benedict could drive this with good reason and great credibility: celebrate Reformation Day, remember a difficult history and then link it all in to All Souls and All Saints.

I can’t see a downside.

When the Pope issued his invitation to disaffected Anglicans to cross the Tiber and bolster ‘the true Church’, it was hardly surprising that there was an explosion of interest. It will be interesting to see what happens and how it looks as the days, weeks and months go by.

In an interview with a journalist the other day I was asked what the problem was with the Archbishop of Canterbury (and everyone else, it seems) getting only two weeks notice of what was planned by the Vatican. After all, she said, two weeks is a lifetime in businesses where things move fast and judgements have to be made on the hoof.

I replied that although the media might be driven to make instant judgements – even before the facts are known and considered reflection can be given – in the church we generally take years, decades and centuries. I wasn’t being funny – nor was I being critical of the media who have no option but to act quickly these days. That is why the Archbishop of Canterbury once said to me that just because someone puts a microphone in front of your face doesn’t mean that you have to speak into it. Sometimes we need to hold our nerve, keep shtum and wait until the smoke begins to clear and our perspective has a bit more credibility.

So, I was delighted to read the great Diarmaid MacCulloch in yesterday’s Observer offering a wider perspective from the point of view of an expert in ecclesiastical history who is no longer a paid-up member of the Church of England (or even the Christian club). He says:

Equally extravagant claims that this could be the end of the Protestant Reformation need to be taken with several fontfuls of salt. It is in the interests of various discontented groups on the margins of Anglicanism to talk up the significance of the latest piece of papal theatre, while ignoring its wider context.

He then goes on to analyse briefly some of the issues going on in this debate and concludes:

In one sense, this is a storm in a teacup, stirred by an elderly cleric in the Vatican with a private agenda and a track record of ill-thought-out policy moves. In another, it is a fascinating moment in a confrontation as much a struggle for the soul of the Church of Rome as of the Church of England. Once we have got past the screaming headlines, we should keep an eye open for the real story.

Reformation cover (MacCulloch)History of Christianity cover (MacCulloch)Perhaps it is no surprise that MacCulloch (Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University) shone new light on the Reformation in his magisterial book Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700. He has now published a huge and readable A History of Christianity which also forms the basis of a Channel 4 television series starting on 5 November (which in English history was not a great day for ecumenical relations).

It is the perspective of centuries that will put this latest business into proper perspective. Perhaps a compulsory reading of MacCulloch’s book by all commentators is too much to ask?

FireworksI have been asked why I titled my post on the Pope’s Apostolic Constitution ‘Roman Candles’. Was it because the Vatican’s initiative amounted to ecclesiastical fireworks? Actually, the reason was less dramatic: Roman Candles sparkle, but then fizzle out and everything looks the same afterwards. I think the big splash about the Pope’s decision might look a little different once people have begun to think through the consequences and implications.

This is what I tried to get across on a ‘live’ Channel 4 interview this evening. The following are some of the matters that will need to be weighed up:

1. Any individual accepting the papal invitation will have to ‘convert’ to Roman Catholicism. This will mean accepting the doctine and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and agreeing that the dogmas of the Church are ‘true’. This must, therefore, include the dogma of the Church that Anglican orders are ‘null and void’ – that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Chichester, the Provincial Episcopal Visitors and the rest of us are ‘dubiously baptised lay people’. If people agree with this, then they have knowingly and willingly accepted or perpetrated a fraud on their congregations for years: by definition the sacraments they have celebrated have been deficient – in the sense that the ‘celebrant’ has known that the ‘true’ church regards them as such.

2. Were the 600 or so priests (as reported) in Westminster today stipendiary parish priests? How many were retired, almost retired or non-stipendiary? This question is not a matter of pedantry, but will indicate the real impact on the Church of England if they all accept the Roman option. I note that Geoffrey Kirk has said that he intended all along to become a Roman Catholic – which is fine when he is about to retire and get his pension. But what of those beginning their ministry whose future might look different if they move onto a RC stipend and pension provision? Doctinal reasons for ‘moving’ will inevitably be affected by more carnal considerations such as money and property and prospects.

3. How will the acceptance of married Anglican priests affect the question of celibacy in Rome? Forward in Faith speakers today have (rightly in my view) suggested that Rome might have to become more ‘Anglican’ in reconsidering its celibacy rules if married Anglican join them and get re-ordained. I can see this only as bizarre fantasy on the part of FiF and wonder whether the acceptance of Anglicans who think this way might make the Vatican think again. After all, the Vatican has already made it clear that those who accept the Pope’s invitation will have to come on Rome’s terms and those who do come will not have the room to dissent or negotiate as they have done in the Church of England.

4. Much has been made today of the fact that this invitation does not end the search for full, visible untiy between the Churches begun with the ARCIC process. That is right and I am glad it has been made clear. The conversations towards unity will continue, but this latest move by the Vatican (and the manner of its making) will change the contours of the conversation. What it has clarified is that if Anglo-Catholics wish to accept the Roman invitation, they must do so lock, stock and barrel and not live with the fantasy of having their cake and eating it. It is important that the Vatican is clear about this and that those who leave their Church, their parish, their church building and (where it pertains to clergy) their vicarage, do so with a clear understanding of what they are doing and why.

Rome 1 002There are other questions to be addressed, but there is time for that to be done over the next few months. What is indisputable is that the generous provision by the Pope has offered a way for disaffected Anglo-Catholics to resolve their problems with the Church of England in a way that takes their conscience seriously. But I suggest that the decision to be made will cause other crises of conscience. As the days go by, the euphoria might subside as the cost is counted. And, inevitably, it will make the lobby to oppose the consecration of women bishops much harder to press.

In short, I think this might clarify matters on all sides and prove ultimately healthy for the whole Church. But the Churhc of Rome will need to count the cost for itself of its invitation, too.

So, the Pope has invited Anglicans to cross the Tiber and join his family. And, it seems, the Church of England has been taken by surprise by this move. Or has it?

Rowan WilliamsWell, yesterday I was unable to get to a keyboard and only really picked up on the details late at night. After a day of meetings today I have finally read the responses to the Vatican move and have been thinking about the implications. But the implications I have been thinking about have more to do with the Roman Catholic Church than with the Anglican Communion. What looks like a generous move might bring with it one or two unwelcome consequences.

First of all, the probability of Rome offering some sort of refuge to those wondering about their future in Anglicanism was high and, therefore, not unexpected. The way the deed was done will need to be interpreted by others and after a period of reflective time. But it can be seen as generous of the Pope to make the provision he has (although we still haven’t seen the details of the Apostolic Constitution). And many Anglicans who won’t be heading east will be glad that the distress of some Anglicans has been recognised and honourable provison made for them.

Of course, there will now be a greater clarity in the Church of England about women in the episcopate; and people who have complained about the C of E will now have to choose which way to go in the future. I guess this will cause even greater anguish for some clergy now that a clear way forward has been opened to them and the challenge to choose can no longer be avoided.

pope_benedict_xviBut, as it looks at present, individual priests will have to leave the Church of England, be re-ordained as Roman Catholic priests and taken into the polity and financial wings of the RC Church. Individual lay people can be accepted into the RC Church and come under RC pastoral care quite easily. It will be good if such transitions are made with good grace and generosity – after all, we are all Christians and members of the Body of Christ. Church of England churches will continue to be responsible for their parishes even if/when some people leave for Rome.

But how is the RC Church going to cope with the gay sub-culture in Anglo-Catholicism, given the Church’s stance on sexuality and sexual ethics? That isn’t a dig – it’s a genuine question.

Secondly, what will be the effect in the RC Church of an influx of married priests whose families will have to be supported and whose presence in the priesthood may undermine the sacrifice being made by many RC priests who struggle with celibacy and want to see change?

Thirdly, how will the ‘converts’ cope within a Church that has little room for the sort of negotiations that have characterised their experience of Anglicanism?

Inevitably the press has speculated (as have some of those contacted for comment) about the numbers of Anglicans who might cross over. My guess is that the numbers will be considerably smaller – simply because many priests who oppose the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate have maintained all along that they have no interest in becoming Roman. Or maybe the latest development will change that? We will see.

What I think does need challenging is the assumption by several journalists and observers that the departure of people from the ‘hard edges’ of the Church will leave the C of E with a ‘liberal rump’. Most of the C of E contains evangelicals of different persuasions, catholics of different complexions and liberals of all flavours – and we are committed to the unique mission of this Church. There won’t be a ‘liberal rump’ – there will be the huge majority of the Church of England who still will get stuck in to mission and ministry where they are for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

I think my own sticking point in all this will come as little surprise to those who know me: if I really believed that the Roman option was a valid one, then I could never have been an Anglican in the first place. If I have knowingly exercised a sacramental ministry in orders that I believe to be ‘invalid’ in the eyes of the ‘true’ Church, where does that put me theologcially, ecclesiologically and ethically?

I agree with other commentators that this is a time for sober reflection and prayer. The church exists for the sake of the world – not for the sake of the purity of the church. Whichever way people choose to go, we must not lose sight of that priority and we must learn to love and pray for one another with generosity and grace.

(Interesting comment by Frank Skinner.)

Rome 5 002This morning the conference group in Rome went to visit the SAT2000 media centre. Set up by the Bishops Conference (and paid and controlled by them), this company makes, broadcasts and distributes television and radio programmes across Italy. Now, this sort of outfit would normally get my hackles rising: paid for and controlled (in terms of agenda and direction) by the Roman Catholic Church does not sound to me like a recipe for independence and rational analysis of the world. But, that prejudice needs to be examined.

We questioned the controllers and presenters in some detail and they were open, frank and helpful in their engagement with us. The big question for British communications people is around how a religious establishment with a particular profile can have the credibility to speak to a sceptical world that doesn’t share its beliefs or assumptions. There is a common view that it is surely impossible – that only secularist assumptions or convictions about the world can be credible or independent (or even rational). This, of course, is twaddle of the first order.

SAT2000 is confident about the worldview it assumes and represents: that God is there; that God has created us to love and be loved; that deviation from the Creator’s way leads only to problems; and that those who hold to a Christian world view have something not only unique (in a descriptive sense) but also vital for all human beings. They then look at the world through this lens. This leads them to produce analyses of news, of news output across the media, of moral/ethical issues as they impact on public policy, and of cultural phenomena such as theatre, film, etc. In other words, no sphere of life is excluded from such a perspective and a religious media is not (stupidly) condemned only to address directly ‘religious’ affairs.

Rome 5 005This is because the business of any church is not primarily the church, but the world the church is called to serve. I think it was the great german preacher and theologian, Helmut Thielicke, who asked God to preserve the church and the world from ‘stupid Christian philistines’. The church’s agenda is the world in which we live and which we shape together.

So, SAT2000 produces radio and TV programmes that open up discussion and debate, bringing a unique critique to the world’s business and inviting audiences to question the assumptions they themselves bring to the analyses of the world that shape their thinking and critique.

This is good. I  might not agree with the Roman Catholic Church’s line on particular issues and I might not like the line propagated in some programming. But I like even less the aggressively arrogant secularist assumptions that a Christian (or, rather, theistic) world view is invalid whereas one that starts from a different (but not argued for) place is – rather conveniently – the only legitimate one. Surely we should be big enough to let people bring their perspectives to the table and then let them stand or fall in the market place of public scrutiny? To fear this is to doubt that our view will stand if scrutinised closely (described by someone today as ‘given a rigorous scrute’).

But I also discovered today that the word for a ‘remote control’ in Italian is ‘telecomando’. And I thought this sounded like someone who attacks people with a telly. Which reminded me of Richard Dawkins and the wonderful condensed parody of his new book The Greatest Show on Earth. A weird link, I know; but not half as weird as some of the links Dawkins makes.

Anyway, I had time to think about this while running round central Rome looking for Jane Bower’s (Director of Communications for Wakefield Diocese) lost passport. She’d left it in the church we were in earlier. It was still there. We were pleased. Sweaty, but pleased. Here she is:

Rome 5 006

Cliches weren’t invented in a day either. Like the elephant in the room, they usually take some time before they become embarrassing and merit the epithet of ‘cliche’. That Rome wasn’t built in a day, however, is evident after only a few hours in the place.

Rome 1 002I have never been to Rome before now. I am only here now because I am at a conference beginning on Sunday evening and thought it would be worth coming a couple of days early and doing some sightseeing before the work begins. And the conference will be work as it is focused on Continuing Professional Development for communications professionals in the church and involves a series of meetings which, in this heat, promise to be exhausting.

We met a friend yesterday evening and he took us for dinner in the Vatican behind St Peter’s. Everywhere you look history bears down on you. The Romans left their marks and every generation since them has made their presence known for future generations. It clearly never occurred to previous generations that something had value simply because it was ‘old’. The useless or the symbolically inappropriate simple made way for something more useful.

Rome 1 008So, now you see modern apartment blocks nestling next to huge 500 year old churches. The impression of my first view of Rome is simply that you can trace history in everything your eyes light upon. And that massive and powerful symbol of continuity and spiritual power (for good and ill) sits looking down on a city of amazing vibrancy, diversity and history.

Rome 1 004In England – and especially in our ‘old’ churches – history ended a hundred years ago. Try changing something in one of our churches in order to fit the building for worship and service in the modern world and the amenity societies come running out demanding that we retain them as museums. Surely a church ought to reflect in its physical changes the changes in the generations that have used it? But try telling that to some of the guardians of our ‘heritage’ who loathe any change and try to prevent anyone from interfering with their ‘wonderful example of such-and-such an Edwardian, Victorian/Georgian architect’s work’.

The parish where I was vicar for eight years had everything: Saxon foundations and a Saxon cross, mediaeval rood screen, Elizabethan monuments, a Victorian chancel, early 20th century pews, a late-20th century dais … and we drank out of an Elizabethan chalice. That sense of continuity with previous generations was really powerful.

I understand the need not to vandalise precious buildings, but sometimes it gets out of hand. Rome obviously wasn’t built in a day and nor were our own English churches. But Rome betrays the changes of the centuries and so should our English churches.