It is not just church historians who have much to thank Fr Robert Beaken for with the publication of his latest book ‘Faithful Witness: the confidential diaries of Alan Don, Chaplain to the King , the Archbishop and the Speaker, 1931-1946’. These diaries artfully edited by Fr Beaken reveal much about the place of the church in public life in the Twentieth Century and the importance the Church of England played in all aspects of national life and government, down to the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote some of the monarch’s speeches. The centrality of the church to the role of the monarch, highlighted by the Abdication crisis, and during the Second World War must give us all pause to think during the current national crisis. What role is the church to have as we emerge from the corona virus pandemic, and as we face all the challenges in the years ahead. It is good that there seems to be some acknowledgement of the importance of the church in the life of the nation, that under the current tier structure even at the highest tier churches may remain open. It is also good to know that our churches continue to serve the most vulnerable and in need in our communities through foodbanks, after school clubs, and support for the housebound and those isolating. The church however is not just a place offering social services, it is the centre of the spiritual life of the community and can offer valuable spiritual support to those in need. The parishes of our constituency were amongst the most prompt in beginning public worship as soon as this became possible. Quite rightly many of our parishes have continued offering an online service to those who feel unable to return to church. As Catholic Christians, however we understand the importance of being able to gather as the Body of Christ to worship God together and to celebrate the sacraments of our redemption. It is therefore vital that our bishops in particular speak with a clear voice to the government about the need for public worship alongside the practical social support the churches are able to offer. We know the importance of beginning all our work with prayer, and the vital place of corporate prayer in our communities. This must be the focus of our work and we hope and trust that the bishops, particularly the Lords Spiritual, will support us in this work as they represent us to the government. It is surely a task we cannot shirk away from at this hour of need.
One of the key aspects of Mutual Flourishing, is mutual respect and understanding. A sense that it is quite normal and acceptable for a parish to petition under the 5 Guiding Principles for the oversight of a male bishop who does not ordain women, and that they can request the ministry of a male priest ordained by a male bishop. It seems curious then that on social media senior clergy and others should feel the need to apologise when adverts are published for such parishes and indeed feel that some sort of explanation is necessary. An advert and parish profile which make it clear that the parish is part of The Society should need no explanation; and should certainly not require an apology. If we are to grow together in trust and with mutual flourishing then there is no place for such an attitude, just as there is no place for objections to priests and bishops of either gender ministering in parishes which have not passed the full resolution.
November is importantly the month of the Holy Souls. More than ever this month we will need to pray for the faithful departed and support those who are grieving and mourning. As this year also marks the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day will be marked with a greater poignancy especially as those last veterans of the conflict may be in isolation. It is even more important therefore that we remember with thanksgiving the sacrifices that have been made for our freedom. The Kohima Epitaph seems more appropriate than ever:
‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’