a 3-part guide to Sanctity with Sanity Part Three:


HAVING COVERED, all too sketchily, the first two Ways to Goodness (Episcopacy and Evensong) we come now to the Third Way, which has no connection with the Liberal Evangelical Magazine or the New Labour Policy of the same name. This has the advantage over the first two in its lack of insistence on any religious stance. Especially in England, there is no need to be churchy in order to be good!

My friend Adam (not the first or last but somewhere in between) was introducing me to a stranger of uncertain denomination. ‘Chris’ he said, ‘used to be an Anglican minister’. Pausing only to glance in the mirror rather as Stan Laurel did when Oily kept calling him Mr Jones on the phone – but that’s another story – I said, ‘I think I still am.’ A rather neat piece of journalism entitled ‘I was a Layman’ retains its honoured place in my Rejects file.

The question of clerical identity, the indelibility of Holy Orders, and the yearning for anonymity in one’s personal space, surfaces from time to time. Occasionally it is good to forget the uniform and relate to a new acquaintance simply as a human being. So it was on the day I went to give blood after a lapse, for reasons of geography and feasibility, of a few years.

Some nurses are taciturn. Mine that day was chatty. So, what did I do for a living? Robert Robinson, asked the same question by a hostile American in a queue, said ‘I talk’. ‘And they pay you for that over here?’ It seemed a bit lame to say ‘Oh, this and that’. A bit of early morning burglary, spot of graffiti, do over the odd car, then down the dog-track? So instead ‘I work in the community – with people, you know’.

She persisted. Somehow, as the blood flowed healthily into its plastic container, the word ‘church’ must have slipped into my rather laid-back descriptions. Realising that this minor skirmish was now lost, I plunged recklessly on; ‘For instance, I took a funeral yesterday’. The penny dropped with a clang: ‘You mean, you’re a Reverend!’ So now the conversation would either dry up completely or proceed along the rather different lines of childhood Sunday School, a second-cousin’s ordained brother-in-law, or her own self-discovery through crystals, tarot and yoga.

But step back a few minutes. I was being introduced to a new system. Things had changed since my first pint, so to speak. It’s not just the litres, either. Long before I got to lying down I had an in-depth interview about my sexual health, orientation, practices, experiences and what not. I shall not excite our readers overmuch with the blushing details. Enough to say that had I been seriously gay I could have had some trouble getting past the formidable lady at the table with the computer (stage one), let alone to the needle-in-the-arm phase.

The questions went into dimensions known among stricter evangelicals as second or third degree separation. Have you ever married a charismatic? Do you mix with people who have Roman Catholic in-laws? Did you once watch a video about liberation-theology or attend an ecumenical service? – etc. (Or in other circles, Do you know of any member of your family who is a woman priest? In my own case, one.) But in this case there were questions about BSE, CJD, Central and South America, North Africa, various parts of Europe. pierced noses and ears, tattoos, and of course partners and HIV. They used to ask you on the form if you’d recently suffered from hay fever or a bad cold.

How does the homosexual lobby cope with all this, I wondered? I didn’t notice any placard-wavers outside campaigning against homophobia. Presumably during surgery or after road accidents they just receive our sort of blood rather than theirs. And how much of this information can be leaked into the Sex Education Policy at our local Primary School, where the lesson-plan affirms that ‘same-sex relationships are quite normal’? It is the only time the word ‘normal’ appears in the teaching pack. I must ask about incest and paedophilia.

On marginally safer territory, there were questions about hazardous occupations or hobbies. I thought of fixing banners to the church tower or clambering across the chancel roof, decided that open-air evangelism and door to door visiting could be pretty fearsome, but entered my tick in the NO box nonetheless. My last full Marathon was years ago.

So I looked round the Baptist Church hall which the Transfusion Service takes over once a quarter, and thought what a totally boring lot of people we all were! Boring, that is, from the perverted perspectives of our sin-sodden media and their upside-down values. One donor came in her wheelchair – boring! Another was blind; I don’t suppose his boring guide dog ever killed a fox in his life! Nor even won a race, or sang and danced on stage.

It turned out that all was well; I made the grade. So I gave my blood in the best Hancock tradition; Christine, that is, she of the Royal College of Nursing. And here is the point: so can you, if you are boring enough! So should you, if it’s feasible. If you come with me, you can glance around the room during waiting or recovery periods, and look at the world map, the missionary boards, and the text posters: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God; God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. And plenty more.

You could even ponder that if in the end you gain no merit by giving your blood, there is One who did. here is where the Last Adam comes in. His way is not just a Threefold Path to being Good. It is the only route to holiness, which is not unrelated but far more wonderful. It is available not only for experts, but for ex-clergy, ex-laity, and even ex-bishops. John 14.6 was clearly visible too.

As I helped myself to sweet biscuits, cheese and onion crisps, and the mandatory cuppa in the adjoining room afterwards, I did another spot-inspection of the premises. Like most church property, it could do with something more than a lick of paint; never mind that now. An old piano survived, just about, in its corner. The music book was propped open. I tell no lie: the words on display were those of Thomas Ken. Ex-bishop or not, you can’t get much more Anglican than that.

‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host: Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost: Amen!’ There is the way of true goodness. Another happy, holy Threesome. And open to all.

Christopher Idle gives blood in the Diocese of Southwark.