Paul Griffin on standing where God has put you

One of the important lessons of a long life has been not to run away. Owing to pride allied to a certain timidity of temperament, I have tended to run away when faced with a really serious problem, instead of staying on and tackling what is wrong from inside. Much harm is done by people behaving like this: threatening to resign, then flouncing out of an organization that needs amendment, rather than staying and facing it from within.

Applying this to the 1992 problem, I certainly do not believe that Bishop Graham Leonard, for example, did wrong in entering the Roman Church. A strong and much respected man, he thought with some justice that his departure would help to shock those who remained Anglicans into a realization of the truth. We all have to take our own decisions. Graham was no Tom, Dick, or Harry, whereas I am. The news that an obscure Reader Emeritus from Suffolk was shifting allegiance would have stirred few feathers. Anyway, as I say, I had run away too much, and my wife and I thought it good to stay and try to help those around us – even perhaps like grit in an oyster to urge the Church of England into the pearl of healthier ways. Pride again?

In the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the heartland of Cromwell, to help takes some doing. We were part of minority opposition in 1992; and as it happened our Deanery, probably uniquely, voted for the status quo. Of the priests who tipped the balance at that time, not one now remains in the Deanery. Retirement and moves have taken the rest, including one excellent priest who joined a small continuing church elsewhere, and was included by the then diocesan in a remarkably lukewarm farewell tribute. The four small parishes who remain obdurate are not at all popular. One has joined a Team Ministry run by a lady, where so far they have mostly had the services of priests who do not share their view but have undertaken to respect it. The other three form a small benefice, only able to support a house-for-duty incumbent, and have been in interregnum for nearly two years. Retired and sympathetic priests prevent complete breakdown, but pastoral work is at a minimum. Bishop Keith of Richborough, and before him Bishop Edwin, have been very supportive, but they cannot whisk suitable incumbents out of the air.

All in all, we have had some sleepless nights over the past twelve years. John Gummer, our MP, was one of our representatives on the Diocesan Synod, but he took Graham Leonard’s course. I only know of two (larger) parishes in the whole of Suffolk which follow our line. It is a lonely life, and it is understandable that some of our parishioners look wistfully at more active parishes.

When and if we become part of a new Province, I cannot at present see how we fit into it. I suppose if all the Resolution C parishes in the Diocese were given a Sheffield allocation of sympathetic priests (two?) it would still be pretty odd, for they would constitute a triangle with each pair of angles separated by an hour’s drive.

That word ‘faith’ means a lot to us. It is, as Paul says, the substance of things hoped for. I have not the faintest idea how that substance can be realized. All I can do at the moment is not to run away, and to remember that little poem by John Masefield, of which John Simpson of the BBC reminds us at the end of his latest book:

I have seen flowers come in stony places,
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races.

So I trust, too.

Paul Griffin is a Reader Emeritus in Heveningham benefice in Halesworth Deanery.