Hallo again to all.
Ignore the complexities, overcome the difficulties, carry on, the church is waiting for you. Yet how many people, in this rushed, graceless, and overburdened world, listening to whatever promptings of their souls, come to our church thresholds, only to be turned back by sticking doors?
Many of us wring our hands about the small numbers of the faithful who show up on Sundays, and cudgel our brains for ways to bring in, as the inelegant expression has it, more bums on seats. We thrash about with adverts and billboards, radio and telly spots to bring people to our doors. But then ... what? The very things that we may find most endearing about our beloved Anglican churcheswhether the great choral heritage or the book-based nature of our liturgies, to choose two at randommay be what intimidates a newcomer. We move easily in our familiar surroundings, using the tools, knowing the insiders' language. But can we imagine what it is like to wander into, say, Choral Mattins for the first time ever? How do we balance what we know and love with what we must explain and make accessible? The answer is surely not to rubbish Choral Mattins (or the creeds or stained glass or kneeling), but rather always to bear in mind that a newcomer could indeed approach our churches at any time, on any occasion, and we should be ready. And it will take some imaginative thought to define just what 'ready' means.
We are writing this in the lovely confines of St Deiniol's Library in Hawarden (say 'Harden') Wales, just over the border that separates Flintshire from Cheshire. The setting is most congenial to a student of church history: a magnificent library, fine food, a chapel with daily services, a room that overlooks an atmospheric church steeple, and like-minded company. And yet as much as we may feel at home here, we ponder the future of this dear place in the decades to come. Of course endowments can do wonders for extending the life of institutions, but how often do revenue streams merely prop up the living dead? Surely this is no worthy fate for any institution that finds its existence no longer making sense. We believe in the mission of St Deiniol's Library. And it looks to us as though St Deiniol's will survive, by evolving while preserving its soul. St Deiniol's is putting its entire collection catalogue online and developing intriguing programmes that build on the strength of that collection, from film and theology to Victorian studies
All of us in the church must take a hard look at all its corners, even those quirky, beloved, precious, familiar corners where we are most at home. It is no longer enough to say 'We have always done it that way'. We'll be done to death, if we keep mouthing those seven last words. Someone might ask 'But why?'and we shan't know what to say.
But in some sense we are defined by our traditions. If our doors can occasionally stick, the great door that opens on Advent Sunday swings solemnly to bid us enter this mysterious season of waiting, of silence, of anticipation. Many of us in this 21st century are silly children, rushing to have our Christmas decorations and carols in November, grabbing presents in our mad shopping, fretting about menus and travel and cardsand losing the much-greater thrill that comes from a slow and solemn and purposeful delay that says Not Yet! with each passing day in Advent. Soon.
A blessed Advent season to each of you. See you next week. No sooner.
Last updated: 2 December 2001
*Used by Monica Furlong as an epigraph to her new book, C of E: The State It's In.