I went to a service in Portloe on Sunday, some six and a half years since I took my last one there before moving to Lincoln. Much has happened and the time has come to stand back and reflect.
My five years in Cornwall were in a sense steeped in religion. I was a very active Lay Reader taking services most Sundays. I took school assemblies and certainly put energy and structure into the school's Friday visit to Veryan church. I visited the elderly and loved them very much. I took funerals. In my studies, I more than touched on theology. I made a very dear friend in Peter Durnford and we had many conversations about faith. We took services together, which was wonderful.
I put myself forward for ordination and spent time with Julia, the DDO, exploring and searching. I went to a selection conference and was turned down. I was about to try again when I was approached about taking the job of Chapter Clerk and Chief Executive at Lincoln Cathedral. I am certain I was right to take it, since living in Cornwall was not good for Maggie and me, being so far from our family.
As I reflect on my time in Cornwall, I feel positive about my work with older people. On many occasions, as I would take Holy Communion to them in their homes, I would become aware that they were reciting from memory the words from the Prayer Book: something deeply engrained from happier times, perhaps.
I also feel positive about bringing school into church, but I do worry. We tell the children the bible stories and they believe them like all the stories they hear. As they grow up they realise that, like those other stories, they were not true in any literal sense and the stories and all that went with them are consigned to what was once the nursery floor. I hope that something stays that will itch from time to time and prompt a little quiet reflection.
There were three quite distinct congregations in each of the three villages. One was simply but fiercely determined that the church would keep going. Another was confident in its place. A third was prayerful and enquiring. All, I am sure, were a force for good.
Lincoln Cathedral was a huge challenge and more on that elsewhere.
I tried to exercise a Reader Ministry in Waddington, a funny old C of E congregation. One man, whose name I forget, said to me after one service that I preach very well, but 'you don't really believe it'.
He was right.
I didn't; I don't believe as required by the 39 Articles. My world is explained without a god. The stories in the Bible are just that, stories, but like all good stories they hold meaning for those who would listen. I shudder at many bible passages, at the words of hymns and prayers.
I went to morning prayer ever weekday in the cathedral and there read much of the Bible. I was struck by how I would pray and so place into someone else's hands all the problems of the world. I put my energy into the institution and the building, really as I had done during my years as Diocesan Secretary.
Once I had left the cathedral, I didn't go to church for ages, but then started going occasionally to St Nicholas, with Hugh its wonderful priest. It didn't work. I didn't fit and, however good Hugh was, belief eluded me. I stopped going.
CompasssionateLincoln, a short time in Lesvos working with refugees and efforts to keep the Drill Hall open have become my exercise of christianity. Doing rather than praying. It feels better.
So at Portloe on Stir up Sunday, the new vicar, Phil, preached on Matthew 25:31-46 speaking of doing and of people, not of buildings or institutions. Doing fulfils both the doer and the done to. He read George Herbert's poem Peace with its organic link into the eucharist. He didn't labour judgement, but confession mattered.
I am drawn to a passage from Luke 17:21, words use by Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, 'the kingdom of God is within'. Can I say that what matters is inside each of us, how we use it and not laying it off to some all-powerful being outside us?
As is obvious, I am still on a journey.