This blog was written by Adele Jarrett-Kerr. Adele and her family attend All Saints, she is a writer, home educator, breastfeeding counsellor, feminist, and Christian. Her frequently updated blog is a great source of support to families thinking about home-schooling, and also a place where ideas are shared for simply encouraging family well-being. You may also like to take a look at soulfarm.co.uk which is Adele and Laurence's community supported farm that helps growers and the community work in partnership to develop sustainable local agriculture.
Some years ago, a friend of mine shared a meme on Facebook that read: “Don’t let your disappointment with people turn into disappointment with God.” I remember feeling at the time that the phrase let both people and God off the hook.
If the Church represents Christ’s hands and feet, at what point do we say that institutional damage goes beyond the individuals and right down to the roots? Yet I see inside the Church the same capacity to heal and harm that exists outside of it, just clothed in different language. Both within and without, we are struggling, where we make the effort to struggle, to find language that will make sense of a world in which we can no longer pretend to have universally shared beliefs.
Even as I talk about “the Church”, I’m aware that it’s an idea that means different things to different people who potentially fall under its umbrella. Depending on your theology, the term can be surprisingly expansive or limited in its reach. Who’s in? Who’s out? What assumptions can be made about someone who uses the label “Christian” or connects their spirituality with the Christian tradition?
Choosing not to let our disappointment with people turn into disappointment with God could mean brushing off actions that should not be ignored, avoiding difficult questions because we’re actually a bit afraid of what the answers might be.
The Bible is full of people being real with God about their rage, despair and agony. God can handle our big questions. We can handle them too. If the Church is to remain a source of hope and a place where real community happens, we must face the shadow and ask big questions of it too.
This is where I find myself, disappointed with the recent statement on marriage and sexuality from the Bishops of the Church of England. There is nothing pastoral in its tone, nothing to indicate care for any it hurts or to understand the perspective of the people whose humanity it ignores - people who are part of the Church of England too.
I was initially relieved to see some attempt to reign it back in with an apology (probably because I am personally unaffected as a cisgender woman in a heterosexual marriage) but ultimately this too misses the mark when the statement didn’t just upset feelings. It represents a fresh betrayal when the CoE has been conducting a lengthy study of gender and sexuality, the results of which have not yet been published.
Many inside and outside the CoE called the statement out of touch. Many others claimed it was right that the CoE should remain at odds with the wider culture. We’re called to be different. Should that mean disengaging from the reality of the lives around us, refusing to listen to people who are bravely, and even generously, showing us where the hurt is?
We’ve never worked out our understanding of God and the Bible in a cultural vacuum. It’s disingenuous to say that personal stories and social shifts have had no part to play in our readings. Historically, we have collectively changed our minds about things, from slavery to marriage to religious practice.
Change can be scary. It can feel destabilising. It can trigger a domino effect. Choosing to rethink long held beliefs can threaten to take apart all the others. We’re exposed. We wonder what’s left.
I believe we can sit with this discomfort. God will enable us to do the hard things. Whatever we feel in the face of these issues is little when compared to those who have suffered at the hands of the Church’s teachings on gender and sexuality. We can learn to de-centre ourselves and listen, really listen. We can decide to move beyond the safety blanket we’ve made of only talking about sex and instead have full-bodied conversations that also acknowledge identity and love.
I realised when I read the Bishops’ statement that disappointment can reveal what we hold in high regard. I’m disappointed because I care about the Church of England. I’ve chosen to worship here and to find community here, hoping that my children are safe, hoping that anyone who wants it can find shelter. By staying, I hope I am playing a part in making it so. The Bishops are not the Church after all. Mingled with uncertainty, my disappointment points to my hope.
Pastoral Statement to the Parish Church of All Saints Highertown and Baldhu in all services from the Priest in Charge, Revd Jeremy Putnam to be read out on Sunday 15th December 2019.
Today, as we worship Almighty God in prayer and praise, as we gather around Our Lord and Saviour found in word and sacrament, as we pray for the salvation of the nations and as we prepare to receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion we must remember that we are called to pray for the High Court of Parliament.
A majority have spoken and a government has been democratically elected.
Every one of us has been enabled to express our democratic right and enact our communal responsibility this week. Whatever anyone’s party political affiliation, it has been my prayer that we will have approached voting with good intention, careful thought and with honour.
Honour is a much- needed value within our society. As is truth.
We as the church are called to seek the grace and truth embodied perfect in our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and for all Christian people to model the harmony that comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. Harmony and unity are different to uniformity. It is not for me to tell you whether you should or should not share how you voted; nor is it for me to pass judgment on how anyone voted.
It is however, for me to remind us all that Almighty God is our loving and merciful judge. We will be judged not by how we voted but by how we as a community love one another, how we love our neighbour and how we welcome the stranger in our midst. Mary sang that her Saviour would bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the humble; to fill the hungry with good things, and send the greedy away empty.
And therefore, my daily prayer for us all is that we seek always to stand united around God’s table; that we manage difference of opinion between us with our eyes kept firmly on Jesus Christ; that we attempt in some small way to be the hands of Christ and feet of Christ, breaking bread and sharing it with the poor and hungry; that we clothe the naked; care for the orphan, support the widow, visit the sick; tend the dying and with missional hearts, that we pray fervently for the conversion of those who do not yet know our Lord.
Churches are rooted in communities right across the country. It is the task of the church to emphasize, from its experience, issues which must be seen as key priorities for our time, and for our government, whichever party is in power.
Our new parliament has a great task ahead of it. In its desire to address the severity of deprivation in our communities, the impact of austerity, the pressures on our NHS, schools, and public sector services, it will need the help of everyone, irrespective of political persuasion. My prayer is that we find a common cause, inspired by our common faith and our common humanity to bring about healing in this nation. By word, prayer and deed I hope that we as the church will support our parliament and politicians so that they can better keep to their promises of working for the common good and for the wellbeing of all people.
Priority 1: Creation does not belong to us. Our task is to nurture and recognise our place within it. It is now widely understood that climate change and environmental degradation is the most pressing issue of our day, and it must be addressed. It cannot wait until it affects our own home and community, we must act now for the sake of those whose lives are threatened today.
Priority 2: This church hosts a foodbank, has a small team of advocates supporting people in financial crisis, partners with Christian’s against Poverty, and supports the Cornwall Childrens Clothes Bank. Over the course of the last few years demand on these services have risen. Foodbanks should not exist –and therefore our MP and government need our support now more than ever to put an end to the need by helping them tackle the cause.
Priority 3:We live in a world that is diverse in culture, varied in beauty and colour, and wide-ranging in language, religion and spirituality. Even in the Christian faith alone there is much diversity and expression. This is the intention of God that we live in freedom and love, in the knowledge that all people bear the image of God. Our country is the same; it is an inter-generational, multi-ethnic, socially diverse collection of communities. Sadly, in recent times there has been an increase in reported racism and hate crime in our country, with growing forms of hostility, divisiveness and hatred. The church here seeks to support people who have experienced such discord, welcoming all people in the spirit of our faith which sees no discrimination of honour between man or woman, irrespective of race, nationality, or language.
John the Baptist pointed to Jesus. No earthly leader will ever be as Jesus is. No earthly kingdom will ever be as God’s Kingdom is. There is only one Kingdom that truly matters, the eternal kingdom of God, all human kingdoms will fade away.
And so, we pray for the High Court of Parliament using the prayer issued by the Church of England in the run up to the General Election, for we must remember that as the established church we have a responsibility to pray for those who lead, whether we agree with their political affiliation or not:
God of hope,
in these times of change,
unite our nation
and guide our leaders with your wisdom.
Give us courage to overcome our fears,
and help us to build a future
in which all may prosper and share;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
*Letter was inspired by a similar letter written by Father Simon Robinson, Vicar of the Parish of Minehead.
*Priorities were inspired by the open letter to the Prime Minister by the Methodist President. https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/news/latest-news/all-news/an-open-letter-to-the-prime-minister/
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.