A young actor associated with the parish contacted me for a conversation about a scene he is preparing for a class from a play by David Hare. It happens to be a play I saw and enjoyed in 1990 when it was first on in London. It is called Racing Demon (Faber and Faber, 1990) and it turns out that I own a copy of it.
Set in London it concerns the Church of England in the period discussed in my last blog. Indeed, some of the scenes take place in the General Synod. The characters are mostly clergy, and all in various ways trying to be faithful and do something good in a system and a world in which faith is not terribly relevant, especially to the housing estate peopled by Jamaicans among others, and in which four of the clergy serve.
Lionel is pretty ineffective in many ways and is in trouble with The Bishop of Southwark because a Tory member of parliament is complaining about his left wing sermons and saying he seems disinterested in the Eucharist when he is leading it. Lionel acknowledges that this might well be true.
The Bishop (with his Suffragan Bishop of Kingston) is trying to keep the show on the road and is hoping to make an example of Lionel and force him out.
In this he is helped, slightly by a young, fervent, self deluded and messed up, increasingly evangelical curate who is frustrated by the lack of power he feels to get anything done, top fill the churches, or to minister to a victim of domestic violence (whose life he royally messes up). His response is to seek the ‘power of God’ and confuse that with what appears to be manic episodes.
Two other clergy are doing their best to help although one of them who has been managing his homosexual tendencies within the rules, with great difficulty and at great personal cost, decides to resign when a scurvy journalist from England’s gutter press decides to write something about the ‘gay mafia’ in the C of E. (This reminds us that free speech is often not free for some and the cost is not equally borne). The other wonders why it all has to be so hard when all God really wants us to do is enjoy sunshine, beauty and a good dose of alcohol.
Hare does a good job of portraying both the clergy and their personal relationships along with some of the tension and conflict in the C of E. (Much is made of the decision to ordain women. Southwark disapproves.) The end of the play was rather unsatisfying when I saw it and is again on reading it 17 years later. I think that is because, having portrayed how insoluble are the problems in the C of E and the difficulties of ministry in England today, there is not much more to be said. Each character is left with his or her own position and view and little has changed.
I thank God for the privilege of ministering in the American Church where, in spite of the spoilers and haters and fearmongers, there is real work being done and real and reasonable faith being nurtured and generosity abounding and the faithful getting on with whatever the job is today.