Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 29, 2008

I was happy to read of Dan Edwards’ consecration as Bishop of Nevada. He was rector of St. Francis’, Macon. I was intrigued to read of his changing his predecessor’s policy on the blessing of same-sex unions. (His predecessor being our current Presiding Bishop.). The Living Church reports “Bishop Edwards said he believes the Anglican Communion has not come to consensus on whether to invoke a blessing in the name of the church on a same sex union…anything short of a blessing is appropriate at this time.” The magazine quotes the Bishop saying: “It is not appropriate for us to proclaim that blessing without consensus. We are free to pray for each other and to invite God’s grace on their behalf—anything that does not constitute a blessing in the name of the Church.”

I have met, but do not claim to know, Bishop Edwards. His view on this matter is very close to my own. I have what we might term a ‘high’ view of the act of pronouncing blessing, very similar to the act of pronouncing absolution in the midst of the community. This is a privilege of office and orders in the church and not so much an individual charism. It is more like one of those prophetic acts that is understood to effect what is symbolized. It seems to me we can ask or beg God’ blessing on just about anything (although doing this in a cavalier fashion would be at our peril); as in “May God bless and keep you…”.

This distinction between prayer and cultic or sacramental pronouncement, while important to me in my current situation (i.e. I would probably pronounce blessing in a diocese where it was clearly OK and above board) it makes little difference to those who celebrate their commitments in the midst of their church community of All Saints’. For them, we discuss what a blessing might look like, or what we suspect its consequences would be and include them in a prayer of the whole congregation. Afterwards, guests will say things like ‘what a lovely wedding’ whatever we call the service (‘A Celebration of Commitment’ in our case). The conservative concern, as I understand it, is more about the church doing anything that might ‘normalize’, or in any way acknowledge as potentially good, or affirm in any way a gay or lesbian relationship. The issue for our parishioners is much more around when we will be able to have such celebrations in the church building itself. At this point I have said that we will not offer that until such time as these services can be officially supported in some way in our diocese. That is a continuing frustration for me and something that I think we may address, and possibly change (no promises here) in the context of our next round of planning for our future mission and ministry.

As for the question of sacerdotal blessing: I don’t think this is something that necessarily needs complete consensus in the Anglican Communion and could be something that those who disapprove decide that they could live with other provinces moving forward—a kind of national or autocephalous level of decision making—not unlike we have achieved over the consecration of women to the episcopate. Current proposals for an Anglican Covenant make that unlikely. Departures of hard-core and fed-up conservatives to some other and more ‘pure’ communion, while unfortunate in many ways, might make such a thing possible.

One last thing of interest in the January 27 edition of TLC: a colleague and former student called Robin Courtney of Tennessee writes a letter suggesting that a way forward in our property disputes might be the idea of a ninety-nine year lease from the Episcopal Church to the departing congregations. I hope that someone, somewhere, finds this worth exploring.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Interesting days with our schismatic bishops. Bishop Schofield of San Joachin has been inhibited, meaning he is not authorized to perform any function as associated with his office, -- a first step in his being deposed for abandoning the communion of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Duncan has not been so inhibited. In both instances there is a committee that serves as a kind of grand jury and then the three senior active Bishops of the church have to agree to the Presiding Bishop’s action of inhibition. In the case of Bishop Duncan, both Bishop Lee of Virginia and Bishop Wimberley of Texas decided that because Duncan has not led his diocese to vote for some kind of separation or realignment that as yet he has not done enough to show his abandonment of the church.

I’m not certain that I understand enough of what is involved in the charges but I thought that inhibition had to do with the actions of an individual rather than a diocese. On that basis and without benefit of a confidential report (merely reading the press) Bishop Duncan gave up on the communion of the Episcopal Church a long time ago.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill I was on a student committee of the Chapel of the Cross where Peter Lee was the rector. Our job was to give our response to various candidates he was considering as an associate for campus ministry, --essentially the Episcopal Chaplain for the University. Bob Duncan was the man he called. I remember the occasion well as the putative Bishop was taken on by a pretty hard core evangelical student about various matters and Duncan tried to support that student’s basic positions while arguing for a more generous understanding of God and God’s intentions toward humanity.

No too long after that I visited a friend at Oxford University and went to hear Fr. Duncan preach at the Anglo-Catholic St. Mary’s Church there on the Syro- Phoenician woman who wanted to eat the scraps form the master’s table, talking about how Jesus was a Jew of his time and how he changed his mind.

Later, now ordained, I returned to the diocese of North Carolina and reconnected with Bob who had built a major Episcopal network of students in Bible Study groups who gathered for worship late on Wednesday evenings. By all accounts it was a model chaplaincy and a genuine Episcopal alternative to some of the more established (and conservative) campus groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. He was always somewhat Anglo-Catholic in style and preference in those days, but able to represent the liberality of a Church who takes seriously the notion of the Incarnation.

He subsequently went to be rector of a university parish in Newark, Delaware and then on to Pittsburgh where he was Canon to Alden Hathaway, the Bishop. Hathaway had previously served in Northern Virginia and had at some point in his ministry moved to the Evangelical view of the world enough that he was an active supporter of the Trinity School of Theology in his diocese, itself a reaction to the perceived theological liberalism of Virginia Theological Seminary. I saw Bishop Duncan a couple of times in those years at various church meetings, but we did not really stay in contact. I remember his hospitality, his wife, and his great big dogs. I remember him as a good priest. And I do not fully understand how any currents of our church’s life have shaped his actions and statements in recent years.

Bishop Lee, his former boss, is coming in for some criticism on the blogosphere for being weak or somehow acting as though he is in an old boys club of some sort. I would take him at his word:

I along with the two other most senior active bishops in the House of Bishops were asked by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to review the evidence and give consent to moving forward with the inhibitions of the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, Bishop of San Joaquin on the charge of abandonment of the communion of this Church. I gave my consent for the inhibition of Bishop Schofield. It is clear that by his actions and their result he has abandoned the communion of this Church. I did not give my consent for the inhibition of Bishop Duncan at this time. The Diocese of Pittsburgh, which Bishop Duncan leads, has not formalized any change to their membership within the Episcopal Church. I do not take either of these actions lightly, the giving or withholding of consent to these inhibitions. I fear that Bishop Duncan’s course may be inevitable. But I also believe that it is most prudent to take every precaution and provide every opportunity for Bishop Duncan and the leadership of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to turn back from the course they seem to desire and instead to remain in the Episcopal Church.

The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee
Bishop of Virginia

Peter Lee has always been generous, perhaps to a fault, to the conservative Christians in his parish and then in his diocese, while also being clear about his own positions. (He supported the consecration of Gene Robinson, and has taken no end of grief in the form of personal attacks from those same people.) He styles himself a centrist in our church and has been a magnificent bishop in a complex diocese for a long time. We are not in touch on a terribly regular basis these days, but I am proud to count him a friend and can only imagine how saddened he is by the decisions or those parishes of his diocese, and particularly their clergy, who have decided to leave the Episcopal Church, and initiate law suits for their property on the day after their votes to leave to which he and the diocese now have to respond. I am among those who believe the diocesan leadership would be betraying their trust if they did not respond, whatever their personal preferences and desires in the mater might be.

I don’t really know what the consequences of inhibition and subsequent deposition would be. I imagine that it will make clear that people so inhibited are no longer representatives of the Episcopal Church in any sense. I can’t imagine their not going about their business as usual claiming –presumably accurately although in direct contravention of the Windsor Report and therefore beyond the Anglican pale—that they are bishops of the Southern Cone (or wherever). I’m also not sure about next steps but think that a vote on inhibition goes to the whole House of Bishops when next they meet.

On the basis of what I know and understand now, it is clear to me that Bishop Duncan has no interest in the wellbeing of the Episcopal Church and has clearly abandoned communion with us, denying the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church and therefore the vows of his Episcopal ordination. I have no doubt he has done this as a matter of conscience and find his desire to ‘realign’ the church misguided and unhelpful to our mission and ministry. His interest in keeping the lines that he has crossed muddy still doesn’t move the lines.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A friend wrote in response to my request for theological resources about death as follows:

“Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University, has published a new book entitled This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, in which she examines how this conflict forever changed the way that Americans look at death. Dr. Faust discussed her book recently on NPR's Fresh Air. Fascinating and thoughtful interview. Here's the link:”

Many thanks.

I have just returned from a wonderful weekend away marking the fiftieth anniversary of my natal moment. A small group of old friends joined Sage and me, both my brothers and their wives for a weekend on the Georgia Coast. While there was more snow in Atlanta we managed to ignore the freezing rain even on the golf course.

The 11:15 a.m. service at Christ Church, Frederica on St. Simon’s Island was Morning Prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. I almost left when I saw the bulletin, but am glad I stayed even though the service is not my cup of tea. I suppose that all bases are covered in the general collects, but there was no explicit notice of anything going on in the world: MLK, war, elections, you name it.

At the end of a week where I have been re-immersing myself in Bowen systems theory it was especially good to spend time with members of my ‘family of origin’. It took me a long time to grasp the importance of such time for the purposes of what is called self differentiation in this particular systems theory. I still don’t fully understand why it works, but fully grasp that such time is important.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January 14, 2008

A whole week has gone by and life at All Saints’ has been ‘rich and full’ as usual. Don Shriver, former President of Union Seminary and prolific author in the field of Christian Ethics (with particular reference to national life) was our preacher on Epiphany. That was preceded by a cafĂ© night in which his wife Peggy read her published and more recent poetry to a small by enthusiastic group. A web search will lead you to all of their books. They are gracious people and we were blessed to have them among us for a couple of days. A new series of enquirers’ classes began on Monday and a new season of GIFT (Growing In Faith Together) began on Wednesday. There I am revisiting the work I did over a number of years in Bowen systems theory with Edwin Friedman and it seems that it is still life giving stuff judging by the response of those present. I’ve also been revisiting that material for the purposes of the contextual education class I help lead at the Candler School of Theology, with the second d semester about to get under way, and for a staff retreat which I will be leading beginning today.

The real work of the church has saved me from the blogosphere in which I learn that our Presiding Bishop has begun canonical proceedings against the former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joachin on the basis that he has renounced the ministry of this church by his own statements and his acceptance into the Province of the Southern Cone. His PR firm have made a gaffe that they are trying to connect claiming that there is no problem with Bishop Schofield being a member of the Episcopal Church and the Southern Cone at the same time. That, of course, would mean that he does consider himself a member of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church and therefore subject to discipline. Whoops. The separatists are creating maximum confusion and both spending and causing to be spent millions of dollars in the service of attempting to leave or destroy or takeover the Episcopal Church (whatever their motive) while retaining control of church property. This thing which could have been clarified by greater clarity on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom we are all claiming to be in communion, will teeter on through the courts, --notably in California and Virginia—with (I would guess) judges as confused and disgusted by this Christian behavior as are many of the Christians involved.

In his book A Failure of Nerve (Seabury, 2007) written before his death in 2003 and published later, we read:

Viewing the Civil War through this principle of leadership, it is possible to see that the war was no more ‘caused’ by the issue of slavery than a divorce results from the perceived differences between spouses. In either case the ‘cause’ had more to do with the ways in which family emotional processes turned those differences into divisive factors. From this perspective ‘the great American divorce’ was ultimately the failure of the five Presidents before Lincoln (particularly Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan, but also to some extent Polk and Taylor) to function in a differentiated manner. The way in which these glad-handing, conflict-avoiding, compromising ‘commanders-in-chief’ avoided taking charge of our growing internal crisis when they occupied the position ‘at the top’ is exactly the same way I have seen today’s leaders function before their organizations (or families) ‘split. (p.18f)
Interesting, yes? I continue to be grateful to the bishops of our church who are doing what they have to do to keep faith with the vows of their ordinations and to stay clear (even when they personally do not like the direction we have taken with the consecration of Gene Robinson) about the Church to which they belong. No one likes law suits, inhibiting Bishops from their ministry or any of the other wrangling that is going on. But they are being grown ups rather than whiners, and doing what they must do. Example: Bishop Wimberley Of Texas, and convener of the self identified ‘Windsor Bishops’ was one of those required to sign allowing the PB to proceed with the inhibition (which will ultimately lead to the formal deposing) of Bishop Schofield. No one likes it, but it is what happens when someone leaves the Episcopal Church and joins another church. The confusion comes from the fact that these cross boundary arrangements do not seem to impair communion with Canterbury and are viewed by the separatists as the moral equivalent of a church (namely the Episcopal Church) in its properly constituted councils taking a different view than the majority on whether a homosexual man can serve as a bishop, or (Diocese of New Westminster in Canada, lest we forget) the church can pronounce blessing on couples of the same gender who wish to make a lifelong commitment to each other. I see their hatred of any kind of affirmation of gay and lesbian people as immoral and their actions as destructive. They see my affirmation of gay and lesbian people as immoral and the consequent actions of the Episcopal Church (which I support) as destructive.

“Test all things and hold fast to that which is good”. Which position is about love? Which appears to be about hate? Which gives evidence of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, of love, joy, peace, and so on? Did Jesus ever get into major fights about religious rules? Arguably it was the religious response to his clarity of purpose that led to his death, but in his trials he did not use a PR firm and did not engage the argument, thereby giving credibility to the system that brought him to the courts. He was the quintessential non-anxious presence.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

On New Year’s Eve I wrote the following:
“The end of 2007 on the ecclesiastical front sees a fascinating correspondence between a conservative theologian Peter Toon and Archbishop Akinola, apparently penned in large part and as usual by Martyn Minns.”
I was following reports that Martyn tells me were speculation and in error. He further suggests that the implication that Archbishop Akinola cannot think for himself is racist. I am quite prepared to believe Martyn and have never been in doubt that the Archbishop can think for himself. I suspect that the following suggestion by Greg Griffith and written in response to the original Church Times article showing that a statement from the Archbishop had been written on Martyn Minns’ computer is closer to the reality:
“Archbishop Akinola was in Virginia last week, when the statement was released. He and Minns spent much time together. It is entirely possible that +Akinola was using Minns' computer to compose his statement. It is more likely that +Akinola was dictating the statement to Minns. It is far more likely that +Akinola was giving shape and form to the statement, while relying on Minns for the exact wording... in other words, exactly what a trusted confidant and Assistant Secretary of the Global South Steering Committee is for.”

I accept that the thinking of two or more people, along with phrasing, drafting and so on, can be a collaborative effort fully owned by the person who signs the statement.

Martyn further indicates that this correspondence alleged to be from Archbishop Akinola was not from him, that there has been some correspondence with another Primate and that they are still doing their best to keep private correspondence private.

Even accepting all of the above, I still find the whole business heartbreaking and am proud of our House of Bishops for defining themselves, being clear about our constitution and canons (which apparently used to be fine for those who committed themselves to the ‘doctrine, discipline and worship of this church’ but are no longer), and seeing through the consequences of the trust that they hold as Bishops in the church. I count everyone who feels that they have to leave The Episcopal Church as a loss at the same time that I am proud of the way the gospel is made incarnate in the witness of the branch of Christ’s Church to which I belong.

Monday, January 7, 2008

January 5, 2008

A twenty year old young man was killed in a car crash on Christmas Eve and buried from All Saints’ the following Saturday. I have two friends dealing with the reality that in all likelihood, the illness that each of them have will bring their life to an end long before they would have chosen for themselves. At the same time, when I think about people we have buried over the past year, many of them lived long and fruitful and happy lives and sadness in the face of their deaths was more about our loss than some sense of injustice.

As I have been thinking about death and our responses to it in a theological or philosophical sense, I have found that many people writing about death cannot but address the pastoral or existential reality along the way, Richard Harries, the now retired Bishop of Oxford published a collection of his writings in 1995 including a reflection on “Attitudes to Death in the Twentieth Century” (Questioning Belief, SPCK). He looks at death as judgment and the decision of heaven or hell for eternity and how that is not really a motivating reality for many people today. He saw that view giving way to the idea that death is really a doorway to a kinder world than the one we inhabit, exemplified by the writing of Henry Scott Holland that is still sometimes read at funerals: “Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room…I am but waiting for you for an interval somewhere very near just around the corner. All is well.” Harries goes on to look at a twentieth century move from a preoccupation with the next world to a concern focused more on this one. He explores the movement away from the notion of an ‘eternal soul’ to a more Hebraic sense of the whole person and Christian Hope based in an understanding of resurrection. (Giles Fraser is going to spend January seeing if he can separate Platonism from Christianity in the Church Times. See his column.) Harries looks at C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot and John A. T. Robinson among others and ends by affirming his own trust in God’s gracious love.

In contrast, Karl Rahner in”Ideas for a Theology of Death” (in Theological Investigations Vol. XIII New York: Crossroad, 1975) takes a dense theological and philosophical approach looking at the exercise of freedom in death and ‘freedom as the event of definitive finality’. (I’m looking forward to doing some chewing on that one). John Bowker, former Dean of Trinity, Cambridge has addressed The Meanings of Death (Cambridge university Press, 1991). I’m particularly intrigued by his comments on the Sadducees. He acknowledges that it is impossible to reconstruct their belief system, but points out that they seemed to consider taking anything other than life as it is presented to us as almost blasphemous. They saw death as a part of the created order and therefore ‘good’ in God’s eyes. This is quite a different reading of Genesis 3, which has often been the foundation for understanding death as a consequence of the fall and generally a bad thing.
As I continue to look at the theology of creation with my pastor-theologian (now known as the ‘cowbell theologians’ after the iconic SNL sketch with Will Ferrell –long story--) I believe I will be reading about death for awhile and would welcome hearing about additional theological or philosophical resources that address the subject.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year's Day

Two wonderful Christmas books teach me about the land on which I live. I still remember a sermon by Walter Smith (who will this spring mark fifty years as a priest) in which he talked about the importance of connecting with the land. I like knowing where I live and what has happened there. Peachtree Creek by David R. Kaufman, and Atlanta is Ours: The Plot to Capture Sherman by Richard H. Sams help me do jus that. The first is a tale of a man who canoed the creek in modern times with copious photographs and historical comment. The second is an historical novel by a great grandson of Washington J. Houston of Houston Mill. Together these books have helped me find out where the actual mill was (now the parking area for Hahn Woods Park of Emory) and what troop movements there were across this land. I was particularly struck by learning something of the Sage family whose home fell to urban sprawl in the 1960s and became Sage Hill where I go to the grocery store. Kaufman’s book includes a photograph of Margaret Sage. I imagine a resemblance to Margaret Sage Hoare (nee Smith). Given the realities of the South there simply must be a connection.

Sams’ novel does well with the complexities of the civil war and the feelings that ran to the preservation of a way of life that can not be reduced to a simple defense of slavery. And the feelings that led to a belief in the importance of the Union that could not be reduced to a hatred of slavery. I could not but help think of the complexities that are leading conservatives to try and secede from the ‘union’ of the Episcopal Church and my own sense of the importance of defending and upholding the reality of our ‘union’. Homosexuality is the defining issue for us, just as the institution of slavery was the defining issue of that old war. Our conflict is not something that can be fully understood by reducing it to a single issue however, and I believe that what is going on is that people who are used to defining reality are finding that they no longer have a monopoly on ‘the norm’ and really hate that change.

Happy New Year to one and all.

New Year's Eve

The end of 2007 on the ecclesiastical front sees a fascinating correspondence between a conservative theologian Peter Toon and Archbishop Akinola, apparently penned in large part and as usual by Martyn Minns. Dr. Toon has asked some questions about the process by which the GAFCON ‘pilgrimage’ is being called and announced. You can read it here. It makes clear the rogue nature of the conservative leadership as they seek to ‘realign’ (read ‘takeover’, ‘split’, or ‘render conservative’) the communion without using traditional orthodox conciliar processes. It is ironic, of course, that it was a flawed process perhaps, but an conciliar process nonetheless that approved the consecration of the bishop of New Hampshire. The position of the Windsor Report is that our conciliar consultation and process was not nearly wide ranging enough. It has subsequently been acknowledged that the Episcopal Church has acted fully within the bounds of our own constitution and canons, and therefore with full attention to conciliar process. That process as has often been pointed out has been going on publicly for at least thirty years.

Who knows what 2008 will bring? More of the same, I suppose. I applaud the clarity of our House of Bishops who, in spite of disagreements among them on matters of human sexuality, are able to be clear about the Church to which we all belong and are willing to respond to the separatists with clarity. Such response does not preclude charity toward those who dislike being a minority in the councils of the Episcopal Church, but it does preclude our bishops from abdicating their own ordination vows and the trust that was placed in them at their election. (That is why it was important that the Church be assured that the new bishop of South Carolina be clear that he will not seek to lead that diocese in a separatist direction before he received the necessary consents for consecration.) I hope for more clarity with charity in the year to come and the grace of God to continue to be free to worship around the table of the Lord and enjoy the blessings of the work we have been given to do in the name of Jesus.

December 29, 2007

The Anglican blogosphere makes for grim reading with the antics of the former bishop of San Joachin changing the locks on a church in that diocese that wishes to remain Episcopal.

It all rather pales into insignificance with the death of Benazir Bhutto, something that will really make a difference in the politics of an unstable nuclear power in which the U.S. –once again— has found itself in the position of shoring up a dictatorship for our strategic purposes. A friend of mine from England described this event as carrying a kind of ‘morbid inevitability’. I hope the President will use whatever influence he has in that country to suggest a delay for the opposition to reorganize itself and offer some kind of campaign. It is my understanding that Pakistan has not known a truly fair election in the past, but the hope of something like one now would be a good thing.

The movie Charlie Wilson’s War is instructive (as well as being fun). We provided a billion dollars or so to help oust the Russians from Afghanistan and then could not muster the will to provide a million dollars to begin rebuilding schools in that country. I tried reading the journal Foreign Affairs for a few years but still find our foreign policy to be largely inscrutable in most instances.

A few days off not only offered a rare visit to the cinema, but allowed me to finish reading New England White by Stephen Carter (a sometime visitor to All Saints’). Unlike his first foray into writing a novel (The Emperor of Ocean Park) this one was hard work, a convoluted mystery with some good commentary on class and race, but in need of an editor.

December 28, 2007

An alternative Lambeth Conference (although not called that) has been called for June in the Holy Land. All the usual suspects are involved and are talking about ‘moving forward’. Two bishops from the Church of England are among the organizers and it is assumed that many of those attending who are otherwise invited to Lambeth will use their Lambeth funds to attend this gathering of the religiously pure and so will, presumably, not attend the later meeting where thy might have to talk to people who are in fact ‘moving forward’ by recognizing the full humanity of women and are at least open to talking to others who suspect that gay and lesbian people might be creatures of God as such.

These are many of the same bishops who have reported no significant ‘listening’ at all when asked to do so by the same non-binding Lambeth resolution that they proclaim as the current basis for orthodox Anglican views on homosexuality. Any claims to their being ‘Anglican’ in any meaningful sense are bankrupt, but presumably necessary in North America at least for the purposes of buttressing legal claims, not that a group of congregations and their clergy have chosen to leave the church but that a ‘division’ has occurred. (Legal documents can be found in various places. This link shows one of the disputed properties on the webpage.)

What will all this mean?

Who knows?

I think the most interesting thing to watch other than the various legal wrangles in the US is what will happen in and to the Church of England. Certainly the views of the conservatives have little or no traction among the general populace in England, but probably have quite a bit of representation in the C of E. Will the bishops of that province who appear to be supporting the GAFCON and so contributing to the weakening of Lambeth be challenged or disciplined? I doubt it. The Archbishop of Canterbury appears to be trying to keep inviting and not coercing conversation and covenant (thus being thoroughly consistent with the model and pattern of Jesus) so is unlikely to exercise any canonical privilege he may have in this regard.

In the meantime it is up to those of us in happy, healthy parishes to keep on doing the work we have been given to do in both proclaiming and responding to the gospel, bearing witness to the good news as we have received and enjoyed it.

Christmas Day, 2007

While this has been a year in which "The Dry Salvages" has been particularly compelling for me, it is "Little Gidding" that has been, and remains, my favorite of the Quartets. I think that has something to do with the Pentecostal imagery (“the communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living”) and the setting in a holy place, once drenched in the daily round of prayer. Nicholas Ferrar had founded a community at Little Gidding in 1625. John Booty tells us that the place was revered by George Herbert and visited by Charles I. Eliot seems to say that it is only the elemental that will endure, with particular emphasis on fire. I imagine that was unavoidable in the midst of the blitz.

A friend has suggested to me that the title of these poems, Four Quartets, is less about abstract matters, or even the elements. Instead, he says, the title brings up the image of a quartet playing music, --musical imagery also being found throughout the poems. I like that and would add it to my answer that the intention of the title is ‘all of the above’.

Music was the heart of our Christmas Eve worship at All Saints’, with our incomparable choir offering the Rutter Gloria as a prelude to worship in the later services and our wonderful youth and children’s choirs leading worship in the late afternoon. They too are really accomplished, singing music from the renaissance to modern compositions with great clarity and discipline. We are truly and greatly blessed by the talented musicians we have in our midst. It is more true for me at Christmas than at any other season that music trumps theology as the means of conveying gospel truth. A simple carol, with all of its associations for me over the years, can assure me of God’s love more than all of the writings of the church fathers on the incarnation put together. Of course this does not mean that theology is irrelevant or unhelpful. Quite the contrary. It is simply to say that music is more like poetry than reasoned argument, and so is more helpful at making a raid on the inarticulate.

A very happy Christmas to one and to all.