Many of our Christian brothers and sisters in many parts of this world have been suffering cruel persecution recently and our prayers are with them; but it is the faiths that have no fun, and claim purity or perfection, that are usually the most dangerous and hurtful, so I think it’s good occasionally to have a little laugh at ourselves.
Easter came late to the fictitious Church of St Pythagoras & All Angles in the Diocese of Pychester this year. Lent started a week late at St Peregrine’s Cathedral as Dean Arius and Sister Tius were away on Retreat; an Alpine ski retreat with the catechumens of the confirmation class considering the spiritual similarities of the downhill slalom to the game of croquet. Rather than shorten Lent, using the so-called Fast Forward option, the whole Diocese decided to grow beards and keep Easter Julian calendar style with the Orthodox Church on 12th April.
With our best robes and bonnets, chanting, incense, hundreds of candles and tables groaning with food and drink, the Easter Vigil at St Pythag’s to my fanciful eye looks rather like a banquet in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Indeed, the purple robe, spear and stone have all played their hallowed parts in the story of the Passion and the love of Christ has triumphed, harrowing hell and dispelling the darknesses of this world with the grace and glory of his Resurrection. Alleluia!
A few relevant words for the Oxford Movement English Dictionary ;-)>>
Church Plant – the trendy way of being Church, especially useful for clergy bored with a grumpy old Parish and looking for a new model to revive their flagging liturgy.
Episcopally – friendly with the Bishop, or a narrow Dickensian street where Bishops and actresses ply their trade.
Peregrinus – term used during the early Roman empire to denote a free provincial subject of the Empire who was not a Roman citizen, hence a wanderer or pilgrim.
Pilgrimage of Greys – a Saga holiday tour.
Plantagenet – even better than a Church Plant at bringing in new people, especially for a Cathedral.
Procrastination – to be defined tomorrow.
Spring – when an old man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of gardening.
Trendy – in church terms, adopting musical, management and training styles that were popular in society and business 15 years ago, and now largely discredited.
True Romance – where a Cornish clergyman might live.
Given recent events in Leicester surrounding King Richard III, it seems clear that it is not Church Plants but the Church Plantagenet that will bring in new worshippers. Nevertheless, inspired by the beauty of St Pythag’s Easter Garden, our Bishop of Pychester has taken up the challenge, issued recently by the Bishop of London, to be the new Bishop for Church Plants. After pottering around his Palace gardens during Lent with a copy of “A Brief History of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”, Bishop Rick is ready to modernise the Diocese this Spring by establishing the Fellowship of Saints Bill & Ben and the Blessed Weed to prick out and pot on radical young disciples for the task.
Church Planting has a long and diverse history; not justin the Early Church, but with Saints Francis and Dominic stirring up the complacent 13th century Catholic church with their make do & mendicant orders of Friars and Preachers, and with Whitefield and the Wesleys riding rough-shod over the sleepy 18th century CofE to build Methodism. In response to the Industrial Revolution, numerous inner-city Anglo-Catholic Parishes were spawned as the Victorian Oxford Movement took root.
Bishop Rick has been busy trying to replace the complicated and controversial theories of the Atonement with theories of the Allotment. But he found there an equally wide spectrum, from the infra-Liberal ‘weeds are plants too’, to the ultra-Calvinist ‘selecting only the perfect’ for the Flower and Produce Judgement. From the Garden of Eden to images of wheat & tares growing together, pruning for more fruit, and Mary Magdalen meeting the risen Jesus in the Garden, there’s plenteous food for thought. Is God the Groundforce of our being, and just how much incense does it take to fumigate the Potting Shed?
So, the plan is, those churches that were successful in bids to the Thatch Repair Fund are safe, but, given the shortage of affordable barn conversions in the diocese, many listed chocolate-box churches with only a few toffees and humbugs left in their congregations will be sold off to our friends in the City for redevelopment.
This financial windfall will fund the building of 50 Sheds of Pray on village greens and allotments across the county, equipped with state-of-the-art sound systems and giant display screens, replacing troublesome musicians and boring old books. This will be especially useful for Baptism Services, when the Font size can be adjusted to fit the baby, and, with virtual reality headsets, adults can even opt for the total immersion experience.
Indeed, we foresee the day when multi-sensory headsets will mean that everyone can worship at home or on the golf course or moor or beach, with the sacrament delivered by 3-D printer. To this end, as Parish Priests retire they will be replaced by Sacrament Facilitators based in the Diocesan Centre of Online Liturgy (COOL). To oversee consistency with the Archiepiscopal Mainframe, we are advertising for a Director of Digital Mission Facilitation.
“Are you fed up with PCC Meetings? Bored with Parish Ministry? Do you think pastoral work is so passé? Rejuvenate your career with our Mission position. Well-equipped office, attractive salary and secretary. You could overturn decades of faithful informed local ministry, clone Shed-based fresh infusions of church in far-flung corners of the Diocese, and be back in time for Choral Evensong in the Cathedral.”
Now, our Cathedral of St Peregrine may not have a mediaeval monarch to rebury, but under its car park lie our Roman Baths and Temple of Mithras. With generous funding from Wessex Olde Things and the Big Raffle, we had planned to develop these as an exclusive spiritual health spa and gym, a fresh expression of muscular Christianity, until someone mentioned the recent bad events at Pagford (where were the churches?). It looks like we will have to go with a multi-sensory 4-D interactive virtual pilgrimage “Festivals of Wessex” from Stonehenge to Glastonbury and a Heritage Garden Centre for Church Plants.
After the success of “Italy Unpacked” on the BBC, Spring on PyTV will feature the popular Food & Travel programme “O Taste and See” exploring Wessex from the ancient croquet playing Cerne Abbas Giant to the sun-worshipping surfers of St Ives. Andy (I look at things) and George (I cook things) will travel the highways and by-ways of the West Country in search of the best in art, food and religion. Will they be visiting your cathedral refectory, church, festival or allotment shed?
The Science Angle.
How to remember the Colours of the Rainbow. The church horticultural is no longer comfortable with the aggressive associations of “battle” and “violet”, nor with the imperial tone of purple, preferring the more gentle lilac, so the revised common mnemonic will be:-
(Son of) Richard Of York Got (re)Buried In Leicester.
Sorry if I’m a bit ambivalent about the CofE’s new-found enthusiasm for Church Plants; fine where they are truly cultivating new ground in the widest sense, but not fine to replace the variegated life of our Parishes with a liturgically-modified monoculture of clones of the Holy Top Brand franchise.
Hope you have had a Happy and Joyful Easter,
Richard the Barnes.
For a more elegant and ultimately hopeful satire on the future of the Church of England, try the following little story from Prof Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford:- Sorry, this link is no longer available.
Faith in the Free-Market: A Cautionary Tale.