Finished watching BBC’s The Choir (1995) last night. Wonderful really. Not particularly easy to watch, but incredibly true. Some lovely people, a lovely headteacher and priest and a few other great priests and bishops, and then unfortunately a big bunch of snub-nosed selfish priests and committee members. Difficult but true. Love had its way in the end, but not without a few stab wounds inflicted by the “venomous” ones.
The (cold) Dean of Salisbury was determined to preserve the stone of the Cathedral, at whatever cost – whether it was by disbanding the choir (he hated singing anyway) or kicking the headteacher out of the house or holding secret meetings. He was such a passionless character. The ordained headteacher Alexander Troy (pictured above) was the opposite, and said to the Dean:
“The day we shut our hearts and merely calculate, that day we cease to be Christian. Don’t lose sight of the call of Christ… you believe that these soaring pillars and that wonderful ceiling can let you into heaven, but have you ever considered that those same stone vaultings could stop you getting there?”
This week several people have told me that although they believe in God they find they cannot go to Church anymore because it is too full of hypocrites and “un-Christian” people intent on destruction. And I admit that, although I willingly and gladly go to Church each week (often more than once), I completely understand what they’re saying. It saddens me, but I understand it.
In the recent summer holidays just passed, there was a “feud” which basically caused a 50/50 split in my congregation, and a lot of nasty words got spat out. It had a massive affect on me. I had been quite ignorant really of the “un-Christian” presence in some people, not just in my church, but in any church. It shocked me. It still does. The congregation eventually got over what was a simple moving of chairs. I took neither side in the “fight” at the time. When I first saw the change I was very emotional, and it upset me a bit actually. But I stepped away from my own favour for a moment and saw how it could be a more welcoming space, a more open layout for newcomers and regulars. It was more personal, and there was still the option of sitting in traditional chairs with kneelers. It wasn’t like a rock band had been put in front of the altar or the chairs had all been painted with leopard spots, the chairs had just moved a bit.
It was demanded of me by a few people in the congregation (who I will not name) that I choose a side. That I declare my straightforward opinion instead of analysing the pros and cons and trusting the matter in the hands of the clergy and lay team. That I, basically, join the war. I didn’t know what to say to that, and I still don’t really. I tried to talk to them at the time, but in only one case did it do any good. At least for that though, I was and will always remain thankful. I’ve since just about managed to keep myself saying hello to those who “struck blows” against others, wishing them well and giving them love.
I was delighted to see that Headteacher Alexander Troy in BBC’s The Choir made every effort to do the same. The conniving, cold-hearted Dean kicked Alexander and his wife out of their house with three weeks notice, selling it without informing them to get money to fix the roof (and add in the lights he wanted to show off the organ). But in went Alexander, and after reminding him what true Christianity is, told him that he came over because he wanted peace, not continual fighting.
I pray that the wider Church can recognise the dire need to do the same, always. No good comes from grudges, and there is a continual need to forgive, to move on, to rid ourselves of hate, to love.
After about eight summer weeks I felt like I’d endured enough Christian disagreements for a lifetime. But since then a fellow student and fundamentalist Baptist has told me in detail how her pastor father thinks all Anglicans are damned. Really keeping up-to-date with modern affairs has taught me how heated and difficult connections between the Church in England and in Africa can be. My own trip to Salisbury in August showed me security guards and barriers with paydesks to enter the Cathedral, and afternoon tea with some Methodists taught me how a quarter of a million pounds was raised mainly to be spent on decorative refurbishments.
I’m reminded again of Bishop Michael Marshall: “You can no more become a Christian by sitting in a Church all day than you can become a motor car by sitting all day in a garage.”
A week doesn’t go by anymore that I don’t notice a feud, an argument, a disagreement within some particular church group. There are a lot of hypocrites. But I’ve learnt that there are also a lot of good people. And abandoning the church into the hands of the cold wouldn’t help anyone. We need to make God proud to call us his children. “Don’t lose sight of the call of Christ”. The call to unite, to bring together, to love. In the Church, we can make it better. Feuds happen. But one day they won’t. I’m sure of that.