Thursday, 13 December 2012

Liberty Hall for Tender Consciences

It is proposed that the clergy of the Church of England should from now on refuse all requests for weddings, in protest at the Government's announcement on same-sex marriages and the Church. At Plumstead Rectory we are very enthusiastic about this proposal. We always like a frisson of illegality, and we think it part of a good old tradition to offer ourselves to be martyred by our own canon law.

Better still, the refusal of all marriages from now on will unite those in the Church of England who object to their inability to offer gay weddings and those who object to anyone's offering them. Whichever side our misgivings fall our protest will be equally logical, and we will be able once more to rejoice in Cranmerian uniformity, in every church the clergy exercising the same discipline, albeit for exactly opposite reasons. That is the Church of England way, where there is no scruple nor scandal, but one equal disobedience.

If only we had thought of this in time to protest against the Deceased Wife's Sister Act (much the worst of the Whoopi Goldberg franchise). 

For similar reasons we have long refused to conduct any funerals, since the backward-looking church confines them to dead people. If prayers for the dead are opportunities for grace why should my living friends be denied the opportunity to be cremated?

Nor will any baptisms be conducted at Plumstead until the bishop relents of his refusal to licence the unborn as ministers of Holy Communion. That means no confirmations either, unless the mistress of Plumstead fills in for him (she always wears a mitre now in protest about women bishops - but she does the housework while wearing it, because hers is a servant leadership).

Meanwhile it would be dangerous to encourage vocations to the ministry, even if there were a bishop to ordain: among Anglo-Catholics holy orders are correlated very closely with homosexuality, and though correlation does not necessarily imply causation, one cannot be too careful.

Other clergy may differ in their rationale, reasoning on the one hand, perhaps, that it would be wrong to offer words of encouragement to those of whose faith and eternal destiny we cannot be sure; or, on the other, that it would be wrong to deny frequent baptism to those who desire a gracious topping-up. (We are aware, though, that this is already the practice of some forward-thinking brethren.) The important thing, however, is to decline any work, and thus to prove by the breaking of our oaths how ethical we are.

What would Samuel Johnson, Moralist, say about all this?  Probably that a clergyman's work is like a Conservative government's introducing gay marriage: it is not done well, but you are surprised to see it done at all. But we take comfort from the words of the Lord, who said to His disciples: ego eimi ho ego eimi: kai ho ego eimi edei ouk profases.

The principled stand we recommend has the additional benefit of removing the need to do any pastoral work, and of closing off those missional opportunities which are such a nuisance to the busy parson. Parish work became particularly difficult for me after I cut up my dog collar because of a nasty man. Now, however, I can feel doubly virtuous about it.

Not that the life of leisure at Plumstead Rectory is necessarily a bed of roses. We have switched off the heating in solidarity with those in fuel poverty and we can't go out for coffee because we can't find a chain that pays the amount of tax that is to our liking. Meanwhile we are fasting from social media again, for reasons that escape me, so life is pretty dull. There is only so much time one can spend alternately abusing the House of Laity and the House of Bishops (the lower clergy, of course, can deserve no abuse).

But with little to do in the parish there is no particular reason to stay put. We recommend that all Church of England parochial clergy should throw off the oppressive shackles of the Residence of Incumbents Act and decamp: the Episcopal Church of Scotland welcomes those who like their bishops less established, revolutionary Paris will be the destination of those who disapprove of our hereditary monarchy (and St-Germain for those of us who don't think it hereditary enough), Rome for those who have concluded it isn't a good idea to be synodically governed after all, and the traditional Lake Como (pictured above) for the fully disengaged.

There we will hang up our butterfly nets and over a glass of prosecco fill in our Diocesan Mission Action Returns. We note a decline in teaching, baptising and nurturing, but we score ourselves highly on transforming unjust structures: or seeking to transform them, at any rate. And we do not doubt that our bishops will look very kindly on our devotion.

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