Not dead, only sleeping
Well, several years have elapsed since the last post. I guess this is the pattern with many blogs. This blog was always in large part just about setting down some of my thoughts, regardless of how many people (if any) might read it. If you, dear reader, are reading this then I guess either you have found it more-or-less at random, or maybe you have long had my blog in your list of feeds. In the latter case particularly, thank you for reading! Will I blog regularly now? I’m not sure. It would be nice to think so, but I shouldn’t make promises I can’t keep.
First, then, a personal update. My previous blog posts were written while I belonged to – as a leader and regular congregant – a small (and shrinking) free Evangelical church in Oxford. Since Trinity Sunday in 2014, I have been worshipping fairly regularly at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. A church with a somewhat pivotal role at certain points in the history of the English Church (almost two centuries ago, Newman preached some of his most influential sermons there; a few centuries earlier, the church saw the trial of Cranmer for heresy: stoneworks to facilitate this are still visible) today it adopts the label “liberal catholic”.
That label has assumed particular significance lately: the incumbent of the last thirty years, Brian Moutford (he took up the post just before I arrived in Oxford as an undergraduate: to my mind he has always been the vicar) retired just after Easter this year, and the church has been seeking a new vicar. The parish profile is a certain work of art – describing in code the particular brand of Anglicanism preferred by the present congregation. It was, of course, Mountford's writing that attracted me to St Mary's.
The church’s role – as a University church, and as a parish church covering much of the city centre (and hence, predominantly, the University) – surely shapes this outlook. Here I find a Christianity that doesn’t need to be embarrassed when faced with the learning of the modern university. I find a way of believing that isn’t dogmatic or unthinking. I find an inclusiveness that is in keeping with the openness of the University – in contrast with the welcome announced by some churches, which are apparently open to all, but some are much more welcome than others.
And yet, it’s also a very (though not exclusively) middle-class church, as you might expect: and I could believe that that would be alienating to plenty of others. Also potentially alienating is the form of the worship: not the ‘highest’ of Anglican churchmanship, but high enough to have incense on a number of festivals, careful liturgical dress, a robed choir which frequently sings the communion setting in latin, and a rather demoralising commitment to the New English Hymnal, with its apparently-ecclectic-but-actually-dominated-by-the-nineteenth-century poetry and music. In a University that seems to love dressing up and holding seemingly archaic ceremonies, this doesn’t seem out of place: but it’s decidedly detached from what we might otherwise call the Real World.
This, then, is where I’m at. I’m the guy who sits at the back, in the gallery, and doesn’t get too involved. That’s quite a turn-around: I’ve spent the last 30 years being at the front in church, leading, preaching, and making music. It’s instructive to do none of these for a while: I’ll write more on this, and many other things, later.