THOUGHTS from the VICARAGE - March 2012
Lent started as usual on Ash Wednesday - and this year it fell in the fourth week of February. In times past Lent was about abstinence and fasting, for some today it still is and for some a little less about giving up say smoking or perhaps more likely about giving up chocolate. Lent survived the Reformation and it is an important part of our traditions especially in the Book of Common Prayer( last revised in 1662) and still very much alive today and whose 350th anniversary we celebrate this year. But more recently there is more thought given to taking up something in Lent or to put it another way to concentrate our minds more than usual not only our faith and those things that really matter. The recent decision by High Court judge Mr Justice Ousley endorsing an appeal by the National Secular Society that Christian prayers should not be part of Council meetings in Bideford, Devon, has made many people think a little more deeply about the role that Christianity and other faiths play in our common life. Personally I get somewhat uncomfortable on these occasions when the Church seems to think more about itself and its influence and importance even relevance, when we should be engaging in what the Church exists for - 'to love God and to love one another or to put it another way 'putting our faith into action'.
Having said this - the 'Bideford affair'- if we can call it that, has drawn in a number of very influential speakers to speak on the issue of faith.. Most notably HM Majesty the Queen speaking at a major inter-faith gathering at Lambeth Palace hosted by Archbishop Rowan Williams. The Queen was speaking to leaders of our main religions at her first 'faith' event as she started her Jubilee year. Her Majesty rarely speaks on matters of faith but this time she spoke not only as Supreme Governor of the Church of England (my secular boss as it were and I'm a committed and enthusiastic 'Subject') she emphasised the powerful role faith plays in society. She said the role of the Established Church was "not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country". She paid tribute to the particular mission of Christianity. Listening to her were not only the leaders of the Christian Churches but also the eight leaders of the non-Christian religions: the Bahai, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Jewish, Muslim and Zoroastrian who each presented her with an important object to their faith. She said 'these traditions are also contemporary families of faith. Our religions provide critical guidance for the way we live our lives and the way we treat each other.' The Queen, speaking of the Church said 'the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country the Church has helped to build a better society, more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths'
A second notable speaker was Baroness Warsi - the first female Muslim member of the Cabinet and Chairman of the Conservative Party. Speaking in Rome at a meeting in the Vatican she said British society was under threat from a rising tide of 'militant secularisation' reminiscent of totalitarian regimes' She proudly told the Pope how she 'had sent her daughter to a convent school because she knew she could practice her faith there.'
So as we travel thoughtfully through Lent, perhaps sharing the pain and deprivations of others, we look forward to the joy of Easter confident in our faith and thankful for our Queen in this her Jubilee Year. Please put Sunday 3rd June at 10 O'clock in your diaries and on your calendars when we shall have a Jubilee service of celebration in our Parish Church to give thanks for our Queen, for her faith and her example to us all. May she have a joyous Year of Jubilee.
With love and prayers