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I wept. Twice

The first occasion was the announcement by the presenter Sarah Montague, on BBC Radio 4s ‘World at One’, of Pfizer and BioNTech’s preliminary analysis showing that their vaccine can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19. It was a wonderful moment – a brilliant light at the end of a very dark and very long tunnel. The breakthrough was rightly described as a magnificent moment for humanity and science. Perhaps, thank God, and sooner than we had thought possible, we’ll be able to hug our grandchildren again, celebrate the eucharist, go to the pub, sing some hymns. It was a moment worthy of a few tears – of thankfulness, joy and relief

Then the letter arrived.

It had been sent by our two Archbishops (by post!) to every clergyperson in the Church of England. That’s getting on for twenty thousand letters, each longer than half a good sermon. Such letters are a relative rarity.

What’s it about? The 50,000 Covid-19 deaths? The tanking of our economy? The restrictions on our historic freedoms? The prohibition of public worship? The government’s new and controversial Brexit legislation? No. Comment on the latter was reserved to a letter to the behinda-paywall Financial Times! Or perhaps it was about the fact that half of Anglican churches have a Sunday congregation of 26 adults or fewer, or that the church’s involvement in life events such as funerals and weddings is dropping like a stone. Nope. None of these either. So what was it about?

Well, it’s actually about a self-indulgent project (called Living in Love and Faith) to ‘discern’ the church’s policy on all aspects of sex, gender and relationships. The letter is full of the most opaque and clichéd sentences: [the project] ‘will help the whole church learn how these questions fit within the bigger picture of a humanity that is liberated by Jesus Christ and infused by the Spirit to reflect the image of God . . .’

As I wrote in The Times earlier this year: ‘This latest outpouring about the nation’s sex life is surely a case of the blind preaching to the deaf. Do the bishops really think that many, or any, people will take any notice? It’s verging on the delusional. The days when bishops could determine the [identity and] behaviour of the citizen are long gone. Thank goodness’.

It’s another example of the church’s seeming obsession with gazing below the navel.

I wept - again. But, this time, not tears of thankfulness, joy and relief.

© Ian Williams 2020