I’d hoped that being in the parish for most of the traditional holiday period would result in a lighter workload, the chance to sit in the garden, to read some books and perhaps even to plan ahead a little. It hasn’t quite worked out that way… I’ve failed so far even to get myself along to the exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels in Durham – though I did help organise a pilgrimage to enable two dozen clergy from all over the North to make the the visit! But we all have till the end of September to go and see the Gospels. Everyone I’ve spoken to has really enjoyed seeing them. With the accompanying exhibits they’ve appreciated the context in which the Gospels were produced and seen something new about their relevance to our faith today. And look out for the free exhibition upstairs! I’ve seen that – it includes an interactive copy of the Gospels so you can turn the pages, as well as other displays and the chance even to dress up as an Anglo-Saxon monk or peasant (I’ve seen some fellow-clergy doing that).
Meanwhile I have managed a bit of reading. One book I’ve enjoyed is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s been recommended for people taking part in a diocesan training day for spiritual directors. But there’s something for everyone in this story of a man who goes out to post a letter and keeps walking. It has deep perspectives on the way we lead our lives, our relationships, the things we do and don’t do and say… but it’s also very funny and it isn’t difficult to read. Rather harder to take, I’m finding, is John Cornwell’s book, Hitler’s Pope, about Eugenio Pacelli, Vatican Secretary of State who became Pope Pius XI. Cornwell argues that Pacelli’s attitudes and strategies were disastrous not only for the Church but for the lives of nations and most especially for the Jews. In part the old wisdom, “For evil to triumph, it is necessary only that good men should do nothing.” In part his desire for centralisation and control – if only the Church could dictate everything to its members… but the result was that it was silenced in its ability to speak about wider, critical issues.
It’s a work in progress, but salutary. We need strategies in our life as a church – but can’t control everything. Our pilgrimage is to follow Christ. Our power is the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
(The September issue of St. Cuthbert's Parish Magazine has just been published - click here to find it online)
(And from St. John's, here's last Sunday's sermon)