What a week…!
Occasionally, people will say to me ‘what does a bishop do?’ It’s a good question, but one that is often hard to answer as each day can be so very, very different. This past few days have been a good example of the variety we both encounter and enjoy amidst all the routine stuff like meetings, confirmations, licensing of clergy etc.
On Wednesday last, I was invited to meet with the Mercers’ Company in the City of London: this group of people date their collective history back to at least 1348, when the various trades in the capital would gang together like an early trade union. The Mercers’ traded in fine textiles and cloth, notably silk. Over the years, the Company has lost its relationship to this trade and has become a large gathering of people who become Mercers (www.mercers.co.uk) in the footsteps of their fathers or other forebears. They have also gathered considerable corporate wealth, which they set to work in education-they patronise St Paul’s School-and other charitable causes. One of these is the Church, and they support certain parish churches throughout the land and are patrons to them. Some of these are in Lincolnshire; hence, my invite to attend a very pleasant lunch and to meet the Mercers and view their Hall. It was something of a delight to be in the presence of a group of people who can trace their ancestry back through many generations, but who bring this weight of history to bear on the modern-day problems and opportunities of the Church and others.
Thursday last was a night out with my wife at the Crucible theatre (www.eventsheffield.co.uk) Sheffield: newly refurbished at great cost, there is an excellent programme for the coming year. We caught ‘An Enemy of the People’ by Henrik Ibsen and starring Antony Sher, a far from gloomy rendition of the tale of one Thomas Stockmann, a doctor, who diagnosed the polluted waters of the local town spa: a source of considerable income to the local townspeople, especially the Mayor who was Thomas’s brother. The story is about the clash between Stockmann’s idealism and the unalloyed self-seeking and self-interest of the crowd. There are touches which remind you of the passion of Christ, as the crowd first applauds the prophetic doctor and then hound and persecute him when they realise the reality of his words. A perfect story just before Holy Week and Easter, and I can rightly claim it as work because it’s given me umpteen ideas and a lot of stimulation. Favourite quote, as Thomas’s wife mends his pants after he has been attacked by the mob: ‘one should never fight for truth and justice in your best trousers!’
And then to the weekend, and the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Lincolnshire. This remarkable man spent four days with us, teaching, celebrating the anniversary of the death of Edward King (another remarkable man and bishop of Lincoln www.justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/118.html) and then visiting various parts of the County with us…with me, he came to the project for the homeless that we have set up for the street people of Lincoln and also the project in Stamford, for those who need daily support and help as they make their way through life. Favourite quote: ‘I’d like to say to Richard Dawkins: Richard, you write with such awe and wonder about the mystery and complexity of the universe. You obviously love it-where on earth does that come from?’
Three unrelated events in the mixed life of an unimportant person, and you may think they aren’t linked in any way, but I think they are: as the ancient company of Mercers bring their history and influence to do good today, so Ibsen’s play, written in very different times to ours, still has the ring of contemporary relevance about it: and that most ancient of Church positions, second only to the Queen in our land, the Archbishop of Canterbury walked humbly and with obvious enjoyment amid the downtrodden, poor and marginalised of today’s city showing that there are certain realities that never grow old-and they are love and compassion. Oh! And the Owls won 2-0 against Leicester!