New Lamps for Old

Thought for the Day-Lincs FM. Sunday 25th September

On Tuesday, I found myself in the Gothic, ‘Harry Potteresque’ surroundings of Lambeth Palace: the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Situated across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, the Palace suggests itself as an ancient and alternative source of power and influence to those rather newer government buildings designed by the architect Pugin in the middle of the 19th Century. Indeed, the event I was attending in the chapel at Lambeth was considerably more ancient than parliamentary government itself. With roots that go back to the 4th century, a fact about which we were reminded in the ceremony itself, I was there to witness Archbishop Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, confirm Christopher Lowson as the next and 72nd Bishop of Lincoln. Clothed in an almost tangible musty and dusty aroma, we were surrounded by be-wigged lawyers straight out of Trollope reciting ancient judgements and using long-dead words such as ‘porrect’ and ‘contumacious’ (which successively mean ‘to lengthen’ and ‘to argue rebelliously’ in case you are wondering). Peppered between this arcane onslaught was a dabble of hymn singing followed by the Archbishop’s Charge, or command, to the new bishop, delivered at a distance of two feet and staring earnestly into each other’s eyes. One could have been forgiven for thinking that we had, momentarily, been transported through time to the court of King Arthur. We may also have been forgiven for wondering what on earth all this had to do with our contemporary world with its world wide webs, interplanetary exploration, X boxes and I Pads. Surely, this was just another expression of how out of touch the Church is with contemporary culture and entombed by the past. In all honesty, what would be different if such ceremonies did not exist? In truth, the answer is probably ‘nothing’: I am sure that the new bishop would still come to live and work amongst us with undiminished authority and perhaps even a little clearer about the task before him without being surrounded by the fog of medieval legalism and tortured ecclesiastical ritual. 

Perhaps it’s time for a re-think? 

In the meantime, I wonder if there is any value at all to be had from such occasions? Well…the service did remind me that, despite our arrogance about our modern world and life, we do all stand in a long stream of history and, as sure as there were those who came before us, there will be those who come after…cleverer and more advanced. It was a reminder of our present day small but eternally significant contribution to human history. Likewise, there were intimations that this Christian faith which seems to struggle on so gamefully at the moment, has its origins deep in history and that, once again, we are only the present day bearers of a message that precedes us by aeons and will continue, however uncertainly and falteringly, well into the future. But most of all, as we emerged out of the gloom and pomposity of the chapel and blinked in the warm light of the later afternoon London sun, we were reminded that, as interesting and as informative as history is, it is always-as Henry Ford said-‘bunk’- only of value if it informs the present and helps us live today in our fascinating, glorious and ever-evolving world.

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~ by Tim Ellis on September 27, 2011.

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