Heading home

So we were Prorogued and we are now heading back to to the four corners of England (Isle of Man, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands included of course).

Yes I am in First Class! I booked early!

So, we have simplified procedures around getting a new vicar when there is a vacancy and some changes to the Church Representation rules. But in addition to those important debates we also discussed the progress on ‘Setting God’s People Free’ (SGPF) and ministry to those living with dementia, which includes those who are carers, particularly through the ministry of Anna Chaplains.

The phrase I loved from the first debate was ‘the Christ of the every day’ and of course SGPF is around recognising that Christian life is an every day business. I apologise for so often turning to George Herbert, my excuse is that he does articulate Anglicanism for me. He writes in his poem ‘Praise (III)

Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise Thee;

The Christian life is full time, every day. So, when we got to debate how we minister to those living with dementia I stood, but wasn’t called, to tell my story of Harold.

It was 30 years ago and I was a parish priest in Leeds. Harold has been the Verger at one of the churches in the parish for 50 years. He had been a daily communicant, the Mass was not a Sunday experience but a daily reality. But when I arrived he was housebound, as much by his mental as any physical disability. His dutiful wife Elsie was caring for him, and he was difficult to care for. I took the Blessed Sacrament to him once a week. He would talk and shout and ‘disrupt’ the first part of the Liturgy much to Elsie’s distress.

But then I would hold the Blessed Sacrament before him and say ‘This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ and carefully and slowly he would make the sign of the cross and open his mouth to receive the host (that was how he’d been taught). His wife told me that he was always silent for about half an hour after I’d left.

The psalmist writes

Deep calls to deep in the thunder of your waterfalls.’ (Ps 42.9)

It was being so deeply embedded with the Christ of the every day that had embedded the knowledge of the Christ of the every day in the very deepest places of his being, the places that his condition could not touch. I have seen that repeated in others to whom I have had the privilege to minister. Dementia diminishes and can seem to destroy but we should never imagine that the person no longer recognises Christ in the midst.

There was an extra item of business before the Farewells and the Prorogation. Archbishop Justin invited one of our guests from the Anglican Communion to address Synod. It was the Revd Canon Dr Joseph Bilal from South Sudan and on the day when that country was celebrating its Independence Day he stood to thank us for our support. It took me back to 2011 when I was Chaplain to the General Synod. On the day when South Sudan became an independent nation we held a special service in the Synod to celebrate that event. It was a joy to put that together and an inspiration to hear Fr Joseph speak so passionately and positively today. They have travelled a tough road from then to now. But may God bless them. It was a great ending to a good Synod.

Perhaps I can end with my favourite prayer by Dag Hammarskjold. His words open us up to every possibility that the Christ of the every day holds for us.

For all that had been, thanks. For all that will be, yes. Amen.

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