Three into One

Author's note. The following is the text of my remarks to the joint PCC meeting on 1st April 2006. Please remember that these were designed to be heard, rather than read in cold print.

On the 3rd August 1650 Oliver Cromwell wrote a letter to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which contained the now famous phrase, “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ think it possible that you may be mistaken.” This morning I beseech you, brothers and sisters in Christ, think it possible that we are right in seeking the union of the parishes.

I am not going yet again to rehears the advantages; we have had paper after paper about these. My front room seems to be ankle deep in the papers we have had.

At All Saints’ we decided with St Peter’s to form a union for our mutual advantage. This was something that, to me at any rate, had always made sense; way before the opportunity arose. We had not the time fully to work through the process of discerning what the shape of things might grow to be when the Bishop asked Andrew to explore the possibility of incorporating St Mary’s into the new arrangement. One result of this is – as I see it – a general attitude at All Saints’ of frustrated indifference, then bored indifference and now detached indifference – “this is something for St Peter’s and St Mary’s to settle, really nothing to do with us, why can’t they get on with it?”. (I would say that until we get on with it All Saints’ may continue in this at best semi-detached, at worst slightly dog in a manger attitude.)

I know that some of you feel, or believe that you must speak up for those who feel that now is not the time to make a move towards unity, but to continue as we are and explore further. I have to say quite bluntly that this would not be exploration; it would be fannying about. Exploration has to start with a step into the unknown, even if that is the only step we take; we have to take it – if not us then who; if not here, where; if not now, when?

Lord William Cecil was the second son of the third Marquess of Salisbury (Queen Victoria’s longest serving Prime Minister). To the astonishment of his family, Lord William became a clergyman and to the astonishment of everyone else he became a very good clergyman and eventually a pastorally minded, conscientious, well loved and well remembered Bishop of Exeter. His one failing was that he was notoriously absent minded. It is said that, in visiting a remote part of his Diocese, he left the train at a country station and could not for the life of him remember why he was there. He walked into the local post office – those were the days – country railway stations and village post offices! – and sent a telegram to his long suffering wife, “I am here, where ought I be?”

“Here” is where we are; and, whether with the Church or with the world, God always seems to start from here. He has hope for his Church and he invites us to share it. The pearl of great price is there, the treasure in the field is there, if we can put our caution aside and reach out for it.

I am not going to charm you “with smiles and with soup” and visions of sunny uplands, because I don’t know what the future is. The Church is not in the business of guarantees, certainties and promises, but in faith, hope and charity, whatever happens. Imagine for a moment what it might be like to talk to an unborn baby. If you could describe what we call “life” is like and the process by which s/he is going to come into this world, the baby might well say, “No, thank you, that sounds more like death. I’ll stay here in my dark, warm world with all mod cons laid on.” But sooner or later that baby will be born, sooner or later the sea bird chick high on the cliff will have to launch out into the blue. That is what we are meant to be doing, launching out not digging in. The only guarantees Jesus gives to his Church are crisis and trouble, but he says, “When these things happen, lift up your heads for the day of your deliverance has dawned.”

My poor mother, on various sideboards in various homes, always kept this text, the words of Minnie Louise Haskins, quoted by King George VI in a broadcast in the first winter of the war:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied:
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’

I beseech you for Christ’s sake think it possible that we are right.

Clarence Rickards
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 4th June 2006