Every two weeks I help lead an afternoon class for those interested in knowing more about the Christian Faith. It is a joint effort with the Anglicans, and one week of of them does it and the next I do it, with Jessica helping with the children. After a short talk we usually end up discussing whatever topic is under discussion (yesterday it was ‘love’), and then we finish off with a prayer and, this being England, a cup of tea and a buscuit. It is our parish contribution to the ‘year of Faith’. We get between twenty and thirty usually, but yesterday we got close to forty. The discussion ended up being dominated by the question of who would be the next Pope.
If not to a man and woman, then to a vocal man and woman, the Catholics present were quite clear that they wanted what one person called ‘a radical Pope’. This was, of course, a mixed group, and it included some who were of neither church but simply wanted to know more. I do not like intervening in any discussion too early, so I let this one run. After twenty minutes there was a clear consensus – what was wanted was a Pope who would clean out the augean stables, ordain women and be nice to homosexuals. Seeing that I had said nothing during this period, one woman asked what I thought.
I asked them why they wanted what would have been a big break in continuity? The answer seemed to turn around the fact that this would make many present happier with their Christianity; it seemed, one person said, ‘very out of date and old-fashioned’. Another added that the church needed to ‘get in tune with modern life’. A third said that if we ‘seemed more relevant to most people, they might actually come to church’. The consensus was clearly with such views. I asked if they would bear with mw whilst I told a little story.
There was, I said, a man who inherited a lovely old mansion. Seeing that it lacked the modern conveniences of his neighbours, he stripped out all the ‘period’ features and installed all mod cons. His house then looked just like all the other houses. Those who had once come to his house because it was different from the others no longer came; they were not replaced by new people, because there was nothing there but those things with which they were familiar.
I asked those Anglicans present whether they thought that their church had become more attractive to people in recent years? One young woman said hers had become so, but she thought that was because they were very evangelical and went out into the community and worked with people. Did that, I ask, make her church more like the world? She thought not, because they were doing what the world did not do, and they did it in the name of Jesus.
I left it at that. When pressed, I said that I thought it was the business of the church to conform to the will of God and to persuade the world to go that way; it was, of course, easier to conform to the will of this world and to persuade the church to go that way.