Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Clergy School (2)

A warm sunny day in Oxford, with a wholesome mix of worship in St Giles' Parish Church, plus three lectures and an address by Fr Ken Leech, reminiscing and telling lots of stories, pointing us to the unique things that make each of us and our Christian journeys what they are. I was delighted that he mentioned Nicholas Zernov, the Orthodox theologian who was around in Oxford when Ken studied here. Zernov was possibly the first theologian I ever listened to as a member of the Bristol University Church of England Society in the winter of 1963, and certainly my introduction to a lifelong relationship with Eastern Orthodoxy and its mystical theology.

One lecture was on the new approach to the liturgy of baptism. It was all stuff I was doing 20 years ago, when I was obliged to think things through thoroughly with 150 baptism a year to do in Halesowen - I think I may have dozed off, to my disgrace, but we were up very early so insufficient sleep probably took its toll. We had time out after lunch, and a slept for an hour, before walking the length of the Gilestide fair, taking photographs.

The late afternoon lecture on the Eucharist engaged me better, taking about Dom Gregory Dix and the Parish Communion movement, both of which had become familiar to me even before I offered for ordination, in the environment of a very lively University Chaplaincy scene.

The third lecture encouraged us to take a long view on the state of the church over which we so often despair, a long view revealing that there is more to be encouraged by than we generally allow for. I got enough of a challenge to my own despair from that, to return to my room and get most of a Sunday sermon written before bed. Now that's what I call stimulus. The College internet link was down from mid afternoon till lunchtime today, so for once there was also no distraction from surfing or checking emails.

Archbishop Barry, as he put it, got his own way for once, decreeing that Matins this morning should be after breakfast and before the Eucharist, not at 7.15am. This made a great difference, and I really enjoyed the best part of an hour and a half soaking in scripture and silence in the company of a hundred or more prayerful people. The intrusive clamour of the Giles-tide fun-fair in the streets outside the church was replaced by the less prominent everyday hum of passing vehicle traffic, as the fair reached its conclusion late last night, and all the rides and attractions simply vanished under the cover of darkness.

This morning Ken Leech reminisced about Thomas Merton, another early influence on me. Well, Ken is only six years older than I. He's a priest I always looked up to and enjoyed reading and listening to. He's seems to be ageing fast, slowing down, admitting to being forgetful about recent stuff, although not about the past. Most importantly, he is focussed on the essentials. His recall and delivery is slow, ponderous even, as if he is distilling the wisdom he shares. Makes me wonder what I'll be like in six years from now.

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