Diversity isn’t about uniformity – we’re not trying to find one way that suits everyone – the only thing that is uniform is God – and we offer a variety of ways people can come to Him. Because I love older liturgical forms, and a certain amount of austere literary beauty, I like the 8 a.m. Communion service; as I like sung services, I’ve been known to grab a coffee and go back for the 9.30 Mattins. I didn’t think I’d become a regular at the 10.30 sung Eucharist, but I like the diversity of people I meet there – though I don’t find the service itself touches me as the 8 a.m. one does – but I am impressed by the way it reaches the large number of people who come to it. Each of these services offers something to those who consider themselves ‘spiritual’.
It is easy (which is why I have done it) to poke gentle (or sometimes not so gentle) fun at ‘spirituality’, which indeed seems to be a way for some people to signal that they have a mystical side, but don’t want anyone to confuse them with one of those ‘religious’ nutjobs. But if that brings them into a Christian Church, then it is important we can speak to that feeling that there is more in the world than science and materialism can explain. One of my priests says he has found that such people often make the best converts, as they come to see that Christianity isn’t about what happens on Sunday in a building, but is much bigger than that, and that it offers the most comprehensive view of what life is given to us for.
In this treatment of diversity there is, of course, nothing new, it is what St Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 12-14 – except for the fact of women reading – but there we are, we are a very large part of the church, and what was unseemly in Paul’s day is not so in our own. One of the greatest strengths of our faith has been its ability to adapt itself (without changing the essentials) to different times, places and cultures. Some, of course, object to any form of expression of the faith which is not approved by their own particular tradition, and this can be a great obstacle to the Great Commission.
Back in 2010 the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said that in the world today Christ was being put on trial again, and being judged because of the actions and words of the people who claim to be his followers. The world, he told a meeting in Edinburgh, is in desperate need of an example of reconciliation, of people who are willing and able to lay aside their differences, even considerable differences, for no obvious reason or personal gain, other than to show love to neighbour. The implied question was ‘is that us?’ If it isn’t, why is that? The Holy Spirit has not ceased working in this world of fallen sinners, and we have to work with Him. If we seem to have nothing to say to those who are not like us, or if what we say to those who are like us is unintelligible, it is not enough, not at all enough, to suppose that we should simply wait until they will come to us on our terms. Not only will they not come, but some of those who are here now will cease to come. The gospel is not our gospel that is to be translated from our language and experience to others for their benefit; rather, the gospel is that good news of Jesus Christ that all are privileged to hear, and the unity of what we hear overcomes the diversity of who we are. If it doesn’t, we might ask what it is we are doing wrong in our time, when in past times it did indeed overcome the differences between us?
Here, as in the off-line world, we have had our own difficulties, and even the idea of approving a different form of liturgy has led someone to talk in highly coloured terms about ‘debauching the liturgy’. No doubt when those Romans began demanding a text and a liturgy in their own language, there were those who wondered why they wanted to change what had been there from the beginning – the Greek and Syriac versions of the liturgy. But the faith survived and flourished – as it will because if we respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we know it will be so. If however we respond to the pride and despair of our own egos, then it is best we go find a ‘safe space’ where we can stop thinking and bewail the evil of the times. But when were the times other than evil? We are an Easter people, and as John Paul II put it ‘alleluia is our song’.
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