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Illustration from Worcester Cathedral web site
Everyone knows that the Christian Church has had a complicated history. Beginning with fishermen and that, as Paul says, '...not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth ...', the church did eventually attract the wise and the rich and the powerful. This was not different from Jesus' own calling of women and men who had possessions and were in positions of authority. But there came a time when power was a great factor in how the church perceived its role in society and with the advent of the Norman bishops and soldiers it seemed to them necessary to make a statement about who they were. So evolved the great cathedrals like Durham and Worcester, in their origins places also of monastic life and worship as well as manifesting the pugnacious spirit of the Norman conquerors. These mighty buildings became places of pilgrimage on behalf of some saint in medieaval times and today there is a constant stream of visitors, some of whom would also call themselves pilgrims. Today they tower over rural landscapes and even over modern high rise towns. © Aelred Arnesen
But what of the 'ordinary' Christian today? Is she or he intent on making statements about being Christian? Quite certainly, 'No'! Despite what might be seen as the huge boost of pride that the cathedrals could convey to us we are in a quite different position today from our Norman forbears. It has taken us a long time during the recent industrial and social revolutions of the past century and a half to realize that our minority status as Christians in a pluralist society is something that is difficult to cope with. It is not that we have necessarily accepted being the odd ones out in today's society. There are many very good Christians and Christian works today. Rather there is an underlying unease perhaps with how we see ourselves as Christians in relation to the other 95% of our friends and neighbours. How do we really relate to them? I might be forgiven if I say that it is a matter of theological thinking! Archbishop Tutu has been often quoted on his visit to a prison in the UK when he told the prisoners, 'God loves you!' And there lies a whole theology which is completely different to a view which thinks of the non Christian as a sinner upon whom God doesn't necessarily look with favour.
In a recent obituary in the Times for bishop Graham Chadwick it was said that he came to see that God loved everyone. Now that's a statement of a clarity which has not always been accepted in the Christian church! And from it can come a whole new view of life. Because the centre of Christian faith lies in the Gospel witness that Jesus is the Lord, risen and vindicated by God, who is among us now, whoever we are. That does not allow us to claim that the Christian faith as we have received it is beyond all other faiths, but simply that Christ, our Lord, is among us. We leave the rest to him, as indeed we have to allow that our faith in his presence among us is not capable of a theological formula - we have no words to describe what, from a human point of view, is indescribable. But we can all come to see that believing in his presence with us we have a greater confidence that we can come to be with others in a similar, sort of anonymous but positive way. We can move and be amongst others, I was going to say, as equals. Neither above nor below and that somehow our presence among others is a consequence of our faith in the Lord. It is a position not of power or of weakness but of openness.
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© Aelred Arnesen