by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Convocation of Canterbury
We tell stories in church – they’re called testimonies – we tell stories of those who in dark times turn to God. And we rejoice.
But this story is an anti-testimony. A testimony of being pushed away. Of losing faith if not (quite) my faith.
I cannot pray at the moment. I’m struggling to believe.
It’s anger. It’s being wounded. It’s feeling betrayed. By my church (well by our bishops at least and, therefore, in some cases by my friends). Again.
Why do others – often armed and so well-defended with doctrines and bibles, canons and lawyers – call into question who I am in Christ and how I follow him? “Your deepest identity is in Christ,” they cry, wagging their fingers, as then they happily describe themselves as “Husband, Wife, Parent, Child, Teacher, Minister, Leader, Bishop”, all with Capital Letters. God, do they realise how exhausting it is to hear this again and again?
And what of God? Have I been betrayed by God too? Was this call that the church gave me a deception? If so, whose? Mine?? God’s? Was that enthusiastic encouragement which I heard as God’s call, was that a mistake? Did I hear correctly? Did the church somewhere change its mind about me? Could I do more good in some other walk of life (I could certainly be happier, it would certainly be easier)? That will take some working out.
I’ve never quite felt this way before. I don’t know what it means. I recall Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ from my studies. That you need the basics of life before you get to anything more. Well spiritually, right now, I’m back down needing just the basics. Just God in Jesus. Nothing else thank you very much. And just now, I don’t know if I can find this God in the Church of England. I really don’t. (Strangely, my superego wants to reject this statement. “Don’t write it,” it screams, “what will people think of you? God, you’re so self-indulgent!” But then I calm down and realise that’s the point. When you’re looking for the basics, all you can think about is yourself. Unless you’re a saint. And I’m so not.)
And I do know I cannot pray.
People have naturally asked me about prayer many times in the past. It’s never been my most comfortable ground if I’m honest. One beggar telling another and all that stuff…Being more at home in the Bible than in prayer I’ve always told people that when they can’t pray to remember that the church prays and that the Spirit prays within. Well I hope the church and the Spirit are both praying now. It’s time to take my own advice. Physician, heal thyself!
But if I could pray, this is the sort of prayer I would pray. So, if you can, will you pray it for me? And for the many others in the Church of England at this time who feel like me? Not just LGBTI people (we’re not that self-indulgent). It’s bigger than that. The victims of John Smyth. The victims of cover-ups and abuse of all kinds. The victims of the dissembling culture that confuses “keeping the show on the road” with “unity”? The screw-ups, the misfits, including some wearing purple, and the ones we’ve always said were at the heart of our gospel: “The Last, the Least and the Lost.” And the many people who love the Church of England but who are wondering if it can ever truly be home for them again. Of your charity, pray for us.
All power, honour, glory be to you!
You…sometimes hidden, silent, absent, unresponsive.
We are so privileged that we seldom sense you
Hidden, silent, absent, unresponsive.
But we know people who do,
We think of places where you do not appear.
We imagine you defeated,
And we wait a day,
Until the third day.
And then, most often then,
Quite reliably then,
You appear then in your full glory.
This day we pray against your absence, silence, and hiddenness.
Come with full power into deathly places,
And we will praise you deep and full. Amen.
Walter Brueggemann “On Reading I Samuel 5” from “Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching”. Louisville: John Knox, 1990