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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bishops and the riots

I can't make up my mind. What has been the most helpful reaction to this week's events from the Church of England?

On the one hand, there's this from the Archbishop of Canterbury:-

(hat tip: Damian Thompson)

On the other hand there's this from the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, who is not merely Bishop of Southwark but Bishop for Urban Life and Faith:-

"The images of violence and destruction on our screens do not represent the strong, hopeful and vibrant communities I know so well. I want to appeal to those responsible for the disturbances to stop.

"Today, as many in our Diocese count the cost of the disturbances, I am deeply saddened to see the images of destruction in familiar places. I will in the days ahead visit those communities that have been at the centre of trouble and I continue to promise my support for, and solidarity with, all who seek to build positive and constructive engagement.

"The Christian message is one of hope, love and peace and I know that the churches of Southwark Diocese stand ready to play their part in bringing healing and hope to the places they serve. I am asking them to offer special prayers for the healing and peace of our cities when they gather for worship this Sunday and week by week, remembering especially those who have been personally affected and have lost homes and livelihoods.

"Southwark Cathedral, along with many other churches in the Diocese, remains open as a place of prayer and reflection."

Much as he knows and loves those strong, hopeful and vibrant communities, they'll have to wait a day or two for that positive and constructive engagement, then...
This is an institution which, at its higher levels, can hardly be bothered any more to even pretend it is relevant. Dr Chessun, one assumes, is well aware that out on those vibrant streets right now "I'm your local bishop" means less than nothing. Rowan Williams occupies the highest post next to the Queen in the Established Church: it is a civic role, not just a spiritual one. He has at length spoken - on Day Five. Not to the nation, but to the House of Lords. As usual, he sounds as if he was delivering an academic paper.
I don't want to be scoring sectarian points here, and goodness knows there are some wishy washy Catholic bishops, but in this company Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, sounds like Jeremiah. I would have liked him to offer explicit support to the police. But, where most of the Bishop of Southwark's statement sounds as if he was reacting to a natural disaster, Archbishop Nichols speaks plainly of wrongdoing and its consequences, in language which stands some chance of touching the hearts of those in the thick of it - anxious parents, kids tempted to go along with their mates. His appeal for prayer is, of course, one that should be heeded.
If good can come out of this mess it will be through the application of some very tough love at all levels of society. There are many in the Church of England crying out for leadership. A country with good reasons for cynicism about the worlds of politics and media desperately needs a lead from its Established Church. But the Church's leadership is not fit for purpose.

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