Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Jersey Way

In England during the Second World War, there was a phrase "careless talk costs lives". What brought it to mind was some of the closing remarks of the discussion led by Jonathan Scott at CHOW this Wednesday. I'll return to that later.

CHOW is "Church House on Wednesday", and it is Business Connect's regular, informal theological discussion forum. As the website says "Our intent is to create a mid-week open conversation with an atmosphere of welcome, friendship, honesty and the sharing of ideas."

I'd not been to one of those before as it is quite a route march from our offices to the Church House, but the title "The Jersey Way" was an obviously intriguing one. In fact, as I looked round the tables, I saw some familiar faces - Deputy Montfort Tadier, Bob Hill, Mike Dun, Nick Le Cornu - who had also seen this as an intriguing title.

The talk itself, and some of the discussion questions can be found at:

Jonathan Scott, verger at the Town Church, who is soon to be an ordinand in training in the Anglican Church, led the discussions, posing questions, and asking the various tables. The format, I gather, is for informal discussion brought together like this, and a small donation can be made, and there is soup, buttered bread, and some fruit to eat.

It centred, not unnaturally, on the church. He pointed out two dangers, opposing each other.

One was the church in Jersey becoming so much a part of the culture, so that it became invisible, unable to be any kind of countercultural force, and a reflection of the status quo. As an example, he cited paper, which was once rare in China, but which we don't give a second thought to now; it is just a medium for print that we take for granted, an invisible part of our culture

The other was the church becoming so counter-cultural that it failed to engage or speak in any meaningful way with the culture; it would be withdrawn to a ghetto. He gave as an analogy the mini-disk, which in its day was very popular, but then fell out of fashion when MP3 players came along, and became a collector's piece.

And as a model, he gave Jesus, who both engaged with his culture and criticised it.

It was interesting that some of the responses varied. One person thought that the church should not engage in social justice or political matters, it was to change individual's lives, and this in turn would change society. And on the other hand, Montfort Tadier pointed out how Jesus way of approaching people was in healing and acts of compassion; he mentioned the lame and the lepers.

There was also a question about whether the church should be too much swayed in Jersey by the fact that clergy sat on Parish Committees, the Parish paid for upkeep of Parish Churches, and the Dean sat in the States. Was it perhaps too cosy? Was the church too established?

I can see how the notion of an "established church" can look very much like something upholding and supporting the status quo. But establishment can also mean, as I heard Mark Bond, Rector of St Brelade say on last Sunday, that the Rector is there for the whole Parish, every person in it, whether Anglican, atheist or whatever. It can be seen as an opportunity to be open and inclusive, there for everyone. Sanctuary House can also be seen as example of that kind of initiative.

That's like the Jersey Parish Churches, which are in the day open so that anyone can go in quietly, look around, sit, pray, meditate, light a candle - it is making a space for anyone and that is outside of church services, and again an opportunity for people; it is a marked contrast to churches in, for instance, Southampton, where most of the churches are locked up and closed except for Sunday services.

As someone who likes to view the margins of the church, I think that is important, and I'll explore that in more depth in a later posting; for now, it suffices to say that while "establishment" can be a dirty word, and carry baggage with it, it need not be.

Literature shows this clearly. While the clergy of Anthony Trollope's Barchester novels are for the most part very worldly in their behaviour, the Reverend Septimus Harding is not. He is the counterpoint, the man who does the right thing and will not be dissuaded by his friends, however well meaning they are. He is as much part of the establishment as they are, but is a sign that it has not all been corrupted by the surrounding culture.

In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is sentenced to the galleys. There is a priest there, and he is an establishment lackey, telling Jean Valjean to obey the authorities and accept his lot, however unjust it is. By contrast the Bishop, whom Jean Valjean encounters, gives shelter, makes no demands, and protects him when the police drag Valjean back with the stolen silver plates.

So establishment is a contested word, and while it can and often does mean too great an assimilation to society, it can also mean opportunities for changing that society, and for speaking truth to power within that society. It can be reclaimed and paradoxically, those who are part of the established culture are more likely to be heard if they take a stand against it for justice. They know how to speak the language in a way that will be heard.

But there is in a small society, a fear of being ostracised, of being shut out in the cold, kept on the margins. That is something that came up at the end of the talk, when Jonathan Scott mentioned how he felt a certain amount of fear about how something on "The Jersey Way", which might be seen as critical of Jersey, would be taken.

And Ed Le Quesne mentioned one church to me which has a big bold banner saying they were not supporting Christian Aid in Christian Aid Week. The reason? Christian Aid had spoken out for tax transparency and was critical of places where there seemed to be insufficient transparency, in which places, they numbered (among others), Jersey.

Be critical, and you can't expect any more charity from us was their message, loud and clear. And alongside that goes a certain attitude that one sees in letters to the paper, in comments on Facebook, and so on. Don't speak out about injustice. Don't rock the boat. Don't wash the Island's dirty linen in public. Don't be a wrecker.

Of course, it doesn't help that some of the people who do speak out come across as rather intemperate, belligerent, with a rhetoric that sometimes obscures more than it reveals. Overblown phrases - "crypto fascist oligarchy" springs to mind - are problematic because they don't engage with the public either. It becomes two groups of people essentially throwing bricks at each other, and that isn't helpful either. Or to take a church metaphor, two people each trading insults from their respective pulpits. I can see quite a lot of that around.

Yet part of the "Jersey Way" can be seen as a concern with reputation, which is understandable, but which should not come with a price tag of silence. Careless talk costs reputations? Perhaps there is sometimes too much concern for reputation, and too little for truth. Truth should not stumble in the public square.

1 comment:

James said...

While the clergy of Anthony Trollope's Barchester novels are for the most part very worldly in their behaviour, the Reverend Septimus Harding is not.

I presume you were aware that The Warden was a fictionalised version of what went on at Rochester Cathedral in the mid-19th century? The Headmaster of King's School, Robert Whiston, campaigned against the Dean of the Cathedral, was suspended, and spent five years fighting in court to be reinstated.