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Voices Online Edition
Lent/Easter 2003
Volume XVIII, No. 1

"Being Church"
More is missing than the definite article

by Joanna Bogle

 Catholics in the Diocese of Nottingham, in England, have been told to get together in groups and have meetings. They have been given a lot of paperwork about these meetings, telling them to think about how to arrange the refreshments and how to look at the different sorts of people who will attend, and how to have big candles and small candles and music and maybe CDs and tape recorders. But it is by no means clear what all this is meant to be for.

The bishop has sent a letter saying, in a great many words, not very much. But the relevant bit is that there will be a Diocesan Assembly in September 2003. "Undoubtedly the Assembly will be a wonderful occasion", he says, "but the preparation and the follow through are even more important". Then the next bit is in bold type as he asks people to "take time to reflect on what it is to be Church in the Diocese of Nottingham. To be part of drawing up a creative plan for the future of our diocese".

It's always rather worrying when people leave out the definite article from a sentence where it would normally be used. In this instance, the use of the phrase "to be Church" carries a whole subtle message. Initially, it simply makes the good bishop sound a bit pompous -- rather like those speakers at the Labour Party's annual jamboree who always read out motions saying "Conference asks/demands/calls for...", rather than "The Conference...." But the bishop is actually being used as a pawn here, because whoever gave him this phrase probably had another agenda in mind.

To "be Church" echoes the name of the lobbying group "We are Church", launched in Austria and Germany a couple of years ago to call for changes in various important Catholic doctrines and teachings. The thing fell flat, but not before it had caused considerable confusion and given the mass media a glorious time wheeling out various dissident nuns and priests who wanted varying new versions of Christianity and who confidently expected these to be on offer once the despised Polish pope had died. Pope John Paul II is still with us, and "We are Church" remained safely within its Germanic borders. But the good people of Nottingham are evidently expected to take up faint echoes of the slogan, and carry on.

The papers sent around to parish-level enthusiasts make very odd reading. They go into great detail about how people must gather in groups and set out chairs, and they even specify the sorts of folk who are likely to show up at these gatherings, giving them rather nasty nicknames:

There is an assumption that everyone who comes will be of a middle class chatty sort. On arrival they are obliged to pair up with another person and recount "their place of birth, any significant moves, eg work, study, etc. What are their earliest memories in terms of their faith? Where/when did they experience a significant adult affirmation/confirmation of their faith? Invite them to share back in the larger group if they wish".

Just imagine a tired husband and wife, with young children, who at the end of a difficult day decide to do their bit for the Church and potter off to this meeting, only to be confronted with personal interrogation and "invited to share back" about their personal lives. Or just imagine -- which is a good deal more likely -- a small group of half a dozen people in which a bossy lady dominates by talking in loud feminist jargon about how she has rejected the oppressive aspects of the patriarchal Church but knows that God loves her and that she is a very special person and gifted in all sorts of important ways, etc., etc., etc....zzz...zzz...

All of this will be a very great waste of time for the participants, and is probably designed to be. The object is to be able to say that all sorts of consultative meetings were held, and the authors of these curiously bossy instruction sheets can then announce that certain issues emerged.

At a guess, they'll decide some or all of the following are major concerns: that there will be fewer priests in the future and therefore women ought to be given control of parishes as salaried lay ministers; that we should ask that priests be allowed to marry; that certain Church teachings (generally referring to chastity and to the immorality of contraception) should be wished away; and that there should be less emphasis on the Sacraments and on the mystical nature of the Church and more on a political and social agenda, which will broadly follow the consensus on various issues established in modern British society.

There are some rather verbose statements that are meant to be read out as prayers, and these are written in the

Way that people
of this sort
have developed a
tradition which is to put things in
funny short lines like
this one
so that
they can claim it is a
sort of prayer and looks a bit like
those rhymes you have in birthday cards
only at least they
usually rhyme or scan and
arent written in politically-correct jargon.

There is a particularly distressing example of this genre in the materials, which runs to 21 lines and has some hideously mixed metaphors. At one stage the good people of the diocese of Nottingham are apparently asked to step out of the boat and walk upon the waters having just reaped a harvest. It begins "Creator God" and never gets nearer to Him than that, because of course He can't be addressed as Father or be assumed to have any paternal love or care for us, as that would be deemed incorrect.

Oh, dear. Its going to be nasty watching all this develop into a takeover bid by the lobby-groups, who seek to bring together their unrepresentative talk-show, while the real and active Christians of the Nottingham diocese get on with serving God and neighbor, raising their families, fulfilling their daily duties, and being part of the Church Christ founded. Pray for Nottingham and its bishop.

Joanna Bogle, Voices contributing editor, lives in London, is active in Catholic movements in England, writes frequently for the Catholic press, and often appears on radio and television. Mrs. Bogle was featured on EWTN radio's "Catholic Heritage" series. Excerpts from A Book of Feasts and Seasons (1988) appear on several pages of the Prayers and Devotions section on the WFF web site.

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