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A JULY LETTER FROM THE RECTOR

WHERE IS NOW YOUR GOD?

It's a question as old as the hills, asked sometimes in anger, sometimes in incomprehension. And the question is itself a quote from scripture, seen as a taunt repeatedly thrown, when times are bad, at those who have faith.

Psalm 42: 'My tears have been my meat day and night, while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God'?' Psalm 79: Why should the nations say, 'Where is now their God?' Or Psalm 115: 'Wherefore shall the heathen say: Where is now their God?'

It hardly needs saying that the same question has been asked of me, and I'm sure of others, in relation to the recent terrorist attacks in London and in Manchester, and now again, following the terrible fire in the Grenfell Tower flats in West London a few weeks ago.

As part of my sabbatical time last year, I set myself the task of seeing how present day literature, drama and poetry, and even to some extent television, have portrayed Christian faith, and in particular the Church of England, since the year 2000. Among the places I looked were a couple of productions mounted in the West End, suggested to me in a letter by Rowan Williams, previously Archbishop of Canterbury. The first of these was 'On Religion: A Theatre Essay', performed by Soho Theatre in 2006, described as 'a considered exploration of the complex issues of faith and religion.., informed by conversations with Britain's leading philosophers, theologians and scientists, including Professor Richard Dawkins, Revd Dr Giles Fraser... Baroness (formerly Rabbi) Julia Neuberger, Archbishop Rowan Williams and Tariq Ramadan'. The list of actual contributors ranges even more widely. Cowritten by Mick Gordon and the famously atheist philosopher A.C. Grayling, it focusses on the relationship between Grace, an atheist professor of Natural Sciences in her mid-sixties and her son, Tom, who announces to her horror that he has a vocation to the priesthood.

The second play, The Faith Machine', by Alexi Kaye Campbell, was produced in 2011 by Royal Court. This time the central relationship is between Sophie, the daughter of a retired Anglican Bishop, and another Tom, her New York boyfriend, who is in thrall to an advertising company selling drugs of dubious nature to communities in Africa. The central conflict is between Sophie's ethical system, derived largely from her father's liberal brand of . Christianity, and the market-driven values of Tom's world, taking in on the way a whole variety of other issues. Flashbacks to earlier events show, for example, her father, Edward, quitting the church after the Lambeth Conference of 1998 over its treatment of gay people, and the efforts of an African bishop named Patrick, sent after him by the then Archbishop of Canterbury to try to win him round. Tom finds the world inhabited by Edward and Patrick incomprehensible -'after we've landed on the Moon and after Darwin and DNA... so like Mary Poppins. Or Bed Knobs and Broomsticks.' Whilst Sophie finds herself ultimately quite unable to throw off the need to have faith - if no longer, for her, in religion, then in humanity - however devastating the consequences for her personal life may be. She herself turns out to be 'the Faith Machine' of the title.

I'm planning to lead anyone who'd like to come and explore these two plays and some of the issues they throw up, as part of this year's Storridge Literary Festival, in Storridge Church on Thursday 20 July at 7.30 p.m. They pose some hard questions, not least for those of us who profess a faith. I clearly can't promise any easy answers: but I can at least invite anyone who's interested to come along for the ride!

 

Your Rector,

 

Robert Ward

 

Cradley Parochial Church Council, 2015