March 2019 - Politics, Polarisation & Prayer

Politics, Polarisation & Prayer


In a few days Lent will be upon us, and I hope you manage to indulge in pancakes and all that symbolises the pre-fast splurge. Ancient traditions that, if not kept for any religious reason, are rituals that mark the passing of the annual cycle.

In the ancient church, Lent was a time of preparation where the catechumen (from the Greek catechumenus, "one being instructed"), were trained in the basics of the faith, ready to be baptised at Easter and so emerge as shiny new Christians! This period of prayer, fasting and teaching would come to an end at the great feast of the resurrection, and they would ritually die through the water of baptism (hold them under for long enough and they get the idea), and rise again as members of a new community and into a new life. This is how Christians are made.

In North America particularly, there are an increasing number of people who have become so disillusioned by certain religious movements and their political stance, that, though they may themselves still identify as followers of Jesus, they can longer call themselves Christian. These conservative evangelicals of the 'religious right', many feel, have moved so far away from the preacher of Galilee, and yet so monopolised the term 'Christian', that the only way they are able to begin to distinguish themselves from, and make a stance against, is to renounce the name – a movement that, to some, might look like the ancient process of Lent in reverse.

The political climate in our own country has likewise managed to polarise people, perhaps pushing us into stances and opinions that we are not comfortable owning. A process marred by dishonesty, political character and weakness of public debate, people are instead having to look back to that which is of fundamental importance to them. Self-interest or political expediency should have no place in public life, but the reality is that this is the cycle of government – a bit like the church's year. Is there really movement, but without progress?

The Archbishop of York has invited people to pray alongside him over recent weeks for our government, that our parliamentarians 'may walk the path of kindness, justice and mercy'. In a sense, to walk the way of the Galilean preacher, serving the interests of others, and especially the poor and the powerless, the dispossessed and disenfranchised. Perhaps if there were a little more of this, polarisation could begin to turn to political humility, bringing us back to ourselves. The question is not 'in or out', but rather whether we choose to side with those with power, or the powerless.

It's not unreasonable to reflect during the deep and rich time of Lent, not whether we move to the left or the right, to the extremes; but whether our movement is towards our roots. As a traditionally Christian country, our roots lie in the rich humus ('humility') of one who came not to rule, but to serve. Perhaps our politicians might keep that in mind.

Your Rector

This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the March 2019 issue of The Grapevine