What a treat to drive up to Dunwich this morning to be with a seriously full church to celebrate Candlemas and licence a new Elder. It was a Yoxmere Benefice service and the warm welcome, smiles and excellent attendance made it very clear that here is a group of rural churches that are really getting on with each and getting on with the job.
Candlemas is a recent innovation as a main feature of our Anglican liturgies, but not of course as a festival. Back in the Middle Ages it was a big deal. The dark quarter of the year had seen off the old stock of candles; and also seen off the stock of pigs whose recycled remains now became the new candles. So everyone brought candles to church as gifts and to be blessed, and the cycle of the year went round again.
That makes it a workaday, practical sort of feast, and it was into the workaday routine that suddenly the Lord came into his temple. Quite a shock. Good news; or bad news? The last few weeks have seen religion and faith suddenly to the fore again. Good news; or bad news?
Those who rather hope matters of faith can be airbrushed out from public life are on a losing wicket. If anything faith and its religious expression are becoming more important across the planet than less, and it would be a historical and psychological solecism to think that they won’t affect our politics and public life.
So religion needs to be seen as part of the solution not part of the problem when religious faith goes wrong, and becomes dangerously and destructively extreme.
The remedy for bad government is good government, not no government. The remedy for bad justice is good justice, not no justice. The remedy for bad education is good education, not no education. And … The remedy for bad religion (on the part of any faith), is good religion, not no religion. A government or a people that tries to do without is both trying to do the impossible, and will in so trying create more repression not less.
This is by no means a party political broadcast on behalf of any one faith, but from a Christian perspective it is worth saying that the DNA of our faith comes from a life-giving, self-giving God; and we have a real contribution to make by being visibly people of faith, but letting that faith show in our tolerance and love. And maybe the good old C of E is actually rather good at it too. Maybe places like Dunwich need to be celebrated a bit more as candles in the dark: candles that are truly on fire with the light of Christ, but unafraid to be used up to give light to others, and not just themselves. Alleluia for them.
PS The second photo above shows the head of the rather remarkable crozier of the See of Dunwich, awaiting its next bearer. Please pray for their appointment.