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Taking Stock

This continues a web diary covering my 2004 Sabbatical.
The beginning of the diary may be found by clicking here.

Thursday, November 4, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon, England

Again, I did not bicycle anywhere today.

All the same, it was a most productive day.

In the first place, I reconnected with the college, by getting up early and going to their morning prayers and Eucharist at 7:30 a.m.; then attending their evening prayer service and having dinner with them in the dining hall.

I studied virtually all day. This amounted to going over some of my notes made in the Bodleian, and organizing everything after such an intense process of digging into antiquities.

At the Bodleian I have read and annotated enormous numbers of anecdotes from the 16th Century - particularly around the traumatic process of introducing clerical marriage into the Anglican Church. As well, there is a reprint in the Bodleian of all the acts and statutes of the English Parliament under Henry VIII, and I have typed into my laptop, word for word, some of the more interesting ones.

For example, in 1539, Henry decided that reform was getting out of hand in his country. He called together both Parliament and the leading clergy, and soon they all dutifully passed what is known as the statute of “The Six Articles.” This legislation was intended to abolish “diversity in Opynions” and made it a criminal act, punishable by confiscation of property and, on repeated conviction, by death, to teach or preach against “transubstantiation,” or private masses, or individual confession to a priest, or the suitability of Communion in one kind, or to recommend the marriage of clergy. Clergy who could be proved to have been married will lose their employment in the church, forfeit all their property, and if caught continuing in matrimony, would be executed.

Here is some of the text (though I modernized spelling and wording):
...And if any such person or persons, being once convicted of any of the offences mentioned in this article as is abovesaid, do afterward once more offend in any of the same, and be thereof accused indicted or presented and convicted again by the authority of the laws here written, that then every such person & persons so being twice convicted and attainted of the said offences... shall be adjudged a felon and felons; and shall suffer judgement execution and pains of Death, loss and forfeiture of lands and goods as in cases of felony, without any ‘Privilege of Clergy’ or ‘Sanctuary’ to be in any wise permitted, admitted, or allowed in that behalf.
Sitting in the Bodleian entering all this into my laptop, I could easily imagine the king presiding over that august gathering, with the Archbishop of Canterbury at his side. I was acutely conscious that the Archbishop, with no expression on his somewhat bland face, has himself by this time been secretly married for ten years. What could he possibly be feeling as the Commons, and Lords, and the senior clergy all raise their hands in assent to this extraordinary legislation??

It didn’t moderate my reaction much to note that a year later the same august body, at the King’s suggestion, removed the death penalty for those men and women convicted of clerical matrimony (yes, the women who married clergy were punished with their husbands) - and substituting for it mere loss of job and property - and life imprisonment for second convictions.

This is just an example of the many fascinating things I have been working on during my stay in England.

So today, using the many modern books I have available in my flat, I consolidated my notes and made sure I knew the correct order of events, and where the various anecdotes I have found fit into the overall scheme of the sixteenth century.

There is one week left for me here in England. Even less time, when you consider that my bicycle must be returned on Monday.

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Friday, November 5, 2004 (Guy Fawkes Day)
Ripon College Cuddesdon

Being in Britain on Guy Fawkes Day has proved to be somewhat memorable!

My personal daily pattern was not much different from many recent days when I have bicycled into Oxford to work late in the Bodleian and attend evening worship at Magdalen College chapel - except that I also began the day quite early, attending this college’s Morning Prayer and Eucharist at 7:30 a.m.

In some ways it has been Guy Fawkes “season” around here lately, for there have been fireworks on several evenings in the past two weeks - all of which was nothing, however, compared to the spectacular and universal banging, popping, crashing and exploding that took place tonight!

Daytime was more or less quiet - though the streets of the city seemed to be more full than usual as evening approached. Then, on the stroke of six, just as Magdalen College commenced evening worship, there was an enormous crash outside the chapel, and the rest of our worship and music was punctuated by a variety of loud booms.

What a contrast to proceedings within the chapel! The choir performed music by Arvo Paert, which is slow, and quiet and entrancing, and the prayers were reflective and thoughtful.

I began to chuckle involuntarily when the scripture reading included this line: “You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, ...drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in these excesses of dissipation....”

Here we were - not joining in - deep in prayer while surrounded by a widespread sense of party in the secular world!

The prayers did include a reference to Guy Fawkes Day, giving thanks to God for a country which is free to have a strong and democratic parliament (Guy Fawkes had attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament - but was caught in time - and his nation then went through a long period of paranoia about terrorists, much like our own).

Deeply refreshed by the chapel worship - despite the outdoor racket - I returned to an almost empty Bodleian library, and copied out sixteenth century legislation for an hour and a half, to the accompaniment of a constant banging and shrieking of fireworks - some amazingly close to the building (to the point where I had visions of this wonderful repository of books being accidentally set ablaze by a stray roman candle!).

Then a smooth but still very tiring bicycle journey back to Cuddesdon, getting into my flat just after 10:00 p.m. - quite routine now, except for the explosive celebrations visible at a distance, not only in Oxford, but in the several villages visible from Cuddesdon’s high hill.

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Saturday, November 6, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon

The pattern of early mornings and late nights continues.

On Monday I will be presiding at the morning Eucharist here at Ripon College Cuddesdon. Despite the fact that I have presided at countless Eucharists over almost forty years, to lead worship in an unfamiliar setting takes careful preparation. So today, before the staff and students gathered for worship, I met the Rev’d Rosy Fairhurst - one of the tutors - to go over the many details of presiding: where the books are, what robes I might borrow, what parts of the service are “required,” what parts “optional.” I think Rosy is the staff member with primary responsibility for chapel worship - at any rate whenever I have attended a Eucharist here, she has been the presider, and I very much admire the measured pace and evident devotion in her manner of going about it.

People began gathering for morning service, so we finished up my orientation tour, and took part in the college services.

In the afternoon I once more hopped on my trusty bicycle and pedalled down to Oxford. I go down the long hill really quickly now - very conscious of how hard it will be coming back up later on - and was at Magdalen college in less than fifty minutes. Despite all the downhill, however, I was still very warm at the end of the journey.

But I had a problem: no where to change from athletic cyclist to sedate parson! I stood for a while cooling down in the college cloister - and I think cut something of a strange figure to the occasional passer-by. After all, it was a dark and (for England) chilly evening, but they beheld a white-haired old man standing there whose only shirt was a thin cotton t-shirt!

When there was no one else in the corridor, I ducked into an alcove, removed the soaking t-shirt, and put on a warm, dry turtleneck. Moments later the dry and sedate parson emerged from the cubbyhole, athlete’s gear safely tucked away in his backpack!

Every Saturday there is an organ recital at Magdalen college, and tonight’s organist was Daniel Turner, Music Assistant at Saint Edward’s School, here in Oxford. After the recital, when he came down from the organ loft to take a little bow, he looked extremely young - almost like a high school student! And yet he played with verve and passion. I particularly enjoyed a J.S. Bach Prelude and Fugue in C major which I had never before heard.

The worship this evening was, once again, worth all the trouble getting there. Saturday night attendance seems to shoot up, and the chapel was soon full. Music for the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis was written by the Informator Choristarum, Bill Ives, himself. While thoroughly in the modern idiom, it was rich, and very listenable. What a delight to know that fine classical repertoire for Evensong is still being written!

The prayers, yet again, were wise and rich and spiritually satisfying.

Mind you, as it says in Job, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.” When I came out of the chapel it was pouring rain. The price of my participation in that wonderful worship appears to have been a drenching bicycle ride back to Cuddesdon.

Well, I was ready. My jacket is rainproof. As well, every day I have carried in my backpack rainproof pants against this eventuality. My only worry was shoes. I have but one pair here with me in England, and while they are very good quality, I wasn’t sure how well they would survive a thorough soaking.

So... out of my backpack I pulled two plastic shopping bags, and caring not a bit how ridiculous I might look, I tied them on over my shoes, and set off in the rain.

I'm glad, however, that I don't need glasses very badly (for distance) because rain on glasses is a BAD thing in traffic. Thankfully, I could take them off and see quite nicely.

I think I really am becoming more fit, because the trip home is so much less of a strain. Even in the rain.

But once more I got too warm. Just out of the city, I couldn't bear being wrapped up in the rainproof jacket. Even though I had not a drop of rain on me, the other moisture - the one my body manufactures - was plentiful. So I pulled the hood down, and opened the front zipper. The raindrops on my forehead went “sssss” like they do when they hit a hot stove or campfire (okay, that is an exaggeration, but it felt like they did)!

Home, and email to Heather, and the end of another satisfying day.

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Sunday, November 7, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon

There is an odd pattern emerging in my life - noticeable in such times as the present, when I am “off duty” and away from my parish.

The odd pattern is this: two congregations regularly find me in their midst at worship; I feel I belong equally in both of them, and yet they are vastly different from one another.

In Canada, I am officially on the members’ list of Holy Trinity, Hawkesbury - a small-town parish near our summer cottage, with a distinctly rural and somewhat informal personality. But when I go to Toronto, my church of choice is St. Thomas’, Huron Street - liturgical, quite formal, and with a world-class choir.

In Oxford I have gone almost every Sunday to All Saints’ Cuddesdon - a village church with a rather informal personality. But evenings find me at Magdalen College - formal, liturgical, and with a world-class choir!

Can there be significance in this? I delight in both, have a strong sense of “belonging” to both, and know God is deeply present in both. Is this some kind of ecclesiastical “split personality”?

The question is significant because my “real” and year-round world consists of a single parish, not two. I know, as strongly as I ever have, that I am called to help St. George’s be a place of deep prayer and gentle mysticism, all undergirded by the music of an excellent men and boys’ choir. But the parish as it is today is also loose, relaxed, and friendly - a trait a pastoral leader would be foolish not to celebrate and encourage. So, maybe I am supposed to combine in my person the Cuddesdon church and the Oxford chapel. It is not an easy mix, nor always a comfortable one, but perhaps that’s who I am; perhaps that is what God has called me to be!

There was a baptism at All Saints’ Cuddesdon this morning - “Esther”, the infant daughter of Claire Van Den Bos, one of the theologs. The child is exceedingly cute. Throughout the rite, she looked around most solemnly and never uttered a peep.

During a solemn moment, however, someone else who is small - Esther’s older brother, in fact - discovered that regular and rapid stomping on the pew seat can sound like a continuous roll of thunder! Great fun! It reminded me of Westminister United Church in Winnipeg: there, when musical events are taking place, the Winnipeg audience has for some time taken to showing appreciation for performances by adding a foot-stomping to the normal hand-clapping applause. The wooden floors of the church resonate wonderfully to hundreds of pounding heels and toes, and the result is exactly like a continuous roll of thunder.

Well this little fellow somehow made a similar rumble all by his little self - and in the old stone church it was a mighty sound! I couldn’t suppress a giggle.

The rector had given a children’s homily - putting questions to the smallest people in the church, which many of them tried to answer. Sometimes, when the children didn’t know the answer, he put his questions to adults, too. It was charming and folksy. Two of the hymns - although accompanied on piano, not guitar - were very much in the tradition of evangelical revival and popular faith-renewal.

What a contrast to Magdalene College chapel!

I spent the afternoon working on my presentation for tomorrow night. I’m calling it “Your Canadian Visitor” and am including pictures of Heather, my children, Winnipeg, and St. George’s. The personal pictures are just a prelude to exploring, with a bunch of future U.K.clergy, stuff that might both interest and inform them about life in the Anglican Church of Canada. To that end I dug up population statistics (for example, Anglicans comprise less than 2% of Canadians; the Roman Catholic Church is Canada’s biggest religious grouping), and I collected facts about the debate in the Canadian church on same-sex unions, and about the painful story of Indian Residential Schools.

The process of doing this has had an unexpected side-effect: it gives me a kind of ‘aerial view’ of my own life; my country, my church, and my place in God’s world. It also makes me not a little homesick. I think I will be very glad to see my family - and above all Heather - by the end of the week.

The hours rushed past, and soon it was time to bicycle in to Magdalen college.

I looked outside. Darn! Rain again.

For a moment I thought of not making the trip. But the hesitation did not last. This is my last night with the bicycle, and thus it is also the last night I can go to a wonderful Choral Evensong (without incurring a horrendous taxi fare). I had to do it - raining or not!

On go the rain pants, and the rainproof windbreaker (over a thin cotton t-shirt). .Dry clothes go into the backpack. It is already getting dark, so my array of lights is hauled out and attached to the bicycle, and off I go!

But, when I got to the college, I didn’t want to do the “ducking into alcoves” thing that I had done yesterday - especially because this time I had rain pants to remove in addition to my perspiration-soaked t-shirt.

So I went into the Porters’ Lodge and asked the gents there, “Is there any place where I can discreetly change out of this cycling gear, so that I can look like I’m going to church?” The younger of the two said, “‘Ere, I’ll taike yew to the toilets,” but the older one said, “Arrr, ‘e can use the back room ‘ere. Yew go awn in there sir. Through the door, to the left!”

Really kind of him. A nice little washroom where I could dry off properly. The rain pants are amazing. The water shakes off them like from a duck - they’re dry to the touch! So I folded them and put them in the backpack. The jacket seems to retain water in its fabric - though it doesn’t let it through, so I rolled it up, put it in a plastic grocery bag and then stuffed it, too, into the backpack. Out came a turtleneck. Out came a fleecy. Out came a comb. And I emerged from the porter’s back room dry and presentable!

The chapel was full. A woman nearly sat beside me, then went down to another seat - only to see a “reserved” sign on it, and thus rushed back to take the seat next to me after all. I made some friendly comment and she explained she had a little boy who was just starting out in the choir and she wanted to be where he could see her.

When he came in, he did spot her, and looked almost sheepish and embarrassed (“Awww mom! must you come to these things???”).

During the service, I knew it was right to have come there through all the rain! There was, as it were, an extra blessing for me, in that today’s psalm, #103, is my lifetime favourite - a psalm that since my seminary days has provided the spiritual framework for my life.

After the service I had a brief chat with the Dean of Divinity, Fr. Michael Piret and then pedalled back to Cuddesdon. The rain had stopped, so I didn’t bother with any of the things in my back pack. I just got on the bike - attaching all the various lights - and headed off.

I felt almost nostalgic as I climbed the looonnng hill for the last time. The fact is - partly because my back pack was comparatively light, with no computer and no groceries - that I literally sped back tonight. I have become very much more fit than I was three weeks ago. So, although there are ways in which I will not miss this arduous trek, oddly enough in some other ways I will miss it!

I cycle back down the hill tomorrow during the day, return the bicycle to the dealer, do a bit of Bodleian and a bit of shopping, and finally take the bus back to Cuddesdon in time for college dinner and the evening presentation.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Ripon College Cuddesdon

The past three days have gone by in a flash. Tomorrow I return to Canada.

Monday, I presided at the college Eucharist in the morning. I think the way I did it was appropriately reverent, and did not distract the participants too severely from their devotions. After breakfast, I rode the bicycle through the rain into Oxford for the last time, and returned it to its owner. Some souvenir shopping followed, then the rest of the day was spent in the Bodleian. I caught the last bus back to Cuddesdon.

That evening I made the presentation, “Your Canadian Visitor” which was well attended and well received. The people who came showed a great interest in all that I told them, but it seemed their greatest fascination emerged when I showed them a photo I happen to have of Bishop Victoria Matthews. England does not yet accept women as bishops, and everyone wanted to know all I could tell them about the Canadian experience in this regard.

I told them how much I admired Bishop Matthews, and about my thought that she would have been eminently suitable to be Primate of the Canadian church had not ill health caused her to withdraw her candidacy; and how, as far as I know, she is ‘soldiering on’ following her surgery.

Tuesday I took the bus into Oxford again, but spent more time as a tourist than as a student, photographing notable architecture, and meeting Nigel Feaver to go and see the church of St. Mary the Virgin, in the village of Iffley - a church that was built not long after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Despite this tourism, however, I still managed to put in three hours at the Bodleian!.

In the Dining Room of Ripon College Cuddesdon
In the late evening I spent a very pleasant couple of hours with Rosy Fairhurst - swapping stories about our life-journeys and vocations.

Today I was not going to miss a final chance to read in the Bodleian, so once more I took the bus into Oxford. As well, I had an appointment to meet Bill Ives, the Informator Choristarum of Magdalen College, a privilege I would not have missed for all the world.

At dinner, everyone agreed to let me take a photo of them in the college dining room. You can see the results opposite. They are laughing because I said I would tell my friends back home it was like the dining room in the Harry Potter movies!

In the evening, Nigel Feaver and his family took me to the village pub, to make sure I had a proper taste of true English “atmosphere.” They complained that the beer I was served was chilled, for, they said, “True pub beer is served warm!” I think I was glad to have missed that particular piece of atmosphere!

And so there is nothing left but to pack, and to get myself to Heathrow airport!

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Thursday, November 11, 2004
In transit...

Slowly the big blue highway bus worked its way through the streets of Oxford, then merged into the traffic on the M40 and headed toward Heathrow airport, an hour and a half away. As we gathered speed and the English countryside began to flow by my window, I felt a deep sense of grief and loss - despite the fact that I’m longing to see Heather and my family again!

This month in England has been such a happy time, I feel like I’m tearing myself away.

The Bodleian Library - I could spend years there and only scratch the surface in my study of one brief but tumultuous period in Anglican history. Magdalen chapel - by means of the prayer and music there, the Lord poured healing and renewed vigour into my soul.

Ripon College Cuddesdon - an unexpected gift. In this short month I have become deeply fond of the people there. They all offered a warm welcome, and many treated me as their particular friend, or even as a member of the family. It is odd, but despite this brief acquaintance, I shall miss them very much.

Tears came. The motorway passes near the village of Wheatley, and I could see the place I got my groceries, and the road I cycled from there to Cuddesdon. Though I couldn’t quite make out Cuddesdon itself, I knew exactly where it was - and imagined everyone in their seminars, at their prayers, and working through the normal stresses of an intense community life. I offered them all a fond and prayerful farewell.

It will be ages before I can fully unpack this England phase of my sabbatical. But this I know right now: I went to do research for a book, research with at least two components: first, a “sense of place” - the place where the people of my book lived and died; second, exploring in the Bodleian whatever I could find that sheds light on the not-famous and ordinary people of that long-ago time.

Both these goals were achieved.

As well, I went with the hope of hearing a good quality English church choir of men and boys. This, too, was achieved, memorably.

Staying at Ripon College Cuddesdon brought unsought surprises. As you know, the rural setting turned simple transportation into a major and constant concern - but even this had an aspect which fit well with one of my primary goals: riding a bicycle certainly does give a “sense of place.” I know the hedgerows and lanes, the streets and alleys of at least one part of England in a way that could never have been achieved in a car, or by walking a few short blocks each day between hotel and library and chapel! Riding a bicycle is also far closer to horseback travel - the normal transportation for the people in my study!

But the location at rural Cuddesdon also gave me the totally unexpected rich delight of immersion and inclusion in the life of the seminary community.

It’s funny, but I was so focussed upon simply getting around, learning my way in the Bodleian, going to worship, and simply blending in at the college, that I hardly ever thought about, let alone worked on my book; and yet, as the bus rolled along the motorway, suddenly - in my head at least - the chapters just started writing themselves!

Words and images of a parliamentary statute under Henry VIII - which I had been transcribing into my computer on Wednesday - came to mind: ... by the which playnly appereth that the said Mariage betwene your Grace and the said Lady Anne was nevr good nor consonante to the lawes but utterly voyde and of none effecte...

I am familiar with meetings and rules of order. Strip away the antique spelling and word forms and you have here a motion - a “resolution” - which was put forward, and discussed and passed in a manner not unlike the motions of many annual meetings today. During debate, people get up and grab a coffee, some doodle on their note pads, or whisper to one another about possibly moving amendments. Always there is a small inner tension: when the question is “put,” the vote called, should I raise my hand in favour? or should I vote “opposed”?

What were the members of that parliament feeling when faced with the resolution that contained this line? These were people who were used to leadership. They were important folks back in their manors, their towns and villages. Many a time in their daily lives they had had to make tough decisions. And, not three years earlier they had agreed with their king on an unprecedented stroke against the international Christian church, all so that he could rid himself of their Queen, and marry and enthrone Anne Boleyn, with whom he had appeared to be utterly infatuated.

Now, Boleyn was dead - executed by the will of this same king, and here they were being asked to vote in favour of a motion which declared her a traitor, confiscated her assets (and those of a good number of her kin), and above all named as “voyde and of none effecte” the very marriage to enable which they had helped overturn a thousand years of social order!

Did anyone in that parliament want to hold his nose as he raised his hand in favour? How many toyed with voting “no” only to recognize that doing so could easily risk the same gallows on which Boleyn had died, and thus chose their hides over their principles?

As the bus pulled into Heathrow and I boarded the plane for the eight hour flight to Toronto, I knew that my trip to England - whatever my book project might or might not turn out to be - had given a wonderful richness to my understanding of the events which shaped and made the global Anglican Communion.

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