Lead Kindly Light

Some of you may recognise this edition's header as the opening words of Cardinal Newman's poem 'The Pillar of the Cloud', popularised by the Victorians as a hymn; indeed Queen Victoria requested it as she lay on her death bed! Newman wrote his poem at sea, returning from Sicily to England in 1833, a point in his life when he had been exhausted by illness and in a highly emotional state as he contemplated what looked like an uncertain future, both for him and the Church of England! The poem expresses his longing for the consolation of those Christian certainties in what was fast becoming an age of doubt!

Writing a few days before a General Election, I too am wondering what the future holds not just for the country as a whole but for the Church as we too live through what seem to be very uncertain times. Politically we have got the message , 'Brexit means Brexit', but where does that leave us and where does it lead us? I don't think I can be the only one with a sense of unease as one looks at world events; a general lack of faith in politicians and those who have led countries in the past has brought to prominence new leaders and governments borne along on a tide of loud and popular support, seemingly fuelled by people's fears and sense of helplessness in effecting any change. I also write as the recent senseless acts of terror committed in Manchester and London are fresh in our minds, maiming and killing innocent people and ruining lives. Whilst we try to face such acts with courage and that 'stiff upper lip', with everything else going on in the country there seems to be general malaise across the nation; people feel there is something not quite right but can't put their finger on it - one commentator described our recent general election as the 'glum bucket' electiOn—certainly many have been asking where we are going as a nation and a society. I expect like me, you got fed up with the many promises that were rolled out before the election, treating the electorate like fools whose votes are so easily won, as in ancient Rome where votes were bought with bread and circuses! I can't remember it alway being like this; there was a time when we measured those in politics, not by their offer of more 'gravy', but by their honesty and integrity and their genuine concern for the nation's wellbeing rather than that of their political party!

Maybe age has made me more cynical, it definitely makes me increasingly nostalgic for the past! As a child of the 50's I experienced austerity, many of us did, we didn't call it that, we just got on with things! For the younger generation 'Call the midwife' is just a Sunday night drama, for me its memory lane, I grew up in those East End streets, I saw the sights and smelt the smells, and what about 'Grantchester', it may seem all a bit prim and proper but beneath the veneer of respectability people were just the same then as they are now, even Canon Sidney Chambers, no one is perfect! My nostalgia is tempered with that reality and it reminds me the Church still has a job to do! However inadequately equipped it may seem for the task, the Gospel is still the Gospel and it needs to be proclaimed afresh in every age, Newman was as much aware of that as those of us who serve the Church today. In times of uncertainty the Church has a clear duty to speak out in matters where the well being of society and our nation are at stake, the church will not do this if her members, priests and people, succumb to the general malaise of which I speak. The task may seem too big, overwhelming almost, with shrinking congregations and the constant demands for more cash to keep the institution 'alive' but it is not the time to give in or give up! People of my generation and the one before me are entitled to their moments of nostalgia; there were lots of bad things in the past, but there were many good things too and those are the things we need to tell and pass on to our children and our children's children. Like Newman, none of us can be sure what the future holds, but if we place our trust in 'that kindly light' who leads us ever on our way, then as he realised, we do not need 'to see the distant scene', but rather 'one step enough for me' and take each day as it comes!

Your friend and priest,

Father Keith