I have just watched Episode 6 of the BBC’s Rev. For the time being it is available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b018jmkb/Rev._Series_2_Episode_6/. For a general review of Rev. check out http://therecognitionscene.com/2011/12/17/what-rev-is-doing-right/ (cheers for @Sarah_Richards) for tweeting about it I love Rev, it is funny, so funny a laugh my way through most of it. It is also honest, those of us who’ve hung around churches long enough have been in most of the situations depicted. I thought the series couldn’t do much better than Adam’s assembly at the end of Episode 5, until I saw episode 6! The Christmas Special was pretty good too! Hopefully we’re now well enough past the airing date most who want to see it have done so, therefore I want to look at this lovely episode through a series of “snap shots”.
Alex, the Rev’s wife is desperate for kids with him, but time to make this happen is scarce; Adam is very busy! As with all of us, he is also far from perfect; forgetting things she tells him, not spending enough quality time with her, focussing on the things he thinks he needs to do not the things she thinks he does, etc. etc. I am not married, nor am I ordained, nor am I an Anglican. But Adam is a London vicar in response to a call on his life, by God. I believe each person has a calling that each person must respond to. But that calling, my calling (whatever that/they might be) does not exist in a vacuum. Being obedient to God in my life has an impact on the people around, the people who love me and the people whom I love. We need to be aware of this and consider how our calling affects other people, and also, I would argue, those most affected should be included in the decision making process. Finally from this image, I would say that following our callings is not a valid excuse for neglecting those around us and other responsibilities we have.
The particular situations of this episode bring us a scene where everyone is chatting over coffee, aspirations to “greater things” and some juicy gossip seems to bring them together, but nevertheless I felt a real sense on camaraderie and “fellowship”. A genuine bond between these people and interest in each others lives. Churches should be so much more than a social club, but I do feel that sense of connectedness and of being in a loving community is vital, and it is something that I really love about the church I go to. I felt the BBC captured it quite well.
This is a key scene in the episode, it confirms Archdeacon Robert’s supposed partner is his actual partner and succinctly highlights the Anglican position on homosexual bishops. It also reveals Robert’s concerns about how sexuality and his private life might affect him being appointed a bishop and how it might be seen/used by elements of the church. All denominations have groupings of similarly-minded people in them. Some people use the word “factions” but this seems a bit harsh to me, Methodism included. I am sure I belong in some (I don’t like re-affirmation of baptism and I support the principle of allowing lay people to preside over communion far more freely to name two!). It is sad, but inevitable that in uneasy ground people’s lives become case-studies and test points. This chat in the back of a cab is a reminder to always consider the humans affected by our deliberations and our decisions.
Which leads to this. Robert is before the panel interviewing him to decide whether he should be appointed as a Bishop. The tension, aided by some glorious choral music (the music in this episode has been utterly delightful!) is almost palpable, and I felt nervous and sorry for him. What a terrible position to be in. Does he deny the truth about his partner, lying about a significant element of his life, allowing him to pursue the path he might believe God has put him on, or does he tell the truth about his relationship, being true to his feelings, his partner, his private life and deny himself the opportunity to become a bishop. What a terrible situation to face. One that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and that make me glad that the Methodist Church fully accepts practising gay ministers in all roles. It is also a situation that I doubt I will ever understand. I have yet to have a long-term partner, and I have yet to fancy a guy but if heterosexual couples were asked these sorts of questions I am sure they would talk far greater offence at the situation than they do when their gay counterparts are put under this scrutiny.
Two “themes” stand out to me at this point, but the dialogue surrounding this still is worth writing out in full: A: Nigel? N: I got my letter. A: From the Bishops Advisory Panel? N: How can they say I wouldn’t be a good priest? How can they say that? they know! How can they say that they know what God wants? (sounding more hurt) how dare they pretend that? A: You won’t feel this now … but I bet in time you’ll feel relieved you haven’t been accepted for ordination because … God wants you to do other things. N: I want to be a priest; that is all I want!! And those B*s*a*ds are telling me that’s not who I am. But … that’s who I am. A: I’m sorry Nigel N: If I can’t do what I want to do, then what do I do? A: Many are called, but few are chosen. N: sobs A: come on, may I buy you a drink. The first theme seems to be a recurring one for me, and that is the role of personal experience in discerning God’s call. Nigel is convinced of his call to the priesthood. He thinks he can do nothing else (despite being in invaluable assistant to Adam), it is his highest aim. The line “How can they know what God wants” is very telling to me, the implication being that Nigel does know what God wants for himself. Should we be as certain as Nigel about our callings? One thing seems clear to me; there seemed to be an imbalance in Nigel’s attention between his own sense of call (vital) and allowing the final decision to be made by others (a part of the process I feel to be vital). I do not believe that to acknowledge our calling may not be realised, in any way detracts the conviction that we hold as to what our calling is. And ultimately it helps us deal with the process better. It is easy to say from here, but had Nigel reminded himself the BAP might say no, the rejection would have been mildly easier to bear. Expect a post at some point to elaborate on this! But essentially a personal sense of call is simply not enough! The second theme emerged out a conversation with Jessica of Liturgies and Jolliness fame. She pointed out, quite correctly, that Nigel attaches too much importance to being a priest. More generally we could say, it is possible to think that some callings are better than others. A calling to Church Ministry is superior to a calling to secular work, a calling to be a Presbyter is better than a calling to be a local preacher, a calling to be a teacher is better than a calling to be a dustbin collector, etc etc. We shouldn’t over-emphasise, or elevate some roles over others. God calls different people to different things and the more we recognise this, the better the church and wider society will be. Finally (this is neither of the two themes) Adam’s offering of sympathy struck a chord with me. “Many are called but few are chosen” he offers, as a form of sympathy. Adam, Nigel and we know that this verse isn’t really talking about the process of a church choosing priests, and if I were Nigel I wouldn’t find any comfort in it. Partly because I struggle to find single verses much use in situations and because, really, this verse is of no use anyway. Adam’s tone whilst offering this “nugget” is hard to read, but personally I interpreted it at resignation that none of his words at that time would be of much use to a heart-broken Nigel who has seen his life goal destroyed, but it does speak of Adam’s solidarity in the situation. That he was there beside Nigel in the pain, not trying to work a theodicy out of it, or offer some perfect reasoning or comfort. I find that far more loving in the situation than great words of wisdom. For me this really was a beautiful episode that showed the highs and lows of Church life, and very movingly too. It also gave me lots to think about too, which is always nice. Having looked at different still images I close with a youtube link. To a beautiful song, worth listening to in full!