Leftie vicars hold services of thanksgiving for Jeremy Corbyn

empty-churchSo have they? At the time of writing I haven’t heard of any. Maybe they’ve happened in secret or this matter of thanksgiving was mentioned obliquely in the Intercessions last Sunday.

And that’s just it. When the Church does politics it does it obliquely. It rarely strays from what anyone could agree with or at least those who are qualified as centre-right or centre-left. In this age of Christian consumerism it would be a determined Church leader who braved the despair and wrath of their congregation and hailed the (second) coming of the first socialist leader of a mainstream political party since Harold Wilson.

So come on you leftie clerics; you’ve got what you’ve prayed for; let’s have some applause and praise and prayer in the congregation.

Ah, but not that’s how it’s done is it? Apart from a few like Giles Fraser and Kenneth Leech who died on the day Corben was elected Christian political involvement is more about nuanced commentary and compassion rather than excited political protest or celebration.

In the early 1970s I was at a minister’s meeting and was approached by one of the senior men.

“What paper do you read?” he asked. I was taken aback and told him it was the Daily Telegraph.

“What on earth for?” he responded, pretending to stagger back feigning a pain in his chest. Rather non-plussed I told him I liked the sports reports.

“Well let me tell you this” he said, putting a rather heavy hand on my shoulder and looking me in the eye, “no Baptist minister is worth his stipend unless he is a Manchester Guardian reader and is a socialist like the prophet Micah”.

I had not been the first to receive that treatment. But in those days the Manchester Guardian was not an uncommon choice of news reading for non-conformist ministers nor the political stance he commended.

He would be still disappointed in me. I now read the Independent. But I hope he would be pleased that I voted Green at the last General Election because they seem to be only political party who are addressing the needs of the world which my two-year old granddaughter when I’m no longer around.

What is more shocking is that I cannot recall another conversation like that with any other minister since. Politics, even as when it is as non-committal as what paper I read, just doesn’t seem to be an issue. And by politics I mean party politics. And that’s the only politics that matters in this country.

I was in my first pastorate in Ely, Cardiff in the 1970s. The local vicar was Bob Morgan. He was a Labour councillor and went on to be the Chair of South Glamorgan County Council. He came to my welcome service and in his speech told me two things. The first was that now I would really start discovering what I believed about God and second, if I did not demonstrate to the people of the estate that God was concerned about the state of their guttering and paths then they would take no interest at all in my God. It raised a few laughs but he was deadly serious.

I notice that the Christian Socialist Movement – which has renamed itself ‘Christians on the Left’ – has not posted any comment on Corbyn’s achievement that I can see. I wonder why.

And maybe that’s it – one person’s socialist is another’s Corbynista – so let’s keep real politics out of Christian political chat – it would be too controversial.


3 thoughts on “Leftie vicars hold services of thanksgiving for Jeremy Corbyn

  1. Thank you John for an interesting comment. I am a Minister and I think that most people in my church have a fair idea of my political stance; indeed my wife is an active member of one of the major parties and has stood for Councillor on more than one occasion. And I certainly mention and pray for political issues in our services – for instance, I preached sermons on “The Common Good”, “Immigration” and “Christian Civic Duty” on the Sundays leading up to the election, and have been active in using our church building for pre-election debates..

    However I have always taken the view that, as I have to lead a mixed congregation, it would be wrong to openly espouse one specific parties. Others may disagree, of course. Indeed, my predecessor at one church I served put up a large poster outside the church declaring that “XYZ Baptist Church supports the Labour Party”! I’m not sure that this was a good idea and it wasn’t entirely true in any case. On the other hand I think it’s true that many of our Baptist churches – with some noble exceptions – seem to hold themselves apart from the political process. I don’t know why this is; is it from a fear of splitting congregations or does it stem from a too-narrow and other-worldly understanding of our faith? I suspect that the latter is more likely.

    I did actually get very angry last summer. In our town the Baptists hold united evening services during the school holidays, with different people taking part (it’s a good way of ensuring fellowship). This was at the time when the Yazidis were being oppressed and attacked, not to mention migrants coming (and dying) in the Mediterranean – yet these issues were never touched upon for several weeks. I was so cross by the contrast at the sadness I was hearing on my car radio as I drove to church and the joyfulness we were having in our services that I decided to tackle this when it was my turn to preach. To my surprise I got a very positive response which suggests that we ministers may be missing something here and failing to relate our ministry to “real-life” rather than “churchy” issues.

    To finish this lengthy contribution, let me say that my own church is both Baptist and URC and certainly there seems, in general, to be far more engagement with political issues in the URC than seems to be the case in many Baptist churches – with, of course, some honourable exceptions! (Sorry if this post sounds a bit self-righteous!)

    • Hi Andrew. Thanks for this response. I worship among Methodists at present and sense they have a willingness to engage with current social issues openly. Maybe it is because of their church structure. But I’d like to hear from any other Baptist minister about what you and I are saying. Are we right? I wonder how politics and social engagement comes up in the formation of Baptist ministers these days if at all.

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