The Bishop of Carlisle has just given us a gift to match that promised by the Archbishop of Canterbury in token of his ‘absolute support‘ for the project.
This is an especially remarkable gift considering the dire financial straits facing the diocese at the moment, and is an enormous encouragement. It is so good to know our diocesan bishop is fully committed to the vision. He has always been supportive but the financial assistance just given is much more costly.
The financial difficulties facing our diocese (Carlisle) are far from unique. Many other dioceses are facing rising costs and lower incomes. Giving, especially, seems to have been hit by the economic downturn. It seems ‘big society’ needs spare money sloshing around to have any hope of working.
But this (growing) budget deficit carries in it the seeds of collapse of the entire parish system as we know it. As the vast majority of diocesan costs are its clergy (86% in Carlisle), the only way to realistically address it is reduce the number of clergy. So the parishes have to be bolted on to the care of the remaining clergy, who are consequently spread more and more thinly, and become increasingly stressed as they fail to meet parishioners’, and their own, expectations.
So the need to find an alternative approach to funded stipends in middle-class houses has an increasingly sharp economic driver to it.
However, the economic malaise reveals a deeper shortcoming with the existing system – that of the ‘professional’ clergy. Not in the original sense of one who ‘professes’ a certain life or talent, but of the managerial approach to church life. From where has the idea arisen that the Kingdom of God requires paid professionals living in large houses? What is the theology that gives rise to this unquestioned, but now increasingly unsustainable, practice?
In the second chapter of the book of Acts we read that, as a direct consequence of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, people started living in real community, sharing meals and possessions, ‘holding all things in common’. This was the restoration of humanity made ‘in the image of God’, the God who himself is three persons in communion.
There is a great need to rediscover this understanding of the work of the Spirit, to rediscover the real meaning of ‘community’, not just between people, but also between people and creation. For we, ourselves, are ‘of the soil’. ‘From dust you have come, to dust you shall return.’ But, and this is the extraordinary promise of Jesus’ resurrection, the dust from which he came did NOT return to the dust of the ground, but was transformed into ‘new creation.’ Thus the promise of new life is not just for humanity, but as proclaimed by the Bewcastle Cross, for all creation.
It is this passion for a rediscovery of the whole Gospel of Christ that, I know from conversation with him, is what the motivates the Bishop in his support of the vision for the Bewcastle or Borderlands Minster.
We are hoping to complete the purchase of the small farm, known as Greenholme (CA6 6PW), this month.