Inspiration from the Spire | Changes in the church

It’s been a big month for worldwide Christianity. We have had the inauguration of both a new pope and a new archbishop of Canterbury. Millions of people followed the elections via the TV broadcasts or internet coverage last week on Tuesday and the Thursday before. There was even a Danish bishop inside Canterbury Cathedral – all has been forgiven from 1,000 years ago when the Danes murdered Archbishop Alphege of Canterbury by beating him to death with ox bones after a drunken banquet! It is good that time moves on.   

There’s a wide contrast of technology used at the Vatican City. White smoke finally emerged from a small chimney, on which CNN, the BBC and numerous other broadcasters had their cameras focused on for hours, to signify the completion of the election. Then, within minutes of the announcement, Pope Francis opened a Twitter account. All week the Roman Catholic tweeps have been debating whether he has adopted the name Francis in honour of St Francis of Assisi or St Francis Xavier – two distinct but different saints. As he only had about five minutes to decide between the white smoke appearing and putting on the white cassock, he may not know himself. But the way he rejected the jewel-studded pontifical cross in favour of his own simple wooden pectoral cross, and then got in the coach with the cardinals rather than using the black limousine, makes me reckon it might be Assisi. He has a touch of humour as well as humility. He is reported to have said to his cardinals after his election: “May God forgive you for what you have done to me!” Keep it up Pope Francis!

I met Justin Welby, the new archbishop of Canterbury, a few months ago half way across Westminster Bridge, and we had a brief chat. He used to live in Paris and was a member of our Anglican church there. He worked for ten years in the oil industry, and when he offered himself for ordination, he was told by his bishop: “There is no place for you in the Church of England.” Archbishop Welby has been actively involved in the work of reconciliation and peacemaking, especially in West Africa and through his work at Coventry and Liverpool. He has already demonstrated that he means business. As a member of the UK parliamentary committee looking at banking ethics, he has directly challenged the big boys, using technical language they cannot evade.

We are entering Holy Week – the most special time of the year for Christians everywhere. And we do so in the hope that these two men – with enormous and burdensome responsibilities – will have the strength and courage to do what Jesus would do: to proclaim the good news of Easter with its liberating transformative power. And in doing so, comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.

Happy Easter to you!