Monday, December 06, 2004

Bishop to King's Fore

Reading the book I bought for a friend on Randall Davidson (a biography from 1938) while on the train home this evening, I read a lot of the correspondence surrounding the huge controversy that surrounded the proposed appointment of a bishop, with a notable role played by the Bishop of Oxford.

People may well tell me that they already knew about this whole thing but it wasnews to me. I don't know much about any bishops who were alive after the thriteenth century so it was new for me!

Interestingly the objections to Henson as proposed bishop of Hereford were not surrounding his personal life (as in more recent times) but on the basis of his supposed disagreement with some of the fundamentals of the creeds. There wasdoubt as to whether he believed in a virgin birth and the ressurection of the Jesus. Not to knock the recent press submissions by notable church leaders but I was deeply impressed by the rhetoric and discourse of the people involved.

The big difference with this early 20th century episcopal controversy was that agreement was reached and Henson was consecrated as Bishop of Hereford and indeed soon thereafer Bishop of Durham, in fact.

Actually what really made an impact on me were not the public letters to the Times, as impressive as they were. No, what really touched me were the private letters, particularly those between Henson and Archbishop Davidson.

Despite all the ecclesiastical wranglings and politics, these letters clearly reflect two men seeking to serve God, the Church and the people.

As he approached his sometime much opposed consecration, Henson wrote of his sorrow that his relationship with is future fellow bishops would be more problematic as a result of the vehemence of some of their opposition to him but he resigned himself to forgiveness:

"To forgive an injury of that kind is a duty which I shall endeavour to fulfil, but to forget is hardly in my power."

An honest human response there.

He went on to look towards his preparation for this new stage in his service to the Church:

"Ordinarily some measure of devotional retirement is permitted to a man on the verge of so momentous a new departure. That has been denied me, and I have instead to carry to my Consecration a mind harrassed and fatigued, and a wounded heart. Were it not that Consecration carries me into a Presence where a Higher Equity and a more Generous Charity than that of the Bishops may be counted upon, I could hardly stand it at all." (30th January, 1918)

Such a heartfelt openness had a great impact on me. It makes you think that retreats really ARE important, eh guys?

The Archbishop responded with some advice for his early days as bishop. He does not recommend a great display of authoritarian wisdom but a veritable model of servant leadership:

"... watch eagerly for any who among the clergy or laity are in sorrow or sickness and go quietly and unobstrusively to see them - say parents whose son has been killed [in the war] - or clergy who are ill, and if they happen to be among those whose criticism of your appointment, or whose protest against it, is known to you I should doubly be anxious - in absolute simplicity and privacy and without fuss - to tell them now of Christian comfort. I believe that to do this would be in accord with the dictates of your own heart, even though the 'natural man' in any of us might give a pull the other way! It is an hour when the 'natural man' has to be pushed behind us, and the servant of Christ do his true part." (10th February, 1918)


Davidson's letters had me captivated all the way from Canterbury to Victoria and again from Marylebone to High Wycombe but I think his reflections on touring the Western Front were most notable as displaying his incredibly engaging humility. After his time there he concluded:

"I thank God for all the lessons of these nine days, and I trust I may find it possible to do my work a little less inadequately in consequence." (May, 1916)

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