by Linda Ryan
Back in the Dark Ages, when I was a kid, we had a goofy little rhyme that went, “Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the flowers is?” It used to be fairly true when I lived back east where there were really four seasons of varying lengths each year, hence the rhyme. This year in many parts of the country, people are probably wondering if spring will ever arrive since the snow keeps falling and the temperatures hover somewhere between cold and d*** cold. Here in Arizona we’re enduring the all-too-brief spate of lovely temperatures that mean the summer heat isn’t far behind. Oh, well. We enjoy it while we can and remember what it was like to live elsewhere where the weather was a bit more unpredictable.
Spring usually has the connotation of things waking up from winter sleep, a time of growth change and renewed activity. Ecclesiastically, this spring has marked an expected change or two along with some rather unexpected ones. Last year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, announced that he would be retiring at year’s end which meant the selection of a replacement who would be elevated early in the new year. A surprising turn came with the resignation of the pope, Benedict XVI, an occurrence that hadn’t happened in 600 years, and the rather quick calling-together of the college of cardinals to elect his replacement. It was rather odd, having the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, enthroned the same week that the new Pope, Francis I, assumed the throne of Peter. It was like seeing spring suddenly opening the door and making an appearance. Hopefully, it won’t be a false spring.
They are very different men in very different circumstances. Archbishop Welby might be able to go jogging without too much hassle from ordinary folks, but the pope’s short forays outside the Vatican are the cause of his guards’ discomfiture not to mention the raised eyebrows of those more used to a secluded pope who only appears at specified times and with extreme security. Still, both have groups of people looking to them to bridge the gaps and set change in motion, change that will be for the growth of the kingdom and the benefit of the people.
Both men face challenges, of that there is no doubt. Both seem to have liking for a less rigid, more simple lifestyle and way of doing things. Both have had experience in pastoral settings with people in the real world as opposed to a more academic, enclosed experience. Both have assumed leadership of religious groups that are far from tranquil and running smoothly through the days. Both churches face the problems of existing in and actually being part of a modern world while still holding on to ancient traditions and beliefs. Membership is declining despite some claims to the contrary. Giving is down, there are clergy shortages. Issues seem to be focused around the subject of sex and sexual orientation, one involving the rightful place of GLBTs in society and the church, the other the seeming tidal wave of pedophile cases which seem to keep appearing. Some issues are discussed openly and fairly widely, some very secretly and securely behind closed doors. There are parties in both churches who want to pull up the drawbridge and keep the tide of change out while others want to do exactly the opposite. Both churches seem to be balanced on a teeter-totter, and the respective church heads, the ABC and the Pope are the fulcrums.
How both churches face their challenges and respond to them will mark how successful a spring they have had, just like the fall harvest is dependent on the spring rains and the summer sun. Too much or too little rain, too much or too little sun and the crops will fail and there will be people starving by winter time. Spiritual famine is a deadly thing, and it isn’t always that far away. If Jesus preached a gospel of hope, some of those who follow him seem to have lost the message somewhere.
But there’s a stirring of hope in both churches as a result of the new leadership they have chosen, or rather that the Holy Spirit has chosen and nudged the selectors/electors into confirming. The starts look promising, but the honeymoon period is still in effect. The test will come all too soon when a bit of the newness wears off and we see how they handle the various problems they have inherited from their predecessors. A question too is how well and how closely they will work together to help bring about the kingdom Jesus proclaimed.
So spring has come and with it new hope and promise. It will be interesting to see how things develop on both fronts as summer comes on. Hopefully we will not see an early winter coming before the leaves begin to fall from the trees. Meanwhile, prayers go up for both, that they have the strength and courage to face the challenges ahead and the humility to accept that change may and even should be necessary.
May the light of Christ shine on them, and on those of us who look to them for hope, guidance and a reflection of Jesus in the world that sorely needs that reflection.