Mirfield Centenary Commemoration Day

Saturday 18 July 1992

I count it a privilege to be with you on this happy day as you celebrate your Centenary.  Mind you, not all the CR brethren in the past would have, been delighted at the prospect of the Archbishop of Canterbury preaching at your Centenary.  In 1904, you invited my predecessor Archbishop Randall Davidson to be your Visitor.  He interfered, but never visited.  I promise to visit, but hopefully not to interfere! 

In our Gospel today, the risen Lord visits the disciples whilst they are fishing.  His interference is entirely benevolent.  His guidance produces a huge shoal of fish.  And then he says to them, “Come and have breakfast" (John 21.12). 

Prophets and sages and founders of world faiths are not usually to be found cooking.  But Jesus always surprises us.  The risen Lord is always to be found doing ordinary things ‑ walking in a garden, taking a country stroll on the road to Emmaus, cooking fish for breakfast.  Indeed, so ordinary are these encounters that the disciples have trouble at first recognising him.  Then it dawns on them who it is that is talking with them, sharing their life, making even the ordinary things seem extraordinary.  Suddenly, the power and grace of God are perceived in these ordinary and everyday moments.  This breakfast by the Sea of Tiberias is an encounter with the Lord, risen from the dead.  Life is changed. 

As the gospel illustrates, the risen Lord calls individuals to a deeper discipleship, and communities to outreach, service and mission.  In the life of your Community, there has been this fascinating mix of the individual and the corporate in which the resurrection life of our Lord has been so visibly demonstrated.  We are here today to celebrate that new life in this Community of the Resurrection.  For a hundred years, the risen Lord has sustained this community through good times and bad, using it to proclaim the gospel of redemption with effectiveness cut of all proportion to its numbers.  But this has not been a religious community where everything has been subordinated to the corporate.  Whatever the tensions it has created for your community living, CR is known to the wider world because of its scholars, its bishops, its social reformers, its eccentrics, its preachers, its prophets, its missioners, its story‑tellers, its sheer encouragement of the diversity of human creation. 

Living the Resurrection life always involves the Church in encouraging individual discipleship, using gifts given by God for God's glory, yet also bringing those individuals into a unity in the body of Christ.  For the Lord's own prayer is that we should be one, a sign of reconciliation to the world.  CR has lived out this gospel of reconciliation most memorably in South Africa and Zimbabwe, not least in the townships of Sophiatown and Orlando, and St Augustine's School, Penhalonga.  It was on‑‑ of the Community's most celebrated sons, Desmond Tutu, who tells how a simple gesture transformed his understanding of reconciliation.  Walking as a boy one day with his mother, he passed a priest of the Community, who ‑ to his amazement ‑ took off his hat to Desmond's mother.  As Alan Wilkinson illustrates in his magnum opus of a history ‑ an amazing tribute in itself to your century of ministry –CR’s contribution to the building of a new southern Africa is out of all proportion to the number of brethren who worked there.  And I would add that no Christian priest has done more for God' kingdom in South Africa than the priest Desmond met that day, Trevor Huddleston.  Trevor's prophetic ministry is itself an outworking of a resurrection faith nurtured and fashioned by this Community.  What the Community teaches us is that what begins in prayer, and is fostered by fellowship and pastoral care, is always likely to erupt into irresistible social prophecy.  What an unexpected work this expansion into South Africa was for a community founded by men who came from the best drawing rooms in England during the days of the Boer War.  We may criticise their paternalism: we cannot dismiss their courage.  Pastors and prophets were made by an experience of black people's privation when apartheid flourished. 

We shouldn't really be surprised.  Your founder, Charles Gore, wanted to reach the mass of humanity with the gospel.  He may not have been gifted himself in doing so.  But his own abject failure as a vicar gave him a sympathetic appreciation of the task facing the parish clergy.  (Perhaps I've stumbled on what makes the best bishops!).  And as a bishop, Gore was a challenge and a pain to his fellow bishops, as he had been to his community.  Consecrated as bishop in Lambeth Palace Chapel, where I worship daily, Gore was critical of bishops.  He taught a boy to go around repeating at his Enthronement party: "A bishop is a useless creature".  And after a few meetings with the House of Bishops, he declared, "The whole atmosphere of the episcopate is the manipulation of details and avoidance of big principles”.  I hope we bishops today have the maturity to take in such a criticism. 

Whatever his qualities as a bishop, Charles Gore must rate as the most unlikely founder of a religious community in Christian history.  He certainly had the personal charisma to draw others into friendship. He had a theological and spiritual vision of Christian life.  But as a monk, he had a singular shortcoming.  He couldn't live in community.  So your, founder scarcely spent more than a month or two at a time with his brethren. Yet Gore's reputation as a scholar, preacher, and controversialist meant that CR became quickly known in the Church at large. 

Not that you grew quickly.  After ten years, there were only thirteen professed brethren.  This was no movement that swept all before it.  It needed all the organising abilities of Walter Frere, the second Superior and Bishop of Truro, to provide a stabilising influence during CR’s troubled second decade. 

And that troubled second decade was caused not least by the extraordinary individuality this community has always encouraged.  You had romantics like Hugh Benson, youngest son of one, of my predecessors, who was nostalgic for the Middle Ages, loved games, fantasies and dressing up.  And alongside him were the Christian socialists such as Paul Bull and Samuel Healy, speaking openly in support of the Labour Party, inviting Keir Hardie and George Lansbury to address the local people in the Quarry.  As if that was not enough to create notoriety, it was then that the Community made the almost fatal mistake of inviting Randall Davidson to become its Visitor. 

Those early controversies were over matters of worship and ritual which have largely ceased to excite us.  But at the time, people did get excited over what they suspected went on here.  When Benson converted to Roman Catholicism, and Healy said the Church of England was corrupt for using its inherited wealth to support a married priesthood when it was given for a celibate clergy, people got upset.  And I don't suppose they laughed, as we might, when Healy, having been so enthusiastic about celibacy, left CR and got married within a year. 

I dwell on the colourful characters from the past, partly to show how brittle was this Community when it was founded, and how from the start its genius was to allow individuality, even eccentricity, to flourish.  The "eccentric", as its Greek root “ekkentros” suggests, is "cut of centre", situated away from the focus, axis, or pivot.  Eccentrics always approach life from odd angles, opening up new vistas, revealing fresh perspectives.  Religious communities ought to be nurseries of the sort of Christian eccentricity that generates new thinking.  Alan Wilkinson quotes those famous words of Thomas Merton in which he speaks of the monk as "a marginal person".  The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience put members of religious communities on the edges of society, and, especially in the Anglican Communion, on the edges of the Church.  This Decade of Evangelism will mean little unless the Gospel is heard on the edges of society, amongst the marginalised, even approached with eccentricity.  Only an open Church is aware of its edges at all.  The risen Lord encounters his disciples at the edge of the Sea of Tiberias.  Standing at the lakeside, at the margins of their activity, he sees the more clearly where the fish are to be found.  His perspective changes their way of looking at the world. 

It's a pity that the days of 'bus conductors are now gone.  I don't suppose you hear any longer the cry "Resurrection next stop" or, even better, “Any more for Resurrection?" “Resurrection men" ‑ or women ‑ see the world from a different perspective.  They see that things which were cast down can be made new, that suffering can be redeemed, that death does not mock all human efforts, that ours is a world held secure in the love and care of God. 

But what about the next hundred years as the Community of the Resurrection? 

Although my Christian pilgrimage has been fashioned in a different tradition, I have great admiration for this Community.  I have no doubt that, in an increasingly secular, disturbed world where permanent values are hard to discover and where the old are disillusioned and the young are lost, the work of this and similar communities are as important as the time when you first began.  As a Community, you stand to be a resurrection‑light, calling men and women to follow the Christ who can change the rugged individualism of a Peter and make him a saint, as he did on that first Easter Day.  But who, as we see so clearly in the history of this Community, is able to take the brilliance of Gore, the energy of Frere, and the obedience of countless brothers and make them effective witnesses for him. 

And this Community still has an important role, I believe, to be a prophetic community in a world in which family life is under threat and individualism endangers western society.  Within the family of the Church, you are a formidable resource of prayer, teaching, and ministry ‑there to challenge us by your lifestyle into a commitment of love for our Lord, and by your holiness into a deeper and better pilgrimage. 

So God bless the Community of the Resurrection, I say, on this Commemoration DWI We commemorate the founders and salute their vision and idealism.  We pray for this Community that, inspired by the same ­vision and drawn by the same risen Lord, you will continue faithful in prayer, prophetic witness and ministry. 

And on a splendid day like this, we are reminded that the Church is itself a community of the resurrection.  The risen Christ calls us into fellowship with each other, into community.  And how is community expressed?  In the invitation to “come”, the welcome all receive.  And, of course, in the meal.  Jesus says, “Come and have breakfast".  And what happens at that meal? "Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them".  He gives his own body to us ‑ on the cross and in the sacrament.  In his offering of himself, we are taken up into his life, and made, truly, a Community of the Resurrection.

© George Carey