As the congregation sung, they entered. A rag, tag and bobtail bunch of humanity, some immaculately dressed and others frankly scruffy, varied of height, girth and hair colour, glasses perched on top of heads, ends of noses and hanging from string, both fleet and stumbling of foot, male and female (and if we are honest some still exploring), faces wrinkled, smooth, made up, bearded and just unshaven. This beautifully odd bunch in procession are none other than the clergy of the Church of England, gathered to renew their ordination vows.
And God forbid it should ever be otherwise. This diverse slice of humanity are the true Church of England. The Church is not Archbishops, Church House, Synods or even Cathedrals. The heart of the Church of England is its parishes and its idiosyncratic parish clergy, each as different as the places they serve – and their congregations are at their best when they too are as different and as diverse as can be.
May those who long to centralise and standardise the life of the Church always be frustrated. As Malcolm Guite has so beautiful put it, each of these parish clergy is a micro brewer, taking local ingredients to ferment a brew local to their own patch, reflecting the unique local soil and their own particular shaping. To the frustration of those who have oversight for the affairs of the Church, these local brews are wildly unpredictable but the strangest brews can slake the local thirst.
And those who gathered around the table with Jesus for the Last Supper were every bit as much a rag, tag and bobtail crew as you are every likely to find sharing food together. Those who follow in their footsteps should be just such a motley crew.
So thank God for the deniers, the betrayers, the doubters and the ones who ran away, the ones who got the wrong end of the stick and did not understand, the ones who hoped for a place at the right hand of God and the ones who are still trying to understand the last parable but one – because this feels like a crew where I might just feel right at home.
And it is for this rag, tag and bobtail bunch that He walked to the cross, and with arms nailed wide, embraced them all.