UNITED REFORMED CHURCH
News from St Andrew’s
Craig’s October message
Revd Craig Bowman
One of the surprising things about lockdown is that I didn’t get as many books read as I thought I might. For a number of years now I have been promising myself that I will read some of the older classics, and so far I have failed to do it. I have a set of the Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope. The six books revolve around the lives of the clergy in the imaginary cathedral city of Barchester, and the first book was written in 1855 which means that Anthony Trollope was writing at the same time as Charles Dickens.
So far I have still only read the first two in the series, however the first, The Warden, has become a favourite of mine. My delight when I read it, several years ago, was all the more surprising because I knew that Dickens and Trollope were from the same era and I have never been that impressed by Charles Dickens, finding it very difficult to get excited by his books. (I know that to say that is a kind of heresy in some quarters, and it is one of the things that my father and I disagree on!) However, I took to The Warden straight away and will certainly read it again some day.
Two questions you might be asking. First, what is it that I find different between these two great authors? Secondly, what on earth has this to do with the church?
Well, the answer to both questions is tied together.
In their novels both Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope deal with moral problems and dilemnas. However, whereas Dickens seems to make those moral pictures quite simplistic, with many of his characters as good as gold or dramatically evil, and the evils in society apparently the fault of individual villains, for Trollope the picture is far more complicated. There is no real villain in The Warden but there is a man who is seen as doing wrong. Mr Harding is a man of great personal integrity who is caught in a no-win situation, perhaps by a lack of vigilance on his behalf. His struggle to do what is right is the core of the book and he gains the sympathy of the reader.
Whilst reflecting on the book my thoughts went to the very well-known incident in John’s Gospel of the woman caught in adultery (chapter 8:1-11). There is no doubting that the woman had done wrong, but that is not the point of the incident. Jesus challenges those who would stone the woman to look at their own lives before passing judgment on her, and the passage challenges us to look at our own lives before we pass judgement on the woman, or pass judgment on those who would stone her; indeed to examine our own lives before we pass judgment on anyone.
Our faith teaches us that there is right and wrong, but it also teaches us that all of us are sinners and there is only one who is truly good. The Warden reminds us that we should not judge on appearances, and that the best of people are not always right and can still be in the wrong.
Humility and forgiveness are a requirement for all and that is the message I leave you with this month.
May God forgive and bless us all,
The Revd Craig Bowman is minister of St Andrew’s Cheam and Wallington United Reformed Churches
Posted on 1 Oct 2020