From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – August 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends

I have recently been greatly captivated by Roy Jenkins’s superb biography of Gladstone. I was most amused by his wife, Catherine’s, remark, “Oh William, dear, if you weren’t such a great man, you’d be the most terrible bore.”  He was, of course, renowned for prolixity – several of his Commons speeches going on for three or even four hours. But he was also a man of enormous erudition, wide sympathies, and prodigious energy and industry.

Jenkins writes of Gladstone, after the latter’s peregrination around the industrial north in 1862:

“There was some feeling that he was on their side, not in the sense of an economic class struggle….but in the sense that he was for seriousness against cynicism, for moral purpose against frivolity…and also in some sense for the solid striving of the northern provincial centres as against the glitter of London and the soft landscape and more traditional society of the south.” (p 240)

Of whom could that be said today?  Not that I am against all frivolity!  But there is a lack of real seriousness and moral purpose among many of our politicians. Would that they spent more time, like Gladstone, devouring the classics, engaging in strenuous physical exercise, or writing personal letters to their families, constituents and peers, instead of spending their time indulging in rather pointless excursions on Twitter and Facebook and relying too little on their native judgment and too much on the opinions of special advisers.

Many a commentator has suggested that the coronavirus pandemic should give us pause – a chance to take stock and recalibrate our political system and our common life. The BBC has offered a rich array of reflective programmes, including an excellent series of radio discussions called Rethink, and there have been similar offerings in the national press.

I very much hope that, however long the current crisis lasts, and whatever its long-term effects, we will all find the opportunity to ask what really matters.  What really matters in our society, in our families, in our own individual lives?  Life is short, and we can easily fritter it away in trivial pursuits!

In our churches too there are questions to ask.  How do we best use our resources? How do we look outwards towards the community? How do we engage with difficult questions?  How do we listen carefully to those with whom we differ?  How do we support the young in this constantly changing world?

The pandemic is stretching us in all kinds of ways, perhaps especially the frail and elderly and those who have had young children at home rather than school.  As we move into an unpredictable future, I pray that we might be stretched in positive and wholesome ways, but also that we might help each other to find some relief from the strain.


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