“Fourteen Hundred Years”
The following short piece was written in 1996, and has been on previous versions of our web site since then. Its relevance has not decreased.
I started to write this piece yesterday in my favourite coffee shop just around the corner from Blackburn Cathedral. This year is the fourteen hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Christian preachers in this part of Northern England. I had just come from the cathedral, which had been packed with people from every walk of life - elderly people leaning on their canes, young parents carrying their children in their arms.
As my wife and I arrived, in good time before the start, we found crowds queueing down the street to get in. Most of the seats had been removed, and for almost two hours the building was crowded with people standing, singing and praising God:
I will proclaim
The glory of the risen Lord.
Who once was slain
To reconcile man to God
The preacher was the Archbishop of Canterbury. [2008 note: the Archbishop at that time was Dr. George Carey, now Lord Carey]. As I stood in the crowd three thoughts came over me. I asked myself, “How much publicity will this event get in the media tonight?” Actually it did get a mention on the regional television news and no doubt will in the local papers, and if my doubts about media attention are proved even more wrong in the next few days I’ll be delighted.
I find myself still thinking, though, “If half this number of people had been demonstrating for some currently fashionable cause, or waving protest banners, we would scarcely have been able to move for TV cameras, press photographers and young reporters waving their pocket tape recorders.” But this was a crowd of Christians rejoicing in a centuries-old faith, which although still very much alive and directly relevant to the modern day, is no longer considered “real” news.
Isn’t it time, I thought, that we stopped being so apologetic for our faith, and that more of us, myself included, spoke out to make it clear that the Christian Gospel is not merely a Sunday morning hobby for a few elderly folk. After all, during a weekend far more people in the UK attend church than go to football matches (although bishops don’t command such great transfer fees, so maybe they’re less newsworthy)!
The prayer jerked me to attention:
Father forgive us
For living as if we were ashamed to belong to your Son;
Father forgive us.
My mind flew back to the last time I heard Dr. Carey speak in person. It was about two years ago in the large lecture theatre of the Manchester Business School. Flanked by Chief Executives and Chairmen of major British industrial and financial companies he spoke unflinchingly about the need to bring Christian standards of behaviour to bear on our business lives. The topic was different that day. The audience was very different. But there was one similarity at least. The place was packed. Senior businessmen from around the NorthWest of England were sitting on the steps of the lecture hall to hear how the Gospel was relevant to their working lives.
In thought I travelled again, this time to Budapest and back in time a thousand years, to when King Istfan (Stephen) first formed the fragmented Magyar tribes into a nation. Stephen could be a ruthless monarch at times, but he wanted to learn of Christianity and for his people to do the same. He invited preachers to work among them, but he did something else - which, through modern eyes, looks strange.
In order to spread the faith he brought in foreign Christian craftsmen and businessmen! He knew that in a corrupt society their distinctive honesty and style of doing business would be as effective a means of spreading the Christian Good News as would preaching. He also knew that they would not hesitate to explain what it was which had so transformed their lives. I wonder, have we come around full circle again today, and by the way we behave in our business lives can we rise to the challenge of yesterday morning’s closing hymn?
We have a Gospel to proclaim,
Good news for men in all the earth;
The Gospel of a Saviour’s name:
We sing his glory, tell his worth.