Thought for the Day – Thursday 28th May, 2020
This is very much a week for remembering former Archbishops of Canterbury. Two days ago the church commemorated Augustine who brought a group of monks to this country in 596 to re-evangelise the English church. He founded a cathedral in Canterbury and became the first archbishop. Today we commemorate a lesser-known figure, Lanfranc. He was the first Norman archbishop, appointed by William the Conqueror in 1070. He had been the Benedictine prior of the monastery at Bec in Normandy and was already known as a great reformer of ecclesiastical, administrative and legal affairs. At a time when archbishops were very much at the centre of government he became a an important statesman, working alongside the new king with energy and vigour to ensure that both state and church were reformed and improved. The changes he brought about gave a new impetus to the church which had become in the years since Augustine rather lax. The effects of his work survive to this day. He died in office in 1089.
It may seem strange for the church to set aside a special day for someone whose principal talents appear to lie with administrative reform and the law – a sort of patron saint of bureaucrats. These things are important of course, and no church can manage without proper organisation and some sense of order. To be able to manage, organise and administer in any work context are important gifts, no less for a church than for any other institution. As St. Paul says “There are all forms of gift but the same Spirit. There are varieties of service, but the same Lord.” (1 Corinthians 12.,5). It may seem dull or uninspiring, but it is vital, and we need to pray for those who enable and facilitate the work of the church in making the Gospel of Christ known in the world, perhaps particularly so in these challenging times.
However, it goes further than that. What lies at the heart of good leadership and administration is trust. It is impossible to bring about any real change if the person who instigates it does not have the trust of those who are expected to carry it out. Lanfranc was a great leader because he had the vision to see what needed to be done, the ability to see how it could be achieved, and, most of all, he was trusted. He commanded the respect of those in the church and the secular power who had to bring to fruition what he wanted. He clearly worked hard at that and he must have been quite a personality to achieve what he did.
As I write the news is full of stories about a lack of trust in the national government. I do not want to dwell on the detailed ins and outs of what certain officials may or may not have done (I rather suspect that this story will, as they say, run and run) but there is that fundamental point about the need for people to trust those who are in charge. If there is not that trust then there is no way that good government of any kind can continue, and it seems to me that that is in jeopardy at the moment. I would not presume to suggest in this forum what the government should do in this particular case, but there are certain principles which need to be borne in mind.
This is not in any way a political broadcast, rather it is an attempt to discern some spiritual truths in the way matters should be conducted, especially when everything is so uncertain, confusing and worrying. That is why the history of saints or church leaders of the past such as Lanfranc can be helpful for Christians of today, indeed, for everyone.
We believe in a God in whom we can trust absolutely. We know that he is a great and loving creator – one who cares for us, sustains us and wants the very best for us as demonstrated by sending his only Son, Jesus Christ, to this earth to be born, to live amongst us, to die for us and to rise again. At morning prayer yesterday there was a wonderful part in the reading from Numbers 23:
“God is not a human being that he should lie or a mortal that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?”
We need to trust God in all that we do and we need to try to emulate that principle of trust, not just in our personal lives but in the public sphere as well. If so then we can truly say along with the writer of 1 Peter:
“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5.7)