In 2007, while I was researching clergy roles and identities, I jumped at the opportunity to spend a few days with the chaplain at the Repton School. It was the only pulpit from which I agreed to speak during my research work because it is such a different sort of ministry setting. Repton is a beautiful place, and I was graciously received and enjoyed my time there.
I was keen to visit for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that William Temple was Headmaster at this historic school early in his ordained ministry. The students didn’t know much about him, and so my chapel address was based around a sermon he gave during his tenure. It is one of my favorite short pieces, called “The Sin of Stupidity”. After the assembly, the Headmaster asked if I could find him a copy–fortunately, the book in which it is contained (Studies in the Spirit and Truth of Christianity) was in the school’s library, so it was easily located.
Later that evening, while conversing with the Chaplain, I asked him what he hoped he could accomplish with the students. Even though the school has a strong historic Church of England affiliation, few of the students come from devoutly Christian homes. What the Chaplain said was interesting to me. He said that he hoped that they could see the church as ‘a resource for the rest of their lives, a place that they could dip into and out of when needed.’ He said he hoped that, even if they were never regular churchgoers, they could appreciate the good that the church was capable in the world, that they would support its presence, and have good associations with the institution.
As I thought about this, I was reminded of a quote about the church from the sermon Temple preached at his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury. He spoke of the church as the ‘City of God’, not as a sealed fortress:
The City of God, which has sometimes appeared like a beleaguered fotress, again stands befor us with gates wide open so that citizens of all nations may enter, but also that its own citizens may ride forth… (in The Church Looks Forward, 1944)
It is, or could be, a place where those sympathetic to Christian purposes in the world might find resources and refreshment, a time and place to regroup and strengthen before going out to do that nine-tenths of the work. They might not visit frequently. But the important thing is free egress and ingress. It is not the Augustinian eschatological city, a goal at the end of the Christian’s earthly pilgrimage (or, as I have also heard ‘the waiting room for heaven’). Rather, it is a base of strategic operations, one that can be returned to when needed, and where the Past-Christian might reliably find what she needs for the next period of life.
As well, it is equally welcoming to the needy and hurting world–not separate from it, but ready to interact with it to fill needs and heal hurts. It is open to attack, but welcomes all even if they might compromise it.
This is a very different Church as City of God than we usually encounter. I think it is worth retrieving.