MILLENNIUM EXPERIENCE

by April Heavisides

Hi! I'm April and for the next twelve exciting months, as we prepare for the Millennium Experience, I will be sharing this column with you.

Now I know what you are thinking: Millennium (yawn, yawn, yawn); all party, and no Jesus. But you would be quite wrong! I will be around, as a sort of ombudsperson for the People's Church, to see that the spiritual dimension of this great national celebration is not neglected.

At first it was, I admit, disappointing to discover that the Church of England was not proposing to pay a penny towards to my salary or expenses. It was, I decided, just another attempt, on the part of a revisionist hierarchy, to marginalize ordained women.

But then I got to thinking about the thrust of what David and George really, really wanted. They wanted me, by the funding I secured for this post, to express its involvement in the community. They wanted it to be clear that mine was not just a 'churchy' exercise, but a lively expression of our vibrant post-modern culture! Which is why I am so delighted to announce that a full-time job-share is now being sponsored jointly by the Maharishi Johdpur Harare and Cadbury-Schweppes.

Yes - it's a job-share! Which adds an ecumenical dimension to the whole project! My job-pal is Joe, and Joe is a Roman Catholic (though not enough for it to show!) In fact she's a nun! Joe and I really really get on; which is just as well since we have to share a house together in Charlton.

Joe (Sister Immaculate of the Incarceration of Saint Rose of Lima in private life) is a zoomy modern-day nun. It's all tights and trouser-suits for Joe! The Incarceration (though there isn't much of that these days!) is a modern, forward-looking order whose principal work of mercy is doing God slots on Radio Four. Will you believe it? When they go through the ceremony of what they call 'profession', every nun gets her own shiny yellow moped and a charge card at Harvey Nichols!

Actually the fact that this is a job share is vital for me because I am , of course, a lone parent. Not only does Joe do her bit God-slotting the Millennium Experience; she also helps bring up Tom. You would just love Tom! He is a bouncy, bright eyed four-year-old who's already developing into a very rounded and independent little person.

Derek (Tom's father - we separated four years ago) has Tom alternate Saturdays for quality time; but Joe and I are sure that Tom really prefers having two mums! What could be better? It's what we in the People's church call Something to Cel;

Of course Derek and I never married, and it was having Tom that made me aware that I was not yet ready for a permanent relationship. Anyway, by that time I'd met Angela (my local Vicar) and discovered a whole new and fulfilling way of life in my Church commitment. I was ordained, and, will you believe it, inside eighteen months I had landed this job?

And, I have to tell you, it is really really exciting! For the first time the Church of England has appointed a chaplain not to a place, not to an institution (like a hospital or a prison) but to an experience! As George said at the fireside chat after he had commissioned me in Lambeth Palace Chapel (what an honour!), the task of the People's Church is to get in touch with people's feelings and to put them in touch with their own innate spirituality.

I am at the forefront of that. Some people, I know think that the Millennium Dome is just a vast expensive New Labour Disneyland. But not so! This is going to be a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, emotional, spiritual, educational experience for the whole family! I expect that, when things are up and running, I shall have thousands of people coming to my Counselling Pavilion. They will want to talk about how we should interface with the brave new world of information technology that is opening up for us, and what it all means for the 'spiritual me'. I will have lots of opportunities for being non-directive, which is what I am best at. (Visit me on my exciting new web-page and learn how I can help you at www.cyberpriest.com.)

Between ourselves I rather wish that they had not decided to make so much of a fuss about Adam and Eve and the Fall at this event. I am sure it will be spectacular, but it really does show just how out of touch these secular agencies are. We really need to put all this patriarchal mythologising behind us! I don't want my one-to-one encounters to be dominated by a backward-looking concern with sin and wrong doing. I want to put people in touch with present realities, with the wonder of their own bodies and the opportunities the future holds for increased happiness and personal fulfilment. I tried to tell Peter Mandelson's office; but no one there ever listens! So we are stuck with it.

Speaking of Mandy, I am really looking forward to meeting him, on one of his flying photocalls in the yellow hard hat! Joe thinks that, whatever they say, he is really really handsome (though I don't suppose that either would be the other's type!) He will be my entree into government. As George says, I am at the cutting edge of the C of E's relationship with New Labour, which has not, apparently being going all that well. I intend to invite him round to Charlton, probably with Chris Smith and Damian. Joe can do a Chili con carne (which should go down well) and we could ask the Vicar.

Our Vicar is called Brigitta, which sounds very Swedish! In fact she is a loveable, cuddly, motherly person (when she is not being stern and schoolpersonly). We get on terribly well. I expect I shall be an asset in the parish.

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