MILLENNIUM EXPERIENCE

JUNE 1999

THE DANGER NOW, of course, after the undreamed of success of TOOL, and in the white heat of the run-up to the GREAT EVENT itself is BURN OUT!

We have seen it happen before - the two Michaels in the great Decade of Evangelism fiasco: burn-out if ever I saw it!! Humankind cannot bear very much evangelisation; and that goes for evangelists, too!

So those of us who are really, really at the coalface have been benefiting from some counselling. Both Gavin and Stephen have been marvellous! They realise what happened to the Decade and they want this event to be a marked contrast.

Stephen put it marvellously - and I felt so much better.

'The problem with the Decade of Evangelism', he said, 'is that the way it was presented raised unrealistic expectations. People seemed to expect that, as a result, more people would go to church. That was frankly ridiculous. Of course fewer people now go to church than went to church ten years ago - everybody knew that would be the case. And even though we are not publishing the figures any more, they still know it is the case.'

'Now the good thing about the Millennium Celebration is that it is essentially aimless. No one knows what it is about or what it is for.'

' At first that might seem dispiriting; but viewed from the point of view of practical, pragmatic evangelism, it makes excellent sense. No real purpose; no unreal expectations!! If the Millennium Celebration has no effect on anything whatsoever, we can still pass it off as a jolly romp. And provided someone else comes up with the cash, all will be well.'

I saw his point immediately and it took a great weight off my mind. I saw that really great events in the life of the Church (unlike those in the rough and tumble of the secular city) do not need to reach out for 'targets' or achieve results: they simply are. Like the Lambeth Conference itself, it will not matter whether anyone takes any notice whatever of our gathering.

It will matter most 'that we were there'.

I have to say, though, that I do feel the pressure is on me to deliver.

I know there have been adverts for others who will share the Chaplaincy task in the Dome - but I am the one who has had to do all the preparations, and I am where the buck stops. It is really, really awesome to be at the heart of such a great national event! And it's nail-biting, not knowing whether the ABC will be there with me or not.

Gerald and Chris keep asking me, and I keep asking Andrew Deuchar; but we get no closer to a resolution.

In the absence of the ARCH, the word is now that TONY BLAIR himself is going to lead the nation in prayer from the Dome on the BIG NIGHT. Now don't get me wrong, I think that would be really, really super. Tony is a world spiritual leader of towering stature, and he is an Anglican (or sort of!). But even I cannot see him as a full-scale substitute for George-and-Eileen.

But just in case it has to be Tony, I have drawn up a short order of service which I am faxing to Downing Street by way of suggestion, and posting on my new Millennium Experience Website. It will (of course) include I Cor XIII - Tony read it so nicely at Diana's funeral - and (a brilliant touch, I thought) an interlude of Kosovan orphans singing 'Away in a manger', poignantly linking the Christmas theme with the deprivations of war. (I hope the war is not over by then!)

The whole thing will end with Joe singing a couple of songs from the show, and a blessing from a woman pentecostalist minister. I intend to keep a low profile. We want no triumphalism from the Established Church in the New Millennium!!

I have to say that, in Greenwich, things are now beginning to hum. I put on my hard hat the other day and went off for an official inspection of the rail and road links to the Dome with John Prescott! (One of the perks of this job is that you get to meet la crème de la crème!!) At least people are now going to be able to get to the Dome - which is quite a relief! - and it is now beginning to be clearer what is actually going to be in it.

I have finished the arrangements for my Counselling Pavilion, where trained counsellors will be on duty every waking hour, giving support, help and wholly non-directive assistance to anyone who comes in search of a new sense of direction. It will, of course be multi-faith and inter-disciplinary.

When the representatives of the various agencies gathered together (how exciting to have so much under the CofE umbrella, so to say!!), it was amazing to discover that there are now more trained counsellors in England and Wales than there are police officers.

Imagine! All that skill and expertise bringing consolation to the lives of others! These people are to our age and generation what the priesthood and the religious orders were to the Middle Ages! Why had I been wasting my time on that boring old non-residential Ordination Course, learning about the documentary hypothesis of the formation of the Pentateuch, I asked myself, when there were all these marvellous skills, out there for the learning?

To tell the truth I felt a little ashamed. I don't even share a vocabulary with these people. At the end of it all I felt that the Church had let me down, and sent me unskilled into the market place.

So you can see that, after the excitements of last month - the PoW and all - that the next few months are going to be hard work and serious application. I am going to make this thing a success - for Gavin, for Stephen, and for Jesus! And I have a sneaking feeling that, though no one has the faintest idea what 'success' in a caper like this could or ought to mean, they will recognize it when they see it.

I am not ambitious; but as Joe says, in a job like this all you have to do is 'survive and spin... spin and survive'.

By a curious irony it's rather like those Flying Bishop fellows we are working to get rid of. As far as I can see, they live the life of Riley. In order to please the people who appointed them, they have only to be sufficiently indolent to do themselves out of a job!

Derek says he simply cannot understand the CofE, and that his charismatic cinema is much more practical and realistic about manpower and resources. He thinks the idea of a job where you get into hot water if you do it too well is absurd.

But it all makes perfect sense to me.

 

April Heavisides is Archbishops' Chaplain to the Millennium Experience. She is a Canon of Southwark.

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