JULY 99 MILLENNIUM EXPERIENCE

DO YOU WANT the good news or the bad news first?

Being Anglicans (just!) readers of New Directions will be acclimatised to the Diocesan Freebie/Church Times view of life. They will have been persuaded that BAD NEWS (in the CofE, that is) does not really exist. So I will start with the GOOD NEWS, which is this.

After months of planning and hours of agonising we can now go public on THE MILLENNIUM QUILT OF TEARS. At the heart of the Spirit Zone in the Dome will be a vast quilt of two thousand panels, each one in the shape of a tear drop, each one embroidered with symbols of her own her-story by a woman priest of the Anglican Communion!! The women will be black and white, north and south, rich and poor: but they will have one story to tell, the story of male oppression.

From the start I want you to understand the significance of this Quilt.

First of all it is symbolic of the role of women in creating and giving SHELTER. The role of women through the ages (when they were not being Apostles, Amazons and other things, of course) has been as home makers. They have given shelter and comfort. The quilt recognises that, in a vast and public way. Under a QUILT security is experienced and dreams are dreamed. Women have given the world all that.

Next it recognises the suppressed and ignored role of women in the ARTS. Embroidery, often trivialised by men engaged in what they are pleased to call the 'fine' arts, stands for all the artistic skills of women, belittled over centuries of Patriarchy: the carpet weaving, basket making, and lace-making. And those other intricate skills of story-weaving and fairy-tale making and lullaby-creating which are also women's contribution.

Last of all it proclaims and celebrates (yes - CELEBRATES !!) the GRIEF of women. Over the centuries in every culture which has ever existed (apart from those which women scholars are now discovering in the remote and mythical past) men have been in positions of authority and responsibility. And women have been devalued and marginalised. By graphically representing the grief and anger of women the Quilt will also proclaim the great truth that until women themselves are doing some of the marginalising, there can be no real reconciliation.

Now I know what you will say: that Jesus told people to turn the other cheek (and that, I fear, is probably what your mother told you, as well!). But I have to tell you that Jesus lived a long time ago, and certainly had not got the measure of this thing in its entirety. Have you grasped the simple fact that to have predicted in the first century what would happen in the twenty-first he would have to have been God? Bet you haven't!!!

Well, I think that, prima facie, we can rule that out, don't you? So la lutta continua (as Bishop Babs used to say): the Quilt - and so much else - goes on.

And yet - I hear you ask - if at this Millennium you are not celebrating the two-thousand year Lordship of the Eternal Son of God over the hearts of faithful people, what are you celebrating?

Good question! And the answer is plain. We are celebrating two thousand years of the history of the Church. And what a marvellously diverse group Christians over the centuries have been!!! Slaves and slave owners, nuns and mothers, kings and ascetics, knights and pacifists, sculptors and iconoclasts: all of them wrong until us! We alone can truly celebrate the Millennium because we, at last, have got it right!! We have expressed - we will have expressed - in the MILLENNIUM QUILT, the ultimate angst. And that is the point. At the heart of it all is the pain of a past we must now jettison.

Women priests represent a Church repressed and now set free. Just imagine what talents will be unlocked, what splendours will be revealed!!

Now for the BAD NEWS.

The so-called 'Two Integrities' policy, established under the Act of Synod (which Judith, Jean and I are working to see repealed), has resulted - will you believe it? - in the appointment of a member of Forward in Faith as a 'chaplain' to the Dome.

And where does that leave me, I hear you ask?

Now don't get me wrong - I am as ecumenical as the next woman, and quite convinced that the next Pope but three will be called Sharon - but this is a mile I cannot walk. Brigitta and the entire prayer group are agreed with me. I must face this situation out.

The 'either-he-goes-or-I-go' scenario is probably a non-starter, for the simple reason that he probably won't go - so I will have to be more subtle. I will need to appeal to 'superior authority' - though the fact that, in my case, 'superior authority' is Gerald Kauffman may prove difficult. What will be the attitude of a non-practising Jew to theological conflicts of interest among Christians? I suppose that that is the problem that lies at the heart of the enigma of an established church. Could it be that here at the Dome of the Future we are plumbing the depths - or indeed the heights - of the Anglicanism of the third millennium?

Regular readers and friends will want me to finish with some comment on things domestic.

The truth is that Joe has not been around much - what with the show and all that. She is now something of a star in the cultural firmament, and never home till late - dinners at the Ivy with Melvyn Bragg, evenings at the Traveller's with Andrew Wilson - that sort of thing. So Tom and I have been a little lonely.

I feel at this stage that I must share with readers a really intimate question. Should Derek and I get back together? I know that you will be aware of all the problems: my friendship with Joe, Derek's quite unacceptable Charismatic Christianity, and the demands of my new career as the friendly face of the Church of England's Millennium endeavours. But sometimes I just wonder - wonder whether it is all worthwhile; wonder whether I am sacrificing the future of my child to a dream for the Church's future, which may never materialise, and could never make sense without him.

What do you think? Lines will be open at 30p per minute for in-depth consultation. And I want real advice - mind you. None of your non-directive rubbish. This is serious!

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

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