Some of you will know that I once worked in Montreal. I had the joy of spending some months ministering at the Anglican Cathedral in Montreal - a kind of sabbatical. It was an amazing time during which I learnt so much. It changed me as a person, and as a priest.
After Paris, it is the largest French-speaking city in the world. Montreal is basically an island, and tightly-packed: after Toronto it is the most populous city in Canada. Partly because of that density, and tragically, Montreal is also the coronavirus capital of Canada, with a death rate four times higher than that of Toronto.
A quick history lesson: The Anglican Cathedral, Christ Church, sits in the heart of downtown Montreal, overshadowed by a colossal skyscraper. Consecrated in November 1859, it is quintessentially an English church. In its late nineteenth century/early twentieth century heyday, it was a socially, as well as spiritually, significant place of gathering for the city’s leading industrialists, financiers and businessmen. The cathedral’s Deans were very English in outlook, and it is only latterly that there has been any attempt to ensure that they are Francophone as well as Anglophone. Stained-glass windows by William Morris; fixed, heavy, dark pews; a Bishop’s Throne decorated with fabrics from the coronation of George VI in Westminster Abbey; and a plethora of memorial tablets in commemoration of figures both military and ecclesiastical, complete the picture of a traditional English church building.
But la revolution tranquille of 1960/61 brought an end to Anglophone political and economic dominance. What had previously been a famously religious province (Mark Twain said of Montreal ‘this is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window’) became famously secular. Anglicans are a tiny minority in the city, and in the whole province of Quebec there are about 80,000 out of a population of 8.5 million.
And like us they are hurting. Like us, they are having to discover a new life, a new ministry, a new way of being. It isn't getting any easier for them, just as it isn't for us. But one of the ways they bless me is to lift my eyes out of my own frequent despairing, and to give me afresh sense of perspective. I like to look at their liturgies, always bilingual, always (interestingly for us, perhaps) non-Eucharistic, as the Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada have instituted an official Eucharistic fast.
The liturgy for last Sunday ended with the most extraordinary blessing. At a time when we are increasingly mistrustful of our political leaders; bewildered by 'the' science around the virus; and angry at a world in which human beings are murdered for being black, here was a language of blessing which eschewed the polite, and embraced the prophetic. If liturgy was always worded like this, it would wear us out. But sometimes we need words that will fire us up:
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
Discomfort, Anger, Tears - and Foolishness: may these be God's gifts to me, and to you, right now. God knows we need them.