We arrive at St. Rumwold's parish, about thirty miles from Canterbury, set among "amber waves of grain." Surrounded by nearly ripe wheat fields, on the edge of what used to be the coast (before the area was drained, Henry VIII's warships were built here, and the soldiers who would murder Thomas a Becket landed here from France), St. Rumwold's has hosted Christian worshippers since A.D. 786. The present building "only" dates back 1,000 years!
Let me save you some time looking up St. Rumwold. It seems that Rumwold was born, and when he was three days old (yes, that's three DAYS old), he delivered a sermon on the Trinity and promptly died. Sermons on the Trinity are generally tough, but this one takes the cake! No wonder we don't have a St. Rumwold's in New Hampshire!
In the middle of nowhere, amid this beautiful farm country, I was greeted by twenty or so photographers, did a live interview on BBC TV, and taped another interview with Sky TV.
St. Rumwold's has a curious ministry of "absence." That is, its special ministry seems to be of offering an empty (except for God) church for people to stop in and pray, anytime, 24/7. It is a haven of peace and quiet in a busy world, offering its beauty and simplicity to all who might find it welcome. Offering little in the way of potential stolen property, it worries not about losing anything.
Every Friday evening in the summers, St. Rumwold's offers a lecture to the community. Last night, I was it. The place was packed to the gills, and the organizers seemed quite happy at the turnout -- the largest in thirty years, they said. The audience was diverse in age and theological stance. Billed as a "conversation with Bishop Robinson," I mostly answered people's questions. They were thoughtful and interesting.
There were a couple of quite conservative questioners who voiced their concerns about my regard for the Scriptures and what, it seemed to them, was my playing fast and loose with the Word of God. They were respectful, thoughtful and sincere. One of them, a lovely woman who appeared to be in her eighties, read to me from her Bible. To her credit, she not only read the familiar part of Leviticus, but went on to read Levitcus' instruction that "a man who lies with a man as with a woman" should be put to death. I asked her if she thought that Mark and I should be put to death. She responded, "I didn't say it. God did." I went on to answer her question as best I could. At the end of the evening, she thanked me and patted me on the arm as only a matron and matriarch of the church can do. She reminded me of the matriarchs I had grown up with in my church in Kentucky. She and I may not agree, but she was there! At eighty-something, she was still opening her heart to learn what God would have her learn. You can't ask for more than that.
One man approached me after the service, nearly sobbing. All he could get out was that he had left the Church twelve years ago, having been treated and hurt so badly. For the first time in a long time, he said, he was feeling some hope of being able to return. I pray so.
Numerous people, including the vicar, shared that they had a son or daughter who was gay, and I was reminded of my own parents who were so isolated from their friends when I came out to them, afraid that their friends would judge THEM and punish them for my being gay. These are parents -- and there are so many, everywhere -- who love their child and who can't square what they think the Bible says, with the wonderful child they know and love. Of all the people in the audience, they seemed the most appreciative.
After refreshments, we made our way back through the waving wheat fields to our lodging outside of Canterbury. An evening well spent.