Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

A birthday card for the Arch

Dear Archbishop Emeritus,

Happy birthday! May October 7, the day of your 82nd birthday, be filled with joy. You are very special to many of us, and we are blessed to celebrate 82 years of your presence among us.

This is a very short story of why you are special to me, and why I wanted to paint a card for you. It is in lipstick, and I am grateful that the Anglicans have embraced ecclesiastical purple, because it made this very much easier.

You were head of my church in the 1980s, when you called for sanctions and all of us at St Michael’s in Bryanston tut-tutted, because in those rarefied echelons of business everyone voted PFP and worried about Diagonal Street. I remember putting on my cassock and surplice to sing in the children’s choir at the 10 o’clock service and feeling confused because womb in the hymns rhymed with tomb and not bomb. I was confused by you too, because you somehow threatened my way of life.

Later I learned not to be afraid of you. I learned to love what you stood for. I admired your courage and your consistency, as I do still.

tolerance

There are so many things I love about you.

Your humanity and your compassion.
Your prizing of empathy over dogma.
Your willingness to say things that others are too afraid to utter.
Most of all, your sense of humour. Your belief in the transformative power of laughter.
Your ability to see past anger to something better beyond.

Without forgiveness, there is no future, you have said. “I wish I could shut up, but I can’t, and I won’t,” you have told us.

I am a bad Anglican. I no longer go to church very often, if at all. I am not sure I believe in God anymore. But in the wider sense, the true sense of the word, I’m probably a better Christian than I was when I sang in the choir all those years ago and managed to believe in both Adam and Eve and the dinosaurs at the same time. If I believe in something, I believe in goodness. I believe in the power of the human spirit. I believe in you.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world,” you once said. That is what this painting is about.

Thank you.

Birthday card

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