Manager of the Deceased: why Christians should keep on praying and acting

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A few years ago, a colleague and I devised a game to play in the Common Room at break time. I seem to recall that it was inspired by a newspaper article about some of the most stupid job titles given to roles being advertised at the time. The aim of our game was simple: we each had to devise ridiculous titles for everyday jobs and the other had to guess the role.

Let’s see how you get on with some of our finest work (answers are at the bottom):

  1. Follicle Enhancement Technician
  2. Rehydration Implementation Operative
  3. Recreation Determination Counsellor
  4. Fenestration Hygienist

I thought that my colleague and I were quite good at this, but it turns out that the National Secular Society (NSS) is better. You may have seen a Tweet which expressed the NSS’s dismay that ‘religious staff’ have been included on the Government’s list of vital roles, entitling certain individuals to send their children to school during the Covid-19 pandemic. The NSS wants to draw a distinction between ‘religious staff’ in general and those who have a specific function, such as those involved with the…wait for it…management of the deceased.

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Now *that* is a job title.

‘How do you do. I’m Fr. Craig, Manager of the Deceased.’

To be fair, the NSS has acknowledged that their position had its flaws and they have apologised for the insensitive timing of their statement.

I respect them for that.

However, this situation has highlighted two problems with the secularist agenda.

Firstly, secularism sets itself up as some panacea for all the world’s ideological ills but let’s be clear: secularism is not a neutral positionThe desire to remove religion from the public square is itself an value-laden point of view and to hold that view is fine, but let’s not pretend that it is anything more than another kind of ideology.

Secondly, the secularist agenda fails to take into account the deep relationship between inward belief and outward action; they seem to think that you can have the latter without the former. But no one acts out of a vacuum: we are all motivated by values and without them, all action is bled dry of any meaning. That’s how we end up with phrases like ‘management of the deceased.’ This is both depressing and potentially dangerous.

This whole situation reminded me of the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knew more than most about the relationship between inward belief and outward action:

We can be Christian today in only two ways: through prayer and in doing justice among human beings. Christian thinking, organising and talking must be born anew, out of prayer and action.

Letters and Papers from Prison, 3/145

Bonhoeffer could see that prayer without action resulted in a kind of ecclesiastical impotence and action without prayer could result in terrifying human ideologies; he understood that, for Christians, it is through prayer that we come to understand how we should act.

Inward belief and outward action.

And it is the relationship between these two things which is motivating people of faith up and down the land to roll up their sleeves and provide help in these frightening and uncertain times.

There are nearly 8,000 churches supporting the work of Foodbanks in England right now; faithful parish priests will be contacting their vulnerable parishioners to make sure they’re not lonely or without provisions; hospital chaplains will be ministering to the sick, the dying and their relatives; education chaplains will be ensuring that the vulnerable children in their care continue to receive support, even though the country’s schools are closed; army padres will be fortifying military personnel as they mobilise to help halt the spread of this dreadful pestilence.

And all of this does not emerge from a vacuum: it is a consequence of the unbreakable bond between prayer and action.

For it is through prayer that we place ourselves in the presence of the God who is loving, faithful and caring, the God who took human flesh, who was born into poverty and who was to be found amongst the sick and the outcast. And if we place ourselves in God’s presence, then we will find that our wills will become attuned with his will, which in turn, ought to translate into concrete acts of Christian service.

Prayer and action.

One leads to the other.

That’s why I think the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were right when they said:

We make no apology for saying “Pray!” Even if you scarcely can imagine how, pray! Pray for yourself, for those you love, for friends and neighbours.

So we’ll keep on praying. We’ll keep on acting. God knows we need both right now.

But one thing we won’t be doing is ‘managing’ anyone, deceased or otherwise.

We’ll be showing them God’s love instead.

The Reverend Craig Huxley-Jones, Eschatological Destination Advisor 

 

If you didn’t work them out:

  1. Follicle Enhancement Technician – hairdresser/barber
  2. Rehydration Implementation Operative – bartender
  3. Recreation Determination Counsellor – travel agent
  4. Fenestration Hygienist  – window cleaner

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