I missed BESPA intentionally today for the first time in three years. Why?
But first: what is BESPA? It is a monthly meeting of all English-speaking clergy in Brussels at the Irish Franciscan parish. With two Roman Catholics and one Orthodox (me), the centre of gravity is inevitably rather Protestant.
Some people I like immensely. Like the quiet Salvation Army Captain and his very upfront wife, whom I have finally convinced I do not need 'saving'. Or my South African missionary friend, with his thick Boer accent, who works with Muslims and has nearly paid with his life for it. Or the American army chaplain: a straightforward, decent guy, who has been in Afghanistan and Korea and who says it as it comes.
Yes, there are the inevitable women priests and deacons, and that ‘halleluia Jesus’ black African evangelist who blurs the borderline between zeal and sanity.
But that’s not the problem, and not why I stayed away. The problem comes in two forms:
- Those people, mostly American, who ‘have Belgium on their heart’ and believe God has sent them on a mission to save our benighted country. I frankly doubt that He has. After a quarter-century in the country, speaking both national languages fluently, I think I have half an idea of what the Belgian religious 'problem' is. It is deep-seated and messy, but it needs a home-grown Belgian/European and not their imported solution, which threatens an already fragile Christian culture.
- The other thing is that, when all's said and done, my comfort or discomfort with fellow clergymen rests largely on an instinctive feel for the depths and veracity of their Christian experience (often in inverse proportion to the amount they speak about it). I do have the feeling of a lot of clergymen tread water from about age 40 onwards and, once you are in the system, it is damned difficult to move forward and become really spiritual. When many of my brethren take the floor, I start asking myself: does Orthodoxy provide that much better a line on God? And sometimes I even begin thinking it does.