Monday, 23 January 2012

Christian Unity and M1 Widening

I've never lived far from the M1.

It's a straight enough road and an honest one. In its modern configuration it goes from the chaos of Staples Corner to the Yorkshire straightforwardness of a junction with the A1. In between it embraces Watford and Watford Gap, Leicester and Leeds. Its clear original intent of letting northern people get south more quickly has always been muddied by the politically correct decision to have an equal number of lanes going the other way, to pretend that might be equally attractive.

Between about 2004 and about 2008, the road suffered between Luton and somewhere around Redbourn as they widened it. For a period of four years or so, drivers in that section suffered delays, contraflows (which are not as fun as contrabasses) and low speed limits while peope in hi viz drove dumper trucks around. And then they finished.

And you would think that at this point the powers-that-be would have though that was a good job, and put some money into something useful - like some bike lanes that actually went somewhere and didn't dump people, screaming, into oncoming traffic or just disappear after forty yards. But no.

Instead they realised that if you widen one bit of road, thus making it quicker and easier for people to get from, let's say, Harrow to Toddington, many people will realise they didn't really want to go to Toddington (lovely as it is, and the Methodists are very nice, as I remember them) but will push on - wondering what are the delights of Newport Pagnell, Northampton, or even - fabled as it is - Nottingham.

And so with a wipe of the brow and maybe a light oiling of the dumper trucks, the people in hi viz moved up to the stretch between Luton and Milton Keynes (junctions 11 to 13 or so) and started widening all over again.

The current widening goes right past our demesne of Husborne Crawley, of course. And has been ongoing, in my admittedly subjective estimation, for about 1,000 years.

And if they ever finish - which seems unlikely, given their current rate of progress - they will move up to the MK to Leicester stretch, I suspect, and start all over again - as that will now need widening as everyone bottlenecks at J14.

I reckon that over the last 10 years, someone who drove regularly between Husborne Crawley and Watford will have enjoyed approximately one day of trouble-free, contra-flow free driving. When it's all finished it will be worth it. But of course it will never finish.

I remember the M1 widening as I consider the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The more I think about it, the less I understand what it's really for. I am of course all for wishing each other well, praying for other denominations and recognizing the Spirit working through them. And where fellowships can work together to highlight issues we can influence - or work on projects where we are stronger together - let's go for it. But are we praying that one day the different denominations will bury the hatchet and all be - organisationally - as one? If so, like M1 widening, I suspect it's never going to end, this process.

Within the historically mainstream denominations, no Methodist or Presbyterian will submit to Rome. Especially the female minister, I reckon. And in the new, vibrant, Pentecostal movements - why would they bother? For myself, I am happy to work towards union with Rome. But I can see real problems as to how we would fit the Catholic heirarchy into our flat Beaker structures. Clearly the Pope can't be an Archdruid - he being male. But would he accept conditional re-accreditation as a Deputy Druid? It seems unlikely.

So instead we will have an annual week of services that seem vaguely to have survived from the 60s, as a collection of churches host their neighbours in a variety of ways that are intended not to offend. Our Catholic brothers and sisters will attempt not to pray that we will all be one - just as soon as the Protestants have recognised the errors of their ways. The Protestants will try not to mention the Reformation.

We will say nice words in the liturgical equivalent of thin soup. We can pretend we'd like it if we were all together as one - if only all the others were like us. And then we can go back and get on with our internal squabbles for the rest of the year, having agreed to hold a joint carol service in November.

Still, I shall look on the bright side. At least we've stopped burning one another. That's one step forward.


  1. I like your thinking, I tend to find any 'churches together' or christian unity things take the lowest common denominator of church - that we all get bored sometimes - and make that the central focus of a joint service. Because it we are all bored we can't be fighting each other over historical differences none of us understand but we heartily agree with. Where's my matches...

  2. I'm sure it's simply that nobody wants to offend anyone else with any scary doctrine. But of course it's the variation that brings the interest.


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