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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, January 31, 2009
    Be kind with Liverpool
     
    Near the end of twelve pages of quotes and anecdotes which he's collected in the man's memory, Robert writes that just days before he died at Christmasstide, John Fenton sat up in bed, and said to his wife, “Be kind with Liverpool”.

    Liverpool-born Fenton was Robert's principal at St Chad's College, Durham in the sixties and it's clear that his mischievous, surprising style, 'always with a desire to bring fresh perspectives to familiar texts, and always with a decided twinkle in his eye', massively influenced all those who studied under him. Being of a generation deprived of such singular leaders I'm grateful that I've at least felt Canon Fenton's disturbingly creative influence as filtered through some of his followers and friends; that's been enriching. From Robert's compilation, a sample of John Fenton's style from an address to ordinands:
    What the Church will need as its priests is men and women who know that the important and obvious thing about God is that he is silent. He does not speak. He does not grunt, or shuffle his feet, or cough, or do anything to assure us he is there. He meets us in his silence.
    The last words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ He has been given nothing to say. It has all been given to Pilate, the soldiers, the chief priests, the scribes, the passers-by and the centurion; they said who he was, mocking him in unbelief. He was silent, and Pilate was amazed. God was silent, and Jesus was desolate. This is the way.
    What the Church needs is people who believe in shutting up; that God is not a talking God; that we do not have the word of God, we have the silence of God. That’s all there is, and that’s what makes us tick; that’s what we want to bring others into.
    The purpose of Christian talk is to get us to stop talking.
    Great stuff. And “Be kind with Liverpool”. What did he mean? Contemplating that will keep me quiet for quite a bit.