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Letter to the Editor: Response to the Last Editorial

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Letter to the Editor: The Murder of Sir David Amess

Murder of Sir David Amess Dear Editor, I grieve at the loss of a friend and former Party colleague Sir David Amess, MP who was murdered in an increasingly dangerous world. In the 70s I worked with David in the Young Conservatives before he became an MP and he was...

Reformation Sunday Advert

LETTER TO THE EDITOR:                        15 October 2021. My ‘Advert’ titled “Reformation Sunday 31 October” said, “The Church of England should still celebrate this 500th year since Martin Luther declared at the ‘Diet of Worms’ in 1521, “Here I stand. God help...

Leicester Diocese Illogical

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Barnabas Fund Reports: Turkey Escalates Airstrikes Against Christians in Syria & Iraq

Barnabas Fund Reports Turkey Escalating Airstrikes Against Christians and other Minorities in Syria and Iraq Turkey has escalated a supposedly anti-terrorist military campaign in Syria and Iraq which appears to be targeting Christians and other minorities. A spate of...

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Gospel-Driven Anglicanism Part 4

Should I Stay or Should I Go? By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles Part 4 Gedaliah is appointed governor and we read that Jeremiah purposely chooses to live amongst “those of the poorest of the land who had not been taken into exile in Babylon” (40:7). Things have taken a turn...

466th Anniversary of the Martyrdoms of Latimer & Ridley

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Clive West Memorial Trust Lecture: John Yates III to Speak

Clive West Memorial Trust Lecture  Revd Dr John Yates III to Speak The annual Clive West Memorial Lecture will be held on Thursday, 11 November at 19:30 at St Nicholas’ Church, Lisburn Road in Belfast.  This year’s speaker is the Revd Dr John Yates III, Rector of Holy...

Book Review: Bleeding for Jesus

Bleeding for Jesus John Smyth and the cult of the Iwerne Camps Andrew Graystone Darton, Longman and Todd, 2021 (ISBN: 9781913657123, 250pp, £12.99) This book is the latest instalment of a long-running tragedy. It comes six years after the author was first made aware...

School Pupils Across the Country Memorise Passages from BCP for £1,000 Prize

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Ashes to Instagram – Prudence Dailey

Ashes to… Instagram?

Commentary by Prudence Dailey

Abandoned by the Church of England at the Reformation for four-and-a-half centuries, the practice of imposing ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday has had a sudden resurgence in popularity—and not only amongst those of a High-Church disposition, but right across the Anglican spectrum. In normal, lockdown-free times, many clergy now even offer ‘ashes-to-go’ to bemused passers-by in the street.

Unlike, say, the washing of smelly feet on Maundy Thursday or the handing out of hot cross buns to the public on Good Friday, there is nothing intrinsically pleasant about a sooty mark on the head. It can only be interpreted as a symbol of penitence, and for that at least we should be grateful: it is not many decades since ‘progressive’ churchmen routinely recoiled in horror from any too-overt recognition of the sinfulness of human nature.

At the same time, the Church of England is adept at jumping on fads, without stopping to think too hard about what exactly it is doing, or why. It has been objected that the use of ashes in this way is in direct contravention of Matthew 6:16-18, which exhorts the faithful NOT to ‘disfigure their faces’ as a worldly display of fasting. On the other hand, it has also been argued that the use of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a corporate, rather than an individual, act: its purpose, therefore, is NOT to draw attention to the individual (since everyone else is doing the same thing), but to draw the individual’s attention to his own mortal state and need for repentance. 

The imposition of ashes can sometimes be a witness to a secular world: one thinks, for example, of the Scottish Nationalist MP, Carol Monaghan—a Roman Catholic—who in 2017 declined to wipe away her Ash Wednesday cross for a televised Select Committee meeting. It can be tricky, though, because the dividing line between public witness and personal display of piety is often a thin and shaky one, and a good deal of self-examination is required. If in doubt, there is a lot to be said for wiping off the ash before leaving the church building.

This year, because of the requirements of social distancing, churches have got creative, with some flinging ashes from a distance, while others handed out little pots of ash for congregants to self-administer. Mindful of the needs of those for whom attending church in person this year was not possible, the Church of England took it upon itself to produce a special Instagram filter, enabling users to impose virtual ashes on their selfies, which they could then post online. The use of this was demonstrated by a moving image of a young woman, the digitally created cross on her head cleverly moving with her as she turned.

This, surely, is a step too far. The girl in the image is smiling broadly, swinging her head as though admiring a new haircut: if she is contemplating her sinfulness and mortality, she looks remarkably cheerful about it. What started out as a clever idea totally misses the mark, and the result is, to put it bluntly, naff. It is a salutary warning as to what happens when symbolism becomes superficial: sometimes, less is more.

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