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Simpler, Humbler, Bolder?

AL BARRETT

When a whale dies in the ocean, the ‘mobile scavengers’ are soon
on the scene, feeding on its flesh, as the carcass slowly falls to the
seabed. Next come the ‘enrichment opportunists’ who feed on
the remaining blubber, and burrow into the bones. And then, in a
process that can last a hundred years, bacteria break down what’s
left of the whale’s skeleton to provide nourishment for mussels,
clams, limpets and sea snails. Over time, these deep-sea ‘whale
fall’ sites become hotspots for evolutionary diversity (‘adaptive
radiation’), enabling the generation of a multitude of new species
and ecological communities in and around the carcass of the dead
whale.1
What if… the Church of England, as we know it, is in the process
of decomposing? What if the institution we inhabit is akin to the
carcass of a dead whale? Perhaps some of the biological terms in the
description above might feel a little bit uncomfortably close to the
bone (‘enrichment opportunists’, anyone?). Perhaps the starkness
of the analogy is horrifyingly bleak for those who are committed to
digging their heels in and ‘saving the parish’. But what might that
starkness jar us into paying attention to, that we might otherwise
be missing?
A ‘stunning of the imagination’
‘The Great Humbling’ is a podcast that began in April 2020, where
‘recovering sustainability consultant’ Ed Gillespie and author
Dougald Hine reflected together on some of the ways in which
the COVID-19 pandemic might be experienced as an (unchosen)
stripping of pride and self-importance, a ‘bringing down to earth’
(humus in Latin) in ways that are both a kind of defeat and the
beginnings of re-connection. Series 3 of the podcast, in Spring
2021, proposed some ‘new moves’ that might be called for in

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