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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

4 March 2020: Rev'd Stephen Wright, Petersfield Methodist Church

Bothersome beards and rights and wrongs

I’m sure it can’t have escaped your notice that beards are back. Both my sons have carefully managed facial hair; I on the other hand am clean shaven. It’s a generation thing, I guess. I have no inclination to let mine grow, but neither do I have any strong feelings towards those who do. I suppose there are those who do get ‘hot under the collar’ about such things, but most of us are pretty relaxed about it. This was not always the case.

In fact, the greatest church split there has ever been (between what is today the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church) was, to some degree, about beards! I will spare you the details, but suffice to say it was a big deal. The priests in the east were bearded, their counterparts in the west were not. At some point in time, it was at least as important as the idea that priests should be celibate. Today, parts of the church still hold to the latter, but no-one gets bothered about beards.

It reminds us that some of the things that we expend a huge amount of energy debating, often with more than a little acrimony, are but a passing phase, a moment in time. The march of history can quickly, like the debate about beards, make some issues look very antiquated and unnecessary. Will our relationship with Europe be one of these, or for example, the church’s issues with same sex marriage? Who can tell? We can’t know ahead of time which issue will have legs and which will not. Nevertheless, the time-bound nature of our debating should give us pause for thought and certainly a degree of humility about what we think is ‘obviously’ right.


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