Bramble Welby upstaged her human on a BBC Newcast this week. “Lie down. Can you lie down. That’s a good girl,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury.
“Nope,” thought Bramble. “Not doing that. I spies mince pies..”
“Lie down,” whispered the Archbishop. “Then you’re going to disappear off.”
“Nope, I’m not,” thought Bramble. “There’s lights, camera, and action. And I spies mince pies..”
And then, sounding like Johnny Morris, Justin Welby explained to Adam Fleming that Bramble, star of stage and screen and Christian ministry, is ‘ABCD’ – the Archbishop of Canterbury’s dog.
“Nope, I’m not,” muttered Bramble. “You’re ABCD – Archbishop of Canterbury Dunce – and you’re my human.”
“O, she’s a handful,” continued the Archbishop. “She’s a clumber spaniel, so she’s insatiable when it comes to food.”
“Uh-huh,” thought Bramble. “I can still smell mince pies…”
“Does she like Christmas dinner, Archbishop?” asked Laura Kuenssberg.
“What a stupid question,” muttered Bramble. “Where does the BBC find these dim humans?”
“She loves it,” said Bramble’s human. “She prefers other people’s Christmas dinner. We have caught her on the table before now.”
“Well that’s because you don’t put it on the floor,” muttered Bramble. “If I spies food, I salivate. If I smells food, I gotta have it.”
And then Bramble’s human went on to describe his role in the nation, talking about local churches in every community, involved in 33,000 social projects, feeding people, caring, looking outwards and ministering to everyone without discrimination; caring, caring, and caring. Going to church is good for mental health, he explained. People come together to worship, which gives people joy, hope, faith, and the confidence to care for others.
Laura Kuenssberg probed Bramble’s human about his work as a hospital chaplain during the Covid lockdown. “What impact did that have on you?” she asked.
There is a long pause.
A very long pause.
“It had the most profound impact on me. It stopped me worrying about myself so much, which is very healthy, so it reminded me that it’s not about me. It obviously was in the front line, seeing the extraordinary work being done by the NHS, and their capacity for improvisation, invention, sorting things out quickly. It above all showed my the huge importance of the dignity of each human being, regardless of faith. I just think of the number of people who were very near the end of their lives that I prayed with, or parents with children – not Covid related – who were near the end of their life, and that sense of our fragility, but of the hope that people found in prayer, in God, in reaching out, was extraordinary…”
Laura Kuenssberg asked him if any specific moments have stayed with him.
“There are two very specific…” he pauses for a moment. “One was with a women in critical care with very severe Covid. Couldn’t speak. She was conscious – she could just hold out her hand – and we locked eyes while I prayed for her…”
There is a long pause.
“And I’ll go to my own death with the picture of her face in my mind… And the other was an unconscious woman from a Muslim tradition, a Muslim background, whose family had said, ‘Please, would someone pray with her? We don’t care.’ And I knelt by her bed. She was unconscious, and I held her hand and prayed for her. And there was – I’m sorry, this will sound slightly metaphysical and mystic – but there was a huge sense of the presence of God. And I learned so much from that about the love of God for every single human being, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they’re like. And that had a deep impact on the way I view people generally. But those were really two of dozens and dozens of really special moments.”
He becomes emotional.
And he talks of committing people to God’s hands, anointing some of them, and the need to be honest about the tragedy, the lament, the protest…
“I don’t know if any of you remember Postman Pat,” he swerves, to much merriment, recounting that while Pat’s dog has been killed and there’s mass murder in the village, the vicar is there just saying, “God bless you, Pat!” without any integrity, compassion or sincerity. That’s not the church he leads.
And he talks about his own personal errors, his own negligence, his own contrition, his own need for forgiveness, his own reluctance to throw stones. And he pays tribute to the Supreme Governor for her exemplary Christian witness, and he tells us how he pastors politicians and prime ministers, always making sure that he says things to their faces before talking about them behind their backs. And he talks about the need for more truth and less obfuscation.
And then we come to Christmas: God becomes a baby, and through all the awful suffering in the world, the natural disasters, the social catastrophes, civil wars, persecution, we look on that baby as giving us hope, eternal life, the light of the world.
Bramble Welby doesn’t return. She’s heard it all before. She thinks her human is really quite a remarkable pastor to the nation, sensing its needs, feeling its pains, weeping with those who weep, praying for their salvation. She ministers to her human with unconditional love, and that’s her mission in life. It’s a lesson she teaches him every single day, and so subtle is she with it that he doesn’t even notice. She lets her human think it’s all down to him: her theology is canine kenosis.
With mince pies.