The Sixth Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture

Links between William Tyndale and Joanna Trollope were presented by Archbishop George Carey when he chaired the 6th Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture at Lambeth Palace on 3rd November 1999 – both writers came from Gloucester, both had great powers of description and their aims were that their books should be accessible to all readers. A capacity audience in the historic Guard Room, with its beautiful hammerbeam roof, listened enthralled to Joanna Trollope’s lecture on The Christian Writer. She discussed the aims of writers, e.g. whether better to enjoy or endure life (Dr. Johnson) or to make small events interesting (Schopenhauer), and suggested that writers have an instinctive comprehension of everyday living, with its satisfactions and disappointments. Although they may write about the ordinary lives of ordinary people (Walter Scott), Joanna Trollope felt that every life is extraordinary, even if within a possible overcoat of stoicism, and that the frailties of hopes and fears should be treated with benevolence.

Authors from Piers Plowman to the 19th Century Novelists were propelled by the Christian virtues of compassion and tolerance, when God was an integral part of daily life, but during this century of shattering, miserable, unresolved conflicts, religion is no longer the norm : there is a burden on this life to provide all for now and what heaven would have been expected to supply. Christian writers therefore go against the tide of our secular age with its fascination with violence and anarchy – but they should be truthful and frank, introducing the principles of Christianity as a subtle infusion to uplift and comfort.

Like Philip Larkin (Church Going, 1954), many who admit that belief has gone recognise a hunger in themselves when visiting a church. Although moral values have changed, the broken heart is the same, whether in the 12th or 20th century, and the Christian writer can explore the elusiveness, complexity and endurance of faith.

The theme There is darkness in life was considered: readers of crime fiction expect a final solution, and that a gardener should be in charge in the garden of good and evil. The terror and despair of the women of Canterbury (Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot) that ‘God is leaving us’ could only be assuaged by love, and our willingness to give is a mirror image of the love of God. Always the story is the part that is remembered : readers can identify with people and circumstances (hence the use of parables by Jesus), but it is necessary to be truthful, however painful or messy truth may be, in order to be believed.

The Christian writer must show humility not arrogance, display vulnerability to the pain of others and communicate a confidence of expectation in the future.

Questions were invited, which Joanna Trollope answered with frankness and sincerity; regarding which writers had influenced her most, she described how our tastes develop and change as life’s experiences broaden, so choice cannot be static. Now one is writing (and painting and composing music) in a secular age when Biblical allusions are not generally understood, but Joanna Trollope felt that a fundamental belief in spirituality remained which could be used and explored. Bible stories told to children should open the windows and invite them to look out ... .

Joanna Trollope described the detailed research done before writing Other People’s Children, and we readers recognise that it is her fascinating perceptions of family relationships that give the book its obvious authenticity. Asked if there were boundaries beyond which she would not tread, Joanna Trollope accepted she had absolutes in her own standards which must be advocated in a story regarding treatment of others, especially children, but it is for the reader to condemn – thus most of us were relieved that her forebear (‘The Trollope’) made Mrs. Proudie show remorse before her death, so that we can have sympathy for her in the end! Above all, Christian writers must have benevolence and large hearts.

Archbishop George Carey thanked Joanna Trollope for sharing her insights into human relationships in an elegant and discerning address, and invited everyone to join him in an informal mingling over wine. Later about half the audience adjourned to the nearby Novotel Hotel for a pleasant meal.

E.R. Burton

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