Lessons from Coxwold Church: Conforming

Coxwold’s Church boasts a huge coat of arms over its chancel arch. Many older parish churches have them, typically dating back to Georgian times, when there was a rival, Stuart family claiming the throne. By erecting the lion and the unicorn, the church was declaring its loyalty to the Hanoverians and the 'protestant interest'. They are usually painted onto wooden boards and then stuck onto a side wall. I sometimes enjoy looking at how the artist depicts the two beats; most English painters had seen a real lion as often as they had unicorn.

The royal coat of arms at Coxwold, though, is huge and cannot be missed. Although this church and its patrons have a clear penchant for excessive and grandiose displays of artistic declaration, there is a boast here that they are unquestionably loyal to the Crown. This is no Roman Catholic church, with its allegiance to the Bishop of Rome; neither is it a dissenting chapel whose membership’s commitment to the government is dubious, and who lopped a king’s head off not many generations back. No, here is a loyal and patriotic Anglican congregation, who love their King as much as their Church. No Jacobites or republicans will be tolerated here.

All very interesting, all very historical. Yet I think the pressure to display symbols of compliance will soon again be upon us. Now I’m fairly patriotic myself, and arranged for a portrait of the Queen to hang at my place of work. I am not ashamed of the flag and I am pleased to be British, but Caesar has a habit of wanting more than his penny. We know that in China, the state requires the red flag to be hung in churches and ‘patriotic’ songs sung. German churches in the Third Reich were expected to ‘Heil Hitler’ and drape Nazi flags over altars. In Britain, we have been spared all this, save those old coats of arms in the parish churches. I suspect, however, that this will change.

Have you noticed how many churches participate and pray for Pride marches? One Lancastrian Methodist church updated its Facebook followers with the progress of the rainbow-themed banner it was unveiling. How soon before we are expected to display a certificate to show we have ticked the appropriate equality boxes, that we are authorised to meet for worship? The state is becoming decreasingly tolerant of people and groups who do not conform to the prevailing ideology. 

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2