A debate on absolution was stirred in England recently after an Anglican priest stepped down from her parish duties because she could not forgive those who carried out the July bombings on London's transport system. The attacks resulted in the death of more than 50 people, including her daughter.
"Can I forgive them for what they did? No, I cannot. And I don't wish to," said Julie Nicholson, vicar of St. Aidan with St. George Church in Bristol, in an interview carried on BBC television March 7. Her 24-year-old daughter, Jenny, was among the victims.
"I believe that there are some things in life which are unforgivable by the human spirit," said Nicholson. "We are all faced with choice, and those four human beings on that day chose to do what they did."
The vicar said she felt "unable to stand behind the altar and celebrate the communion and lead people in words of peace and reconciliation and forgiveness." She remains an ordained priest and has taken a job with a community youth project connected with the arts, a subject close to her daughter's heart.
In the midst of arguing over ordaining homosexuals--particularly the argument that states that 'unrepentant sinners shouldn't be ordained'--along with the more general question of whether former convicted felons can enter ministry and so forth, I thought that this article speaks to such issues in a way that we don't see too often. Because she currently feels that she cannot forgive her daughter's murderers, she doesn't feel qualified to serve in pastoral ministry.
One tendency is to wave off such a reason. We may feel more inclined nowadays to send her to therapy, tell her to work out her 'issues' there, advise her to 'get over it' or 'work through the pain.' Obviously, Nicholson sees this as a spiritual issue, as did Jesus. 'You have heard it said, 'Do not murder,' but I say to you, do not hate a brother or sister in your heart.' She felt such a strong conviction about this (to the point that she states she doesn't want to forgive the bombers) that she has stepped down.
The question arises, then, who could possibly serve in ministry? Who could possibly enter the kingdom of God? That's the question that comes with the entire Sermon on the Mount. Regarding Jesus' statement on material possessions, the disciples ask, 'Who, then, can be saved?' Jesus' reply is, 'What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.'
Pray for the possibility of forgiveness on Nicholson's part.
Pray for the possibility of hearts drawn to God in faithful service.
Pray in thanksgiving for a kingdom that transforms us as we seek to be transformed.