When I knocked on the door of the house attached to St Matthew’s Church in Westminster to see Canon Precentor Jeremy Davies, Father Peter opened the door! Upon hearing I had a meeting with Jeremy Davies, Father Peter showed me up to what is clearly his family’s lovely sitting room and invited me to wait. The dog was frisking and people were running around – it clearly is Grand Central for the Church by its side.
Jeremy Davies is the Canon Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral and is responsible for the music and worship at the Cathedral. He is a deeply thoughtful man who makes every effort to speak from his heart and is guided and driven by his profound Christian beliefs. As a gay Anglican priest he has struggled with the concepts of virtue and goodness in a Christian context and has come to an understanding that virtue is more than doing good deeds, although eventually it does come to be goodness. Virtue, for him, is the set of actions we take and attitudes we adopt when we strive for perfection, as God asks us to do. As such, it is both a deeply spiritual concept and a set of practical actions that benefit others and serve God. Jeremy has struggled with this for a long time and has come to be comfortable with his understanding of it because he is open to the grace of the virtuous “Other” which holds, supports, loves and guides him for who he is. When behaving in a virtuous way, or seeing virtuous behaviour, Jeremy feels his humanity is being affirmed. He feels alive and loved. He feels joy.
He is quick to add that virtuous behaviour is practised all the time by people with no sense of the “other”. You don’t need to be a Christian to be a good, virtuous person (in fact it can be quite limiting). This is because a shared understanding of virtuous behaviour has become embedded in our culture and as such is well understood and recognised by most people. If you are in a society/community with a clear structure and shared behavioural norms, there is a general expectation of how to behave – you don’t have to think about it because it just is. Currently, however, he senses that there is a yearning “out there.” People are becoming intrigued by altruism and they are looking for heroes. However, he sees there is also a great deal of fear and insecurity that lead people to hide their vulnerabilities, stop learning, and ultimately may lead to their corruption and their corrupting of others.
People in institutions (schools, churches, companies, families…) must play a role to guide and support members, setting expectations and role modelling behaviours through the example of their own flawed selves. Virtue is “caught as much as taught”.