02 November 2006


More vodka, Vicar?

AFTER the Russian Revolution — and it seems only yesterday — a leading Church of England layman, Athelstan Riley, noted in his c.v., for the information of the Archbishop of Trebizond, that he had “recently made himself responsible for the religious necessities of the Russian refugees and arranged with the Anglican authorities to place a large Anglican Church in London at their disposal for Orthodox Worship”.

Whether it is the same church or not, and perhaps someone can say, the Patriarchal Russian Orthodox Cathedral in London is now busier than ever. The former All Saints’, Ennismore Gardens, it was leased from the Church of England by the diocese of Sourozh from the 1950s until the 1970s, when the diocese bought it outright.

As it dates from the 1840s, when it was designed by Lewis Vulliamy, no one will be surprised that it now needs work. Among the projects is conservation of the sgraffito murals by Heywood Sumner (1853-1940).

The diocese of Sourozh launched its appeal for £400,000 in style just off Jermyn Street, at the Alla Bulyanskaya Gallery, radiant with icons. We heard resonant Russian church music (items such as Kovalevsky’s Ton Despotin ) from the cathedral choir, and speeches from Bishop Basil of Sergievo, Metropolitan Filaret, and the Russian Ambassador.

In the heaving crowd, hemmed inside by a downpour, I bumped into the Bishop of Edmonton, who was standing in at short notice for the Bishop of London, and had left dinner guests at home. Let no one say again (as was said at the General Synod) that Anglicans’ ecumenical commitment is only skin-deep.

Faith pierces thro’

WHETHER London could take it or not, parishes’ patronal festivals came thick and fast after 7 July. A friend went to three — perhaps in a nervous reaction; but, despite good intentions, I found St Magnus the Martyr to be a bridge too far.

At Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell, though, I joined a congregation stepping out with ombrellino, canopy, and heaven knows what else on the evening after London had kept its two minutes’ silence.

Fr Bagott had found an obliging Anglo-Catholic bishop to preside but not celebrate (now there’s a nice distinction). The preacher, the Revd Graham Morgan, director of nursing at the North-West London Hospitals, began by quoting Amos Starkadder’s sermon from Cold Comfort Farm, and warned us to mind our language when talking about God to the world outside.

Nothing but the wrong weather stops al-fresco dining in London for long; and the restaurant-goers in Exmouth Market were rewarded with the kind of religious street spectacle usually associated with Italy or Malta — although the hymns, accompanied on brass, were of the A & M variety that betrays an Anglican funzione.

A few days later, at St Mary Magdalene’s, Munster Square, the theme of the sermon by Ann Morisy was the historic traducement of the patron saint — and that led on to the duty of standing up for others’ reputations: for example, those of law-abiding Muslims.

A stained-glass window in the church commemorates the Church Times founder, G. J. Palmer; and we sang a truly cathartic Tractarian communion hymn by the first Vicar, the Revd Edward Stuart, about faith piercing thro’ the veil, and pilgrims pressing on through exile long and dreary.

On the Sunday night, showfolk from the West End were coming up to provide entertainment. A tonic, no doubt, for everyone, including the parish’s enthusiastic Vicar.

A man of fun

IF YOU need to trace the rainbow through the rain, the Revd Wilfred Howard Pountney might be your man. There is a Noah’s ark on the cover of his Biblical Ballads (Athena Press, £5.99; 1-84401-388-X), charmingly illustrated by Jan Konopka.

Perhaps better not to mention Adam and Eve —

 Once in Eden, ’twixt the rivers,
 In the land we call Iraq . . .

— while

 In Joshua, the son of Nun,
 You’d hardly find a man of fun.

 But Joshua perked up when the walls came tumbling down:

 And, though so fierce and stern and bitter,
 Joshua allowed himself a titter.

 In “The Ballad of David and Goliath”, King Saul muses: “I’m not a happy bunny.” And “The Prophet Elijah had neighbours from hell” (to rhyme with Jezebel).
 Best of all is Jonah, who, with his whale, can out-Albert Albert, as in this first verse, setting the scene:

 There once were a prophet called Jonah
 Who were sittin’ wi’ nowt much to do,
 When God said, “Get over to  Nineveh, lad,
 ’Cos the folk are a right wicked crew;
 I want yer to talk to ’em sharply,
 Persuade ’em from me to repent,
 And then, though I really should punish ’em all,
 I might change me mind and relent.”

Partners in mission

I DON’T know how many Bertram Simpson stories are still circulating at clerical dinner parties in Southwark diocese, but there was indeed life before Mervyn Stockwood, and news of this arrived in the parishes hot off the press in a special issue of The Bridge for the diocesan centenary.

No doubt there will be plenty of life after Dr Tom Butler, too, if, as the report of the celebrations seems to suggest, he is setting an example by a little judicious polygamy: “The worship began with a procession where Bishops from Southwark and our link dioceses in Zimbabwe walked side by side. The Rev Jonathan French ‘signed’ for the deaf people gathered round him while nearby sat the Bishop’s wives from Zimbabwe and Southwark.”

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